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