Project 52: Toppling Atlas

1 short story a week. 52 weeks a year.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Mischief, and to That Extent, Its Punishment Edit Prep 2012

     My name is Pietr, and on a chilling night in the middle of our moon's autumnal cycle, I died, alone, outside the walls of my hometown. You see, I made a career of crying wolf, and for toying with the townsfolk, I was ultimately punished. I spent months waking up men and women, who were rushing to save a life, only to be confused when nobody was there. To make amends, I suppose my mortality was stripped from me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I didn’t deserve to be punished, I just wish it didn’t hurt so much. Of all the bad things I can remember, that pain stands out the most.
     It’s funny, isn’t it? That the only memories that never go away are the worst ones? It seems that every good thing that has happened to me in life has gently caressed my cheek, and then has been carried off by the wind. The bad memories though, they scar and paint your skin, following you like ghosts, always right there behind your every waking thought. I’m going to tell you a story now, about a young boy named Pietr, who was very much a ghost himself.
     Our story takes place in another time, a time that has yet to exist, or perhaps never really will. A great disease called Pyxis Cough razed the land, taking a large chunk of our population out with it. Pyxis, or "box" cough, as it was more cynically known, was a very fitting name on account of how strict the disease followed the name. Only a few coughs, and then you were being lowered into the ground with nothing more than the clothes on your skin, and a box.
Isolated towns started to put up barriers over time, removing themselves from both the threat of disease, and the hope of helping out others. The first years were the hardest. Mankind can grow accustomed to a great many things, but no ear can ever grow used to the sound of women and children crying for help. No conscience ever to the quiet of ignoring them.
     A small town exists, guarded by strong stone walls, and for all intents and purposes, they are the borders of the world. To leave these walls is certain death, and a sin against Nuelle, the supposed god that protects the town. It should come to no surprise that in a small town built between despair and destruction, sooner or later a clever man would find the voice of some higher power to herd the frightened sheep. During times of uncertainty, it's nice to fall into naivety. It's almost as though magic, how mankind can cloud their minds, and put upwards to 90 percent of their powers of logical deduction and rationalizing into following orders. Not all men and women are able to believe though. This tale is about a young man named Pietr, who lived in the town of Worldsend, and who was punished for not following the shepherd's crook.
     “Have you heard the news? About the creatures that have been appearing at night?” a fat women in a bland, brown robe whispers to an elderly man in black. “Yes, I hear that it shows up in the dead of night, screaming for help, but disappears before anyone can-“said the man in black, before suddenly being interrupted by a man with a tall gilded walking stick, and voluminous white robes.
     “What is the meaning of this Marhidal? Cayn? It is blasphemous to speak of such acts,” said the man in white. Stretching their meek necks, they let their heads hang towards him, mouths muttering quick apologies to Father Ordenson. Placing his hands upon their heads, the Father continued walking down the muddy lanes of the poor part of town, elaborately throwing his arms up in praise of Nuelle.
     “Regardless of what the father says, I’ve heard the screams myself, and there is something happening in this town of ours. Something big,” the women whispers to the man, before departing. From the alley behind them, a child sits against the wall with his cloak shut tight, and his hood drawn up. Through a shadowed face, a white smile flashes from the depths of the hood. A mask that appears to be two blackened leaves sit opposite eachother over his eyes, hiding the majority of his face. The boy stands up, and deftly trudges through the mud, his balance never wavering an inch.
     A shrill scream lights up the night sky, as panic wrecks through the surrounding buildings. “Help me! Please help me, dear god!” a voice weeps from the town square. The noises of bodies flooding from the local buildings are heard in the quiet night air, as they rush to the scene in the hope of helping. Holding in his laughter, the boy from the alley closes his eyes, and places his hands on his stomach. His head starts spinning, and he can feel his hair whipping back and forth as his hood is thrown open, the outer edges of his leaved-mask pulsate a vibrant red. Opening his eyes, he is safely back in his alley. Only that brief recognition of his location is processed before he starts to violently vomit up the contents of his stomach.
     Wiping the bile from his mouth with a grubby sleeve, the boy falls backwards into a symphony of laughter. Drumming his feet on the ground, he finally stops to catch his breath, and looks up at the sky. “Another night accomplished” the boy says to himself, wiping tears from his eyes. Standing up, he disappears inside a window, and curls under the blankets on his bed, ready for a sound nights sleep. Had he been more cautious, he would have heard the breath of someone, each exhale becoming quicker and heavier consecutively.

     Smiling to himself, Father Ordenson pulls out the wooden circle hanging from his necklace, and traces the outsides with his finger, a anxious habit picked up as a young boy. “My, my, my,” the father said to himself. “So it was you, crying wolf, was it?”. Rubbing his hands together, the cogs in the father's head had long since been working out the calculations.
     A pragmatic man, he wanted so desperately to get his hands on that mask, but he knew there was no way. No, there was only one surefire way to profit from this without gambling. The father never gambled, and wouldn't start on this rat. He hugged himself, and strolled out from the alley. Any passerby may have thought he was trying to keep the cold out, but truthfully he just didn't know what else to do with his arms. Every now and then a small, child-like giggle would escape from him, until he reached his home, throwing his head back, and laughing deeply, knowing victory was his.

     “Father! We must do something about this!” a voice yells from the mass of people inside the church. “Yes, we need to catch this fiend, and punish it for Nuelle!” another yells. Father Ordenson stands at his podium, staring down at the angry throng of people. Under his gaze, they quickly calm themselves, and sit down, but the buzz of quiet conversation starts to fill the room almost immediately. Clearing his throat, the entire crowd quit their talking, and look up towards him. Silence passes for several minutes as they look to him expectantly.
     “You wish me to catch this demon?” the father asks, and people roar their approval. Every form of punishment, and torture were tossed out for the beast by the mob. The father shook his head slightly, and looked around the room until they quieted themselves again. “You wish me to capture the beast, and no matter what form it shows itself, and you wish for us to punish it?” the Father asks. Again, the crowd throws up their hands in joy, and a cacophony of agreement fills the air. Looking down at them from the podium, the father cleared his throat in anticipation, and spoke softly once the people quieted down.
     “What if it’s not a demon?” the father asked; rising voices starting to mouth their disagreements. “Of course it's a demon! What else could it be?” a faceless voice called from the crowd. “Burn it, father! Scatter its remains out over the wall!” a woman cried out. “What if I told you it was a young boy?” the father asked; his knuckles growing white behind his back as he fidgeted anxiously. The silence was so heavy, it weighed down the air, and turned the oxygen thick. “Patience Edwin” the Father thought to himself. “The sheep will not attack on their own, they must be lead to it. Let them think the idea is their own, and they will defend more zealously than you could ever hope to force them into. Patience Edwin.” The crowd stared at him in disbelief, but none walked away. They had fallen into Father Ordenson's web.
     Standing in a different corner of the town, the boy lets loose a wild scream, and starts yelling for help, but no one shows up. “Please! It hurts so much, he’s killing me! Help!”. For the next three nights, this continues, the boy becoming more and more infuriated as the days go by. “Why aren't they helping me!” he thinks to himself. “What sort of awful people wouldn't want to help someone in pain?”. It wouldn’t be until old Marhidal and Cayn met in front of his alley, that he would learn the truth of what happened.
     “The father says that by ignoring the boy, he will run out of steam, and eventually return to normal life.” The old woman says. “Yes, it sure is hard to sleep at night, but much easier knowing there really isn’t a demon out there” the old man, Cayn, chuckles. Both laughing to themselves, they break off, and head their own ways, getting back to their daily lives. From under the robes of the boy in the alley, his fists beat themselves against the wall. “I’ll show them” the boy said to himself. “I’ll show them all”
     Clenching his eyes together, and holding his hands to his stomach, the boy imagines the world outside of the walls, and opens his eyes to a world of strange plants and soft dirt. He looks around surprised, before the food in his stomach comes up, and he chokes it out onto the ground. Raising his head, he finds a peculiar dark purple plant, with a spiny tail-like appendage stuck into his arm. Plucking the base of the plant, something hot shoots into his arm, and the boy starts to thrash and scream on the ground. “Help me!” he screams. “It hurts so bad, please, somebody help me!”
     Gathering around the nearest wall, the townspeople are near riot, crying out for someone to save the poor boy. Father Ordenson stands up on a wooden platform, and claps his hands together, beginning to talk down to the crowd. “Father Ordenson! That’s just a young boy out there! We must pull him inside!” a voice shouts. Numerous other voices strike up agreement, as they pump their hands into the air, almost as if hoping it will help give weight to their words. “For 300 years” the Father starts to speak, quieting the crowd instantly, “we have been protected from the disease, and the pain that the outside brings us, and you'd have us risk it all for a mischievous orphan? No, Nuelle would not be happy to see such an act happen, and what about the punishment you all spoke of just a few days ago?” The crowd, trying to form words, held down their arms, and collectively started to whimper half-hearted excuses.
     “No, I think not my friends. The child has been possessed, able to disappear at will. Is this not the power of a demon like you all feared? Is this not the sign that the boy is not one of us?”. Shouts of agreement now start to form patches in the quiet crowd. “Should we risk the lives of many, all for the sake of one who would cause us such harm?” the Father spoke in a strong, stirring voice. The majority of the crowd now starts to scream out against the boy now. The Father puts on a gentle smile, and says “it is a shame to lose such a young member of our society, but we shall learn a lesson from him, and never stray from our faith again! Praise be to Nuelle!” and with that the entire crowd roars in cheer. To any outsiders, it perhaps would appear as though some great festival were going on.
     Pardon the break in the story. I feel it's my duty to apologize for using a term like “outsiders”. Of course there could be no outsiders, and of course the dying boy himself is technically outside of the town. It was an irresponsible slip of the tongue, and I will be sure the change it in the final transcript. I didn't mean to poke fun at the death of a child, I assure you. Even if I have every right to laugh at myself over how I came to die, I have no right to sully the story with my absent mind.
     Turning around, the gentle smile on the Father's face now arcs into one of malice as he looks away from the crowd, a wall of praise crashing against his back. “My biggest regret is that I couldn’t see you suffer myself, you motherless shit,” he whispers. Throwing his head back, he belts out a loud laughter, the crowd mistaking it for joy, follows along.
     Waiting, the boy looks around, but sees no one coming. Crying, he tries to push himself up, but his arm is now a hideous, blotchy mess, smelling of rotting skin and pus. “So they are afraid to help me are they?” he breaths into the dirt. “Well then, I’ll just have to bring myself to them!”. Closing his eyes, he places his good hand onto his stomach, and imagines the town square. Much like the plant's toxins, panic hit Pietr, and immediately sunk directly into his bones. The very real grip of fear washes over the boy as he spits up stomach acid onto the dirt.
Closing his eyes, again and again he tries to disappear back to the town, but to no avail.
     The skin on his arm now hangs loose, covered in holes as bone and muscle show through. Screaming as hard as he can, the boy sobs into the dirt, and yells his apologies at the town; however, they still fall on deafened ears. The infection now crawls onto his chest, and the boy whimpers on the ground, all his strength gone from him. The last thing he remembered was a cold, fall breeze blowing on his body, and wondering what he did to deserve this. Wondering how this could happen, as the cheers of the townsfolk drifted over the wall.
     Now that you’ve heard my story, you can make your own decision on how I came to be. Was the corpse of a lonely child a fitting punishment, or did I deserve a second chance? I’ve been floating above the town of Worldsend for many years now, asking the very same question, and I still cannot find the answer. Was this a story about mischief, and to that extent, its punishment? Or was this a story about a poisoned man, who let a small child die to gain power in a town. I’m not sure anymore, but the only thing I have to be thankful of, is that I no longer feel pain.
     I did it all because I was lonely, and that knot in my stomach every night was stronger than any infection that could have ever eaten my body. The pain of having my own community leave me out to die ate away at me more than any disease ever would. The pain of seeing that man live out his remaining years happy, hurts me more than any death could ever present me. I have felt real pain, and I have lived through real misery. Still I float here, without any of the answers to my questions. What does it take in this life to understand it all? Why was I born so broken? Why couldn't any one love me? The only thing I think I've truly earned, is that greed has filled more graves than anything besides disease. I do believe it to be a very close second.

     "Mother... I've nothing but time now, but I don't think I can ever forgive you. Why did you leave me all alone... Mother!"
A light rain starts to fall on Worldsend.

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