Aphelion Issue 287, Volume 27
September 2023
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by Ryan Sexton

Kevin had failed to acquire work through the state job lotto, again. Spilled cheerios accumulated on his shirt in a little cloth crevice near his left nipple, while the blaring TV lit up his face like storefront glass.

"Hi there, folks. We'll kill you, and we'll do it with kindness. I'm Bob Lobell speaking on behalf of DK solutions. If you have debt--whether it's 10 million from undergrad, or 100 million from cancer or other protracted illnesses, don't sweat. Call the Debt Killers today--and you and your loved ones won't have to pay! We do fully-customized solutions, fantasies, whatever you want, we got it. Pharmaceuticals, you name it--we do it!"

Pictures of people trying to kill themselves with handguns were circled in red: "Do not do this." Then an image of Bob gently placing a gas mask over a crying man's face: "Do this." Kevin thought it was not a bad proposition as he looked out the storm window at the icy suburban Boston landscape.

Kevin was 20 million dollars in debt from undergrad and graduate school. He had been a permatern at a marketing company before getting burned out and before forced to return home. He used to write copy, not unlike the intern or, rarely, the salaried individual who probably did so for Bob Lobell and his debt killers.

His home was the last refuge for his festering head, maybe the only place left in the world to stew about with a cup of coffee and just look out the window. He lived with his grandfather and his mom, and dad was captured in a picture frame above the laser projection TV and its cold steel cabinet. He was always smiling, which wasn't a bad way to have someone permanently trapped in a picture frame. Kevin eyed his coffee, no longer steaming, and thought about sticking it in the microwave. The last time he'd tried that with the cheap Ronald Reagan commemorative mug, his grandfather's, he'd scorched his hand.

His phone buzzed as he grabbed the mug and twisted it around on the table, wiping residue away from the edges. It was Evangeline calling. She was the only girl that he found his processing centers shut down around, in that stupid feeling way. He'd fumble for words, feeling strangely venerated and slow, like somebody had unplugged a switch. Kevin tried to find his center as her voice came through the phone's speaker.

"Kevin! Do you want to go to the circle and smoke? I've got something else I want to show you too..."

"Oh yeah? You know how busy I am here, pacing around in my slippers."

He thought about it. He was supposed to go on a new vidinterview his mom had found at 3pm, but it was just another job hawking products at a vendor stand, and cold-calling, that sort of thing. Commissions were paid in the form of cheap, throwaway cell phones, but the advertisement hinted at other gifts for high earners. Evangeline's offer was certainly attractive in that case.

"I had a vidinterview for another piece of crap job later, but whatever. I'd like to go."

"Great. I'll pick you up in 20," she said a little haltingly. Kevin pictured her smiling on the other end of the line, and as he hung up his phone and looked at her avatar, he left behind a big sweat spot with his thumb.

She pulled up at the entrance to his front steps in her hydrogen Cherokee that sputtered mostly clear vapor and dribbled water slowly out of the exhaust. He grabbed his jacket off the couch and threw it on as he watched her bend down and put the car in park. As he approached, she leaned over to the passenger's side and rolled down her window with an ancient hand-crank that she must've jerry-rigged--it really was an old truck. She was great at fixing things up though.


Opening the door, he tucked his scarf inside his coat more tightly and removed a knitted winter hat. She sat upright like she was lit up by an electric-wire. I have to tell you something, her body was saying.

"This, is..." she started, removing a plastic baggie and placing it atop the cover of the center console.

Her hair was the most striking part of her, jets of clean blond hair that wrapped around a tight face with powerful cheekbones. She looked like a modern Sharon Stone, that old movie star, he thought. Maybe a version that was a little more domestic and less Hollywood, and the pills in the bag were the wheat-ish color of her hair. He imagined that maybe they were natural whole wheat. That made him feel nice.

"This is Heaven-121," she said. "I thought that we could take some and go for a ride," she said, looking up at him and smiling. "Do you ever think I'm crazy?"

Kevin laughed, and said, "I know you're crazy," while he looked down at the floor mat. "I know what that is. That's the new hallucinogen, the one that makes you remember only the good times from your life, like a highlight reel or something?"

"Exactly! Well it depends really. You see whatever you want to see, but it's always good," she said with a smile. She was his crazy girl, and maybe she didn't even know how much he needed it to survive. How badly he needed to be near somebody who hadn't given up.

Her cheeks were about to quiver into slight pouty frown, but her face super-imposed a quick smile to bury it.

"There's something bothering you."


She put the car in drive and the ancient transmission lurched as the electric drive gripped the front wheels and brought them down the road. She looked otherworldly driving her monstrosity-chariot, but the pills and their ungainly, used-condom-like Ziploc bag ruined any image of power and rendered them both very ordinary and human.

"I feel like a total failure. I'm suffocating. This damn job thing. I can't do it."

"Oh come on, Kevin," she replied, putting her hand on his shoulder for a brief moment and pressing in slightly to remind him that it was real. It felt like one of those moments they'd had where she got close to intimating that he needed to see a therapist. Evangeline was the last person on earth who did not consult a psychiatrist; the fact that she constantly suggested it showed something.

"You're right. I know I go down this road a lot." He looked out the window, embarrassed and a little naked.

"It's fine. You're fine. Now take that pill. I'm going to take you somewhere and you're going to see something really interesting."

Kevin swallowed his pill and grabbed a water bottle out of the console to wash it down with.

"So we're not going to the circle, I take it," he said.

"Not exactly."

The car ambled down Central Street and absorbed holes in the road with slight bumps as Evangeline took her pill. Kevin felt the serotonin cascade beginning. He sensed the lightness running from his legs up to his head. The beginning of the body-high that escalated up further chakras toward the head, which it would scramble like...

"Damn," Evangeline said, as the car ran over a squirrel. Kevin bent his head around backgrounds and saw its brain bubbling out of its head like scrambled eggs. He wondered how different the squirrel was from him, expecting and hoping for happiness, but instead getting something much different.

"Okay, Kevin, I've got to tell you. I think you're depressed, and I don't think it's going to change unless you get a serious shake-up."

Her unavailable hotness had him entranced--his brain lighting on fire, ménages flaring up with visions of panties flying off and making out on the worn leather, but as usual, he just curled back in his seat and tried to breathe deeply. Why were they only friends? Surely there was some reason.

"We're going to your grandpa's house, Kev. Someone is knocking it down. I read about it in the paper, and I'm surprised you didn't hear about it yet. It came out this morning."

"What? In Altwood? That's part of the historic 1990's-Mcmansion preservation project!"

"I know, doofus. You look like you're having a goddamn-panic attack! Take another sip of that water!"

He reached over and tilted the bottle up towards the peeling fabric ceiling and dripped water all over his coat, but it felt good going down his throat. Then Eve switched the radio on and Bob Lobell's booming salesmen voice came over the radio: "Hey folks, Bob Lobell here with Debt Kill Solutions. When you're down, you're really down. We can bring you back up... maybe even to heaven. At DK, your debt problems become ours, and the only thing you have to worry about after you make that call is... nothing. 617-555-393..."

"God damn it!" Kevin screamed and brought his fist down on the dash. "I've got to wonder. What exactly do those creeps get out of it anyways? What's the point?"

"Jesus, Kev. Settle down and take a cigarette, would you?"

Eve paused. "To answer your question, I think there is some sort of fee associated with it, but I wouldn't know much about it. I'm not into that sort of thing."

Eve laughed at the preposterousness of her statement and reached over to give him a cigarette with a faux paper skin, one of the rechargeable ones.

"Thanks. So you're taking 128?"

"Yeah. You know where we're going."

They took the exit off the highway for Altwood and happened upon a gaggle of MPs near one of the development's gates. A large number of protesters against the New Information Oligarchy were throwing things at the security shack and ivy-adorned entrance wall that curled around the last house's yard before the intersection. His friend Timmy used to live there a long time ago.

They went down North Street and he felt it really kicking in. He saw in his mind's eye the whole car coming apart, the wheels careening off to both sides of the road, Eve holding the wheel in her hands and coming to a slow stop in her seat. The whole world felt like it could come apart at any second, and that's really the way it had been now, for a while. He understood then that his every waking moment had been dominated by that feeling, of a bomb going off around the next corner, for at least 2 years.

"I think I might be going crazy," he said.

"Just wait until you see this."

She pulled onto Pine Woods Street. Kevin remembered it now. As he looked across at the yards, his mouth like a desert, he realized he was doing something other than tripping. He saw each yard, boys and girls playing, a lemonade stand sticking out into the street...

"That was Amy Clarett!"

"I know! Are you tripping?"

"I guess. I feel like I'm traveling through time. To a better place."

The 2000s had blossomed right before their very eyes. They took a left onto Ralway Street. Kevin felt his childhood come alive in his brain, someone having switched film reels in his brain. Grandpa. Swing set. Watermelon. Bathing suits in the deep end and old Steely Dan music and ice cream cakes and America. He felt the temperature rising, as most of his vivid memories were formed during the brief four or five month intervals in New England when it wasn't freezing. They passed another house, and Kevin saw a relic of the deep past: a child waving from an old battery powered toy Jeep just large enough for a five year old or two.

"I didn't get pulled in the Job Lotto again."

"I know, Kev."

They pulled up in front of Mr. Paul Lukeman's house: Kevin's grandfather. He had vacated the premises and hired a house sitter to keep it going and pass it on to his kids. In some legal snafu, the person in the house was buying it and knocking it down. It was a gorgeous Mcmansion from the late 1980s, about 60 years old, and for its age, it looked good. Sure, it was essentially a giant box, but it was sad to see the giant unmanned Caterpillars crawling the lawn and taking swings at the high dormers. Several pieces of gutter rained down with one smash onto the lawn and stuck right side up out of the grass. The wood siding, the marble steps--he couldn't believe people used to waste resources like that. It was ostentatious and beautiful at the same time, a memory of a time when anybody could be king.

Kevin listened to the hydraulic mechanisms on the Caterpillars whine and squeal with terrifying precision as the house flew apart. He looked and saw another Timmy, his old friend, going down the street on a BMX bike with long hair flowing out behind him, some pebbles flying up behind his back wheel as he went over the newly re-finished driveway of his neighbor's.


"Let's get out and go for a walk."

"I'm not..."

"Come on."

They parked on the street and walked onto his grandfather's driveway. Kevin remembered when they'd have Christmas there and watch in the morning as the driveway heaters melted away snow in minutes while they drank hot chocolate, and then he remembered where he really was, walking down the hill behind the garage that led to the old willow tree and garden in the middle of the backyard. He looked over at Eve furtively as the tree burst into a cascade of purple blossoms and the winter sky burned away into a bright, blue sky the color of pure distilled water. He watched as the ice and snow melted away and the grass peeled up, no longer flaccid, and sought the giving rays. The sprinklers at the far end of the lawn started up, spraying water in wasteful, staccato bursts.

"Oh, my god," he said, tears running down his face. He grabbed his chest as his heart ran out of control underneath his ribs.

Is that where my heart really is? Is this where I really am, he asked himself.

Eve was sitting across from him, watching intently. He thought he saw her dialing a number with his phone. What was she doing over there? He reached out for her hand, and she put his phone back in his pocket and smiled.

Kevin sat there as the transformation continued, and the warm grass insulated his body and mind from the bad dream that had just transpired. It didn't feel as great as she said it was going to, not at first, but it was improving every second. He was changing, and the world around him was changing too.

"What did you think of that?" she asked. "Are you okay?"

Kevin wiped the last remnants of what he guessed were tears from his face. He rubbed under his eyes until they felt moderately dry and gazed out at the small colonial on the development behind the backyard, Mr. Gregory's house.

"It was, very... prescient? The future drug? Am I seeing a perfected future, or a blend with my past?"

"Don't think so much. Just lay down and grab my hand."

Kevin closed his eyes and reached out for Eve's hand while visuals of his childhood rushed by from left to right under his eyelids.

"We're safe here, Kevin. Don't worry. Shut off your debt reminders. You won't be needing them here, not now."

Kevin forgot about his mother and grandfather and indulged in the psychedelic dream. He opened his eyes and saw nothing but blue sky, and that was enough to make him forget. He heard nothing but birds chirping and children playing on nearby streets, and he forgot the Caterpillars ripping down the house.

He gripped Eve's hand hard and sighed, and then smiled. "We'll kill you, and we'll kill you with kindness," he thought to himself. He looked at his phone and saw the Debt Killers number in his placed calls.

When had he done that?

Kevin looked up at the sky and smiled, and squeezed Eve's hand harder. If he was dying, the view was beautiful.


© 2015 Ryan Sexton

Bio: Mr. Sexton is a market researcher who writes short sci-fi stories in his spare time.

E-mail: Ryan Sexton

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