We're All Mad Here

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“So, how are you liking London?”

Iris and Brainy made for an odd contrast, sitting across from one another in her silvery white office. Her face was free of make-up, and his was painted up like a tiger’s. She wore a sweater of a single muted colour, and he was dressed in a flamboyant, multi-coloured suit. She smiled only when she felt like smiling, and he was always smiling, even though he never felt like it.

“Let’s see. Old London town, oh it’s… ah, well,” Brainy stammered, recrossing his legs and compulsively clasping his right hand. “There’s no place like London, as the song goes. It’s not as colourful as Wonder World tee em. Damask, I think is the word, the polite word for colourless. It’s a lot bigger, and not as whimsical. What’s the opposite of whimsical? Dignified, I guess, if I’m being polite. Yes, London is dignified and damask. And damp. And dreary. And dismal. And -”

“It’s an adjustment, is what I’m hearing,” Iris cut him off.

“Yes! It’s an adjustment! I’m adjusting! Just gotta give it time. I’m sure that before I know it this city will feel like home and not a grey, sunless Sheol for lost souls,” he chuckled uncomfortably, rapidly squeezing his happy face stress ball that he had dug out of his pocket, smiling all the while.

“Brian, this isn’t Wonder World, you don’t -”

“Tee em.”

“Do not interrupt me.”


“This isn’t Wonder World, tee em. You don’t need to pretend to be happy when -”

“It’s not a sexist thing, me interrupting. I just want to get that out there. I don’t think what I have to say is more important, I’m not establishing dominance. I have nothing but respect for you even though I am being disrespectful right now and oh gee Jiminy golly, I did it again.” He smashed the stress ball into his forehead several times before taking a deep breath. “Really, I’m very sorry, it’s just that the tee em thing is pretty deeply ingrained and I didn’t want you to think I did it on purpose so then I did it again and I’m still not letting you speak what is wrong with me! Don’t answer that. We both know what’s wrong with me.”

“I’m well aware of your mental health issues, yes,” Iris nodded patiently. “That’s what I wanted to talk about. To be blunt, I think Wonder World’s culture and policies regarding mental health were at least partially responsible for your psychotic breakdown. I’ve looked into it, and it seems the Wondertainment Mental Health RegimenTM consisted solely of, and I quote ‘smiles, smiles and more smiles’.”

“And stress balls,” Brainy added, raising his clenched fist.

“You were medicating in secret, taking the same medication you were prescribed twenty years ago without ever checking with a doctor if that was still appropriate. You never had any counselling and you were forced to pretend everything was okay until you couldn’t anymore,” Iris said. Brainy nodded solemnly, without dropping his trademarked Wondertainment smile. “And I want you to know that you don’t have to do that here. I want you to see our in-house psychiatrist about updating your prescription and regular counselling sessions. You don’t need to hide that from anyone or be embarrassed about it. I want you to work on developing a healthier method for managing problematic thoughts and emotions than pretending you don’t have them. You’re an engineer, Brian. You know you can’t fix a problem by ignoring it.”

“I suppose that is the more mature way to deal with it. Mature being the polite word for it, of course,” Brainy pondered. “It’s, ah, yeah. Like you said, it’s an adjustment. I was so terrified of what anyone would think if they found out I was taking anti-psychotics I actually stopped taking them, which is of course what caused me to become… psychotic.”

“Stigmatizing mental illness is childish, which is what Wondertainment excels at,” Iris said, a hint of smugness in her voice. “Acknowledging it and managing the symptoms is the responsible thing to do, and that’s what I expect of you.”

“And… it doesn’t bother you that I’m crazy?” Brainy asked, his brow a perplexed furrow as he tried to process the alien concept.

“All the best people are,” Iris quoted with a wry grin. “If anything, it’s probably the reason we get along so well.”

Brainy wasn’t sure if that was good or bad, but at the very least it was good for his continued employment.

“Well, you’re not wrong about Wondertainment not being best for my noggin, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t still good to me. I owed them so much, and I wanted to make them happy, but I probably made them sadder than any Wondrous Child ever has. That’s all behind me now though. You’re my boss now, and the only thing stopping Wondertainment - and the GOC, and the Circus - from enacting their own unique forms of justice on me, so if this is what you want me to do, I’ll do it.”

“Thank you. You’re a valuable member of my team Brian, and your well-being is important to me. I expect you to take full advantage of our very generous health benefits.”

She slid him an MC&D branded booklet entitled ‘The Madness Sets In Fast: Paranormal Psychiatric Services for Paranormal Stress’.

“Hmmm. Well, the last doctor I spoke with was a literal Clown, so I imagine this can only be a step up,” Brainy mused as he flipped through the pages. “I’ll, um, I’ll swing by the clinic downstairs after I clock out. Thank you, Ms. Dark. I’ve never had a boss I didn’t have to hide my condition from. It’s… it’s nice.”

“I’m just staying on top of any potential health issues with my only oneiromancer,” she said, lowering her glasses and turning to her laptop. “If there’s nothing further…”

“Actually, I do have a small personal favour to ask before I go,” Brainy replied. He rummaged through his bag and pulled out a rolled-up poster. “I don’t mean to embarrass you, and if I’m crossing a line let me know, but I was wondering if I could get your signature on your 2014 Derby poster?”

He unfurled the poster to reveal the 2013/14 team photo for the Legion of Dynamic Derby of Deer College. Much to his relief, Iris didn’t seem offended. Just confused.

“Brian, I didn’t go to – I didn’t play – that’s not me!” she stammered, staring at the derby player with her face. Brainy’s left eye twitched nervously as he turned the poster back to him to double check.

“But, I thought – I mean – she looks like you.”

“If I had a benign tumour pressing on my pituitary gland, maybe,” she countered. “That Amazon is six feet tall.”

“Well I thought you were using Chaos magic for a height boost,” Brainy explained.

“The name on her jersey says Black,” Iris pointed out.

“I assumed it was a pseudonym because you didn’t want people to treat you weird,” Brainy replied.

“Look, I don’t know what to tell you. Deer college is an inter-universal school, so at most that’s an alternate reality’s version of me, but it still isn’t me,” she insisted. Brainy took a long, squinty look at the poster.

“Are you 100 percent sure you never -”

“Is she wearing a turtleneck?” Iris asked flatly.

“I, well, no, but -”

“Then she isn’t me,” she said definitively.

“Well, I guess that is rather conclusive,” Brainy admitted, rolling the poster back up and sticking it back in his bag. “Sorry for wasting your time.”

“The doc’s a bit fast and loose with a prescription pad, don’t you think?” Pepper commented as she looked over the haul of drugs Brainy had brought back to their flat. “I guess that’s hardly a surprise. But you didn’t even see the counsellor?”

“No, just made an appointment,” Brainy replied as he read the label on a bottle of blue pills. “The acupuncturist was taking walk-ins though, so I stepped in, stripped down to my boxers and got stabbed with a couple of dozen needles made out of Morgana Silver.”

“You mean Fairy Silver? What difference does that make?” she asked, leaning over to look at the bottle in his hands.

“Ah, I’m pretty sure it’s just to maintain the illusion of exclusivity for the clients getting poked with twenty-four tiny daggers,” he replied, his back spasming slightly from the residual pain. “Though in all fairness he did use electro-thaumic stimulation, so I guess you’d want the best conductor possible.”

Brainy fumbled with the medicine as a sizable static discharge leapt from him to the bottle.

“Isn’t acupuncture for chronic pain?” Pepper asked.

“That’s what I said, but the acupuncturist assured me it was for a little bit of everything, aligning your Qi flow and whatnot,” he tried to turn his head to get the best possible view of his back. “None of them have started bleeding again, have they?”

Pepper shook her head.

“So after the acupuncture you saw the parapharmacist?” she asked.

“I wanted to, but I was scooped up by the Maxwellian cyber-faith healer. He sat me down in front of one of those Hoffman auto-exorcist things. It emulated all sorts of rituals to cleanse me of demons and bad mojo,” he said as he picked the bottles up one by one and shook them by his ear. “I think that actually did help, at least a little, but then he tried to talk me into a micro-exorcist implant that works by accessing spells stored on Dark’s electro-thaumic servers as needed, providing immediate treatment for any health issues that might arise.”

“And what did you say?” Pepper asked with a worried frown.

“I asked him if he had one,” Brainy replied. “He didn’t, since the chip’s accuracy with what spells to cast and when to cast them was less than a hundred percent, though he wouldn’t say how much less. He also said Dark had lied to him about the privacy of his data and was now blackmailing him to stay with the company, so I passed.”

Pepper sighed with relief.

“And then you saw the parapharmacist?” she asked.

“…Sadly no. I accidentally walked into a group astral projection session, and some of the exorcism spells I had on me must have still been active, so…”


“I know. But after numerous profuse apologies, I finally got to see the parapharmacist. The first thing she said was ‘what can I get you’, which… yeah, sounded like a weird thing for a pharmacist to say. I told her I’d been taking Risperdal – and briefly Clown Impulse Suppressant – for psychotic episodes, but I didn’t have a prescription for anything. She just laughed, and said she’d start me off with a sampler pack, and… here we are.”

They both glanced down at the intimidating spread on the table before them.

“Brainy, are you sure you don’t want to at least wait until you see the psychiatrist before you start taking this stuff?” Pepper asked gently.

Brainy took a moment to consider his response.

“Risperdal wasn’t good enough, in the end. I can’t risk something like that happening again. Happening to you. I need something better, and parapharmaceuticals have got to be better, right? They’re literally magic. This one here has alchemical stuff to balance my humors, thaumaturgical stuff for both neurological and psychological well-being, and theurgical stuff to bring a literal divine intervention into the mix. If that can’t keep me from losing my marbles, nothing can.”

“And side effects include?” she asked.

“…Normal thaumic backlash, which is manageable. Alchemy requires Equivalent Exchange, of course. Who could ever forget that? They say it at the start of every – never mind. It shouldn’t do anything worse than skim a little off my metabolism. Theurgy isn’t so much a side effect but a catch: gods require either faith or sacrifice, and they can choose to reject yours if they deem you unworthy of their boons. For all I know I, I may be beyond redemption.”

Brainy sat there in silence for a moment, his head hung low as he pondered at the bottle of miraculous medicine.

“I forgave you Brainy. The fact that this is so important to you proves you feel remorse over what you did, and that means God can forgive you too,” Pepper said, rubbing his back for a moment before he reflexively jerked away. “Right, the acupuncture! Sorry! Brainy, listen. If you think this will help you better than your old medicine, and that you can handle the side effects, then I’ll support you.”

Brainy nodded his agreement.

“I can’t let it happen again. Not to you, or anyone else, and I promised Dark I’d stay on top of it, so… down the hatch.” He poured a dose into his hands and downed it. She passed him a glass of water, and he swallowed it in one gulp. “Nothing to do now but wait.”

“I’d like my new body to still be portly – I wouldn’t want to have a bariatric divorce or any other family problems of that nature, plus I live to play Father Christmas – but I would like it to have some resistance to heart disease.” Brainy was meeting with a client in his Headspace, conjuring up a dreamform to transmute into a real body. “Going under the knife so often is becoming quite the chore.”

“Not a problem at all sir. A few genetic tweaks should do the trick,” Brainy assured the older gentleman as he took some measurements. “If you’d like I could even throw in some Winston Churchill syndrome. You seem like the type who enjoys a good cigar.”

“Soley in moderation; one at a time! ” the man chortled, giving Brainy a friendly slap on the back. Still sore from the acupuncture, Brainy withheld a wince as best he could. He couldn’t help but be reminded of the time when he was in the piranha tank when he had first materialized at the Circus. “My boy, I don’t want to alarm you, but it seems you’ve acquired a passenger upon your derriere.”

“I’m sorry?” Brainy craned his neck as much as he could, and to his horror saw a neon piranha biting into his right butt cheek. Screaming in fright, he batted it off and immediately began searching for where it had come from.

‘Hey piranha bait’, the memory of Icky’s voice echoed throughout his head. A swarm of white and purple piranhas materialized out of thin air and lunged towards him.

“What the devil?” the client shouted as he and Brainy ducked to avoid the swarm.

“My apologies sir, but it seems my Headspace’s been compromised! We’ll have to schedule this for another time,” Brainy said just as he struck the emergency release. The client vanished back to reality, but Brainy remained, pouring over the colourful plastic control console to figure out what had gone wrong. The swarm dived down back towards him, but with a flip of a switch, he made them intangible. Seemingly defeated, they vanished back into the nether.

“Nothing wrong?” Brainy muttered as he studied the diagnostic report. “How can there be nothing wrong? Unless…”

He couldn’t finish his sentence, as the memory of Icky’s hand around his throat suddenly became real. A transparent apparition of the enraged Ringmaster hoisted him off the ground, her purple snake eyes glowing and her tongue flickering in and out.

Not real, not real, not real, he thought to himself. The mantra caused the ghost to flicker and then vanish. Brainy gasped for air, crawling back to the console. His blood froze at the sound of a helicopter just outside. He imagined it was a black helicopter, and thus so it was. The GOC.

He heard their steps coming up the stairs, again.

He felt the gun in his hands, again.

He saw the boys lined up in their beds, again.


The entire dreamscape shattered into countless shards, which then disintegrated into dust and blew away into nothing. His Headspace once again the default of a black void, Brainy tried to regain his composure.

“S-summon lollipop,” he gasped, a sucker manifesting in his right hand. As he licked it, he pulled out the pill bottle with his left hand and reread the warning label to confirm his suspicions.

‘Projected thoughtforms of any kind may be erratically impacted by traumatic memories and intrusive thoughts.’

He let out a long, exhausted sigh as he realized that the cost of maintaining his sanity would be his past coming back to haunt him whenever he stepped into his Headspace. He trudged over to the console, to see if he could set up any safeguards that would at least stop it from interfering with his work too much.

“Well, look on the bright side,” he said to himself. “ I probably deserve this.”

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