Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Captive: A Parable

The captive fought against the rough ropes holding his wrists above his head. Coarse, fraying threads drew blood as he struggled. A warm wetness slid down bare skin. A thin trickle of light coursed through the uneven edges where a metal door met a stone wall, and it was just enough light to see. Looking around, the captive wished he couldn’t see anything.

The floor of the pit writhed with life. The walls echoed with the clicks and chirrups of insects as beetles poured over one another scavenging the remains of the previous occupants of the pit. And, judging by their depth, there had been many previous occupants. Tiny jointed appendages crawled over the man’s feet, over his ankles, halfway to his knees. Sometimes they bit him, but he still could fight, still could shake them off, and the insects would scatter, content to consume more passive prey, to resume foraging the nearly bare bones and overturned skulls littering the pit.

Knowing better than to waste any moisture, the captive – he no longer knew his name, no longer remembered where he was from, not that it mattered, all that mattered was that he was there – strained his neck to touch his arms. He sipped from his own blood. It tasted of metal and damp earth. His swollen tongue scraped against his skin as if it were covered in sand and grit. He tasted of himself and found he tasted of corruption.

There was a clank at the door. The captive tried to compose himself, to rest, to stay still, unmoving, to act uncaring, unbroken. A shadow entered with a grunt. The captive glared. Water was thrown from an earthen bowl into the captive’s face. The captive drank what he could, just a few drops, but most of the water fell on the ground to be swarmed by the writhing insect mass crawling around his feet. The dark shadow, most likely another man, held up a wooden spoon. The spoon contained a gelatinous mixture, a gruel of some sort. In another life, perhaps in another time, the contents of that spoon would have made the captive man retch. But in his present predicament, the contents made him salivate. He slurped greedily even as he gagged from the bitterness, the taste of rot and decay. Despite the rot, or perhaps because of it, he savored the taste of survival.

The shadow retreated. Footsteps diminished. Once the captive knew he was alone again, with no one to see, he began to struggle once more. Fresh blood coursed down his arms. His wrists no longer hurt. Nothing hurt anymore. He could not feel anything.

He fought until exhausted and then slept.

When the captive awoke, insects were crawling up his legs. They ignored his protests as he kicked his legs. They bit his flesh. Still, he struggled. Still, even though he had forgotten his name long ago, he knew there was something worth fighting for, even if that something, whatever it might be, remained unnamed and unidentified.

The ropes may draw blood, the insects may sting, and the captor may beat the captive unmercifully. Despite, or perhaps because, of these things, the captive fought harder knowing that it was only because of the fight itself, because of his unceasing struggles, that he was free.


  1. Horribly descriptive, tension tight as a guitar string, lovely visceral.

  2. I like the sting. Sums up the reason for living very nicely.

  3. The writing is so good in this piece the descriptions made my skin crawl.