You start noticing those words when you’re going about your day-to-day business – just flipping through the classifieds, or posted on telephones near bridges. Normal places. Just words that seem to be catching your eye. Then they start appearing more randomly: the first seven tiles you pick in Scrabble, the first spoonful of alphabet soup, even those stupid spams sent by strangers. You even check a few of them, but they all end up being for the same old pills and promises.
Now it’s getting so everything you read has those words crop up – close-captioned TV shows, book titles, CDs, bus schedules, menus, everywhere. It’s distracting, very very distracting, it’s so very hard to concentrate when words squiggle out of the corner of your eye, when the keyboard’s no longer qwerty but gethelpgethelpgethelp.
The delusion’s taking its toll. Who needs help? Who’s sending you this message? Why you? How can you help someone who you don’t even know? You’re trying to type an email to a friend. It’s very hard to do. The letters keep swimming and you add an apology in the email, just in case your writing’s garbled. You finally hit send.
You wake up.
You’re in the hospital. Your friend is sitting beside you. I was so worried, he says. When you sent that email. GET HELP GET HELP GET HELP, over and over. I came over and found you on the floor. They had to do surgery. Do you know what they found? A second brain. Tiny but fully formed, growing in your head. It was blocking an artery. You’re lucky to be alive.
But you aren’t really listening to your friend any more. You’re staring at a fire escape diagram near your bed. It doesn’t say anything about fire safety at all.
FINALLY, it says. IT WAS GETTING CROWDED IN THERE.