Pain Killer – A Short Story

I had been to doctors, physical therapists, yoga classes, and chiropractors, none could help with my back. On the best days it was uncomfortable, on the worst I am at a lack of words to describe. It had become an ever present weight, one that had me swallowing pills wholesale and saving up money for an experimental surgery. So I was open minded when a man stopped me as I limped away from the counter with a cup of coffee.

“That looks painful,” he said. I contorted my body to fit into the booth and managed a smile that my pain could be acknowledged.

“What do the doctors say?” he asked before recognition seemed to creep into the eyes behind his rimless glasses. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to intrude. It’s just I recently recovered from an injury that looks quite similar to what you’re suffering.”

“Really?” Months earlier I might have been cynical that he was trying to sell me something, but I had grown desperate and was willing to buy whatever anyone was offering.

“Yes. My hip was out of whack quite like yours and my shoulder was lower and I’m sorry, just looking at you is bringing back terrible memories.”

“How did you heal?”

“I found a doctor.”

“Can I have his name?”

“Yes, of course.” There was a long pause. It felt long anyway. “I must warn you that he is not a conventional doctor.”

“Is it reiki? Acupuncture?”

“It is unique. Dr. Woh works in realms that I have never been exposed to. But his his results are for me anyway, extraordinary. And his price…”

“If he can heal me, I will pay any price.” I said it and I meant it. The man who then introduced himself as Stephen Lyme gave me Dr. Woh’s address. On the train ride home I looked for evidence of Dr. Woh’s existence on the internet, there was none. Instead I found on-line profiles for Stephen Lyme, For the last year he looked a man of 35 in fantastic health, but the pictures from a year earlier portrayed misery. His spine was askew in a grotesque manner. In the dozens of photographs the camera could never seem to grasp him with a genuine smile.

After work the next afternoon with my pain being on what I would describe to doctors on a scale of 1 to 10 at a 6, I made the trek uptown. I tried to hope for the best and expect the worst, but as I walked down the stairs to the door marked 7707 I could not help but feel I was wasting my time. This looked more a dingy basement apartment than the office of a miracle worker.

But still I knocked.

Nothing.

I saw a buzzer and rang it. When I lifted my hand to knock again the door opened.

An older man opened the door with a beard reminiscent of alfalfa sprouts. I was about to ask if he was Dr. Woh when he spoke in an English accent. “You are not well.”

“No, Dr. Woh.” I was unsure what to say next so I apologized, “I’m not sure, is that the right way to pronounce your name?”

“Come inside.” He rushed me in and placed his hands on my hips trying to push them into alignment. Of course they would not stay settled. “This is bad. Rotten.”

I looked around. The bookcases and the desk and the futon couch made it evident this was a basement apartment, but I asked anyway, “Do you need to see my insurance card?”

Again he did not answer my question. “This looks very painful.”

“It is.” I assured him.

“Would you like treatment?”

“Yes! I mean, what would that entail?” He poked my leg with his bony finger then traced up toward my stomach. “Forgive me for asking so many questions, but I’d like to know what I’m getting into. I have limited funds and…”

“You can pay me what you think is fair.”

“That sounds… fair. Yes, I would like you to treat me. Please.”

He turned to open a door I did not notice was there. We walked in and he began lighting candles until I could see there was a red circle painted on the floor with a star in it.

“Is that a pentagram?” I asked.

“Yes, you have a demon within you and I must pull him out. Please, step into the star.”

I did as he said. he began speaking, nearly singing in a language I did not understand but imagined to be Asian. Chinese? Japanese? Korean? I could not say. I tried not to stare as he hopped up on one foot, but then he kicked me right in the stomach and I began to vomit. Green, black, and brown liquids spewed out of my mouth. As I was coughing and spitting and letting out all this bile, Dr. Woh was carefully collecting my refuse and jarring them in glass containers.

“You maniac!” I shouted out along with a litany of curse words when Dr Woh pointed out something I had not realized.

“How is your back?”

Not only was I standing upright, but there was no pain, no discomfort. “What did you do? How did you do that?”

“You had a demon within you. I took him out.”

“That is it?”

“I must dispose of him properly or else it might return, but yes otherwise this demon is done with you.”

“So there are no follow ups, no anything I should know?” he said nothing merely twisted the lids of each jar with great care. I went into my wallet and gave him everything I had knowing full well that was not enough. Even if the pain came back later that night or the next day, he gave me what no other treatment could provide, a moment of peace. “Thank you, doctor.”

He accepted the money and said nothing else.Then he opened one door and then another and I walked out into the night air. Or perhaps I walked on the night air. I was confused. I felt free and was unsure how to express my good health. I decided to click my heels the way they did in old movies. Even on the landing I felt fine. A jogger almost ran into me and I decided to follow him.

I felt fine. I felt great. There was an awning just out of arm’s reach I took a couple steps and leaped and touched it. This was remarkable. Life for so long had been a burden, now it felt like a blessing. There was so much to do. Old friends to see who had undoubtedly given up on me after so many turned down invitations. Places to visit that seemed too much of a trouble due to my affliction, I could now frequent. Genres of lifestyle like adventure, romance, and even comedy now seemed within my reach.

Then one day I saw him. The smile, the love for life was gone, his hair unkempt and his eyes staring down at the sidewalk. Most distressingly he was dependent on a cane. “Stephen!” I called to him. He did not look up so I stood in his path. “Stephen Lyme.”

He looked me up and down and managed a, “Hello”.

I did not know how to address his ill health, so I ignored it, a response I loathed when I was the one in pain. “I’m so glad I ran into you. You were right. Dr. Woh was a miracle worker. I’m off to play tennis now. Tennis! Can you believe it?”

“Yes. Yes, I can.”

“Is everything OK with you?”

Hunched over he looked at me like the idiot I was. “No.”

“What about Dr. Woh? Can he help you?”

“Dr. Woh’s services are too expensive for me at this point.”

“I’d be happy to lend you money. It’s the least I can do. Your recommendation improved my life in ways—“

“Excuse me,” he said as he limped past me. “It was good to see you, but I must make my way to the pharmacy.”

It was an odd exchange, but one I did not ponder too deeply. I was too occupied tasting fruits that had been kept away from me. I began exchanging flirtations with Jayne in accounting and looked into a weekend flight to New Orleans.

Then one morning the pain returned. Not a gradual tweak, but rather a full and excruciating reversal. After pushing myself off the ground and devouring whatever pills I still had at my disposal I took the trip toward Dr. Woh.

I knocked at his door.

No answer.

I knocked harder. Still no answer. There was no phone number or e-mail to reach him at so I sat, until I had to lie down at his curb. Hours later the door opened and I stood up with great difficulty. “Come in,” he said immediately.

Without him asking I expressed how the pain had returned. He said nothing until I begged, “I need you to do what you did before.”

“What I did before was what you would call a one time only—“

I interrupted. “I understand you must charge me. I will pay any price.”

He looked at me. A deep look. “You are desperate for good reason. This demon you have attracted will not be so easily fooled.” He stepped into the pentagram room. I quickly followed. He turned on an awful avant-garde music as he lit his candles.

He motioned for me to sit where I sat before and then left the room. I counted the seconds and then the minutes until he cured my agony. He returned with a jar that he handed me. In it was a little white mouse, the kind they use in laboratories or that you buy in a pet store to feed a snake. “As I thought this demon is not receptive to the same methods. It requires blood.”

I knew where this was going, but refused to believe it even as he handed me a knife. “I need to kill him?”

“Yes, and you must drink his blood.”

I wish, not truly, but more for reasons of empathy, that you could feel what duress I was under before you judge me. Perhaps then you would not consider what I did next as harshly. I behaved like a man lost in the desert who came across an oasis. Maybe it was all a mirage and the water I was drinking was just sand, but I had to try. I took the knife to the rodent’s throat and swallowed until there was nothing left.

I could not tell you at what point the creature stopped squirming because immediately the nausea kicked in. I spat out that black, brown gruesome tar and as I regained my senses I felt fantastic again.

I thanked Dr. Woh profusely. He did not smile. He knew much better than I that the cure was temporary.

Whereas before I was healed for months, this time it was only weeks until I needed to visit him again. I came prepared, stopping at a pet store and purchasing one of those mice. Dr. Woh shook his head and directed me toward  a restaurant’s kitchen where I paid for a rooster. It is true what they say about the bird, it does continue to move after you cut its head off.

The next healing or exorcism or whatever you should call it involved a snake. The following one required a cat. I did not feel as badly as you would think about slaughtering a dog as I could touch my toes again afterward.

As I stretched I felt the need to ask Dr. Woh what would be next. Would I require a horse or a monkey maybe? It was worse.

“The next step will require human blood.”

I thought long and hard about who I might be able to coerce into aiding my well being. I figured I could offer some vagrant money to follow me into the pentagram. Perhaps it would require drugs. I told Dr. Woh, “That will not be a problem. Next time you see me I will have the proper sacrifice—“

Before I could fully finish the sentence I felt the sharp blade of his knife puncture my throat. As my insides seeped out Dr. Woh feasted on my blood.

Turned out I was not the only one to suffer from back pain.

 

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