Your brain is a funny thing. Most of the time, it knows what's better for you in any given situation, and will take ever so subtle control of you to make sure you make the right decision. However, sometimes, if you abuse those mechanisms, your brain will take control accordingly to match your actions. Sometimes, the responses that it comes up with are less than satisfactory.
Sometimes they're absolutely terrifying.
Tom was not a friendly man. He wasn't the kind of man that had an understandable reason behind his unpleasantness either; he just wasn't a very nice person. However, using that life skill, he had put himself in a position where he could manipulate people into the dirt. He was a high level manager at a local electronics store. He had managed to completely and utterly trample his fellow co-workers on the way up the ladder, using every tactic he had to make them seem unfit for the job. He was a sociopath in every sense of the word. And today, this sociopath held the life of a worker in his hands.
Tom sat in his chair, and stared at the janitor with a true sense of apathy.
“Please, Tom. I need this job to keep payments on my studio apartment. I'm begging you. I'm sorry that I missed that carpet stain the other day, and I promise you it won't happen again. Please...don't throw me out onto the street.”
Tom shifted in his chair.
“Listen, bud. Your situation is of no importance to me. There are many more efficient people in line for your job, people who won't miss that one stain on the carpet. You can't outperform them, so you lose. Take anything that's yours, and go home.”
The janitor stood speechless in the middle of the office, holding back a torrent of emotion. He was afraid, he was sad. How would he live now? He turned, and slowly walked out of the office, head hung low. He closed the door behind himself with a quiet click.
“Didn't really like that guy anyway. Glad I had a reason to fire him. Maybe the new guy will be able to do his damn job.” He pulled a bottle of cognac out of his desk drawer, and drank directly out of it. He put his feet up on the desk, and began to laugh. He felt on top of the world, like he was the king of everything. He had the power to condemn a man to die for a simple mistake. That made him feel pretty good. He thought back to high school, all the girls he had stolen from their respective boyfriends, and then decided that he had no use for them, leaving them single. All the times he stole homework, all the times he laughed at those who had fallen. He didn't care about their lives. He only cared that he had lived in that moment, and had done exactly what he wanted to do. He was satisfied. The workday was almost over, and Christmas was coming up fast. He decided that he'd rather have a little more money to buy himself gifts, so he typed a quick email to all his employees. “Attention workers! There will be no Christmas bonus this year! There will be no compensation for this. Work harder!”
He sent the email, closed his laptop, packed his things and left the store. Twenty minutes later, he had arrived at his two story home in a quiet little suburb outside of the city. He opened the door, and his wife welcomed him in.
“Hey Tom! How was work?”
“Same shit as usual, go make me dinner.”
“Oh...okay. I love you dear!”
Tom lived at home with only his wife. Despite her desires, they had had no children. Despite how the situation may appear to anyone viewing it, she had the truest affection for her husband, and was willing to work through anything. He held affection only for himself, but kept her around because she was useful. Three hours after dinner, Tom was upstairs, readying himself for sleep. As he switched off the light in the bathroom, he thought he heard a faint crying. Not the crying of his wife; she had gone to sleep. A soft crying, that seemed to come from the darkness. It gave him a peculiar feeling; he felt the slightest bit of pity. He knew not for what, only that he was sad for something. In an instant it was gone, and he shook it off, rationalizing it as a fatigue-induced hallucination. He walked down the hall to his bedroom, climbed into bed with his wife, and attempted to fall asleep. The moment before he drifted to sleep, an image flashed before his eyes. The image of a cold, withered man, sitting and quietly sobbing in a dark alley. Someone on the edge of death. Tom was suddenly awash with grief, depression, and a piercing fear. He quickly sat up, breathing heavily. He looked around the room. Nothing. Only the sound of his own pulse in his ears. He collapsed into bed and passed out, exhausted from the sudden emotional burst. He woke up hours later, at nine AM. It was Saturday, December 24th. The day before Christmas. He rolled out of bed, walked into the hallway, and into the bathroom to brush his teeth. As he walked out of the bathroom, he heard it again. The faint crying. It had gotten louder. He looked behind himself, and for an instant saw a pair of small, white eyes focused on him. They were gone within an instant, and took the crying with them. But they left Tom with something. He felt as if a weight had been laid on his heart, like a sadness had been thrust upon him, but with no cause. Just a weight of depression. As the day progressed, the weight became heavier. He would come close to crying at certain points, and would be overwhelmed with pity at others. He didn't know why he was this way. Only that the feeling was eating him alive. The night came, and Tom was walking to his bedroom. As he came to his bedroom door, he felt a chill on his back. A ghostly, blood freezing chill. With it came the crying. Soft, quiet, piercing crying. It seemed to be coming from downstairs. The chill dwindled, and the crying faded away. Tom climbed into bed once again, and tried to fall asleep.
But he couldn't.
There was a presence in the room.
He sat up, and looked around the room. In the right hand corner, a pair of white eyes stared at him, unblinking. Tom blinked out of surprise, and in an instant, the eyes were right in front of him. They stared into his soul. Tom's entire body was suddenly overwhelmed by the horrible, deathly chill. The eyes were connected to a dark, shifting figure. It whispered to him.
“You killed him.”
With that, Tom collapsed into bed, passed out from fear.
The next morning, he asked his wife if she had noticed a single thing.
“No dear. Last night and the night before, you slept very soundly. You must have been dreaming.”
Tom nervously thought to himself, “That's all it was. A bad dream. Yeah, that's right. Things like that don't happen in real life. It was a dream.”
It was Christmas morning.
Tom hadn't bought a single thing for anyone; he was too busy relishing the money he attained by cutting the Christmas bonuses of the workers. His wife pulled out a folded heart.
“I made this for you dear...”
Tom glanced at it as he was reading the morning newspaper.
“Yeah hun, that's great. Put it somewhere nice.”
“I wrote something on it for you...”
“I'll read it later. Put it away.”
A tear welled up in his wife's eye.
“A-alright dear. I know you've been stressed.”
She turned and quickly walked up the stairs to the bedroom. Tom continued to read the paper. Christmas was of no importance to him; he could buy his own gifts just fine. Everyone else should be able to sustain themselves as well.
Not a moment after his wife had left view, the crying returned.
But it was not the faint crying before.
It was his wife, softly crying in the bedroom.
It sounded eerily similar to the crying of before.
The day lazily passed by, Tom and his wife going about their respective business. As Tom exited the bathroom and started down the hall, he froze, paralyzed with a sudden, overwhelming fear. The crying was coming from downstairs. Loud. Beckoning. He couldn't move towards the bedroom; he felt an unstoppable urge pulling him downstairs. He slowly walked towards the stairs. The crying grew louder. It beckoned ever more. He could feel the chill slowly overtaking him as he made his way closer. Closer. Down the stairs. He didn't even feel like he had control of his motions anymore. The crying pulled him. He turned the corner, and looked into the living room, where the crying was coming from. There was a thin, emaciated man, standing in the middle of the room. He was clothed only in tattered rags, with unwashed hair and an unkempt body. His back was facing Tom, who felt an unstoppable urge to walk to the man. The chill had completely taken his body, and it became even colder as he approached the man. He put his hand on the man's shoulder. He stopped crying, and began to breathe heavily. He whipped around, and stared into Tom's eyes with his own colorless eyes. His face was horribly disfigured, as if beginning to decay. He whispered to Tom.
“You killed me.”
Tom suddenly felt pain. Overwhelming, horrifying pain. Not physical pain. Emotional pain. He felt depression as if collected over years and concentrated into a single moment. Anger. Grief. Guilt. Years and years of emotional pain, concentrated into one excruciating moment. He collapsed on the floor, screaming and writhing in a sea of uncontrolled emotion. The disfigured man looked down at him, with his cold, colorless eyes. His body had turned to one of not filth, but of one that had been physically decayed. He began to speak in a stuttering, elderly voice.
“Y-you...condemned dozens to scarring, emotional torment. You c-condemned them to poverty, physical p-pain, and soul crushing fear. You condemned t-them to guilt, shame, and undying sadness. A-all for your own amusement. All f-for your own momentary satisfaction.”
Tom's emotional torture became amplified.
“Look at you. Y-you took a happy, f-fulfilling Christmas from almost two hundred p-people so you could satisfy your own desires.”
Tom could only stare in horror at the figure looming above him. He could not speak, he could not voluntarily move. Only react to the incoming torrents of emotion.
“B-but this time, you c-crossed the line. You didn't only take g-gifts from your workers, you t-took something much more important. You t-took that old janitor's life.”
Tom suddenly felt physical pain. Hunger. Piercing cold. The pains of thirst.
“Even if y-you didn't notice the o-obituary, I did. It was for him. T-they found him on the s-street, dead of hypothermia. Y-you have gone too far. You m-must pay. You must feel his p-pain, and you must give your life as he l-lost his. Rest in Peace.”
The figure opened its mouth grotesquely wide, and began to shriek. The pain of death was upon Tom. He felt the cold, the fear of the man, his anger towards Tom for doing this to him. He felt every emotion, every physical stimuli. He cried. The total pain of dying, concentrated into the space of a few seconds. The cold reached a peak. The hunger began to eat him from the inside. The thirst had consumed every drop of water in his body. The figure engulfed him, and with a final peak of emotion, everything was silent. He was gone.
Tom's wife, now widowed, sat crying in the living room. Her husband lay there, frozen in place by rigor mortis. The police were all about the house, the coroner and head detective next to Tom's body.
“So, mister coroner. A heart attack, you say?”
“Undeniably. Must have come on quite quickly. At least it was nearly painless. Poor guy.”
“On Christmas, too,” said the detective, “Not a very good present.”
The human brain can be a funny thing. However, if you provoke a mechanism too harshly, it will react harshly. Especially your conscience. If you suppress it for years, while at the same time committing acts that would normally get a reaction from it, you only build up pressure, even if you don't notice it building. You can't keep that pressure bottled up forever. Because, if you do, well...
It just might kill you.