Marcie’s dark brown hair veils her face with protection, concealing the emotion written across it. She sits at the bottom of a bathroom stall, wasting time between classes by scrolling through reaffirmations online that what she’s going through is normal. One article after another tells her how to manage her emotions, but none of it really works, and she’s too afraid to seek a professional.
She’s reading some advice on socialization when a popup advertisement for psycho-technology yells at her: “Do you need help? Try Negativity Removal. A quick procedure to happiness.” Marcie’s phone knows exactly how to market to her. She opens the message and reads about the innovative neurological process of rewiring brain waves to release happy chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin.
Curiosity peaks Marcie’s interest. She’s got nothing to lose. Her family lives so far away, they’d never know. Her friends are nonexistent, and it isn’t like she’s romantically involved with anyone. She just wants to stop feeling this way, like she doesn’t matter, and life isn’t worth dealing with. She wants to stop thinking she’d be better off just being dead.
Marcie sits up from the bathroom floor. She brushes dirt off her dark jeans and straightens out her oversized shirt. She hoists a backpack filled of books and drawing utensils on her back. There’s a Negativity Removal facility down the street, conveniently placed near the university. Following the GPS on her phone, she arrives at the address listed on their website.
The building itself is comedic. Large, yellow cartoon smiley faces are stuck on the window, revealing a similar childish interior. A neon sign reads, “Walk-In’s Welcome.” The door chimes with its opening like a convenient store. Bright colors, soft seats, and a sterile smell surrounds Marcie as she enters. The receptionist behind the desk is smiling attentively. She wears yellow scrubs with her yellow hair in a tight updo.
“Welcome to Happiness. I’m Joy,” says the receptionist, “And who might you be?”
Marcie pinches her knuckles behind her back. “Marcie,” she says, avoiding eye contact.
Joy’s smile grows larger, her white teeth look fake. She routinely says, “I’ll be your psychological guide today. Are you ready, Marcie?”
Marcie follows Joy a short distance to a windowless room with a menacing, clawed machine hanging from the ceiling like a chandelier. Underneath it, there’s an examination chair with straps on the armrests. To the right of it, is a metal cart with tools and a pair of plastic gloves that Joy puts on.
“Please,” Joy says, “Take a seat.” Marcie obeys. Joy straps in her arms and takes a wipe from the cart. She tucks back Marcie’s hair to reveal her temples. “This will only take a second,” Joy says, cleaning Marcie’s face.
“What does this do, exactly?” Marcie asks. Her fingernails dig into the palms of her hands.
“It balances your brain, exposing your best self.” Joy takes a step back and smiles a toothy smile.
“It’ll be over before you know it.”