Phillip Foster's wife was away at a teacher's conference, and he had the whole house to himself. Mostly that meant he could walk around in his boxers and watch whatever he wanted.
It was getting late, but 8 Mile was on. It wasn't his favorite movie in the world, but it always struck a chord with him. He'd drifted off to sleep a couple of times in his chair, but this was the big finish. Eminem's character was in the middle of delivering his final verse when he stopped short.
That was strange, and Phillip sat up in his chair. The character looked directly into the camera and smiled. Then it started to talk to him.
Hi. Sorry to interrupt the show but let's be honest. You've seen this already. I win, I flip off Brittany Murphy. The movie's pretty much done. It's over.
Now, you're probably wondering who I am. That's the wrong question to ask. You should be asking: Who're you?
Phillip shook his head and mouthed the words "Phillip Foster" almost as an afterthought. He didn't understand what was going on anymore. This had to be a dream.
That's your answer? You're getting this all wrong. You're more than a name. You're a cog in the machine. You work your ass off, and what do you get for it? Shit. That's why your wife is going to fuck another guy.
That's right. She said she went to a conference in Wichita. But she's still in town. What if I told you she was planning on fucking one of the other teachers from her school?
A man who, and I swear this is the truth, is named Clancy Higgenbothem. A guy who listens to Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On" every morning on repeat while he gets ready for work. That's the man you're losing your wife to.
Phillip was certain this was a nightmare of some kind. His rising anxiety making itself manifest. He reached for his remote and changed the channel. The History Channel logo came up, and transitioned into some sort of program about the 1980 presidential race.
The voice-over introduced a post election interview with Jimmy Carter, who looked directly into the camera to answer a question about why he'd lost. Only he didn't answer. He started talking to Phillip again.
Changing the channel doesn't change the truth. You still love her but she stopped loving you a long time ago. You spend your days at your meaningless job and never talk to her when you get home. Still, you're a good man.
I'm not here just to save your marriage. I'm here to save your life. This unremarkable life you lead. One you could lose at any moment. You want success. You want respect. You want people to regret when you're not around and light up when you enter the room. We can give that to you, and at a fair price.
Phillip's lips turned down into a frown. This was more than a bad dream. He changed the channel again. The Discovery Health Channel popped up on the screen. He got up from his chair and pulled out his phone. He wasn't even sure what the program in the background was about, and it didn't matter, because the voice-over was directed at him.
Stop doing that and let me finish.
I know what you're thinking, but we don't want your money. We don't want your firstborn or your soul. My people can ensure your success from now until you die. All you have to do is promise to do us a favor in the future. Consider it a commission on your success.
All we're offering you is the life you deserve. A life in the spotlight. Your wife will come back home, she'll cry and say she's sorry. Over the next few months she'll fall in love all over again. Your colleagues will listen to you more often. Your boss will treat you like a peer rather than a subordinate. Your life will come together the way you always knew it would.
After that, you just have to do your best, work hard, and success will come your way. I guarantee it. If I'm wrong, you owe us nothing.
This is all gain and no risk. Say yes, or change the channel again. Call your wife and tell her you love her. That's all it'll take to bring her back even if you say no.
Phillip looked around him. He knew this was a moment he'd remember for the rest of his life, regardless of his choice. He whispered yes to the television.
I appreciate your time, and we'll be in touch. Don't worry, you'll know when it's us.
In the mean time, I return you now to your regularly scheduled programming, already in progress.
The voice-over paused for a moment, and then began to describe the complications associated with nyctophobia. How being afraid of the dark could prevent sufferers from leading a normal life.
But Phillip never noticed that. He was already on his phone. The click of someone picking up on the other end soothed him.
He took a deep breath before saying, "I love you. I don't think I say that enough. I, uh… I just wanted you to know,"
During the short silence on the other end of the call, he fiddled with his Foundation ID badge on the end table.