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Thursday, June 20, 2024

Dust and Sand – Chapter 26 – By Sean P. Wallace

Chapter 26

In the flesh of the earth, someone was singing.

“While I draw this… fleeting breath, when mine eyes shall… close in death, when I soar to… worlds unknown… see Thee on Thy… Judgement Throne.”

Penelope Chalmers’ voice barely echoed in her cell. As the last note lingered, her teeth chattered to create an unwitting staccato effect. She closed her eyes, lowered her voice, and whispered “Rock of Ages… cleft for me…”

There was no response, no space for hiding. The demons whispered still.

“You need to give in.”

“Your rescuers have been taken hostage.”

“Look, here he comes.”

“The ‘man’ sent to save you.”

The demons had begun to soften. They sounded almost… empathetic now. Or maybe their horrible words were working, drilling deep into her mind. Either way, this break in the torture that had her singing for hours was incongruous enough that she decided to see this rescuer.

Penelope stood. It took some time. The cold had settled so deep into her bones that she imagined it had become integral, that her frame would melt if she ever thawed. Her muscles barely responded, filled with ice crystals as they must be, and her constant shivering made every movement uncertain. She had to slide up the constantly-spewing wall to right herself. The river of foul yellow mucus splashed across her clothes but that didn’t seem so important now; she could not get any more filthy.

This miracle achieved, the demons said “Close your eyes.”

“This light is coming.”

“We don’t want you to be blind.”

“We want you to see him.”

Penelope did as directed but only to avoid unnecessary pain. As it was, the bright flare made burning spheres of her eyes and tore into her lids. She tried to scream but it was a mere croak; her voice was still hoarse from Mahrey’s last visit.

Thinking of Mahrey made her whole body shake uncontrollably. Such episodes had become more and more common since… recently. Penelope worried she was close to earning a nervous condition. Not that she could do anything about it.

“Pass me not, O gentle Saviour,” Penelope sang to try and calm herself, her only defence against her trials. Her voice had aged over the past few days; she was sounding more and more like her Grandma. “Hear my humble cry. While on others Thou are calling… do not pass me by.”

This time, someone was listening; her fear subsided almost immediately and so did the shakes.

“Come on,” said the demons.

“He’s nearly here.”

“You need to see him.”

Penelope opened her eyes and, after some initial fuzziness, saw her cell in the approaching brightness. Only the shameful corner of her room had changed; it was now a shameful quarter. She would soon have to curl up into the opposite corner to sleep. She then took the opportunity to examine herself; her hands were stretched skin over vicious bone and her clothes had descended into an off-brown. Her leather boots were splashed with grime. If she could see herself now, she imagined she’d see an emaciated ghost, a haunted and wasted being.

Her light was coming from a grate in her door at about eye height. It had not opened while Penelope was awake, she’d never even seen its outline, and yet somehow it was open now.

Penelope pushed herself along the wall until she reached the door. Clasping the smooth metal grate, she looked out into the corridor; it was a subterranean passage, something too deliberate to have been dug by the Lord’s grace, with blazing torches stationed at twenty metre intervals. It was bright enough to see a good distance down either way, which made her wonder what ingenious method the demons had used to prevent this light entering her cell before.

As an act of defiance, she slipped her fingers through the grate. The corridor was much warmer than her cell, almost boiling by comparison, and her fingertips greedily ate up the heat. Just this brief act brought tears to her eyes. She wiped them away with warm flesh.

Sean is an editor, writer, and podcast host at Geek Pride, as well as a novelist. His self-published works can be found at all good eBook stores.

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