A Pinch of Happiness

Brenna R. Singman

The skin around Tank's lips itched as the clock struck twelve. He knew his Monday shot was coming and, despite his nickname, he hated needles. Yet his muscles stretched into a smile, freshly brushed teeth gleaming. The fear, anger, and dread he had felt sixteen weeks prior was replaced with a muscle twitch and a smile as his body accepted the wave of relaxation through his rippling muscles.

A bolt slid aside making Tank chuckle. One of the new guards was on patrol last night. He meant to say hello as the food tray slid through the hatch of the door, but whoever it was scurried off, not realizing that Tank's reputation hardly preceded him any longer. Now two familiar, older men stood at the door in black guard uniforms.

"C'mon, Tank," one man said. Both were infinitely smaller than their prisoner. "It's graduation day."

Again, the prisoner's cheeks tightened as he remembered the awaiting needle. The guards let him walk out of the cell. He already knew the paths through the prison, each grimy, dingy cell block with hollering inmates and the wafting smell of crap and piss. Tank scratched at his itchy cheeks, glad to no longer need the cuffs that bruised his wrists. They finally left the maze of the prison blocks and followed the much cleaner halls to the psychiatrist's office.

A young woman with soft ringlets of black hair was typing at her computer. She had painted red lips and fluttering clockwork lashes. Her plated name tag read: Dr. Filomena Tran. When one of the guards shut the door behind them, she looked up.

"Good afternoon, Tank!" she said, voice cracking as it squeaked. She practically leaped from her chair and hugged her clipboard. "Today's the big day!"

Tank's lips parted to respond as a brief spasm made him feel sick to his stomach. Instead he only nodded and smiled.

Dr. Tran blinked. "Not excited? Feeling any side effects?"

"Honestly not sure, Doc," Tank said. "But it's all a great big experiment, right? At least you know C-Block has been quiet."

"It certainly has! I'm very proud of you, Tank. This just shows anyone can turn around. Even the worst villains have a hero in them. Hop up, bud!"

Dr. Tran patted the cushioned chair opposite her desk in the mostly emptied room. It lay flat with two rests for his arms and legs and a cradled headrest. The guards helped Tank lay back, and purely for procedural documentation they strapped him down by his wrists and ankles. He squinted a bit as he lay directly beneath a long fluorescent bulb.

"Comfy?" Dr. Tran asked, leaning over him, but not enough to block the light. His lips twitched, and he habitually held his tongue. "Great. Now hold still. Just one little pinch."

Tank closed his eyes. For just a moment as the needle broke his skin, an old wave of fire filled his belly. His muscles contracted, his face flushed, and he could feel his heartbeat throbbing behind his eyes. He wanted to wrench the needle from Dr. Tran's gloved, delicate hands, and stab it through her petite chest. He wanted to choke her thin, porcelain neck with his thick calloused hands and see her veins bulge as she gasped pathetically with final, dying breaths.

"All done!" she piped up. Tank smiled as he realized the pinch no longer bothered him. "How do you feel, bud"

"Good," he said. "Really good."

Dr. Tran beamed. "Reformed! I knew it! Let's do a couple more samples. You know the drill. And I think it's just a waiting game before you're back outside and living a fulfilling life, my friend!"

The fire in Tank's belly was long extinguished, replaced with a softer warmth he had become accustomed to. A raging inmate passing by the office door made Tank turn his head. For a moment he wondered something, but the thought was gone with the sound of another door shutting. Those were sounds of an old life. He had a new life to build.

A tear fell onto the newspaper clipping clutched in Dr. Tran's fists.

"Enough of that, doctor," said the woman in the black, pressed suit. She tore the paper from the doctor's hands, balled it up, and threw it in the garbage. Dr. Tran looked up, shocked by the aggressive motion. "We're moving forward. I need Patient Zero's full records."

"Can't we just take a moment-?" Dr. Tran dabbed at her eyes while a number of men and women in similar suits took boxes filled with records from her office. "Excuse me? Excuse me!" she finally screamed. The government official snapped her fingers and set the others to work while she addressed Doctor Tran.

"We knew the risks of sending a serial murderer back into society," she said. She produced a canned beverage from her briefcase and handed it to Dr. Tran. The doctor's shaky fingers struggled to pop the tab. "Not everyone believes people can be reformed, but we know. It's shed light on others who have the same tendencies as a serial murderer and rapist, and yet they walk the streets. This will be enlightening for the next steps."

Dr. Tran wished she had more authority to demand more experiments, more time to see the lingering effects. But all of the reports showed promise. If the serum can reform a serial killer to avoid confrontations, the thought of it used en masse even brought a small, calming smile to Dr. Tran's face. She put down the can of Hap Cola and wiped the condensation on her coat.

"We can't let this happen again," she whispered.

The official patted Dr.. Tran's shoulder and directed her team out. When the office was empty, Dr. Tran took the newspaper from the garbage. The wrinkled headline brought another wave of tears. HOWARD "TANK" GIBSON MURDERED BY MOB IN NORTH SHOLL'S APARTMENT.

"We can't let this happen again."