“The absence of pain is the beginning of hell,” the man with the vacant eyes mumbled. “You sure you want to go through with this?” His focus slid around the girl.
Miranda looked around the dirty apartment as she sat at the kitchen table piled with dirty bowls and rotting fruit. She scratched at the scabs that lined her arm like good rows of soldiers. “Yeah.”
“You’ll end up like me.” The man leaned sideways in his chair. The left side of his lip twitched up in a half-snarl. “You want to get addicted?”
“I won’t be like you,” she growled.
“Once I take your pain, you’ll never have it back.” He swung his head around toward her. His eyes still refused to focus. He chirped a hollow giggle. “And that means you’ll try to get by on other people’s pain. Yours just won’t work anymore. My dad died. I didn’t feel any pain. My girlfriend left. Didn’t matter. And you realize that pain is nature’s way of saying there’s something wrong. That something isn’t right. And when you can’t tell that something isn’t right, well…” He swung his head around as if looking at his kitchen, but his eyes still refused to settle in any reality Miranda could see. “I know it’s not right. In here. In my head. But it doesn’t matter.” The man shrugged. “I’ll take your pain if you want. It’ll help me. Get me sane again for a little. Until I can find the next idiot who thinks pain is a bad thing. But I try to do the right thing. I still have a conscience, even if it doesn’t tell me anything about right or wrong anymore, you know?” He ran a hand through his greasy hair.
“I won’t be like you,” Miranda repeated.
“Your boyfriend left you?”
She looked down.
“Yeah. Pretty normal for girls to come to me after that. Guys, too. Stupid. You’ll find someone else. Or you’ll figure out how to live past your pain. Look, lady, I’m not saying it doesn’t hurt. If it didn’t hurt you wouldn’t be here. I’m just saying… the pain isn’t all bad, all right? And you’ll miss it.” He pulled back one of his ratty sleeves, revealing puckered scars up and down his wrists.
Miranda recoiled. “I won’t be like you.”
“All right, lady. Come here. I’ll take your pain. I need the hit.” He put a hand dark with grease on her head before she could respond. He breathed in.
Miranda went numb.
Yeah, Colby left. Screw him. Yeah, he took the kids. So what? Yeah, she was losing her apartment. Who cared?
Yeah, she wanted to die. But now, what did it matter? No point in killing yourself.
She tried to smile at the man, but found it didn’t matter.
The man fell off the chair and cradled his arm. He sighed in pleasure. “A good hit,” he gurgled through convulsions.
Miranda tossed the fee onto the table and walked over the man. She spun. “I will never be like you,” she declared. She exited the apartment.
Hours later, the man stood from the floor. He limped to the tattered drapes and looked out over the city.
So much pain. So much for him to devour.
So much guilt to bear. But without pain, what was guilt?
Fifteen minutes of writing. Five minutes of editing. Another little story…