Life Anew

It’s the expected conclusion to Chuck’s Opening Lines Contest. I chose William Hardman’s line for my open. Instead of doing homework and studying for a test on Tuesday, I wrote 978 additional words to get to 999:

I have known Doctor Kershaw for twenty-eight years, but he was about to meet me once again for the first time. Today, I would commit to him without reservation. I’ve resisted him for what seems like ages, but no more. I never believed him capable of the horrors he wrought, but I see his victims bound by chains. I can’t deny what I see: it’s overwhelming. I looked into the eyes of the women here. I wasn’t the first to enter his chamber, but their sad, broken eyes told me I’ll be the first to succumb to his plan. A plan he told us time and time again, before beginning each day. “To alleviate pain,” he would say, “we must know pain. We must live pain.” Harsh overhead lights would flicker on so we could see each other’s pain. He would conclude, as always, “We must become pain.” Except for his whistling, each session was in stark silence. The fear in the room is palpable. It wasn’t just the smells or the frightened whimpering; it was knowing the cycle begins anew each day. My heart raced at what was next, but each time it happened, I felt a sliver of my soul perish. In the beginning it raced due to sheer terror, now it races in anticipation. When I examine the depth of my wretched soul, I know it races with desire.

The implements of torture lined his tray with precision. I’d known he was meticulous, but watching him clean and arrange each tool compounded the dread. It exemplified his commitment to his task. He whistled a cheery melody. It was unchanging, unrelenting, dare I say, even unnatural. This melody presented itself when he was in his element. I knew he was the happiest – perhaps enthralled when he whistled. His smile was shocking. It was so different from the pleasant professional smile I’ve seen for almost three decades. Something dark and sinister hid behind that smile. In the past I was subconsciously aware something was there, now I knew what that something was. My own bloodstained tray contained each item he forced me to use on them. I’d become quite efficient and knew each device intimately. Once, after a particularly gruesome session, he placed his hands on mine and told me he was in love with my technique. “Our destiny is to do my work for all eternity.” He said before brushing my cheek. The warmth of his touch contrasted with the cold steel he used on me and, in turn, I used on them. He kissed the top of my head before bounding up the stairs, whistling louder than I had ever heard him before. The silence in his wake trumped by the echo of the door latch. I knew it would happen each time, but I still winced. I wondered how much longer I could resist before I succumbed to the darkness forever.

I heard the floorboards above creak. He had returned. The door opened and I looked up to see wisps of dust expand in the heavy air. Each step had a thump preceding the dust. Looking away, I knew that there were exactly twelve steps from the floor above to this world of pain. Pain I’ve endured and pain I’ve inflicted.


Two thumps – each one echoes in the void when I close my eyes.

Four thumps – chains rattled as we make ourselves small and unnoticeable.

Six thumps – He seemed to be moving more cautiously than before.

Eight thumps – they sounded different from what I’ve known.

Ten thumps followed by a pause.

Today, something was different. I knew deep down – different was bad. My life had become repetition. Precision dictated this and no deviation allowed. My mere survival sought habit.

I craved those last two thumps. I needed those last two thumps. Why had he stopped? Two more steps were all I wanted to hear. The waiting was excruciating. I don’t think my heart ever raced as fast – even during my first experience in his dungeon. I wanted to call out to him. Assure him I would comply, merge my being with his and carry out the work he cherished. I would have done anything to get back to the routine.

He shuffled on step number ten. I single tear escaped my eye and I admonished myself for it. Would he still love me if I cried? This had to be a test.

Thump. Number eleven sounded almost tentative. All around me the sounds of my prison fell away. I was attuned to those thumps. Never in my life did I remember wanting something so bad. ONE MORE STEP! My mind cried out, pleading, yearning.

Thump. Exhilaration. Rapture. My moment was nigh.

“Oh my God.”

Speech? The voice was not his. The tone was different.

“I’ve found them! They’re down here!”

I shrunk from the loud cacophony. The shout echoed off the stone hewn walls. Echoing sniffles and whimpers had been my companion for so long, a shout of authority seemed foreign to me.

The floorboards above reverberated with the thunder of footfalls enjoining with the clamor of overlapping voices.

“Ma’am?” The authoritative voice was soft now. I didn’t know how to respond other than to squeeze my eyes shut.

“Can you open your eyes? You’re safe now.”

I opened my eyes to see a look of concern. I reached out to touch stubble and I felt a compassionate hand hold mine and lift me to my feet. He guided me towards the steps. I paused at the bottom step and wondered if I deserved salvation.

“Take your time.” He whispered.

I wept. Great sobs of relief. I wasn’t the only one; gasps of shock echoed where once there was silence. The stench of fear replaced by the cologne of my savior. I prayed I could live in the world that once was. As I climbed the stairs, each thump brought me closer to it. I walked through the door and my life began anew.

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About Mark Gardner

Mark Gardner lives in northern Arizona with his wife, three children and a pair of spoiled dogs. Mark holds a degrees in Computer Systems and Applications and Applied Human Behavior. View all posts by Mark Gardner

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