The Devising of Another World

Stephen Langlois

I admit to finding the A/C unit rather ominous
lately. Is it perhaps the relentless hum? The way
in which it seems to create air out of thin air?
Ha ha. Such a notion is humorous, is it not? I can

no longer differentiate between absurd and mundane.
The concoction of an entire atmosphere
from nothing–like the devising of another world
within our world–is terrifying in magnitude,

correct? Have I mentioned the machine-elf?
Tiny gears whir. Metallic limbs clack in approach.
“So good to see you,” the machine-elf says like I’m
the inexplicable creature–not he–emerging

from the center of a spinning mandala. “Pay attention,”
the machine-elf tells me while crafting improbable
mechanized miniatures, holding each one out
for my inspection. Ha ha. Fear, Dr. Ketchum explains,

is merely an effect of the quinuclidinyl benzilate. BZ
for short. U.S. Army code EA-2277. What it does,
Dr. Ketchum says, is inhibit the concentration of
acetylcholine at post-synaptic receptors thereby

impeding the transfer of certain messages to the brain
and disrupting perceptual patterns. A couple more rounds
of experiments, says Ketchum, and it’ll be ready to be
implanted by the Chemical Corps into M43 Cluster Bombs

and dropped on the Vietcong. Ha ha. I stayed behind
here at Edgewood so I wouldn’t have to get involved
in all that nonsense. Now look: I’m like the face of BZ.
A mascot if you will. Truth is, I don’t mind the tests

so much. Did I mention the time I thought I might
die of thirst? There in my hand appeared a can of
Dr. Pepper. From this protruded a straw. From this
straw I found myself sipping soda. No longer was I thirsty:

A conjuring simpler than that of the machine-elf’s, but
a conjuring nonetheless. The only real downside is
when the BZ wears off. There’s the tremors, of course.
Insomnia, too. Terror also. Tried to escape one night

and nearly made it off the ward. How about despair?
Just more chemicals, Ketchum explains. Assuming
he’s right, at least I have an excuse for how it is I feel.
How many outside these walls can say that?

Stephen Langlois is the recipient of a NYC Emerging Writers Fellowship from The Center for Fiction as well as a writing residency from The Blue Mountain Center. His work has appeared in Glimmer Train, Joyland, Lit Hub, Hobart, Barrelhouse, and Split Lip Magazine, among others. Visit him at