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Prologue: An Uncomfortable Realization
In the first minute, a sinner woke up with a shiver.
The sinner saw black. The numbing cold caused him physical pain; His joints ached underneath throbbing muscles and strained against his stiff movements. Fresh pain shot through his head. He opened his eyes, expecting hangover pains from the morning sun, but blackness remained. In a blind burst of confusion, he pushed himself onto all fours. He crawled a pace or two on his hands and knees, no more than a lost, broken dog, though lacking the senses of a canine, the unfamiliarity overpowered him.
Smooth tile kissed the sinner’s palms. The blindness and pain reminded him of a concussion he suffered in high school.
The sinner had been on the football team. During the last game he ever played, he had been running the ball in for a touchdown. An opposing player tackled him hard, from behind, and with grabby hands. He was hit hard enough that the face mask had been ripped from his helmet in sync with the muscle in his calf ripping from the bone. The concussion and leg injuries healed over time, but his spirit had broken with his body. The thought of taking another violent hit crippled him in a way that even ripping his muscle couldn’t. Instead of admitting weakness, he aspired for individual success in a less violent sport: swimming.
Swimming had been a part of the sinner’s rehabilitation. The water calmed him. The water cheered with the hushed sound of filters and flow noise. Football pressured a player to please the crowd, the school, the town. Man vs. World. The pool was the antithesis of a football stadium. It pressured a player to please himself. Man vs. Self. Every stroke strengthened his body and his resolve that he was finished with football. His coach, no stranger to football injury, was the only person sincere in both his support and his understanding. Nobody was going to tackle him to hard dirt in the soft water.
These memories flashed behind the sinner’s eyes. Every sense struck him with intense realism; each flash was a cell shown through the lens of a clumsy and realistic movie projector. Even the light of these memories had realistic resonance, though the faux illumination of these memory flashes hurt, like bullets shot from the past and picking up speed as they traveled. He cleared his thoughts and switched to more recent memories. From blinding remembrance to cold contemplation, the pain remained.
The sinner remembered mixing codeine prescribed for his nagging back pain with the anti-depressant prescribed after the death of his sister. He washed the pills down with a beer or three, ignoring warning labels to the contrary. In his opinion, warning labels were guidelines for lightweights. Having never woken up in strange place or experiencing such a severe headache, he guess it was time to re-evaluate his opinion. The one thing he could recall was how warm his bed had been, a stark comparison to the crypt-like cold of where he had woken up.
In the second minute, the sinner was approached by fear.
The sinner denied fears advances and focused.
The sinner remembered Sheila. Or was it Shirley?
Whoever the woman from the bar had been, she had fallen asleep as he debated the second codeine pop. He was quick to dismiss her as a suspect for his dilemma. She couldn’t have scammed him, and she lacked the strength to lift and move him. Not an ounce of her ninety pounds was muscle. It was unlikely that she could have reached friends with muscle while handcuffed to the bed. She wore the restraints during their wild night of what he passed for love making and had fallen into a deep slumber without a single request to remove them.
Whatever had happened, he should have been able to prevent it. He hadn’t been cuffed.
Not him. Never him.
A small echo reverberated; an echo like the first drop of rain on a metal awning. The echo repeated to his left every few seconds. A few drips in, he realized that the sound was moving. The dripping grew closer and louder with each echo, the audible salivation of an invisible monster.
A drop splashed his hand. He jerked it out of the way and trembled. The sound circled behind him and moved to his right.
Curious, he lifted a finger to his lips to flick his tongue at the moisture.
The taste of salt whet the sinner’s curiosity. He lived nowhere near a salty body of water. Was it a cave? He couldn’t remember if stalactites were salty or if they dripped or if bats had audible orgasms; the breadth of his cave knowledge was that Batman had one. He didn’t need the world’s greatest detective to tell him that dripping salt water meant there was an opening somewhere.
In the third minute, the sinner’s fear calmed.
Stupid, stupid fear.
The water continued circling the room. On the second lap, water splashed the sinner on the back. He turned onto his ass and scrambled backwards a few feet, sure he looked like a dog scratching away at worms in rewind. Pain screamed with every movement. He whipped his head around, ignoring the pain and desperate for an answer.
Where the fuck am I?
The sinner read an article many years before describing torture methods used throughout history. This reminded him of one of the more brutal methods.
The iron maiden, first used in the nineteenth century, was a torture device that offered release to the lucky. The spikes that lined the door pierced deep into the flesh when closed. If sheer pain or shock didn’t leave the victim unconscious, they bled until Death, whistling a tune and swinging a sickle, found them. If the victim was sure of their fate and not lacking in testicular or cervical fortitude, they pushed against the spikes to hasten the process.
The Spanish Inquisition brought torture to a whole new level. Heretics who would not repent the sins that most of them did not commit were burned, prodded, poked, and bled out. Men’s penises were sheathed by scalding hot clamps. Heathens were forced to sit in chairs covered with red hot spikes that left permanent scars in unspeakable places. Any combination of metal and heat that caused severe pain and probable cessation of life were invented by the Catholics during those dark ages.
Bloodletting, stoning, beheading, and plethora methods of torture that caused severe pain before death.
To the sinner, water torture topped them all. No pain. No scarification. No heat or metal. A person didn’t gain a physical handicap. Death was a seldom offered gift. Damage to the psyche, not death, was the goal, though the pieces of consciousness that made up a man seldom survived the process.
A person would be restrained under a slow drip of ice water. Those with strong will called the bluff and claimed the method ludicrous. Water wasn’t a weapon. Water was life! And water claimed life. He had intimate knowledge of that fact, and the knowledge never ceased to haunt him.
The straps would be tightened and the flow would begin. After minutes, depression came knocking.
Thought turned into nonsensical dead weight. Fueled by fatigue, annoyance, and the constant freezing drop, a person started to get cranky and sick to their stomach. Not enough to succumb, but enough to begin considering the different options giving up might offer, if for no other reason than to take their mind off of the drip. A few more minutes, and panic reared above the dark places within their mind, a stealth serpent waiting to strike. Numb and delirious, a person who still possessed the capacity for logic understood how water could destroy what even the mightiest armies couldn’t touch.
The more pride and will power a person possessed, the longer they remained the table being kissed by drops of ice water. Those traits, full of valor and envied by most, left their minds and spirits broken. The strong survived as shells of their former selves, driven insane by traits that had once defined them. The weak remained weak. Regret and shame gave them secret solace and left their senses intact.
There were worse fates than guilt. Water torture did not produce martyrs.
The ingenuity of the world’s oldest culture was sick, smart, and effective. The sinner was trapped in the evolution of that ingenuity.
In the fourth minute, the sinner began to unravel.
When the dripping became a steady flow, the sinner grew more afraid. The smell of salt in the air stung his nose; the ice water droplets ricocheting off of the ground stung his body.
The sinner had alienated every person he had ever known. He was a penniless creature of envy and shame. Nobody in the world would respond to a ransom note left in his place. That knowledge stung worst of all.
The sinner vowed, upon escape, to never again sleep with Sheila. Or Shirley.
Whatever the fuck her name was.
I’ll find whoever did this to me and return the favor seven fold. Fucking bastards!
Delirium advanced forward as each detail of the situation dove head first into the lake of nonsense that filled the room.
Brave thoughts ran through the mind of the sinner until the icy water reached his body. Wherever he was, it was sealed tight. The room would soon be full, and he would drown. It was the one detail that refused to take a plunge.
Knowledge, sense, and rational thought lost potency. A mantra looped, a skipping record playing to the monsters stepping out of the closets of his nightmares.
Water gives life. Water takes life. Water is life.
The sinner was terrified of drowning.
Climbing to his feet with care he began to shuffle forward, with useless eyes and outstretched hands, until he ran into something solid. Pain shot through his fingertips, up through his elbows, and spread through his shoulders. Soreness caused even glancing contact with an object hurt. He dragged his hands along the surface of a wall, caring little about the small stings of pain.
The texture was like solid, sharp stucco. When he put pressure on the wall, the pain in his hands worsened. He shook and wiped his hands on his shirt, hoping the pain was from broken debris, and touched the wall again. The results were the same.
The sinner tried one more time to wipe whatever was causing him pain off of his hands, using his chest instead. Doing the same thing and expecting different results. Insanity defined.
The sinner brought his fingers to his lips. What he tasted was salty, though it wasn’t water, and it wasn’t cold.
It was the unmistakable rust of warm blood.
Panic had been taking a smoke break since the sinner opened his eyes. The taste of blood was the stubbing of the butt. The realization of blood was the shutting of the screen door. Panic had officially joined the party, bringing along two of his best friends. Irrationality and shaky bladder control.
The sinner shuffled sideways along the wall. New cuts bit into his hands and were ignored. He searched for a door or a lever or a handle with his hands; he searched for an escape. Every few steps, water flowed onto him. He would shiver, shake, and side step the flow.
The sinner hit a wall with his shoulder. He tried not to focus on the stabbing sensation that coupled the bump. He turned ninety degrees and continued along the wall. Logic was still fighting. The water had reached his ankles.
The sinner found another wall, more pain, and made another turn. He was finding nothing as the water rose faster. At calf level, the sound of faucets was drowned out by the sound of a fire hose. The irony, that the sound indicated his imminent death instead of a warm fire blanket and a sense of renewed life did not escape him.
The strange material on the wall took small pieces of flesh from the sinner’s hands. He felt the water rising faster up his legs. Though he welcomed the numbness that took away the pain, he knew that his success in finding an exit would determine how far the numbness would reach.
The water reached the sinner’s lower buttocks. Small waves began crashing into his body from the sources of the flow. When the water reached his lower abdomen, he balled his hands into fists and struck the wall, ignoring the jetting pain and screaming “WHY?” to absent ears.
In a moment of clarity, the sinner wondered if he could find the answer on the floor instead of the walls. Cave’s had tunnels, after all. He hadn’t just appeared in the room. Like a magician submerged in a box of water, he had to find the source of the illusion. The rest would be easy!
Unless the illusion had gone wrong. Not every entrance doubled as an exit.
The sinner breathed deep and plunged beneath the water. The salt licked his fresh scrapes and cuts. He moved his hands along the ground, searching for anything other than the slick surface of the smooth tile. He found nothing and returned to his feet.
Taking another deep breath, the sinner tasted the salt in his mouth. He wondered how long it would be before the water brought him to the ceiling. One man’s ceiling was another man’s floor. A ceiling could mean a trap door.
The higher the water level, the less of the precious air would remain. If he couldn’t find an exit, he would be breathing in the black water that was entombing him, and his struggling would end.
In the fifth minute, the water reached the sinner’s chest.
The sinner dove beneath the water once more and let his water trained legs guide him around the floor. His search for an escape grew more frantic.
It had become a nightmarish ritual. The sinner repeated it for as long as each breath let him.
The sinner breathed in deep and dove.
The water level continued to rise.
The sinner resurfaced and braced for footing.
Eventually, his feet no longer touched the floor. Hope had mocked him with each break of the surface. He had nothing to show for the air and time he had wasted.
The sinner dove again and smacked his head against a sharp wall. Even underneath churning water, the distinct dizziness of disorientation took precedence for a few moments, moments where even panic, the uninvited party guest, was quiet. Those few seconds were the happiest he had ever experience.
Panic wouldn’t let him relax for long. He was sure that every unsuccessful dive would deliver him to freedom. So close to the wall, the dives brought nothing but fresh cuts. So many more cuts.
One more breath, and one more dive.
As the sinner kicked his legs to resurface, his hand brushed against a metallic object that moved at his touch. The object made a sound he could barely translate under the water. It had a familiar texture, heavy and grooved and rough.
It was freedom. He had found freedom, against all odds. And freedom felt like a chain.
The sinner grabbed for the chain. He caressed the links and loops to confirm his suspicion, ignoring his the pain in his chest warning him surface. He would handle the pain when he was safe and dry. He was willing to sacrifice anything short of his life to pull that chain.
The sinner’s lungs screamed for air before he could get a grip. The shock loosened his hands when will power wouldn’t let him. The chain was dropped, but not lost. He kicked upward, as straight as possible, so as not to lose bearing of his ray of hope.
Straight up, straight down, pull the plug. A simple plan to end the hopeless ritual.
The moment should have been triumphant. The sinner kicked with all of his strength to escape the surface for that one last breath. The breath promised salvation. His body exploded upward. He found precious air and mild waves. Inches above the surface, his head found the unforgiving ceiling.
The top of the sinner’s skull flattened. The bone beneath fragmented into his brain. The skin did not break. From what he could tell, there was no trap door.
The sinner went limp. He no longer felt pain or panic as his body bobbed against the ceiling, so he had that going for him. In time, his body sank towards his unrealized escape path.
The sinner had one final path of thought as the icy water filled his lungs with salty fire. His pitiful life did not flash through his consciousness. His little sister Sarah and her terrible death did.
The sinner was supposed to protect Sarah with his life, as dictated by blood. He had loved and adored her for her grace, humility, and kindness. He also envied her, and that envy turned into selfish apathy. She died because he gave up, and his death would mimic hers because karma came around for everybody in the end. Like the day she died, nobody would be there to save him.
Sarah had died in the sinner’s pool while he had slept off a hang-over on the couch. He had not heard her head smack on the diving board or her bloodcurdling scream before she hit the water.
Sarah could have been saved, had he not failed her.
The sinner could not be saved because he had failed himself.
I wonder if Sarah felt this hopelessn. This pain. My God, little sis, I’m so fucking sorry. I should have been there spotting you. I should have saved you! It’s over for me. I’ll see you soon, little sis! And I’ll spend eternity making it up to you. I swear it.
Like most promises the sinner had made in life, the promise was empty and impossible.
In the sixth minute, the sinner died.
The story of the sinner’s pain and torment hadn’t gone so far as the first letter of the prologue.
Water takes life. Water gives life. Water is life.
In the seventh minute, the sinner woke up with a shiver.