A work of speculative fiction wherein all needs and desires are managed with the contents of a capsule…
by: Alex Horn
The Sleeping Pill wakes me at 7:45 AM, just as it has been calibrated to do. I feel terrible: I always feel terrible when I wake up. But never for long. The Wake-Up Pill is ready on my counter, in the same spot as always, and I grab it and swallow it even before I open my eyes. I don’t need water, anymore. Only kids need water. By the time you’re grown up, most people get pretty efficient.
The Wake-Up Pill enacts a wonderful transformation within me. From the moment it hits my stomach, I feel energized and alert. I quickly run through my morning exercise routine — jumping jacks and kettlebell swings — wash up, and then dress.
Breakfast is simple: a Protein Pill, two Carbohydrates Pills, three Vitamin Pills, and to cap it off, two more Wake-Up Pills from my hidden, precious stash. Technically, I’m only prescribed one Wake-Up Pill a day, but that never seems to do it for me, so I’ve had to get creative in terms of acquiring extras. You’ll see what I mean.
When I get to my car, I find a Driving Pill waiting in the cupholder. Early every morning, a drone comes and refills it, before I wake up. The Driving Pill is a big one, and so there’s a little bottle of water next to it, but I don’t need water, anymore, to swallow pills.
The Driving Pill makes the process of driving very pleasurable, so I take the long way to work — by which I mean to say, I drive twenty minutes in the opposite direction, then head back. By the time I park, I’ve driven forty-five minutes, even though it’s only a ten minute commute. But this is about as long as I usually take to do it.
I arrive at my desk at 9:19, which is almost twenty minutes late, but no one seems to mind. I work at the Pill Company, after all, and the pill machines can go on working just fine without me.
This isn’t to say I don’t do my job, because I do: thing is, I can’t really tell you what it is. When I arrive at my desk, there’s a tiny white plastic wrapper placed just beside the keyboard. The last thing I remember doing, each day, is unwrapping that wrapper and swallowing the Productivity Pill. After that, it’s all blank. But I do know that my job has something to do with typing on a computer, probably, because my fingers always hurt after work, and also because there’s a keyboard right there on my desk.
I come back to myself about 4:10, 4:15 in the afternoon. The first thing I do once I’m conscious is close out of whatever documents I was working on. I can’t touch them, now. I wouldn’t know how.
Then I head up to the fifth floor, where I knock on the door of a top executive. I always knock, but he always tells me to come in at once, just after the first knock. Today, though, he’s a little slow: he doesn’t speak up until the third knock. It doesn’t matter.
The executive is an unremarkable man. He looks rather like me, except older, and smaller. I try not to look in his eyes, because every time I do, I am disturbed by the tiredness I see there, and the hunger. Did this man not take his Wake-Up Pill? Did he not take his Protein Pill either? It doesn’t make any sense. He’s an executive. He has as much as he wants of either.
There is no need for me to talk to him, or him to talk to me. This is a longstanding arrangement.
I sit down at the desk across from him. I pull off my shoes, then my socks, and lay them neatly beside my chair. Then I set my feet down on the desk, and wiggle my toes.
There is nothing remarkable about my feet. They are the normal feet of a twenty-five year old office worker — pale and uncalloused. They’re dirty, though. I rarely wash them. The executive told me once, the first time we did this, that he likes them dirty.
The executive watches me wiggle my toes for a few minutes. I don’t count the time on a clock or anything. I just wiggle my toes for a while, and then I stop.
Once I stop, the executive turns his attention back to the papers on his desk, just like always. I put on my socks and my shoes, stand up, and prepare to leave. Before I can, though, he does something that isn’t in the schedule: he speaks.
“You should watch The Unwrapping tonight,” he says.
“The what?” I ask.
I ask this even though I know perfectly well what The Unwrapping is — I better, since it happens every Friday night at 10:30. I say ‘the what?’ instinctively, simply because I’m so surprised that the executive spoke. He never has before — not since the first time I was here, when he told me he likes my feet dirty. And in my defense, my Productivity Pill has worn off now, and so have my Wake-Up Pills, mostly, so I’m not feeling my sharpest.
“The Unwrapping,” the executive repeats. “The new pill they put on display tonight. You’re gonna want to see it.”
I don’t know what to say, so I just walk around the desk and stick out my hand towards the man. He puts his hand in his pocket, takes out a plastic bag containing six Wake-Up Pills, and hands it to me. Then I walk out.
When I get back to my car, there are two neatly wrapped pills in the cupholder: a Driving Pill and a Wind-Down Pill. Technically, I’m supposed to take the Driving Pill now, drive home, and then take the Wind-Down Pill once I park. But I always take both pills at the same time, as soon as I get to the car. The Wind-Down Pill helps me relax. I don’t think I’m alone in that.
When I get home, I take a Hygiene Pill, which makes me overcome with the urge to be fastidiously clean. I spend ninety minutes showering, washing, scrubbing, tooth-brushing, tooth-flossing, ear-plunging, and hair-tweezing, until I have utterly devastated my external microbiome.
Then I watch twenty minutes of TV. There’s something about gorillas. The last of them are gone.
I’m contemplating the death of the gorillas when the clock hits 7: that means it’s time to leave for my 7:30 date. The restaurant is only a fifteen minute drive, but I pop a Driving Pill anyway — it’s only safe — and so I drive around the long way, for forty-five minutes. Then, I suffer a minor anxiety attack in the car, which is only defeated when I find an emergency Calming Pill I stashed in the glovebox.
I don’t walk into the restaurant until 8 — but it’s alright, my date hasn’t gotten here yet, either. I’m a bit worried I’ll have lost my reservation, but it doesn’t matter: the place is empty. I guess it makes sense. Restaurants aren’t exactly thriving businesses. Food is only a novelty, now. Most people just eat their Protein Pills and Vitamin Pills and go about their day.
The restaurant does serve wine, though. The same effect can be achieved with an Inebriation Pill, of course — but I like the feel of the wine going down, and the way it sits in my stomach.
I order a bottle of red, and put a heavy dent in it. I start to feel antsy, so I pop the Boredom Pill I had stashed in my jeans pocket, in case the date’s conversation was dull. I had met the girl at the pharmacy, while buying some over-the-counters. That’s all we had in common, really: we both liked Relief-of-Pain Pills.
Maybe that’s why she doesn’t show up. Before I know it, it’s 10 PM, and the restaurant is closing. I polish off the last of the wine, and head to my car. On the way out the door, the hostess offers me a Sobriety Pill. I take it, along with an after-dinner mint — even though I never ordered anything to eat.
The drones have left me another Driving Pill in my cup holder, but I don’t take it. If I do, I’ll be out driving for an hour, and I want to make it home in time for The Unwrapping.
I ge home at 10:15. The wine’s given me a headache, and the Sobriety Pill took away the drunkenness that hid it. For a second, I wonder if I’m dehydrated, but then I remember the cause of the pain doesn’t matter, just the solution, so I take two Relief-of-Pain Pills and feel a whole lot better. Then I take two Wind-Down Pills, which I’m prescribed. After a moment’s hesitation, I take a third. This means I’ll run out of them later in the week — unless I strike up a new deal with the foot-loving executive — but it doesn’t matter. The world could end tomorrow, after all.
After I’ve taken all my pills I lie down on the couch, turn on the TV, and prepare to enjoy The Unwrapping.
At 10:30 on the dot, a smiling man in a white lab coat comes on the screen. He speaks in a reassuring tone that reminds me of a particular school teacher I had in the third grade: a man who always handed out extra Sweet-Tooth Pills.
“The Pill Company is proud to present our newest product,” he says. “It’s one we’ve been working on for a long, long time.”
The man takes out a white wrapper and tears it open. The camera zooms in. Inside is a single, white, oblong pill. It looks like any other.
“This isn’t any other pill,” the man says proudly. “This pill is called Happiness. And once you take it, I think you’ll agree, it’s the only pill you need.”
Just then, the camera shakes. It’s then knocked over sideways, so all I see is white roof. Screams come from the television: sounds of mortal terror. Then five gun-shots sound, one after the other; and when the echoes fade, all is silence.
After a minute of this silence, the TV feed cuts out.
“I’ll be damned,” I say to myself. “I never knew they did The Unwrappings live.”
The TV is only showing static now, so I get up and turn it off. It’s only when I sit back down that I realize how very alone I am in this house. I was alone before, of course. But with the TV off, the true magnitude of my aloneness becomes clear. I am the only one in this house — everyone else in the world is on the outside. And the same must be true for many of my neighbors.
In the distance, I hear a low, whining sound, like something very fast is approaching from very far away. Missiles? Fighter jets? Or something else?
I spend the rest of the evening searching the house for Calming Pills, but I can’t find any. At last, around one in the morning, I take my Sleeping Pill, and pass out.
By morning, the bombs have come, and I disappear in a puff of smoke.
Alex Horn is a writer from South Jersey; he studied Creative Writing at Columbia University. He spends his free time watching ice hockey and reading Haruki Murakami (though not at the same time). Check him out on Twitter.