Bob was jolted from his dark dream when the prison door swung open with a high-pitched squeal, like a metallic pig being gutted. The hellish light from the furnace in the next room blinded his eyes, eyes swollen from beatings and lack of sleep, and panged his head so that he quickly shut his eyes again. Heavy feet trudged into the darkness of the cell, and Bob could hear the other prisoners chained to the wall begin to squirm. They wiggled from fear of being chosen next.
Bob thought them all for fools, as the only way to be passed over was to be thought as dead.
As the man limped slowly into the cell to select his next prisoner, victim, toy, Bob relished the blazing heat that poured in from the fully stoked furnace of the torture chamber. He knew those few precious moments of heat would be gone all too soon, and he begged his skin to absorb every last lick of flame before the metal door was swung closed once more and the winter night took command of the icy cell.
Chains rattled two rows next to him, and Bob heard a mumble and then a startled shout. The voice was weak and bumbling, full of begging and pleading that would not be heard. The thud of a fist punching meat took the wind from the poor soul’s gut, and the chains were loosed. Bob heard the prisoner fall to the ground in a heap, and for a moment he hated that man for being relieved of the pain that came from iron bindings digging into flesh for weeks upon weeks.
But that hatred only lasted a moment.
The man’s voice came back to him as the lumbering torturer pulled him by his hair and began to limp back toward the furnace, toward the chamber of screams, dragging his prize behind him. The prisoner’s scream was frail and weak and could barely pass for that of a child’s, but he cried out none the less. Bob cracked an eye to make out who it may have been, but it was a useless endeavor. They were all living skeletons now, faceless and forgotten and identical in their wait for the grave.
The door was pulled closed with another grinding squeal of metal on metal, and the cold began to bite into Bob’s flesh once more. He let his eyes drift open again and saw the cold blue lines of the moon peaking in through narrow gaps in the stone wall. An orange glow flowed out through the crack beneath the door and reflected off the wet blood on the stone.
While a man’s eyes can be shut, the ears cannot, and soon Bob found himself listening to the beginning of another vile ritual. Chains jingled and clasped and were soon pulled tight. Pleading words shifted to sounds of horror and ultimately to shrill cries of pain as the chains were pulled beyond burden. In his mind, Bob could see the torturer clutching the wheel that pulled the chains tighter, leaning into it, his leather gloves twisting against the worn wood of the handle. Eventually, the screams would crescendo, and the ritual would break form and flow into freedom. Some nights that giant man who kept the furnace alive would find himself in a delicate mood, and the screams would continue for hours. Other nights saw more brutal force and shouts were soon replaced by the sound of crunching bones.
Tonight, the bastard dragged inside was given the gift of mercy. His scream peaked in mere moments and then was silenced. Perhaps it was late and their host was tired. Perhaps he saw something in that weak man which meant there’d be no time for having fun. Either way, whatever it was, the fragile voice was cut short. What followed was the sound of liquid and meat falling onto stone in a flood. The blood trickled down between the cobblestones, under the door, and into the cell. Bob could smell the sweet iron of that blood in the air and dipped his numb toes in its heat in a vain attempt to regain a shred of warmth for himself.