The Darkness

Footsteps thundered in the narrow stairwell. Heavy armour rattled against stone. They dragged him past cell after cell, most occupied by beaten men, weak and starved, who had not seen the sun in months. Others held only remains; withered husks of the dead. He tried to breathe shallowly but there was no escaping the stench permeating the dungeon. This was his home now; cold slate walls and heavy metal bars. Meager, eerie light danced from torches fastened to the walls.

A cell door groaned on rusted hinges. The guards hurled him in, sending him slamming into the back wall. The guards’ cruel, hollow laughter echoed through the dungeon as their heavy steps retreated. Blood dripped from his lips, mutilated by the pummelling of mailed fists. His head pounded, his left eye swollen shut.

There was no escape from here.

The cold from the stone twisted through his body. Shivering from the cool night air, he drew his arms around himself. High above his head was a small, barred opening. The sounds of men working, horses’ hooves echoing off the cobblestone streets, and children laughing were harrowing reminders of how far removed he was from those oblivious to his suffering.

Exhaustion washed over him, the cold slowed his heart beat. He clenched his jaw to still his chattering teeth; his body shook instead. Hunched over, he rested his head against his forearms using his breath to warm his stomach and legs.

Fourteen murders, beautifully crafted, perfectly planned. Most had been unknown: whores, beggars, criminals. The abused scum of the streets, but treasures to him; each unique in their own way. Men and women he had played with, maimed, then put to rest. Thirteen bodies had belonged to him. Thirteen trophies: teeth, nails, smooth skin, flawless blue eyes. Each stolen and used in the creation of the ultimate specimen.

Number fourteen was his downfall. She was so pretty, so hard to pass up. With waves of long golden hair, the mayor’s daughter, a lady of class.

For a time he considered sparing her. She was perfect as is, angelic, a living grace, absolute purity, but he couldn’t save her at the expense of his creation. Her exquisite golden hair his crowning glory.

In her naive youth, she loved him, ignored his flaws, and saw only a soul in need, promising to help him escape the horrors that haunted him. She realised the truth too late and soon her bloodied body lay motionless on the floor, consumed by that which she sought to save. Golden strands dyed orange from the rust-coloured blood.

He grew too close. He was careless. She discovered his creation before he could put her to death. He tried to explain his need for salvation, but she refused to listen. He had no choice but to take what was his by right.

He had to improvise. The murder was brutal; her anguish echoed through the windows and down the quiet streets, calling the town guards to her death. He had a chance to flee, but couldn't leave his creation behind, the thing he’d come to love. The golden trophy held him in place.

The guards found him huddled over her limp corpse, stroking her once beautiful hair and wishing he had added its golden perfection to his creation. He was taken into custody and his home searched. They found his trophies built in the closet, a human without hair, a creation almost finished.

"So close," he whispered.

The cold subsided and a warm sensation crept up his back, heating the stone wall behind him. His eyes widened. He recognised the feeling.

He jumped away when the stone turned hot,. A circle of red marked where he leaned against the stone. A low gurgle drew his attention and a black sludge bled from the open window, dripping down the slate wall, bubbling as the grey stone burned hot.

A lump formed in his throat. It’s not real.

The sludge inched down the wall, leaving a trail of tar and pooling on the floor before him. The black gurgling pool spread, growing towards him, splashing bubbles of hot tar onto his bare skin, burning small blisters on his arms and chest.

He grazed a blister with his finger. The wound grew and pussed. How is this happening?

These were his demons: visions that haunted his dreams, turning them into nightmares. Only his murders kept them at bay. Without a coming murder, the smell of molten tar and his own warm piss made him truly understand how lost he was.

“Help!” he screamed. “Help me! I can’t stop it!” His cries were swallowed by the empty darkness. No rescue. No response. No one who cared.

The boiling sludge broke and thin tendrils of black edged slowly towards him, stretched like fingers reaching for their prize. He pressed himself into the bars, trying to force his body through the narrow opening. The black, smoldering fingers crept closer.

“Please,” he begged into the darkness, “Leave me, please.”

He shut his eyes, squeezing them tighter. It’s not really here. It’s all in my head.

He opened his eyes a slit in hope his frantic entreaties were answered. The black ooze crept closer. Wrapping his arms around his legs, pulling them close to his bare chest, gently rocking himself.

I'm imagining it. There's nothing here.

He willed the mass to disappear as it had every other time. But now was different; he didn’t have another life to offer.

The inky fingers flowed towards him, parting just before it touched his feet. Then slid across the last few inches of stone floor, encircling but never touching him.

"It can't hurt me. It isn't real." Repeating it over and over. Still the darkness moved, rising and forming a wall of boiling tar around him.

He watched with bulging eyes as the cell bars disappeared behind the oozing liquid. Trapped in his own wails of agony he curled into a ball. This hadn’t happened before. He violently kicked his legs out against the dripping blackness, expecting little resistance and worth risking the burn. But it was like kicking a solid wall and pain reverberated through him.

He drew his legs to his chest and whimpered. The sludge continued to rise. Fighting the numbing pain in his legs, he tried to stand; invisible hands held him in place. Now the sludge encased him in darkness, blackening his sight and numbing his senses. He screamed but his voice was lost amongst the colourless prison.

The temperature climbed. His sweat ran in rivers; his hands grew clammy as his nails scraped futilely at the flat surface; the tar had hardened into a smooth, flawless cocoon, leaving neither ridge nor crack.

Pressure built on his lungs, and his breath oozed out. The sweltering prison blurred and numbed his senses. He’d suffocate in here before anyone found him.

A low rumble came from the darkness and a pressure built on his head as if something heavy was pushing down on him. He began sinking, forced deeper into the blackness that surrounded him.

"No!" His voice was lost as the darkness consumed him.

In the quiet of the cell, an inky pool shimmered, reflecting the moonlight from the lone window. Then it too faded, seeping into the grey stones and disappearing. The cool wind whistled through the open window, blowing across the now empty cell.

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