The bracelet came off yesterday. They give you the option of keeping it on for fifteen bucks a month. Constant monitoring to protect you from you. If not for the costs of monitoring, they’d probably require everyone wear one forever at no charge. But if I kept the bracelet on, I wouldn’t be able to cash in. The last three years would have been a waste.
Every kid was required to wear a bracelet until they were eighteen. The bracelet monitored heart rate and chemical balances. It was a poor attempt to keep kids alive on this life path. The bracelets were connected to emergency services, and when alerted, police and EMS on the streets and in the schools would respond to a person who’d injected themselves. It was pointless. The emergency services personnel and their backpacks full of drugs to help bring someone back almost never worked. They had to get to someone within the first minute of Jump being injected to have a chance.
And no one would be getting to me when I sent that brown liquid rocketing through my veins tonight.
Now that it was off, it was time to visit Mel. She’d release me, let me correct the mistake that sent my father to prison when I was just a kid. But I needed to do something else first.
I picked up my cell phone and checked the time. Just past eight. Curfew coming in less than an hour. I’d try to squeeze in dinner with Eddie, even though he’d made his feelings clear.
He answered on the third ring. “Hey, Tyler.”
“Eddie,” I said, but I didn’t know what to say after.
“I’m sorry about the other day, it’s just…”
I knew what it just was. It was just a matter of Eddie not wanting people to know about us, and that was all right. I understood. He’d had a rough time, and me and him out in public would only make it worse. I wondered what my own father would have thought of Eddie and I. If all went well, I’d be able to find out.
“Think we can fit in a quick bite in before curfew?”
Eddie was quiet for some time then said, “Fuck it, why not?”
“Your dad working a case or is he cracking heads on the Night Crew?”
We both hung up without another word. No more “I’m sorry” or “I love you.” If things were different, I wouldn’t even go to dinner with him. There was no reason to drag on the pain. Except, now there was. Maybe after I met with Mel, I’d go down a path that would let me see Eddie again. Maybe something I did would have changed, and maybe—among other things—we would be good again.
I picked up my last envelope of money and stuffed it into my waistband. Mel would be expecting the cash, but she wouldn’t be expecting me to cash out. She’d always known it was coming, just not when. I’d given her and the cause seventy-five percent of my high school life. It was time for her to deliver on her promise.
I listened at my bedroom door, but I couldn’t hear my Uncle J.J. He’d either be out drunk with his friends, hoping to make it home before curfew, or he’d be passed out drunk in his bedroom. He wasn’t my real uncle, just a guardian for the last few years. After Dad got picked up for dealing at the marketplace downtown, the state sent me here.
I pulled open my door, snuck down the hall, and saw Uncle J.J.’s car keys on the side table near the front door—definitely passed out drunk in his bed. I grabbed them and walked outside. Not two seconds out the door, I was hit with the reminder of what this place had become.
A police squad car cruised down the street past each townhouse with its spotlight spraying white against the stucco and brick. The car stopped when the light hit me in the chest. I smiled and waved, but that just made the officer get out of the car. He was a big man who looked too tired to be doing this type of work. It wasn’t yet curfew, but he was on the Night Crew, so he was getting ready. He had the backpack strapped to him, the two-pronged volt gun at his hip, and an entire line of plastic handcuffs hanging off his belt.
He crossed the sidewalk and stopped at the base of the steps in front of Uncle J.J.’s house. “Officer,” I said, looking down.
“This your house?”
“No, sir, I’m just a kid. I can’t buy a house.”
“Funny. Do I need to ask you for I.D.?”
I shook my head. “It’s not past curfew is it? I thought I had some time to go for a quick walk.”
“Where you heading?”
“Just down the block, maybe circle it a couple of times, then I’m coming right back here.”
“If I see you out after curfew, no breaks. You’re going in. Understand?”
If you were picked up after curfew, you’d be held. Didn’t matter if you committed a crime beyond that or not. If you were under 14, you’d be held for five days with an all-inclusive psychological evaluation. Between the ages of 15-20, you’d be held for two days and “monitored.” Anyone picked up after 9 p.m. and over the age of 20 was held overnight.
The officer grabbed his shoulder mic and spoke into it. “Bravo-34, show me on patrol, Cumberson Heights.” He turned and climbed back into his squad car.
I waited for him to turn down the block before walking to Uncle J.J.’s Honda Civic. I knew there were other officers on just about every corner. That’s what made the night drops so exciting. Mel would not allow any of her runners to bring cash back during the day.
I lowered myself into the tiny Civic and fired up the engine. If Mel got picked up, it would be different. It wouldn’t be a simple curfew violation. She was the one they wanted, but she wasn’t the only one out there. I’d heard other cities had similar new laws and curfews in place. And they surely had people just like Mel, otherwise those laws and curfews would not exist.
The promise of starting over, of doing things again but better, was more than most governments could handle. It was more than Eddie could handle. More than I thought I could handle when I first heard of it. But now, that’s all I wanted.
A chance to start over. With my father.
It was a three-minute drive to Harry’s. I pulled into the parking spot just to the left of a huge saguaro cactus with a fake needle hanging from one of its many arms. Protest art, but I wasn’t sure what it was protesting. Could have been the drug, but I liked to believe people were more inclined to protest the government’s crackdown on our chance to explore. See, the way I saw it, Jump gave everyone an out. Fuck something up, go see what else could have been. No harm in knowing what used to be unknown.
I got out of the Civic and walked into Harry’s, careful to keep the envelope of money in my waistband. I wouldn’t be going home after this, and I couldn’t risk it being left behind or stolen. That money, along with my past service, was a ticket to something more powerful than what the general public had access to. Jump was a roll of the dice. What I’d be getting was pure control.
Eddie was sitting in a booth toward the back of the diner. He had a soda and was looking at poster on the wall. I slid into the booth across from him and read the words on the poster:
You only get one life
Only, the “f” was crossed out.
“I know they’re talking about the government, but neither side is right, you know?” Eddie said.
I looked across at Eddie, his eyes sagging, mouth turned down. It made me want to lean across the table and kiss him until he smiled, but I knew that wouldn’t work.
“There really aren’t sides,” I said. “There is belief and a lack thereof.”
“I know, I know. None of that talk.”
“That’s how we got here.”
“I just wanted to go to Winter Formal with you.”
“And I wanted to go with you.”
A waitress came and asked me if I wanted anything, but my stomach felt wobbly like a top about to stop spinning and I wasn’t sure I’d keep anything down. I told her I’d just have a glass of water, and I waited for her to leave before continuing. “But you said no, and here we are.”
“Is this how we’re going to spend the last few minutes before curfew?”
I shook my head. I just needed to see Eddie, here and in this current life, one more time. “No, let’s talk about something else.”
“What’re your plans for the weekend?” he asked.
The question hit me in the chest like a fastball. I couldn’t breathe for a moment, and I thought about backing out. I didn’t need to cash in. I could drop the money tonight and keep on living this life.
No, I couldn’t.
“Nothing,” I said.
“Tyler, don’t be mad, please.”
“I’m not. I’m just…sad.”
“I can’t let myself be sucked into…” Eddie waved his hand above the table, indicating me. “This.”
“Your beliefs. I can’t wake up one morning after letting you in and find out you’re gone.”
“But I wouldn’t be gone.”
“Tyler, there’s a new suicide every thirty minutes in our town alone. You’d be gone just like them.”
Over and over, I had tried to explain it to Eddie, but he didn’t get it. Jump didn’t take your life, it gave you another shot. It wasn’t some arbitrary mix of chemicals. It was carefully engineered to tap into the human consciousness. Mel, herself, had experienced ten different life paths before landing on this one. All of them ran parallel to each other. We’re present in all of them but unaware that the alternate life paths exist.
“If it were as simple as just dying, being gone, normal suicide, why would there be so many people doing it? Why would people pay money to do it?”
I was raising my voice, and I didn’t want to. But I’d been down this road with him. I’d tried to convince people of the possible, but I couldn’t do it the way Mel did. She could tell it in a way that you had no choice but to believe.
“This is why we have to take a break, Tyler. I’m worried about you, and I can’t be a part of this.”
“This is something special.” I wanted to tell him about it again. Maybe he’d understand this time. But I didn’t.
Jump allowed you to leave one life path behind and move to another one. Any decision you made in your life fractured from that moment, and it created numerous new life paths based on potential outcomes from the differing decisions you might have made. Jump exposes those paths. But for most people, you don’t get to choose what path—what decision—you move to.
“I can’t do this,” Eddie said.
“You sound like your dad.”
“Fuck you. My dad likes you, wants us to be happy.”
“Sure, but he’s one of them.”
“Them? The people trying to save dumbasses like you from killing yourself? And what about your dad, Tyler? Where’s he? Don’t talk about my father, don’t blame him for something you’re causing.”
I sighed, looked at the table. Eddie was right, but he was also proving out why I needed to do what I was doing. Eddie’s father was on the outside, doing what he thought was right while my dad was living in a box.
“Just stop,” Eddie said.”
This was not how the night was supposed to go. I checked my phone. Fifteen minutes until curfew.
I stood and looked down at Eddie. He was afraid. I could see it in his eyes, and I got it. I’d be afraid too if I didn’t understand. But I’d wake up able to re-live a life I had fucked up. And Eddie, well, Eddie would be stuck here. I’d find him, though. In another life, I would find him, and we’d try again.
“This moment,” I said, “is an example of what’s possible. I’m making a decision right now, but I could have made any other choice in this moment. Those possibilities open up new paths, new lives for us to explore.”
I leaned down and kissed Eddie. He leaned back at first, then he sunk into it. When I pulled my lips away, I looked at him. I smiled. Then, I said, “I love you.”
“I want to say it,” he said. “I really do, but I can’t until you’re past this.”
I could feel Eddie’s eyes on me as I left Harry’s. I crossed the parking lot and got into the Civic. I had just a couple minutes to get the car back and disappear into the shadows.
The trick to avoiding the Night Crew was to stay deep in the desert or between the buildings. I preferred the desert, even if it took me longer to get to where I was going. And where I was going always changed.
Mel couldn’t keep herself in one place. Her videos, often broadcast on the dark web or stored on thumb drives, could be tracked if she spent too much time tethered to one spot. She’d been up and down the midwest before heading south. She’d spent longer than normal in our town when she found it because it was a good operations base for her message and for the distribution of Jump. A border town with easy access to more product when needed. Mexico didn’t care about Jump. Production wasn’t illegal there, so all anyone had to do was get it across the border to us.
I used my phone to light a path through the wash, dodging cactus and scorpions I couldn’t see. Mel was set up in the old bus depot. The station had closed down before I was born. Cops checked it every now and then, which is why Mel was hidden deep in the electrical room of the depot. Underground, muffled by the pops and whirs of the electricity still fed to the long-dead depot.
When I neared the depot, I crouched behind a palo verde. There were two squad cars parked in weed-choked parking lot. As I thought about how to get around the police, I slipped into memories of my father.
He was in prison because of me. I’d seen the people he was dealing to. They went from businessmen to junkies to gangsters over time. I was worried I’d come home and find him with a bullet through his forehead. So I did what I assumed any twelve-year-old would do. I called the police and asked for help.
Instead of help, they arrested my father. That decision, that moment, it had to change. My father had met my mother in Mexico and she gave birth here in Arizona. But she went back. I never knew her, never would. He was all I had.
I pushed away from the palo verde and moved east in the open desert as far away from the parking lot as I could get before I attempted to cross the street and enter the depot. I waited near the sidewalk in front of the street separating the desert from the depot, and I watched the cops. They were talking, each occasionally swiveling their head to search for curfew violators.
It used to be the government was only worried about the kids taking Jump. Curfew used to only apply to minors, but our “suicide” rate soared past the national average. Most border towns had the same problem since we were closer to the drug with a wider variety of users. So, to combat that, curfew was applied to everyone. If you weren’t working, you had to be at home. Off the streets.
When the officers each took a sip of their respective cups of coffee, I bolted across the street. I made it to the east end of the depot, and I pressed myself against the concrete wall near the old entryway. The door to the main station entrance was boarded up, but I pulled on the plywood until there was a gap large enough for me to press myself through. It was dark inside, so I used my phone to help me find the hall that led to the access panel. The access panel was supposed to be for just that, access. But if you crawl-walked past the old equipment no longer being serviced, you’d arrive at another panel. I headed for that other panel.
This was only the second time I’d met Mel at this location. I had met her at countless other locations, though. The process was always the same. Covert. At night. Don’t get caught.
To help fund the spread of knowledge, Jump could not be free. People paid a thousand dollars for it. The news anchors all laughed when they learned this and reported it during the evening broadcasts for a week straight.
“Paying to kill yourself?” they said with smirks. “Story at 10.”
But that’s the way it was. If you wanted to make the jump, you had to pay. For Mel—and presumably others out there—spreading knowledge of how Jump worked, of her other life path experiences, took money. And I’d been helping her get that money over the last three years.
I’d deal Jump after school. I’d be given an address on a piece of paper, I’d pick up the beautifully designed box containing a syringe full of Jump, and I’d deliver it. I’d collect the payment then return it to Mel.
I wasn’t the only one, of course. A lot of kids at school did it. We never talked about it, never acknowledged each other. Eddie didn’t even know what I had been doing. It was a means to an end.
An altered strain of Jump. That’s what I’d get for my service.
I pushed open the second access panel and dropped down into the electrical room. There was light toward the back of the room beyond a generator. I walked past two kids with guns and showed them the envelope full of money. They nodded as they let me pass. I knew them, they knew me, but they still would have shot me dead if I was there without a reason.
When I arrived at the open space beyond the generator I saw her. Mel was sitting behind a folding table, working at a laptop. She looked up when I stepped in.
“Tyler, it’s good to see you.”
“You, too.” I handed Mel the envelope, and she removed the cash.
“My bracelet is off.”
She looked up, scrunched her face. “What?”
“After three years, I can finally do it. I can use the stuff you promised.”
She leaned back in her chair and smiled. “Have a seat.”
I sat in the folding chair across from her and laid my hands in my lap. I’d waited for this moment from the day she told me about the altered strain. I’d dreamed of controlling the moment. Instead of some arbitrary decision point in my life, I could dictate what was important to me.
“You understand that doing this will take you to a path based on the moment you choose, but you still will not know the situation. Does that make sense?”
“It does,” I said. “And I know exactly what moment I’m going to choose.”
“I’m sure you do.” Mel turned and pulled a box from the fire safe behind her. It wasn’t quite like the ones I’d been delivering. Instead of the wood case, it was made of smooth steel. An oak tree was etched into the lid with branches shooting out in every direction. Each branch had smaller branches. An endless number of paths to choose from.
I reached out to touch it, but she slid the box away. She motioned to the two kids with guns near the generator. “You two, come over here and watch. Good work is always rewarded.”
They came and stood behind me as Mel opened the box. Inside, the case was lined with black felt. A syringe sat in the middle. It looked the same as the ones I delivered, but I knew it was different. I could feel it. The energy pulsed and thumped my eardrums like the bass from a song I never wanted to end.
“While you’re depressing the plunger, you must be thinking of the moment. No second chances on this, Tyler.”
She slid the box across the table. “I’m sorry to be losing you but happy for your journey. Wherever you land, I hope you’ll get the opportunity to spread the word like I’ve been doing.”
“I will,” I said, and I meant it. Whatever happened, people needed to know what was possible. They needed to be allowed to break free from the pain and suffering of mistakes.
I ran my finger along the syringe, lifted it from the box. As I held it in front of me, I thought about my father. I’d visited him once a month when he first went in. Then it was once every other month. Now, rarely.
I thought about the moment I called the police on my father, the moment I got him locked up for good. And I shoved the needle into the vein snaking its way across the bend of my arm. I let the needle rest there for a moment, and then I pressed down on the plunger.
As soon as the Jump left the syringe and entered my bloodstream, I felt it. It kicked me in the stomach and pressed me against the chair. And then I was on the ground shaking, then convulsing, then puking. I saw Mel watching me as I spun on the floor. Then I saw the two kids from school. Then I saw nothing.
When I woke up, I felt groggy, and sick. But I also wished I could hop up and down and dance in front of Eddie and every other person who didn’t believe. The government and all their measures taken to curb suicides that were not actually suicides.
I was laying on my side on something metal and hard. I rolled to my back and saw a concrete ceiling. I laid there and remembered my old life. It was the only fair thing to do. In my past life path, people would be sad. But that was abstract now. I was here now and everything around me was the only reality I needed. I rolled to my other side and looked out at this new life.
And all I saw were the metal bars of a prison cell.
I stood up and looked at the metal bed I had been sleeping on. I found a metal toilet bolted to the wall. I rushed to the bars and asked for a guard. When the guard came to the cell, I saw the lettering on his uniform: PCDC
Pima County Detention Center.
“Why am I here?” I asked.
He laughed. “Why are any of us here, kid?”
“No, I don’t remember why I’m in here. Tell me, please.”
“I don’t have a file on you, crazy. I just know you’re here. You and your old man. The guys and I have a pool going, see how many of you end up in here. I’ve got my money on just the two of you, but some of the other guys think you’ve got a mother out there that may land in the lady jail someday. I’m a softie, though. Think two’s enough for a family.”
“My dad’s in here?”
“Oh yeah, two blocks over.”
The guard laughed then walked away. I stood there alone, thinking. I’d get out. This was a mistake. I thought about what could have landed me in there. After a minute, my eyes flickered and my vision went white. Then my head throbbed and I stumbled back to the metal bench.
Like a movie I couldn’t control, the thoughts flooded me. No, they were memories.
I chose not to call the police about my dad that day when I was twelve years old. I chose to stay close to him, to help him by being there. But being there turned into something more. It turned into work. It turned into dealing. Not dealing Jump, dealing in heroin and cocaine and splitting profits with my father. The memories continued, forcing themselves into the folds of my brain like a parasite. We were picked up when I was still a sophomore.
I’d been in prison for two years. No idea how much time I had left to serve. No idea how I could get out.
And I didn’t have any Jump to help me escape to another life.