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.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Love in the Time of Leprosy ... and Telepathy

Face me, she said.

I turned to look at her.

She wasn’t looking at me. She was looking at the guy beside me.

I couldn’t blame her. He was much easier on the eyes. He wasn’t melting constantly or trailing viscera and gore or dropping body parts. Instead, he was blond-haired, blue-eyed, and, perhaps more importantly, still whole.

Wholesomeness is a quality I lack.

She saw me looking at her and turned around, pretended she had not said anything, but I heard her.

Face me, she had said. But she wasn’t talking to me. Maybe she wasn’t even talking at all.

Damn telepathy. It’s a real bitch sometimes. You’d think it would make things easier, a little more clear to hear other people’s thoughts, but sometimes other people’s thoughts are more confusing than your own. And then what? You’re left with someone else’s confusion, as if your own wasn’t enough.

So, I turned away. My arm fell and landed with a plop in a brown puddle beneath my feet. I didn’t look down at it. I didn’t reach down to pick it up with my other arm. That would be humiliating. Besides, what if my other arm fell off while reaching for my lost appendage? That would be a worse fate than any man could stand. So, I let it sit there and gather flies. I bled from the nub on my shoulder. I tried to smile at the others on our train.

I looked out the window. The sun was setting in rays of purple and orange. I grew itchy where my arm once was. I reached down to scratch. A new one was growing in its place. Only it wasn’t made of flesh. It was black and shiny, like a beetle’s carapace.

Reincarnation can be a bitch, too. It sometimes comes in fits and quibbles, not to be confused with shits and giggles.

I looked over at the blond-haired, blue-eyed dude. I noticed he no longer moved. The train bumped on the tracks. The man’s head bobbed back and forth a few times and then fell to the ground. It left a smear in the brown puddle on the floor as it rolled to a stop next to my lost arm.

Face me, she said.

She got her wish: The head, but not the man, stared up at her, and she smiled.

I felt her joy and it confused me until she leaned over and began to gnaw on the dead man’s body.

See? she said, See? I told you I’d eat you one day.

A single tear fell from the dead head’s eye. I knocked it with my shoe to turn it away. Even though I didn’t know him – he had not said a single word since I got on the train – I thought the guy was a humongous and egotistical prick, I didn’t want him to see this woman – if she could be called a woman – eating what was left of his former well-built and wholesome humanity. Besides, maybe he really was a good guy, and I was just jealous.

She didn’t like it that I turned old blue-eyes’s head away. The woman turned on me. She leaped across the train. I reached up and stuck my new shiny black appendage through her like a stake. She shuddered. Foul grey gruel fountained out of her gaping mouth. There was a sudden pop, and then she turned into a Pomeranian. I named her Fluffy and knew that one day – if we ever got off this damn train – we’d have a great time. I’d take her on long walks through the country on Sundays, and if I died, I wouldn’t have to worry about funeral expenses or anything. She would just eat me.

And that would be okay. At least I’d have her attention.