The Better Pill
A short story
“You jerk!” Angie shouted as she stomped across the bedroom floor, her voice and even louder footfalls threatening to shatter the bedroom mirror.
Cyrus instinctively covered his head.
He’d never seen Angie so angry, not even when she believed he was having an affair with his intern. (He wasn’t.)
Angie had also never hit him; her slap was like a hot pan burning his cheek.
“You’re an asshole.”
Cyrus rubbed his cheek. He thought he might need to apply makeup before going to work. He checked his Omega. Thirty-five minutes until the train, which didn’t leave much time for coffee and breakfast. He’d have to keep this short and deal with Angie’s fury later, or maybe she’d just calm down by this evening. “I’m sorry, but I—”
“You don’t look sorry, shithead.” Angie stormed back to her side of the bed, grabbed the alarm clock from the night table, and hurled it across the bedroom. It struck the wall, shattering into a dozen pieces. “You look like you’re studying your watch. What is it? You need to get to the office early so you can screw that intern of yours before anyone else arrives?”
“Hey. That’s not fair. I’ve never slept with—”
“I’ll tell you what’s not fair.” She picked up the millefiori glass paperweight from the night table and took a bead on Cyrus' head.
Angie returned the paperweight to the night table.
“What’s not fair is you deciding to substitute sugar pills for the sleeping pills my doctor prescribed.” Angie pounded her fists into the pillow. “My doctor prescribed them. Get it? You decided on your own that you’d replace Ambien with something from a candy store. A fucking sugar pill.”
Cyrus sat on the opposite side of the bed.
Angie tightened her hand around the glass paperweight again. Hairline cracks peppered its surface. “Get up. I don’t want you in my bed.”
Cyrus thought it best to comply. “It’s not a sugar pill. It’s a placebo. Sleeping pills are dangerous, babe. You could have become dependent on them. They might have made your insomnia worse and you could have had to take them for the rest of your life.”
“First, that’s not your decision to make; it’s mine. Second, that’s bullshit. I needed those pills.” Angie’s chest heaved in and out. Her face was hot and red. “This was a decision between me and my doctor. Sleeping pills are safe and effective, Cyrus.”
Cyrus sat on the bed again.
Angie glared at him.
“Placebos are powerful,” he said. “Did you know that seventy percent of people taking sleeping pills do just as well with a placebo in double-blind tests—like you did, sweetheart?”
Angie cringed when Cyrus said, “sweetheart.”
Cyrus continued, “Placebos are as potent as drugs, with zero side effects. Not just for sleeping, but for pain and curing organic diseases, such as gastric ulcers and Parkinson’s symptoms. But you have to believe you’re taking a drug that works, which is why I didn’t tell you. A placebo uses the power of the mind to heal. Isn’t it miraculous? And it worked, Angie. You’ve slept like a baby for the past two weeks.”
Angie shook her head, grimacing. But then her sneer transformed into a broad smile. She opened the night table drawer and extracted the brown pill container with the printed CVS prescription label. She spilled the tablet onto her palm, pinched it between her thumb and forefinger, squinched her eyes, and held it to the light. After a minute, she returned the pill to the bottle and secured the cap. “A placebo is that powerful, eh?”
“It can transform the body?”
“Make real physical changes?”
“All you have to do is believe?”
Cyrus' lips curled upward, and his heart rate dropped downward. Angie was beginning to understand.
Maybe she'll completely calm down before I leave for the office. Maybe she’ll want make-up sex tonight, Cyrus thought.
“A placebo can do anything, everything. It’s the most powerful medicine there is.”
Angie reached into Cyrus’ jacket, extracted his gold Cross pen, exed out the print on the pill bottle label, and wrote something above it. She shook the plastic bottle briefly, opened it, and poured the purple pill onto her palm.
“Let’s see how powerful.” Angie dry-swallowed the pill. An eerie silence filled their bedroom, all sound tumbling into an invisible well.
Angie’s eyes opened wide; she gasped and stopped breathing. Her back stiffened as if cement filled her spine.
Sixty seconds later, when her breathing resumed, her hair changed from blonde to brown and thickened into a mane. Her arms and legs jerked as they quadrupled in girth. A brown and gray pelage grew over her skin, and her bare feet and hands shaped into a wolf’s paws, only more massive, with nails like daggers. Angie’s torso expanded. Her head distorted; her face cracked like a whip as her smooth features morphed into a snout.
She opened her mouth and howled at Cyrus. Her breath smelled like graveyard rot, and her fangs extended the length of her mouth, two rows of sharp canines angled in a hundred different directions like stalagmites in a dark, infinite cave.
Angie rose from the bed.
Cyrus thunked into the wall. He pressed his feet hard against the floor and tensed his legs to push through the wall to escape from the monster that had been his wife.
Angie towered three feet over Cyrus. She raked his chest, shredding his gray Cesare Attolini jacket and pale blue Blackberry shirt. Blood exploded as her claws dug deep into his skin.
Angie encased Cyrus' head in her paws, squeezing his skull so hard his eyes were on the verge of popping out, and twisted his head until his neck snapped. Angie released Cyrus, and his body crumpled to the floor.
“You’re right about the placebo's power. I've always wanted to be a werewolf.”
If you enjoyed The Better Pill, I think you’ll like my story, Flying on Ambien.
Fiction by Bill Adler is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.