English 206

Assignment 3

Draft 1

BEYOND THE END

By Remy Chartier

PROLOGUE

From Albert Nox's journal

Tuesday, September 16th 2004.

In 1896, West Mills penitentiary was still in its prime. Its stone edifices were still as white and cold as a moonless winter midnight. Its spiraling guard towers, four on each side of an expansive, gravel courtyard once stood watch over the demented inhabitants while they slaved below, baking in the stifling heat of the summer. The sentinels who oversaw the prisoners turned a blind eye to the violence that was inevitable among criminals, ranging from murderers, to saudamizers. Concealed deep in the mountains, windowless, and enclosed by a wall of stone roughly three feet thick, West Mills was the perfect place to make people disappear from society. No one sentenced to spend time in this secluded place ever emerged to tell the tales of what happened, and no one really cared to hear them anyway. As far as the public was concerned, West Mills was the last stop the damned made before Satan plucked their wretched souls from their unholy bodies.

Records say that in the early nineteen hundreds, the government shut the prison down after deeming it an inhumane way to treat a member of the human race. The records spoke of famine, disease, solitude and torture; however, they refrained from going into explicit detail. I wanted to find some concrete evidence that conveyed the true horrors of this place.

Further adding to the mystery was a paragraph in the official report on the prison, made public in 1962. It seemed that in the late eighteen hundreds, West Mills still used beheading as a means of capital punishment. The report was unclear as to how this was accomplished; however they went on to say: "the manner by which these gruesome sentences were carried out was a personal insult towards God."

When I first laid eyes on this place, I was shocked to see how similar it was to the black and white photo accompanying the official report. Though weathered to tarnished gray, the stone facade of the compound still held strong. In many ways, time had transformed the prison into an abomination. The cracking gray rock, the rusted iron gates with their cruelly edged barbed wire, the desolation and emptiness, all stole over my body and turned my heart into a block of unpolished granite. Only the towers had truly changed over time. Once they had been tall, proud and as white as fallen snow, but over a century later, the towers had begun to crumble. Time, it seemed had not treated these structures well. They now stood high above me like crippled sentinels, their broken windows seeming to peer into my soul like the eyes of the devil himself. I could not help wishing I had not been sent here to begin with. The prison had been empty for many long decades. I do not believe in ghosts; however, I can understand why it had taken this long to tear the place down; no one wanted to go near it.

Despite my growing unease, I was eager to delve into the secrets of the prison. It had been decided that West Mills was to be demolished, to make room for some new building (trust our government to destroy pieces of history), and I had been assigned to accompany the wrecking crew. First, we would clean out the prison, and it was in doing this that I hoped to find clues as to what really happened here. My boss wanted a story on the prison and I was more than happy to accept this assignment. I wanted to give the public something to think about.

Albert Nox

Wednesday September 17th, 2004

I have discovered a fascinating thing. In an office, I came upon a large collection of documents. Unbelievably, they were in a legible condition. They were covered in a sea of dust and turning yellow around the edges, but the words were still plainly visible. After so many years, I would have been certain that any documentation I found would be worthless.

I carefully flipped through the pages, and discovered that many of them were diaries and reports written by the guards who were once stationed here; however, as I was about to start reading them, something else caught my attention. In their midst, I found what looked like an old-fashioned scroll. There were quite a few pages, all rolled up and tied by what looked to me to be human hair. The hair was long and was twisted and wound around the scroll, holding the pages in place. When I untied it, the binding came apart in my hands. I unrolled what looked at first like another journal. To begin with, I only skimmed its contents, but upon reading for only a moment, I discovered that, rather than having been written by a guard, it had been written by one of the prisoners. I was fascinated! The official report of the prison made it clear that a prisoner was given a copy of the Holy Bible and nothing more. Eagerly, I began to read, anxious to discover some truth behind the prison in these pages.

I – CONDEMNED

"I made them scream,

The people say,

And now they'll take my life away

I made them bleed

The people cry,

And now for that I'm gunna die."

I awoke on this, my final day on earth, with the piercing gaze of the Eye of God glaring down at me from my ceiling. I could not control my shivering body as the knowledge that I was going to be ripped from the roots of the world sank again into my confused and disoriented mind.

"Why is this happening to me?" I screamed inside my own head. "Why am I being punished?" For the hundredth time, I tried desperately to remember. What had I done to warrant being cast into this hell? What could be so bad that even murderers, thieves and rapists turned their backs on me in disgust, or threw me on the ground and pummeled me until I slipped into the torturing realm of unconsciousness where ghastly visions of blood and hatred tormented me? They always just left me there, alone, baking in the summer heat. If there is a God, why has he turned his back on me? I wanted to remember, no matter how bad the truth was. I want to know why, to take back the one time in my life I can never remember, but all I did was bring about another headache. They have gotten worse over the last month. I used to be able to bear the pain of trying to recall those repressed memories; now, I can't even do that. I don't have the strength to fight the pain.

Out of nowhere, a small form skittered across my chest, and I sat bolt upright, gasping. A fat, brown rat squealed at me from the foot of the narrow pallet I'm forced to lay on. It's beady, yellow eyes narrowed and it hissed. I kicked at it with my bare foot, but it scampered off the pallet and balanced on the edge of the bucket filled with a week's worth of waste. In seconds it was inside, and I heard the "swish, slurp swish" as it floundered in the dark cesspool. The stench of my own waste drifted about the room, once again making me aware of my squalid existence. I turned my face to the stone wall, trying not to cry. I heard another splash, a dripping sound, and finally a "tick tick, ticktickticktick" as the rodent scurried away. I couldn't look; I didn't want to see the trail of sticky footprints… I didn't want to sleep anymore; with sleep came the terrible dreams; the blood soaked visions, the horrible screams … I couldn't take it anymore!

I heard a "click" behind me; I dared not turn around. There was a grating screech as the iron door to my cell slid open on its track. The sound made me want to cringe, but I dared not move; maybe they'd think I'm already dead.

"Whap!" The pain ripped through my left shoulder. I gritted my teeth against it, determined not to cry out. "Whap!" Again the blow, in the same place. I knew a welt had already formed; but they never let me look. Twice more they struck me. New pain spread up my left arm, then, the top of my ear seemed to be on fire. My threshold erupted and I cried out through still-gritted teeth.

"Unholy filth!" A harsh, grating voice rampaged through my head, splitting it open like an axe. "Stop that squealing! On your feet! Gotta take you downstairs now, then you can squeal all you want, just like the filthy pig you are!"

I was hauled up by the injured shoulder and flung against the metal bars of my cell with such force that my teeth clicked together. I was momentarily stunned, and that was enough time for one of the guards to chain my hands together in front of me. He was a head taller than me, and dressed in a black uniform with a red cross embroidered on its front. He peered down at me, and his rancid breath puffed out as he spoke.

"Gunna go for a little walk now, pig."

The other guard grabbed me and turned me roughly towards the open cell door. Something prodded me in the back hard; I gasped with pain and began to walk without having to be told.

"Why –" I began to ask for the thousandth time. My words were cut off by a fresh burst of agony that started from my right shoulder and flooded through my arm. I willed myself to keep silent and somehow, I did.

"I said shut up! One more word, one more sound, and we'll pull out your wretched tongue to silence you!"

They led me down a corridor, passed rows of men who all gathered at the bars of their cells, watching my clumsy progress with rotten smiles, or spiteful glares. They were all just as hopeless as I, their bodies wasted and reeking of sweat and feces. They fed us only raw meat once every three days, and then only if we had behaved. The stuff tasted as bad as it smelled, but we always ate it … we were always so hungry.

"Better hope "he" sharpened the cutter, O'Brian!" one of them spat.

"Yeah!" another piped in. "I heard of a man got chopped with a dull one. Took 'em two hours to get the whole thing off. Man screamed all the while."

"He deserves it anyway!" a third screamed. "After what that bastard did, they should a chopped it off as it came out of his mamma's –"

"That's enough, maggots!" the guard shouted impatiently. "You'll all be joining him soon; sooner if you don't shut up!"

Not one of them responded. I hated them all! They weren't like me! They all knew why they were there; they were all proud of their crimes. I thought, not for the first time, that perhaps I was in here wrongly. Perhaps, if I was truly meant to die, God would save me a place by his side –

Something wet squelched against my right shoulder and began to ooze down my arm. The smell was horrible, and now everyone, even the guards were guffawing and sneering at me. Then, something warm splashed against my right cheek. I began walking even faster.

"Tuck it in you wretched whore of Satan!" one of the guards hollered over his shoulder.

I could still here them all laughing as we turned a corner and descended to the lower level of the prison. We "severe" criminals were placed on the top floor where the Eyes of God could observe our every move. The guards continued to prod me along in silence. I walked with my eyes on the floor, not wanting them to see my face. I dared not make another sound; I knew I was lucky to have sustained such mild punishment.

We walked down a maze of corridors, passed row upon row of gawking prisoners. The lower level was lit by lanterns that sat high above us. They threw splashes of putrid, yellow light across the faces of these abominations. Each man was a ghoul; their raw and bleeding skin was stretched taught across their fleshless ribs. If I looked close enough, I could almost see their hearts pounding inside their chests. One of them, a shriveled old soul, covered with legions of oozing soars spat at me through the bars of his cell.

"You deserve to rot in hell for spoiling the fruit of life!" he croaked savagely. Then, he began to cackle with atrocious laughter, racked with fits of wet coughing.

I looked quickly away, expecting at any moment to be splattered with either blood or vomit. . Detestation flooded through my own wrecked body. Corrupt with leprosy as he was, he was still better off than me. I hated him too! He knew why I was here!

Upon placing my foot on the first of another set of descending stairs, I was prodded in the back with such force that I nearly lost my balance. I teetered for a moment, and then regained my footing. The two guards behind me laughed gaily! Why not? That was what they wanted after all!

The stone steps led down into the labrorynthian basement of the prison where the storage rooms, kitchens and "the gate" were located. The basement stank worst of all. Every step was an effort, impeded by the putrid stench of festering garbage. There was another smell too, but it took me a moment to comprehend what it was. Once, a few years ago, I was walking down the road near my father's house. I remember a similar smell on that road. When I followed the smell I found a dead cat lying in a heap on the side of the road. It smelled similar to this basement, but somehow, I didn't think the prison guards were storing dead cats.

I was prodded through a heavy, iron door, into a long tunnel. It suddenly felt like I had been thrown into the arctic. The abrupt drop in temperature made me shiver. It reminded me of the room where my grandfather kept his alcohol. I shook uncontrollably. My bare feet became blocks of ice, but I could not stop; the prodding had grown more urgent, as if the guards too were feeling the effects of this tunnel and were anxious to leave. I began walking faster, no longer needing any violent assistance.

The walls of the tunnel were cracked and covered with moss in some places. The floor was dirt, as if the tunnel had been dug out rather than built. There was a smell too. It was not bad … not exactly, but it hung in the air, sweet, but tainted with a coppery smell that made me grimace. The light, too, was foreboding, adding to the chill of the tunnel. The torches, set mid way up the wall in iron scontzes sputtered and flickered, throwing ghastly images across the walls. In that light, our own shadows danced and shifted; two great beasts following a dead tree.

Behind me, in the distance, I heard a bang as the iron door swung shut. It was in that instant that I fully realized I would never again see the world through these eyes. I wanted to get down on my knees and pleed with the Lord for a forgiveness I did not know how to ask for.

"Please!" I begged silently, "take pity on me, please save my soul from the searing flames of hell. I'll serve an eternity in Purgatory; only don't let me be damned!"

Suddenly, I drew in a sharp breath and stopped short. For a moment, the guards did not prod me. On the floor at my feet, glistening in the torch light as if it had been newly shed was a trail of blood.

Behind me, the guards were silent. One of them slapped the left side of my face hard. My head snapped to the right, and I saw the glistening message, framed by patches of untouched moss:

"Blood for blood

Scream for scream

Pain for pain,

Death for death.

God holds no place for Pitiful little O'Brian

The man who says he didn't do it."

My heart stopped beating; the message was too close to my thoughts. How had they known?

"No" my rational side said coaxingly, "you know there is no way. It is just a coincidence."

"Walk!" The blow struck me between the shoulder blades. I flailed forward, once again nearly losing my balance. My left foot landed in the blood on the floor. The coagulating muck squished up between my toes and I jerked my foot up in disgust.

"Walk or we'll drag you through it!"

I Walked. The mush squelched between my toes, and I felt a sudden need to vomit. What stopped me was the knowledge that if I did, they'd make me walk through that too.

The sickening mess appeared to go on for hours, leading further and further into the mouth of darkness which seemed to have no end. As I walked, I was aware that crude designs had been scrawled on the wall. Some, like the message on the wall, were painted in blood, while others had been carved into the stone itself. Great patches of moss had been cleared away to make room for these grotesque depictions of hellish beasts. Faces filled with sharp teeth grinned at me from the walls. Their sightless eyes pierced my heart; saw deep into my soul. I knew my fear was giving way to insane rationalization, but with each new picture, I could not help the downward spiral of my emotions. Like the blood weighing down my feet, their eyes weighed down upon my weary heart. Suddenly, I just wanted it all to be over. Let death come swiftly, I begged; anything would be better than this.

At last, I saw an end to the darkness. In the distance, like two flickering eyes, two torches sat on either side of another metal door. On the door, painted in black lettering was the word: "Zuzambele".

"Almost time now, O'Brian," The guard spoke good-naturedly, but there was a sinister undertone in his voice. ""he's" gunna take good care of you. You know? Send your worthless soul on its way to hell? Would ya like that, pig?"

I wished he'd been shouting at me. Maybe then I wouldn't have paid any attention to his words. As it was, however, my spine, which had been holding up admirably through this ordeal, turned into an icicle.

The door opened slowly. A tall figure emerged from it, seeming to glide, though I could see his feet resting firmly on the ground. His build was hidden beneath a long, black cloak which seemed to swallow the light from the torches. A similar black hood hid his face. He stood without moving for a moment. Then, his arm lifted. A hand, clad in a white leather glove slithered out of the darkness and beckoned to me. Dried blood caked the glove; it made me think of a corpse.

"Right on schedule," one of the guards mused triumphantly. The black cloaked figure nodded slowly. Then it turned and walked purposefully through the door.

I was ushered inside by a swift poke in the middle of my back.

The room was small, and oval shaped. It was dimly lit by a collection of candles that were gathered around an obscured object in the middle of the room. The object stood as high as my chest, and the trail of blood led straight too it, then spread out around it. The smell of blood was thick in the room, but by now, I had gotten so used to it that I barely noticed.

"On the slab, pig!" I walked forward, now heedless of the blood around my feet. It had become as much a part of me as my own skin. I walked only about ten steps, and then stopped short as I realized what I was headed for. The object in the center of the room was made of rough. Brown wood. I had not noticed the shape before, but now I could see it fully; it was a crucifix! The sight was too much for me. I saw the blood stains at one end, and on the two cross pieces; I saw the three cruel-looking objects scattered on it. … My knees gave out, and I collapsed. "Let them beat me," I thought, "let them cut me and curse me with their fowl tongues. Let them walk me through a sea of blood and be spit on by millions … anything but this sacrilege!"

Suddenly, I was being hauled up by the neck and arm by two pairs of strong arms. I saw the black cloaked figure remove the wickedly glinting tools from the crucifix. Then, he motioned at the guards who dropped me on my back. I landed hard on the rough surface of the crucifix. I began to struggle, but they held my arms and legs down with all their might while the black cloaked figure raised two objects to my level of vision; a hammer and a spike. The guard on my left unlocked the chains that bound my wrists in front of me, then each guard pulled my arms so they were lying on the two cross pieces. Before I could move, before I could try and escape, I felt the cold metal being placed on the back of my left hand.

"God NO!" I screamed. I tried to pull my hand away but a guard gripped my wrist and held me. I couldn't fight, I was already so weak. "Please, d –"

My words were choked off as I screamed. The agony accompanying the first blow of the hammer was unbearable. My nerves squealed as the spike plummeted through my hand. From what seemed a great distance, I heard three sharp hammer blows. The guard let go of my wrist, and I tried to move my hand. I couldn't!

I didn't see the silent figure on the other side of the crucifix; my eyes were squeezed shut against the pain. The next thing I knew, my other wrist had been gripped and another spike was placed.

"You do squeal like a pig," the guard at my left observed. "It is a worthy sound for you. May the pain be the last thing you feel on this world!"

Then the hammer blows sounded, and my right hand jittered as the flesh and then the bone was pierced.

"Richard O'Brian," I faintly heard. "You have been sentenced to die for your horrendous and unholy crimes against your fellow man. As your blood flows and your life empties across the vessel of the savior, pray that he will be generous enough to show you the mercy you do not deserve. Do you have anything to say before sentence is carried out?"

"You people are hypocrites!" I wanted to scream. I willed myself to form the words; to defy them at least once, but the words never came. The pain that had started in my hands was now sending shock waves up my arms.

Two hands gripped my head roughly and turned it to the right. I saw my executioner, the man in the black cloak, raising an axe over his head. The metal glinted for a split second as it caught the light of the candle flame, then it disappeared from view.

"May your pain never end!" the two guards screamed together.

As the axe began its descent, an image flashed before my eyes. It was so strange, but also familiar in a way I could not put my finger on; a happy-looking brown puppy. Then, the image vanished, and I felt the cold steel on my neck as the axe chopped my life apart.

INTERLUDE

At this point, I put the journal down. The account had a haunting pull to it, and yet I was certain that this diary was merely the product of an insane criminal's overactive (or underused) imagination. The notion that a man could write about his own execution was, simply put, preposterous. And yet, this was the only clue I'd found as to the true nature of the prison. Thus it was that I was eager to read further; to discover some truth within the clever ramblings of the condemned.

Before I continued, however, I glanced at some of the other documents again, looking more closely at their contents. Many of them described the routines of the guards. After skimming the first few documents, I learned two things which I was certain were true. The first was that the prison was poorly sanitized. The large pots that served as the prisoners' toilets were emptied only once a week. The waste attracted brown rats, many of which lived in the walls of the cells, or roamed the halls. They carried disease, and often attacked the prisoners in their sleep. Thus it was that many of the inhabitants soon became deathly ill.

Many of the guards became infected as well, often because they got the blood of the inmates on their hands. Because of this, they resented the prisoners even more, and yet, nothing was done to clean up the prison and put an end to the pestilence. I wondered why not. Further reading revealed that in 1894, the prison was put under quarantine by the state; for fear that the plague that ravaged it would be spread to the general public by the guards who worked there. How exactly this quarantine was accomplished is unknown, but it apparently worked. A large majority of the diaries contain angry passages written by the guards who could no longer leave the prison. They were cut off from their families, and were not even allowed to leave for a day. They blamed the prisoners for this, and exacted their revenge whenever they could. Such revenge usually came in the form of beatings, some of which "accidentally" went too far.

"Blood flows like water in this hell," one man had written. "We often hit them so hard that the bleeding just won't stop. If their bones are broken, so much the better. They deserve it, and we welcome any opportunity to hurt them."

Another entry explained the torture that befell one of the prisoners.

"We stripped him and strung him up by the neck. Couldn't help feeling happy as I heard him scream when the knife first touched him. Louie spit right in his face. Then I took the knife and held it against his penis. Told him I'd cut it off to make sure he never hurt another girl again. It was so funny to see it flopping all over the place as he hung, choking from the low ceiling. It was downright gleeful to watch his reaction when it landed on the floor. But the skinning was the best. We didn't tie him too tightly, and oh, the blood when his still-throbbing veins were cut. It was like expensive wine, flowing all over the floor. It was our revenge. This one hadn't gotten sick yet, but why should that matter? He would … they all did, and they dragged us down with them …"

My stomach squittered violently after reading that passage, not because it was overly descriptive, but because these were human beings. I'd studied World War II; I'd even seen documentaries about the Bergan Belsin and Ouchwitz. That had been when I was younger, but even then, the scenes did not disturb me as much as that passage.

I skipped through that particular diary, no longer interested in reading such a man's thoughts. I was beginning to sympathize with the prisoners. When I got to the next diary, I discovered that not all the guards reveled in the torment of their charges. A particular passage made me feel a little better, and I was able to look at the situation from both points of view.

"I'm burning up. The fever seems to be getting worse. I think I'm going to die here. We still haven't been told when we'd be free to leave. I had two weeks off, and have been forced to spend them here. I miss Claire; I miss my son. I don't want to die with these insane people. They killed a prisoner yesterday. I heard the screaming. I overheard them talking. They hung him up and mutilated him to soothe their anger! How is that going to help? I hate this place. I just want to get out. I can't stand the smells. There is no rest. Why are we being forced to stay here? We're no better than the prisoners. This place seems to make everyone violent. We're human beings for God's sake! How can we do this to each other? … Maybe I should just end my suffering; I know it's all over anyway. No, I can't, I need to see my family again. Please, God, let me get out of this alive."

The whole thing nearly made me sick. How could so much brutality occur among us without us even knowing? The question brought me back to reality. In a day or two, this place would be no more, and I may be the only one who knows what happened. This would turn out to be quite the article, I could feel it. With that thought, I turned once again to the diary of Richard O'Brian. Whether he was lying or insane did not matter. I felt sure that some clues could still be found within those pages. The diary must chronicle more of O'Brian's time in West Mills, else, why would so many pages remain?

It was almost four-thirty; I had been in this little office for almost three hours. The battery-operated lantern cast an eerie shadow across the page as I leaned close to read, and I had to shift my position. Finally, I began reading, becoming first awestruck, then once again uncertain.

II – DAMNED

The beauty brings me peace,

The beauty brings me glee,

The Devil's voices scream inside of me.

They seized me from the light

And cast me into night

Down, down down

Down into night.

God is the devil

He works in mysterious ways,

He cast me from the light;

He revels in my pain

My vision exploded! One moment, I was surrounded by flickering candles. Then there was a sharp pain tearing through my neck, accompanied by a crack as my spine was severed by the heavy blade. I barely had time to register this before I felt as though I had been lifted into the air and hurled half-way across the world. My body tumbled over and over, twisted around, and seemed to fold inside itself. Multi-coloured lights whirled and danced in front of my eyes; blue, then green, then orange, then yellow and finally, my vision erupted into a brilliant sheen of white light. My body weighed nothing as it spiraled high into the air, turning over and summersaulting me through the glimmering brilliance. I felt peace flowing over me, and felt an urge to laugh with joy. My prayers had been heard!

The sensation grew stronger still. Light seemed to fill every fiber of my being, flooding me with a warmth that soothed my fears and forced the last eight months of my life into the back of my mind. Whatever was happening, I never wanted it to end.

I exalted in the freedom of being out in the open, abandoning all care and letting my life become distant and meaningless. I felt as though I had just woken up from a terrible nightmare, and perhaps I had. West Mills had ruined my life, and I did not even know why. They had broken my body and torn my soul from within. But it had slipped from their grasp; I was not damned as the guards had promised. These feelings were truly wonderful; this must be heaven.

When the cold, black hand oozed out of the light before me and seized me in its strong grasp, I didn't even feel scared. Its huge fingers, each as big as I was, clenched around me, holding me fast and preventing me from moving. Only when the darkness obscured the light and the sensation of falling a great distance overcame my joy did I feel the fear that had been lurking inside of me. There was no feeling of nausea as the hand shook my body from side to side, nor was there any pain as I rattled against the huge fingers. Rather, a penetrating chill stole over my body and froze my mind. Suddenly, my body seemed to weigh six times as much as it once did, and I sank to my knees.

All at once, the hand flipped, and I found myself dangling by the legs above an abyss. Before I could so much as struggle, the great hand swung downwards, and the fingers that had been grasping my legs unclenched. Now, I really was falling. I tried to scream, but no sound escaped my throat. It occurred to me that I was dead, and could not speak. Instead, I flailed around, trying in vain to catch hold of something and stop my plunge. Only the cold, dark air met my fingers, and I continued to fall.

I stopped falling abruptly as something pushed me from behind. The force tumbled me upside-down. A great blast of wind suddenly caught hold of me and I found myself being propelled mercilessly forward. The wind was cold, and I shivered, but it was an inner chill. I felt empty and alone, but also resentful. I had prayed to God, and he had made me believe he was loving. How foolish I was. Was it because I was forced to defile the savior? Because I had been murdered in his image? "It's not my fault!" I thought, "They're the once who forced me."

"Awww, poor little Richey; such misunderstanding ... so quick to jump to conclusions."

The voice seemed to come from under water. It gurgled in my head, low-pitched and mocking.

"You don't understand … your poor little primitive mind just can't grasp it without a little push. … Don't worry Richey, all will be explained … sooooooon, Very soooooon. We'll take gooood care of you down here, goooood care."

"Goooood care"

A second voice joined the first.

"Gooooood care-gooooood care."

A third voice, then a fourth, and a fifth. They screamed inside my head, filling my senses with their repulsive chanting, gurgling voices.

"Take good care," "—good care of," "Take good care," "of you," Take" "good care," "take good care," "Take good care!" "Care of you!" "Care of you" "TAKE GOOD CARE OF YOU RICHY!"

I tried to scream, but no sound escaped my mouth. In my mind, I was howling. The voices continued. Now there were many; each one was the same, low, wet and terrible to hear. They began to screech with laughter inside my head. The laughter was high and grating. I was reminded of pieces of rusty metal scraping together.

"Get out of my head!" my mind screamed. "Get out! Leave me alone!"

Pain burst in my scull, and an image flashed. The happy brown puppy was grinning at me. Its pink tongue lulled out of its mouth. Then a voice carried clear above the chortling laughter.

"Daaaady! He's so great!" It was a child's voice!

"No!" I thought for no apparent reason. The puppy vanished; had it really been there at all? I heard a child scream from far away. The scream became wet, like the laughter that still swarmed inside my head.

Then the laughter, the scream and the horrible wind ceased. I lost all feeling, all perception. Then, even my thought ceased. The darkness was all that remained.

INTERLUDE

A touch on my arm interrupted my reading. It was just as well. I was now thoroughly convinced that Richard O'Brian (if that was indeed his real name) was suffering from very graphic hallucinations. In spite of that, I was eager to continue reading. I found myself inexplicably drawn to this mysterious diary. It was certainly complete nonsense, and yet, I felt compelled to finish it. Despite my eagerness, I was glad to have some company. Nonsense or not, the diary, (and this room for that matter) was giving me Goosebumps.

The visitor turned out to be one of the wrecking crew. His face was white as he gazed down at me. Without saying anything, he put a few papers into my lap, grimaced and walked out of the room.

After shouting a quick "thanks," I retrieved the papers and studied them. It did not take me long to discover the reason he looked so pale. The pages were part of another diary, and this one proved just how sinister the guards of West Mills could be.

The basement of the prison served many purposes. Besides housing the executioner's room (also called "The Gate"), it also held the morgue and kitchens. Shortly after the prison was put under quarantine, the government began to limit the amount of food being sent out to West Mills. Supply shipments were cut almost in half. The guards were furious, and once again, they blamed the prisoners. The food that was sent went towards feeding the guards. There was more than enough for the guards, but not nearly enough to feed everyone else. To combat the problem, the executed prisoners were skinned, gutted and cut into slabs of meat which were then stored in the basement until the next meal. As there was at least one person executed every few days, this turned out to be highly effective. The prisoners complained, but never realized what they were complaining about. To them, it was simply raw meat (unless the guards were feeling generous, in which case, boiled meat.)

If that was not enough, the guards began using the blood of the deceased to prepare the hall that led to "The Gate" for the next person scheduled to be executed. They dragged the fresh corpse from "The Gate" and painted images and messages on the walls of the proceeding tunnel in their blood. The ravaged bodies were then kept in storage until they were needed.

What the hell kind of society do we live in? This prison was an abomination of the eighteen hundreds, and its presence taints this new century with the memories of blood and violence that should never exist. Suddenly, the whole place repulsed me. What had THIS room been used for? Now, all I wanted was to get out of here. I had no desire to know any more; I was eagerly awaiting West Mill's destruction. I prayed that the souls of the guards who had died here would feel the agony of their tomb's distruction.

I decided to leave; forget the article! No one needed to know any of this. I threw the papers across the room. They fluttered and dove before touching down on the floor. As I watched this, my eyes once again came to rest on the strange diary sitting where I had left it. I told myself to just leave it; I'd read enough, and it was getting late. Curiosity got the better of me once again, and I found myself reaching for the pages with trembling hands. The words glared up at me, as if berating me for turning my attention to something else. The horrors they conveyed caused my spine to prickle. I began to forget that this man was insane.

III – THE RITUAL

"I was alive and now I'm dead,

Round and Round the devils dance,

Satan's chanting in my head,

Round and Round the Devils dance,

I'm forced to drink their poison spill,

Round and round the devils dance,

Hell's seed can make you oh so ill

When round and round the devils dance.

… And the darkness was terrible. The emptiness that engulfed me was far greater than the solitude and ridicule of the prison. In the dreamless sleep that followed, I felt nothing, save the impenetrable veil of that black oblivion. It surrounded me, and its numbing touch burrowed deep into the core of my being until all subconscious thought became focused on its presence. I felt no warmth and thought of nothing, save the loneliness and isolation. I willed my existence to fade, but my thoughts were caught before they were half formed, and turned to ice which came crashing down on me, burying me under self-loathing.

Gradually conscious thought returned, and I became aware of substance once again. I awoke, feeling the post-slumber fatigue that always accompanies a long sleep creep over me. I felt better than I had in years. I realized that the whole thing had only been a dream. I felt the hard pallet under me, and, for the first time, I was happy to feel it. This would be a good day, I thought. Perhaps, if luck was with me, I would be let out! Maybe they realized they got the wrong man! Maybe … just maybe, the reason I could not remember was because there was nothing to remember.

I opened my eyes wide, ready to see the eye staring down at me; the one beacon of hope that ushered in every new day. The blackness was so unexpected that for a moment, I really did see the small circle of light above me. Then, the impression was gone, and I saw no more.

"No matter," I thought simply, "it's not morning yet."

I began reaching my hands to my face, but couldn't. Then, as I felt the metal that ran through my hands, and felt the strange confines of this darkness around my head, the cold hand of reality clutched at my chest, and I began to panic. The distorted Images of my final seconds of life penetrated the darkness for a split second. I saw the axe flash in the dim light as it plunged towards my neck.

When I screamed, it was deafening, and sounded pinched as though I were yelling into a narrow hole., I jittered my head, and felt something give way partially as the top of my head hit it. It left a wetness on my forehead, and now I could smell something. It was similar to a garden after a rainstorm: earthy and wet, but also musty, as though the very soil had been closed off from the world. I experienced a queer sensation of helplessness and the notion that I had been buried alive.

Then, I heard a squelching sound and sensed movement by my right cheek. Something was alive in here!. I opened my mouth to scream, and the second I did, something long and moist wriggled into my mouth. I gagged as it brushed against my tongue. It felt leathery and very warm as it began to wriggle down my throat. I Gagged and tried to spit it out. I tossed my head from side to side, and it wriggled even deeper. I felt like I was being raped.

A warm liquid began dribbling over my tongue and down my throat. It was very creamy. It had no taste, but as it hit my throat, it burned and I gagged again.

"Swallow it!" The guttural voice rasped harshly within my mind, as if my thoughts had gained a sinister will of their own.

No, I wouldn't! I willed my throat to close, but it was already too late. I felt the creamy liquid sliding down my throat. I swallowed.

"Good boy, swallow it down." The voice laughed gleefully; the same laughter as before; high-pitched and watery.

I could feel the fluid I had ingested slowly working its way through me, leaving a searing heat in its wake. My throat, chest and stomach were on fire, as though someone was holding a torch to my insides. Then the intruder that had so nonchalantly violated my mouth wriggled quickly back out. I felt it brush against my cheek, and then it was gone. … But the fire still ravaged my insides. It spread outward from my stomach, flooding my veins and turning my blood into liquid fire which pulsed through my body, sending jolts of pain through me. I screamed again, and the sound penetrated deep inside my skull. It drowned out the terrible laughter, but could not quench the pain which was growing steadily more intense. Every inch of my body burned. I expected to see flames licking my skin at any moment, but the fire never came. Instead, the sound of laughter grew louder, drowning out my own tortured voice. I realized then that the voices I heard were no longer laughing. The pitch had dropped, and the voices had grown a sing-song quality that made my breath catch in my throat. My screams ceased, though the pain did not.

What I heard reminded me of a tribe of primitive Indians I had come across one day a long time ago. I had all but forgotten about it until now. There had been a ring of them gathered around what must have been their chief who was roasting a pig over a large bonfire. The tribesmen gripped flaming sticks and were waving them high in the air, all the while chanting in a sing-song that carried above the roar of the flames.

"Nah-krah-Zuzambele, Isko-taqueh-akno-kell! Kili-koro-Zuzambele, nah-krah-Zuzambele!" As they chanted, the pig burned over the open flame. I saw a saddened expression on the Chief's face, and mistook it for regret until the other tribesmen suddenly stopped their rhythmic chant. They stood in silence for a moment, then one of them pointed his stick at the chief and shouted something. The others let out a chorus of whooping howls and within seconds, the chief was a flaming mass that screamed and writhed on the ground. At that point, I ran and did not look back.

The chanting I heard now was similar to the one I heard that day. The pitch was much lower and the voices had the same watery rasp that I had heard as I was cast down by the black hand, but the words were undeniably the same.

"Nah-krah-Zuzambele, Isko-taqueh-akno-kell! Kili-koro-Zuzambele, nah-krah-Zuzambele!"

What was happening? I could be dreaming except for the fire which still coursed through my veins. A sliver of orange light shown into my eye and I blinked. It flickered and danced as I reopened my eyes, and grew steadily brighter. The darkness peeled back, and the light continued to flicker.

At the same instant, the pain finally ceased, however, it was replaced with a chill which was just as unbearable. It doused the fire inside of me and left me feeling numb all over. I shivered, but could barely feel it. At the same instant, I looked around; how I wished I had not.

I was in a room similar to that in which I had been executed. The candles still stood around where I lay, flickering dully and causing shadows to dance and twitch along the walls which were pulsating rhythmically as some kind of brown growth rippled. Above me, a quivering darkness seemed to linger, just outside the ring of light thrown by the candles. It twitched, but remained invisible. But most horrible were the figures that danced in a circle around me. There were twelve of them, and they circled around me in a ring. Each one was tall, perhaps around six feet, and wore a black robe that all but obscured their physical features. Hoods were pulled up over their heads, and I couldn't see their faces. They moved with perfect harmony, thrusting their arms high into the air and causing their cloaks to ripple. The resemblance to those murderous savages was striking, but not identical. The Indians had chanted and stomped in frenzy, while these … creatures seemed controlled.

I tried to move, but could not, the numbness had paralyzed me to the point that all I could do was stare at the dancing creatures. My mouth would not move to form words, and I lay there helplessly as both the dancing and chanting abruptly stopped. Each of the figures turned slowly, and though I still could not see their faces, I sensed their eyes on me.

Then one of them spoke in a low guttural voice. "You have awakened at last. Welcome to your new home, Richy; we'll take good care of you. After all, you're a special soul … very special Richy. We have been waiting for you for a long time, and now you've come to us."

I tried to speak, but couldn't. Each figure began speaking in turn, and I was forced to listen to their gurgles and taunts.

"awww, don't worry about the cold, Richy; it won't last long."

"Your mortal soul is drained after such a long journey Richy; you must allow us to bring forth your immortal being before you start asking questions. No doubt you have questions."

"You ascended quickly, didn't you? Awww, poor little Richy. You were looking forward to heaven, weren't you? Too bad you didn't fly fast enough."

"We barely caught you Richy."

"But now we have, and you are with us at last."

" You have a special place among those who dwell here."

"You have been chosen; just like him, your "savior", the one who sacrificed everything so your pitiful human race could live.

"But you Richy, you are different. You are not him. You don't know what you are."

"You don't even remember why they killed you.

"Excuses!" one of them raised its arms and shouted the word. I winced.

Another laughed, the same terrible laughter as before. "No memory? Repression? Nehahaha!"

"Well … maybe we have a way to make you remember. And when you do, your fragile soul will be ready, and you will serve your purpose."

"But first…" The first creature stepped forward and put a hand on my mouth. He parted my lips with his fingers; I barely felt it. "First, you must be conditioned."

"The cleansing will follow," another said, "and then … well, you'll find out soon."

They all fell silent, and I heard another squelching sound. This time I saw the tentacle as it curled into my field of vision and then began wriggling towards my open mouth. Moisture glistened off its green skin, and it rippled as it entered my mouth. I could not feel the wriggling body this time, but seeing it enter my mouth and remembering what that had felt like made me want to scream. I could not, of course, and that knowledge only made it worse. I heard a squirting sound, like liquid being shot out of a tiny hole, and knew that I was being made to swallow something against my will.

A few seconds later, I was both relieved and repulsed. Relieved because feeling and warmth were gradually returning to my body, and repulsed because I could now feel the tentacle wiggling inside of me as it squirted its hot contents down my throat. Once again, the feeling of being raped stole over me and I gagged. Then the tentacle wriggled quickly out of my mouth and was gone from view. I screamed, revolted anew by what had happened, but also exalting in the sound of my own voice; a human voice.

They let me scream for a long time without saying anything. Gradually, I REALIZED THE FUTILITY OF THE ACT AND WENT SILENT
"Now then, that's better, isn't it Richy?" one of them asked good-naturedly.

"Your human body is nothing like the essence you exist in now, Richy," another said. "You are but a soul; you will no longer feel hunger, and you will no longer bleed. You have substance, however, as you can probably tell, but it is nothing like what you knew in life. Look down at your right hand."

I looked, and as I realized the metal spike that pinned my hand was still there, the pain came.

"One of the creatures laughed again. "You see, Richy, a soul can experience sensations as well."

"I'm going to remove your bindings now, Richy, but remember that you can still be bound."

Before I could say a word, one of them reached down and yanked the spike out of my hand. My skin rippled as the instrument slid out of it with a small hiss. The pain was incredible, but as the creature had said, there was no blood. The hole left by the spike glowed dully. Then the flesh around it rippled, and the hole was gone. With it, the pain vanished as well.

Another of the cloaked figures slid the other spike out of my hand slowly, but in doing so, he twisted it back and forth. I heard the same minute hiss, and this time I cried out.

"Now you understand. Misbehave, and you can easily be punished."

"Now, you are free to stand; why not test your new body?"

"What?" I asked, but one of the creatures cut me off swiftly.

"No questions, Richy, not just yet. Stand up, and then you can ask all the questions you like."

I had nothing else to do but obey. I swung my legs over the side of the womb that had bore me back into consciousness and moved to a sitting position.

"Good, now stand up, Richy."

I stood, a little unsteadily at first as the room spun. Then everything came back into focus and I steadied myself. I looked down at where I had just been laying and drew in a sharp breath. In front of me stood a horrible representation of the crucifix that served as the site of my execution. It was no longer wood, but seemed to be made of the same rippling growth that covered the walls. At the top where my head had lain there was a bulbous mass which rippled and glistened like mucus. From it, two green tentacles quivered and slowly writhed, slithering around and over one another .

I turned away, horrified. Had that been what was covering my face?

"Very good, Richy," came the gurgling voice. "That is the vessel of your new birth. Ironic isn't it? That the instrument of your destruction turned out to be the vessel for your rebirth? "He" thought so too. But you are not him."

"Now, Richy," you may ask of us the questions you have been waiting to know the answers to."

Ask questions? I thought. There wasn't enough time in all of eternity to answer all of them. I remained silent.

"Awwww, Little Richy is shy. That's alright, we will answer anyway."

"When next it spoke, its voice had changed. I heard my own voice, and shuddered.

"Where am I? Who are you?"

As if I had truly asked the questions, another spoke the answers. "Where do you think you are, Richy?"

"I don't know," I managed to say.

"One of the creatures laughed. "Oh come now, Richy, you may be dead, but you're not stupid. Your pathetic "religions" have been preparing you for the answer. Now, let's try again. Where do people go when they are really really bad?"

"Hell? …" I breathed.

At this, they all laughed. " They still say that hell is a place," one said.

"Stupid Religion! Stupid mortals! Hell is mortality!" Shouted another angrily.

"Hell is in the mind!" growled a third.

"Humans are pitiful! You all think you dominate the earth, yet you pray to a god that you don't even know exists. You preach of faith, yet you break the rules that God has set. You believe in hell, yet you still kill each other. Nehahahahah! Weak! Oh Richy, how glad we are you have come!"

I began to get angry, despite my bewildering surroundings. "Who are you to judge us? What the hell are you? And where am I if this is not hell!"

"There is no name that matters, Richy," one of them said. "Call this hell if it makes you feel better, but you can forget the fire and brimstone trash. Humans have been misled from the beginning, ever since God made the mistake of using a frail human vessel to birth a son."

"As for who WE are," another spoke up, "We are nothing. We are of no importance, save to provide strength and support to the one that truly matters."

"I don't understand," I said.

"You will, when the time is right. When your soul is cleansed; when you have come to terms with the darkness that clouds your past; when you have been humbled and made to feel the horror and shame you never felt in life…only then will you discover the truth. And then, the ultimate purpose to your existence will be on the verge of being fulfilled."

"You are not like the child of innocence; he was pure. You are a child of corruption and decay ; of hatred and destruction … and you don't even know it."

One of them beckoned to me. "Go from this place; feel free to explore and discover the answers for yourself. It is time for you to be cleansed with purifying truth.

With that, their shadowy forms seemed to waver in front of my eyes. Then I blinked, and they were gone. I was left alone, trying to make sense of everything they had said. The truth? If I could indeed find the truth about my crime, and why I was here, I wanted to find it. Fear stole through me as I moved about the room. Now that I was alone, the enormity of their words began to sink in. If this was not hell, then what was it? And who were THEY? I thought I wanted to know, but did I really? I needed to think, to get a hold of my thoughts and hold on to my sanity, which I felt was waning. I felt I was on the verge of some great discovery, and I preyed I would be able to handle it. One thing was certain, I did not want to spend an eternity in a place like this, surrounded by such vial creatures.

IV – The Cleansing

(To Be Continued)

V – The Reckoning

(To Be Continued )