How Many Shots

By Amelia Weissman

“Ouch!” Seneca exclaimed as the tenth needle punctured her skin. “Does it really take this long to get a positive response?” 

“Not normally,” the tester replied in a distracted manner, as he considered which sample to try next. That last one did as much as the nine before it had.  

“Great,” Seneca muttered as she waited for the next poke. She knew this would happen to her–things like this always happened to her. Did anyone ever ask her to go out on a date? Nope. Did anyone even try to be her friend? Negative. Did anyone ever show the slightest interest in her at all with a “Hey, how are you today?” or “What’s new with you, Seneca?”? Never. 

She didn’t know why she was so cursed with being unlovable but it was fitting that the process of determining her vocation apparently wasn’t going to go well, either. There was a part of her that almost wished careers were still chosen the old-fashioned way–you waste a lot of money on school, switch your major five times, and then end up working a dead-end insurance job. That might just be less painful than this. 

She winced as the next needle slid into her skin and tried to stifle the tears that welled up in her eyes when she heard the grunt of frustration and dissatisfaction from the tester. Silently, she cursed Janet Rosso and her meddlesome research. She had missed the mark by ten years–ten stupid years. That’s when the vocational hypodermic test–VocHyp–became a requirement when you turned eighteen.   

Seneca had been eight years old when she watched the news with rapt attention as the rollout of testing centers began and queues formed that stretched for miles, filled with people desperate to get a quick answer to the giant question: What am I supposed to do with my life? Her mother had clucked her tongue in irritation and her father had shaken his head, but Seneca had been excited. Not about the needle part–nobody liked getting shots—but about the part where she didn’t have to try so hard to move forward with her life.  

The test was simple–you took a quick personality test and a certified analyst determined which chemical combinations would be most compatible for you. Then a registered tester administered the compounds through the quick stick of a hypodermic needle in your back–much like an allergy test –and, if you were compatible, a tattoo would appear depicting your destiny. There was still a bit of guesswork involved. For example, if your tattoo was a baby, you could be a labor and delivery nurse or you could be a stay-at-home mom with six kids. No matter: This simple new method narrowed down the playing field so much that career satisfaction statistics shot through the roof in a matter of two years, and student loan debt was an almost laughable path of idiocy for the generation of VocHyp.  

Seneca had celebrated her eighteenth birthday a week ago–and “celebrating” meant that she bought an ice cream cake from Dairy Queen, which she ate by herself while watching classic horror movies in her room. She had made her appointment with the VocHyp center as soon as they had opened, but she still had to wait a week—and now here she was. 

“Damn thing!” the tester cursed at another failed trial. “I’m going to go get the analyst and see what’s going on. I’m very sorry for all this trouble. I’ve never seen a test go beyond four needles before.” 

She heard the click of the door as he left and she put her head in her hands. “Of course you haven’t.” This was supposed to be simple, but she should have known she’d be the problem child–she always was.  

“Ok, Miss Ahasrett,” a woman with a file walked in, already talking as if assuming a captivated audience. “Looks like we’re running into a bit of a hiccup with your testing, but we’ll get that cleared up in no time.” She smiled reassuringly, although Seneca noticed that the tester who had followed in behind her didn’t look so reassured. 

The woman sat down across from Seneca and started asking her questions. “What are some of the career fields common in your family?” 

“My dad sells insurance and my mom is a real estate agent,” Seneca answered. 

The woman didn’t seem satisfied with this reply. “How about any passions in your family tree? Famous people? Oddballs that maybe didn’t follow the expected path?” 

Seneca thought a moment and then said, “My grandmother was a silversmith–which was usually a man’s job at the time, but she loved it so much she didn’t care what everyone said. My great-uncle was an archaeologist, which never paid much, but he still pursued it.” She paused trying to think of anyone else that might have stood out . . . Well, there was that one, but maybe she shouldn’t mention him . . . 

“Anyone else?” the analyst inquired as if reading Seneca’s mind. 

Seneca hesitated then thought: What the hell? “There was one of our ancestors back when our family lived in the Middle East who apparently went crazy. I guess he was some kind of writer or something.” 

The analyst finished scribbling some notes and smiled. “Okie-dokie, that’s great! I’m going to mix together a few more cocktails and we’ll be back in a jiffy.” 

She and the tester left the room, once again leaving Seneca alone. She drummed her fingernails against the arm of the chair and tried to ignore the incessant buzzing of a fly darting back and forth across the room. Finally, the VocHyp workers re-entered the room and Seneca braced herself for attempt number thirteen. 

The analyst stayed to observe as the tester resumed his needle-point torture of Seneca’s back. But this time when he inserted the hypodermic, she felt a warm tingling throughout her body as if her veins were being flushed with warm water.  

“Did something happen?” she asked eagerly, allowing herself to get her hopes up. 

“Yes, it did!” the tester replied excitedly. “It looks like we’re getting an image.” 

But the tone of the analyst’s voice wasn’t quite as positive as the tester’s. “Yes, we do have a tattoo started, but it doesn’t look complete . . . ” And then in a lower voice intended only for the tester to hear, although it was a small enough room for Seneca to hear her too: “You tried the one with the Arabian desert sand, right? Try that one next–with the papyrus pieces.” 

“What does it look like?” Seneca couldn’t help asking–she had been waiting for this moment for a long time. 

“It’s a kind of ring, but it looks like it might be branching out,” the tester replied hesitantly. “We’re going to try another one to see if the picture clears up.” 

Instead of being frustrated, Seneca felt excited this time and straightened her back to provide a good canvas for her future’s artist. Once again, the needle penetrated her skin and she felt that renewed sensation in her veins, although this time it was a bit more alarming–more like molasses mixing with her blood than liquid comfort. It didn’t matter though–that meant it was working, right? 

“Well?” she asked. 

“Um, yes, that helped a bit,” the tester admitted, although he sounded a bit dazed, as if someone had flashed a camera unexpectedly in his face. 

“Is that a letter B?” the analyst asked incredulously, clearly forgetting that she should be using a bit more discretion with a client in the room. 

“That’s what it looks like,” the tester said slowly. “The first image must be a letter O. An obstetrician, perhaps? Honestly, I’ve never seen a tattoo literally spell out a career path for someone. And I don’t know what those branches are, but look they’re covering her entire back.” 

“Is that a bad thing?” Seneca asked nervously. 

“No, I’m sure it’s fine, sweetie,” the analyst said as if trying to sound motherly, but her tone was utterly unconvincing. She addressed the tester again, “Try that one.” 

“The cave dust?” the tester asked. “Are you sure?” He didn’t sound at all at ease with analyst’s decision.  

“Just do it,” she hissed. “I’ll be right back. There’s one more sample we haven’t tried, but I think it will help clear up this mess.” She hurried out of the room, and Seneca was alarmed to see how pale she was.  

“Maybe we should stop,” Seneca said nervously. 

“Everything will be fine,” the tester said, putting his hand on her shoulder and peering around the test chair to look her in the eye. “Don’t worry, we’ve got this under control,” he lied–his face as ghostly pallid as the analyst’s. 

He returned to his station and Seneca felt the prick of another needle without warning. This time there was no warm sensation at all. She felt a sharp pain in her head accompanied by a high-pitched whine that wouldn’t cease. It felt as if a darkness had stirred from deep inside her being.  

“I don’t think that helped,” she said, wincing as her migraine grew. “I think we should stop.” 

The analyst returned with another needle and Seneca cringed at the impossible blackness of the fluid within it.  

“Don’t you dare stick me with that!” she cried as she started to bolt from her chair.  

The tester’s arm shot out and he grasped her upper arm, yanking her back into the seat. “Hold her,” he commanded the analyst in a voice very different from the one of the shaky, unsure man he’d been not two minutes ago. He sounded like a robot, a slave–a man possessed. 

The analyst herself seemed almost hypnotized as she pinned a dumbfounded Seneca to the chair, while the tester administered the last shot to her back. This time, she screamed. Her head was on fire while her veins burned with ice and blackness. 

The analyst let go her, but not, it would seem, out of fear or revulsion; rather, out of reverence. She knelt in front of Seneca as if in adoration and the tester came around the chair to do the same.  

Seneca reached back and traced the last two letters, raised and throbbing, on her back – EY–like a blind man eagerly devouring the end of a story. OBEY? She turned around in horror to behold herself in the two-way glass that formed a mirror inside the room. Her appearance was otherworldly: Obsidian tendrils decorated her skin and wrapped themselves around her entire body. A crown of bone and volcanic glass emerged from her head like a sick Halloween prop.  

She couldn’t bear the sight of this alien monstrosity before her and turned back to the two VocHyp workers, still prostrate with their heads bowed. This was a joke, it had to be a joke, she thought. Some cruel Carrie trick meant to ruin her prom queen moment. But she couldn’t ignore the ever-present whine in her brain that had begun to sound like an underworld funeral dirge played by saws and broken stringed instruments. And what was that thumping sound from down the hall? 

“Alright, cut the crap and tell me what’s going on,” she urged with panic in her voice. 

They both looked up and she suppressed the urge to scream again as their eyes, devoid of any color save the inky-black depths of night, peered into her soul. 

“My queen, your groom approaches,” they said in an eerie chorus. 

“Groom?” Seneca asked shakily as the thumping grew steadily closer and she recognized the song in her head as a wedding march composed in the depths of hell.  

“Yes: Today is your wedding day, Bride of Cthulhu,” they chanted in unison.  

About the Author:

Amelia is a mom of five and currently stays at home pursuing her creative/artistic side. She loves the natural world and has her Master’s in marine biology. Her ultimate goal is to pursue her passions for science, writing, and art while inspiring a spark of interest in her own children.