The bells! Those dreadful bells! With every ring comes a flash of horrid memory. Like a ghost that haunts me, the pages of my mind turn violently back and forth only to stop abruptly on that most terrifying chapter. Illustrations in red drawn behind my eyes burn brightly even as I slumber.
All there is to focus upon is the church outside my window. Aging slats of worn timber crack and peel behind wild green vines of flora. I have witnessed the caress of Mother Nature upon its holy walls for many years from this very spot. I am the lunatic in the window, staring out into an open world full of demons.
All that separates me from the Hell that crawls between every crooked shadow are three iron bars. During the rainy season, I dare to reach my arm between the bars and catch an angel’s tear. It tastes of purity, not like the salted sin of my own. I cannot let my reach linger very long, fore if I do, I can hear the shadows begin to whisper, speaking in strange tongues as they grow nearer. My salvation relies on crosses etched into the surface of my three metal guardians.
The devils that took my family would come to my window nightly when I first arrived, taunting me with threats of dismemberment from the lips of my possessed wife and dead children. My mortal mind could not handle the shock. Through the blood and tears, I still struggle to remember my actions during the first year spent in my private cell. Within the next few years, the taunts grew more infrequent, until completely dissipating within the last year. I do not know if the whispers I hear when I reach out to touch the rain are demons, or the ghosts of demons haunting the space between my ears where my sanity used to dwell.
I can hear the familiar footsteps echoing behind my cell door. Foster is delivering dinner to my hall. I was wondering what had been taking him so long. During my time here, he has never been late with the nightly meal. Any moment now, the small hinged opening at the bottom of my cell door will unlock, and my dinner will come sliding in on a dirty plate. I move to the door to sit against the wall and wait for my overly peppered mash. I listen for the footsteps growing closer to my cell. What is taking Foster so long? I heard him stop at the cell next to mine, and then silence.
The cell door next to mine creaks open. My ears strain to hear any sound. Only my heartbeat throbs in my head. My teeth grate together like a rabbit chewing grass. The still nothingness outside my door is maddening. “Foster?” I shout. The silence is suffocating. The warm breeze that flows through my window carries with it the sudden stench of something most foul. It begins to burn in my throat and lungs, turning my stomach into a sour knot. The breeze dies quickly leaving the hot scent of decay hanging in the dead air like a wet burlap sack. Sweat begins to bead on my forehead. The droplets of perspiration grow and trickle down the lines of my face and into my stinging eyes. The taste of my sweat carries the flavor of growing fear and the stifling bitter decay that fills the air. Droplets crash to the floor sounding like thunder in the still silence.
Slowly, the hinges moan with a heart stopping creak as the opening at the bottom of my door opens. No sound of shuffling steps or dirty plates clanking together on their cart. I catch myself holding my breath as I stare at the opening beneath my door. The space beyond the cell door appears darker than black, darker than a void. I quickly spin my head to glance at the window. The moonlight has been erased and the same void now appears beyond my three bars. Where has the world gone? It’s as if my cell was the only place left, floating in a vast nothingness. I turn back to investigate the space under my door. Cautiously, I lean my head to the floor and inch my way closer to the bottom.
A raspy voice ever so quiet from beyond my door whispers “Mr. Thornhill. You have visitors.”
The nothingness of the void is broken by what appears to be the filthy arms and hands of several children. They reach at me violently. I can hear the hissing and screaming just beyond the door. I recoil in terror as they scratch at the floor leaving dirt and blood in their wake.
“Oh, how they have missed their Father.” I hear from behind me, spoken in the same raspy whisper from before. My eyes widen and my form stiffens from the chill that fills my soul. I suddenly feel myself rising from my knees to stand under the control of some outside force. A pressure under my arms presses against my skin as though I am being pulled up. I will not turn around. I will fight it with all my strength. I know she is there, standing behind me, waiting to take her vengeance upon me.
“Witch, I will not be tricked by your evil! My family is dead! I have rotted away in this cell for the crimes you have committed against my family! My wife and children suffered by your hand! There is nothing more you can take from me!” My throat burned from shouting and the foul stench that weighed heavy in the air. “The all mighty God will…” My body spun around sharply even though my muscles were frozen under the grip of some evil power. The room was empty. I was alone except for the skittering sound of tiny nails scratching at the floor beneath my door.
The pressure and heat in the room intensified. Soaked in sweat and gagging from the thick dank air, I sensed that something horrible was about to happen. My mind reeled as my eyelids struggled to calm the sting in my eyes. All that was left to do was pray. Pray this would end quickly. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…”
“No…” she whispered. “You will be dragged.”
Searing pain like a knife cuts into my stomach. I can feel the warm trickle of blood running down my legs. From left to right, the incision grows, bringing with it my own screams of agony. I feel her hand press against my chest and run down to my abdomen. Her fingers seek out the wound and enter the gash. With a sharp tug, I see my intestine rope from my body. Like a snake, it winds up my chest and encircles my neck. The slack of the gory noose stretches behind me into the hands of the children beneath my door. They claw and fight to get a grip on the slippery gore. With a sudden jerk, I fall backwards. The intestine around my neck cinches tight as I am pulled closer to the void. My head smashes against the door with tremendous force. My skull cracks and splinters through my skin as it is forcefully pulled through the smaller space beneath my cell door. Painfully disfigured, I feel myself losing consciousness. My vision is distorted by the blood pouring into them and the immense pressure building beneath the sockets. I realize my left eye is looking up, but my right is resting against my cheek, staring at the puddle of blood I am now laying in.
I see them in the void. My children have grown over the course of my imprisonment. Sickly and dirty, they stare into my eye. She is there behind them, wearing the skin of my wife. The children move aside as she leans in closer to my face.
“Sleep well, my love. I will tuck you in under the shadow of death.”