HELLISH PARADISE • by Frank Roger

Jeff Campbell threw a glance at his watch. He could hardly wait until the coffee break. Hopefully Harvey would be there with a new supply of shimmer. He leaned back in his chair and let his gaze sweep around the office.

He saw people sitting at their desks, staring at computer screens, typing, answering phone calls, dealing with paperwork. Through the windows he could see the office building across the street, where more people were doing very much the same thing. Was it like this all over town? All over the world? It certainly seemed that way.

Life at the office bored him to death, and if Harvey hadn’t approached him one day he wouldn’t have made it. His first dose of shimmer had opened a new world for him–both literally and figuratively. He had become a frequent user of shimmer, couldn’t even imagine life without the black pills anymore.
That first dose had been free–now he paid good money for it, but he didn’t mind. He was getting full value for his money.

As he finally entered the cafeteria he was happy to see Harvey, sipping his coffee and flashing him a bright smile.

“I’ve brought some of these,” he said, opening his hand for a split second so Jeff could glimpse a few black pills. The two men talked for a while, money changed hands and Jeff pocketed his new supply of shimmer.

After the break he returned to his desk and had to refrain from taking the pills right away. The other world with its heroic deeds, strong emotions and simple pleasures was beckoning, but it would have to wait. He tried to concentrate on the work he hated so much, and did what was expected from him. After all, this was his job.

When he was finally back home, he swallowed the pills, welcomed the effect they had been named after and yielded to their thrall. The room around him shimmered like a mirage, while the ‘other’ world grew more tangible until it completely filled reality. Eventually all memories about the ‘real’ world would be blotted out completely.

When his surroundings had settled, Jeff flexed his muscles. It was always hard to pick up the action again where he had left it, as the recollections returned only gradually. Weren’t he and his cohorts preparing for a major battle against the invading barbarians? He left his tent, looked around and noticed indeed how all the other warriors were waiting for his command. Sunlight glinted off their sweating bodies and their swords and axes. Yes, he remembered now. They were about to launch an offensive against the vanguard of the invaders.

“Let’s go,” he simply said. They all rushed off, eager to engage in battle. This was what he craved so much: swashbuckling action, comradeship, high romance, the unconditional respect and loyalty of his brothers in arms. This made him feel alive. This was an existence worth living. He ran, eager to see enemy blood.

At sundown it was all over. The enemy had been slain to the last man, but Jeff’s army had suffered heavy losses as well. Only half of his men returned from the battlefield, and some of them badly injured. Jeff himself had a deep cut in his arm, and had lost quite a bit of blood.

In his tent his wounds were treated by four women, with whom he would have preferred to engage in other activities, had his condition allowed it. Now he was happy to rest and recover.

Later that night the medicine man visited him. He checked his bandages, nodded approvingly and sat down next to him.

“Today was just a skirmish. Soon we’ll have to fight the real battle. Do you think we will be strong enough?”

“I don’t know,” Jeff admitted. “We suffered losses, and next time the enemy may outnumber us. There are some who say we’re doomed. Let’s hope the Gods will be merciful.”

For a while there was silence, then the medicine man continued:

“I’m afraid there’s more bad news. I’ve run out of supplies of glimmer seeds.”

“Glimmer seeds,” Jeff whispered, his voice edged with despair. He had almost forgotten about that, but now the recollections came back. He used to swallow those mysterious seeds that had such a wonderful effect. They allowed him to escape into a fantasy world for a while, where he could forget the hardships of his heroic life, that wasn’t always so heroic after all.

That fantasy world was the pre-apocalyptic past, a period only dimly remembered in these troubled neo-barbarian times. People there led lives of luxury, worked in office buildings where no dangers lurked. That world knew no invading troops, no wild animals, no crippling diseases, injuries and infections.

It all came back to him now in full detail. Life in the ‘office’. The computer screens. Telephones. A city full of such offices, with thousands of people living tranquil, unworried lives, building careers that brought fulfilment. A world of safety and long-term planning, that the misinformed might confuse with monotony, and the ungrateful with boredom.

Without glimmer seeds it would be impossible to go back there. He would be stuck in real life with all its hardships.

Paradise, even if it existed only in his head for a few hours, would be out of reach. Would he never sit at his desk again, work on his computer, pick up his telephone? Would he never see ‘Harvey’ again, the phantom dealer whose appearance heralded the end of the glimmer seeds’ effect and the user’s imminent return to harsh reality?

He sank back into the cushions. “Bad news indeed,” he told the medicine man.


Frank Roger was born in 1957 in Ghent, Belgium. His first story appeared in 1975. Since then his stories have appeared in an increasing number of languages in all sorts of magazines, anthologies and other venues, and since 2000, story collections  have been  published, also in various languages. Apart from fiction, he also produces collages and graphic work in a surrealist and satirical tradition. By now he has more than 650 short story publications (including a few short novels) to his credit in 27 languages. Critics describe his work as a blend of genres and styles: fantasy, satire, surrealism, science fiction and black humour.

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