Friday, November 17, 2006

Chapter 2. The Brain Storm

Max never had any lasting memory of his seizures. Only the moments leading up to them lived on. He had once stopped his medication intentionally and set up a video camera to catch the whole thing on tape. There was no way to know precisely when it would happen, but without his regular doses of Phenobarbital, a seizure was inevitable. It took a day and a half, and he had to rewind the tape five times, but like a nature photographer on assignment in the jungle, his patience paid off and he had finally captured the beast, Epileptic Max, in its natural environment.

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He had only watched the tape once. That was all he could take.

The episode began mildly enough, with Max sitting cross legged on the carpet and leaning back against his living room wall. In the video he was dressed in his typical around-the-house style; an aged white t-shirt, boxer shorts, and old tennis shoes - sans socks. A book, something by Kafka, lay open on the floor to his right, and a short stack of towels stood in a pile on the floor to his left.

As the tape rolled just before the critical moments, Max had watched himself reach off camera and retrieve a bottle of water. He'd lifted the bottle to drink, but before it touched his lips, it slipped from his hand and bounced off his knee to the carpet. The water spilled out, and the taped Max began his transformation.

His eyes had begun to bug out, as if in terror of something beyond the camera. His lips pealed back into an expression half maniacal grin, and half sneer. The creature - it was no longer the person Max knew from the mirror in his bathroom - tipped slowly along the wall to its right. The shot was tight enough that by the time the creature was prone on the carpet, the grinning bug-eyed face was off screen. For a moment, the monster appeared to be only sleeping. Then the convulsions began. Arms flailed and slashed at the floor. Legs kicked and bashed the wall, leaving smudges where the tennis shoes struck. Ripples raced up and down the creature's abdomen as if a demon was struggling to escape from beneath the t-shirt. The violence lasted only minutes, but it seemed much longer to the Max who watched the tape.

The flailing gradually subsided and the beast lay still at last, but the terror was not yet over. A trembling rigidity spread over the creature, and its fingers curled into vicious claws. The abdomen that had heaved breathlessly moments before was now distended and taught, like a balloon on the verge of bursting. Then the true horror began; a dark stain slowly grew on the front of the creature's shorts, spreading downward toward the floor. The elusive Epileptic Max had wet himself, and although the tape didn't capture it, Max knew that the beast had also released its bowels.

It had been a grand mal seizure, and the only one Max had ever seen. He had forced himself to watch it to the end because he hoped never to see another. The spent and delirious Epileptic Max finally crawled away, leaving behind the towels, the bottle, and the twin dark smudges of urine and water soaked into the carpet.

Few of Max's seizures were so violent. He could probably avoid them altogether, given enough medication, but he didn't like being that drugged up. Phenobarbital made him ravenously hungry, and although it hadn't been an issue for years, the drug also sapped his libido. Max kept his dose as low as possible in order to minimize the side effects. It meant that he could expect a minor seizure, like the one he was currently experiencing in the lawn chair, roughly once a month. He was particularly prone to them when he skipped a meal and his blood sugar was low. Stress could also cause a seizure at the drug levels he was taking, and pain, like the time he jammed his finger while shooting hoops, would set him off almost instantly.

The seizure subsided. Max's hands relaxed on the armrests, and his head drooped. When his vision finally returned he squinted down at his crotch. Thankfully, there was no hint of the awful urine stain.

He had no sense of time during his episodes, but things looked about the same as they had been before the whole thing started. Minus was still cowering at the end of his chain and the pieces were still scattered on the open backgammon board where Max had dropped them.

A voice rang out from the horizon to the rear of the lawn chair. Max wondered how long the garbled voice had been calling to him.

“What,” he asked.

“Spanking your penguin again?” called the voice.

It was a tired joke and Max was in no mood for jokes. All he wanted after his seizures was a cold coke and a nap.

“Yeah whatever,” said Max. “What's the matter Stephen?”

“Perske wants to see you.”

Max grimaced at Minus.

“You're a lucky schmuck today. We'll finish later.”

Minus dropped back onto his rump and hung his head in relief.

“You know” said Max, “you don't really have it so bad.” He stood up on legs that were still weak and trembling.

“Save program" he said. "Exit.”

The ice melted away, taking the penguin, the sky, and the riding crop with it. Max, the data tablet, and the lawn chair remained on the chipped tile floor at the center of a dimly lit room with stark gray concrete walls. Except for the barren ten-foot square portion of the floor where Max trained Linus and Minus, the room was cluttered with lab benches and electronics carts sprouting cables that linked various instrumentation boxes together. His purple shirt and orange shorts clashed with the cluttered laboratory almost as much as they had with the crystalline Antarctic landscape.

He took a deep breath and tottered toward the gray metal door.

“Here I come Dr. Perske” Max muttered to himself, and switched off the lights.

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