The Penitent – Free Story

He is conscious again. At least, he thinks he is. So hard to tell. So hard. Eyes open, eyes closed, there is no difference in this darkness—but wait! There is a difference, something to tell him his eyes are indeed open in this complete blackness that makes useless those orbs which he has used every day of his life.

Pain.

Burning pain, his eyes on fire from the noxious vapors that fill the close confines of his cell, that burn his nose, his lungs, that make him weak, this tells him he is awake once more. He curses the darkness that comes from within, this loss of consciousness that steals his time, his life, though that theft does relieve his pain for a time, his hunger and his sickness. So small is his prison that he cannot lie, nor sit, nor even bend to scratch a toe, but must stand, leaning upon the warm, damp surface before him until the tendons of his legs do tremble like plucked strings and his back shrieks with agony at his lack of motion . . . and yet that same pain means that he is still alive.

The very vapors that burn and sting his eyes and skin did bring about terrible sickness when first he woke here in the dark, and he did purge himself again and again, stomach squeezing like a fist as he did sob and cry out like a small child, beating his fists and face ‘gainst the close walls of his confines, searching for either door or window, but to no avail. No aid was forthcoming, neither was light nor food. He retched and wept and spewed forth all manner of humors until, wracked and exhausted, he did lose the world for the first time in this place, consciousness taunting him with its ability to simply flee.

Taunt him it does, coming and going at a will other than his own, sometimes staying for what seems like hours, letting him contemplate nothing but the unending darkness around him until he approaches the very edge of madness. Other times . . .

He walks in the open air of the fields near his home, the grass cool against his bare soles . . .

He wakes in darkness, soft, warm walls pressing in on him, slick with some sort of secretions so that he slides down to kneel in the puddles of his own fluids, and sickness. The air has already gone bad, and his exertions to stand straight and proud within his prison, to find purchase ‘gainst those sloping walls, so close, so slick, he uses what little air he has, uses it, uses it . . .

He dashes about the house in Gath-he’pher where he grew as a child, running through the halls and stealing fruits from the kitchen to snack upon, the juice of the quince and the pear running down his chin . . .

He wakes in darkness, choking on his tongue, so dry it is, swollen and unable to swallow or move, blocking his breath until . . .

He stands on the dock in the open air, straight and tall in the sun. He listens to the waves and the birds of the sea riding the air above as he gazes at the two ships; one would take him in the direction his Lord commanded, the other . . . the other . . .

He wakes in darkness, crying out to his Lord that could he but repent, would He but relent, could he but see the sun once more . . .

He wakes in darkness.

He wakes in darkness.

He begins to scream.

He curses Death at its unwillingness to gather him into its final embrace, at its allowing him to wake again and again. Could he but die, but sleep and somehow forget the how of waking, he’d escape the hunger that gnaws him, that eats him alive from the inside, the terrible cramps and spasms as his guts turn on themselves for sustenance that is not there.

He beats upon his head and face, cuffing and striking with hands and arms that lack space for a proper swing until he feels the blood running down his cheeks and neck, but still he wakes in darkness.

With all the might he can muster he strikes his head upon the walls of his cell, but they are like a resilient sponge, like a ball he played with as a child, and there are no sharp angles, no hard surfaces, so still he wakes in darkness.

His hands, battered from self-abuse, fingers stiff and swollen, he thrusts upon himself, forcing those same fingers ‘round his own throat, tighter, as tight as he can, then tighter still, and he sees them, sees the specks and flashes of light that come closer and closer, and he squeezes yet tighter . . .

He wakes in darkness.

He begins to scream.

~ ~ * * ~ ~

The Great Beast takes a breath and dives low and deep, circling majestically before deciding upon a direction. Something within it is prodding it, pushing it. Calling it. Though it did not understand, it had heard the Call and responded, traveling in the same direction for these three days, though instinct told it to meander. It would listen to the Call again, had to obey the Call again, knowing without understanding that it was nearing the end of its journey. It ponderously turns its immense face toward Nineveh, thrashing its powerful tail as the madman within it screams his sanity further and further away.

RobRob Smales is the author of Dead of Winter, winner of the Superior Achievement in Dark Fiction Award from Firbolg Publishing’s Gothic Library in 2014. His short stories have been published in two dozen anthologies and magazines. Most recently, his story “A Night at the Show” received an honorable mention on Ellen Datlow’s list of the Best Horror of 2014, and was also nominated as best short story by the eLiterary Festival of Words.
His next work, a story collection titled Echoes of Darkness, is scheduled for release in early 2016, from Books & Boos Press.
For more about Rob, including links to his published works, upcoming events, and a series of very short—but free—stories, please visit him at www.RobSmales.com.
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