It’s a night like any other, you suppose. The late trucks pull up to the dock and you spend a few hours with a pallet jack unloading them and stowing them in the warehouse before the stockers come in and put the stuff out on the shelves. Same shit every day. But you like the night. The frigid desert air mingling with the residual heat rising from the concrete, and you’re far enough away from the lights of the strip that you can see the stars sometimes.
You’re leaning against the dock having a smoke when you notice a penny on the ground. It’s a shiny, perfect penny. This happens to you a lot. You pick it up, just like all the others, and give it a glance. The strike is perfect, the edges are so sharp they could cut you. It’s flawless, perfectly clean, even the side that was face down on the foul concrete of the grocer’s loading dock. Denver mint. 1971. Exactly like the tens of thousands of others you have in your apartment. You’ve always thought that some day your lucky penny hoard – you call it a “hoard” because you’ve always liked the word – will be your retirement, but the math just doesn’t work out. Even considering the crazy days when you find a hundred pennies or more.
You take another drag off your smoke and let it out slowly into the cool night air. You’ve got a few minutes left on your break. Everyone else is inside in the break room. There’s a tiny ting of metal hitting the concrete and you look down. It’s the penny. No…you check your pocket…it’s another penny. That’s new. In the same spot as the first one. You pick up this new one and verify it’s exactly the same as the rest. On a whim, you flip it in the air, watch the floodlights glint off the shiny copper, and snatch it out of the air on the way down.
When you open your palm, the penny is gone, and in its place is a much heavier coin. It’s a tiny bit larger than a penny, with a rounded edge and a very rough and deep strike. It’s got some lettering on it, but you can’t read it, they look like some sort of runes or Arabic…or it could be Klingon as far as you know. There’s a clean square cut out of the center like those old Roman coins. It’s clean, but with the patina of age. It looks like it’s made out of actual copper, as opposed to pennies which, you’ve been told, are mainly zinc or tin or sheet metal or some shit.
“What the fuck…” you ponder as you stare at the thing. Then you hear the scream.
It’s a woman, or maybe a child, a wordless cry for help coming from the dark side of the building, the noise swallowed up by dumpsters and compactors and stacks of baled corrugate. No one is going to hear her. Except for you. You walk to the edge of the light and look into the dark and see, unsurprisingly, nothing. Then she screams again, and you can’t help yourself. You stamp out your smoke and stride into the dark, hoping your eyes adjust before you run into anyone.
Halfway around the building, you find her, huddling against the wall in a dim circle of light created by the status lights on the box compactor. She’s tiny, under five-feet tall, extremely pale skin peeking out of a hoodie and jeans. She’s crouched against the wall facing off against two looming shadows in the dark. You can’t see any features, but the shadows are shaped like two big guys in trenchcoats.
“Oy!” you shout, “What’s goin’ on?” All heads turn to you. The girl’s features are sharp, almost fox-like. She has unnaturally-purple eyes, shining in the dim light. A lot of expressions cross her face just then, shock, surprise, and then a glimmer of hope.
“Dìon mi, tràill! A-nis!” she shouts with a small, singsong voice. You’ve got no idea what she’s saying, but some part of you does. Some part of you listens. And the rest of you can’t stop.
With a roar, you charge through the pool of light and into the shadows on the other side. You throw a roundhouse with all your weight behind it and smash the face of one of the shadows. It stumbles backwards and you follow up with a kick that connects with a satisfying crunch and sends it sprawling. Part of your brain registers that you should be able to see more details of these guys, even in the dark, but even at this range, they’re just silhouettes. Then its buddy punches you in the ribs. There’s a crunch.
Over a hundred fights, and never KO’d. You didn’t win many, you could never throw punches like the other heavies, but you never, ever went down. The ref had to call it every time. They called you the Punching Bag. You’d just soak up the hurt and keep going. That shadow hit you like a freight train. You feel the ribs along your lower left side collapse and suddenly you don’t have enough air to breathe. You feel yourself lifted bodily off the ground and then you’re in the air for a brief second before smacking into the wall head-first.
You hit the ground like a sack of battered meat, which is essentially the truth. You can’t move, and all you can see besides the side of the compactor is the new coin. You don’t know if it’s the one from your pocket or a new one, but there it sits, the lights making it shimmer a bit.
There’s a scream from the girl that’s abruptly cut off with a sickening crunch. She’s tossed to the ground in your field of view, her striking purple eyes focusing on the coin, then you, then nothing at all. Her body shakes as you hear wet ripping and tearing noises coming from just out of sight.
Oh god, they’re eating her.
You try to whisper to her that you’re sorry, but she’s long dead, and thankfully so.
Just this once…I’ll take the KO…I’ll take it this time…
You let the darkness come.