The switch had been there ever since I could remember. I remember when I was five. I asked my dad about it. He told me that it had been there throughout all the generations of our family, from well before his great-great-grandfather’s childhood. When I asked him what it did, he told me he didn’t know and shooed me away to go play. I asked my mother about it when I was ten. She told me that it’s better not to ask questions about things we can’t change. So I stopped asking questions about it.
I couldn’t ignore it though. It’s slow red pulse through the translucent plastic that formed the knob of the switch. In the evening, when the lights were off and we were watching the telly, it cast its intermittent red glow on the cream colored wallpaper surrounding it’s stainless steel wall plate. I could never figure out how the wall plate itself was held into the wall, as there were no screws visible. Of course, next to the switch was another metal plate, also without screws. This plate contained nothing of the sort of an equally fascinating switch, but rather housed a warning. Etched into the metal with machine like precision were the words “Vital! Do not turn off!”
Unable to read the words when I was younger, they lacked the ability to bother me. However, as my grasp of the language increased, the inscription tormented me. Why was it vital that the switch not be flipped off? Countless nights the question tossed in my mind as I stirred in my bedroom, scant yards away from the possibility of answering the puzzle with a simple flick. When I broached the subject of the switch to a classmate who I had developed a scholarly relationship with they acted as if I were crazy. They ignored my imploring to come with me to my family’s dwelling to see the switch for themselves. After a heated exchange, our once friendly acquaintance ended.
My continued education brought a brief respite to my torture. I was shipped off to vocational training on a level away from my families dwelling and spent my time in the dormitory there. However, on my graduation I returned to my family home and my curiosity was magnified a hundredfold. It manifested itself as daydreams while I was working at first. Soon, my dreams contained nothing but visions of me flipping the switch off and whatever sundry results my unconscious mind created for it. After many months of the switch consuming every moment of my waking and un-waking thoughts, I devised a plan.
The start of the next work shift found me feigning illness to stay home. I wait until well past the time it was for my parents to have left for their own work before cautiously emerging from my room. The switch sat pulsing. It taunted me. I crept toward it slowly, as if not to startle it. My hand crawled through the air toward it like molasses in a sieve. In a moment, the switch was flipped into the off position. I don’t know what I had expected- alarms, the ever present thrum of the ventilators in the complex to stop, or any of my other wildest dreams. None of them occurred.
I flipped the switch up and down rapidly. I expected something to happen after a lifetime of obsession. When nothing presented itself, I returned it to the on position and began to wander our commune in a daze. My life lost all meaning without the mystery of the switch. It wasn’t for several months before the function of the switch became apparent. It was late in the evening when I was awakened by a shrill shrieking. I stumbled out of my sleeping quarters to see an undulating mass of insects. My parents both stumbled out of their room into hundreds of tiny waiting maws. Within seconds the beasts had stripped them down to nothing but bones. I retreated to my room. The wailing outside has only increased. I caught one trying to get through the air vent into my room and sealed it off. The only question left is what will kill me first.
Apropos of: This Prompt