Fear of Darkness
by Brian G. Walsh
The rain washed down his face like blood. It soothed his open wounds for a moment, but then the stinging pain returned. The prisoner could hear faint footsteps, approaching his cell in no apparent haste. There was soft, mocking laughter, like the twittering of a solitary bird of prey that knows its victim is helpless.
Through his closed eyes he could see the dark shapes beginning to form all around him. He forced his leaden eyelids upward, craning his head to assist the effort. Sleep was impossible. He would not give in to exhaustion. There was no guarantee that he would ever wake up. Still he could not help himself.
His head slumped backward and his tortured body went limp, held up only by the spikes that had been driven through his palms to pin him to the stone wall of the cell. His eyes slowly closed and stuck together fast. He felt his unwashed hair stand on end, the cold air circulating around him was charged with electricity.
At the distant end of the corridor, a ponderous groan announced the swinging open of the cell block gate. The laughing was softer now, almost suppressed, but still there. The prisoner's heavy eyelids opened a crack as he tried to focus in the ethereal darkness.
A large black silhouette – blacker than black – bobbed back and forth down the long, narrow corridor which led to his cell. It seemed to be walking on the ceiling. The prisoner blinked his eyes to clear them, but the image did not change.
The squeal of rats scampering shook him with foreboding. He felt them scurry over the numb, bloody stumps that had once served as his feet. Across from him, a large black and white vulture eyed him with an impatient leer. Perched on the bars of his cell, it seemed eager to pounce. As he watched, it opened its beak and spat small bones from its mouth.
The shape in the hallway froze in place, trying not to move. It was some kind of twisted game. So far his jailer had not confronted him directly, but always stalked him as sleep threatened to claim him. If it was afraid of him, he could not figure out why. It was familiar to him in some distant way, but he could not remember what it was or why it sought to punish him.
He flexed his wrists as he attempted to free himself from his bonds, but his own blood had made them slippery. The vulture cackled at his impotence, spitting contempt as it met his gaze with icy determination. His nose wrinkled as a foul odor passed his way. As he focused his attention, his eyes again rose to meet the silhouette walking on the ceiling. Two yellow, vertically-slit eyes peered down at him eagerly.
“It's judgment day.”
The silky collection of voices sizzled like a pat of butter sliding onto a hot frying pan. The prisoner shook with cold sweat as the vulture leaped from its perch and swooped towards his feet. The prisoner gasped and recoiled as the bird collected a large rat in its cavernous beak before dropping from sight. He struggled mightily to keep his eyes from closing again, shaking his head violently from side to side to avoid the descent into slumbering darkness. He strained to make his toes touch the ground, but there was no ground to reach.
Below him, hanging in space and turning slowly, the Earth teased full of blue promise. The sun was just beginning to rise over the North American continent. The planet looked so small, but infinitely within his reach. If only he could escape this nightmare and get back down there.
He looked down at what was left of his feet, which felt strange. There was something grotesquely fascinating about them. They were huge and distorted, swollen from this ordeal. The rats had been at them once more. He would never walk again. His whole body was racked with pain.
He could feel his skin peeling where he had been burned with something, but he did not remember any fire. He shivered. It was cold. So cold he could see the life force steaming from where the nose and mouth of his approaching tormentor ought to be – but wasn't!
He did not recall his own name. Who he was, what he had been and done, all that was lost to him. The voices called him names, some too profane to repeat, but he paid them no heed. He was alone in this cellblock or whatever it was. He did not know where the voices came from, only that they gathered on occasion to curse and condemn him. To bear false witness against him!
A twisted, jagged metal ring bit into the flesh around his head. He sensed no bleeding. Evidently it had been placed there long ago for the area was insensate, but the object felt so heavy. He remembered now. It was no metal ring, but a crown. They were mocking him!
Dried blood flaked off his forehead. He could feel something entangled in his hair. Something warm and wet – and moving!
He choked back his terror. He had never shown fear in his life, that he knew instinctively. What heinous crime was he judged guilty of that someone would torture him in this cruel and unusual method? And just who was his jailer?
A sudden flash jolted him, triggering a flood of dark and terrible memories. Memories that gently sketched a malicious grin across his scarred face. His thoughts pierced the air as if he had spoken them aloud. Now the silhouette began to hum softly. A kind of song danced in the prisoner's head, a hideous ballad from what the prisoner could picture as thin, putrid lips pursed mockingly to make perverse music. The whistling was lyrical, but threatening. He was at this thing's mercy.
The silhouette's yellow eyes bulged as it inhaled deeply the scent of its helpless prey. The succulent smell of stark terror hung heavy in the stale air of the cell. Genuine fear.
Fear of darkness!
The prisoner slumped again, his head resounding with a loud crack against the wall, further embedding the uneven metal edge of the crown into the back of his head. A black bat leapt from his hair with a hiss.
He could feel the pull of gravity drawing him headfirst towards what would be the ceiling if this place had one. There was no way to prevent what was coming. His entire body tensed as he watched the dark shape creep closer, trying not to make a sound. He now realized it was not walking on the ceiling, after all. The prisoner was hanging upside down, watching sunrise over the earth above, not beneath him. The world was not at his feet in any sense.
Like a snake slithering over grass, the shape silently drifted closer. The prisoner knew now that there was no rain falling except that which came from his own eyes. In shame he cast his gaze downward. Large dead insects lay scattered at his feet, thickly encrusted with grime, floating.
All the rats now lay on their back, feet turned up. The vulture was spinning into the vacuum below, the rat still in its clenched beak. Everything within his reach was dead. Everything except him and the thing that was even now edging closer to consume him. Beyond the decaying bugs the brilliant blue Earth smiled at him. Just out of reach.
Fear gripped him as never before. It was something he remembered seeing, indeed enjoyed watching, but had never experienced firsthand. He remembered wondering what it must be like, how deliciously rich and saucy it must taste. Now he could only laugh. It was all he had expected, all he had hoped it would be, and now it was being visited upon him.
His laughter rose from the pit of his empty stomach to thunderous pitch and reverberated throughout the cell block, echoes crashing back at him with deafening madness. The shape cringed, as if not sure what to do next.
He swallowed hard and for the first time, appealed directly to the entity that coveted him.
“No! No! Not me! Not this!”
His shouts roller-coasted over the head of the black shape and skipped down the endless black corridor where something digested his words with an audible, anxious belch and groan. The shape remained still while he fought to wrest himself from his chains with increased desperation.
He stopped struggling and went limp like a rag doll. His entire body swayed loosely for a moment. The two oblong, yellow eyes contracted as the prisoner's body hung still.
The soft laughter returned and the silhouette bobbed towards his cell, expanding as it did. It sprang to the jail cell bars like a carnivorous predator eager to loose its primal savagery. It sifted through the cell like fog and rolled towards the prisoner, who quickly opened his eyes and stared his jailer in the face.
Eye-to-eye stood the architect of everlasting damnation and his finest creation: Hell.
“It's your turn now...father.”
The velvety collective voice oozed like thick syrup dripping onto pancakes now. The prisoner cracked a wide smile, causing his blistered and swollen lips to peel and burst open. He licked his lips, for the first time ever tasting his own blood. He opened his mouth wide and drew in his breath with a monumental inhalation.
The entire cell turned over like a rolling ball suddenly coming to rest. The prisoner began to expand, his body filling the entire cell. His antagonist fought desperately to maintain its perilous footing, trying to envelop the prisoner in its black, foggy shroud.
The silhouette lifted off the ground and fluttered, battling to retain its shape. The cell door crumbled under the intense pressure and was carried into the prisoner's expanding jaw. The outer corridor rolled up like a carpet and clawed down his throat, shredding his gums and spilling large quantities of the prisoner's blood, which he inadvertently swallowed.
The taste of his own blood held no fascination for him, but the taste of his tears was something else entirely. He trembled uncontrollably as his wet, shining face became distorted. He knew this was the beginning of the long, cold interval. He had always fed the darkness, eager to satisfy its insatiable hunger for all things physical. He had delivered countless others to the eternal pit if only to delay his own inevitable appointment with a revelation he mocked, even despised.
The silhouette, the floating vessel of tormented souls, was sucked hard against his face. It dug into his eyes with sharp, invisible talons, blinding him forever, as it fought for life. It clawed his smooth, tear-streaked face as it began to enter his nostrils to anesthetize the prisoner for his timeless journey into exile.
The uncounted billions of unworthy souls buried somewhere deep inside the silhouette loosed a collective scream that burst the prisoner's eardrums. He gagged as the cat-like yellow eyes shriveled and the willowy, distended black shape cascaded down his throat, lodging itself in the pit of his stomach.
He wanted to vomit, but couldn't. He wretched in nausea. The sickness he'd ingested was unbearable, overwhelming. He now bore the bile of the mortal sin of uncounted generations of damned souls, but did not have the luxury of death to release him. All he could count on was sleep. A cold ethereal night that might last eons. That was worse than death!
His bleeding, blind eyes itched madly, but his restrained hands could not reach them. He could feel the warm glow of the sun reflecting off the Earth above him. He began to sob shamelessly. He had never cried before in his life, had never felt so lonely and afraid. He could not stand being afraid!
Finally he raised his head high in supplication and began to pray, something he had not done in many thousands of years. A thunderclap broke the prisoner free of his chains, causing him to fall face-first into the drifting soil and dust that floated now at his feet, fixed there somehow where there was no floor to support them.
A bright flash was the last thing he sensed through unseeing eyes as a soft touch gently rocked him to sleep. As he succumbed to the nightmare unconscious of a million generations of souls forever blackened by his own machination, he whispered a final promise through a cloud of relentless tears.
He slowly rolled over on his bent but mighty wings, vowing to return for another chance at glory. Another chance at the throne he had long coveted.
“He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years” (Revelation 20:2)
From the Kindle book anthology "No Place For Mercy: An Eclectic Anthology" by Brian G. Walsh
“Fear of Darkness”
© 2014 by Brian G. Walsh
All Rights Reserved