The Unexamined Life

A Sci-Fi Short Story written by John Willems

The Unexamined Life

by John Willems


Is the Unexamined Life worth living? This government agency will look into it.
John Willems is a practicing attorney in West Virginia who writes speculative fiction on the side. He lives in Charleston, WV with his wife, Rachel, and his son, Francis. He’s been published in Synthetic Reality Magazine and in Literally Stories and in addition to recently publishing a science fiction novella “Beer Run” with Solstice Publishing, he is currently trying to market a young adult novel “Christmas in Pandemonium.”

So, you gonna kill this bastard?”

Harvey leaned against the door frame of Rob’s office. A coffee cup hung lazily from his left hand. Rob’s boss tossed the file onto his desk. The packed manila folder slid off the desk onto Rob’s lap. It knocked over the picture of his fiancée, Jessica, which Rob set up again.

“I assume this is a tough case?” Rob asked, grabbing the file the first time.

“Just came down from the board,” Harvey said. “You’re the senior examiner now, so you get it.”

Harvey got back on his flat feet, gave Rob a lazy wave of his hand, and sauntered back to his own office, leaving Rob alone with the file. Rob leaned back in his chair and groaned. His arms and chest burned from a session at the gym that morning. Got to keep up appearances in this world, Rob mused, and he of all people should know.

Rob turned on a podcast. He’d listen to people argue while working. Took his mind off of his work, or normally it did. Before the pod played, a public service announcement came on.

“A 90 percent drop in homelessness. A 95 percent decrease in drug addiction. Violent crime is non-existent, and poverty has been wiped out. Next time you walk down the street without fear, thank your local examiner’s office.”

Rob flinched at the phrase “poverty has been wiped out.” The job had a way of jading you, but every once in a while, Rob still wondered if the people who wrote those PSAs listened to themselves. Probably didn’t help public relations.

Rob read the name at the top of the file: “Walter ‘Wally’ Williams.” Ahhhh. Well, that’s one strike against him. What a name! Rob opened the file and looked at the profile picture clipped to the top. Wally Williams looked like a troll. Granted, Rob had never seen a real troll, but if trolls were wider than they were tall and had roughly the same amount of hair on their arms as they did on their skulls, than Wally was a troll. He also had a face that a mother would only claim to love. Oily skin. A set of thick glasses that made his eyes look huge. A large pair of buck teeth, colored yellow. Rob glanced down at his life summary.

“No romantic prospects,” Rob said. “Go figure.”

Forty-seven years old. He worked at a movie theater as a cashier. Rob thought those were all automated these days, but apparently not. No family since his mother died last month. That’s what put him over the line and merited an examination. Rob wondered what his own mother would think of that. Wally lived in the house he grew up in, which had no mortgage on it, but the property taxes and insurance took up a fourth of this guy’s yearly income, though his mother had left him some money. No criminal record or bankruptcies.

“Not the typical subject of examination,” Rob said, stroking the dark stubble on his chin. “A cynical man might think the state would like to get its mitts on that house he owns.”

Rob picked up the phone and dialed the number in the case file. Wally worked at night, but he should be awake now, as they were approaching 11 am. The phone rang twice, and then the other side picked up.

“Hello, Wally Williams,” spoke a nasally voice. Wally breathed in and out of his mouth into the receiver. Rob cringed at the sound of Wally’s labored breathing.

“Hello, Mr. Williams, this is Rob Shropshire,” Rob responded. “I am with the Examiner’s office.”

“The Examiner’s office!” Wally shrieked. “You can’t mean…”

“We’ve decided to take a look at your situation now that your mother is deceased,” Rob said. “My condolences by the way.”

“Please don’t kill me!” Wally pleaded. Then he began to sob over the phone and babble incoherently.

“Mr. Williams…Mr. Williams,” Rob said, trying to calm Wally down. “We’re nowhere near to that. This is just an examination.”

“But you will…”

“I will shadow you for a few days,” Rob said. “And after that, I will make a recommendation to the Examiner’s board as to whether your life is worth living or not. If I decide it isn’t, which based on this file I have before me, isn’t a foregone conclusion…”

“I die!”

“You will be mercifully euthanized,” Rob said. “Now, I need to observe your daily routine. What’s a good time for you?”

Wally couldn’t talk. He whimpered off and on as he tried to slow his breathing. Wow, Rob mused, if this was how the tough cases acted, it’s no wonder he was getting a raise. Most of the drug addicts and homeless people he used to examine were resigned to death. They could see it coming, and more than a few welcomed him. Finally, Wally calmed down enough to talk rationally.

“Wednesday,” Wally said, breathing normally now. “Wednesday is best.”

“Thank you, Mr. Williams,” Rob said. “I’ll see you Wednesday at 1 pm.”


“Why do you have to do this?”

 Jessica wiped her lips with her napkin and swept a strand of her auburn hair out of her eyes. Rob had just told her that he had an appointment with a subject tomorrow and Jessica didn’t like talking about his job. She tended to do this little thing with the sides of her lips when she was upset. It was particularly obvious given the shadows struck by candlelight. Even without the lips, it was obvious. Jessica’s blue eyes revealed a wave of subtle sorrow. Rob motioned for a bottle of wine.

“It’s my job,” Rob answered.

“Why is it your job?” Jessica asked.

The robotic waiter rolled up to them with a bottle of Cabernet. The waiter popped the cork, poured them both a glass, and then rolled on to the next table.

“That’s why,” Rob said. “A generation ago, we needed people to perform tasks like that. We have machines now, and not everyone can adjust to the new labor market. That’s on top of the homeless problem America already had, along with drug addiction, sky-high incarceration rates…”

“Okay, I get why we have examiner officers, but why do you have to kill those people? Can’t someone else do it?”

“I don’t kill them, I examine them. The executioner kills them.”

“But the Board normally follows your recommendation. Doesn’t it bother you at all?”

“Not really. Believe me. I try to give these people a chance. If they’re trying to turn things around, I recommend that they live.”

“Wasn’t that one woman trying to turn it around? I think you called her Pamela.”

“Pamela Maxwell. And, yes, I thought she was trying to kick her heroin habit. Then I found out that she was using her son to hide her stash.”

“So, you killed a mother?”

“I recommended euthanasia for a woman who was a danger to her own son, who is now in a foster home without drugs. Yeah, that was tough because I thought she was serious, but that happens on this job.”

“Whatever, can we change the subject? I don’t like thinking about you going into those neighborhoods. You know I worry about you.”


Rob arrived at Wally Williams’ house two days later at 1 pm. The lawn was neatly cut and the house had just received a fresh coat of paint. Two stories. Clean windows. Really trying, huh? Better than the dilapidated shacks with bullet holes in the front door Rob normally visited on these trips, to say nothing of the homeless camps in collapsed buildings. The neighborhood wasn’t even that bad.

Rob politely knocked. He immediately heard a stampede of clumsy feet approach him from the other side, ending with a thud against the door. Wally had, in his haste to welcome Rob, tripped over himself and fallen headfirst. After a brief recovery period, the front door opened to reveal Wally Williams, just as his picture showed him, now in a very cheap brown suit with a plaid tie.

“Mr. Shropshire,” Wally said with a noticeable lisp. “Please come in. Can I get you a coffee or tea?”

“No thank you,” Rob said. “I’m a public servant. I work for you.”

People above Rob had trained him to say that, but for some reason, the subjects never believed it. Wally didn’t seem to believe it either, as he tremored in Rob’s presence. Rob entered the threshold of the house and Wally led him through the house on a tour. He kind of waddled down the hallways. The floors were clean. The furniture, while old, was well taken care of with no rips or tears. There wasn’t any offensive smell Rob could detect. The kitchen countertops had just been wiped down. Wally kept the house in fine condition, inside and out.

“Mr. Williams, you keep this home in tip-top shape,” Rob said. “I don’t see it often.”

Oh, momma always wanted to keep things clean,” Wally said. “Don’t be leaning when you could be cleaning.”

Wally invited Rob to sit down on the couch in the living room, right in front of a coffee table with all of his financial information laid out. Wally took Rob through his mother’s estate. Wally’s mother put enough money in the trust that he could pay off the taxes and insurance on the house without dipping into his income from the movie theater.

“Great, so you can spend that money on yourself,” Rob said, making a mark on his clipboard in favor of “live.” “You like to watch old horror movies with your friend.”

“Yeah, Charlie!” Wally yelled, far too loudly.

“Why don’t you show me your movie selection?”

Wally turned on the television and brought up his movie account. Nightmare on Elm Street 6 (the Reboot Series). Friday the 13th XXXI. Halloween Resurrection: All Over Again. Saw Legacy III. The Conjuring 8. Not Rob’s preferred entertainment, but Wally smiled as he looked at them.

“Oh, Freddie’s the best,” Wally said. “You know, I got a signed photograph of Robert Englund in my room.”

“Really,” Rob said, not sure who that was. “Can I see?”

Wally, now breathing heavily with excitement rather than fear, motioned for Rob to come to his bedroom. Rob got up and walked to the room to find it looked like the room of a man who lived with his mother into his late 40s. Horror movie posters. Comic books. Baseball cards. Ticket stubs to wrestling matches. And Wally’s pride and joy, a signed photograph of Englund in character with his right claw raised as if to strike. Wally pointed to a certificate of validity. Those movies dated to the late 80s early 90s, so it had to be ancient.

“I bought this when I was 24 and went to a convention in San Diego!” Wally enthused. “Momma drove me ‘cause I don’t have a license.”

“I know,” Rob said.

Wally’s file indicated he could never pass the written permit test to get a driver’s license. The note “possible intellectual defects” was written underneath that little fact. Wally had mannerisms more in common with a child than a man.

“Hey, Wally, when do I get to meet Charlie?”



Wally and Charlie guffawed and giggled as the last survivor of the slasher was drug down to the watery depths by the zombie rising from the lake. Charlie put his arm around Wally’s back. Deborah, Charlie’s wife, smiled at them from the kitchen and shook her head. A pack of mozzarella sticks was cooking in the oven as Wally and Charlie chuckled over the stupidity of yet another Hollywood blonde, desperately attempting to escape another human monster with a cleaver. Rob leaned back in the corner and observed. Not at the lame movie, but the two people on the couch, who had their arms around each other. He rarely saw this kind of backslapping in his job. Much less did he want to spend this kind of time with a client. Normally, Rob confined his meetings to 20 minutes. Get in and get out. Rob couldn’t understand why the Board thought Wally would want to die. He seemed happier than most people in the office. Rob struggled to remember the last time he spent time with another man who he didn’t work with.

“Mozz sticks are ready!” Deborah called.

“Thank you, Deborah,” Wally said.

Rob followed Wally and Charlie into the kitchen. Wally made his plate and headed back to the living room. Rob, hanging at the door, held his hand up to signal he’d like to talk to Charlie and Deborah.

“Mind if I pick your brain?” Rob asked.

“Please,” Deborah said.

As soon as Wally left the room, Charlie’s and Deborah’s face changed drastically to express severe contempt.

“I think you both know why I’m here,” Rob said.

“Working people can spot a reaper from a mile away,” Charlie said. “Most of us don’t make house calls in business casual.”

“I just wanted your input,” Rob said.

“Rob, you said your name was?” Deborah began. “Look, no one here would think that if life was a video game that Wally would be writing his initials in the top ten, but who are you to say he don’t like playing?”

Deborah walked out of the room and covered her face. Rob could hear her crying in the hallway. Charlie just turned to Rob and mouthed “please don’t kill him.” Charlie then walked back into the living room, where Wally started up another slasher. Friday the 13th Part II.

“Rob, you ought to see this one!” Wally said. “This time he’s real!”


Rob looked up at the pink neon letters atop the rotting Art Deco building under the overpass. They spelled out “Rialto” into the empty black night sky. Wally stood at the front door under the glow of those lights dressed in a t-shirt and jean shorts, beckoning Rob forward. He stood next to a large man wearing a dark blue shirt with a police badge on his right breast.

“Rob, meet Sgt. Clay Darrabount,” Wally said. “He owns the Rialto.”

“You employ Mr. Williams?” Rob asked, extending his hand to the cop.

“I do,” Darrabount said. “Full-time cop, but I inherited the theater from my parents. Come on in.”

The sergeant ushered Rob into the lobby where he found no automated cashier but instead an old digital cash register. There were ancient arcade cabinets, and their top ten lists did bear the initials WWW. Wally was in the top ten somewhere. Upon the walls hung movie posters for films Rob had never heard of, but one of them had the words “Palme D’Or” underneath it.

“Arthouse films,” Rob spoke softly.

“We aren’t a theater that shows mainstream movies,” Darrabount explained. “You can go to one of the big multiplexes for that. We’re only open four days a week, and we serve alcohol.”

Darrabount pointed to the space behind the register, where Wally waddled to. He opened a refrigerator that revealed mini-bottles of wine and cans of beer. Of course, Rob thought, the Alcohol Control Board wouldn’t allow a machine to sell alcohol. Only a human could be charged with serving a minor, so only a human could tend bar. It figured one board would save you from another.

“Here comes the crowd!” Wally shouted. Rob flinched again, but the sergeant didn’t. As the first patrons of the evening came through the entrance, Darrabount took Rob aside.

“Wally has some problems understanding how loud he can be at times,” Darrabount said.

“Does he have any problem understanding anything else?” Rob asked. “I’m trying to give a reason to avoid an IQ test.”

“Any problem understanding selling concessions?” Darrabount asked, winking. “No, at that he’s pretty smart.”

Behind the counter, Wally printed out tickets and filled up drinks with breathtaking efficiency. A customer would order a medium Coke. He’d bring out the medium cup, and then a large, and then dropped one cup in the other. After explaining the 50-cent difference, Wally achieved the upsale. He’d fit an entire combo into a single Extra Large Popcorn Bucket. When the family of five came in, Wally had the children’s candy preferences memorized.

The line dwindled, and Wally started cleaning the popcorn machine and the counters, as efficiently as any machine Rob had ever seen. After he was done wiping down the popcorn maker, the sergeant relieved Wally from his duties and told him to speak with Rob.

“So…” Wally began, his voice shaking a little. “This is my job.”

“And you seem very good at it,” Rob said.

“Really!” Wally shouted. “You mean, you won’t…”

“Recommend your termination, no,” Rob said. “But I need more. Is there anything else that gives your life meaning?”

Wally’s face fell again. He closed his eyes and thought hard, or at least he did from what Rob could see. Then, Wally opened his eyes and raised a finger.

“Are you free on Sunday?”


The floor shook. The windows hummed. The entire church, part of a strip mall, vibrated with energy as people jumped up and down the aisles. Voices yelled out random noises, what the preacher called tongues. To Rob, it seemed like a stream of consciousness, shouted out loud. And Wally was a shouter. Here, his voice could go up and down without reason and he’d fit right in.

“Gah bah ra do!” Wally shouted, right into Rob’s ear.

Wally stomped his feet on the tile floor of the First Holiness Church in rhythm with the rest of the congregation, following the pastor, a graying man at the front who directed the madness. Supposedly, there was some design to this chaos, but Rob couldn’t see it from where he sat. Perhaps he should have stood, as this seemed to be a standing congregation. No wonder they didn’t bother with pews but only had folding chairs. Wally, losing himself, grabbed Rob and pulled him to his feet. Just as Rob got up, a woman up front went down and started shaking. Rob thought she was having a seizure, but Wally stopped him. The woman stopped trembling and was lifted up by two other worshipers. She then hopped back to her seat. It was all a part of the experience. The pastor indicated it was time for his sermon, and the throbbing ceased with the wave of his hand.

“Brothers and sisters!!! We have a wolf amongst our midst today!”

The pastor, wearing white robes with a green stola, pointed directly at Rob. Wally had told Pastor Johnson who he was bringing this week. Rob owned it, getting up and raising his hand so everyone could see. He looked back at the congregation that was staring at him. Charlie and Deborah were there, and he could guess from Deborah’s reaction that a lot of these people looked at him like a vulture, here to pick over the dead.

“We should be thankful he was so forward,” the pastor continued. “Normally, the wolf comes in sheep’s clothing. This one comes as a wolf. Mr. Big Bad Wolf, please explain what you are doing here.”

Quite an introduction. Best oblige.

“Mr. Williams is under examination, and I believe that he should not be terminated,” Rob announced. “But I need to provide evidence for my recommendation, so I am here. Mr. Williams tells me this place gives him a lot of joy in life.”

“The Lord does that,” the pastor said. “What about you?”

“What about me?”

“What do you take joy in? Have you put your own life under the microscope, Mr. Examiner?”

Rob hadn’t expected that. The pastor could tell he hadn’t, as a wry smile spread across the old man’s face. He spent so much time wondering if other people deserved to live, he rarely questioned himself on the same standards. Rob quickly made a mental list of the sort of things that would save him from the Board’s scythe.

“I think so,” Rob blurted out. “I have a white-collar job, a beautiful fiancée, a degree from Amherst, an intact family structure…”

“You’ve built a lot of treasures on Earth, that is true. Have you built any treasures in Heaven?”

Heaven. Huh. Rob never thought about what happened to people he examined after the executioner was done with them. He had a vague idea of God. Supposedly he was baptized at some point, but he didn’t remember it. Rob thought he was a good person. Other people told him he was, or at least treated him like he was.

“I think I’m going to Heaven, sure.”

“You didn’t listen to me. Have you stored any treasures in Heaven? You might get there and find you have nothing. Lots of people want to go to Heaven, but sometimes I wonder if they arrive and find they’ve got nothing in the bank account. You keep that in mind, sir. The Lord comes like a thief in the night. Sit down, young man. Thank you for testifying.”

Rob sat down, and the pastor started on the rest of his sermon. Rob looked to Wally who appeared nervous again. He formed his hands to signal “OK.” Wally exhaled in relief.


Two months later. The Board was supposed to decide Wally’s case today. He’d nearly forgotten until Harvey called him and told Rob the board was having trouble coming to a decision. Rob picked the case file and his written recommendation off of his desk and walked to the elevator, taking it to the seventh and final floor of the building, where the Board of Life Examiners met. Rob found the two large wooden doors marking the entrance to the chamber and knocked on the door on the left. The door on the right creaked open and Harvey’s face peaked out. He waved Rob in.

It occurred to Rob that he had never been here before. The Board’s meeting room was nothing spectacular, particularly for a room where life and death were decided. It was a conference room with a semi-circle bench with seven leather chairs where seven old bureaucrats sat. Bright light from above filled the otherwise dark room. The chairman’s face peaked out of the shadows. Hanging above the head of the chairman was the Board of Life Examiners’ seal: a woman looking through a microscope at a man beneath her. The subject held gold in one hand and lead in the other. Underneath the seal, there was the department’s slogan: Quality, not Quantity of Life.

“Mr. Shropshire?”

Rob snapped out of his reverie. The chairman had spoken to him directly. He was a short, heavyset man with thin glasses, wearing a suit.

“Yes, sir,” Rob answered.

“Thank you for coming here. You have recommended that Walter Williams, known as Wally, should live. After much discussion, this board is deadlocked. I am the remaining vote. If you have a case to make for Mr. Williams, make it.”

Rob felt numb. He’d made his case, and the board couldn’t decide for or against even with his thumb on the scale. He struggled to argue, so he decided to question.

“Why?” Rob asked, almost accidentally. “Why do you want to kill Wally?”

The chairman rolled his eyes at the words “kill Wally.” Rob admitted to himself that he felt a little partial to Wally, which is not what you wanted in this job.

“It’s fair, I suppose, that you would want to know our reasoning. We have all read your report, which details the life of a man who has very little in terms of career success, no prospects for romantic companionship, and no remaining family left. His tastes in religion and entertainment are crude. He has friends, but no one who could help him out of his circumstances. Mr. Williams is unlikely to be a burden on the public, but neither does he contribute to society much in the way of tax dollars or charity. To be blunt, of the seven people on this panel, three of us believe it is better to be a pig satisfied and three of us believe it is better to be a Socrates dissatisfied. Make your case, Mr. Shropshire.”

Rob felt a fire explode under his collar. He tried to smother it by swallowing a quart of saliva. How could these people possibly think they knew better than he did about Wally? They hadn’t even met him. The thought did occur briefly that he wasn’t in that much better of a position to determine if Wally should live either, but at least he had some first-hand knowledge. The arrogance of these people.

“Mr. Chairman, when I first joined this office, I was told that we examined people for their own good, that the people we killed should appreciate that we care enough to relieve them of the burden of their lives when their pain sufficiently outweighed their pleasure. The standard is supposed to be objective: it’s not about whether we would enjoy their lives, it’s about whether they do. I’ve seen Wally’s life, and I can tell you the pleasure he takes in it outweighs the pain in it by more than you can imagine. If anything, he should give the rest of us lessons.”

“So, you think Mr. Williams should put the members of this Board out of their misery?”

Beginning to wonder.

“No, I’m merely reminding the Board that the primary justification for the Board’s existence is mercy: to show pity to people who can’t enjoy their lives. It shouldn’t be to impose our standards on others.”

The chairman rubbed his chin and leaned back in his chair. Rob’s body shook with barely conceived anxiety. He was not making a good first impression on the board. After five seconds, the chairman lifted his hands up as if to say “What the Hell!”

“Okay, he lives,” the chairman said. “But we’ll review his case in ten years.”

Rob exhaled. He didn’t have to deliver a death sentence today.

“Thank you, chairman, members of the Board,” Rob said.

“Don’t thank us, it’s our job,” the chairman said. “Just be sure that if that’s your standard, apply it consistently. I believe you have the case file of a young woman with a large student loan debt and a rather foolish fine arts degree on your desk. That’s the case of a Socrates dissatisfied if I ever saw one. I expect we’ll be seeing more of you now that you are a senior examiner.”

Rob nodded his head. Harvey gently pushed him out of the room and toward his office. When he got there, Rob reached for the phone and dialed Wally’s number. He’d get a letter in the mail, but Rob wanted to tell Wally he’d reached the end screen of his adventure…at least for the next ten years. Soon, the other side picked up, followed by some familiar heavy breathing.

“Rob? Did you hear about my case?” Wally asked.

“Yes, Mr. Williams, you won,” Rob said. “They’re going to let you live.”

“Oh, boy, they will! Thank you, Rob! Thank you!”

Wally sobbed with joy on the other side of the phone. Rob tried to stop him to tell him the other half of the news. Finally, when Wally calmed down, Rob spat it out.

“You’ll be reviewed in 10 years,” Rob explained.

“What’s that mean?”

“It means they’ll see if your life is worth living again in 10 years,” Rob said. “Make the most of it while you can.”

“Oh,” Wally’s voice lowered in enthusiasm and volume. Maybe he was getting better at that. “But I get to live now, right?”

“Yes, Wally, as I said, enjoy it,” Rob said.

Wally thanked Rob several more times until Rob was finally able to get Wally off the line by using Jessica as an excuse. He did have a fiancée to get home to.


Rob arrived at home, parking in the left slot of his two-car garage. Rob exited the car and walked out to the driveway without closing the garage door. He looked at his black luxury SUV and the brick house with roman columns in the suburbs it was parked in. The obligations that he worked to maintain. He wondered if Wally had died if the door knocker would turn into his face every time Rob looked at it. After closing the garage door, Rob took out the bottle of wine he picked up on the way home and walked into the kitchen, filled with bronze pots and pans. Jessica insisted on getting the kitchen she wanted. They could skimp on the yard.

“Jessica,” Rob called. “I’m home.”

No response. Maybe she was asleep. Rob’s fiancée was fond of naps. Rob picked up a bottle opener and walked into the living room, full of more of his “treasures on Earth.” His degree from Amherst, right next to Jessica’s degree from Yale. Their advanced television with complete surround sound. A full library, maybe one-hundredth of which Rob had actually read. Rob turned up the stairs and then towards their bedroom, the wine still in hand. He reached the door to the bedroom, slightly ajar, and pushed it open.

Sure enough, Jessica was fast asleep on the bed. It seemed so cruel to wake her, but they made a habit of eating dinner together. Rob gently took Jessica’s arm and shook it to wake her up. Then, he realized it was restrained, by a strap just below the elbow. Rob felt something cold press up against the back of his head.

“I’m afraid your fiancée won’t be enjoying that wine with you tonight,” a voice behind him spoke. “She’s been overindulging another substance. Put your hands up and turn around. Slowly.”

Rob put his hands above his head and turned around. He saw a young man, in his late teens if Rob had to guess. He had hazel eyes and a pointed chin that Rob found familiar. The gun shook in the young man’s hands.

“Never killed before?” Rob asked. “You don’t have to.”

“Already have,” the man said. “I treated your bride to be to some heroin earlier. Poetic justice.”

Rob looked back at Jessica. She wasn’t breathing, and for the first time, he noticed the smell of death.

“Poetic justice,” Rob repeated. “No…”

“My name’s Jason Maxwell,” the teenager said. “I believe you knew my mother, Pamela?”

Jason pressed the gun to Rob’s gut. Rob felt piss drip down his leg.

“If you kill me…”

“I’ve already killed your girlfriend. Those angels of death are headed for me, one way or another. Congratulations, Mr. Examiner. You’ve found another life unworthy of life.”

“That’s not true…”

Jason pulled the trigger and a bullet exploded out the chamber, into Rob’s stomach, and out the other side. He fell to his knees in shock as his blood flowed onto the carpet. Jason put the gun against Rob’s forehead.

“Not interested in your excuses,” he said.

Well, Rob, you’ve come to that game over screen. Were you anywhere near the top ten? His house. His job. His car. His education. It all now mattered about as much as a cup of warm vomit. Hell, maybe Jessica would be there. If there was any world after this one, he’d look pretty fucking stupid in it. Perhaps Wally would hire Rob to serve drinks at an old movie theater as an act of pity. Jason turned the gun sideways, clearly savoring the kill before leaving. Kids these days. Don’t they know you’re supposed to kill people by typing up a nice clean report?

“Thanks for the wine,” Jason said, grabbing the bottle. “I’ll enjoy it.”

Thief. Of course, you are. Rob closed his eyes.

Jason fired again, and Robert Shropshire’s unexamined life came to an end.

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