Hey readers, so this is the first upload of a short story for the new series I'll be doing this month that will run Monday, Wednesday, and Friday throughout February. Reader Nic (from Germany!) submitted a couple of ideas for what to include in a short story. They are not in this story, BECAUSE I liked them and spent 6 hours writing a short story with those elements, but the story needs to be typed up (I write all first drafts longhand) then edited a bit. Most of the pieces put up this month will be rough in form, because getting a short story to a place where it is publishable is non-trivial, and I can't do that 12 times this month and still stay on track for my current MS. This first piece is one that I wrote a few years back and then took to the National Undergraduate Literature Conference in Utah 2011. It's always interesting to go back and read what one has written several years back. At least I can guarantee to be at least on par with this the rest of the month. Enjoy!
And Nic, the story about the snow-laden writing desk will be up Monday morning.
The light came on, illuminating a circle of concrete. Directly beneath the light stood a four-legged, sturdy, stainless steel chair. Rust colored stains streaked the floor around the chair; a small drain lay directly beneath the chair, surrounded by more rusty streaks. A dull scraping sound approached the small pool of light. Two men stepped into the light and rudely deposited an unconscious man in khakis wet with blood and a grime-streaked and stained white dress shirt into the metal chair. The larger of the men produced a coil of rope with which he bound the unconscious man's hands behind the chair. He checked to make sure the black bag was securely over the prisoner's head. They left, leaving the bagged body against rough bonds.
A tall auburn-haired woman sashayed into the light wearing black flat-bottomed shoes. In one long fingered hand she carried a bucket of water, in the other a notebook and pen. She transferred the notebook up under her armpit and clenched the pen between her teeth. Quietly, she lifted the bucket in both hands then sloshed it on the comatose figure.
The chair teetered dangerously on its shiny legs as he struggled to free himself. The black bag shook vigorously. The ropes around his wrists creaked; the ropes around his khakied legs bit deep into his bony shins. He bit his lip. His meager frame shivered beneath soaked clothes.
"Where am I?" Nowhere did a sound issue save the ragged breath from his mouth. "Who are you?" No one answered. "What's going on?" Nothing. He roared in fear again. When he had no more breath, he sat shaking and panting. The black bag trapped his breath. It pressed against his mouth, suffocating him. Tiny pricks of light filled his vision. He knew he was about to pass out. Just as his head tipped forward, he felt the bag brush past his face. Light flooded his eyes.
“Martin.” It was not a question. Martin looked up to see his soft voiced oppressor, but his dark-accustomed eyes rendered him nearly blind. The light stung his eyes. He could only make out a smudged outline of his assailant. He or she was thin and wore flat, black shoes. Martin guessed his captor was a woman.
“Who are you?” He whimpered.
She struck him. Red nails streaked across his slightly wrinkled cheek leaving ribbons of crimson. “You will address me as Inquisitor Patricia.” She grabbed his stubbly chin with soft hands and forced his green eyes to look into her violet ones. She smiled warmly, turned and walked out of the pool of light of which his world was now encircled.
The Inquisitor walked back into the light carrying a book that read “Beginners’ Piano, vol. 2.” She slowly rolled it up and walked towards Martin. “It’s my understanding that you intend to publish a certain document stating that God has been killed.” She patted Martin on the cheek with her piano book. “I know you don’t really mean that.” She said sweetly.
"I didn't say God has been killed. I said we killed him." Martin said.
She struck him with the rolled up piano book. “We are a Christian nation, Mr. Martin.”
“How do you know what I wrote? That book hasn’t even been published yet!” Martin
“There is little the Inquisition doesn’t know, Mr. Martin.” Patricia said. She played with the silver ring with gold-inlay attached to her silver necklace as she spoke.
“The Inquisition?” Martin paused. “I must have misheard you.”
“Oh yes, the Inquisition. We know an awful lot about you – almost everything in fact. We’ve been following you since you started meeting with Father O’Neil about your concerns over the Christian state of affairs in
.” Patricia absentmindedly tapped the rolled
piano book on Martin’s left shoulder. America
“But… the Inquisition has been disbanded for hundreds of years!”
“A common misconception. We’ve been officially disbanded since 1834, but the Papal office found us to be an useful executor of the Pope’s will. Thus, we’ve unofficially been on the payroll this whole time. We’ve expanded considerably of course. Justice is a growth industry, after all. We’re everywhere, now.” Patricia said.
“Impossible.” He said.
“Let me give you an example. You obviously don’t recognize me. Understandable, since you missed your daughter’s piano recital this year.”
“I was on business trips! I tried to make it, but the clients wouldn’t reschedule.” Martin said.
“Oh, Mr. Martin, you don’t need to justify yourself to me. Just imagine, your little Lily will never know that these stains on her piano book belonged to her father.” She paused. “In a way, you’ll never miss her recitals again. Until she moves on to more worthwhile material and throws you out like so much rubbish.” Patricia smiled and pulled Martin’s gaze to her with her violet eyes.
Martin trembled with rage. He lunged in his chair, toppling it. The metal frame bit deep into Martin’s meager left bicep as it was mashed against the stained concrete. Martin howled in pain and impotent rage.
“Calm yourself, Mr. Martin. Really, I’m only doing what I must.” She said as she pulled a ring attached to a chain from her conservative purple blouse.
“What you must? You aren’t required to do this! People will be looking for me right now.”
“I’m not a moron, Mr. Martin. You would do well to believe me, no one’s going to find you down here. Please don’t try to convince me that what I’m doing is wrong or foolish.” She shook her head, sending brown curls dancing around her face. She tucked the necklace back in its place and stepped out of the light, leaving Martin gazing at the world askew. Her shoes slapped against the concrete. A door opened ahead of him, silhouetting the short girl and a larger man. They whispered something. The man handed Patricia a bundle of some sort. The door closed. Shoes slapped against the hard floor. Patricia stepped into the rust-splotched circle of light. She held a blue bundle in her hands. “Hold on a second, Mr. Martin. I’ll be right back with you.” Patricia unrolled the bundle, revealing a syringe and a cotton ball. Patricia took the blue wrapping, which turned out to be a pair of gloves, and put them on.
Martin felt his pulse quicken. “Please, don’t kill me. I mean, I know needles are a much cleaner way to go than being beaten to death with a piano book, but…”
Patricia held up her hand to silence Martin. “Keep your peace, Mr. Martin. I’m not going to kill you. This will simply make you more… amiable.” She smiled at him again. He noticed the wicked gleam in her purple eyes. Martin strained against his bonds desperately. The rough rope tore at his wrists, blood stained his khakis. Patricia forewent the alcohol rubdown and jabbed the needle directly into Martin’s heavenward arm. “Sweet dreams, Mr. Martin.” Martin felt his pulse slow. His vision blurred. Fragrant hair brushed past his face.
Martin rolled over in his warm bed. His pillow still smelled like laundry detergent. He was vaguely aware of Rose walking softly out of the bedroom. The sun was just beginning to peek through the yellow floral patterned curtains that he hated, but Rose had wanted them, so here they were. Dishes clinked in the kitchen. Normally, that was his queue to get up, even though he didn’t need to get up for another thirty minutes after his wife. He never could sleep through her coffee ritual. But today was Saturday, he could make a concerted effort to go back to sleep. Martin yawned and rolled over, pulling the matching yellow floral comforter with him. The heavy comforter pressed down on his thin frame. He sighed and went back to sleep.
The smell of coffee slowly roused Martin. He opened his eyes as Rose set the coffee on his bedside table. Her fragrant hair touched his cheek as she bent down to kiss him. He tried to reach up to push her hair behind her ear.
The comforter had his hand caught. He tried to free it. His hand wouldn’t budge. A warm sticky liquid ran down his wrist. He pulled harder.
Rose’s face changed. Blonde hair became brown. Laughing hazel eyes became mocking violet ones. “So,” a silky voice purred, “are you going to recant?”
Martin stared hard at her with one eye, the other having swollen shut during his absence from the waking world. “Hergrrr?” was all Martin could manage through his drugged mind.
Delicate nails tapped gently on his shoulders. Red lips framed by auburn hair bent down to Martin’s left ear. “The others have already tendered their apologies and recanted. No one even knows you’re missing yet.” Martin noticed that he was upright. The chair felt different – colder. “We trundled them up with their friends and dropped them outside different casinos and bars.” Patricia continued. “They won’t wake up for at least another couple hours.” She whispered. “And just think: I can do anything I want to you while you’re tied up here.” White teeth nibbled his ear ever so slightly.
“Only my wife nibbles on that ear.” Martin flinched away from the lascivious lips. To his surprise, his hands came up with him. The sudden movement stunned Martin’s battered wits.
Delicate fingers stole under his jaw, holding his head firm. “It seems that you have a concussion, Martin. I wouldn’t suggest jerking your head so violently. You might do some horrible damage to that brain of yours.” She released his jaw and walked around to the front of his chair. Martin left his head lolling on his new collar. His hands stole to the steel circle. “You’ve noticed your new accessory, I see.”
Slowly, Martin gathered the fragments of his wits as Patricia stood surveying him from a few feet away. Martin leaned forward and noticed that his legs were no longer bound either. He raised his head and focused intently through his unswollen eye. He mustered his strength as he talked. “I’m the only one with my name on the blasted book as an author. And I won’t alter a single word. Here I stand.” Martin stood.
“Right to business, I see.” The Inquisitor said. “I like that in a man. The pope is the same way: always focused on the immediate task at hand. Very efficient.” She played with the ring that hung on her blouse. “Honestly, I don’t much care if you change the book.” She said, staring at the plain silver loop. “As long as you officially recant and don’t publish the cursed thing.”
Martin stood stock still, staring at her with his good eye. “Or what?”
“We were talking about efficiency, were we not?” Patricia said, taking a step just beyond the edge of the light. “I’m a firm believer in efficiency, and it seems that what would be efficient now is to threaten your family. Perhaps your daughter.” She paused, watching Martin’s face grow redder. “You’d be surprised how many little nuns aren’t there by choice.”
Martin lunged at Patricia. The few feet between them closed in an instant. He was almost there, his fingers eager for the attack.
Then the collar activated.
Painful jolts of electricity surged through his body. Martin’s legs gave way beneath him, his arms spasmed painfully. “Bad, Martin! Bad! Get back in your chair.” Patricia said. Martin looked at her with hatred, but slowly obeyed. His spasmodic movements hindered his retreat. Once he got within two feet of the chair the shocks stopped. Martin clutched to the chill metal chair for comfort before the world went black.
Frigid water coldly ripped Martin from unconsciousness. “You were out for over two hours that time, Mr. Martin. I don’t believe you’ll last much longer under these circumstances.” The silky voice purred from somewhere beyond the pool of light. Martin sat shivering, his soaked shirt clinging to his bruised body.
“You’re lying it can’t have been that long.” He said.
“Why would I tell a lie; when the truth better serves my purpose?” She paused. The squeak of wheels echoed through the room. A cart appeared from the darkness, laden with spools of intravenous tubing, a series of clear plastic bags, and a large assortment of scalpels and needles. “I assume you mean that you’d need to use the restroom by now? You do have a weak bladder after all.” Martin nodded. “I believe the electric shock took care of that problem. ‘The knots of your loins were unloosed’ so to speak.”
Martin looked at the floor around him and noticed a yellow trail extending from him to where he must have landed during his ill-planned attack.
The cart continued to approach, propelled by blue-gloved hands. “Now,” she said happily, “let’s deal with your attitude.”
“What did you have in mind?” He said.
“You’re a clever fellow. You can figure it out.” Patricia chose a wicked looking scalpel from the cart. Martin stood up.
“Wh-what do you want?” Martin said.
“I want you to recant your treatise.” Patricia gestured towards him with the blade absentmindedly. “It’s not that hard, boy.” Martin stood, transfixed by the shining scalpel. “All you have to do is recant. I’ll be happy. The Pope will be happy. Your family will be happy.” Patricia paused. “Think about your family. Little Lily would be much happier not,” Patricia enunciated each word with a slight swish of the scalpel, “losing a few fingers at her next piano lesson.”
Patricia held out the blade towards Martin. He shivered as she took one of her blue gloved hands and lifted his chin so that his eyes would meet her violet ones. “You look terrible.” She announced. “Very little color left in your cheeks, pale as death in fact.” She smiled as she pinched his wasted, bloodied cheek, menacing him with the shining scalpel in her other hand. She sliced the side of his cheek. Martin felt like someone applied an ice cube to his cheek. “There. That adds a bit of color.”
“Yeah.” He mumbled as he sat in the chilly chair.
She dropped Martin's chin which plopped heavily against his thin chest and lolled off to one side. She walked back to the cart. A pen scratched against paper. “Subject exhibits advanced signs of physical break down. Inquisitor Patricia expects the mind to break in less than twelve hours under proper inducement. Shock collar highly effective as a control technique, suggest continued funding.” She spoke as she wrote, presumably for Martin's benefit.
“Listen, I’m a manager. I know some basic negotiation skills. You’ve shown me what I lose by not going along with y-.”
“But you want to know what you gain.” Patricia interrupted.
“No.” Martin said. “I want to know what you gain.”
Patricia stared at Martin. She raised one eyebrow then shrugged. “We get to keep a complacent church, Mr. Martin. Marx was right about religion being the opiate for the masses. However, he missed a certain subtlety with such a blunt statement. You see, other people can manipulate this opiate to their own purposes. People like you, Mr. Martin.” Patricia looked up from the notebook on the cart.
Rage bubbled up to the surface in a flash. Martin lost control. He stood and threw metal chair at his captor. Martin’s wrist hit the edge of the light, his prison. Shocks jolted his body. The ground did not politely cushion his fall. White spots flashed before his concussed eyes. Patricia stood over him, holding the metal chair.
“That wasn’t very polite, Martin.” She gently set the chair behind him and turned to leave. “I’m going to give you one more chance. You have four hours to consider which you love more your family or your writing.”
“That’s not the choice you offer me.” Martin said, choking back his bitter rage. “I must choose either to live a lie or die in truth.”
“Die in truth?” Patricia laughed. “Oh, my dear Martin, how heroic. I’m not going to kill you. Why create a martyr when I could make you live knowing the pain you caused your family.” She sneered. “If we maim your bride, perhaps you’ll understand a bit of the pain your writing causes the church, the church who is the bride of Christ.” She turned on her heel and walked out the phantom door.
Fatigue stole over Martin’s senses. Impotently, he tried to fight it. Sleep forced itself upon him.
The sun warmed Martin’s skin. The grass felt soft and cool beneath his back. A bird in the cottonwood a few yards away piped out a glorious song for a fine spring day. Martin started to drift off. Two tiny hands pressed on his chest.
“Daddy, daddy! Wake up!” Martin opened his eyes to smile at his daughter. Today was her sixth birthday. She wore her white and yellow Easter dress. Lily, of course, had grass stains all over her dress. Rose wouldn’t be thrilled, but on a girl’s birthday she ought to be a bit wild.
“What do I need to wake up for?” Martin rolled over onto one arm and used his free one to tousle Lily’s brown hair.
“Daddy!” Lily pushed his hand off her head with both little arms.
“Okay, okay. What did you want to show me?”
“Look! I picked flowers for you.” Lily turned around and grabbed a bundle of lavenders, probably taken from the neighbor’s yard. Martin smiled. “Look, Daddy! Aren’t they pretty? Don’t the smell nice?”
Martin gently took the flowers and breathed deep. The acrid, metallic scents of urine and dried blood filled his nostrils. He gagged.
“Wake up, Mr. Martin. I don’t have time for any of this nonsense.” A familiar voice cooed from the darkness. “I do hope you’ve made your decision.”
“God will provide a way even when there seems to be no way.”
“It’s a bit late for divine intervention, I’m afraid.” She paused, tapping a pen against her chin. “But He has provided a way out: the recant.” Patricia said.
“I’m convicted by my conscience. I wrote only the truth of the modern church.”
Patricia shook her head and pointed into the darkness. The overhead light blinked out. A projector flashed to life. A green park opened up on the screen. A blonde walked hand in hand with her brown haired daughter. Rose and Lily, Martin recognized them at once. They were both laughing and smiling. Martin began to smile a bit himself, in spite of his bruised and cut cheeks. The camera then zoomed out, revealing the black interior of a car. The camera panned over to show the passenger’s seat. A man wearing a ski mask sat there, gazing lovingly at the knife he was polishing. Martin’s smile vanished. The film cut out, plunging the room in darkness. “You see, Martin, you don’t have more time to make your decision.”
Martin trembled at the image still burned into his brain. “If I recant, you’ll leave my family alone?”
“As long as once you leave, you never discuss this encounter to anyone, yes. They’ll be unharmed.” Patricia said.
“I’ll be lying to them the rest of my life.” Martin mumbled to the darkness.
“That will happen either way. Remember? I’m not going to give you the satisfaction of martyrdom for your misguided cause.” Patricia said as the light came back on. “This way they won’t suffer any harm. Or do you want a bride who is as damaged as you threatened to make the church?”
“Give me the papers.” A single sheet of paper passed through Martin’s invisible prison wall. Martin signed the dotted line with a trembling hand. “I’ll never forgive myself.”
Inquisitor Patricia softly spoke, “Ah, but the Church will.”
Martin woke up, bruised and putrid behind O’Neill’s Pub.