Originally published Thursday, August 19, 2004

He dangled, in midair, his right arm stretched skyward.

Pain burned through his hand, down his outstretched arm and into his bare torso. Nothing was actually visibly wrapped around his wrist, but he felt it. Whatever it was obviously suspended him, within a darkened void. No walls, no floor, no ceiling around him at all. Only a faint bit of light from far below him gave any indication that there was anything else around at all.

He struggled against the pain for conscious thought.

‘What is my name? Fucking pain! No. Nothing like that.’

Tears left him long ago. Tears don’t heal this kind of pain. He felt his heartbeat in his wrist, each beat causing a jolt of pain.

‘I must be a tortured hero. I must have delivered fire unto humanity in defiance of the gods.’

Once in a while a cold draft would blow pass him, sending a shiver through his naked, dependent body. A particularly strong wind would start him swaying, increasing the pain that his body could never quite adapt or adjust itself to. Each moment was like experiencing the excruciating pain for the first time. The muscles, ligaments, and tendons that held his arm and should together were slowly pulling apart. His shoulder would soon become dislocated.

‘Jacob. No. That’s my dad’s name. Thomas begets John. John begets Jacob. Jacob begets Mark. Mark. My name is Mark.’

Eternal pain. How long has it been?

Mark winced and breathed deeply which caused a slow spin. With his head hanging listlessly, he forced his eyes open, like he had done before, to see what he could see. A dark room, a void. Mark rolled his head to the side to look at his wrist. He squinted and though he could see the tether. A forged iron chain, each link covered in thorns, a hellish rose stem, twisted into binding links. The thorns pierced his flesh. In the dim light from below, Mark could make out dried blood all down his forearm.

‘How did I get here? What hell is this? What god have I offended? Forgive me my daily trespasses… my hourly trespasses… forgive my ignorance and my malice… if I had known this would be my punishment I would never have committed whatever sin it is I did that warranted this punishment.’

Mark thought of a scene he had read in the book Dune a thousand years ago, in the beginning of time, in the beginning of the pain. A young man was tested for his humanity by putting his hand in a box that caused pain. Dune. Paul. The test was to see if Paul would pull his hand from the box or if he would withstand the pain. Only a human would endure the pain. An animal would flee it.

Mark bowed his head trying to see through the darkness below him, trying to see what caused the dim light to shine. He could see nothing. With his remaining energy, he twisted his arm violently. The pain paralyzed his ability to scream, but he kept twisting his arm. Gashes appeared around his wrist, blood gently flowed. Mark struggled against his bond. He felt his flesh shred, but he didn’t stop his frantic thrashing. Mark looked like a fish caught on a hook, being lifted from the safety of the water.

He was an animal, not a human. The pain must have an end. A coyote would chew its own leg off to escape a trap. Isn’t that better? Escape the pain. Does it take courage to inflict a greater amount of pain upon yourself in hopes of ending all pain?

Mark didn’t care anymore. The chain ground against his bones now. He feared the fall, the descent into the darkness, the descent towards that dim light. The light of hope, or the light of a hell worse than this one.

‘Put a frog in boiling water and the frog jumps out. Put the same frog in a pot of water over low heat and it will remain there until it is cooked to death.’

Mark hoisted himself up, trying to grab hold of the chain with his left hand. His hand only touched air where the chain should have been. Tired from his efforts and overwhelmed by the pain, Mark slipped from consciousness.

All around Mark’s dependent body, drafts of air and winds whispered to him.

‘Don’t fight it, Mark,’ whooshed the winds.

‘The pain of hanging here isn’t so bad.’

‘Why trade a known for an unknown? The pain of hanging could be much better than the pain of falling, unsupported, into the void.’

‘Once you fall, you cannot return.’

‘Some actions cannot be undone.’

Mark didn’t know how long he had been unconscious. Time was meaningless in the void. When he finally woke, he noticed the skin of his arm had started to heal over the chain. He begged for death. Why wouldn’t he die from blood loss at least?

Without hesitation, he began in earnest to free himself. The sharp chain worked its way up his hand, peeling the skin along the way. Mark lifted himself up and let himself drop. Each drop peeled more skin. Each drop sent shockwaves of pain through his entire body. Each drop was closer to being free, closer to death, salvation, or damnation.

Another drop and the chain sliced through the bone of his thumb, which now tumbled into the darkness. Mark could feel the chain slipping up along his hand without his help. He was afraid now of the fall. He curled his fingers to catch the loop and to hold on tightly. Who was he to question the will of the gods?

There was no strength left in his hand and his fingers couldn’t hold onto the chain. Mark tumbled into the void. There was no scream.

He fell in the void.

Published by Sean D. Francis

Sean D. Francis is a technologist, writer, and geek. He podcasts, makes video, and dabbles in all the geeky genres including horror, sci-fi, and fantasy.