Monday, November 4, 2013

The Routine: A Short Story

A piercing cry cuts the still morning air, an organic alarm. It is time for The Routine. The man suddenly wakes and stares towards the sky. He hopes, prays, bargains for just a few more minutes of unconsciousness. Closing his eyes, the man tries to slip back into the blackness, away from reality.
Sharp jabs, like tiny needles, sink into his flesh. This is the first punishment, the first pain for delaying The Routine. The punishments will only become more insistent, more painful as he delays the inevitable. There's no point to waiting any longer. Relief will not be granted.

Reaching blindly into the dark, the man feels something brush against his flesh, startling him. Regaining his composure, he reaches out again until he feels the cold metal of his spectacles. Setting them on his face, they feel icy, only adding to the growing pain in the forehead. The man's eyes begin to focus, but still see nothing but the black.

After hundreds of mornings, The Routine proves no less horrifying to the waking mind. It's still difficult for the man to pull himself together and rise, stumbling forward through the room. He catches himself at the window, and stares into a world that only shows emptiness.

In the distance, a few lights seem to flicker into being, illuminating just enough to reinforce the anxiety. There may be others out there right now, somewhere breathing in the same stale air, but they're slaves to The Routine as well. They are not here to help, or the punishment will be theirs.

Taking a deep breath, the man turns towards the door, hesitant in every step. He knows something is coming, another punishment for his delays. Descending the stairs, the darkness seems to grow as the temperature drops, sending a quick shiver down the spine. Then it comes, a swift motion out of nothingness that cuts across his ankles. The man nearly plummets down the stairs, catching himself only a few steps away from slamming into the ground.

Crouched on those harsh stairs, the man tries to calm himself as he imagines the consequences if he had fallen, had broken a bone, had been unable to complete The Routine. The thoughts only increase the panic, so he thinks of how it all started, how every morning turned to this horrible repetition.

The Routine had noble goals. There were those turned wild by the world, feral and destructive. They knew nothing but chaos, and nothing seemed to restore civility. This new process might be the last hope, something that would succeed when all other attempts ended only in more ferocity.

Of course, The Routine failed. Worse, those others subjected to it, test subjects for the process, became dependent on it. It twisted them, turning them into horrifying creatures every morning until they got their fix. They took control, inventing new punishments, and unleashing destruction if not appeased.

Now everyone was a slave to The Routine. The man walks with a slight limp, stiff from the fall, as he nearly reaches the icy floor of the feeding chamber. Along the wall are metallic containers, filled with the dead flesh of countless victims. Poor, innocent creatures slaughtered, rendered into foul paste for the purposes of this horrible ritual.

Tearing open the containers, the man's head reels from the odor, the bile rising into his throat for a moment. The site is equally disgusting, a brown sludge that nothing living should crave. Yet before he finishes dropping the containers, the feral beasts descend, consuming all with a sickening joy. The Routine is complete again.

Having finished feeding the house cats, the man heads back towards the bedroom. Maybe he really can get a little more sleep before all the other begin.

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