's 2017 Horror Write-off:


Submitted by Dave Lerner

It says something about my circumstance that when I felt down I could afford to spend the entire day sitting at a cafe downtown, moodily drinking coffee. I guess I should have been expecting her, but I was busy indulging my own darkness.

I don't know how she knows, but I only see her when I'm feeling my blackest. She's never around when I'm happy, or when I'm calm, or when I'm laughing. She's only seen me sad or angry. Which she would consider for the best, of course. She only likes when people are sad or angry. Or in pain.

She sat down at my table. I would say uninvited, but she was always welcome at my table.

"What is it this time?" she asked. I could hear the laughter in her voice. She always sounds like she's laughing, like my pain amuses her.

"You wouldn't care," I said. I knew that I sounded like a petulant child.

"Probably you're right. I wouldn't." She helped herself to my coffee.

"I just... It just seems like there's no innocence in this world. No goodness. Everything and everyone is just evil and mean and cruel and..."

She laughed out loud at me. I felt like even more like a child. Worse, like a foolish adolescent.

"Well..." I continued lamely. "It seems that way."

"No innocence? No goodness? None?"

"None." I had been thinking about this constantly the past few days, though this was the first time I'd said it out loud. "Not one person. Anyone you'd say is a saint, they all have some darkness hidden away. Even children. Anyone who thinks children aren't cruel has never seen or been a child. Not really. Even babies. Nothing is as selfish or as greedy as a baby. Nothing cares as little about anybody else as a baby. What? Am I wrong, then?"

"Yes. You are wrong. Completely."

My turn to laugh. "And you know this how? You know a person who is good? Who is pure and innocent? And if you say that I am, that the person who is good and pure and innocent is me, I'll toss the rest of my coffee right in your face."

"Not you," she said, unimpressed with my threat. "Although you're not as... impure as you'd like think. No, I can't say I know anyone truly good, though I admit I'm not a person who draws good people toward me. But there is goodness out there. There is innocence. There is purity."

"If you say so."

"I say that I can prove, to your satisfaction, that there is goodness out there."

"You're on. It's a bet."

"When I win, you will agree to be my slave for the night. My property. I may do with you, and to you, as I wish."

I felt a thrill of excitement, of lust, and of fear.

"All right," I said. "But if you can't - when you can't, you're my slave for the night." I could barely believe I'd just said that. But she just smiled.

"For the night," she said slowly, then paused. As if she were thinking. As if she didn't already have an answer in mind.

"Get on with it."

"Consider someone evil. Someone who likes to hurt people. Now imagine that she is torturing some poor bastard right this moment." I didn't miss the pronoun. "The question is: Does that poor bastard deserve what she is doing to him? If so, then it is justice. But if not, then it is cruelty and injustice and evil. In order for there to be injustice innocents must suffer. In order for there to be victimization there must be victims. In order for there to be corruption there must first be goodness that will be corrupted. And I refuse to believe that this world lacks injustice, victimization, and corruption. Evil harming evil? Evil destroying evil? Not truly evil, is it? For true evil to exist, there must be good to be made to suffer." She thought for a moment. "The converse is not true, oddly enough. Good can exist without evil. Though I doubt it ever will. Not in this world, at least. Did I win?"

I felt that thrill again. Excitement, lust, fear.

"Can I... can I finish my coffee first?" I asked.

But she was just finishing it.