The Automated Man

The beat of Jack’s footsteps matched his heart’s, which made his walk a one-man race.

Jack knew one thing: He had to do something. He’d forgotten what. And forgotten whether he’d specified anything at all. Things happened.

Ten minutes ago he grabbed a jacket. Now he was on the street. He hadn’t realized he needed to do anything, nor did he plan to do anything.

Apparently he had been mistaken and shortsighted. At which point his subconscious seemed to have taken over the business of self-transport.

The thought that he had to leave the apartment was the last one he was aware of before his current panic attack made all but the simplest thoughts possible. After that and before getting to where he is, he’s eaten a handful of Xanax. Judging be his sitance from his building and the degree of the pills’ aftertaste, he figured he took them before he went walking.

His heart stopped and he went cold. He thought his lips would be blue if he could see them. Jack felt what seemed to be an actual wave of fresh panic run through him, and even his ticker freaked out. After a half second it resumed racing.

…All this movement. Or just words. If he was doing something, what was he doing? He walked south, farther downtown, and every few blocks moved east. Which was fine. He couldn’t think about it anyway. And he couldn’t stop.

His hand felt his jacket pocket. No cell. Then he emptied the pocket into his hands. He couldn’t focus on the contents and had forgotten why he would want to.

He wanted to know what day it was. He’d been on a schedule that kept him awake from Monday morning until, usually, Thursday night. He hibernated on weekends. He was hit with a short blast of icy fear as the words “amphetamine psychosis” came to him.

That would mean he’d been up too long. He dug his hands into his pants’ pockets. Two pill bottles. One Adderall, one Xanax. Of course, Adderall is pure amphetamine — dexedrine, specifically. The pills also contained some amount of a relatively inactive isomer of the same molecule. But people have been and are treated for ADHD and antidepressant-resistant depression with speed. He forgot the brand name of amphetamine itself. He knew meth was… The word went away. It began with a “d.”

And so the most vilified drug in the nation is kids’ stuff. Adderall had replaced Ritalin, due only to it being under patent, and Ritalin cheap as water. Ritalin works in part by releasing or even creating dopamine. Adderall is simply clean crank. And what a cash cow.

Jack’s thoughts would have followed the path just laid down, but in his present state he just put the bottles back, and pulverizing another Xanax with a jaw quite willing to grind it away.

He couldn’t have swallowed the pill. He couldn’t have spoken. Dry mouth, throat. As he poked his tongue about to find every last Xanax granule, he was generally disgusted by his mouth. Then the panic did its one good deed and stopped that train of thought before he talked himself into swallowing his tongue.
The time, the time, time time time. No matter the day.

Jack glanced up for cars before crossing the street, and saw the Bank of America clock on the corner before his eyes swam back out of focus, aimed at the ground.

He’d know the time in a block. How long would it have taken him to get here? Suddenly Jack was certain it took him twelve minutes. So almost fifteen, meaning another fifteen until drugs saved another man’s sanity. Meaning eighteen.

The clock read three seventeen. With the clouds and rain, Jack didn’t know if it was am or pm. He usually didn’t have cause to care, either, unless he had to pick up prescriptions.

He instinctively reassured himself that his pills remained where he put them four minutes ago.
So three seventeen. And so sanity would have to wait until about three thirty. That approximation was the closest to math as Jack even attempted. He stopped thinking about whatever he was doing. Or, more accurately, he stopped trying to start.

He counted his footsteps. They outpaced his mind. He started again. He thought “thirteen minutes to go, maybe?” and knew it was fifteen. He counted and figured continually in a schizophrenic mantra. His thoughts spun and circled on themselves like a mobius strip. His physical self was on its own.
And it was almost somewhere.

Jack was startled by the sound of his own mouth sucking in air like his lips had sealed a vacuum, but easily settled down because the Xanax had now settled him down.

Every time. Every panic attack ended with meds kicking in and that massive inhalation. This breath would have a proper home with a person surfacing from the sea seconds before the desparate need to respire drove them to fill both lungs with saline.

For now it was slumming it.

Jack exhaled as he closed his eyes and took the time to appreciate the miracle he experienced about once a month. Regaining one’s mental faculties brings feelings one can’t relate, the same way the thoughts of a broken mind can be recorded, but the feelings behind them never accounted for.
Jack’s exhalation carried the following nonsense:

“Jesusmotherfuckinggoddamchristonmotherfuckingchristmasit’sfuckingoverit’soveroveroverdonedonegone…”
His eyes focused. He was standing on bricks. He was in Pioneer Square, twenty feet from the christmas tree.

Jack again wondered what the day was. If Wednesday, then christmas. He spun a circle to take in the scene.
Then felt sure it was Wednesday.

He looked to the top of the gaudy red stat atop the thirty-ish foot evergreen. Which not only had to endure a slow death, but do so robbed of all dignity.

Jack knew he overdid the Xanax. He always did during a panic attack. This would make him lazy and tired.
In a harmony of motion so fluid it appeared to be a tic, Jack raised his snuff box with one hand, a short straw with the other, and both met at a nostril on vacuum for a mere second before beinf put away again.
The Adderall would even out the Xanax. It should, anyway. Jack tried to recount the exact amount of Xanax he’d taken, as well as the how many milligrams of d-amp he’d just put up his nose. Had he powderized half a pill or a whole? It felt like no more than half as some began sliding into his throat.

Jack felt an obligation to address the tree before leaving it, soon to be the only life downtown.

“OK tree, sorry we unvirtuous pagans tarted you up and made your death another roadside attraction. But it is christmas. …Most likely.”

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