(For more chapters, please go to Rhapsody)

Chapter Nine: Absinthe Makes the Heart Grow Fonder


Ross remained in his room for the rest of the day.

He smoked joints of marijuana after joint, but the sickly sweet miasma did little to ease the scorching throes of agony howling inside of  him.

Sprawling spread-eagled across his bed, with greenish-grey haze hovering lazily about, he added another puff to the thickening smog, and rolled over painstakingly, blinking at the mottled-brown ceiling with feverishly delirious eyes.

The door creaked open, and Ken tiptoed in. Strange. He usually barges in like all hell’s broken loose.

“Ross? I brought you something.” He set a large, porcelain washbasin on his writing table, atop all his papers. “This might make you feel better. ”

With some difficulty, he propped himself up on one elbow, stood up shakily and staggered over to the table. Without hesitation, he plunged his face into the basin; filled to the brim with water and half-melted ice. Gasping and shuddering, he drew back sharply, shaking his head like a wet dog. The piles of papers wilted, and turned translucent, as the water droplets hit them mercilessly.

Drawing in a deep breath, he dipped forwards into the water once more. This time, he was ready when the frigid liquid enveloped him. It came smoothly, soothingly. He closed his eyes, letting the ice numb his hopelessly inflamed brain.

Reluctantly he drew back out again, blinking, staring at his own slightly distorted reflection. It stared back, now an emaciated, nearly spectral face, insolent, high on hashish. Slivers of sodden hair clung to the hollows of his face, framing them, making them seem all the more tapered. The cool water droplets trickled down his face, drenching the papers and making the ink run. Something warm dripped off the edge of his nose. He wiped it away roughly with the sleeve of his shirt; the white edge of the garment was stained instantly a crimson red.

Chapter Eleven: A Dirge to Wanderlust

She wades soundlessly into a deep slumber; the network of dangling tubes and wires casting macabre shadows across her bed, forming a cage of sorts, of which she is trapped willingly. They crawl beneath her skin in search of the delicately snaking blue-green passages, opening up her innards and unleashing chemical composites with unpronounceable names into her like liquid bullets. The ongoing orchestra of the hospital – frantic beeping of monitors, furtive coughs into pillows, crisp instructions from receptionists, murmured greetings or farewells from nurses in uniform and family members garbed in austere hues – navy, steel gray, maroon – all suppressed, muted by the semi-ajar door to her ward.

Beneath her shivering eyelids she is restless; burning, then drowning. She moans lightly and struggles against the wordless restrains of the bed covers. Dreaming, she reaches out and caresses the nebulous water with her eyes, her palms; every particle of her body thrashing out blindly to douse the errant flames that threaten to consume her. She dreams of lust, of vermilion and burnt sienna clouds, of cohorts of raindrops trickling longingly down her neck and vanishing into the intoxicatingly damp-scented earth. She dreams of grass, of iridescent green fields and soaring above with the air whistling in her ears, fingers skimming through the clumps of newborn dew resting precariously on the tips of the blades. She dreams of night, of vast, starless skies tinted fuchsia and indigo that tosses down asphyxiating cloaks of vertigo and exultance, sweeping her into the swirling depths as she raise her head reverently. She dreams of air, of air, of air. . .

Chapter Nineteen: The Joker Revisited

Cheesy as it is, this was pretty fun and at times painful to write. Hope you like!

Ross woke abruptly in the middle of the night, trembling involuntarily as several pairs of footsteps clicked smartly across the dusty tiles, approaching his cell second by second. He barely had time to leap to his feet when keys jangled in the lock, and the iron bars were flung backwards. Throwing up his hands protectively as the glaring pinpoint of a flashlight searched haphazardly about his face, he perceived dimly a thick, calloused finger before the path of light, beckoning him. He followed the silent guards out of the cell, all the while tugging at his unruly hair in nervous apprehension.

They stopped after several flights of stairs, and he was directed into a small room immediately to the left of the staircase. He blinked in the darkness, heard only the steady dripping of water droplets onto the stained, cracked linoleum, and received a small shock when the gravelly, bullfrog-like croak of Llorente cut across the room. “And how are we today, Mr Teodoro?”

Ross spun around as two black-garbed guards darted out of the darkness and pinioned him again the wall, cuffing his arms behind his back with a set of rusty but sturdy chains. Llorente observed wordlessly as they dragged him into the middle of the room and fastened the chains to a thick wire hanging from the low ceiling, so that his arms were now suspended in midair.

Llorente cleared his throat audibly, and stepped out from behind his desk. “Ready to talk now, Teodoro?”

Ross gave harsh, barking laugh. “Nice try, but you’re going to have to try harder.”

Nodding in mocking agreement, Llorente snapped his fingers, and a guard stepped forwards with a gleaming coil of leather whip. Dangling it in front of Ross’s nose, Llorente ran his fingers carelessly up and down the leather. “Finest rhinoceros hide, Teodoro.” He drawled lazily. “Who knows how many spines this beauty has cracked across? Now-” He glanced at Ross’s slim but finely wrought torso in mild appreciation. “That’s a mighty good form you’re in; wouldn’t want to destroy all that, not at all. So if you’ll just be a good boy and tell me where Karenin Ko is hiding at the moment, and I’ll let you go without a second word.”

Closing his eyes, Ross recalled the cool, fragrant lips of Kaleda brushing like a sliver of breeze across his neck. If he cracked, all of them would be captured and executed in a matter of days. Keeping his eyes closed, he intoned slowly “Sorry, man, gonna have to say no to that one.”

Llorente smiled benignly, as if he were an age-wearied grandfather and Ross was a naughty child lacking discipline. “Aye, that won’t do.” He motioned to the guard standing behind Ross, and a second later the whip ripped across his back and shoulders, tearing a large section his shirt into tatters and flaying open his skin. He let out a muffled cry of anguish, staggering forwards as all the air was knocked out of him. A second blow came down before he had caught his breath, and he was left groaning and convulsing violently against his bonds.

“Let’s try one more time, Teodoro. Where is Karenin Ko and the rest of his acolytes?”

Gathering his strength, Ross spat out a wad of bloodied saliva onto the meticulously polished tips of Llorente’s boots in reply, and earned three blows in rapid succession, which left him doubled over and contorted in agony. The back of shirt was now completely in shreds, sinking into the torn and mangled flesh. Another guard stepped forwards and tore away what was left of the garment, along with fragments of skin and flesh. He gasped as the  excruciating pain shot through every nerve of his body.

Sneering malevolently, Llorente hissed “Perhaps it’s best that you learn our rules before we continue, yes?” He snapped his fingers again and whispered into the ears of the head guard, then turned on his heels and glided out of the room, leaving Ross panting heavily and shaking in trepidation.

The next minutes whirled by, punctured by the whoosh and snap of leather on skin. Ross stopped keeping count and concentrated on clenching his teeth together as tightly as possible, flinching and inhaling sharply only when the whip marks crisscrossed with one another. His hair clung to his forehead damp with cold sweat, and droplets of blood oozed from his wounds and trickled down his back in a macabre display. Without realizing it, he drifted in and out of consciousness, and was awoken rudely with a bucket of water dashed from head to toe.

A loud rap on the door interrupted the guards’ torments, and in swept Claire, eyes flashing. Her eyes fell on the soaking wet prisoner with a cartography of whip marks across his back and eyes shut defiantly. Stepping closer for a better look, she noted his dripping lashes against cheeks laden with pallor. She touched a finger gingerly to his exposed ribs, and his eyes flew open. For a single moment, she was taken aback by the myriad of emotions spilling from the nearly-black pupils – intense suffering, hopeless panic, desperate longing, and even a touch of languidness, then all of it melted away, leaving only a scorching glare of hatred.

She was sorry; for he was good-looking in a dark, reckless manner, and the welts across his back were enough to send multiple shivers down anybody’s spine. Turning to the guards, she asked pointedly “Are you almost finished for the day?” It’s too loud; I can’t get any sleep and neither can my sister.”

The head guard bowed respectfully. “Just one more thing, Miss.” He grinned maliciously. “Would Miss like to stay for the sake of entertainment?”

Claire shuddered inwardly for the young man, but nodded despite herself. The guard nearest the door disappeared and came back with a small jar filled to the brim with tiny white crystals glittering like gems in the gloom. Without warning, he poured the contents down Ross’s back, filling the room with the bitter tang of sodium chloride.

All Ross knew was that his entire back was on fire, burning and twisting and falling away in strips. His own hoarse screams filled his eardrums and caught in his throat as the agony multiplied and mounted to unendurable levels. He found himself writhing wildly and yelling out “Stop! Stop! Make it stop! No more! No more!” A sickening orange light danced before him, the guards were laughing raucously, someone was groaning softly in sympathy, and he lost all senses once more to the comfort of darkness.

July 2018
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