We were in Jason’s low-to-the-ground two-door Nissan, driving north on Route 10/King Street. It was a cool spring day with low clouds, the streets empty on a Sunday morning. I was in the passenger seat, sitting on my hands. Jason was sitting high in the driver, both hands choking up on the wheel, arms locked in front of him. His jaw was tense, he was mashing his teeth. He kept sniffing and his eyes remained runny, a flush of red dots on his temples.

Jason talked though his teeth, “I could have refilled it on the Cape, before I left, but I thought, ugh,” he grunted in pain, “I dunno what I thought. I thought maybe I’d refill it here, to see what it would be like to refill it here.”

The seed of my wish pinged in my empty stomach. Things did not appear to be going according to plan this morning. I pointed out the pharmacy in the supermarket on the left side of the road just ahead. Jason nodded and sighed, relaxing.

“Sorry, dude,” he said, shivering, “I’ll be cool once I get my refill.”

We cruised across the wide plain of the empty parking lot, which should have been a sign. As the Nissan descended on the building, we could see that the supermarket was dark, closed. Jason jerked the Nissan left and gunned for the exit.

“What the fuck,” he spat under his breath.

“Weird,” I said, drawing it out, “must be a Sunday thing. But it’s cool there’s a Walgreens right across.”

The Nissan whirred while Jason drove fast and jerky. There were no other cars, and he peeled out of the supermarket parking lot and half a block over to the Walgreens lot. The lights were on in this building, but this parking lot was empty as well. My stomach clamped down in itself. Jason pulled all the way up to the front of the building, into a handicap spot, jerked the car into park.

Jason opened the driver’s door, engine running. The Walgreens was obviously closed, but there was a piece a paper taped to the door. Jason left the driver’s side door open and went to go read the paper. I remained in my seat. A swirling wet air tumbled into the car, and I shivered. I watched the silent film of Jason through the windshield, walking up to the door, reading the paper, reading it again, taking off his black baseball cap, wiping his high forehead with his hand and tucking the cap back on, tighter. The car, still on, rumbled under me.

The silent film ended when Jason tore the paper off the door, read it third time and screamed, “FUCK!” into the empty morning.

I opened the passenger door, took off my seatbelt of and set one foot on the ground. Cold air blew up my sleeve and reached my armpit.

“It’s Easter!” He shouted walking back to the car.

“What?” I quacked, my voice honking though my long nose. He got back into the car, and I slid sideways all the way into my seat. We both closed our doors to shut the day out. What day was Easter? Wasn’t it in March? Doesn’t it have a day? Or does it move like Thanksgiving?

We remained parked in front of the Walgreens for a moment. Jason squeezed his eyes shut and ground his teeth. He sucked in air, noisily, and tilted his face up towards the ceiling of the car. “Fuck that goddamn zombie Jesus Christ,” Jason grumbled. His face went wide and he shouted, “all hail the zombie king!” He slapped the steering wheel with his open palm.

Acid burned in my gut, but I wasn’t sure it was real, because I felt it below my stomach. Men displaying anger always made me younger, made me closer to a little kid, the angrier they were the younger I was. I scratched my skull through my long hair, bunching it up. My voice came out high pitched and waif-y, “there must one pharmacy open in this town,” I said, “for emergencies.”

Jason nodded and sniffed, sitting up in the seat, calming down. His nose was running, and a tear slipped down his oval cheek. He put his seatbelt back on.

“You want me to drive?” I asked quickly.

“No,” Jason said, shaking his head, putting the Nissan into reverse. “It gives me something to focus on instead of The Sick.”

He said The Sick like that, capital T capital S.

We drove up King St, no other cars on the road, green and red stoplights changing for no one. I knew this street met back up with the highway ahead, but I didn’t come out this far with my pedestrian lifestyle. Jason was driving slower, more careful than before. I think as the pain in his body increased, it just became harder to step on the gas. We were cruising through an intersection past a storage unit facility when he let out a mean sounding chuckle.

“A couple times,” He said in a cold voice, “I used to, a couple times I’d let the withdrawal start, just to make the high better. Make the high-higher. Let The Sick come over me first so that when I shot up, it was this incredible transformation, the joy of relief coupled with the pure joy of the high itself. Like this incredible distance. How far can you go? A little bit of suffering to make life that much sweeter, like you said.”

I had a small migraine in my skull, from not drinking any coffee this morning. But I knew that pain was nothing compared to what Jason was feeling, so I ignored it.

“That’s not what I said,” I mumbled under my breath.

“Yeah,” Jason agreed, not with me but to himself, “maybe this is punishment for that. For tempting The Sick. Playing with it.”

We were coming to the end of King Street, up to the Interstate 91 intersection and there was a CVS on the other side of the road. Jason swerved across the two empty oncoming lanes to pull into the parking lot. Swinging around the side of the building, all the fluorescences were on inside. Jason jerked the Nissan into park in front of the front doors. He got out of the car fast and I scrambled to keep up, I wasn’t going to stay in the car this time.

There was no paper taped to the front door, and Jason stepped into its sensor field and the doors slid open. I was a few steps behind him, and as he crossed the threshold onto the grey beaded carpet, Jason gave a thumbs up to his side. The bright clean gleaming CVS was vacant. No other customers, a few dazed slow-moving employees behind the main registers. Jason was speed walking to the back of the building, knees locked, all the movement constrained to the hips, the same kind of manic movement that had taken us over yesterday, walking around Main Street, back when everything was good.

The pharmacy was open, a plexiglass accordion divider built into the high counter was pushed aside just enough. There was one pharmacy tech there, the shelves behind him dark. The counter was level with Jason’s face, and he reached up to hand over the paper prescription. Jason’s voice went weird, a funny duck warbling, as he tried to control it, tried not to be panicked or angry.

“I would like a refill of this prescription, please, thank you,” he gasped.

The pharmacy tech was an older man, in his forties, his blonde hair was a drained hay color, cut short and tidy, combed into a tight angry part. He had gold wire-framed glasses. His face was huge, and he was clean-shaven, and you could see the pores of his cheeks, he must shave every-day to be so clean shaven, he had that aftershave vibe, he was all over like if aftershave was a person.

He was looking down at something, I couldn’t see from our angle below him, I was standing two steps next to and behind Jason. The pharmacy tech in his white coat and tie looked up at Jason and took the flapping paper from him. The clean-shaven man, looming over us, looked at the paper, twisting it in the air. Then he typed something into the computer built into the counter, we could hear the rattling of the keyboard.

Jason and I put our fists into the pockets of our jackets at the exact same time. The song “Silly Love Songs” by Wings was being quietly pumped over the store’s sound system.

The pharmacy tech rattled loud on his unseen keyboard for a minute or so, and then stopped abruptly. He reached the paper back across the high counter, holding it down for Jason to take. His voice was a dry baritone, “I can’t refill this,” he said, matter of fact.

Jason didn’t want to take the paper back at first, kept his fists in his jacket, but the tech kept holding it out, and Jason snapped it out of the older man’s hand.

“What? Why not?” Jason huffed, there was sweat on his face.

The tech took half a step away from the counter, “I don’t know the doctor.”

Jason looked at the paper itself for answers, “what?” he snapped again, “what do you mean? Is that a rule? Where does it say – what do you mean?”

The more agitated Jason became, the more bored the tech became, his calm was a weapon. “Maybe you could have your doctor call me to verify,” the tech droned. He waved his hand in Jason’s general direction. He was wearing a nice watch with a thick leather band, and a patch of dark arm hair, much darker than the hair on his head, stuck out of the man’s cuff.

Jason bit down on his lower lip and squinted. He wasn’t looking at the tech, but glared at the flat blank side of the counter itself, his nose twisted with the stink of all of it, “call my doctor?” Jason balked, “It’s Sunday,” he said louder, and then even louder, “Easter!”

I took my hands out of my pockets, took a step forward, then back. The waltz of anxiety.

Jason looked up at the tech, his bloodshot, tearing, frost blue eyes, flapping his hands in the air beside him, “even if my doctor was there to pick up the phone, which he won’t, it doesn’t matter, that’s not how this works, how this works is, I give you this prescription and you fill it. Here’s my prescription, now fill it!”

The tech crossed his arms. He looked at me for the first time, pressed his lips together. He had the face of a teacher. I’ve always hated teachers. He turned back to Jason, and said to him, hiding in the language of 3rd person like a coward, “when pharmacy techs receive scripts they cannot verify the veracity of they are required by law to contact the medical professional in question.”

Jason chuckled soft, his grim unfunny laughter. He put the prescription back in his pocket. “You think I’m a junkie? Well, guess what, I am!” Jason threw both hands straight up, swinging wide, taking up space, he was screaming now, “that’s what this prescription is! It’s for addicts to get off junk! All it does is cancel withdrawal symptoms! You can’t get high off this stuff, fucknuts! I’m an addict, and I need this to help manage my addiction! My options are to take this or keep getting high! And I guess we found out which side you’re on!”




Brian Stephen Ellis

Brian Stephen Ellis is the author of four collections of poetry, the most recent of which is Often Go Awry from University of Hell Press. He lives in Portland, Oregon. He recommends donating to the Warm Springs Community Action Team.


Edited for Unlikely by Jonathan Penton, Editor-in-Chief
Last revised on Thursday, October 20, 2022 - 22:10