Vault guard

(83)

Part 6 of the 21-part series called "moon photos"

An experiment in single-page interactive fiction using the :target pseudo-class. For details on how I wrote this, check out this essay.

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A boring job

You stand at the door all day, every day, even weekends. How long ago was it you were told to guard this vault? You can’t remember. You wish you’d thought to start marking the days in chalk on the wall when you started, but you didn’t. You could start now, but what’s the point?

An interminable amount of time passes. You think about leaving. Nothing is going to happen without you.

Outside

You walk away from the vault’s door, not even bothering to look back. You feel good, happy even. You have your whole life ahead of you.

You leave the dark building to a blistering sun. You squint in the glare. You think you see a figure coming toward you.

The man in black

You call the figure — who turns out to be a man in black carrying a large sword, riding a horse — over to you. You ask him what he’s doing in these parts.

I’m about to rob the Vault, he says. I hear there’s untold treasures inside.

You yourself have no idea what’s in the Vault, even though you guarded it for years.

The man in black

You watch from behind a rock as a man in black, on a black horse, carrying a black sword, rides past. He looks like a pretty dangerous guy. You’re glad you hid.

At the same time, you wonder what he’s come to the Vault for.

A visitor

Soon, an imposing figure darkens the doorway of the Vault’s antechamber. You look up and see a man in black on a horse. He’s drawing a giant sword out of its sheath as he says, Let me through. I’m here to plunder the Vault.

You weigh your options.

A conversation

You say, You know, I’m the guard of that Vault. You know what’s in it? They never told me anything about it.

The man sizes you up. I’ve heard tell that it contains the greatest treasure ever known, he says.

Your heart catches in your throat. Who knew it was so important?!

Untold treasures

Soon, the man in black disappears into the Vault’s antechamber. Untold treasures, you think to yourself.

No one had ever told you what was in the Vault. You’d figured it was something important, since they hired someone to guard it, but treasures ….

The fight

You pull your sword from its sheath, saying, I am sworn to protect this vault with my li— but he cuts you off. By cutting off your head.

Resignation

You decide that your life is worth more than the mysterious contents of this Vault. Besides, you haven’t been paid in a while. So you tender your resignation by leaving the antechamber and stepping outside.

Outside

You walk away from the vault’s door, not even bothering to look back. You feel good, happy even. You have your whole life ahead of you.

You leave the dark building to a blistering sun. You squint in the glare. You realize you’re hungry, but you left your lunch inside.

A miscalculation

You produce a key from under your armor. You know, you say, conspiratorally, I have the key to the Vault. Maybe I can let you in, for half of what’s inside.

You realize too late that this man is a criminal as he flashes his sword and cuts off your arm. You fall to the ground, bleeding, as he dismounts his horse, pulls the key from your disembodied hand, and walks to the door of the Vault.

As your vision blackens, you hear the click of the lock.

Back inside

You walk back into the gloom of the antechamber. The man in black is trying to jimmy the Vault’s lock with his sword. He looks a little silly, if you’re honest with yourself. He doesn’t seem to notice you.

Afternoon

Outside the Vault’s antechamber, the sun beats down on your head. You hadn’t realized it was already summer — where does the time go? It passes down in the antechamber, just as much as up here, you suppose.

You’re thirsty, you realize. And from the position of the sun, you reckon it must be lunch time. Your growling stomach confirms your suspicions.

You remember there’s a tavern a little down the way that serves lunch. Though you brought your own, a fresh, hot meal might do you good.

The Vault

He jimmies his sword in the lock for a while, long enough for you to think he doesn’t know what he’s — click!

He steps back, wipes the sword on his tights, and pushes open the door to reveal a glowing light of some kind. His mouth opens wide. He’s happier than you’ve ever seen anyone. He steps into the chamber and — thwack!

He falls back into the antechamber, an arrow sticking out of what used to be his face.

Outside

Shaken, you emerge into the bright mid-day sun. You’ve never actually seen someone die before. At the same moment, you also realize you’re hungry — it is lunchtime, after all. The day is so warm, especially under all your armor, that you’re parched as well.

That’s when it hits you — you’ve left your lunch in the antechamber!

Lunch

You steel yourself and head back into the gloom. The man in black is still there. Still dead. Still arrowed.

You step around him carefully to get your sack lunch from the shelf when you notice the soft glow coming from the Vault.

Outside, Lunch

You grab your lunch and rush outside. That Vault has something evil in it, you’re sure of it. You wonder what it could be as you chew your sandwich.

Two Bucks Inn

The establishment’s sign, of two bucks, racks locked in battle, hangs from a post above the door. You smile as you push the door open into the dank space. Everyone looks up for a moment, and deciding you’re mostly harmless, look back to their drinks.

You walk to the bar and sit down. Presently, the keep comes over and asks, What’ll ye have, then?

The Vault

You step gingerly over to the man in black. He doesn’t move — the arrow in his face makes sure of that. You step over his carcass to survey the inside of the Vault.

You can’t really make out what’s inside due to the glare. There’s some kind of mysterious light emanating from within. You step a little closer, hoping there’s not another trap.

There’s not. The Vault had only one trap — after all, its owners had shelled out for a full-time guard, hadn’t they? Guiltily, you step further into the room.

As the glare lessens, you can see a figure made entirely of gold, lit by a complex system of mirrors leading up to a hole in the top of the mountain. It’s the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen.

You remember you have lunch waiting, so you run out and get it down from its shelf in the antechamber. You eat your sandwich in front of the golden statue, then return to your post.

Paperwork

You’ll have quite a bit of paperwork to do, what with the body and the arrow replacement and re-closing the door. But you’re okay with that. You like paperwork.

You lived, and kept your job!

YOU WIN.

Play agin.

They don’t serve that here

Everyone in the bar turns suddenly to face you. It’s so quiet you can hear a distant thwack of an arrow hitting… something wet and soft. You smile, nervously, in the gloom.

We don’ ’ave sandwiches, says the barkeep. Nor water neither. And we don’t take too kindly to those what ask for ’em.

The men all press around you. You feel the sharpness of a blade in your side. You slump to the ground as you feel someone going through your pockets.

They could’ve at least waited until you were dead.

Your new friend

The barkeep nods solemnly and pulls a pint from a giant keg in the wall. He slides it over to you and you drink.

The man sitting next to you at the bar eyes you. You a knight? he asks. You look like a knight.

No, you say. Just a security guard.

Oh, you guard that Vault down the road a ways then? Had a friend who was tryin’ to break into the place.

The story

You tell him, Yeah, I guard the Vault, but I’m on break right now.

Aw, you’ll miss Gerald. He just left here a half hour ago to bust into the place. Said he was going to kill anyone in his way.

You blink slowly.

Finally, you say, You know, I don’t even know what it is I’m guarding. Do you have any idea?

All they say is it’s the greatest treasure ever won by a mortal, says your barmate.

You’ve got to admit to yourself, that whets your appetite.

The Vault

You run back to the Vault, slowing as you reach the entrance. Suddenly it looks to you like a tomb. You walk inside, gingerly, and see Gerald, lying there with an arrow sticking out of his eye socket.

You immediately get nauseous seeing the dead body, but you’re intrigued about the dim glow coming from the open Vault.

Outside

Outside, the sun beats down. You’ve been dehydrated by the beer, and you forgot to eat lunch today. Your vision blurs. You sink down on your knees and vomit into the dirt. Your last thought before you pass out is, I’m probably losing this job.

Drink

You tell him, I’ve never heard of this Vault. The man shrugs and turns back to his beer, and you to yours.

When you finish it, you have another. And another. And still another.

The night goes on that way. The next morning, you wake up in a ditch, and remember that you’re probably unemployed.

You die.

You survive, but with no dignity.