Kevin – not his real name – won a contest. It was one of those contests for kids where you color in a picture, in this case of a mermaid under the sea surrounded by all the usual under the sea things, and then you send it to a panel of judges and the best one gets the prize; but Kevin read the fine print various times and found that a specific age limit was never mentioned in it, which must have been an oversight on the part of the contest administrators. “There’s no way those stupid kids can do better than me,” Kevin said to himself, and went crazy with glitter and sequins and a hot glue gun, in addition to the usual crayons and markers. Still, having never won a contest of any sort before, he was surprised when the letter came in the mail.

“Congrats!” his friends said to him when they found out.

“Congrats!” his co-workers said.

“Yeah,” Kevin said.

Have I mentioned that the prize was a chance to be executed by firing squad?

“I guess I’m going to have to get a new you,” his boss said from across the big desk he liked to pile his papers up on. 

Kevin worked for a company that provided HVAC services, a job he’d applied for thinking that it was going to involve using a vacuum, which was something he found very satisfying – sucking up the dirt – only to discover a there was no vacuuming involved. Still, every time he thought about quitting, he thought about having to find another job, and then thought, yeah, I’ll just hang on to this one for the time being and we’ll see what happens on down the road.

Well, so much for on down the road.

“Chin up,” his boss said. “Very few people have the opportunity to be executed by firing squad these days. Apparently, it’s considered inhumane.”

He made quotes with his fingers when he said “inhumane,” like it was a ridiculous idea and the fact that it had come to be widely accepted was a sign of cultural decline. But Kevin didn’t exactly think it sounded humane, either. The problem was, there was something else that he’d read in the fine print, which was that the winner of the contest was obligated to accept the prize or pay a ten-thousand-dollar forfeiture fee, and he wasn’t making that kind of money, not even close, and even if he had been, he wouldn’t have been inclined to spend it on not getting a prize.


Soon enough the day of the execution arrived. When he arrived at the venue at the appointed hour, Kevin was greeted by a man with a waxed mustache and a hat too whimsical to be described. The man was standing beside an open door that would have been easy to miss for someone just walking past on the sidewalk.

“I’ve been expecting you,” he said to Kevin, making a sweeping, right this way sort of gesture.

Inside was a series of more or less dark hallways, one leading to the next, until they came to another door which you honestly would have had to know was there already in order to find it, which apparently the man with the hat and mustache did. He pushed it open and there was a great explosion of brightness from which, a few moments later, emerged a courtyard surrounded on all four sides by high, white walls. “Right this way,” the man actually said this time, as he repeated the sweeping gesture, and guided Kevin through the door and over to where a little black X had been taped to the ground in front of one of the walls. 

“This is where I stand?” Kevin asked him. 

“It’s more of a reference point,” the man said. “Basically, you’ve got a radius of a few feet, if you take that as the center. Anything further than that and you’re going to complicate matters.”

“I’ll just stand right on it,” Kevin said. “That way I know I’ll know I’m not too far.”

“Well,” the man said. “Enjoy.”

He exited the courtyard through the same door through which they’d entered. A couple minutes later, a door opened in the wall opposite Kevin and a group of six or seven men stepped through. They were wearing black bags over their heads with eye holes cut out of them and carrying humongous guns. Of course, between the bags over their heads and their clothes, which fit too loosely to give anything away, they could just as well have been women, and who was to say they weren’t? These days, there wasn’t much that women couldn’t do, with the exception of playing in the men’s professional sports leagues, and there were some who thought it was only a matter of time before that barrier was broken. Punter or field goal kicker in professional football seemed like an obvious place to start, Kevin thought as the men or women or whoever they were trained their humongous guns on him, and also that this was a somewhat weird thing for him to be thinking about in his final moments on Earth.

“Fire!” someone cried, and there was a sound like the sound of a thousand firecrackers going off at once, followed by a billowing of great white clouds of plaster dust and gun smoke.

When air cleared, Kevin found himself alone once again in the courtyard. He looked down at his hands, turning them this way and that, as though to confirm that they were still there and, since he was seeing them, he was still there, as well. He looked up at the blue sky and the hot white sun, which still had another five billion years of life left, according to the scientists, before it collapsed in on itself, taking the Earth and all the rest of the planets with it. He wiggled his toes inside his boots.

“Shall we?”

It was the gentleman with the mustache and the hat.


“I can’t believe I fucking survived that shit,” Kevin said. “Pardon my French, but it’s all a lot to take in.”
They were back out in front of the venue – there was his car parked too far from the curb, rivers of traffic passing along the avenue in both directions, the sound of a bus engine wheezing someplace off in the distance, the vaporous trail of an airplane passing overhead. 

“Whoa, whoa,” the man said. “You didn’t survive anything. You’re completely dead. Dead and in hell.”

“What are you talking about?” Kevin said. “Everything’s exactly the same as it was before.”

“Well, that’s the whole trick of hell,” the man said. “Everything seems the same as it was. You think you’re just back to living your life. But there’s one major difference. Now that I’ve told you you’re dead, will you ever really be a hundred percent sure? Let’s say something awesome happens, like you meet the girl of your dreams and you decide to get married and you’re standing there at the altar feeling like the luckiest guy in the world, but just then when the priest or whatever, maybe you’re Jewish in which case I guess the rabbi, says, do you take this woman, etcetera, etcetera, you have this moment where you’re like wait, what if none of this is real? That moment right there, repeated over and over again – that’s hell.”

“I see what you’re getting at,” Kevin said. “But even if I was dead, why would I be in hell? I’m not saying I’ve lived a perfect life, but I don’t think I’ve done anything that warrants going to hell.”



“Entering a contest that was obviously meant for kids? Taking away some kid’s opportunity to win a prize? Some kid who worked really hard and did their honest best?” 

“There was no age limit!” Kevin protested.

“Age limit, shmage shmimit,” the man said. “Come on, Kevin. You knew that was just an oversight on the part of the contest administrators.”

“I didn’t know,” Kevin said. “I figured.”

“You’re splitting hairs.”

“Fine, but I still don’t see why that’s a bad enough sin to have to go to hell over it.” 

“It’s a tough time,” the man said. “Heaven is super full at the moment, so the standards for getting in are extremely strict, and since you can’t live forever, for the time being hell is the only alternative.”

“Wait a second,” Kevin said. “If I was alive when I got here, and now I’m dead and in hell, how do you explain the fact that you’re still around?”

“I’m a magician,” the man said. “What do you think the crazy hat and mustache are all about?”

“Damn,” Kevin said. “I thought I had you with that one.”


“So I’m in hell,” Kevin said. “Now what am I supposed to do?”

“Carry on,” said the man.

“What? Like with my life?”

“If that’s how you prefer to think of it.”


When he got home, Kevin called his boss first thing.

“Looks like you’re not going to have to get a new me, after all,” he told him.

“Oooh,” his boss said. “Total bummer. I literally just hired your replacement – and believe it or not, his name is also Kevin.”

“Yeah, yeah,” said Kevin. “But what’s his real name?”

— Eli S. Evans has been littering the internet with his work for twenty years. A small book of small stories, Obscure & Irregular, can be purchased via Moon Rabbit Books & Ephemera, and a larger book of even smaller stories will be forthcoming from the same just in time for the holidays (though at this point, we’re not sure which holidays). He’d also like to do a chapbook or small book consisting entirely of stories in which someone is run over by a truck, so if you dabble in printed matter and would like to collaborate, get in touch at elisevans@gmail.com.

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