Friday, November 20, 2009

#fridayflash: The prisoner

Some readers will recognise this piece as my entry in the 2009 MicroHorror Halloween contest. It didn't win, but I like it enough to want to post it here for my #fridayflash friends.

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The Prisoner

By Lily Mulholland

I am awoken by a noise I do not understand. I am wet and cold, mortally so. Enough light trickles in through cracks around the door for me to see that the floor is made of stone. Hand-hewn rock with deep channels between has been my bed for hours unknown. I do not know how it happened that I am here. I draw myself up from my erstwhile mattress and every fiber of my body screams its protest. I have been transported, although I do not recall from where or by whom. What I know now is that I am prisoner in this frigid cell. I lift my hand and the sound of chains accompanies the resistant pressure on my wrist. I am shackled. The distant rumbling that woke me sounds again. This time I feel it in my bones. What is that noise? So loud, so inhuman?

I hear footsteps. They echo within my rocky room and I cannot discern whether they approach or recede. I tuck myself as far back toward the wall as I can and draw my knees up under my chin. I am freezing. The footsteps grow louder and a key is inserted in a lock. Twice it turns before I understand that it is my door that is about to open. The light that floods my cell is blinding. I try to shield my eyes with my hands, but the restraints pull them tight. I bow my aching head and offer up a prayer to the gods to spare me from torture.

The guard does not speak as he comes toward me. I shrink back into myself and will my heart to stop beating so fast. A surprise. A tray with food and drink is placed in front of me. The guard leaves and locks the door without a word. I am ravenous. I feed like a dog, on my hands and knees, my head low to the floor. I tear strips of meat with my teeth and swallow them without tasting. I wash the food down my throat with what I discover to be beer. Sated, I push the tray away and rest against the wall.

Although still wet and cold, the beer has warmed me and the food has quenched my hunger. For the first time since I awoke I wonder to the future. Where am I? Why am I here? Although the light is still dim, I can see bruises on my arms and legs. I must have been tied up. And then I remember; I was sold.

A new noise startles me. A terrible howling reverberates through my cell. The sound is animal and unmistakable: mastiffs. Fighting dogs. I shudder.

I hear the sound of footsteps again. This time there is more than one person coming. The door opens with a clang and a guard kneels before me and unfastens my manacles. The two men lift me to my feet and march me out into the passageway. I ask them where they are taking me but they do not answer from under their headgear.

I am tossed into a new room with the door locked behind me. This room couldn’t be more different. It’s full of people. Full of men; naked, semi-dressed and robed. I am escorted to a table, my stinking clothes cut from my body. Oiled from head to toe, my skin is sloughed clean. My hair is washed. I am dressed in clean white robes. I ask the slave why such care is being lavished upon me. He will not meet my eyes. I am shown into the next room. A deafening roar fills my ears and I see the other men in the room shudder with fear. Before I can ask any questions, the roar is answered by tormented howling.

My knuckles grow white gripping the seat. I know where I am. Roma. Il Colosseo. I am to fight to the death with starving dogs for the entertainment of the people.


  1. Weird and creepy! Good job, Lily!

    I was expecting some twist at the end, like the guy was part of a fraternity pledge or something :P

  2. Yes, I do remember reading this piece. It is just as good on a second read as it was the first time.

    The end is chilling, because the only way out of this for the prisoner is death by mastiff! Scary!
    And a little foreshadowing when prisoner "feeds like a dog"?


  3. Forgive me for taking the liberties to advise, seeing I am nobody myself, but I feel that this would read better if it was from an observer's point of view, a sort of voyeurism, if you will.

    It is a splendid flash regardless.

    Thank you for sharing.

  4. It's very nicely written, beautifully sad. That must be a terrible death, and even more so as he realizes it bit by bit, having no where to escape.
    I can't believe it didn't win.

  5. Very cool story. It had me wondering what was going to happen, and the ending didn't disapoint. I can't even imagine being shoved into a place knowing I was going to die. Creepy.

  6. Thanks everyone for your feedback. @A writer, I know what you mean, but I really wanted to mask the gender in this piece and leave the reader working hard to establish the detail. I could't see a way to do this in the third person. Glad you enjoyed it all the same :)

  7. Well, you know me, always reading the gender as female. :) I loved this the first time, and loved it the second time. Great build-up of suspense to a horrifying conclusion.

  8. Ouch! That is both sad and tense at the same time.

    At first, I thought he was dead. Then I thought he woke up to find himeself buried alive. Then I realized he was in a real cell. My image of the character shifted at each turn of the story.

  9. The tension of the build-up works well. Sorry you didn't win but a good read all the same.

  10. Very tense, and very good.
    I was reading it thinking it was present times, so the Colliseum was quite a surprise! Nicely done :-)

  11. I was thinking "sex slave" all the way through so you did a great job on the gender masking.
    What a horrible way to die. Great tale! Tense and vivid.

    Karen :0)

  12. cold, wet, dank, way cool! nice tension lily - great build and payoff.

  13. There is power in these short clean sentences, Lily.

  14. Excellent work. The pace is perfect, leading the reader without being frantic. The ending closes the door quickly enough to let the reader have the same sense of sudden, heart-slamming realization as the MC.

    Very good work.

  15. I was wondering what was going to happen all through the piece. The narration carried me along nicely - until the end. All the niceness ended, suddenly.

    Well done. A very good flash piece.

  16. Well constructed, Lily. I thought it was modern times too. I thought the dog sounds while in the cell were an excellent piece of foreshawdowing. Very creepy.


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