"Hello, everyone! We have a new guest today. Come on, dear. Don’t be shy. Stand up from the chair and introduce yourself."
A chorus of clapping sounds throughout the room. The counselor motions for me to rise as I look down at my shoes with shyness. My chair squeaks as I lift to feet. I clear my throat.
*koff-koff* "I am . . . at the wrong place."
"No, dear. You’re at the right place. You are here because you are having problems. Yes?"
My voice lowers to a whisper, "yes."
"Well, we can’t help you if you don’t accept the fact. Can we?" The counselor casts an encouraging smile at the crowd.
"NO!" The people’s response fills the auditorium. A man sitting in the back row shouts, "The first step in quit'n is admit'n."
I sigh and wince my eyes. I speak in a hurried rush. "My name is Michelle, and I have a problem with words."
The people clap politely at my statement. A lady tugs at my hand to get me to lower back into the chair. My numb legs tip backwards as I flop into the seat. The four metal legs scrape against the floor causing the most unladylike sound of passing flatulence. I can feel my whole body growing hot. I must be blushing from my hair roots down to toenails.
"Oh my." Eyebrows raised, the counselor waves her hand in front of her nose. My eyes grow wide in astonishment. I might not have emptied the air from my gut, but someone else had while disguising it under the chair’s noise. My nerves completely shot, I am about to bolt out the auditorium doors. Yet I am afraid my chair will squeak again. So I sit very still as the counselor addresses the group.
"If everyone is ready now, let us begin. We are all here today because we have a problem with words. We have an addiction to them, to use them in ways that are most unholy, to listen to their seductive voices as they tell us to do bad things to our characters, to be afflicted with a raging ocean of them that threatens to drown our minds."
"Preach, preacher!" Another voice shouts from the back row. People are moaning and falling to knees to bow at the counselor.
The counselor throws her hands up, fully into the moment. "I, too, was like one of you! These words controlled me. Forced me to type - type - type until fingers ached and my brain felt like a dead bloated fish. Long were my years of this torture before I realized the truth. I realized the ultimate truth. I was addicted to the words. Like you!" She thrusts a finger in my startled direction. I fall out the chair and smack my rump on the floor. My eyes search for a way out.
"But, dear sister, there is no need to fear." The counselor strolls over and places her fingers on my shoulder. She gives a comforting squeeze. "We will help you. We will help to stop the words so you may have a moment’s peace of mind. You would like that, right?"
I gulp and nod my head, agreeing with her only out of fear that she might thrust a finger into my eye.
"Yay, a new recruit! When do we get to spank her with reams of paper?"
Spank me with reams of paper? Now I know I am at the wrong place. I get ready to bolt for the exit when I notice in horror that someone has nailed boards over the door.
"Later, Billy Bob Joe. We will have our chance later after the keyboard sacrifice," the counselor soothes the crowd who grumbles with impatience. "We first must tell her HOW we can stop the unending flow of words."
"Tell us. Tell us. Tell us," the crowd chants while clapping their hands in an even cadence. In the corner of the auditorium, they start a fire while tossing in dictionaries to feed the blaze.
The counselor grips my shoulder tightly. I am in pain as her nails sink into my skin. With my lips parting open, I prepare to bite down on her arm like a vicious vampire. Then she releases me before I can develop a taste for crazy people’s blood.
The counselor strolls to the front of the crowd as two assistants hold open a robe marked in mystic runes. When the garment settles on her shoulders, the light dims in the room. A strobe ball lowers from the ceiling and flashes psychedelic light on the swaying crowd.
"The answer is here." The counselor points at her head. "You stop the many words by concentrating on one word. A power word. This mighty word can banish all others from the regions of the mind. Do you want to know this word?"
"YES," the crowd screams. A woman collapses to the floor, weeping.
Laser beams shoot out from her sleeves as the counselor flashes a grin filled with ecstasy. "The word . . . is . . . TAP."
"Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap," the crowd repeats. They start to hug each other with the word passing among them in full-blown conversations. They are even pantomiming actions while saying this one word.
Tap? I shake my head as I stand up. There has to be a way out, especially now as Billy Bob Joe starts to walk toward me with his 500-page count clutched in hands. I shout above the noise. "WHERE’S THE BATHROOM?"
"Tap." It is the only answer I get, but they are considerate enough to point toward the door. I rush over into the small lavatory only to find one window, and it has no latches. I debate my options as a man’s voice asks from an occupied stall.
"Have they started their chant yet?"
"Yes," I reply dismally.
"Why are you leaving?" The mysterious voice sounds normal. "That is why you came into the bathroom, isn’t it? You are looking for a way out?"
"I’m looking for a way out because they are crazy," I state.
The man chuckles, "Of course they are. It makes for good television. I have secret cameras set up all over the auditorium. Can you imagine how much money I will make with this reality show?"
"That is disgusting." I glance at the closed door. "Why would you torture innocent tv viewers with this?"
"If viewers could survive through Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey's newlywed debacle, then they must be desperate for this."
I clasp my hands together. "But, Jessica and Nick could have been such a happy couple."
"Now look at who is being delusional. Are you sure you don’t want to stick around with this group? You would fit right in," the man laughs as I hear a zipper being closed and the toilet flushed.
"No, thank you," I huff and stare back at the window wondering what I could use to break the glass.
"Too bad. I was going to offer 25% of the money if you became my production assistant," the voice pouts as the stall door opens. I see red high heels and a low-cut dress as a buxom woman strolls out and washes her hands. She is not carrying any purse and her dress is a slip-on. No one else walks out the stall.
Where the heck is the zipper? I open my mouth to ask this question when the man’s voice enters the bathroom again. The words escape from the woman’s lips. "Well, if you change your mind then you know where to find me. Tap-tap." She gives a wink and struts out the door, but not before I catch sight of a small zipper lurking at the hairline along the nape of her neck.
I am so outta here! My feet do a spinning kick to knock the sink from the wall. With adrenaline and pure desperation, I lift the damaged porcelain fixture and heave it at the window to smash the glass. I place one foot on the sill then hesitate.
25% is quite a nice sum of cash . . .
I debate it briefly, until I hear Billy Bob Joe approaching the bathroom door.
"Where’s that new girl? I’m itching to do me some spanking!"
I flee for my life.