February 17, 2005

Fate Worse Than Death

Well, thank you all for your encouraging comments regarding last week's fictional submission. I enjoyed writing it, and a few people seem to have enjoyed reading it. At the moment, that's all I really care about. I wish I could say that all of the above would be true of my second completed endeavor.

Thinking back, I am virtually positive that this story was not written for a class assignment. However it was written during a time when Asa and I had spent many an hour discussing the works of Edgar Allen Poe, and I was actually working my way slowly through his Complete Works. So, naturally, I decided to see if I could write something Poe-esque.

The result scared the bejeezes out of me. I came up with a plot, and then I promptly started thinking like someone else. Never, before or since, have I been so lost in what I was writing (which may explain why, in my opinion, the story fairly drips with outrageous melodrama). When I finally finished, I was shaking. I felt dark, morbid, depressed . . . I decided, first, that I now understood something of why Poe was such a frigging nutjob, and second, that I would never try to write like him again.

Anyway, not really my best work. Far from it, actually . . . But I said I was going to try to avoid criticizing myself, didn't I?

One final note: The very last sentence of the story is a paraphrase of an actual line from Poe . . . I believe it was the description of the gallows from "The Black Cat" . . . which Asa had been quoting somewhat obsessively for a few weeks.

Fate Worse Than Death

My name is . . . You see! I can’t remember. It doesn’t matter. Not now. Nothing really matters now. How long have I been in this cell? Weeks now? Months? Maybe even years. It is impossible to tell time in this windowless shoebox. Nothing here but a bed, a table, a chair, a small pot in the corner, and these four gray walls. I have stared at them for many an hour. They never change. Artificial light bathes my little cubicle, coming from somewhere I can’t see up in the ceiling. And there’s the door, of course. It blends in perfectly with the wall. There are no openings in it, just a small slot in the bottom for my food to enter.

Why am I here? If you asked I couldn’t tell you. I’ve spent whole days trying to discover that myself. As I said before, though, that point is now moot. I’m about to leave. An escape? No, of course not. There is no escape from this nightmare, save by one route. Death. And so, to death I shall go. I have known that for several hours now, ever since I woke up and saw It.

It was the first thing I laid my eyes upon as I opened them. That little piece of rope, hanging so innocently from the ceiling in the center of my tiny room. Its single eye was staring at me then, even as it does now. The eye of a noose. We stared at each other for a long time before I knew for certain that here, at last, was my escape. Here was the manner in which I would be free forever. This time my salvation will not be snatched from my grasp as it has so many times before.

And so, confident of my success, I’ll bide my time a while. I can leave whenever I wish, but first there is a small matter I wish to take care of. Perhaps it is only vanity, I do not know, but I should like to leave a small record of myself behind. Maybe no one will ever read it, but it will be here for the reading nonetheless. I’m using the end of my spoon, saved from the meal I think of as “breakfast,” the first meal I eat upon waking. The paint on these walls is thin, only a single coat. The words I am writing show up clear and strong in shining white relief against the cold gray.

Until just three days ago I had not an inkling of what I was doing here. Still I do not, but ideas begin to suggest themselves to my mind. I do not know how or when or why I came to this awful prison. I am sure that I asked many times, begged, screamed, pleaded when I first arrived in this place. I no longer remember. Every detail of my capture or arrest, whichever it was, has been erased; wiped out by a deadly fever that nearly claimed my life some weeks ago. Would that it had, but somehow I pulled through and the recovery process was as long as it was lonely.

Enough! I digress. Those prolonged three days ago, on that morning, (for morning I call it when I first wake), I beheld It. Not the It which hangs now from the ceiling, beckoning me, but another It, with a purpose no less clear. It was a small revolver.

I examined it immediately, of course. It was loaded with a single bullet. For a long time I contemplated this instrument of Death, even as it seemed to be contemplating me. Fool that I was my first thought was to take it, and to hide it, and to use it as an aid in escaping. It took very little time to see that that plan would never aid me in any way. I had not seen a living soul, that I could remember since the fever at least. The probability of a decent opportunity was slim, perhaps nonexistent. Besides, my jailers, (I still thought of them as such before I recognized them as fiends), obviously had a purpose in placing this weapon here. I was sure that that reason was not to see me escape. What other purpose might it serve? I racked my brain repeatedly. Nothing came to mind. Surely it was not placed here for my amusement. My captors cared little enough about that. At long last my mind lit on the only possible answer. The gun was there to assist in my own death. Not an execution, but rather a suicide.

My first reaction was, of course, resistance. The self-preservation instinct of the human body is strong, but I soon realized the futility of resistance. What would my instincts be preserving? The miserable, trapped existence of a captive soul? I did not wish to travel that road any longer. Better to submit to the will of whatever entities held me here. Better to travel the road they had chosen for me, rather than a road I did not wish to choose for myself. Once all of these thoughts had turned themselves over in my head, I resolved firmly to end my existence. I resolved to end it with courage and fortitude, being unable to think of a more fitting way to succumb to the devilish machinations of my foes.

Once resolved, the act was an easy one to carry out. My body acted for me. I placed the revolver against my temple. An involuntary flinch at the touch of that cold, steel finger warned me that there were rebel elements in my being. But I would not be deterred. I pulled in a deep breath and fixed a defiant gaze at the uncaring doorway. My finger pulled the trigger almost without conscious thought and the deafening roar of the shot filled my world.

I needn’t even relate that I failed in my attempted suicide. How else might I still be here, my soul a hostage of my body even now, had the gun succeeded in ending my misery? Alas, the gun was not armed to kill in the way that I had thought. The bullet was a blank, and succeeded only in raising a false hope of release. With a cry of dismay I hurled it against the door, which remained deaf and uncaring. A sudden exhaustion overtook me, and I slept fitfully once again.
When I awoke, yet another It had taken the place of the first. My eyes had naturally gone to the spot where the revolver had come to rest, but instead of a revolver I beheld a knife, a dagger rather. Ornately and intricately fashioned, it caught the light from overhead and sent it back with a polished brilliance which enchanted the eye. I was taken aback at the sight. What was this new device, no doubt meant to increase my suffering all the more?

Once again, more strongly this time, my very soul rebelled against the thought of taking my own life, especially in such a grisly fashion! The slitting of the wrists was not as clean and neat and quick as a simple pistol shot to the head. I circled the dagger slowly, unwilling, even afraid, to touch it. It shone all the more dazzlingly as its sleek surface reflected the light from all different angles. I finally bent slowly to retrieve the dreaded instrument of my demise, recoiling suddenly in horror at the thought of what I must do. This blatant show of cowardice on my part served to strengthen my resolve and I grasped the hilt firmly. It fit the contours of my fingers as if it had been made to be held by such a person as I. I weighed it carefully in my hand, tossing it up a few times to get the feel, but I soon grew tired of wasting time. Whereas I had spent many hours meditating upon my doom the day before, the appeal of using such a blade on my person did not grow with superfluous contemplation.

Without hesitating further I pressed the knife to my flesh and drew it sharply across the wrist with a swift, efficient jerk. Nothing came of it, not the slightest droplet of scarlet blood nor even the merest twinge of pain. Nothing. The knife was dull, too dull to cut melted butter, let alone my calloused flesh. The fury of a beast came upon me and I sawed and hacked at the wrist in a kind of desperate insanity. I believe it might have raised a welt, but nothing more came of that exercise in futility. At last, worn out from the exertion, I collapsed on my bed, breathing heavily until my struggles overwhelmed me and I slipped once again into a form of rest akin to sleep, but not nearly so refreshing.

I knew not what to expect when I left my repose this time, but I did not have long to wonder. The lights in the cell had gone out, for the first time that I could ever remember. They had always been on before, whether I was waking or sleeping the light overhead had kept up a silent vigil on my wretched form. And now it was gone. The room was lit by a soft, orange glow. A dim flickering that cast grotesque shadows on the walls. I stood carefully in the faint light, which came now from the floor, and shuffled forward to get a closer look. In the middle of my microscopic prison some unknown tormentor had created yet another escape for me. This one would require me to leave my cell, although I would not stray far from it.

A well had opened up in the ground, perhaps twice the height of a man in width and the same in length. It was perhaps some twenty feet deep, perhaps even more, and waiting on the bottom to receive me I saw Them. Long, sharp bayonets with razor tips pointed directly at me. And around Them, the source of the flickering illumination: number of bales of straw in the process of being hungrily consumed by a starving flame. Even as I stood over that ravenous red flower I could almost feel the heat of the open fire bringing thick beads of sweat to my forehead. The intent of this little device was even more revoltingly plain than that of the two which preceded it. Even had the events of the previous two days not transpired I would have been certain of my keepers’ intent. Their wish was that I throw myself into that all-devouring blaze. Although this fate appealed to me as would a descent into Hades itself, I was not inclined to contest with my spirit yet again. This time there would be no internal struggle. I was determined to unfetter my tightly bound soul so that it might at last fly to its eternal repose. The thought of any sort of relief was so sweet that without further thought I threw myself eagerly forward into the open arms of the inferno.

Again my hearts desire was maddeningly held before me, just out of my reach, and this time worse than before. My body hit a solid barrier with a bone-crunching finality that told me I would continue no farther down the road of Death. I had yet to even descend beyond the level of the cell floor before encountering a smooth, non-reflective, totally undetectable glass wall barring the way. Oh cursed, tortuous monsters who devised that hellish illusion! Why did they insist upon torturing me thus? What had I done? Was I in fact the perpetrator of some hideous crime so unspeakable that the rest of my days must be spent in pursuit of something I didn’t want, but must have? Was this the sight of a fiendish experiment in the nature of human suffering? Why had I been chosen for this fate and who or what had brought me to this place?

For a time which I had no desire to monitor I lay there on that crystal clear window, my body racked with sobs and the intense desire for relief from the troubles I had fallen upon. At long last I dragged myself over to the bed once again and faded back into restless sleep, not daring to think of what I might find when I woke again, wishing that I might never again wake. But wake I did, and to a welcome sight. That other eye, the noose, staring at me, contemplating me in the same somber attitude that I am contemplating it. Here at last is an end of which I will not be robbed. Here at last will my trials reach their final end. Here at last will I find peace . . .

“How is he?” the speaker was a quiet, serious-looking man in a white lab coat.
“The same,” his younger colleague replied, peering through the small window in the door of the padded cell. Both of their tags had “Psychiatric Ward” printed under the names and MDs and PhDs.

Inside the cell a forlorn figure of a man was moving about very carefully and deliberately. The cubicle was totally empty except for him, but he held his arms in a peculiar manner as if he was dragging something towards the center of the tiny room. He stopped in the middle and stepped up onto . . . nothingness. His feet were still on the floor but he ducked his head slightly as if to avoid brushing the ceiling. His hands took hold of something in front of him which only he could see and pulled it towards his head, over his head to his neck. He stared blankly forward, drawing a deep breath, and suddenly kicked outwards with his feet. For the barest of milliseconds he appeared to be suspended there in midair, but the illusion disappeared as he came crashing face first to the floor. He lay there, stunned, for a moment and turned onto his back. A single tear rolled down his cheek, followed by a veritable flood of them as he cried like a little child.

“Poor devil,” said the younger man and sighed sympathetically.

“I’m afraid he’s incurable,” said the older man, shaking his head.

“What’s his trouble?”

“I’m not sure. Some sort of massive guilt complex, but more severe than anything I’ve ever seen before. He’s obviously suffering from extreme delusions of some kind.”

“Poor devil,” the young man sighed again and shook his head slowly. Inside the cell the man was still sobbing disconsolately.

The rope broke! It broke! Oh that I could see the face of the demon spawn who torture me so! Men they cannot be! No man could treat his fellow thus! Oh, God! Take me! Take me where you will, so long as I may leave this place! Hell holds no fear for me anymore! Perhaps I am there already. Could that be where I am? That place of eternal suffering? It could be, for eternal suffering is what I experience even now! Take me! Take me from this hellish place before my sanity departs and leaves me with nothing! Oh this place of horror and of sorrow and of despair and agony and torment and of a DEATH which will never, never be mine!

Posted by Jared at February 17, 2005 01:10 PM | TrackBack