short story by ANALICIA TORRES

My chains rattled with an unbearable amount of screeches and clanks. The pain in listening to the metal grate against the stone was enough to drive anyone insane, even me. It was a wonder I hadn’t pried the loose nail in the sconce out and forked it through my skull already. I thought about it, too— fantasized, actually. I dreamt about the day where the manacles didn’t chafe my skin and the sound of feet approaching didn’t make my stomach curl in on itself and squeeze everything inside me to the surface. The torches— or torch I should say, considering the others died out days ago— didn’t give off the warmth I’d hoped they would. Instead, their flickers of life left me with the same guttural pain they always did. Not for the fact that they were murderous flames only held back by a single wall, but the fact that, in some way, I related to that very monster. We were both bound to this dank room of cold seepage and the musty smell of death further down the way without a way of escape other than the person who will carry us out of here.

Talking to the walls had been my first approach at being confined to solitude. Of course, after a certain point, the echoing stones lost their appeal of conversation, seeing as they only repeated what I’d already said back to me in distorted versions of myself. Eventually I’d go mad listening to their attempts at mimicking me. Why not stave off hysteria a little longer? No one here would know the difference. They already thought I was crazy— who was I to crush their beliefs?

The torch hung on the wall opposite me. I crawled as close to it as my chains would allow me. My teeth clenched together listening to the iron slink along the floor, the soulless ghost that followed me and would forever haunt my ears. I tried to summon the courage to talk over them, make the clamor more tolerable. But nothing worked. Nothing ever did. I chewed the ends of my fingernails until they bled, never wasting one clipping to the floor. I wasn’t picky when it came to food seeing as how scarce it was. The instant I bit too deep and warm blood began to gush from the bite, my stomach would growl with disappointment and urge me to keep going. I kept moving towards the flame as I chewed, ignoring the tight cinch of pain in my skull as the knot in my hair snagged under the weight of the manacles. I wrestled the lock free and kept moving until the chains wrenched my wrists away from me. Then I collapsed on my side and stared at the ceiling that dripped with moisture. I counted each drop. Just like I always did.

My eyes were closed for no more than three minutes when pain exploded in my shoulders. Jodric towered above the bolt of my irons, the long chain seized tightly in his colossal hands. I pushed my hands flat against the stone and hurried to push myself up. Jodric yanked again, and my wrists slipped from beneath me into the air. My cheek hit the ground with a solid thud, and for an instant the pain was a welcome warmth. It was different from the pain of listening to the rattling irons. Then the pain evolved into inflamed throbs. I kept my lips sewn together and gathered my feet under me.

Jodric rattled the chains. “Time’s up, girl,” he spat, and he genuinely seemed angry about it as he snatched the torch from its safe holding on the wall. His lips curled in a wicked sneer. “Mother wants you.” He wrenched me along behind him and up the steps out of the dungeons. The darkness seethed at the edge of the torch’s reach, waiting to pounce and claim us. My heart hammered in my chest as my brain battered against my skull with the memory of the last time I’d been summoned. The wounds on my back hadn’t even healed yet and she was calling me again. I swallowed roughly around the shredded lump in my throat. Would it be death this time?

I closed my eyes and silently prayed it would be.