View Full Version : The Prisoner - Short Story (4000 words)

July 7th, 2014, 06:34 AM
By Christopher Patterson

The constant dripping. Stale, moldy moisture collected in the far corner, clinging to the rough stone. When the stone could hold no more, when it had gorged itself on the sick, rancid water, it would release its feast in quick droplets. Drops. Dripping. Always dripping. Maddening drops, falling to their deaths, falling to my madness. They fell, silently. Every explosion of dingy, sickening water launched deafening roars through my head. Oh, my head. The pain. The ripple of every splash. Pain. Rising in magnitude with every strike, every beat of the watery drum. I wish my skull would just explode, I wish I would just die. Then the noise would cease. But, knowing my luck, it would probably follow beyond the grave.
The pain swells inside my brain and rolls to my neck. I can’t move. I can’t sit. I can’t stand. I can’t lie still. Oh, the pain. My neck to my shoulder, then my back. My arms. My legs. They rattle with every explosion. My stomach twists. I retch, but I have nothing to retch. The silent, deafening sound builds inside me, coalesces in a cruel orgy of pain and torment and torture.
Then, I let it loose. I can’t hold it in anymore. It tears at me, rips at my stomach, wrenches my muscles. I have to let it go. I have to scream it out. I know how it must have sounded. It must have sounded crazy, demented, but it was the only way. After I scream at my stonewalls, my stone ceiling, the tiny slit they called a window—the only proof the sun still existed—the heavy, wooden door, after I scream it away, the pain is gone. The sound hushed. But only for a moment.
The wooden heel of a baton whips across my face. The pain returns. Oh, the pain. It thuds into my ribs. Pain ripples through my body again. I try to gasp for air. My lungs burn. My body goes numb. There it is, what I was waiting for—the numbness. The first time it happened, I thought that was it, I thought I was done, dead. The second time it happened, I thought that was it. I thought I was dead. The third time it happened, surely, that was the last. After a dozen times, I realized it would happen another dozen times, a hundred times, a thousand times. Maybe it would stop at a thousand—if I was lucky.
I curl up onto my patch of hay. A beaten cat. I stare at my door. It wasn’t really mine. No, it was. I had earned it. An opening lay in the door, a barred opening where people could look in. I could never look out. Sometimes, after, eyes sat there, in that opening. Most of the time blue eyes, sometimes green eyes. Once, they were grey eyes. I never saw them again. A guest, maybe. They unclothed me, saw through the tatters of my clothing, years past anything but rags. I was a beast to those eyes, some roving animal. I was a man, until those beautiful, cruel, sapphire eyes burned into me. A wild beast, beaten into submission.
Those eyes, a whistle, the click of a tongue. I crawled closer. Food, scraps, pushed through the bars. It fell to the floor—greens, a potato, and, oh, could it be, yes, meat. My teeth hurt. Half must’ve been gone by now. Most were knocked loose the first time those eyes came to my cell. The hand of those eyes passed though the opening. I bit it. What do they say, “Never bite the hand that feeds you.” I learned my lesson that night. I was surprised when those blue eyes came back, but never again would their hand pass through that opening.
I am truly an animal, some beast, some bird with clipped wings. Maybe my humanity is there, somewhere, deep inside me, hiding with my soul. If I still had one. No, it wasn’t possible. Beasts have no souls.
My soul had escaped this cell, long ago, when I did not have the courage to. It left me alone to hunt small, brown mice too unfortunate to find their way into my world. Left me to feed on beetles and fleas small enough to crawl under my rotting, oak door. Left me to stick my tongue out over broken, yellowed teeth and strain for the small drops of sour water as they dripped from the darkness of my ceiling. The damned dripping. Dripping. Always dripping. Just stop. Stop. If it would just stop, I think I could die. I could die in quiet darkness. Quiet. Silence. That brought a smile to my face.
The damn dripping. The sound is trapped inside me again. I have to let it out. No. Not twice in one day. That hasn’t happened since I first arrived, when my will was still strong, still with me. I have to scream. I breathe. The air is hot, thick, rank. It bites my lungs. It bites my nose. Rot. Death. Had I ever heard anything but the damned dripping, the sound of wood breaking bone, the sound of curses from harsh tongues? Had I ever smelled anything but rot, death? Had I ever felt anything other than pain?
Yes. I hear the babbling of a running river. I hear the song of a sparrow. I smell new rain, fresh dirt, lavender. I feel a warm fire, a feather pillow, a woman’s skin.
“I need out! Help! Please! Make it stop! Help! Make it stop! Stop!”
“Why you lil’ wanka’. Didn’t we already do this once today? I thought I told you to bloody shut your mouth.”
I feel the crunch of wood on my cheekbone. More pain. Bone—a knuckles—on my chin. Even more pain. Wood again, this time on my shoulder. It brings me to my knees. A knee to my chest. A foot to my groin. I can’t breathe. Wood beats against my ribs. It’s like a chorus of drums, from one to another and back again. I feel it. I hear it. Something breaks, I’m sure of it. My vision narrowed then. Black got blacker. Numb got number. Silence got quieter. I roll to my back. Looking up, I see his head, gleaming bald and sweaty in what little light my slit—my window—allowed into my cell. A dirty face. Dirty hands. I wonder if my face looked that dirty. Dead, brown eyes. I wonder if my eyes looked dead, only blue. I see his mirthless smile. I hear his humorless laugh. It’s worse than the dripping. Then. Silence. Darkness.

Sleep. All the time—sleep. Dreams. An escape. My escape. Again, I dream. Thank you, whatever god may be out there. Thank you for my dreams. I dream of a place, a meadow, a village. I’ve been there before. I know I have. I can’t remember when, but I’ve been there. How long? Three, four, five years. Maybe longer. I can’t remember. Damn me. I can’t remember. Time doesn’t exist here, in my cell, where I sleep. No summer rains. No winter winds. No springtime breezes. I know this place, in my dream, is north, near mountain foothills, near highlands. I see tall mountains to the north. By the heavens, they are so tall. They disappear into the clouds. Especially two of them. The Fangs. Yes, that’s their name—The Fangs. I’m in the north, with forests and farms. I’m in the north. In the north. North.
Nordeth. Yes. That’s where I am. Nordeth, long ago. I dream of a place . . .

I walk through a meadow. The dampness of cold grass tickles my feet. It’s always green here, the grass, never brown, never dead. I can smell the green. How does green smell? I don’t know, but I can smell it. Refreshing. Mint, freshly cut. The first rain of a late spring day. That’s how it smells. The dew clinging so hopefully to each blade of grass washes my feet, washes away a day’s worth of dirt. I pick yellow flowers. I will give them to her. Her. Who is she? I can’t remember. Damn it, I can’t remember. But I will give them to her anyways and she will love them and confess her love for me. They smell like her. How does she smell? Sweet. Not honey sweet. Not sugared candy sweet. No, sweet, like the budding flower, the mother’s garden. I suck the petals’ water liquor up into my nostrils. It makes me cough.
I hear the low moan of a farm’s cattle. My father’s cows. They stand, grazing, wide and large, orange hair hanging down to the ground, stretching in the morning. I strain to see them through the morning fog. It’s thick. The smell of coming rain hangs in the fog. It makes me think it will not lift by noon as it did most days.
I walk into the sight of a family’s—my family’s—corral of thatched huts. I see my brothers and sisters, all younger, playing around my mother as she draws water from our well. Do I live here? Yes. I have lived here my whole life. I have lived here, tending my father’s farms. Every morning I wake to the low moan of a giant, orange-haired cow brushing its thistle-infested fur against the unsteady wall of my room. They seem to wake even before the chickens. I put on my pants and sown jerkin my mother made me, tie the cattle to the plow, and till the earth, as my father has taught me. He walks behind me, throwing out seed and picking weeds. If I go too slow, the small switch he holds in his callused hands stings the back of my leg, prompting me to speed up.
Today is the day. Today is the day we pull it up. That’s all I can think of. Then I see them. My father, my uncles, my two brothers old enough to help. They stand around a large stump, shoulder height, so wide two men couldn’t wrap their arms around it. The ancient oak that had marked my family’s farm for longer than our history could remember had died last winter. Today was the day we pulled its anchor—its stump and roots—from the ground. We will tie an iron chain around it, tie the chain the harness of a dozen oxen, and with all our might, we will pull it from the ground.
When I am done, I will walk down to the shore. It is not the shore of an ocean. I can remember that. It is the shore of a lake, a giant lake. I am going to check our nets, but I am really going to meet her. Damn the Shadow, what is her name? She is there, hair a fire red, skin a milky white. She is swimming, naked. She should clothe herself as she sees me, but she doesn’t. She runs to me, runs into me, and our lips meet. We kiss, falling to the ground, and I can taste her. I had forgotten that taste, but I can taste her now. Her touch softens my muscles, her voice calms my heart. We steal away to a nearby cave, carved by wind and water ages ago. Skin presses against skin, fiery hair enfolds me like some blanket of protection, and we make love. Waves splash onto the shore. Water from the ceiling of our cave drips onto the stony floor. Drip. Drip. The constant dripping. That damned, constant dripping.

I dream of the day I left home. I dream of the day I left her. I see tears stream down her pale face. It’s a face too pretty for tears. I can hear her sobs. Miles away, I can still hear her sobs. Why did I leave? Duty to country, duty to family, duty to her. Stupidity. We traveled east, over a giant of a river. By the heavens, I can’t remember its name. It was so large a giant could drown in it. I learned how to fight. I learned to use my skills as a hunter, a bowman, and I survived. I made friends. I lost friends. I earned scars. And always, I thought of her. I would return to her. I never doubted, I would return to her.
When I finished my duty in the east, when I had seen more men die than any man should ever see, when I had killed more men than I could ever count, we sailed down that giant river, heading towards the ocean, heading towards some unknown destination. I thought I might return home, but duty had a different path for me.
The heavy splash of waves against the hull of the boat resounds through the air with rhythmic constancy. The flapping of the sails snaps the clean air like thunder with each deep gust of wind. It is not a glorious ship. It is not a ship really, but a simple boat taking men south, towards the ocean, towards their duty. I smell dirt, rot, death.
The sea sickness, the rope burns that peel away the skin on my palms, the harsh words of a fat captain accompanied by the occasional sting of his whip—through them all I see her. I see her face silhouetted by fiery red hair. I see her lips and her soft white skin. I see her blue eyes. Blue, icy, eyes.
The echo of a thunderous explosion rocks my insides. I feel as if my stomach has turned upside down. I feel wetness on my ears. Blood. In the distance, I hear the explosions of water drops on stone floor. I see black. Then red. A narrow point widens as my vision returns. Screams. So much screaming. “Rebels! Pirates! Slavers!”
All bad. Hot tears burn my cheeks. I feel the icy touch of iron around my wrists and ankles. How is it something so cold can burn? I’m on another boat. I can’t see, but I can feel the water, hear the slapping of waves. I touch ground again—hard stone, cobbled streets. It hurts my feet. Rocks cut into the soft tissue of my soles. They bleed. I still walk. I have to walk. Pointed iron in my back and thick wood to the back of my legs force me to walk. I walk for days. My soles wear thin. I feel the iron on my wrist wear to the bone.
I hear voices, but I can’t see who speaks them. The bag over my head prevents that. Languages I don’t know. The sack is removed. I see black hair, brown eyes, and pale faces. I see a copper penny exchange hands, and I feel hard wood on the back of my head. Darkness. What injustice have I committed? What crime? A copper penny. Is that all I’m worth—a copper penny? I could shoot through the eye of a man from a hundred paces. I could throw two spears at once. I could slay a score of men with only my long sword. And all I am worth is a copper penny?
There is my cell, my home. Through the blackness, I see her face. Her blue eyes. Icy, blue, eyes.

I see the ceiling of my cell. I hear the dripping. Dripping. Dripping. The damned dripping. I can hear the skittering of feet, mouse feet, along the stone floor. I hear a thumping. Thump. Thump. Thump. I feel pressure in my side, an ache, a dull pain. I realize he’s beating me, that baton falling, again and again. I don’t care. I turn my head. There they are. Blue eyes. Icy, blue eyes—watching. They smile. How can eyes smile? I don’t know, but they do. Are they mocking me, laughing at my pain? No. I see the latch to my cell door lift slowly, softly. Blue eyes. Icy, blue eyes. I see the door crack open, slowly, quietly. Blue eyes. Icy, blue eyes. Is it her? I smell her, taste her, feel her, hear her. I lift my hand. The baton strikes it. My fingers close around the smooth wood. I look into those dead, brown eyes as he tries to pull his weapon back.
Enough is enough. I am tired of dreams. I am tired of beatings. I am tired of dripping. Dripping. Dripping. That damned dripping.
I wrench the baron away, push him away with my other hand. I stand. How long has it been since I’ve fully stood. He looks at me. I can see his anger. His hate.
“What did I do to you?”
I tried speaking those words, but they caught in my throat, a hissing rasp. He charges. I am ready. I remember. I remember my training. I push an outstretched arm aside with my free hand, lift a knee to his stomach, drop that foot to the top of his foot. He trips, stumbles, falls.
“You are dead.”
I don’t think I said that either. I tried. His face is buried in hay, in my bed, my filth, my dirt. He’s getting up. I pounce. My hand goes to the back of his head. I push his face deeper. He struggles. I slide the baton across his throat, grip it with both hands, and pull back. He arches. I hear his gurgling. He reaches back, scraping, punching, grabbing. I shove a knee into his back. I pull as hard as I can. He stops. Darkness. Silence. Death. Even the dripping stops. No more dripping. Good.
I turn him over. I see his eyes. Nothing has changed. They were already dead. I cover him with hay. I turn, and there she stands. Those eyes. Blue eyes. Icy, blue eyes.
It’s not her. She is shorter. She is slenderer. She wears a silver necklace and gold rings. Her hair is black. But she smiles. I saw blue eyes, green eyes, once I saw grey eyes. But mostly the blue eyes, and here they stood. She is strong. That much they share. That and blue, icy cold eyes. I could beat her. I could rape her. I could kill her. Yet, she stands before me, defiant. She says something to me. I don’t understand. I shake my head. She opens the door and moves to the side. Freedom.
I walk past her. She smiles and gently lifts a finger. A ring of keys. I don’t understand. Why? I don’t understand any of this, though. I should stop asking questions. I take them. The cold keys are heavy. They clang against one another. They are a beacon, a gong, a deafening bell. They ring of summer rains. They ring of winter winds. They ring of springtime breezes. They ring of grass on my feet. They ring of freedom.
The hallway is a tomb. It is silent and smells of death. Every ten feet is another door. Five doors one way. Four the other. I remember. I remember scraping my hand along the wall. I remember these doors, when I first arrived. One, two, three, four, stop. The creak of heavy oak. The sack is finally lifted and then my cell. Four doors. I go the way of four doors.
The end of the hall. A spiral staircase down into darkness. I am shaking. My stomach hurts. Is this right? Yes. I walked up and up and up. I walked up cold stone steps for an eternity.
Slowly I walk down. The almost silent pitter-patter of my feet against the steps is cat-like. The silence of the hunt. Little torches light my way. They cast faint light. Enough though. My eyes are use to darkness. It seems an eternity, and then, the bottom.
A man stands at the bottom. He is large and bald, like the other guard. I grip the wooden baton in my hand tight. Raise it up. Bring it down. It thumps against his head like a rolling pin beating dough. He slumps against the wall. Three more times. A hard skull becomes a pulp of red meat, tenderized for the stone oven. I hiss. I spit. His leg shakes. His foot twitches. I slip into darkness.
Sunlight. Sunlight peers into my eyes from a small hole in a door. It blinds me. I slide a key into the lock. I turn it. Wrong one. Another. Wrong one. Another. Wrong one. Another. I hear a click. The door gives way. It is heavy. I push hard.
I gasp. I can’t breathe. Every breath I take hurts my lungs, burns my throat. Heavy, labored breaths drive a sharp pain through my chest. The sun burns my face. It is so hot, as if someone pressed an iron mask heated to white hotness to my face. I feel my heart stop. I feel goose pimples rise along my arms. I feel hair lift at the back of my neck. I feel tears in my eyes.
My hand touches the ground. Dirt. I have not felt dirt in . . . I cannot remember the last time I touched dirt. It was in my dreams. I run. I run as fast as I can. My feet hit cobbled stone. People stare at me.
I escape to an alley. Less open. Less people. I see faces. So many faces. So many eyes. My tears burn my eyes. I can feel their redness. When was the last time I cried? I smile. At least I can still cry. At least I can still feel something. At least I am still a man. I raise my hands. Whoever is up there, whatever is up there, whatever god that could have done this, I thank.
I realize I am almost naked. I steal a robe from a sleeping vagabond in the alley. It is only a little better, but it will do. I will stand out, I know. I am taller than most of those who walk by me. My hair is blonde and theirs is black as night. My eyes are blue and theirs are brown or grey. But this will do for now.
I step back into the street. A horse cuts me off. It pulls a wagon. A man sits high on the wagon seat. He looks down on me. He wears heavy robes, but he looks tall, broad shouldered. He wears a straw hat, but I can tell his hair is like mine, blonde. He wears a thick beard. He almost looks like my father.
I hear bells in the distance. I hear shouting. What do those voices say? It’s a language I don’t understand. But then I hear it, in my language, in Westernese.
“Escape! Murderer! Escape! Escape! A murderer has escaped!”
I look up at the man on the wagon. He sees the scars on my wrists. He sees the dirt on my face. He sees a tear well up in the corner of my eye. He sees me shake. I know it. He leans forward.
What do I say? Do I answer yes? What do I say?
“Yager?” He asks again, soft, in a whisper.
If I say yes, is it back to my cell? Is it worse.
“Yager?” More assertive. More forceful.
I feel this might be the last time he asks the question. I look at him, look at his eyes. Blue, icy eyes. I nod.
He hops down. I grip the baton hard. He grabs my elbow and helps me up to the wagon seat. He sits next to me and flicks his reins. The horses begin to trot away.
“Freedom, eh,” he says, glaring through a squinted eye.
The tear finally drops along my cheek. I close my eyes and feel fresh air on my face, welcome it for the first time. I grind a blade of grass between my thumb and forefinger. It stains my skin green. I smell it. I smile. I hear the hooves against the ground, the wooden wheels turn over and over again. The man gives me water. It hurts my teeth. I drink more. He gives me an apple. It’s so sweet. It hurts my teeth too. After a while, I look over my shoulder. I can see the shadow of a city, far away. I had decided to say nothing, not to ask this man’s name, not to ask where they were going, but I couldn’t help it.