I felt my eyes nearly launch out of their sockets once I discovered that the subject of my research was no myth after 176 days of sleepless searching as images of finally finishing my dissertation and throwing my fist up in victory at graduation premiered in my head. I could already hear it from within, shooting chills throughout my body, “Dr. Sara Smith, hooded by Dr. Aye Smell-Uranus.” I felt the corners of my mouth stab my cheeks, such a smile that could outshine the scintillating summer sun of Russia.
The purses of basketballs beneath my eyes deflated as I yanked my phone out of my back pocket and slammed my thumb on the red button to record the actions of the beach bunny, which remained half submerged in the lowest region of the sand trap with part of Dr. Smell-Uranus’ mustache in its paw, “Hey!” Dr. Smell-Uranus yelled after realizing that the hair in the bunny’s grip wasn’t its own. He then pounced toward it, but the beach bunny sunk itself back into the sand, forcing Dr. Smell-Uranus to dive into the pit with his anus sticking up and exposed by a slight undies slip.
The beach bunny rocketed out of the sand from behind Dr. Smell-Uranus, wherein it landed between the crack. Dr. Smell-Uranus shot his head out of the sand to expose the face of a patient who had just gotten a ten-foot thermometer shoved up an area deemed exit-only. He ejected himself out of the sand trap with both his hands suffocating his rumpus room as he shouted “Get it out! Get it out!” constantly, which made me question my plan.
Finally, after three years of the postponement plague caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and 176 days on hell’s golf course finding nothing but snow, sand, and disappointment, I could collect the data that my dissertation demanded, but Dr. Smell-Uranus’ clenched eyes and watermelon-sized mouth hole injected a sense of guilt into my veins.
As he did knee-highs all around the grass, I couldn’t help but remember the first time I met him; the time he walked into my Physiology of Invertebrates seminar on the first day of my doctoral studies. Every time he slaughtered the grass with a sudden stomp, I remembered the sound of his brown derby shoes clanking against the dust-coated, tiled floors in the hallway as the escalation in volume announced his upcoming arrival. I remembered citing him in all my final papers and lab reports as an undergrad, even the works completely irrelevant to my topics and considering the 5-point deduction well worth it. I remembered watching him on Dr. Dick Prickley’s talk show as a nine-year-old obsessed with rabbits and the complexity of the beach bunny’s physiological functions and feeling my nails cutting into my palms, making my loathing blood trickle down my hand and drip onto the carpet, digging deeper every time he teased Dr. Smell-Uranus for his work.
He fell to the ground as his pelvis started convulsing, but this experience was far from an orgasm, “Get it out!” He shouted, his frustration thrusting me back and forth, demanding my aid, and my heart agreed with it, but my mind said to hell with him, but how could I get my PhD without him? But how could I keep his trust if I let the beach bunny chew on his heart ‘til he dies? That would make great data to analyze its behavioral patterns, but is it worth becoming a terrible person?
My right foot surged toward the screaming, and I had to keep my left one from following as the questions played extreme bumper cars in my head. My left foot was a worthy opponent, but I couldn’t help but filter Dr. Smell-Uranus’ pain with an image of my PhD. I could hear its gorgeously evil laughter as it called my name. I let my left foot step closer, but my right foot froze.
I remembered when Dr. Smell-Uranus and I reached the halfway point of this hole, known as the Par 3000, the second-longest hole in the world. We were at the North Pole, just miles from Santa’s Workshop. He offered me his seventeen-layered coat while he tolerated the Mount-Everest-sized goosebumps, for he knew how much this project meant to me by looking into my frozen pupils that exposed a secret desire to quit that not even I knew of. I at least knew of my unwillingness to continue our game of golf, of which I was never a fan even though I played on Varsity in high school. He said yesterday that the frostbite was worth keeping me going.
Out of nowhere, our worst enemy intruded on a golf cart at twice the maximum speed of a Koenigsegg Jesko Absolut. He exited the vehicle with his TaylorMade Driver and spanked Dr. Smell-Uranus so hard that the beach bunny launched out of his mouth far enough to achieve a field goal. Dr. Prickley spanked him again just for fun, this time even harder, for that rumpus room began to pulse as if someone had just brought a bass stereo to the party.
Both my feet could now agree to move in the same direction: toward the enemy. I attempted a shove to make him eat the worms beneath the picture-perfect-but-fake-as-the-tooth-fairy green grass, but I only managed to force a stumble. My “pathetic” attempt amused him instead, “Would you look at this,” he said, “It’s Dr. Smell-Uranus’ little prodigy.”
The veins popped through my skin as blood rushed to my fists, ready to burst at any moment, but something within me told me to hold it back, but once he finished that sentence, I obeyed its new command. “Did you two have fun last night?”
My fist was the rusted 1941 Chevy COE from Jeepers Creepers while Dr. Prickley’s nose was the klown kar from Killer Klowns from Outer Space, but like that car, so much more could fit inside than it seemed. He still refused to fall. So much arrogance in such a fun-sized package, his only defense, but it was enough to keep his strength fueled to the brim.
I just needed to remember all the lies he told about Dr. Smell-Uranus, all the times he demeaned Dr. Smell-Uranus’ work by calling the beach bunny a myth. Not enough. I needed to remember him abusing Dr. Smell-Uranus beyond what the beach bunny had already done. Still not enough. I saw my PhD in the background behind him whispering to me in such a deep and scratchy but soft and sweet voice, “Come to me,” it said, but Dick was in the way. My fist clenched I struck him at the side of his head I watched him fly I watched him fall I watched the other side of his head smash against the narrow thin fake grass I watched the bruise turn darker and grow wider a sight that made me smile the same way my PhD was, but he didn’t scream. He didn’t yell. He didn’t weep. He didn’t slam his eyes shut. I lost my smile. My PhD faded away. Dick returned to his feet and headed toward his golf cart. I followed.
Dick yanked out his chipper and then turned around to face me, but I clutched both hands onto the bar and pulled it toward me, but his arrogance won by propelling it in the same direction, forcing my collapse, from where I saw Dick wield the chipper with the sun framing his head. My hands rebelled against me by shielding my face instead of lifting my body back up, but no surrender was needed, for he threw the chipper behind him and darted for the front seat of his golf cart, “Have fun but not too much fun!” Then, he slammed the pedal and drove in the direction of the beach bunny.
As much as I wanted to squash his head under my shoe, there was no time. I grabbed Dr. Smell-Uranus’ wrist yanked him to his feet threw him over my shoulder ran to our golf cart threw him on the seat slammed my ass behind the wheel saw my PhD captivated in Dick’s golf cart slammed my foot on the pedal and drove toward the enemy.
The turbulence distracted Dr. Smell-Uranus from his pain and made him choke the armrest with his tightest grip, “Sara!” He said, “Slow down!”
I didn’t slow down.
He repeated it.
I still didn’t slow down.
He emphasized every single word this time only to deemphasize everything instead.
He shouted my name like my father did every day when I was in high school.
“No!” I shouted, which was the same response I gave my dad. Not even his constant “ow,” each one expressing more pain than the last, was enough to ease my pressure on the pedal.
I finally gained up on him, tightening my grip on the wheel as I watched him scoop up the beach bunny and drop it in a cage designed for hamsters. I pressed my foot even harder on the pedal even though I’d already achieved maximum speed, and if Dr. Smell-Uranus were pinned any further up against the seat, he would’ve flown through it. He still called my name like my dad, but like my dad, he didn’t matter either, not right now at least.
Dick took a sudden turn at a precise 90-degree angle while somehow managing to not tip over the vehicle. He thought he could trick me, but nothing was going to stand between me and what I wanted, even if it meant death. Luckily though, he turned into the driving range where he got pelted with hundreds and thousands and millions of golf balls, which forced his continuous “ow” without breath, such an onomatopoeia that watered my burning heart. I slammed on the break, sending Dr. Smell-Uranus flying through the windshield, but I left him, hopping out of the seat and charging toward Dick with snouts of steam and dodging every single golf ball by jumping cartwheeling backflipping handspringing somersaulting and split leaping. I never did gymnastics.
I met him at his seat with my fist clenched and face ready for eruption only to find the hamster cage destroyed and Dick choking. Without touching him, he collapsed to his knees with his fingers wrapped around his neck, looking up at the clear blue sky as if to beg God for forgiveness. I looked at Dr. Smell-Uranus, unsure of what to do, but it was hard to read his expression through the black eyes and lack of movement. I took a step back, almost unnoticeable even to Dick.
It’d been two years since I made the worst decision in my life. I sat in my office staring at my framed PhD, the thing that should’ve been burned two years ago, all while thinking about my 2.4 average on RateMyProfessors. The clock on the wall called my name. Ten minutes ‘til my Comparative Animal Physiology class. 150 students. 300 eyes reprimanding me for my decision. Like a single nail looking up at 300 hammers, or sledgehammers. I know I made the wrong decision! Leave me alone!
When I walked onto that stage, I fixed my eyes on the computer to pull up that day’s lecture slides just to avoid confronting those sledgehammers as long as time allowed. I didn’t even bother saying good afternoon or hello or anything of that sort; I was only waiting to say goodbye. My hour-and-a-half prepared speech banged on my lips, begging to be released, but my heart yelled no. I started talking, unleashing one word at a time to avoid the bangs as much as possible, assuming such a tactic would succeed, “OK,” I buffered, “on Tuesday, we discussed the difference in digestive patterns across different species of rabbits. Today, we’re going to discuss their reproductive—”
The student in the back left corner raised his hand, indicating a question knocking at my door. I looked toward him, contemplated rolling my eyes, then gave him the OK to free his question from its closed-lip prison. He dropped his hand, “We can’t see the slides,” he said.
“I beg your pardon?” I said despite understanding every word and acknowledging he probably couldn’t have spoken any clearer.
I froze before twisting my waist to see the projector had rejected my request. I returned to the monitor to solve the issue but became perplexed at the evidence of no problem at all. I pressed the ON button on the remote only to end up turning it off. I pressed it again, but now it seemed dead. I pressed it again. Nothing. Again. Still nothing.
“Dr. Smith?” That same, annoying student said.
Don’t call me doctor! It wasn’t the first time I almost said that aloud, but this time it almost slipped. I now pressed the button repeatedly as if it would drop a million dollars from the ceiling but wasn’t working.
“Dr. Smith?” he said again, even more annoying.
I could only imagine crushing his skull between my two palms, grinning at the sounds of the bones cracking and his brain popping. The only thing standing between me and that action was the law.
“Dr. Smith—” said a new student.
I slammed the remote on the ground. The back part broke off, sending the two batteries flying free as if prisoners in there for twelve life sentences. Half the class gasped while others pulled out their phones and about ten pretended not to care. With about 50 phones on me, I froze, unsure of what to say if anything at all. Shortly thereafter, I felt a vibration in my back pocket. I pulled out my phone to find that the caller was Dr. Dill Scarabaeus-Santos, Chair of the Zoology Department at the university from where I “earned” my PhD, the place to which I swore to myself I would never return.
Swipe to accept.
Don’t tell me what to do!
I glanced at the cameras to the left and then those to the right, knowing I would be all over TikTok and Instagram in seconds. I ambled toward the door without a single word, knowing walking out on camera would be bad, but how much worse could it get?
I obeyed the command, “Hello?” I said, now pressing the phone against my ear.
“Sara,” he said, “You’ll never believe what I just found out.”
“What did you find out?” I asked, not really caring about it. I didn’t even care about him.
“It’s about Dick Prickley.”
“Whatever it is, does it even matter anymore?” I said, dropping my other hand onto my thigh.
“He plagiarized his dissertation.”
I stood there nearly frozen as I contemplated giving Dick the Heimlich maneuver or kicking his nose, but when I heard my PhD laughing, I kicked him in his stomach, making him spit up at least fifty golf balls. He then rose to his feet but showed signs of shriveled lungs, possibly already defeated.
“Sara!” Dr. Smell-Uranus shouted from afar, his voice gradually becoming louder. I saw him being dragged by the head at what must have been at least thirty miles an hour, but there was no external party responsible. I suspected the beach bunny had returned to its original playground and discovered a new zone: the brain. That explained why his head had doubled in size.
The beach bunny dragged Dr. Smell-Uranus all over the grass, into sand traps, and to the deepest ends of the pond wherein he came to shore with wet sand and golf balls in his underwear, a sensation that rebirthed his pelvis convulsion as if he had collected some crabs too. Dick raced himself toward the torture comedy with his Driver and used it to whack Dr. Smell-Uranus’ head, making him unleash the loudest and most gibberish-sounding wail I had ever heard, but it was enough to scare the beach bunny out of Dr. Smell-Uranus’ back door, creating a rip in the crotch of his chili-stained khaki pants the size of the Statue of Liberty, allowing a few sand-coated golf balls to roll away freely.
Only after a few seconds of rest did Dr. Smell-Uranus rush to his feet and snatch the Driver from Dick’s hands to beat the living excrement out of him, but not a single bruise formed; he never even said “ow.” Dick then snatched it back and shoved it up Dr. Smell-Uranus’ nose, “Try smelling my anus now!” he said.
While Dr. Smell-Uranus used all his strength, which was not much apparently, to remove the weapon from his nostril, I tackled Dick when he wasn’t looking and might have even forgotten my presence. From there, I pinned him to the ground and heard my PhD count down from three, “What’re you doing here?!” I shouted, watching a line of lava drip off my face and land near his right eye.
Dick kneed me in the stomach, forcing my retreat but not my surrender, “I’m trying to stop you from analyzing that bunny!”
He used his hands to lift himself up and then curled his fingers to form fists, declaring war, but I struck him in the knee before he could enact an evil plan of any letter, “You’re not touching that bunny!” I said.
“Wait!” he said, confusing me.
For some reason, I felt an obligation to obey, so I did, but then he sprinted with the strides of an ostrich burdened with 24 hemorrhoids toward the beach bunny’s last known location. I glanced at the golf cart, contemplating a deadlier form of travel, but he would’ve reached the bunny by the time I turned the key.
I sprinted in the same direction with my eye targeting Dick, ready to launch the missiles, not about to let anything distract me.
“Sara!” Dr. Smell-Uranus shouted, sounding like he had a rock shoved up his nose.
He distracted me, “What?!” I called out, now aiming the missiles at him but had no intention to fire.
I looked forward only to slam on my brake and fall on my anus after noticing the beach bunny hopping at lightspeed toward me with a face craving a new ground for recess.
It was a new semester but all the same torment. My average was now 1.8 on RateMyProfessors; I managed to obtain one 5-score review, but the writer admitted to never actually having had me in the first sentence. The department assigned me a section of Anatomy and Physiology II, one of the most commonly required courses at the university. My class capped at 400, but only 22 signed up and half dropped by spring break.
I missed class today. I didn’t even notify my students despite knowing I’d receive uproar from them considering my attendance policy on the syllabus, but some things were just a lot more important. I pulled out my phone and hunted for Dr. Scarabaeus-Santos’ number, needing to know more. He picked up only two rings later.
“What’s going on, Sara?” he said.
I sighed and flopped back in my seat, not even knowing what to say despite being the one who called him, “I don’t know,” I said, shrugging my shoulders, “class was rough today.”
I searched every wall of my office, examining all my awards, degrees, and teaching certificates, hoping any of them could help me imagine how class would’ve gone if I had shown up. “Oh, you know,” I said, “just had some students who weren’t happy with their exam grades.”
“Oh, I understand,” he said more after that, but I tuned it out since I didn’t care.
“Sounds like fun,” I said after another sigh.
“Fun? What’s fun about—”
I hung up. Then, my office phone rang, the sound of my forthcoming death. That red blinking light demanded I answer, but I knew it was not inviting me to a conversation about promotions. I waited for it to stop, but it must have been at least five minutes since it started, and the light was still trying to blind me. I checked the clock. It’s only been thirteen seconds.
The ringing finally stopped. The light surrendered.
I pulled my phone back out and called him again. Only one ring before he answered, “Hello?” he said, a dust of confusion sprinkled around his tone.
“Hi,” I said, now scratching my scalp, “I—umm,” I slowed down the scratching, “I just wanted to apologize for not keeping up with you more.” I now lay my hand on my lap.
“Sara,” he said, “you don’t have to feel sorry for anything.”
“I just can’t stop thinking about—” I couldn’t mention it to him, not just yet, maybe not ever, “about Dick’s crime.”
“You don’t need to worry about that. He lost his PhD. You proved the beach bunny was real. His plagiarism is just another reason to discredit him. You did what you wanted to do—”
“No,” I said, “I didn’t.”
“What do you mean?”
I crossed my legs. “I don’t know,” but I did know, and the way I twirled my hair confirmed that, “It’s—”
“It’s about Dr. Smell-Uranus, isn’t it?”
I paused, unsure whether to confirm or deny. I just stared at the door in front of me as if the answer lay on the other side. Maybe it did.
I blinked as if having dozed off, “Yeah, I’m here,” I said.
“Do you miss him?”
I flopped back in my chair again, thinking of the obvious answer, “Of course I do.”
“It’s okay to miss him, you know?”
I twisted in the chair left then right but refused to make a full 360-degree spin, “I know, but—” I paused upon finding second thoughts without searching, “I just wish things could’ve been different.”
“And that’s okay,” he said, “It’s normal to regret things.”
I paused again, but this one was longer. I didn’t even breathe.
I hung up.
The office phone rang again, reviving the light that reminded me of my own blood. I could just imagine what he would’ve said to me. How much of my hearing he would take away with his demonic roaring. My left arm reached for the phone but immediately retracted once it reached the halfway point, now imagining all the blood my ear would lose.
“Hey!” My PhD said, “Answer it!”
I wanted to grin, and I almost did, but then the magma in my veins rushed to my head. I grabbed the phone and hurled it at the frame displaying my PhD, cracking the glass and letting gravity finish the job.
The ringing stopped. I panted as if having just woken from a nightmare, staring down at the enemy wanting to believe it has been defeated but knowing it never truly will be. I could keep telling myself over and over again that it never owned me, but it did and it always would, no matter the damage.
Three thuds at my door announced someone’s arrival, most likely one of my students, “Dr. Smith?” he said.
Don’t call me that! The thing that attaches me to that demon! The thing that qualifies me as an imposter just sauntering in a world of well-deserved scholars, present and future.
The three thuds returned just seconds after the first wave, “Dr. Smith?” he said again, kindling an open flame under my heart.
“Go away!” I shouted.
He left without question, just walking, not even running away like the coward he really was, not even fazed by my outburst. I tried my best to realize he was at least gone now, but for some reason, I wanted him to run away crying until he drowned in his own tears.
I crouched down to pick up the 200,000-dollar piece of paper lying on the floor and stared at it on my way back to an erect stance. It was silent but not dead, for I felt it breathing in my grip, but it wasn’t silent out of fear of me. It knew I hated it.
I remembered the ceremony wherein Dr. Scarabaeus-Santos hooded me instead of Dr. Smell-Uranus for obvious reasons. If I had made the right choice, maybe graduation would have felt meaningful, worthwhile, deserved. I’ll never forget it. The day I was officially crowned an imposter, one who deserves no respect or employment or promotion or praise. I’ll never forget what Dr. Scarabaeus-Santos said to me before hooding me; words that made me want to blacken both his eyes beyond healing. “Good job.”
I tightened my grip, crumbling those areas, more, and more, and more as I attempted to taunt it with my glare that wasn’t deadly enough and never would be. No matter what I do. No matter what I believe. I will always be its puppet.
The beach bunny launched itself toward my mouth, but my sudden head-turn caused it to roll on the grass behind me where I found Dr. Smell-Uranus with a Driver soaked in mountainous mucus wielded back, ready to strike it. I pounced at him when the face of the Driver was halfway to the beach bunny, “No!” I shouted, “My degree needs that beach bunny!”
Dr. Smell-Uranus, battling the blinding light of the sun by squinting, expressed the loudest confusion in the face I had ever heard, “Your degree?” he said.
Of course my degree needed it; what else would?!
The beach bunny hopped into Dr. Smell-Uranus’ mouth and started kicking its way down his throat, but through his muffled speech, I could hear him say “Oh no you don’t!” before grabbing it by the butt to yank it out, but he lost that match with almost no competition whatsoever, but it seemed to get stuck on the way down, introducing me to my worst nightmare, and it was not nice to meet it.
How would I get the beach bunny out? It needed to be analyzed, observed, tested, dissected. I couldn’t just kill it right now, nor could I interfere with its behavioral patterns, for that would create faulty data and screw up my whole dissertation. The growing blueness of Dr. Smell-Uranus’ face warned me of my ticking clock nearing 00:00. With that, I forced my hand into his mouth and pushed the beach bunny out of the trap. Dr. Smell-Uranus’ face immediately lost all its blueness as he coughed up enough furballs to make a kitten.
If I could’ve been killed by a glare, Dr. Smell-Uranus would have slaughtered me. Before he could reach his arms out to strangle me, he lay down on his belly and started doing the worm. Dick ran over to try to stop it, but at the grasp of Dr. Smell-Uranus’ ankle, the worm doubled in length, only Dick was one saying ow every time his face slammed on the ground. I recorded the whole thing.
“Quit dancing!” Dick said.
“No, I want to!” Dr. Smell-Uranus said, his tone polluted with sarcasm, but then the sight of Dick’s broken and swollen nose made him think maybe he really did enjoy the forced dance.
Dick let go of the ankles after two whole laps, his face now cut up and nose the size of a balloon. Dr. Smell-Uranus stopped doing the worm, but then he started what appeared to be some sort of crippled version of the floss.
Dick spat out the Earth’s worth of soil, grass, and worms and brushed the ants and mud off his face before saying, “ooof kushed de innn.” Or maybe that was his planet of a nose talking.
“What?!” Dr. Smell-Uranus said.
“Ooooof kushed de innnnnnn!” he repeated, this one with twice as much nasality.
“Annunciate!” Dr. Smell-Uranus shouted.
Dick didn’t repeat. Instead, he rolled his eyes and ran toward Dr. Smell-Uranus while saying “Ow er deh!” But he slammed on his brake after noticing Dr. Smell-Uranus’ sudden breathing problem. Then, he gasped, turned back, and ran away.
I ambled closer to the scene, looking at Dr. Smell-Uranus through my phone screen, not saying a word, and neither was he, though it seemed that he was trying to but it was harder than lifting a Chevrolet Suburban with only a pinky finger.
“Interesting,” I said to myself, still watching him through the recording.
He tapped my ankle three times and tried for a fourth but seemed to be growing weaker.
“Keep recording,” my PhD said from behind me.
His eyelids slowly covered his eyes as the weakness seemed to have spread throughout his body.
“Yes,” my PhD said, “Yes!”
His hand stopped, no longer able to tap.
I lowered my phone.
The beach bunny popped its head out of his mouth and spat out what looked like a chunk of a human lung.
“Good job,” said my PhD.