ACCEPTABLE RISKS by ROBIN COOK

May 12, 2015 at 8:43 pm Leave a comment

I’ve just finished reading Robin Cook’s novel, Acceptable Risks, published in 1995. It was a Goodwill purchase, sorry Mr. Cook. The work whose blurb proclaimed, ‘One of Cook’s best,” I don’t agree with. Although to be honest, I think his name and reputation carry slightly more weight than mine. If I could just live to about 150, I might catch up.

Anyway.

What intrigued me about the book’s premise was the side effects of mind-altering drugs. I wrote a short story, Side Affects, published by BLACK PETALS in2007. Since it is no longer easily accessible, I’m including a copy. I’m sure, somewhere on late-night TV, there exists a lawyer willing to take on the case if I am wrong.

Anyway, here it is.

SIDE AFFECTS

The female picked up her baby and held it close, suckling it for the last time. She did not have a name; language was thousands of years in the future.   As she gazed at her infant, only days old, tears rolled down her cheeks. She caressed the small hairy body and kissed the prominent brow, the two characteristics that spelled the infants doom. She stood, and slowly walked into the forest. Moments later the forest echoed with a child’s scream, cut suddenly short. The female emerged from the forest alone.

She thought of another member of the loosely formed tribe with a similar baby, who did not have the strength to destroy it. The female raised the child, its aggressiveness and appearance different from the other children living in the clearing in the African forest. The child grew strong and hateful. One day a member of the tribe found the mother dead, partially devoured. The child was never seen again. It entered the jungle, more animal than human, to live as its ancestors did thousands of years before.

***

Modern science could have discovered the explanation for these mysterious births. The cause was a unique receptor, a protein on the surface of the cell. Many receptors discovered today are seven transmembrane receptors; they course the cell wall seven times weaving in and out like a tiny thread. These aggressive individuals had receptors that were fourteen transmenbrane receptors, monstrous in size and in action, bringing together hormones in rare mixes, resulting in a savage monster. These receptors disappeared with the extinction of the savage individuals, but the genetic machinery that manufactured these monstrous receptors did not.

Thousands of years ago, as these monsters were born and eliminated; there was another type of individual created. It was rare, rarer than its savage counterparts. These individuals possessed the genetic machinery to produce the aberrant receptors but this could only occur when there was a change in serotonin levels. These changes don’t normally occur in nature now, and the birth of these individuals continued with their genetic potential unrealized. Unrealized, that is, until the advent of the new antidepressants.

***

Jeff Skovich was a quiet guy, the kind of guy you never noticed, primarily because he didn’t want to be noticed. Only Jeff and his wife Linda knew the torment of his life. Lately he was blowing up at the slightest provocation. He was angry all the time and had more and more difficulty dealing with daily routines. Then, one day, Jeff had a particularly violent argument with Linda. After Jeff had nearly struck her she shouted, “You need help! I refuse to go on living like this,” and stormed out of the house. Confused and hurt, she drove aimlessly for hours and when she returned, Jeff was gone.

Days later, a sullen Jeff returned home, and would not tell Linda where he had been. They spent a week passing each other in the house, avoiding any contact, sleeping in different rooms. The love Jeff felt for Linda ran so deep, he could not bear the thought of life without her but could not confront her. Finally, Linda broke the ice. “I love you”, she told him, but insisted, “You need help for your mood swings, and we really can’t go on like this.”

At first Jeff said nothing, and then his feelings poured out, “I feel hopeless all the time. I can hardly function because nothing seems to have any importance. I use all the energy I have just to get through the day. By the time I come home I’m spent, angry and confused. I just can’t deal with things the way I once did.” As Jeff talked, the tears started to flow from Linda’s eyes and from Jeff’s. Linda knew the man Jeff once was and wanted him back.

Jeff finally agreed to see Dr. Roberts, their family doctor, and after a short discussion Roberts said, “I’m going to put you on one of the new serotonin reuptake inhibitors. I think that this medication will help you. We’ll give it a try and see if it makes a difference.”

Jeff filled the prescription and started the therapy he hoped would return his life to him. After a week he noticed a difference in his approach to problems; instead of flying into a rage, he stopped and thought through the conflict he felt. He was no longer angry all the time, had more patience and was more focused on his work. Linda noticed the change too. She no longer dreaded coming home from her job, trying to gauge Jeff’s mood for the evening. Jeff and Linda began enjoying life and their marriage to the fullest. Jeff’s job as an electrical engineer took off. The work he accomplished won recognition and promotions. Linda also grew comfortable in her life. Her job teaching at the local middle school gave her great satisfaction. Linda adored children but was not able to have her own, so this proximity to children fulfilled a need.

Jeff had now been on the antidepressant for years. His life with Linda could not be better; he found himself feeling guilty at times for the happiness that was his. He was now in charge of a major project for the company. The outlook of every facet of his life was positive.

“You know Linda,” Jeff said one morning, “I think it’s a waste of money for me to continue to take the antidepressant. I feel fine, we get along great and things couldn’t be better at work. I’m going to have a talk with Dr. Roberts and see what he says.”

Jeff made the appointment and Linda went with him to testify to the changes Jeff had undergone. Dr. Roberts agreed and slowly began to wean Jeff off the medicine. When Jeff began taking the drug, he started at a low dose and gradually increased the dosage until he underwent the full benefits of the drug. Now he reversed the process and began taking less and less, paying attention to any changes in his mood or behavior, until he was taking the lowest dose used. He still was doing fine so he stopped taking the drug altogether.

Weeks, then months went by and Jeff was even tempered and happy as he had been when he was on the medication, but deep within his genetic makeup subtle changes were taking place. Removing the drug from his system set his cellular machinery into gear, in a manner that had not taken place in man for thousands of years. Proteins were being manufactured that were awesome in length and complexity. They weaved through the walls of his cells fourteen times, like vipers ready to do their damage. The process was slow, gradually creating a monster. The night he began the crossover, Jeff had a dream.

Jeff dreamt he walked an African savanna, hunting for what he knew he needed to continue his existence – food. He stalked his prey, made a kill and feasted on his quarry’s raw flesh. Jeff awoke bathed in sweat, unable to understand his apparition’s meaning. The final image remained imprinted in his mind. In his dream the quarry had been human. This deeply disturbed him for days. He tried to dismiss the dream but couldn’t, for it reoccured. And as the side affects began to alter his body, his dreams became more and more vivid as his mind was also altered.

Six months went by before Jeff noticed a change in his behavior. He was out shopping one day and was about to pull into a parking space when another car beat him to the spot. Normally, he would have uttered some epithet to himself and gone on his way, but this time was different. He pulled his car behind the intruder to prevent him from leaving, then jumped out of his car and attacked. Jeff hammered his fist on the closed window, confronting an elderly couple. The face of the old man behind the wheel revealed shock and disbelief. Both he and his wife cowered as Jeff continued to yell and pound the window. In desperation, the old man began to blow his horn continuously, hoping to attract attention. The noise and forming crowd brought Jeff to his senses.   He jumped into his car and left.

As he drove away, Jeff was shaking with fear and rage. Years ago when he was depressed, he felt rage, a rage born of desperation. The rage he felt now was different; it was animal. For a moment, he wanted to kill the old couple, not considering the consequences.

He did not mention this incident to his wife. He was both scared and ashamed and wanted to forget all about what had happened. Jeff wondered if maybe he should return to his antidepressant but couldn’t realize that there was no turning back. His genetic machinery was in overdrive and could not be reversed.

Jeff had always had a heavy beard. With his thick black hair, his five o’clock shadow would sometimes appear at three, but now by eleven o’clock he looked like he hadn’t shaved at all that morning, and his normally densely haired torso and arms seemed to be growing additional hair. Another change took place that he did not understand, seeming impossible. His face seemed to be altered ever so slightly. His brow seemed to be thickened. It was almost impossible to notice without close inspection. The way Jeff first became aware of this change was that his glasses felt uncomfortable to wear. But this was not a problem for his eyesight seemed to be improving to the extent that he didn’t need his glasses.

The change that distressed Jeff the most was the change in his temper. These days he avoided Linda for fear of a blowup. Small things that she had always done, her little habits, would now grate his nerves generating a mad rage that he fought to keep under control. He had more fits of anger while in public. One day, an elderly woman entered a checkout line at the same time as Jeff, and he pushed her, knocked her to the ground yelling obscenities. A crowd gathered as he ran from the store. In the distance he could hear the wail of a police siren. He walked for hours until darkness fell, and then returned to the store’s parking lot to retrieve his car.

Day by day, his appearance was definitely changing. His brow was becoming more prominent and there was no controlling his beard growth, and his body was covered with what appeared to be fur. Jeff was at a loss as to what to do, whom to turn to for he found it impossible to communicate his rage.

Then one day, Linda was gone from his life too. She knew he was angry again, but not like before. The rage was constant and she couldn’t help but notice the change in his appearance. She couldn’t take the anger any longer and asked, “What’s happening Jeff?”

Jeff’s reply was both verbal and physical, “Shut up bitch,” he shouted and slapped Linda as hard as he could. He had never struck her before. Linda fell to the floor and Jeff began to kick and stomp her until his energy was spent. Linda’s face was no longer recognizable. He left and entered a primal world from which he would never return.

THE END

Entry filed under: free science fiction and horror stories, free stories, OBSERVATIONS & OPINIONS. Tags: , , , , , , .

BEN E. KING AND BACKUP SINGERS WATERSPIDER BY PHILIP K. DICK

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