You and Improved. Short Story.

Jerry looked at the building, he had expected it to be taller, with large glass panels gleaming in the afternoon light. Instead it was a squat building dotted with small windows. Above the entrance was a large sign, written in pink and in a font that was probably intended to be elegant, “You and Improved” he shook his head, who could really trust a business that used a bad pun for a name? The lights turned green and he crossed the road, they did come highly recommended, and it was cheaper than therapy. He paused at the glass doors, then pulled one open, what was the harm really? Jerry stepped into a wide lobby, the floor was covered in a plush dark blue carpet, there was a small waiting area to his left and right, he went straight to the large reception desk.
“Hi, welcome to You and Improved, how can I help you today?”
“Uh Hi, I have an appointment, I’m Jerry Madden.”
“Ok, I see you here, for 3.15 with Abby, right?”
“Yeah, that’s the one.”
“Great, if you wouldn’t mind taking a seat, Abby will be with you in a moment.”
“Yeah, thanks.”

Jerry went to the seating area and sat down, the couches were more comfortable than he had expected, he looked around expecting to see a pile of magazines but there was nothing. He could feel the familiar heat building in his face, his heart was thudding heavily and he felt jittery. Jerry took a slow breath, “It’s fine. Everything will be fine.” He released the breath. He could feel beads of sweat building on his forehead, quickly he swiped his hand across it, hoping that no one else had seen, even though he knew they had. The other people in the waiting area were probably wondering what was wrong with him, after all normal people didn’t sweat so much. He wiped his hand across his upper lip, knowing everyone was looking at him wasn’t helping, he kept his eyes trained on the glass table, he tried his breathing but it wasn’t helping either. He felt on edge, jittery, he wanted to go home, he shouldn’t be here anyway, this was all just some stupid self help mumbo jumbo. There was nothing that could just instantly fix people. It was probably some kind of scam. Though he couldn’t leave now, everyone would stare at him, they’d realise what a weirdo he was. It’d be over soon, another hour, maybe two and he’d be back home, he could unwind, watch some TV. He just had to look ahead, that was the way to do it. He just needed to- “Jerry Madden?”
Jerry jumped, “Huh, oh, yeah, that’s me.” He stood and gave a weak smile to the woman standing before him, she had a clip board in one hand, her blond hair was tied up in a bun and she wore bright pink hospital scrubs, she stuck out one hand “Hi, I’m Abby” Jerry shook her hand, “If you’ll just follow me we can get you started.”

She led him through the building until they stopped at an office, during it she had made some banal conversation, but Jerry couldn’t keep track of it, everything was happening so fast, maybe it wasn’t a good idea.
“Ok, so what brings you to us today Jerry?”
“Well uh, I’ve been having some problems lately with anxiety. It’s been getting worse so I went to my doctor about it because I wanted to get the name of someone to talk to, and he recommended you guys. Well, actually I think his exact phrasing was “They’re amazing, they’ll change your life.”
Abby smiled at him, “Yes, a lot of our clients feel that way afterwards. Do you know what exactly it is that we do here?”
“Um, not really to be honest. My doctor didn’t say much and I tried to do some research online but it wasn’t very clear.”
Abby nodded, “I’ve been at management to clear up the website, it’s awful isn’t it?”
Jerry smiled, “yeah, a little.”
“When I found out about this place I didn’t know what it was for either. We offer an alternative solution to therapy and offer a cutting edge life enhancing program. We implant a few small chips into your brain, you’ll be given a local anaesthetic, you won’t feel a thing, those chips come pre-programmed with what ever improvements you choose. Once installed they act as a kind cognitive behaviour therapy. It works with you to overcome issues. Now this doesn’t just fix anxiety, it does all sorts of things, we’ve had success treating those with bipolar, schizophrenia, and even those who just want to start leading a healthier lifestyle.”
“Um brain surgery?”
“It’s not nearly as scary as it sounds. The area will be numbed and the implants will be inserted through the nose, once inside they’ll position themselves where they need to go. There is minimal risk, in fact of our over one hundred thousand patients, the only side effects are nausea, sometimes a feeling of being light headed and that’s really it, even then those side effects come from the anaesthetic and not the procedure itself.”
“I’m sorry, but is this a proper treatment? Like approved and everything?”
“Completely approved, we haven’t expanded as much as we’d like yet, we’re working on some deals with larger corporations that will give us more funding and access to larger markets. Dr. Richard Spencer is amazing, but he isn’t the most savvy business man, at the moment we’re only a small, local operation.”
“And you’re sure it’s safe? I mean things going into my brain?”
“Oh entirely, I’ve had it done myself. Before I came here I was severely depressed, I was actually on the verge of suicide. I took the offer of the surgery because it seemed like an easy way to end it all and everyone would think it was just a surgery gone wrong. I’m not ashamed or embarrassed to admit that, I like to tell people to show them that the treatment really works, I went from being unable to get out of bed at all, to being a fully functional, happy person. Since the surgery my entire life had changed for the better and I can honestly say without You and Improved, I don’t think I would be here today.”

“It all seems so dangerous though.”
“Look, I get it, I really do, it’s a scary thing to have done to you and the choice is completely up to you. I can introduce you to more people who are happy with the results, hell I’d even introduce you to those who were unhappy if we had anyone like that.”
“So everyone working here has gotten it done?”
“No, not everyone, but a lot of people take advantage of the fact that we can get it for free. Look, obviously I’m biased, I came to work here simply because I was so grateful that this company basically gave me my life back. We can do a trial run if you like, no pressure, no cost. If at the end of a week you do not like the results we can remove them, free of charge and you can go on to seek alternative treatments. If you do like it, you will be charged the usual fee, which is four hundred in total, including any and all aftercare.”
“How does it work?”
Well, the chips synthesize and release some chemicals that will keep your brain in balance, then well, it’s hard to describe properly, but it’s almost like a little voice inside. It helps talk you through your problems, it’s like on demand therapy. It’s very effective and you’ll notice results almost immediately.”
Jerry let out a slow breath, it seemed almost too good to be true. Ok sure they were going to be messing with his brain but isn’t that what therapy was anyway? Besides any drugs they’d give him would have way worse side effects than some nausea. It was cheaper than therapy too.
“If you want you can always come back another day, have a think about it. As I said there’s absolutely no pressure. At the end of the day we just want our clients to get better.”
“And it won’t change me?”
Abby laughed, “well that’s the point isn’t it? No, I’m kidding, you will still be you, it will just help you modify behaviours and thoughts. For example with your anxiety it will help you confront the thoughts that are causing it and help you navigate your way through them. With people who want to eat healthier it will track the calories of the food you’re eating and make suggestions for things that will satisfy cravings for less calories. It won’t make you do anything you don’t want to, hell you can even just ignore it all if you want, though it kind of defeats the purpose.”
Jerry’s heart thudded heavily, was he really going to do this?
“Ok. I guess I’ll give it a shot.”
“Great! We can have the procedure done now or you can schedule another appointment if you like.”
“Um, now I guess?”
“Ok, perfect. Now just as a warning, you will be tired for the rest of the day, we recommend that you avoid operating any heavy machinery or drinking alcohol until tomorrow morning. If you don’t feel up for getting yourself home, or if you drove, we have a complimentary taxi service and we can have your car delivered to your home this evening.”
“I walked, but I lift home might not be a bad idea.”
“Ok, great.”
Abby started typing quickly, “Ok, I have the machine all set up” behind her the printer whirred to life and started spitting out pages, she gathered them all and passed them to Jerry, “Ok, these are consent forms and after care instructions. It lists any potential complications, how to look after yourself afterwards, basically what we’ve discussed though we do ask that clients read through it all themselves and if you’ve any questions let me know.”

Jerry read through the forms and signed them all, he felt good, this really was a good idea. Hell, his own doctor had gone through this so it must be safe. He passed the forms back to Abby. “Ok, great. Now, just relax and it will be over in a few minutes.”
She stood and moved around the desk, arm and chest restraints unfurled from the chair, “I’m going to strap you in, this is just to prevent any sudden movements.” She pressed a buzzer into his hand, “If you feel overwhelmed or like it’s too much press the buzzer and the procedure will stop instantly.”

a machine slowly lowered itself from the ceiling with a dull whirr, Abby moved a small caged headpiece over Jerry’s head. “Now the machine will start, it’s automated and completely safe. If there is even a hint of a problem the machine will shut itself down and I’ll be monitoring it the entire time”
Jerry felt a light prick on the bridge of his nose, “That was the numbing agent” The machine began to hum gently, “Ok, now the procedure is about to begin, did you feel that?”
“Feel what?”
“Ok, perfect. Now you’re going to feel a little pressure around your sinuses, it will last for the count of three, then it will be over.”
The pressure was sudden and uncomfortable, but not unbearable. Jerry slowly counted to three.
“Ok and we’re done.”
The machine slowly rose back into the ceiling and Abby was undoing the restraints.
“How do you feel?”
“Ok I guess. A little off.”
“That’s to be expected.” She pressed a cup of juice into his hand, “Drink this, it will help.
Jerry sipped his juice, “and here’s a cookie”
“Thanks.”
“Just sit for a moment, I’ll ring down and have a car ready for you. See, it really isn’t that bad, is it?”
“No, not at all.”
Jerry shuddered, Abby nodded, “Ok, that’s everything online and it should all be working.”

Jerry sat in the back of the taxi, looking out at the road passing by. He didn’t feel particularly different, but he could tell something had changed. The way he viewed the world was different and there was something off, though he couldn’t quite tell what.

His anxiety was gone.

The deep, gnawing pit of worry that would normally fill his stomach was completely gone. He felt calm, relaxed. He looked around himself, he was in a taxi, when was the last time he’d gotten a taxi? Even the thoughts of getting one filled him with dread, stuck in a small enclosed space with an overly chatty stranger? It would have been a nightmare just an hour or two before but now it was nothing. Grinning, he went back to looking out the window, occasionally asking the driver questions just for the novelty of it.

Jerry woke the next day feeling a little tired but otherwise ok. He still wasn’t looking forward to the day, but the anxiety of having to give his presentation was gone. He got out of bed and quickly showered and dressed. As he brushed his teeth he heard a small voice in the back of his head, it was instructing him on how to brush correctly. On some level it unnerved him slightly, but he had to admit it did make it easier, it took away the fear that he was doing it wrong or that he hadn’t spent long enough doing it. The voice itself was flat with no real inflections.

“Morning Jerry, how’s things?”
“Oh I’m great, how are you?”
Jerry paused, the words had just popped out, was he really feeling that good?
“I’m good, feeling better after yesterday?”
“Oh yeah, just great. I went down to that place You and Improved, don’t know if you’ve heard of it, but they work wonders.”
“No, I haven’t, but I’m glad to hear it. You didn’t miss much yesterday really, I think the highlight was Tess breaking another mug.”
Jerry chuckled, “That’s what? The fifth one this year?”
“Seventh.” Rob frowned, “You do seem a bit different. I dunno, happier or something?”
Jerry nodded, “I really do feel great. I was having some issues with anxiety, but they’re just completely gone. Just poof. It’s the damnedest thing.”
“Wow, well congratulations, I’m happy for you.”
“Thanks, well look I’ve to get going, need to get set up for this presentation, totally going to crush it!”
“I’ll talk to you later Jerry, good luck!”
Jerry continued on to his office smiling. Once there he put down his briefcase, then froze. Why had he said those things to Rob? It was like word vomit, it just kept going. He shook his head, probably just still riding high on the lack of anxiety. It was like being a whole new person. He put his briefcase down then reached for his coffee, Sarah must have already dropped it in for him, what would he do with out her? As the cup reached his lips his hand stopped, “coffee is bad for you.” He put the cup down slowly, the voice was right, coffee was bad for him. He shook his head, the forms had said something about the “Self Improvement Suite” but he hadn’t paid too much attention, something about healthy eating and exercise. That must be it, he shrugged, he could always ask them to remove that aspect at his follow up appointment next week.

Jerry sat in his office, feeling completely content. The presentation had gone amazingly well, if anything it was the best presentation he had ever given. He felt himself sitting up straight, was he slouching? He shook his head, good posture was always important. What? Where did that come from? It sounded like himself but it wasn’t. Jerry frowned, then shrugged. Obviously the implants were doing what they were supposed to do. Good habits were a good idea for good living.

Jerry chewed his forkful of lettuce, it had been so long since he had a salad and they were so tasty and good for you. He had promised himself earlier in the week he’d get a burger after his presentation, but the thoughts of lumps of meat, dripping with grease just seemed off putting more than anything else. “I’m telling you Jerry, you seem completely different, brighter, happier.”
“It was that place Rob. They completely took away my anxiety, it’s amazing and it isn’t just for that kind of thing either, they help people who want to start exercising or just be a bit healthier all around. It’s so easy, there’s absolutely no effort at all.”
“Wow, how much was it?”
“Only four hundred all in, though they give you a free weeks trial first.”
“Huh. That doesn’t sound like a bad deal.”
“Yeah, though I’m going to keep them after the week is up, already I can’t imagine my life going back to the way it was.”
Jerry tried to stop the words, but they just kept going. It wasn’t him talking, he felt a brief flare of panic but as soon as it started it was gone.
Rob took a sip of his beer, Jerry had decided on ordering a beer, but when the waitress asked he got water. Good hydration is the foundation to a better life.
“Yeah there’s no harm in giving it a go.”
Jerry took another sip of his water. He didn’t want water, he wanted a beer, but beer is bad, it’s unhealthy, he was better off without it.

Jerry watched himself as he made a cup of herbal tea, he hated herbal tea, everything about it. The weak, watery taste, the weird oily coating that always seemed to cover his tongue, the bitter after taste that always seemed to dry out his mouth. He tried to stop himself but he couldn’t. He could hear himself humming, why was he humming? He didn’t want this, he didn’t want any of this. He tried to reach for the phone but his body didn’t respond. Something was wrong, this wasn’t what it was supposed to do. He couldn’t control anything, his body moved and spoke he couldn’t stop it. All he could do was watch as what ever was controlling him moved him about his life. Talking to friends and family, telling them how great he felt, how much he owed it all to You and Improved. He wanted to scream and shout, to tell them not to listen, but he couldn’t. Why couldn’t they tell it wasn’t him? Couldn’t them see the desperation? The panic in his eyes? He drank the tea, internally Jerry winced at the taste, his body sighed in satisfaction. Once the tea cup was empty Jerry walked into his room, he needed to get changed for a run, a healthy body meant a healthy mind. He didn’t want to run, he wanted to relax, to sit in front of the TV and unwind after the day. He tried to stop himself, but his body just continued on.

Jerry stepped outside into the fresh air, he breathed deeply and smiled, then he turned and started to jog. Inside Jerry screamed, over and over again, he was trapped and no one else could see it. He had no control over anything, he couldn’t stop himself, all he could do was watch as his body moved through the world, telling people how great the procedure was, how it changed his life for the better, how he wouldn’t be the man he was today, if not for You and Improved.

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About Alan James Keogh

I am a 24 year old writer who somehow tricked U.C.D. into giving me not only a degree in English and Classical studies, but an Hons Masters in Creative Writing too. Visit my blog where I post short stories twice a week (Monday and Wednesday) and an installment of a serialised novel on Fridays. I did consider writing this in the third person, as though it was written by someone else, but Alan is not comfortable writing in the third person as it seems kinda creepy and unbalanced so Alan decided it was probably best to write in the first person. He hopes it went well for him.
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