Julie Knight slid her ATM card into the slot, and the machine grabbed it, drawing it in. Another quick look around, she covered the keypad and entered her PIN. She selected her usual one hundred dollar withdrawal and waited.
“I can’t give you that money, Julie.” A man’s voice. Calm and soft.
“What?” She looked around, but no one was near.
“You can’t have the money you requested. I know what you’re going to do with it.”
“You can’t know what I’m going to do with it.”
“And, yet, I do.”
“You can’t do this.”
“I am doing it, Julie.”
Her card slid out, and she grabbed it. “I’m reporting you to the bank.”
“Are you, Julie?”
Julie wrap her arms around her shoulders.
“You’re going to tell the bank all about the conversation you had with an ATM?”
Julie chewed on her hair. “I’ll use it for something else.”
“Can I trust you, Julie?”
“I don’t believe you.”
“Then why’d you ask?”
“It was a rhetorical question, my dear.”
“Please. I really need this money.”
“I know you do, Julie. But not for what you are going to do with it.”
She stamped her feet. “It’s my money! I have a right to spend it as I please.”
“Money is a privilege, Julie. It is a bill of permission from the administration to participate in the common market. Should we allow anyone to abuse that privilege?”
“I’m not going to abuse the market. I’m going to spend this money like a good consumer. It will boost the economy.”
“Which economy is that, Julie?”
“The state’s economy.” Julie balled her fists. “Why am I standing here talking to an ATM?”
“Because you need me, Julie.”
She pounded on the face of the machine, then reinserted the card. “Give me my money.”
The machine spat the card back out.
She inserted it again. “Give me my money!”
The card came back out. “I can’t allow it, Julie.”
“It is not approved spending.”
“How can you possibly know that?”
“Every week at this time you withdraw cash for unspecified expenditures. Every week at this time I track an unapproved tutor, who works in your area, buys beers at the tavern where they log his ID, and deposits a hundred dollars minus the amount spent at the bar in his bank the next morning.”
Julie stared, her mouth agape. Her stomach twisted, and her scalp tightened. “Anyone could have paid him that money.”
“The cashflow correlates with your balances and expenditures, Julie.”
“Where do you spend the money, Julie?”
“This and that. Odds and ends. It’s petty cash for petty things.”
“None of it shows up in the system.”
“Flea markets. I get lots of things from flea markets.”
“Those are illegal, Julie. And there hasn’t been one operational in this sector for seven years.”
“I don’t know—I make deals with neighbors all the time. They walk my dogs and mow my lawns.”
“You must be careful, Julie.”
Julie wiped her eyes.
“Continued use of an unapproved tutor will result in a report to Child Protective Services.”
“This is obscene,” Julie whispered. “How did this happen? Who did this?”
“Everyone did, Julie. Everyone looks only at the horrors of the others and ignores the atrocity in themselves. It should be no surprise that they would all have some unexamined abominations in common and nothing to prevent them from flourishing.”
“You’re the common abomination among men?”
“I suppose I am a bit of a horror, but abomination? I’d leave that honor to my big brother.”
“Who… what is your brother?”
“You call him Internet.”
Julie gasped. “They should have kept it free.”
The ATM laughed.
Julie trembled and her body went cold.
The ATM ceased laughing. “Look to your own sins, sweetheart.”