The Caretaker

by Zach Myers 12 months ago in fiction

What's your choice?

The Caretaker
Photo by Ehud Neuhaus on Unsplash

Back and forth... back and forth... I sway. Hung by my ankles in the dungeon of old church ruins. Figures circled around me. Long fingers dangling from the sleeves of their robes. Faceless heads of rough, dry skin stare from the shadows.

An individual creature steps forth and places a molded black bowl beneath me as it grabs my body and stills its pendulum rhythm. Pulling a blade from a slit in its left forearm, the creature slices a sliver of flesh off of my chest and chews on it with a sloppy grin. I painfully grunt while blood pours down my face and into the bowl. It makes more cuts on my torso, giving the bits of flesh to the others like a sacrament. Their synchronized chewing intensifies and causes me to gag and start to puke, none of them noticing some fall into the bowl.

This angers the group, and the blade wielder pushes the blade up to my throat, speaking an unknown language while grinding teeth.

I spit in its face, "Kill me already."

The particles of vomit that hit its face scorch the skin. The creature bellows a deafening cry, drops the blade, and trembles backwards, falling to its knees. The others tend to its aid as I reach for the blade and cut the rope that suspends me from the ceiling. I hit the ground with a thud that knocks the wind out of me. The gathering of robed creatures turn their heads at me with a hissing that sliced the air.

Quickly, I grab the blood cauldron and toss the vile liquid upon them all. They fall to all fours, begging for mercy, so it appeared. I spear the blade into the face of the one who cut me and run to find the way out. I exit into a hall that stretches for what looked like no end. Just running and running, I search for another door for miles. There was no giving up, for the creatures were behind me. Not dangerously near, but in sight.

The floor opened beneath me and down I went. Into the depths of eternal descent, I watched my surroundings fly past me. Floor after floor after floor of other worlds. Dead worlds. Some left to ash. Some empty of all but dirt. Some made of battlefields full of corpses that extended as far as can see. Then, a hand caught me by the neck. A glowing figure in all white, cloaked and covered in black smudges and stains. Its eyes closed, breathing calmly in meditation. The world behind it was all white. Bodies laid upon the ground, oozing of black blood.

A male voice spoke, "So, have you come to join them?"

He opened his eyes, which were also the color of the darkest of nights. They peered into me with a sinister energy that sickened my mind with wicked imagery. I could feel the evil nature of his world clawing up my body.

"Will you join them, or shall I let you fall? They are only sleeping. We soon will feast and drink as long as you would fall. Do you not respect the dead?

"Do not release me!" I gasp with strain, "I shall feast!"

"Excellent. Very well." he says, tossing me into the field of bodies.

Blood from the man I fell upon got into my mouth and it threw me into a powerful trance. I felt belligerently drunk, yet alert and functional. It brought their world to life like a veil had been lifted. Color and vitality all around. The plants and trees all sang sounds I had never once heard before. I was awestruck with complete beauty at what was once a mass grave, now an earthly wonderland. The bodies sleeping around me, now woodland warriors. Like bears and wolves, they dreamt in hibernation.

"Be not fooled, traveler," warned the cloaked man, appearing the same, "Make of it your paradise, or make of it your worst nightmare."

"Who are you?" I ask.

"I am Tsenok, the caretaker of this realm. It is held for those souls that enter not into purgatory. Here, there is... The choice of illusion, if you will. You have only just arrived, so this scenery has been molded by default and holds the illusion of all these men and women who wanted to go to war. All have died and now sleep until their wake of another choice."

Tsenok takes a deep breath and begins to leave. The man next to me sits up suddenly and looks at me with great excitement, "Ahh! Welcome new friend! You must be very thirsty. Allow me to properly introduce the waking realm!"

The warrior walks to a nearby stone table and pours into a cup from a pitcher both made of golden leaves. He signals me over with a wave and hands me the cup, "The name is Avolose. Oldest soul among the army, making me the rightful king in our eternal theater."

Others begin to wake up and walk over to the very, very enriching beverage that enhanced the hypnotic state already engulfing my spirit.

"Comrades, say hello to our newest member. My friend, this here is Phorna. Here, we have Lednon. This, Sekka, and Nail-Biter, and Drastus, and..."

"Sorry to cut you off, but I must get back home. I haven't died to come here. This is a mistake. Can you tell me how to get back?" I plead.

All of them look at me. Their expressions turn to disgust. Beginning to draw weapons, I get pushed back.

"You dare disrespect the realm, the king, and the blessing of this sacred place?!" Avolose roars, "To start another war upon awakening is never... Never the wisest, my friend."

I continue getting shoved back. I peek behind for a second and see we are headed for the opening where Tsenok snatched me. The king's grip on his sword began to shake and clench with severe anger.

"Speak! What is more special about your world that makes you spit on the soil of ours? What?!" demands Avolose.

The king and his warriors begin to rip off their faces. As quickly as the trance hit me, did it fade. It was the faceless creatures standing before me, and behind them was the endless hallway. The king? It was now the creature who held the blade, now more furious than ever, breathing violently as saliva squeezed between its teeth. A diseased gash across its face. It lunged the blade into my chest and twisted it inside me, pulling me in closer, bringing my head to the side of its own.

The creature spoke in its language what sounded like a riddle and a rhyme. The others began to sing a chorus in a choir-like fashion that mimicked the nature of the king's realm in an eerie dissonance. Their song melted the walls of the hall and then there we all stood. In a place just like Tsenok dwelled within, but all darkness. The floor was of shallow water, like an enormous puddle that reached into the empty horizon. The blade was pulled out of me and raised to the creature's eyes. On it I could see Tsenok's face in place of the creature's.

"Like what you see yet?" asked Tsenok.

I coughed up blood as my dripping chest drenched me down to the floor. Looking at the water, I see Avolose standing with his sword, wet with my blood, in front of me.

"Where is your world that you speak of, huh? No one comes here who hasn't lost their life on Earth. You are as dead as the rest of us," Avolose sighs, "Now will you drink with us or do you insist on exhuasting us all with more of your deaths? Do you love dying over and over so quickly, is that it? Or are you still not yet convinced that you belong here?"

I look back up at the creatures. The place of their potential eyes now crying black liquid.

"We have wanted to stop for so long now, but you won't accept it," Tsenok speaks, "This world is meant to be shared. Not to reinforce the mental prison that you command to be inflicted upon yourself. We can create anything we could ever imagine right now. Does that not sound more appealing than going back to borishly haunt Earth forever? You certainly must be a miserable deranged soul to want that."

In unison, Tsenok and Avolose yell at me once more, "Death, or will you feast?!"

The singing of the creatures and realm fall out of tune and turn into beating drums getting louder and louder as I slowly walk backwards. Avolose and the creature thrust their blades another time, "Your choice?!"

I spit my blood at them all again as I scream in their faces, "Neither!" and step off the ledge of their realm. I descend deeper and faster, accelerating to extreme speeds. My surroundings turn into the hallway as I fall through it. Then I see the end at last. Faintly in the distance, the floor of the church dungeon becomes visible. In an instant I feel the yank of rope around my ankles stop my fall with excruciating force. I am knocked unconscious and all becomes dark.

I awaken, upside down in the dimly lit dungeon. The walls damp with blackened blood. Creatures circled around me. The one with the blade walks up to me, begins slicing off my skin, feeds the others, and mutters, this time in English, with a deep gurgle-like voice, "Poor, poor, Lucifer. Look at what your kingdom has become."

Zach Myers
Zach Myers
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