Las Vegas Syndrome
They named the pill Las Vegas, after the new city that never sleeps, despite originating from a Chinese replica developed in New Jersey. Aaron Knight’s grandfather, George Knight Senior, often spoke fondly of a time when LV’s were optional, when people would waste hours every day lying in bed doing nothing. Aaron considered him a Dozer, a pervert. We often excuse the elderly for their eccentricities but Aaron always found it difficult to understand and forgive his grandfather’s obsession with sleeping. George Knight Senior was the last of Aaron’s grandparents, only dying twelve years earlier, at the unusually old age of seventy-two. Aaron was born too late to meet the rest of his forebears, they were merely names rarely recounted in passing conversation however he retained fond memories of George Senior.
Aaron Knight lived in London, which was a drastically different city to the one George Senior recalled in his bedtime stories. With the capital alone exceeding a population of 50 million, this was a time when overpopulation was a worldwide problem. People were packed together like camerae.
Camerae are the husky slender chambers that compose the interior of a spiralling Ammonite shell.
Aaron was proud of his apartment, though cramped and owned by the Government Ltd., he was happy to have his independence. It had been assigned to him, along with his career working as an engineer at the Sunlight factory, immediately following graduation from university. Being a citizen, his job and home were guaranteed as part of the Efficient Society Scheme. Aaron had worked on the same factory floor his whole adult life; he worked tirelessly for 12 hours a day producing the patented Sunlight light bulbs. London was covered in their product, which created a dynamic daytime environment in the dark, throughout the city. The bulbs provided nearly all the benefits of natural sunlight and were an essential addition to the Las Vegas pill, as people’s lives were dictated by their work schedule rather than the Sun. Aaron took his pill every twelve hours as recommended; once at the start of his shift and once at the end. If he missed a dose he had twelve hours before the side effects set in. He had never missed a measure but the box listed the side effects as drowsiness, headaches, muscle ache, lethargy and hallucinations. Prolonged exposure could lead to long term mental health issues or even death. Aaron found it hard to believe that these were the effects Dozers often craved, which his grandfather so fondly recalled.
Unusually, Aaron did have a slight headache. He produced his packet of LV’s, or the ‘Pez Dispenser’ as George Senior always had referred to it, from his pocket and popped a small white pill onto the palm of his hand. He flipped it over from the side engraved with an ‘L’, to the other engraved with a ‘V’ and back, before swallowing it. The pill tasted like cardboard-vanilla and instantly dissolved as it slid down his throat. Seconds later, his headache had subsided. Aaron shrugged and stared at himself in the mirror. Brown but greying hair, brown eyes, white skin, tall and gaunt but fairly well kept, according to government-ltd-statistics.com his features were the most common in England. Wrinkles were only beginning to form along his forehead and at the corners of his eyes. At the age of twenty-five he looked far more youthful than many of his peers and was proud of that fact. He moved down his narrow apartment to the kitchen surface, made himself a sandwich and stroked his tabby cat, Madam, who pounced onto the edge of the thin metal table. A newspaper sat in the basket beneath his letterbox. From where he was, he could make out ‘China’ in the headline. The news continually printed a running commentary of Europe’s manufacturing race against China and the United States. The monotony of which, was only ever broken to report the latest terrorist actions of the Dozer perverts. The group had made several kidnappings in the area recently and all of the victims, without exception, had joined their cause. Aaron pushed his overweight cat off the surface and onto the floor; she hissed at him and skulked off. Aaron finished his sandwich before heading off to work.
The journey took Aaron through the London streets of perpetual light. His twelve hour shift began as the sun set in the in the sky; a feint red glow shrouded by the capital’s grey smog. Columns of Sunlight bulbs, lining the walls of every building, slowly powered on. The factory was vast and sat on the outskirts of the city. Even from a distance, its hulking concrete form ruined the aesthetics of the surrounding area. Aaron was one for the newest members of the factory having only worked there for a year. Citizens did not change jobs regularly as they were nearly impossible to come by. Rare enough that somebody quitting quickly became the subject of factory floor gossip. Bill hadn’t arrived for work. He was never late, no-one ever was. Bill had taken Aaron under his wing when he first joined. He often quoted Chauncey Depew, “An optimist will tell you the glass is half-full; the pessimist, half-empty; and the engineer will tell you the glass is twice the size it needs to be.” and always proceeded to laugh and slap him on the back. Aaron found his efforts to be endearing, yet uncomfortable. The pair both worked in quality control along with five hundred others. Holding up the glass bulbs to the light and thoroughly checking for flaws. They both had shades to protect their eyes but Bill had stopped using his long ago. He enjoyed watching the light split through the bulb. Aaron was certain this bad habit, had he been. must be the reason.
After ten hours of monotonously examining glass without a break, though fresh and full of energy, Aaron felt bored. However, he would not dare to admit it, at the risk of being sectioned for mental health issues. Instead he looked forward to having a few drinks in his downtime after work proceeding his next twelve hour shift. LV’s doubled as a fantastic hang over cure.
Unwittingly, Aaron held a flawless glass up to the fluorescent glare above, as someone grabbed his shoulder and Bill’s familiar voice rung in his ears.
‘I need to talk to you.’ said his co-worker. A multitude of questions sprung into Aaron’s mind. A sudden burst of adrenaline caused an unfamiliar irregularity to his heartbeat, which made him feel anxious.
‘I’m on the clock, can it wait?’ Bill was a broad man; balding and brash. Aaron, being slender, would not be able to resist if Bill were to physically force him to talk.
‘No, it can’t.’
They agreed to meet an hour later behind the factory. The pits in Aaron’s stomach warned him that it was wrong. He had abandoned his post, skipping work, he would be sacked for sure. Bill could not have been in his right mind. He questioned why he was stood outdoors, at the back of the factory, behind the spare shipping boxes waiting to talk to his former colleague. From the shadows, Bill emerged and walked towards him.
‘We are in a great deal of trouble Aaron.’
‘Excuse me?’ he replied. Bill impressed himself on Aaron and rifled through his jacket. ‘What the hell do you think you are doing?’
‘I think you’ve been bugged. Listen to me,’ Bill let go of Aaron and took his colleague desperately by the shoulder. ‘The police suspect you of being a Dozer. They were at my apartment. They planted evidence. I’m pretty sure that they will hit yours next. You need to go home right now so they don’t screw you too.’ Aaron stared at his friend, mouth hanging ajar.
‘I have nothing to hide.’
‘They found a pillow in my house, Aaron. Before I even realised that all my LVs had been stolen the police arrived.’
‘And what has this got to do with me? We should not even be talking, get out of my way.’ Aaron tried to push past but Bill shoved him backwards.
‘It’s my fault Aaron. They pressed me for names and said I would get away with a caution. I accidentally gave them yours.’
‘You did what?’ Aaron shouted. Bill grimaced as his voice echoed around the area.
‘I panicked and it just came out, I’m so, so sorry. Please, my car is waiting. Let’s hurry back to your place, make sure it’s clean and I can have you back here before they even realise you are gone. Trust me, Aaron we don’t have a lot of time.’ Aaron couldn’t believe himself as he nodded. In a single conversation everything seemed to be falling apart.
During the journey home, Aaron sat glaring at his supposed friend. Beads of sweat had broken across Bill’s fat forehead as he concentrated on the road. The traffic was worse than ever and their trip took them through three standstills on three separate roads. Perhaps Aaron would be able to beg them not to fire him, since he had a perfect record up until today. Upon arriving back at his apartment, Aaron was shocked to find that the lock on his door had been picked. The first thing he saw as he entered the narrow apartment, to his horror, was a plump, white pillow lying on the table. Bill coaxed him inside and the pair desperately rummaged around for his pills. They were nowhere to be found. Madam had also disappeared; her bowl was empty and her food was missing. Aaron jolted violently, as the door slammed shut and he heard the lock click into place.
A beautiful woman stood, framed by the front door. Aaron was mesmerised by her. She was tall, and her stance was full of confidence. She could not have been much older than him but her creamy-chocolate skin was tight and youthful. Her hair was silky and straight and full of vibrancy without a hint of grey. Large, simpering brown eyes stared at him, reducing his mind to jelly. Mesmerised he blurted out,
‘I recognise you.’
‘Lottie, this is the guy I was telling you about,’ said Bill.
Aaron realised that his headache was remerging and reached for his LV’s. He gasped in terror and scrambled through the rest of his pockets then double checked in desperation. His dispenser had disappeared.
‘I’m sorry Aaron.’ said Bill. Aaron half turned but before he could react felt a sharp impact on the base of his skull. Collapsing to the floor, he saw Bill holding a rubber truncation in one hand and his pills in the other. His vision quickly blackened.
‘You will thank us, honey. Close your eyes,’ said Lottie as she wandered over to him. His final vista was that of Lottie’s curvaceous figure set to a darkening haze before he passed out.
When he next awoke the room was spinning and Aaron’s head felt as though it would burst. He tried to stand up but collapsed backwards. His stomach felt queasy and he retched. Aaron had never felt such physical discomfort before. His skin was layered in sweat and his heart beat with such ferocity that he thought it may explode. A figure stood at the opposite end of the room bathed in shadow, speaking to him. He could only make out some of her words.
‘Keep calm, babe, we are rehabilitating you, reviving your soul, weaning you off of the drugs you have taken your whole life.’ Aaron’s eyelids flickered open. He was wearing nothing but his underwear. Clammy and pale, his skin glistened. His feet were bound with a belt and his hands were cuffed to the radiator.
‘What are you doing to me?’
‘It’s for your own safety, promise. For the first time in your life you have experienced unconsciousness. The passage of time flows differently in our world and it will take some adjusting to.’
‘Where are my pills? Where are they?’ yelled Aaron, thrashing against his restraints and frothing at the mouth. ‘Give them back, give them back!’ Lottie reached out to feel his forehead but he snapped at her like a feral dog. She bravely drew close to him, pressed her lips to his and placed her soft hand upon his crotch. ‘Relax.’ She could feel his body loosen up as he tasted her saliva.
‘We really can’t stay here much longer, Lottie. The factory will send the police after his absence.’ Lottie withdrew, wiped her mouth and wandered over to Bill. Aaron’s eyelids felt light and fluttered before he fell asleep once again.
Reality seemed to drift for Aaron. Coloured lights and memories flashed behind his eyes. Stories of yesteryear played out over and over in his mind. His mother, father and George Senior were sat around the table for Christmas at the retirement home. Aaron tried to pass a plate of turkey to George but he refused it. He tried and tried again but his grandfather would complain that it was cold. His father grabbed the old man and held him down. Completely powerlessly, Aaron watched himself stand up and force the meat down his grandfather’s throat, to his father’s contentment. He cried out for forgiveness but would not stop until George senior had eaten every last bit. The old man gagged, choked and died with a gapping mouthful of cold, white meat.
Aaron awoke once more with a scream. This time he was wearing clothes and felt healthier, hazy but energized in a way that made him feel more whole than he had ever been. He lay on top of a small mattress in the centre of his apartment, with his head resting against the pillow from the table. It felt warm and strangely cosy.
‘You,’ He pointed at Lottie, stretching beside his bed, ‘You are the voice of the Dozer’s in London. I’ve seen you on the news.’
‘We Dozers call that feeling, the one you have right now, ‘The Wellness’. It is how the human body should feel after a proper sleep.’ said Lottie. She passed Aaron a glass of water. ‘Although, I think you were having a nightmare, honey. You’ve been tossing and turning more than most. And yes, that was me, Lottie, face of the perverted and uncouth Dozers.’
‘How long… how long have you had me like this?’
‘Six cycles.’ said Bill, who walked out from his bathroom, zipping up his flies to the serenade of a flushing toilet. ‘You have been dreaming for nearly a week now. Before you ask, we won’t be supplying you with any LV’s just yet.’
Aaron sat bolt upright, but his back cramped and he collapsed to the mattress. His small brown eyes darted between Lottie and Bill. ‘Are all dreams like that? It was awful, the things I saw…’
‘Dreams are many things to many people, honey. An escape, a hope, a thrill, a hidden guilt, a jumble of random nonsense or… or your past.’
‘I saw my grandfather.’
‘You remember your grandfather?’ said Lottie in surprise.
‘He was always talking about him at the factory.’ Bill chimed in.
‘I was one of the privileged few, even if he was a filthy Dozer, I loved him.’
‘You were very lucky. Do you think it is a coincidence that old people are rare? That the average life expectancy of a healthy human dropped to sixty in just three generations? You are in your twenties and have grey hair.’ said Lottie, walking over to a small black bag on the table. Aaron shrugged. ‘The world doesn’t sleep anymore, honey. It is unstable, decaying and overcrowded. The LV pill kept us in contention with China. It solved the problems of productivity and unemployment yet is killing us, fast.’ Aaron tried to retort but hesitated when he caught the reflection of his greying hair on the surface of his fridge. Lottie produced a small box and sat back beside her captive. ‘We are forced to take this Pill and it is now embedded in society.’
‘No! It’s a choice, citizens choose to take the pill, citizens want to,’ said Aaron in defiance.
‘You are painfully wrong and naďve. The original drug manufacturer and supermarket chain bought and became the government, forced people to work longer hours, by prioritising those that would take the pill over those that wouldn’t. It soon became the only way to get a job. What followed were scare tactics and stylising of the drug to the point of cultural acceptance. This is all common and accepted knowledge. It is what people don’t know that is truly horrific. We have evidence, the original oldest generation were being force fed the pill in old people’s homes and hospitals. They murdered your granddad, Aaron. In fact, all of your grandparents were traumatised and forced to eat the pill. And now, you are willingly letting them kill you.’ Aaron’s heart sank, his eyes began to well-up and his face flushed red.
‘That can’t be…’
‘Do you not see, Aaron? We are all worker ants now, workers and prisoners of an everlasting system we cannot escape.’ implored Bill.
‘But we are free; society gives us all we need.’
‘How can we hope for freedom if we cannot dream?’ said Lottie. Aaron felt a pinch on his arm. He quickly realised that Lottie had injected him with a syringe while he was distracted and let out a scream, which was lost as his vocal chords loosened.
‘It is just an anaesthetic. We have to get going now. When you awaken all will become clear.’ said Lottie as she pulled the hypodermic from his arm. Aaron phased out, gazing at the hypnotic beauty of Lottie’s face.
‘You are gorgeous, Lottie.’ said Aaron pecking her on the lips. She kissed him back with such passion that he erupted. His heart elated and wildly beat against his chest. The drained dullness of his face flooded with the colour love, which washed over him as he drifted away.
‘So are you, baby. Now wake up.’
Madam licked Aaron’s face as he regained consciousness. Lottie and Bill had disappeared and his apartment had returned to its normal state; the mattress, pillow and restraints were gone. He groggily clambered to his feet, shoving the cat to one side, and noticed two objects on the table. A dull ache emanated from his body as he wandered over and picked them up in either hand for examination. In his left hand he held his LV pill dispenser and in his right hand, a pamphlet, on the front of which, written in a black marker was the name 'Lottie' with a kiss and a phone number. The pamphlet’s title read, ‘Las Vegas Syndrome’.