To recap, inspired by Kristine Kathryn Rusch who posts a free short story every week on her blog, I’ll post a free story on every first Monday of the month.
Since it’s Easter Monday, what could be more appropriate than a seasonal story? And so this week’s free story is “Angoraphobia” from my SFF collection Operation Rubber Ducky. No, the title is not a typo, though the story was inspired by someone mistyping “agoraphobia” as “angoraphobia”, whereupon I wondered, “So what would angoraphobia be then? A pathological fear of fluffy sweaters?” The story grew from there.
But what exactly makes a story about people suffering from a pathological fear of fluffy sweaters appropriate to the Easter season? Well, because there are also fluffy killer bunnies from outer space, ’nuff said.
So read all about the shocking new psychiatric condition known as…
“And this…” Professor Pohland came to a halt in front of a locked patient room. “…is a particularly interesting case. For you see, this patient suffers from an extreme form of angoraphobia.”
“Ahem…” One of the interns, a young man with pale skin and shaggy dark hair, raised his hand. Of course. There was always one. “Don’t you mean agoraphobia, Professor?”
Professor Pohland turned the full force of his glare onto the intern, who promptly crumbled.
“No, Mr. Zacharias, I meant angoraphobia.” Professor Pohland turned on the rest of the interns, eyes blinking furiously behind his little round glasses. “So who knows what angoraphobia is? Anybody? Anybody?”
The interns exchanged glances, clearly confused. Finally, one of them, a young dark-skinned man with a chubby face, stuck up his hand. The clown of the group. Of course.
“Yes, Mr. Wendell?”
“Pathological fear of fluffy sweaters,” Mr. Wendell said, obviously barely able to keep himself from giggling.
“Well, this is surprisingly accurate, Mr. Wendell,” Professor Pohland said, “I’m stunned, I truly am. Though the official definition of angoraphobia is a bit wider than just pathological fear of fluffy sweaters. Indeed, angoraphobia involves a pathological fear of any products made from angora wool or similar materials due to the delusional belief that giant fluffy rabbits are trying to take over the Earth.”
Mr. Wendell broke down first, erupting into a fit of laughter. Soon all the interns were giggling.
“And that’s like… a thing?” Mr. Zacharias wanted to know, “I mean people believing that giant rabbits are trying to take over the Earth is honestly a thing?”
“Yes, angoraphobia is really a ‘thing’ as you so eloquently put it, Mr. Zacharias. The condition is on the rise with people being hospitalised for it all over the country, perhaps even all over the world.”
There was a new round of giggles.
“But shouldn’t it rather be ‘the delusional belief that giant fussy goats are trying to take over the world’?” Mr Wendell pointed out, “After all, angora wool comes from goats, doesn’t it? Or was it sheep?”
“No, Mr. Wendell, angora wool is indeed produced from the coat of the angora rabbit,” the Professor explained, “You are thinking of mohair, a similar fibre produced from the hair of the angora goat.”
“But whether it’s goats or sheep or rabbits doesn’t really matter does it?” another intern, a serious young woman with straight dark hair and thick glasses, pointed out, “I mean, the big question here is why are we suddenly seeing an epidemic of psychiatric cases of people suffering from the delusional belief that giant fluffy rabbits from outer space are trying to take over the world? Cause that’s a rather bizarre delusion to have, isn’t it?”
Professor Pohland turned his glare on her. “Delusions are bizarre by definition, Miss Krueger.”
“Yes, but why fluffy rabbits from outer space? Why not goats or sheep or turtles or ducks or something like that? Why rabbits? That’s rather specific, isn’t it?”
This one was smart. She knew what questions to ask. Time to defuse her.
“Miss Krueger here asks the right questions,” Professor Pohland said. In response, Miss Krueger’s thin lips actually condescended to form a smile. “Indeed, we do not know why we are seeing a rising incidence of this very particular phobia. But if I were to hazard a guess, I would suspect that it has something to do with some kind of Internet conspiracy theory similar to the Slender Man phenomenon.”
“Uhm, Slender Man is totally real, dudes,” Mr. Zacharias said. A glare from Professor Pohland silenced him.
“So is there a website or anything about this ‘fluffy bunny from outer space’ story?” the ever astute Miss Krueger continued, “Cause I really refuse to believe that such a bizarre idea simply develops in a vacuum.”
“Well, I suppose there is,” Professor Pohland replied, “Though I am not in the habit of visiting websites peddling delusional beliefs.”
Mr. Wendell tapped onto his smartphone and announced, “Eighty-two thousand hits for ‘fluffy bunnies from outer space’, though many of these seem to be for some kind of videogame.”
“But in the case of this patient, wouldn’t it be helpful to check those websites — well, not the ones about the videogame obviously — to investigate the origin of this particular phobia?” Miss Krueger wanted to know.
“Miss Krueger, it is not the psychiatrist’s job to take a patient’s delusions seriously,” the Professor snapped, “In fact, taking delusions seriously might seriously harm the patient’s recovery.”
Miss Krueger took a look through the small window in the door of the patient room. “Well, he certainly doesn’t look as if he’s on the way to recovery,” she remarked, “And anyway, I would simply like to understand why. I mean, how do we know about his phobia at all? Did he just walk into the clinic one day and started babbling about fluffy bunnies from outer space?”
“Actually, she has a point,” Mr. Zacharias added.
“With regards to this particular patient…” Professor Pohland consulted his file. “…he was arrested after going on a rampage in a store selling women’s knitwear, where he attacked both customers and staff, while yelling ‘You’re one of them’.”
Mr. Wendell was about to erupt into giggles again, but a glare from the Professor silenced him.
“Afterwards, the patient was committed for endangering himself and others.”
“And we have no idea how he came to fear angora sweaters and believe in fluffy bunnies from outer space?” the ever irrepressible Miss Krueger wanted to know, “All we know is that he rioted in a knitwear store?”
“I assure you, Miss Krueger, the patient’s symptoms are only too visible,” the Professor countered, “Perhaps a little demonstration is in order.”
Professor Pohland looked from intern to intern and finally settled on a quiet blonde girl who hadn’t said anything so far. “You there! Yes, you. I’m sorry, what was your name again?”
“Jenkins,” the girl said in a voice like a cartoon character. Oh yes, she would do very well indeed. “Jessie Jenkins.”
“Would you please come over here, Miss Jenkins?”
Miss Jenkins walked over to stand beside the Professor, who showed an inordinate amount of interest in her fluffy pink sweater.
“Well, it’s not real angora, of course…” The Professor wrinkled his nose. “But it’ll do. Come on, Miss Jenkins, let’s meet the patient.”
As if on cue, Professor Pohland unlocked the door and opened it. The patient, who up to now had been sitting on his bunk in a straightjacket, suddenly looked up.
“You’re one of them,” he screamed, “One of them.”
He probably would have launched himself at Miss Jenkins and the Professor, if the straightjacket hadn’t held him back.
“You’re one of them and you’ve come to get me,” the patient screamed, “But you won’t. I won’t let you.”
Professor Pohland shut the door in his face, while Miss Krueger put an arm around the trembling Miss Jenkins.
“You see?” Professor Pohland exclaimed triumphantly, “A mere glimpse of Miss Jenkins’ sweater was enough to trigger a fully blown psychotic break.”
“That was cruel,” Miss Krueger hissed, while still comforting Miss Jenkins.
“Cruel, but a necessary demonstration,” the Professor countered, “And I assure you that if Miss Jenkins were to go back into the patient’s room without her sweater, he would be perfectly docile.”
“You want her to go back in there?” Miss Krueger demanded.
“And you want her to take off her sweater?” Mr. Zacharias added.
“Merely for demonstrative purposes,” Professor Pohland replied.
Miss Krueger patted Miss Jenkins’ back. “It’s all right, Jessie. I’ll go with you.”
After approximately five minutes, Miss Krueger and Miss Jenkins returned. Miss Jenkins had taken off her sweater and was now sporting a pale pink blouse topped by a lab coat.
“Fine.” Professor Pohland flashed Miss Jenkins an encouraging smile. “Come on. I assure you, he won’t bite.”
Miss Jenkins took a hesitant step forward and then another, Miss Krueger always by her side.
Professor Pohland handed her the keys. “Here, Miss Krueger. If you’d like to do the honour…” Then he hung back, moving out of sight of the door.
Miss Krueger unlocked the door and cautiously opened it a crack. The patient was sitting on his bunk again, slowly rocking back and forth. As the door opened, he looked up.
Miss Krueger took a step inside, followed by a hesitant Miss Jenkins.
“Hello,” Miss Krueger said, “I’m Sarah and this is Jessie. We just wanted to see if you needed any help.”
The patient scrutinised first Miss Krueger and then Miss Jenkins. “You were with one of them,” he finally said, “Just a minute ago, you were here with one of them.”
“Yes, we were here a minute ago,” Miss Krueger said, “Jessie was here. Do you remember?”
“Of course, I remember,” the patient said, “You were with one of them. The two of you, a skinny white boy and a chubby black boy and one of them.”
“And who would ‘they’ be?” Miss Krueger wanted to know.
“One of the fluffy bunnies from outer space who’ve come to conquer Earth and exterminate us all,” the patient said, “Come on, you must have seen him. I mean, a six foot tall fluffy bunny is kind of hard to miss, isn’t he?”
He lowered his voice. “They’re dangerous, you know? You should keep away from him, keep far away from him. Cause they want to kill us all.”
Miss Krueger retreated, Miss Jenkins in tow. Once outside, she quickly closed and locked the door.
Miss Krueger shook her had. “Totally barking mad,” she said.
Two hours later, Professor Pohland was alone in his office, speaking into his computer.
“No, sir, we still have no idea why our glamour fails to affect a certain percentage of humanity. But our attempts to discredit those who can perceive our true nature has been a rousing success. Operation: Conquest and Extermination is still on track.”
A fluffy white paw rested on the mouse.
That’s it for this month’s edition of First Monday Free Fiction. Check back next month, when a new free story will be posted.