Millie Shore believed in life after death, but she didn’t count on it. It sounded like an oxymoron to her, and besides, how much more tragic would her death turn out if she was waiting to get somewhere, but didn’t end up there? It’s a lot like taking a trip to Disneyland; reasonable enough to believe you’ll have a good time, but you shouldn’t count on it. Long lines and little kids, food-poisoning and rollercoasters, too many contradictions. Life after death, it just doesn’t make sense.
Millie woke up in the evening, still drowsy from the melatonin pills. She shuffled across the dusty maroon floor, into the bathroom. The orange wallpaper gave her a headache, what had the last owner been thinking? She brushed her teeth, flossed, brushed her hair, applied a face moisturizer. Her next stop was the kitchen.
There was a shaggy brown carpet under the sleek wooden dining table. Millie never vacuumed, but there were no crumbs on the carpet. How long had it been since she’d eaten something? She drank coffee, then popped a vitamin c tablet. She picked up an orange cylinder filled with Adderall, the key to a successful night shift. Millie wouldn’t be able to live with herself if she made a mistake.
She shuffled back into the bedroom, slipped out of her nightgown, and dawned scrubs. Her tall, shapely figure disappeared in a sea of ugly green fabric.
John greeted her at the entrance. He was an old high school friend and the new security guard.
“Hello,” he said.
“Hi,” she said back with a smile, “how are you?”
“A lot better now that you’re here, any plans for the weekend?”
“Not really,” she answered.
“Well, why don’t we make some?”
She laughed, John looked disappointed.
“I’m sorry, that was good, really, I just don’t date people from work.”
“That’s the charm,” John said, “as soon as I graduate medical school I’m out of here.”
“Right, except that’s not happening any time soon.”
“Two more years!” John said.
“I’ll wait for you,” Millie chuckled.
“You’re a real tease, you know that?”
“Guess I am,” Millie shrugged and walked away.
She spent most of her time doing paperwork and sorting out pills for the patients. No, not patients, residents. People didn’t come out of here, they simply sat playing checkers; yelling at each other, at the TV, at the fish tank, sometimes at Millie; biding their time until death. It was hard not to wish some of them would go ahead and die, but the thought had never occurred to Millie. Her job was to keep these patients alive, even if most of them had already stopped caring.
The dosage of Adderall Millie took kicked in after one hour and lasted her for around five. During breakfast the next day, she distributed pills to the residents. It was her final task. Most were happy to see her. Every month or so one of the residents would go from happy to indifferent, and that’s usually when Millie knew they had one foot out the door.
Colonel Rex was the last to receive his pills, Millie handed him the blue capsules, and he took them with an indifferent nod. He’d been that way for a long time now. The man was a war hero, and he used to fit the profile quite well; kind, charming, proud.
“Sit down!” He told Millie as she gave him the pills. The colonel was seated in the common room, on a green chair he liked to hoard. She sat across from him on a comfortable, tattered brown couch. Her shift was over, she wasn’t his nurse anymore, just a friend. He told her war stories. A long time ago, when he’d just arrived, the war hero was like a well of stories. Now, he told the same three ones over and over. When Millie first met Rex, she’d asked him what war he was in.
“I don’t remember dear, but I believe I was on the winning side.”
“What did you do after the war?” She had asked.
“I ran a small shop with my kids.”
“Did you receive any medals?” Millie asked.
“I’ll show you the medals tomorrow, I can call my grandson and tell him to bring them in.”
The next day the Colonel’s grandson came to visit for breakfast, while Millie handed out the pills. He was a short man, but he walked tall. He wore an expensive watch, navy suit, and sleek dress-shoes. He looked flawless, despite the fact, his hair stuck out in greasy clumps and his teeth were as yellow as sticky notes. He smiled, dropped off the medals, then said he had to go. The colonel told Millie a story, back then they were always new, today he was a broken record.
“I have a new one!” He would tell Millie, and then recite one he’d already told hundreds of times. She laughed, gasped with shock, nodded somberly; after a while, when she could no longer muster the will to laugh or cry at the same stories day after day, she turned to method acting. When the colonel got to a sad part, she conjured up a sad memory, during funny parts she tried to remember jokes. Eventually, she no longer needed to act, the laughing and crying came to her, naturally. She was ready to hit the stage, ready to start filming.
Rex’s grandson continued visiting during breakfast. He talked a lot without saying much, and Millie found herself reacting to him the same way she reacted to Rex. His breath reeked of garlic and misery, but other than that he was a pleasant guy.
Eventually, the grandson, much like his grandfather, began deteriorating. His eyes seemed to retreat deeper into their sockets, his cheeks collapsed into themselves, his hair stood up in clumps. However much the man’s body degraded, his clothing only grew sharper, sleeker. An animal rotting on the inside, still beautiful on the outside. Soon Millie was so focused on the grandson’s deterioration she failed to notice the bumpy, dark patches under her own eyes. Were the long shifts getting to her? No, she still had the Adderall.
“Good morning, Millie,” the grandson greeted her one day.
“You look a little tired,” he remarked.
“Ah, I see. Would you like to sit down for breakfast? I brought some homemade stuff from the shop and there’s plenty to go around.”
Millie was running low on Adderall, but what did matter? Technically, her shift was over, Colonel Rex was her last location. She didn’t need to be sharp. She sat next to the grandson on the tattered brown couch. He handed her a brown lunch bag. Colonel Rex’s eyes were glass; fragile, dry, glistening in the dimly lit common room. The grandson began speaking, and Millie made herself comfortable. She enjoyed listening to his soothing, elegant voice. It was a bit like listening to a podcast, no, more like an audiobook. He spoke about his beliefs and was prone to monologue. She made sure to turn away from him a little to avoid the garlic breath.
“You know in Portugal, they decriminalized drugs. This was way back in 2001, but I would argue it’s something we ought to consider,” he said out of the blue. Millie wondered if he knew about her Adderall.
“Marijuana has been legalized in some places,” Millie said. She yawned and considered closing her eyes, but thought better of it. For whatever reason, she didn’t want to anger the grandson.
“I’m not saying we need a free-for-all where people can get high on the streets, distribute drugs, and buy them from whomever they wish. It’s just that possession of drugs and drug use should be more of a health problem, not a criminal one,” the grandson said.
Millie didn’t say anything. She was trying to remember where Portugal was.
“Just 50 years ago,” the grandson went on, “there was a serious stigma on psychiatric drugs, now, a growing number of people take pills to help them fight anxiety, depression, and whatever else is going on in their mind. Whether you think that’s a problem or not, you can still see a stigma against certain drugs. Children aren’t being put in jail for taking Ritalin, the huge number of soldiers taking antidepressants and sleeping pills are good to go, but those who take pills that may “disrupt” society, pills that provide people huge amounts of joy, more so than actually studying, starting a family and getting a job, doing anything productive, are considered bad. Around 1 in 5 people locked up in America for a drug-related offense.”
“What about the cons of decriminalizing drugs?” Millie asked.
“What cons?” The grandson asked, sporting a flustered grin.
“Well, um, people might be more likely to experiment with drugs. There’ll probably be more of them on the street, and who knows if treatment centers are ready to handle the influx of addicts they’ll be receiving from prisons. A lot of unknowns, that’s all.”
“Devil’s advocate,” the grandson said, regaining his composure.
“Yeah, your argument was great.”
“Alright, I best be going. Goodbye Millie, thanks for taking care of him,” he pointed to Colonel Rex.
“My shift is over.”
“Alrighty then, let’s get out of here.”
Three days later, during Millie’s next shift, the grandson arrived much earlier than usual. She assumed he would take a seat across his grandfather, but instead, he went to speak to one of the other residents. Millie Shore continued handing out pills, watching the grandson out of the corner of her eye. The common room had glass walls, perfect for keeping an eye on the residents. Now and then one of the residents would get confused and walk into the walls, but it was a small price to pay. She could see the grandson playing checkers with one of the residents. He was sporting a big, yellow smile.
John walked into the common room, strolling over next to Millie.
“Who are you spying on?” He whispered.
“Don’t avoid the question, I know you’re watching somebody’s reflection through the glass walls. Is it that tired-looking rich guy playing checkers?”
“Fine, I’m watching him.”
“Cause he’s never visited that resident before. His grandfather is over there, on the other side of the room.”
“I wouldn’t worry about him, he’s probably just made a new friend, it would be hard not to since he’s here so often.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right.”
“Trust me, I’m good at this security stuff. Even if it falls through, I’ve got medical school to fall back on.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right, the man just made a new friend.”
John smiled, walked straight through the glass walls, down the parking lot, and disappeared into the horizon. Millie blinked, her head hurt.
The grandson’s hair stuck up in clamps, business as usual, but today it seemed to stick up into the shape of two horns. He looked like the devil. It was undeniable. Then, she saw him reach into the dixie cup in front of the resident and take out a yellow pill. Quickly, and without water, he swallowed it. Then, in an unrelated event, he won checkers. The grandson stood up and walked to his grandfather.
“Good morning, Millie,” he called out from across the room.
Millie walked over with a big smile. Quiet on the set, and...action! She nodded along while the grandson talked, fighting to maintain her composure. Colonel Rex told them a war story.
“I should get going,” the grandson said.
“Me too, my shift is over,” Millie said.
They stood up together, and Millie saw the grandson put his hand over his mouth. At first, she thought he was just stifling a yawn, scratching his jaw, but it was far from that. He’d taken one of Rex’s pills.
The next morning was when the coldness began. Millie went around her house and made sure all the windows were closed. Why was it so damn cold? She slipped under her covers and took a long nap. She woke up and walked over to the living room, where a movie was already playing on the TV. Three movies, one melatonin pill, and off to bed. Bright circles under her eyes, then darkness.
Footsteps. A soothing, elegant voice: “Millie.”
She rose out of bed, went into the bathroom to brush her teeth. Was it already morning? Shit, she was going to need a lot of Adderall.
Teeth brushed and flossed, hair brushed, face washed. She slipped into blue scrubs and opened her door. Outside, everything was swallowed by darkness.
She groped along the hall for the light switch. Her apartment seemed to stretch on forever. At this rate, she’d be late for work.
“Come sit over here.”
“Follow my voice, Millie.”
She followed the voice, hands extended ahead of her so she wouldn’t hit anything in the darkness. A couch materialized in front of her, she tripped, stumbled over the back, and landed next to somebody. A cold hand cupped her shoulder.
“Good morning, Millie.”
Her shoulder felt tense.
“Get your hand off me,” she said.
Her shoulder was still tense.
“I have a pill for that, shoulder pain I mean, do you want it, Millie?”
She nodded and held out her hand, the man dropped a pill into it. The pill went down her throat, and all at once, her shoulder felt better.
“I assume you know who I am,” the man said.
“Colonel Rex’s grandson?”
“I’m afraid that’s only a part of it,” the man said.
“Are you the devil?” Millie asked. The vein in her forehead felt like it might explode. She scrunched up her face in pain and doubled over on the couch. The skin on her hand shriveled up, her eyes grew cataracts, her bones shrunk. Aging was a pain in the ass.
“Close enough,” the man said, “are you going to tell anyone about my little theft around the care center?”
“No!” Millie said.
The next morning Millie turned a blind eye to the grandson’s theft. She wasn’t ready for the devil’s fury.
She upped her dosage of Adderall, which meant she needed more melatonin to fall asleep. Soon, she couldn’t remember what she did at home. Her mind had entered a sort of focused stasis.
“Good morning, Millie,” the devil said, sitting on the brown tattered couch in the care center. He never stopped visiting. The devil continued to pluck people away, stealing their pills and sentencing them to death. Millie sat next to him.
“You look awful, here, take this.”
Millie extended a shaky hand and received a pill. She swallowed it without water.
“Ready to leave?”
“Yeap,” she said.
On her next shift, Jhon approached her.
“What do you think you’re doing?” He whispered.
“What do you mean?”
“The pills, Millie. The residents need them.”
“It’s not me who steals them!”
“I saw you do it.”
“You have no proof!”
“Rex died last night, I’m sorry Millie, I have to report you for this.”
“No! John, it’s me, don’t you dare, you report me and we’re over!”
“What are you talking about?” John said.
“Wait, who’s dead?”
“Rex Smith, one of the residents here. He suffered a heart attack.”
“But he’s sitting right there!”
Millie pointed into the common room. Surely enough Colonel Rex was sitting on his favorite green chair. His grandson was on the brown couch.
“Come sit,” the grandson called out to her.
“I can’t, John is dragging me out of the building, I’m fired,” she said.
“Maybe next time,” the grandson said. He stood up, ran over to Millie and John, and held the door open for them.