Storytime Sunday: Protect

Like everyone else, she was a person of six arms, four forgotten but not atrophied. Like everyone else, she was also haunted and hunted by a darkness.

The darkness was oily and oppressive, snaking toward her, slow and at ease. It was in no rush; it knew its own power. It smelled of old money clenched in sweaty palms, of car exhaust and stale alcohol, of bitter words whispered into a mirror, reflected back on the face that spoke them.

It was large and it was powerful. It had already consumed so many of her friends, feeding on the spirit that gave them life until they were nothing but husks.

ProtectPunch the card in.

Punch the card out.

It would hide sometimes in the dark corners of her room, whispering in her ear as she went to sleep.

Promising security.

Promising comfort.

It would only take a little energy, a touch of spirit. An eight hour submission to routine. A vacation for the mind, if you will; shut it off, turn it in, and get it back at the end of the day. The brain would rest and she would know her future to be safe.

Punch the card in.

Punch the card out.

Where coercion failed, fear stepped in. It wrapped its greasy tentacles around the transmission of her car and pulled the function from it. It oozed across her bills, leaving ink stains in the form of numbers. It bore a hole in her tooth and settled there until it festered with infection.

She needed the security.

She wanted the peace of mind.

Punch the card in.

Punch the card out.

The darkness smiled, a rainbow sheen in a puddle of oil.

When it had her in the grip of fear, it spread itself into new corners and left sticky traces everywhere she stepped. Every thrilling opportunity gave the darkness new price tags to paint on the walls, new worries to whisper in the grey fog before sleep. Every wistful dream was met with derision, an oleaginous tentacle wrapping around her throat with burning cynicism.

Punch the card in.

Punch the card out.

She never knew she was feeding it. It wasn’t a conscious decision; she had seen the consequences and wanted none of them. She thought she had been careful. Prudent. Safe.

Turn off the brain.

Put up the walls.

Punch the card in.

Punch the card out.

But no security comes without cost, no matter how subtle, and she had paid it every day without knowing. It had been lapping at her spirit, the little drops of energy that spilled as she spent her time in its service, and the occasional puddles of inspiration that flowed from a mind shut off for so long it had begun to leak. Tired and flattened to two dimensions, she longed for an escape and scraped the last of the energy she had in reserve as a final offering to the darkness that gripped her, a plea for it to leave her be. It crept, slavering for the taste of this last scrap she had to give, spinning lies of a future freed of its influence. Its tentacles stretched in greedy anticipation toward the light in her hands.

But, like everyone else, she was a person of six arms, four forgotten but not atrophied.

They had never punched the card in.

They had never punched the card out.

They were not calloused with labor or tensed with inane efforts, and so they fought where she could not to protect that last shred of self. They pushed back the tendrils of fear and hunger with desire and drive, waved away the whispers of safety and comfort with ambition and unshakable belief. They fought the darkness and they fought the hands that would feed it further until those hands felt in their palms the weight of the consequences they had heaped upon themselves and knew themselves to be stronger than that which they fed.

Punch the card out.

Storytime Sunday is a weekly installment of short fiction or personal anecdotes. Some will be complete stories, others will be snippets of projects that have gone to the Graveyard of Tales Not Going Anywhere, and a few will be previews of upcoming publications. Basically it’s a sketchbook for writing. Feel free to send me prompts in the comments or on Facebook!

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