Title: Choice (although it's technically untitled XP)
“You have a choice to make now, human.” The voice was dispassionate, the owner neither male nor female, but its features some strange conglomeration of both. It had a sharply slanted face with delicate features, and blonde hair that hung just to the top of its ears. If its face had been more expressive, it would have been beautiful in an androgynous way, but as it was, it was too inhuman to seem at all lovely.
The man stared bleakly up at his captor. He’d been here for...how long? He thought it had been about a week, but he could not see the sun so could not tell for sure. There was no light until his tormentor deigned to open the door, allowing what looked like flickering candlelight to enter from the hall.
The man was still wearing the business suit he’d been wearing when he’d gone out that last time to smoke a cigarette. He’d been there on the sidewalk in front of his office building, gazing out into the distance, when suddenly, he’d been here instead. This “here” was a square cage, with the ceiling just low enough to stop him from standing, the walls just close enough to stop him from stretching out.
It wasn’t warm, and it wasn’t cold; the food was the same way. It wasn’t delicious, but it wasn’t terrible or infested with insects. The floor was carpeted in something, but the wood or stone beneath it was hard and provided little comfort. It reminded him, he thought, with a touch of grim humor, of some of the hotels in which he’d stayed on occasion. Except, of course, they had beds at hotels, and there you could check out whenever you wanted.
“What’s the choice?” he asked wearily.
“You must choose between the demons without, and the demons within,” the thing informed him, its face still neutral as always.
“I suppose I shall have to explain to you,” said the creature. The tone of its voice made the man shiver, the lack of emotion was so out of place. “All of you humans have demons within your souls. You cannot see them, or touch them, and most of the time you are completely unaware of them. But be warned, they are fully capable of devouring you. Others’ demons have done so many times in the past.”
The demons within...it was a common figure of speech, and it just meant memories that haunted you. “And the demons without?” the man asked cautiously. “What the hell are those?”
“These,” his captor said simply. It lifted its hand gracefully and snapped its fingers. Abruptly, the man was plunged into hell.
Lunging at him from beyond the bars were his worst nightmares come to life. The shambling, slime-covered monster he’d thought so many times would walk out of his closet when he was a child. Its hooked claws almost reached him and he jerked backwards, eyes wide with terror.
“Sweet boy...” a voice whispered in his ear, and he whipped his head around. There was the face of his old great-aunt, the one he’d always been afraid of, the one he’d had nightmares about because her face was so misshapen and her house always smelled of death and decay because she left old fruit in the refrigerator. “Give your old auntie a kiss...” But this was the nightmare version of her the one whose smile was full of sharp, glistening teeth.
He scrambled back again, whimpering, falling over himself to get away, but they were everywhere, all around the cage. These were the demons he’d thought he’d conquered when he was twelve or thirteen, all the things his parents had dismissed as fantasies of an overactive imagination, and they were here. There was the new couch that had looked as though it had a red, bloody mouth because of the fabric pattern, and now it really had one, and it was gibbering and making incoherent sounds of hunger.
“No!” he moaned, huddling as close to the center of his cage as he could, away from the reaching claws, the reaching hands, the reaching...oh no....
“So choose,” the voice cut in, impossibly quiet but audible above the din. “Should I let them have you, or should I give you to the demons within?”
“The demons within!” he howled. A formless appendage stroked his cheek and he threw himself to the side and away. “Just make them go away, please, please.”
And the demons outside of the cage did not disappear, but he could no longer see them, because he had been plunged into a different world of memory.
“Jake?” The voice was soft and scared. “Jake, I don’t feel good, can I sleep in your room tonight?” The eyes of his younger brother peered at him over the edge of the bed, wide and unblinking.
“No,” his old self said without even thinking about it, even though his current self remembered what had happened and was shouting, screaming at him not to do it. “You have stop being a baby. Sleep in your own bed, you chicken.”
“But there were noises outside,” his brother said meekly, glancing quickly back through the darkness. “Please?”
“No.” And he rolled over and went back to sleep while his brother crept back through the dark house into his own room.
Back into his own room, where he had been abducted and found dead next to the interstate in a cardboard box. His mind provided him with flashes of the pictures he hadn’t been supposed to see, the pictures of his brother’s twisted limbs and mauled face.
Ohfuckohfuckohfuckohfuck, his mind kept up a constant litany as he was whirled into another memory.
“Honey, where’s that ten dollars?” An earlier memory, from before his brother’s death. “I know I left it on the kitchen counter...”
“I don’t know,” his mother called back to his father. “I saw it earlier.”
“Goddammit!” his father yelled angrily. “If you saw it earlier, that means you spent it, again. What did you use it for, another fucking manicure?”
“No!” his mother shouted, throwing down the pair of pants she was folding. “Dammit, I did not take it! I would tell you!”
Younger Jake sat on the edge of his bed, twisting a ten dollar bill in his fist. He’d just wanted the new G.I. Joe action figure, and his parents hadn’t been willing to buy it for him until Christmas. The fight continued to rage on, and his mother eventually stormed by with a bruise on her cheek.
And two weeks later, his mother filed for divorce.
“Daddy, have you seen my kitty?” A later memory, this one.
“No, honey, I haven’t,” he told her absently, stuffing the telephone bill check into an envelope. The truth was, he’d seen the ragged old stuffed animal that morning, and had tossed it into the garbage. She didn’t need it anymore, she was ten now, and the thing was disgusting.
“Oh...” her face fell, and for a moment he felt a pang of conscience, which was magnified by a thousand, no, ten thousand, in his current self. Without telling anyone, his daughter had slipped out into the freezing cold that night to search for her kitty, because she couldn’t sleep without it. She’d had to have two of her toes amputated because he noticed too late that she was gone, he hadn’t gone out looking until she’d been out there for an hour and a half. His wife had been frantic, and it was all his fault...
The doors to the memories started opening faster now, all of his pain and his guilt, the things he’d tried so hard to forget, all of them flooding his mind, overloading him. No! he tried to say, tried to control himself. Leave me alone! But they wouldn’t leave him be; he could not stop them. He curled in on himself, not even aware of the hard floor, panting and shivering and whimpering to himself.
The blonde creature surveyed the man emotionlessly. “Humans. Pathetic.” It snapped its fingers again and dispelled the illusionary nightmare-demons in an instant, turned, and walked out the door.