fiction by Tyler Omichinski
The rain sounded like the static that used to be on the television stations without a signal as it pounded upon the roofs that surrounded him. He shook his head and was happy that he had thought to wear a hat. The rifle in his hands was a little slick, but he continued to wait. That was the deal—the weapon and instructions had been sent to him. The instructions had been on paper, before he had burned them. It would have been easier to have the killing done by a drone, but that meant that there would have been a trail of digital commands that could be followed. No, the system that was used here was simpler. The gun had been built from various pieces that had been found to have “manufacturer’s defects” in the factory, and were “disposed of.” The records had no way of linking point A to point B. Low tech was the answer to high tech.
He would do this, his insurance policy would continue. The drugs would continue to be sent. He trusted in that, trusted in the shadowy them. On Monday he would be back in the office dealing with customer databases and search queries and other things.
This was better. He preferred being out here, being on the medication, being something other than what he had been before. Each piece fit together this way, each part of his life had a place, and each piece stayed in the place it ought to. He could waste the time away at his day job, the fake work, the one he didn’t believe in. The one that was barely real.
Going off the medication made things confusing. He preferred to stay on it. Things stayed simple. If he didn’t remember, he didn’t know.
At work, they called him a regular weekend warrior. They thought he was out at paintball tournaments, skydiving, rock climbing, and whatever other thing they figured he did on the weekend. It wasn’t too far off the mark, he had to admit.
“Hey what’s that?” Janice had asked.
“Hm?” he’d looked up from the computer screen, an old thing. He refused upgrades whenever possible.
“That stain—are you okay?”
He looked down and saw it, a brownish stain on his shirt. The office had a lax dress code, and he was wearing a dark T-shirt. The stain was faint, and looked like a nondescript oblong circle. It was dried blood, but just looked like it could’ve been any sort of vaguely circular shape. “Oh, yeah. Just paintball. Paint must’ve bled through.”
“Oh, whew. For a second there I thought it was a blood stain or something.”
“Nope, nothing like that. Maybe when I go rock climbing next weekend.” They both laughed.
He blinked and was back on the roof. Needed those meds.
The target wasn’t in sight yet. He didn’t know who it was, and he never knew. There would just be the instructions. He remembered them from this time—the man who came in with the bright blue tie with a matching pocket square in a black suit and a white shirt. It had been over two hours already. The instructions had never been wrong before. He tried not to feel the cold clenching feeling in his gut that they might be wrong this time. If they were wrong, he didn’t know what would happen. They hired him to kill people; it was unlikely they’d be forgiving of mistakes. There wasn’t even a way for him to report things up the chain. If it wasn’t a successful kill, who knew what would happen?
Maybe there would be a performance review. His last one had been interesting.
“Look, we’re just a little concerned with your appearance of late.”
“There’s no dress code; I don’t see what the problem is.”
“That’s true, but there’s been talk about a promotion for you. You’re a hard worker; we all know that. Some more pride in your appearance though, that would be the thing that would make it so I could sell the promotion to the higher-ups. You know how it is.” David, his manager, no, his supervisor. Like he was a child and needed someone there to make sure that he didn’t spill juice on the computers. It was all about appearances.
“Thanks, but, do I have to?”
“Do you have to what?”
“I mean: if I’m happy where I am, do I have to wear anything different?”
“No, but I think you’re missing the point.” His eyebrows were knit together, making his near unibrow look even more like a single furry caterpillar across his face.
There had been a silent moment after that. David had tried a couple of times to start a new thought, but none of them had stuck, and he had only released a few syllables that waited in the air.
“Are we done here?” he had said.
David nodded and he had left. Back to his cubicle. It was decorated with pictures of places he had never been, and a handful of extra photos he had taken during a whirlwind photo session to make it look like it was him climbing mountains, white-water rafting, and winning paintball tournaments.
He was back at the rooftop, across from the party. What was that they were eating? A young woman in the uniform of the serving staff had a tray of something. Small pieces of toasted bread with something on it. He didn’t know food very well, and didn’t have time to focus on it.
Where was blue tie? There was one man with a blue tie, but he didn’t have the pocket square. Or did he? Could it have fallen into his pocket? He breathed deep, feeling a chill as his expanding lungs disturbed some water that trickled down his back. They were specific; they were always specific. He would trust in them, and trust in the process. Just like he trusted in the medication.
It had been simple at first, medication for dealing with emotions that he didn’t want to—sanding off the edges of anxiety and gloomy days. Then he had upped the dose; why not make it that much easier? Then a little more. Then it had spiralled. That was how the first contract had been set up, though he wasn’t sure when or how it had happened. The medication made it hard to form memories, they didn’t stick together right if the doses weren’t steady. He wondered if he had always enjoyed this. His memory said he always did.
There—blue tie, blue pocket square. The shot lined up, his brain barely processing the movement of his arms. Breath in, breath out. Squeeze the trigger. Glass shattered, red mist hung in the air for a split second. He confirmed the hit, then got up. The gun disassembled into two main pieces, each put into the case before he depressed a button. In less than a minute thermite elsewhere within the case would light and the gun would be effectively liquefied. He didn’t bother checking. Trust the system. Trust the medication. They would get it for him, and it would be okay.
His job completed, he left the building, ditched the hat, and went back to his hotel room where he showered and slept. He awoke in the morning to his heart palpitating in his chest, shortness of breath. It was the past jobs, the rolling momentum of it all hitting him. Moments after waking, he staggered to the bathroom and vomited into the toilet. Then he checked the door to his hotel room. His package was in the hallway.
Later, he wouldn’t even remember grabbing it and pulling it into the room, or how he tore the bag apart to get at the pills inside. The reel of film that was his memory would start up again on the bathroom floor, with the container of pills next to him on the floor. There was a pain in his jaw, probably from his teeth grinding together. That was fine, the drugs were working their way through his system. It was all going to be fine now.
Tyler Omichinski is a writer and game designer living in the wilds of Canada. He has worked on everything from short stories to ghostwriting to board games, and more.
This article originally appeared in the April 20, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.