No more stress. No more looking over his shoulder. No more living in fear of Blue Cats. Mr. Frabbit is a new man on new medication.
Everything is fine and dandy when medication is swimming through your veins. Why, Mr. Frabbit has been in the car, stuck in morning work traffic, for over twenty minutes, and not once has commercial radio been hijacked by pirate broadcasts using the airwaves to promote: safety in fleas.
He would’ve skipped through the front entrance of the accounting firm that employs him, but he’s far too professional for that. So he sung a Katy Perry song to himself instead.
Nothing has changed in the six months he has been away on sick leave. Judy was still sitting behind the reception desk, the company logo on the wall above her head.
Good ol’ reliable Judy. When a client makes an inquiry about accounting, Judy’s email is the first friendly reply, the first friendly voice over the phone, the first friendly smile to greet the client when they walk through the door.
“Morning Toby,” she says, standing up to offer Mr. Frabbit a handshake.
Handshake accepted. “Morning Judy. Feels like I never left.”
“Feels like you’ve been gone forever.”
The two fidget in silence, Mr. Frabbit glancing at his Rolex, while Judy bites her lower lip, her fingertips spinning the pendant on the end of her silver necklace.
Judy opens her mouth to speak, sighs instead, her shoulders hunched. Clearly, she has questions she would like to ask, but is unable to as all her words are sucked into the gravitational pull of her shyness. So Mr. Frabbit does the speaking for his friend, his words giving her curious mind a hug.
“They had me trialing lots of different medications- so many pills, you wouldn’t believe it. After a dozen tries they found one that works. I’ve beat it Judy. I’ve finally beat it.”
Judy’s glee sparkles in her eyes and smile. “You’re like one of those success stories you read about. You’re a medicated success story.”
Mr. Frabbit nods, smiling. “A medicated success- I like that Judy.”
One Zyprexa tablet a day keeps the Blue Cats away. Finally, a nondescript life was his to enjoy. Nothing freakish will ever make it past his medication- except for that steam train passing through reception. No, not an everyday train as that would be physically impossible. It was a small train, small enough to fit in one’s hand.
He studies Judy’s eyes, to see if she notices the movement across the carpet. Nope, all of her focus is on him.
It’s happening again, he thinks, distraught. I’m a medicated success- Judy said so -this shouldn’t be happening.
“Sorry. Can we talk some more at lunch?” he asks, ending the conversation so he can move himself and his concerns away from Judy. “I’ve got a lot of work to catch up on.”
“Oh- sure,” she says, sitting in her office chair and wheeling herself into receptionist formation at her desk. “I’ll talk to you later.”
He offers Judy his most charming smile. It was free and it concealed his fears. He turns and follows the little steam train out of reception.
In the corridors, the itsy-bitsy railroad track splits into two, running parallel with the walls, allowing the movement of trains to everywhere in the office and back again.
Mr. Frabbit crouches, frowning as he takes a closer look at an ankle high railroad crossing. Flashing red lights and the ding, ding, ding of bells gives the boom gate the go-ahead to lower.
He jumps, stumbles against the wall as a freight train chugs through the railroad crossing.
Zyprexa keeps the Blue Cats out, why would it let little trains in?
Mr. Mowl, his body language as cocksure as his porcupine haircut, strides toward Mr. Frabbit, right-hand extended. “Oh, yeah! The number one accountant is good to go.”
The two accountants shake hands, Mr. Frabbit winching as he feels his knuckles grind together under the other accountant’s forceful grip.
“Are the new meds doing their thing?” asks Mr. Mowl, disengaging himself from the handshake.
“Mm-hmm,” says Mr. Frabbit, nodding. They were doing their thing with zing –well, that is, until the trains arrived.
The two accountants talk as they walk along the corridor. Mr. Frabbit’s destination: his office. Arrival time: one minute.
“Aren’t you worried Toby? You’ll lose your accounting edge now that the Blue Cats are gone.”
“The Blue Cats never existed,” says Mr. Frabbit, the sight of miniature trees, all in a row along the railroad tracks, has him tightening his grip on the handle of his suitcase.
No trains exist in Mr. Mowl’s reality, as his eyes are never once drawn to the locomotive movement around his feet, which means Mr. Frabbit has to work harder, straining his brain to pretend the trains are nonexistent. He has too. He’s a medicated success.
“Yeah, I get that. The Blue Cats were all in your head and all that. But, what I’m saying is when you were- you know -mentally ill, you had an urgency. Accounting was a necessity. If you stopped accounting, the Blue Cats would enslave all our minds.”
“Well, it won’t feel like my life depends on accounting. Now I can just enjoy it.”
“Soooo, what you’re saying is that it doesn’t matter that you’ve lost your edge, the same edge that got you Employee of the Year. You’re fine without it. Hmm . . . I respect that Toby. I honestly do.”
Mr. Mowl spoke with such an oversaturation of honesty that- to Mr. Frabbit’s ears -the words were like the screech of fingernails scratching the flat surface of dishonesty.
The two accountants arrive at Mr. Frabbit’s office. A picture of a flea is sticky-taped to the center of the door. The shock of seeing the flea disrupts the rhythm of Mr. Frabbit’s breathing.
“I told everyone to leave the flea on your door,” says Mr. Mowl. “The person to remove that flea should be you, Toby- for closure.”
Safety in fleas, as long as a flea stood between you and a Blue Cat, you were safe. You were protected. One look at a flea is all it takes to frighten the Blue Cats away.
It had taken hundreds of resistant fighters to infiltrate the Blue Cats fortified scratch post and capture top secret information concerning their weakness. Only through hacking radio and Television transmissions could the Resistance provide this vital information to Mr. Frabbit.
Reaching for the flea, Mr. Frabbit stops mid-action, his fingertips only millimeters away from the A4 size sheet of copy paper. A train sliding along the edge of his peripheral vision forces him to reconsider the removal of the flea.
“C’mon Toby. Make it official. Rip that flea, rip it good.”
Mr. Frabbit yanks the flea picture off the door, to prove he is a medicated success like everyone says he is, to prove he is cured like everyone believes he is.
“You the man,” says Mr. Mowl, pointing and winking at his colleague. He pulls a Michael Jackson spin, saunters off down the hall.
“I’m the man,” said Mr. Frabbit, half-heartedly, opening the door to his office.
Both accountants park themselves behind their desks in their office, to begin their work day and earn themselves a day’s pay.
Sitting in his office chair, it felt so right, it felt so nice. Mr. Frabbit closes his eyes and sighs, rubbing his fingertips over the cool vinyl of the armrests. Three months as a patient in a psychiatric hospital, trialing different medications until he was cured; it was worth it! Finally being able to work sitting at his desk was proof of that.
He gazed at a framed photo on his desk, the one next to his “Employee of the Year” award. The photo is of Mr. Frabbit, crammed under his desk, his knees tucked under his chin. Even though he’s holding a gold-plated trophy, with his name engraved on it, no smile appears in the photo as a smile for the camera would’ve been impossible in the age of the Blue Cats.
The framed photo was supposed to hang on a wall in reception, alongside photos of previous winners; however, management had decided against this, believing the image of Mr. Frabbit was inconsistent with the firm’s public image.
Retrieving a pen from the top drawer of his desk, he selects a client’s file from the pile, scratches his ear with the end of his pen as he reads. The task of accounting unties the knots in his neck and his shoulders. Sitting at his desk rather than being under it, why, the normality of it was bliss.
He smiles as he glances out the window. The view of the building across the street reminds him of how grateful he was that the Blue Cats never had thumbs, making it impossible for them to operate a sniper rifle. If they could’ve, he would’ve been toast.
The tip of the pen in his hand touches the top page in the open file, yet no numbers are written. Instead, Mr. Frabbit glances in every direction, frowning as he tries to figure out what’s missing in his office.
“Oh shit!” he says, his pen slipping out of his hand. No railroad tracks extended across the floor. His office was a no-go zone for trains.
Gliding across the room on his office chair, Mr. Frabbit parks himself in front of the computer. Move mouse, click, move mouse, double click. The printer purrs, gives birth to twin A4 sized papers with an image of a flea on each one.
He sticky-tapes one flea picture to the window, the other onto his office door- you know, just in case.
Fetching a coffee was a bad idea. Mr. Frabbit should’ve remained in his office. The more corridors he walks along, the more rooms he passes, the more the tiny railroad tracks evolve into a complex rail system. Passenger trains and freight trains; steam trains and diesel trains, all whizzing past his feet.
It was no longer just trains, as the railroad tracks passed a miniature train station outside the copy room, while a miniature fire station was inside the copy room, the Xerox photocopier like a skyscraper next to the brick building with a fire engine parked inside.
“No, no, no, no,” says Mr. Frabbit, stopping at the glass doors of the conference room, his eyes wide, his mouth like the entrance to a train tunnel.
Two accountants and the manager sit at the table, discussing Cash Flow Forecasts judging by the charts projected onto a screen. As they talk, they look at the documents in front of them, look at each other as they talk, or check the screens on their mobile phones. Not once do they look at the middle of the table where the trains move through a small town with buildings no bigger than a cat.
The manager is oblivious to the trains in front of her, yet her grin shimmers with delight when she notices, outside the conference room, the man with the trains in his brain.
The two accountants at the table spin around to give Mr. Frabbit a spirited “hello there” wave.
“Good to see you, Toby,” says one.
“Welcome back. Looking good,” says the other.
Mr. Frabbit gives his colleagues a thumbs-up. “I’ll talk to you at lunchtime.”
Sounds good. The manager and the accountants resume their meeting as Mr. Frabbit hurries down the corridor, grateful that his thumbs-up signal, and all the positivity that goes with it, blinded his colleagues to the stress chewing at the edges of his medicated recovery.
In the entrance to the lunchroom, he freezes, his coffee mug almost slipping out of his hand.
A miniaturized Flying Scotsmen journeys across the kitchen bench, passing scenic views of the kitchen sink and washed plates drying in the dish rack.
An intern sitting at one of the tables, eating two-minute noodles, expresses her concern for Mr. Frabbit.
“No, I’m fine,” he says with a reassuring smile. “I’ve come to get myself a coffee, but I just realized I’ve left my coffee mug back in my office.”
Yes, nice save Mr. Frabbit. Don’t make it about the medication.
The intern frowns as she watches the accountant exit the room with his coffee mug in his hand.
The psychiatrist Dr. Murtle had said Zyprexa was the only solution to Mr. Frabbit’s hallucinations. He was half right as, even though the Zyprexa kept the Blue Cats out, the little trains had found a way in, sliding past the pharmaceutical coating of his brain as if it was never there.
Once the hallucinations start, the delusions always follow, he reminds himself, retrieving his tablets from the inside pocket of his jacket, popping open the lid to drop a pill into his hand. How can I convince everyone I’m cured if I end up deluding myself into believing the trains are a threat?
As far as he was concerned, this is reason enough for him to pop another pill- so that is what he does.
“There you are,” says Judy, hurrying down the corridor, a Nikon camera hanging from her neck. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you.”
He shoves his medication into his pocket before Judy can see it, hides his anxiety behind a forced smile that requires a few extra facial muscles to pull it off.
Judy holds up the Nikon camera. “You need a new Employee of the Year photo.”
The way he was blinking, one would think his uncertainty was stuck in his eye.
“You know Toby, what we talked about . . . the- um -medicated success.”
“Oh, you mean a photo of me sitting at my desk rather than being under it?”
She nods, looking down at her yellow loafers, matching the sunflower pattern on her dress, so the angle of her head hides her blazing red cheeks.
“All right then. Let’s do this.”
Judy and her Nikon leads the way to Mr. Frabbit’s office, the Orient Express making a “choo-choo” noise as it chugs past her feet.
Walking along the corridor, Mr. Frabbit keeps his eyes directed at the middle of the floor- the only space, besides his office, where the railroad tracks never go. It’s a feeble attempt to synchronize with Judy’s unawareness of the rail system.
How could Judy be aware of something that exists inside my head? Doesn’t matter anyway as it will soon be over when the extra shot of Zyprexa kicks in.
Warmth flows through his face, the suddenness of the sensation startling him.
As they walk, Judy bows her head, gives her pendant a spin with her fingertips. “Toby, can I just ask . . . I never understood . . . um . . . why did you come to work when, clearly, you were . . . ah . . . not yourself?”
“I had too,” he says, surprised by the question. “All the pirate broadcasts on my TV and car radio, the pop-up adds on my laptop, they all revealed to me the Blue Cat’s weakness.”
“They had a weakness?”
“Of course they did. It was accounting.”
Judy frowns, opens her mouth then closes it, reaches for her pendant, so he explains further.
“They had blue fur so you couldn’t see them when they were floating in the sky. When I’m doing accounting, when I’m adding and subtracting numbers, it makes their bodies heavy, so they can’t float. By grounding the Blue Cats, it was easier for government agents to spot them and take them out.”
He chuckles, scratches his forehead as he glances at the ceiling. “The more I talk about Blue Cats, the more shocked I am that I was never locked up.”
“You have your medication to thank for that.”
Yeah, my medication has been as safe and reliable as a derailed train, thinks Mr. Frabbit, turning his face away from Judy so she can’t see him grimace.
The railroad tracks are still going right by Mr. Frabbit’s office. Noticing this, some of his tension is blown out of his body on the breeze of his sigh. The A4 size sheet of paper stuck to his office door is as invincible as a fortified stronghold.
Safety in fleas; it has always been about the fleas.
Judy points at the picture. “Are you keeping that as a souvenir?”
Mr. Frabbit laughs- he can’t help it. “It’s a reminder that my days with mental illness are behind me.”
“That’s nice,” says Judy, impressed.
Mr. Frabbit’s equilibrium somersaults into a nosedive as he steps through the doorway of his office. He leans against the file cabinet, but only long enough to stop himself from falling. Sweat beads appear above his brow as waves of heat rise through his body faster than smoke up a chimney.
“The Blue Cats would make an awesome movie,” says Judy, removing the lens cap. “Can I just get you to sit behind your desk please?”
Ignoring the heat itching his scalp, Mr. Frabbit does as Judy asks, his chair squeaking as he drops into it. He holds his pen above the paperwork on his desk, pretending that the camera has caught him at his busiest.
“Maybe you should write a book about your experiences. I’d read it,” says Judy, looking through the camera’s viewfinder.
Mr. Frabbit stares at the camera as he poses like a professional. Judy snaps a photo, then another one, just in case the first one was blurry.
Breathing is an effort for him. What comes freely is now a chore. He sucks in more air than usual, wipes the sweat off his brow.
“Are you okay Toby?”
Don’t frown! Don’t frown! He warns himself, pretending everything is fine, so he can live up to her belief that he is a medicated success.
“I’m just feeling a bit dry.” Which is the truth as heat vaporizes the moisture in his throat while sweat drips off his armpits.
“Oh, would you like me to get you some water?”
“No, please don’t trouble yourself.”
“It’s no trouble.”
A summer’s day on the beach in the midday sun would be preferable to the heatwave under his skin. It’s harder for him to act cool, to convince Judy that all is well.
“I have a water bottle in my bottom drawer. But thank you for your concern.”
“Oh-okay . . . well . . . I’ll leave you to it.” Judy removes herself from Mr. Frabbit’s office, pausing in the doorway to give the accountant one last look of concern.
Mr. Frabbit leaps out of his chair, almost stumbles as he hurries across the room to reach the door. The floor under his feet shifts in a seesaw motion, tilting to the right, tilting to the left; he has to grip the door frame to prevent a fall. Sweat is dripping, dribbling off his burning skin. Wait! This is new. Now his breathing requires double the effort to inhale a reduced amount of oxygen.
Out in the corridor on the other side of the flea, the trains continue to exist in his own private reality, with no sign of their existence being blown away by the extra shot of Zyprexa.
Should I take another tablet? He asks himself.
Panic strangles his mind, the railroad tracks, outside the office, like a garrote coiling around his medicated success and squeezing the hope out of it.
Grabbing the back of his chair, he pulls it away from the desk. The chair rolls across the room on its wheels, slams into the wall.
The space under the desk is filled with Mr. Frabbit. He tucks his knees under his chin so he can fit his whole body into an area intended for leg room only.
With a swipe of his thumb, he scrolls through his contact list displayed on his mobile phone screen, selects his psychiatrist Dr. Murtle.
Dialing was brief as Dr. Murtle must’ve answered his phone as soon as it had rung. “Hello Toby, how are you feeling today?”
“My medication! It’s not working! I’m still hallucinating.”
“The fact that you are aware of your hallucinations is a good sign,” says Dr. Murtle. “In therapy, you had acknowledged that the Blue Cats were a fantasy created in response to your-”
“I’m not seeing Blue cats! I’m seeing trains!”
“I’m sorry, did you just say trains or brains?”
Mr. Frabbit couldn’t answer. He inhales with twice the force, his mouth opening wider to catch more air, and still next to no oxygen reaches his lungs.
“I can hear you struggling for breath,” says Dr. Murtle, his calmness swept away by the bristles of his concern.
Mr. Frabbit’s gasping for air is as loud and messy as bathwater gurgling down the plughole. “How many tablets have you taken so far today?”
“Two! I prescribed you one tablet a day for a reason. Anything more would be an overdose.”
If breathing hadn’t been so darn near impossible for Mr. Frabbit, he would’ve shouted in rage at the psychiatrist.
“You said . . .” gasp for air, “one tablet . . .” gasp fails, try gulping, “would stop me hallucinating.”
“Where are you, Toby?”
The inside of his skull feels like it is full of bubbles and foam as warm liquid sleep dissolves his consciousness. His eyelids slam shut, sleep placing his eyes in lockdown. Was that someone calling his name? Or was a dream about to begin?
“Toby! Toby! Are you at home or at work?”
“. . . at . . . work.”
“I’m calling an ambulance.”
Mr. Frabbit’s chin drops onto his chest, his mobile phone slips from his fingers, clatters against the floor.
A knock on the door before it opens. Judy enters the room, the Nikon still hanging around her neck. She holds a plastic cup filled with water from the water cooler that is next to the sofa in reception.
“I know you didn’t want me too, but I had too,” she says, her eyebrows crumpling out of shape as she looks at the empty desk where she last saw Mr. Frabbit only a few minutes ago.
She notices the chair leaning against the wall. She gasps, the plastic cup sliding out of her hand.
She rushes around the desk, slamming her hand onto the flat surface as she slips in the puddle of water. Seeing the accountant under his desk was like looking at his “Employee of the year” photo. The only difference was that if his breathing wasn’t so shallow, he could’ve been mistaken for having a nap.
“Oh my God, Toby!” screamed Judy, whipping out her mobile phone and dialing 9-1-1.
It was go, go, go for the Paramedics. In under three minutes, they had pushed an ambulance stretcher through the building to Mr. Frabbit’s office, fitted an oxygen mask to the accountant’s face, strapped him into the stretcher, and wheeling him out of the room.
Run, run, run as fast as you can. Mr. Frabbit’s life depends on it. Judy’s wheezy breathing is the soundtrack accompanying her struggle to keep up with the paramedics as they race down the corridor. Her marshmallow soft body jiggles to the rhythm of the running motion of her legs.
Mr. Mowl sticks his head out of the doorway to his office, his head jerking back, his eyes widening as Mr. Frabbit on the stretcher zooms past.
“What the fuck?” he shouts at Judy who is six seconds behind the paramedics in the race to the ambulance.
“Toby had an overdose,” she shouts at Mr. Mowl as she runs by him.
The accountant with the porcupine hair gapes at Judy. “Holy shit! Is Toby doing drugs?”
Drugs? –what? Judy was glad she had to pull a sharp right turn, same as the paramedics in front of her, as it made Mr. Mowl and his idiotic question disappear around the corner.
Bursting into reception, the paramedics are forced to halt the race to their ambulance, both spreading their legs to maintain their balance and gripping the stretcher tightly to prevent it from tipping.
The Paramedics had to stop, or else they would’ve run Mr. Frabbit right into the path of an oncoming freight train. They look at the floor, waiting for the tiny train on the tiny railroad tracks to pass.
“What’s with all the model trains?” asks one of the paramedics. “They’re everywhere.”
“The manager organized it,” Judy says. “She wants to beat the World Guinness Record for the longest model train track with the most model trains on it.”
The last boxcar pulled by the freight train passes by the stretcher. The paramedics roll the stretcher over the railroad track, bolt for the front entrance.
“Wouldn’t all those trains be distracting?” asks the other paramedic, sliding Mr. Frabbit and the stretcher into the back of the ambulance. “How do the accountants get any work done?”
“The model trains were set up months ago. We’re so used to them now; we forget they’re there.”
“Fair enough,” The paramedic’s brief response was all he had time for. He jumps into the back of the ambulance, closes the rear doors.
Watching the ambulance zoom-zoom down the road, a mini tornado of flashing lights and shrieking sirens, Judy realizes that she had forgotten to ask Mr. Frabbit how he felt about the accounting firm’s attempt to beat a World Guinness Record.
Now she’ll never know.
This story previously appeared in Storgy Magazine 2019.
Edited by Marie Ginga
Glenn Bresciani is an Australian who works in community aged care. Fantasy and sci-fi are his favorite genres to read and write about. His fantasy short story, set in ancient Japan, has been published in the Valor: A Dragon Soul Press Anthology. Glenn's Facebook page is here.