Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Waking in the Dark

Waking in the dark, tongue dry and gritty, face pressed against an uneven slab of hardness, the prisoner felt the aches and pains of his last torture session reassert themselves in his ancient body. His hands traced slowly across the cold floor piling up small heaps of dirt and straw and who knew what else in their wake. His mind stumbled, fell and then caught itself on the edge of consciousness. Jump, he thought. Jump. He giggled quietly, but he was pretty sure it wasn’t a funny joke. Maybe it wasn’t even a joke. Jump. His legs twitched sympathetically. But it was his returning thoughts and their insistent habit of forming concepts out of memories that he wanted to avoid. Jump into the blackness again damn it. This is no time for self awareness.

Blackness and unconsciousness did not return. Instead, dust tickled his nose. A dim light leaked in between his crusty eyelids. A cough brought up flem thick with blood and a cursed memory of a padded stick falling repeatedly across the small of his back. Padded to avoid causing too many visible bruises. His mind offered this conjecture in spite of his emotional and physical desire for oblivion. And a name. His mind kept echoing a name. Samuel. The pivot point of a host of questions, questions accented with the stick and pain in the ribs, in the gut, on the back, on his legs. Where is Samuel? Pain. How did you help Samuel escape? Pain. How do you communicate with Samuel? Pain. Samuel. Pain.

Noise outside his cell drowned out the echoes. Boots crunching sand against stone. A gurgling sound, like beer in a barrel. He knew what beer was. Bitter hops and golden grain stimulated a cascade of associations where there had only been darkness a moment before. A woman’s voice singing. The smell of smoke, tobacco and other kinds. But before he could make sense of the memory a sudden whoosh of air and the jolt of being doused by cold, cold water shocked him like electricity. The prisoner shot up, going from prone to standing in one fluid movement with a grace and energy hid did not know he possessed. Teeth bared he growled at the guard like a wild animal deep in his throat. His hands twitched remembering ways to puncture flesh, bruise nerve clusters, break bones. The guard took a nervous step backward, dropping a wooden bucket before remembering the steel bars between him and the prisoner.

“Get this animal cleaned up,” the guard said to a pair of workers wearing blue coveralls and dragging a fire hose down the corridor. “The prosecutor wants him scrubbed up nice for the judge and jury.”

The guard turned and walked away from the cell as quickly as possible while trying to look calm and unhurried. Above the sound of the hose he could hear the prisoner screaming. “Why am I a prisoner? Who is the prosecutor? What am I charged with? Who is Samuel? Who am I?” The guard rubbed his throat with one trembling hand and prayed the prisoner would never remember the answers to those questions.

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