09 July, 2021

Fiction Friday - The Lobotomotorium

Angelique couldn't move.

Angelique couldn't even open her eyes.

Angelique was strapped down and sedated. 

The orderly took his time pushing her gurney down the hall and hit the button to activate the automatic doors to "The Tank".  

The Tank was a large, sterile room with three walls of smooth tiles and one larger, curved wall of glass, lined with tiers of bleachers looking in. On the other side of the glass the orderly saw two volunteers cleaning the bleachers, preparing them for the day's big show. He pushed Angelique's gurney into position at the end of a row of five other, similar gurneys. All bore strapped down, unconscious people who wouldn't leave this place the same person who entered it.

If only they knew.

Lobotomies were frowned upon, and certainly the New World Psychiatric Center did not admit to performing them. But they were an educational facility among other things. And historically, lobotomies were common practice. Avant Garde, even, in their day. So it was important that students understand the procedure.

Teaching the history of psychiatric treatment was one thing, but the students took it further. Now it was a contest. A race.

It had started years ago, when two students found they'd both be doing their first lobotomies the following day. They connived to schedule them at the same time, each student devising conflicts until the only time available was identical. They'd shared the lobotomorium, two instructors supervising each one, so it was a tame affair. But when they all left The Tank, the students knew who had won.

Now, with a new department head who appreciated "a little good-spirited competition" the events happened quarterly. Sometimes with two patients, sometimes four, and occasionally like now, six. It was a race. Fastest successful lobotomy won.

The orderly crossed to the giant window and pulled the heavy curtain closed. Then he left the cold lobotomotorium and went to change into casual clothes. He had front row seats for the year-end final. Staff were allowed to book tickets first, in appreciation of their hard work keeping the facility operational.

Back in his civvies, no longer an orderly, Don grabbed a snack in the cafeteria and listened to the gossip. Most people were favoring Ambrose or Patty in this round, but it sounded like Owen might be a dark horse. Don placed his bet with Ty, the cafeteria cashier. Betting wasn't allowed, so naturally everyone did it. 

An hour later, Don was taking his seat, a small bag of popcorn in hand, and Penelope at his side. He was amazed she'd agreed to join him, based on her known stance of never dating coworkers. Probably his great seats made the difference. 

The stadium seating filled up and voices surrounded them until a whine and whistle crackled through the massive speakers. "Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the FINAL TEST!" A cheer rose up and anticipation was palpable. "Today we have six advanced students competing for the honor of Senior Lobotomotoriate and a chance to offer the closing speech at the leaving day ceremony." Another round of applause. It was a high honor.

"Please welcome..." The giant green curtain that Don had closed was pulled back by two young assistants to reveal each participant standing in front of their gurneys, ready to bow on cue. "Owen Leake!" Owen gave a quick bow, his face stone. He would be lobotomizing Angelique, Don noted absently. Applause, cheers. "Patty Montgomery!" She graced the crowd with a smile before nodding. Louder applause. "Sabrina O'Shea!" Don thought this girl looked the most nervous of all of them. No wonder Ty gave her poor odds . "Terry Quick!" Another unknown received obligatory applause, before the announcer named the expected winner. "And Ambrose Montague!" The crowd went wild for him. Partly in anticipation of winning bets, and partly because he was good looking and popular.

"Participants, take your posts!"

This was it. Don was scanning the six gurneys at once, not wanting to miss anything. He was so focused it came as a jolt when Penelope gripped his hand. Tightly. He looked at her and saw the same eagerness in her eyes. They grinned at each other, squeezed hands, and turned back to the games. Who would win? He realized he didn't even know who she supported.

"On your marks..." Six students raised their silver orbitoclasts in preparation. "Get set..." Six would-be doctors bent over their gurneys and aimed the tool - was Sabrina's hand shaking? "Go!" There was no explanation of what needed to happen, no discussion of each step. That's what lecture classes were for. Six students performed their duties quickly and neatly (most of them) and as expected Ambrose and Patty lifted their tools up first, almost at the same second.

"IT'S A PHOTO FINISH!" The crowd went wild. "Ladies and Gentlemen, please wait while we consult the recording. Participants may relax." 

The talk in the stadium was a low rumble. Might it be a tie? What were the odds on that? Ty wasn't there to ask. He never watched the event; just waited for the final verdict and the replays later that day. It took about two minutes of waiting. The students in The Tank were sitting on folded chairs. Sabrina looked devastated, her head in her hands, and Owen put a hand on her shoulder, trying to console her.

Then the speakers popped to life again. "Your attention please!" All talking ceased. "After careful consideration of the recording, it is clear that Patty Montgomery is your new Lobotomotoriate!" The crowd erupted into cheers and applause, but Don heard an "Awww" from Penelope and realized she must have lost money on her bet. He grinned at her. "I won!" He had backed Patty.

In The Tank, Patty was surrounded with pats on the back and hand shakes from her comrades. 

Don rose to escort Penelope to the reception. Another orderly would remove the patients. His workday was done.

As they left the stadium and joined the trail of spectators, Penelope asked, "I wonder how bad Sabrina did. She looked really shaken. Did you see?" 

Don had seen that. If she botched it too badly he'd have some work to do in his shift at the crematorium tomorrow.


Every Friday I write a new flash fiction piece. If you have a writing prompt you'd like to see turned into a story, just leave it in a comment.

This story actually came from my husband Brett, who was discussing what word you might use to name a place to have a lobotomy. Or maybe he just mispronounced laboratory and the conversation ensued. But it was just a chat at home that sparked an idea!


  1. It's a fun word, isn't it.

    The idea of a lobotomy is scary enough, but to care so little about the patients that they would make it a race? Terrifying.

    1. Yeah. Pretty gross, huh?

      I wanted to go more into Angelique, but maybe it's best not.

  2. I'm horrified at this story. That they would so cavalierly perform that awful procedure. I'm too sensitive for such things, I suppose.

    1. Everything I know about lobotomies I learned from Nurse Ratched. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (book, movie, play) and the Netflix show "Ratched". Did you watch that? Very dark stuff.

  3. Excellent story. It's a good demonstration without moralizing on how people can be easily dehumanized for the sake of entertainment or science. I also like how it sets up with the expectation of Angelique being the main character, but quickly switches to the audience and participants who are the ones in control.

    1. Thank you!
      I had thought initially that I would be more in Angelique's head, but decided not this time.

  4. Hospitals are places where one's life and death are decided. But for the people working there, the processes are run of the mill stuff -- similar to the routine of professionals in other fields. Dark and morbid for us. But them, it's just another day!

    1. And the mental hospitals of yesteryear were by all accounts horrid places anyway.
      You're right. People get inured to it.


I enjoy a good debate. Feel free to shake things up. Tell me I'm wrong. Ask me why I have such a weird opinion. ...or, just laugh and tell how this relates to you and your life.