by Xavier Garcia
Empty nondescript inner city intersection that can pass for any other inner city intersection in any other inner city.
It is not actually 1999.
Tucked away on a side street off the intersection is parked a car. A man and a woman huddle in the dark, avoiding any light that may pass them. No car passes.
The intersection is completely empty.
The man and the woman are only here at this intersection for the pharmacy at the corner. They intend to rob it.
“I can’t believe we’re doing this,” says Christa. And though the sentiment is true, she really did think things would be different this time, that they would go clean this time, the statement is complete hyperbole; it is absolutely fucking believable that Christa and Lewis would be at this intersection on this night for the sole purpose of robbing the pharmacy for its OxyContin. And shes knows it.
“I told you; this is the last time. We’ll go in, grab what we need and that’s it. We’ll only keep what we need and we’ll sell the rest, and then that’s it baby, we’re done. I promise,” says Lewis.
“Haven’t you said that before?” she asks. But not as a complaint, she isn’t nagging him, he has said that before and she’s also responded in the exact same way.
“This time I mean it.”
He’s said that before too.
Christa looks down the long empty street going east. The intersection, unchanged since the 90s, gives the impression that it isn’t just unchanged, it is the same intersection from the 90s. Nothing’s changed because no time has passed. She can’t help but feel suffocated by this thought, this feeling of being trapped. Trapped in this sandbox intersection, trapped with this feeling that there’s absolutely nothing beyond the east, west, north, south horizons of her surroundings, like a pre-scripted area in a Konami game. If there’s nothing beyond, if the intersection is all there is, then she’s all she’ll ever be: an addict stuck in a loop of using and then going clean and then using and then going clean, her personality nothing but a cheap facsimile, a copy of a copy of a copy. Glitch human simulacrum doing all the things she’s meant to do, saying all the things she’s meant to say, doing only what she’s programmed to do, and saying only what she’s programmed to say and now she’s sitting here glitching, like an NPC that just realized they’re an NPC and holy fuck they hate their dialogue, and the street she’s looking down is making that feeling even worse, the street beyond not even looking three dimensional; low poly background all flat and blocky, just rows and rows of nondescript buildings on some nondescript street. All that’s visible is all that’s rendered.
“You promise this is the last time?” she asks.
He looks at her and meets her eyes.
“I promise. Now let’s go.”
They get out of the car and Christa breathes, tries to make herself feel better. She feels, no, she hopes — hope is a human feeling, isn’t it? — that this will be the last time. No more loop. At least the job will be easy, as easy as these things go. Lewis knows a guy who knows a guy who knows a girl and that girl knows the pharmacy’s security system is currently down and a technician won’t be coming in until Monday. That means no alarms, in and out, two minutes tops. That means no guns.
Lewis packs one just in case.
They mask up and take the only things they need: a crowbar, a second just in case and two bags. That guy who Lewis knows, who also knows a guy who knows a girl, that girl knows there’s a door in the back, old like the rest of the building, and if they’re to get in without being noticed it’ll be through there.
Christa and Lewis leave the car and quickly skulk around the building towards the back. Not a single person or car on the street. They make their way around the corner and find the door no problem, the light from the streetlights no longer reaching them. Without so much as a signal Lewis begins prying away at the door, his movements unrecognizably aggressive. Christa joins in.
Finally, the door begins to give way and Lewis’s movements become even wilder, desperate even, until the door breaks open with a crack so loud Christa is sure someone has heard. Silence.
Masked, Lewis turns to Christa. She can tell he’s smiling.
“Let’s go, baby,” he says. She just nods and the two enter the pharmacy.
Empty, nondescript pharmacy, lit only by a phosphorescent light in the back; unchanged since the 90s.
It is not actually 1999.
Lewis and Christa walk fast but low so as not to be seen from the pharmacy’s glass front. In the dim light, empty save themselves, quiet save their footsteps, they walk past row after row of aisles; sexual wellness and family planning, vitamins and supplements, cough cold and flu, medicine and treatments and pain relief and baby and child care and oral care and skin care and hair care and makeup and why is this giving Christa a fucking panic attack, what the hell is she doing here again and again. She wants oxy. She knows she does, but she doesn’t want this, doesn’t want to be here at this nonplace, this nonplace because real pharmacies have people in it, they aren’t empty and dark, this nonplace because real people wouldn’t be here at this time of night, here in this MS-DOS render of a pharmacy; pharmaceutical aisles looking like infinite Doom corridors, Windows 95 maze screensavers and she bets if she grabs for a bag of chips her hand will hit a flat background instead. And who the hell programmed her this way, why is she like this? She wishes she could break free, be someone else, with someone else, break the loop and be happy. She’d trade all the oxy in the world for that.
“Hey, you ok?” asks Lewis. Christa nods. They make their way towards the back, towards the phosphorescent light, over the counter and straight for what they came for.
“You know what to do,” says Lewis and begins tossing bottles and whatever else he can grab into the bag, knowing exactly what to take and what to leave. She does too. She starts doing the same, breathing in and out, in and out, they’re almost done and then it will be over.
Then metal screeches against tile.
Lewis stops, looks at Christa. Did they hear that right?
Again, the sound of metal against tilecoming from a back room though the place is supposed to be empty.
Christa begins shaking her head, motioning with her hands for them to leave but Lewis ignores her. He reaches into his jacket and pulls out the pistol. There shouldn’t be anyone here.
“No, please, let’s just leave,” she whispers, but it’s too late. Lewis throws his whole weight against the door and it cracks open like it’s made of paper.
A man sits alone in the back office. He smiles ear to ear.
“Oops, you caught me.” He raises his hands.
“Who the hell are you?” asks Lewis as he enters the room, Christa right behind him.
“Me? Well, I’m the pharmacist,” says the man, still smiling. He is tall and thin and the garish phosphorescent light above him makes his face look gaunt and pale.
“Do you know what time it is?” says Lewis, pointing the gun at him, palpable frustration in his voice.
The pharmacist looks at the little clock on the wall.
“Ah! Yes. Time flies.” He chuckles. Then his face grows serious while somehow still sporting a smile. “You’re here for the OxyContin, am I right?”
“That’s none of your business,” says Lewis, near growling as he steps closer, aiming the gun at the man’s forehead. “Please don’t shoot. Look, I don’t care. I just want to talk. Cards on the table. I’m not supposed to be here. Neither are you. I don’t want to get caught as much you don’t. I can’t tell anybody, including the cops, you’re here, because that would mean admitting I’m here. So, you can relax. Take off your masks, or don’t. It doesn’t matter, the cameras are off. I have it taken care of.”
Lewis looks at Christa, neither knowing what to say.
“What are you doing here?” Lewis finally asks.
The man laughs.“You really want to know?”
“I’ve been working on something. In secret. Developing a new drug.”
“A drug, like what?”
“Well, simply put, I’ve created a new human emotion. Happiness, anger, sadness, blah, blah, blah. I found something new. What I’m working on, I call it post-human euphoria. It manipulates the brain, you see, making it produce a hormone more beautiful than dopamine, more wonderful than serotonin. It’s better than any hormone produced by the human body. What I’ve made is post-human emotion.”
“Post-human emotion?” asks Christa.
“That’s right. And it’s yours.”
“You’re addicts, aren’t you?”
“Fuck you,” says Lewis.
“No offence meant. None at all. I get it. Trust me, I do. The need to feel something, to feel nothing at all. To feel anything. I get it. That’s why I’m offering you a chance to try it. I have and it’s wonderful. I know. But you have no idea how wonderful it is. I mean it when I say it’s yours. If you try it and don’t like it no skin off my teeth. But if you do try it, and you see what I see, I can give you more and you can sell it. I had to skirt a few rules to create it but it doesn’t matter. I just want people to try it.” Under the garish phosphorescent light, Christa can see the plain belief in his eyes.
This has to be a trick, right? Why would he lie?
“You’ve tried this yourself?” she finally asks.
“You’re not buying what this guy is saying, are you?” interrupts Lewis.
“I just want to know. I’m curious. If he has what he says he has. Nobody on the street will have this. Just us.”
The man’s smile widens.
“Yes, it’s wonderful.”
“You’re not trying to poison us, are you? Some stupid trick to knock us out so you can call the cops.”
“Poison you?” The man bursts into laughter, lowering his hands. His laugh is exaggerated and cold and hollow. “No, I’m not trying to poison you. I’m a pharmacist, for god’s sake. If you want OxyContin, take the OxyContin, it’s not worth getting shot over. I’m not going to fight or trick you over it. This isn’t what this is. What I’m doing is offering you the best high of your life, the chance of a lifetime.”
Christa knows she shouldn’t, knows she’s probably making a mistake but she wants out the loop so bad she could scream. She pulls off her mask.
“What the hell are you doing?” yells Lewis.
The pale pharmacist leans back in his chair, getting a good look at her.
“Well, hello. Nice to meet you.”
“Fuck,” mutters Lewis, taking off his mask.
“And you, sir. Hello.”
Lewis breathes out, taking a moment to compose himself.“Do you have the drug here?”
“It’ll take me a second to prepare it.”
“And how long does it last?”
“Only half an hour, I’m afraid. k.”
Lewis looks to Christa and words pass between them unsaid.
“So, do we have a deal?”
“We’ll let you know after we try it,” growls Lewis.
“Of course, of course. How exciting! Two doses of post-human euphoria coming right up,” says the pale pharmacist, before turning around and getting to work.
While the man works, Lewis and Christa share glances heavy with meaning. They’re both scared. Scared, and excited. Christa knows he meant it when he said this was the last time, but she also knows that he knows that it probably wasn’t. But this, whatever this is, however weird this is, this could be it, for both of them. The end of the loop.
Finally, the man turns back around, smiling and nearly shaking from excitement.
“Ready?” he asks.
They both nod. He stands up and hands both Lewis and Christa a little pill each. The pills are nothing more special than generic pharmacy capsules.
“One for you, and one for you. Have fun.”
Lewis looks at Christa.
“I love you,” he says.
“I love you too,” she says back.
And they both down the pill.
“How long until it kicks in?” Lewis asks.
“Oh, not long at all.”
Lewis looks at Christa.
“I think maybe —” and then Lewis begins to cough.
“Baby?” asks Christa.
Lewis’s coughing grows more violent.
With mad bulging eyes he turns to look at the smiling face of the pale pharmacist. He goes to say something but there’s too much froth in his mouth, his words a gargled mess as he drops to the floor.
Before Christa can react, the pale pharmacist is back on his feet, quicker than he appeared, and he’s picked up Lewis’s gun. The man turns to Christa, finally standing at full height with the same smile he’s had on since they walked into his office. Tears stream down Christa’s face but she’s too shocked to move.
“Now, I thought that was rather obvious, didn’t you?”
“You tricked us. You lied to us,” cries Christa.
“Yes, I lied. I’m sorry. But I didn’t lie about everything. You see, I only had enough for one pill. And ok, ok, don’t be mad about this.”
Christa backs up into a wall.
“I’ve never actually tried post-human euphoria,” he continues. “I know! My bad. But I’m sure it will work. If it doesn’t, I didn’t want one of you to try it, then die and then I get shot for messing it up. So your boyfriend dies and you get the drug. We’re all winners here.”
His eyes are wild and fanatical. The drug is kicking in.
“Can’t you see what I’ve given you? You’re the first. So, tell me, neo-Nephilim. Tell me how it feels.”
Christa runs. She heads for the door but the movement is too much. he falls, lightheaded. Scrambling onto her back, she looks up, tears streaming down her cheeks as the world vibrates around her.
“Tell me how it feels,” he repeats from above.
“It doesn’t feel good. Things, things are becoming blurry,” she says. “All glitchy.”
For the first time his smile drops.
“It didn’t work,” he says, grief heavy in his voice. “I was worried about that happening. It didn’t work.”
“What’s going to happen to me?”
“What’s going to happen to you?! What’s going to happen to me is I now have to go back to the drawing board! What’s going to happen to you is that I’m going to take you home and figure out what went wrong.”
Fighting against a surge of intoxication, Christa forces herself onto her feet and surges out the door of the backroom office.
Empty, low poly rendered pharmacy, dimly lit by phosphorescent light and pixelation, endless rows of aisles stretching out unto eternity. There is no horizon, there is no door, there is only the endless aisles of a pharmacy that has not changed since the 90s.
It is not actually 1999.
Christa runs down the cosmetics aisle of the pharmacy, a pixelfucked version of a pharmacy sandboxed within her universe. She runs and runs and runs down the same render of cosmetic products in an infinite loop. This can’t be real, she thinks, as she turns down another aisle, but it’s the same thing again and again no matter where she turns, endless pharmaceutical aisles stretching off into an endless white horizon. Row after row after row; sexual wellness and family planning, vitamins and supplements, cough cold and flu, medicine and treatments and pain relief and baby and child care and oral care and skin care and hair care and makeup and she tries to grab a product, any product, but her hand hits background instead.
And then he’s there. There is no exit and there is no entrance, but there he is, standing in the snack aisle, the pale pharmacist, except he’s looking less like himself by the second, and Christa tries to run but no matter where she turns he’s standing in her way. She realizes the pharmacist no longer looks like himself, like any man at all, or rather looks like every man she’s ever known. He stands before her in the middle of the family planning aisle, a composite of every man she’s known, her brother, her father, her first grade teacher, past lovers, all of them and none, the image of his face stretched and bent over the 3D model of his body.
“I thought I was Prometheus, bringing fire to mankind,” he says, voice bitcrunchy and weak, “but I’m just another cannibal god doomed to eat his young.”
Christa tries to run again but he trips her with a sweep of his feet and she comes crashing down. She rolls onto her back and tries to crawl away, but he puts a foot onto her chest and holds her down.
Empty, nondescript, inner city intersection that can pass for any other inner city intersection in any other inner city.
It is not actually 1999.
Xavier Garcia is a writer/editor from Toronto, Canada. His short fiction work has appeared in Fugitives & Futurists, as well as in multiple anthologies published by Black Hare Press. A short horror film he wrote/produced also won the Best Film award at the Rue Morgue and Sinister Nights Film Festival. You can find him walking the nightmare corpse-city of R’lyeh, or at twitter.com/xavier_agarcia.