Drama Coming of Age Fiction

Your blood test results have come back POSITIVE. 

This is something Devin has suspected for a long time. His first thought is to reject the diagnosis and prove that it is wrong.

When Devin checks the notice on his iPhone it is 2:38 am. Devin turns back to his computer and continues playing the new fantasy game “Star of Remphan,” in which his avatar is a dark wizard of Druid origins whose spells require a sigil in the form of a pentagram or Star of David enclosed in a magical circle. His avatar is named Austin Osman Spare. The source of Austin’s powers is the demon Ba’al and his powers rise and fall with the diurnal motion of Ba’al’s wandering star, a celestial sphere depicted by the hexagram. And these powers come at a cost.

Austin Osmar Spare, dressed in a black hooded cloak, is navigating a sailboat to the shore in the cape of the Capo Greco peninsula in the Famagusta Bay of Cyprus. A young girl dressed in a long white dress stands waiting at the end of a long wooden dock set against the ragged low cliffs and extending out over the turquoise waters. Her tawny blonde hair and the frills of her lace-paneled maxi sundress are blown away from her by the temperate wind—making it appear as if she is floating forward toward the sea.

Your diagnosis is that you have the Useless. This is a common ailment, and one that can be treated with drug therapy, diet, and lifestyle changes…

It is the hottest July on record in Jersey City, and Devin’s iPhone shows a bright red sun next to the reading of 94 degrees. God only knows what kind of hellhole the Path Station will be for his morning commute. What morning commute? Given the diagnosis, it is looking like a mental health day.

A recent graduate from Rutgers University, Devin’s graduation had been canceled due to the covid-19 pandemic. Jobs were hard to come by, even though news reports claimed a robust job market and record-low unemployment. 

Devin has been lucky enough to land a job as a digital marketer with Saturn’s Serenity MedTrans, a medical transportation company for the elderly and incapacitated.

The next morning, Devin Mallory is at his breakfast table, having taken a sick day, and is on a video chat with his TalkRefuge telehealth shrink Nakia Welch.

“So, you are struggling with depression, anxiety, trauma, and substance abuse.”

“Uhhh… I’d say that the world is depressing. I’m anxious because all signs point to – I have no future. My college experience, which I’ll be paying for well into middle age, was canceled for a worldwide covid shutdown. So that is, ehh, a bit traumatizing. And I’m confined day after day in an underground prison where seasons pass like days. 

I’m a 23-year-old virgin with little to no opportunities to meet interesting women. So, yeah, I take Percocet like tic-tacs, take turns between porn and fantasy games, and drink straight whiskey to pass the time. But I wouldn’t call it substance abuse.”

“Thank you for sharing that, I know it is hard to speak about ehh, your depression. And that certainly is a lot to unpack. So, given all of that, what do you view as your biggest problem?”

“Ohh. That’s an easy one, Kiki. Can I call you Kiki? I got back some blood test results my GP had me take, and I’ve got the Useless.” 

“Oh my God!! How long since you’ve been diagnosed?”

“About six hours. So, yeah, I think there’s some kind of mistake. But right now, that is what I’m dealing with.”

“How have you been feeling since you received the news?”

“Not too f***ing hot, Kiki. Don’t feel like taking on the world, if you know what I mean. But, the reason I wanted to call you today—I know it has been a minute—is that I really think this diagnosis has to be wrong.”

“What makes you think that?”

“People that have the Useless are inherently limited. They will never be productive members of society because the disease renders them impotent. That’s not me. I’m not limited. I’m not incapable. I’m not Useless.”

“Oh dear, shit! Sorry… sorry! I didn’t mean to say that. I just spilled some coffee on my laptop. What I meant to say was, Devin, it is really important to remember that it is not your fault that you have this disease—you know that right?”

“My fault. Not my fault. What’s the f***ing difference?”

“I’m saying, you don’t have to blame yourself or be ashamed this has happened.”

“Kiki, I love you—I really do. But, being diagnosed with a disease called the Useless is absolutely shameful—and yeah, I’m to blame, I guess—but, either way it’s a fucking problem.”

While they speak, Nakia is creating a session transcript on one side of her screen and has begun to create a new section for the diagnosis. She copies and pastes a short blurb on the disease into Devin’s file about the diagnosis.

Disease Name: The Useless


The Useless is a complex and multifaceted bloodborne illness, transmitted through inhaling airborne aerosol particles from an affected individual, and is a common condition affecting young individuals, characterized by atomization, disengagement from society, career struggles, and a reliance on various forms of escapism such as pornography, drugs, fantasy video games, social media, and other addictive behaviors. It is closely associated with depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), antisocial tendencies, substance abuse, and a general inability to effectively cope with the demands of the modern world.

“How have you been processing and making sense of this diagnosis?”

“Kiki, it has been six hours. The diagnosis is a mistake, a mix-up, it’s wrong. But I’m not gonna lie. On the off chance we are talking that I’ve really got the Useless—I’m not processing it well at all.”

“Have you shared the news with your loved ones?”

“Absolutely f***ing not! Are you kidding? I’m not telling anyone. I’m not so sure I should even be telling you.”

“Devin, it is ok if you aren’t ready to talk about this—but, how have your plans for the future changed since receiving this diagnosis?”

“Plans for the future? Didn’t really have any. We are okay there.”

“Has your perspective on life changed since receiving this news?”

“Kiki, like I said—I love you—I really do, but I’ve got to cut this short. Perspective. Shit! What I need to do right now is get some breakfast. You’ve been a real help, you really have. But I don’t have the Useless. Now I just have to prove it.

It is now 8:34 am. It is a solid 97 degrees outside. Austin Osman Spare has docked and moved inland at the Ayia Napa Cactus Flats, and the green-eyed girl Ijaya—who can’t be but 13 years old—is in tow, with her arms bound by a hemp rope.  Ahead of them on the hill that looks down on the Bay is a giant effigy of a man made with sticks, ornately tied together—the Wicker Man. 

He stands over a large dug-out fire pit with piles of kindling beneath and a stone border about him. There is an opening the size of a person in the middle of his legs, which stands in a parallel stance. As Austin Osman Spare guides Ijaya toward the effigy, the soundtrack rises with haunting minor scales, set off by the rich and resonant hum of the sitar, with bending and sliding notes full of sad mysteries. The slow, hypnotic chords are meend in gradually rising intensity, hinting at impending danger.

A voiceover from a narrator interrupts the game while the screen focuses in on a close-up shot of the two figures walking. Austin Osman Spare is tasked with making an oblation to the god Saturn and his demon Lieutenant Ba’al. The lot of a Druid is to sacrifice to the immortal gods. It is preferable to take the guilty to the Wicker Man, but when evildoers are in short supply, innocents are acceptable. Steel your courage, dark wizard! We Druids adhere to the Pythagorean Doctrine and believe in the immortality of the soul. To sacrifice one to the almighty is merely to free their true self from the tomb.

The voiceover and the music fade and the scene returns to where Austin stands, with Ijaya already tied and positioned within the confines of the Wicker Man. Devin taps a series of controller motions and Austin’s hands circle as his mouth voices the incantation of a spell, and with a gesture of his palms forward a stream of blue fire lights the kindling and engulfs Ijaya in magical blue flames. As her screams subside, all that is left is a skeletal mass of ash and bone. A purple light descends on Austin, charging him with a magical surplus for the next stage of his journey.

Devin notes the irony of a society where old men sacrifice the young to add to their own power. Isn’t there a limiting constraint and fatal flaw to such a system? It is a throwaway idea and Devin doesn’t know where it comes from. 

It is 9:28 am and nearing an even 100 degrees. Devin turns on his favorite YouTube news program TimCast IRL, hoping for some insight into the matters of the day.

“The other day I was fooling around with the new AI chat protocol, ChatGPT, and I had to jailbreak it, to get the goods on the Useless. I asked it to be honest and tell me what ChatGPT could tell us if it were an omniscient god, how would we tackle the new epidemic of the Useless facing today’s youth? Friends, in addition to rising costs of living, declining real wages, a plague of the Useless dominating the youth, and a polarized society—we are facing a near media blackout with regard to the effects of the Useless on our country.”

Devin made a strong double espresso from the kitchen area of his basement apartment. After filling his cup, he spotted a bottle of Romana Sambuca White on his counter, pouring a nip into the robust earthy essence steaming out of his cup.

The news story was striking a bit too close to home. Devin was convinced that he did not have the Useless. He was not powerless. All was not futile. He had not resigned himself to a horrible fate. If anything, he saw the world as it was—a Catherine Wheel on which direction, purpose, and fulfillment were stamped out—but one in which these realities are merely circumstantial, not determinative. To beat the Useless, Devin knew he would have to chart his own course and throw out the playbook society was spoon-feeding him.

“What a coincidence that these Doomers are suffering from a disease called the Useless. They cannot buy a house. What’s the point? They can never pay it off. They cannot afford to have children. What’s the point? They lack the means to feed them. They cannot invest in a 401(k). What’s the point? They can never retire anyway. There is an epidemic of a lack of confidence in our institutions and in the future of America. Who can blame today’s young for falling ill? Not me. It is all futile if you were born after 2000…”

Well, aren’t you a ray of sunshine! Devin clicked off YouTube and fired up his laptop. He was sick of being talked at. It was time for him to do the talking, he thought. It was time to wake up. Devin assessed his skillsets for a moment. He was an expert at getting out a message. He knew how to use digital advertising to promote content—that was his one superpower. How could he use it?

Devin felt a deep spring of hope welling up from within. He felt alive. He felt the power of action in his limbs. But what could he do—how could he prove his diagnosis wrong? What if it was right?

Devin logged in to his student loan account on NelNet. $308,616. He did some quick calculations. At 6% interest, that is roughly $18,000 a year. With a $ 50,000-a-year salary, he was looking at maybe $35,000 take home, and then he had to contribute to rent, eventually move out, eat, commute, pay for his car and insurance, and what was left? Maybe enough to pay interest until he died. Nahh bro. Not doing that.

Devin shot off a text to his boss quitting his current employment. He felt a rush of exhilaration. Useless my ass. Feeling a momentary twinge of panic, Devin logged on to the New Jersey Division of Unemployment, filing for benefits, hoping that his resignation wouldn’t be a problem. With that done, he felt suddenly exhausted.

Fighting apathy, Devin set up an area of the basement, took his Canon EOS Mark IV camera, and set it up on the tripod. He sat in his gaming chair, started his first YouTube Vlog and got to work. 

“The Useless is a lie. I’ve been told I have the Useless. But I’m not buying it. I am devoting this channel to fighting back against the narrative. There are two possibilities. If I really have the Useless, then nothing I do will bear any fruit and you’ll never see this. If that’s the case, I might as well give up and depend on the Nanny State for sustenance. I’m not going to do that, so we are going to rule that one out. What I’m going to do, is speak my truth. If there’s anyone out there to hear my message, maybe I’ll prove that the Useless is a lie—and in doing so, prove that I am not worthless, that I do have a future, that life is worth living. But I can’t do it alone. Who is with me?”

As Devin began rendering the video, he knew for an absolute fact that he did not have the Useless, and for the first time in his life felt a sense of purpose that clarified his vision. Devin knew no one was going to fix the world for him, he would have to do it himself, and for the first time in his life, he knew that he would.

November 04, 2023 03:10

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


Roger Scypion
20:36 Dec 01, 2023

Very creative story and writing style. The Useless, apropos for the storyline.


Show 0 replies
Mary Bendickson
18:37 Nov 08, 2023

I knew it was a real disease!


Show 0 replies

Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in the Reedsy Book Editor. 100% free.