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DEADACHE • by Deborah A. Blood

Isabel has doe eyes. Owen never knew what that expression meant until he met her. Large, dark eyes, liquid eyes; the kind of eyes you expect to see looking out at you from a forest glade.

He never feels well without her anymore. There’s always the headache, the sickening tattoo of blood in his temples that only goes away in Isabel’s arms. She stands in front of him in an ethereal dress of such a light blue that it is almost a non-color.

That’s where Owen wants to be. In her arms is the only life he knows. Everything else is pain; everything else is chaos.

“Owen.” The voice sounds like an echo. At first he isn’t sure if someone is speaking to him or if it’s just the headache. “Owen, Owen,” it pounds, never giving up. 

“Owen.”

The voice is more insistent now. He opens his eyes against the glaring light. This light isn’t good, like Isabel’s. This light is harsh and blinding, and makes the pain in his head swell until it’s almost unbearable.

“Owen, can you hear me?”

He licks his ragged lips. “Yes,” he murmurs, “I hear you.”

“Do you know where you are?”

He looks around as much as he can and he isn’t surprised. He’s seen this tableau a dozen times before, maybe one hundred times. There are glass blocks to his left, which admit a pale form of sunlight; Owen isn’t convinced that it’s sunlight at all. He suspects it’s fluorescent lighting from an adjacent room. In front of him is a desk and beyond the desk is a bookcase. Third row from the top, seventh book from the left: Great Expectations. It would make him laugh if he hadn’t lost the ability to do so.

In between himself and Great Expectations is a desk, and behind the desk, leaning on the desk, is a man with glasses. 

“I’m in your office, Dr. Monroe,” he says. It’s a Herculean effort to get the words out around the waves of pain in his head, but he manages it. He has to. He knows this torture will continue until he does.

“That’s very good,” Dr. Monroe responds. He opens a file and the rustling of paper causes the pain in Owen’s head to flare like a sunspot. 

Why does this dream hurt so much? he wonders. He doesn’t know why, yet obviously it does. Play the game, he tells himself. Play the game and they’ll let you wake up.

“You’ve had your fourth ECT treatment, Owen,” the doctor says.   

Dr. Monroe stops speaking and Owen wonders what’s expected of him now. His mind is in a fog and he gropes around for the words he knows the doctor wants to hear. Isabel, his mind screams.

“I’m feeling much better, Dr. Monroe,” he says finally.

There’s another long silence and he finds himself drawing away from this dream world of doctors and torture. If only they’d leave him alone, he would be fine. If only they would let him be with her. If they’d just stop dragging him down into sleep where Isabel is vague and only her scent lingers on the fringes of his pain.

“That’s good to hear,” Dr. Monroe says finally. “How’s your headache?”

Sickening, pounding, confusing, unmanning. “Much better,” he answers.

“I’m very glad to hear that,” Dr. Monroe answers.  “But Owen — ”

It sounds so damned ominous, that “but”. He forces his eyes open again and pretends to focus on the doctor. Great Expectations. Great Expectations. He didn’t figure Dr. Monroe for much of a scholar, actually. The doctor knows so little.

“Yes, Doctor?” His voice sounds so polite that Owen is almost convinced of his own sincerity. 

“We’re not doing as well with the catatonia as I would like.”

“That’s because Catatonia is a summer destination, Dr. Monroe,” Owen informs his tormentor, “and I believe this is Spring.” Let’s see what he makes of that, the humorless fuck.

A smile flits across the doctor’s lips. “It’s October, actually, but we can address that some other time. Owen, our goal here is to treat the underlying cause of the catatonia, not just the symptom itself. Our goal here is to combat the major depressive state that results in your withdrawal.”

God, his head is pounding. Owen feels sick with pain, but he won’t let it show. Not if he can help himself, that is. “If you want to combat my depression, then leave me alone. I’m perfectly content when you’re not frying my brain or poisoning me with your goddamn chemicals.”

“You know that’s not true, Owen,” Dr. Monroe chides him gently. “Without the medications and the electroconvulsive therapy, you might never emerge from a catatonic state. As it is, your periods of lucidity are increasing in length.”

“‘Lucidity’,” Owen repeats. So that’s what they call this torture. I’m glad it has a name. He wants to get back to Isabel. He’s tired of the doctor’s dog and pony show where he has to be both the dog and the pony.

If I close my eyes I can make this bad dream go away, Owen thinks. He tries it; he wills himself to fall into his wakefulness. It’s like standing with your back to a pool, your feet on the edge. It’s as easy as falling backward. He still hears voices as his dream state clings for a moment, then there’s blissful silence. His headache begins to fade. He looks around and there she is. Isabel — as beautiful as a Botticelli Madonna, as radiant as a star.

He stumbles towards her and drops to his knees, burying his face in her dress. “Thank God you waited for me,” he whispers, “thank God you didn’t leave.”

Her hands are cool on his face. “I’ll always wait, darling,” she whispers back. She puts her lips on his forehead. “How is your headache?”

Owen smiles up at her. “Gone,” he sighs.


Over the past thirty years, Deborah Blood has written for various travel and travel industry magazines such as Sunset Magazine, TravelAge West and TravelAge East, as well as Highlights for Children and Readers Digest. Her submission to Every Day Fiction represents her first foray into the adult fiction genre.

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DEADACHE • by Deborah A. Blood, 3.9 out of 5 based on 86 ratings
Posted on December 4, 2009 in Stories, Surreal
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  • J.C. Towler

    I like how the story reveals itself gradually and then the concept of catatonia as more than just a mindless black void, but rather a place of bliss.

    One small typo, “Why does this dreams hurt so much?” Should be either “these dreams” or “this dream”.

    –John

  • http://www.stacypost.blogspot.com Stacy Post

    Interesting story! I thought it was well paced. Depression is a heavy subject matter, and I think you conveyed the weight of it successfully. I agree with J.C. that it’s a nice surprise to discover catatonia as a place of bliss. One small (hopefully helpful) note: there are a few places where a pronoun would do instead of repeating the proper name. Otherwise, a neat story to read first thing this morning.

  • http://teenangel.netfirms.com Jim Hartley

    Definitely **NOT** my kind of story … I didn’t like it … in fact I was at least two thirds through it before I began to figure out what was going on. A different sort of “dementia” story.

  • http://mickeymills.wordpress.com/ Mickey

    Like J.C. I found this story unfolding a lot like peeling an onion, with each layer richer and more tasty than the previous. The pacing was spot-on and the ending a simple punctuation of the topic.

    I like how the “Girl of his dreams, Isabel,” remained a mystery. It lets the reader fill in the blanks.

    Nicely done!

  • http://blog.bobjacobs.co.uk/ Bob Jacobs

    Yes, nicely done. I read it first thing this morning, and it’s definitely worthy of a second read.

  • http://www.mostlyunsure.blogspot.com Pete

    Well done. For me, there are a few too many words like ‘glade’ and ‘non-colour’ that feel streched. But it’s a small thing.

    I thought it paced itself well, and peeled open at exactly the right time(s).

    Some small typos, (‘The voice sound like an echo.’ should be ‘voices’, ‘sounds’ or ‘sounded.’)

  • Sharon

    Fix typo. Otherwise, great story!

  • Lisa C.

    I liked this one. Not much to say that hasn’t been said.

  • http://www.delenemartin.com Dee

    I LIKE that the ending took me by surprise. The idea that his internal landscape was preferable to the real world, while sad was a nice twist.

  • Evy

    Very well written. I enjoy a story that allows my imagination into the equation – great story.

  • http://bookspot.blogspot.com Camille Gooderham Campbell

    Typos corrected; thanks J.C. and Pete.

  • http://users.beagle.com.au/peterl P.M.Lawrence

    Pete managed a typo of his own – “streched”.

  • http://debiblood.wordpress.com Debi Blood

    Thank you all for taking a moment to stop by and read the story! I appreciate your encouraging comments very much.

    Camille, thank you for fixing the typos – jeeze, where was my head?

  • Margie

    Good one Debi! 4 stars from me. :)

  • Jen

    Great story, I liked Owen’s sense of humour. Hmm, what does that say about me? I would’ve liked to have learned more about Isabel though, who she was and what sort of thrall she had on Owen.

  • Jenny Richards

    Very well written. Madness is a soft target for short story writers, but very few cover the subject as well as this.

  • http://www.cocktailfiction.wordpress.com Cathryn

    To repeat: very well written, good pacing, great mood. I really like this.

  • Amy Corbin

    Great story!

  • http://www.lauramchaleholland.com Laura McHale Holland

    What a great job you did of conveying, in an unconventional way, Owen’s inner world. I love the way the story unfolded, the way my understanding of the situation grew and shifted as the story evolved. Well done!

  • Arthur

    Noticed the Google ad regarding persistent headaches at the top of the story. They know a great vehicle for advertising their products. Didn’t make my head ache though; gave it a fiver.

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