Chapter 22 from the Ama audiobook
There were no visible doors within the castle, just endless wood panelling. Doors would click open when Xavier pressed his palm against specific points along the walls. Sometimes he seemed to forget where he had to press to disengage the various locking mechanisms and he punched the walls, instead, until the doors opened.
“When I first came to work for the old bastard, it took me months to find all the doors,” Xavier said as he dragged his unwilling guest along.
Corridor to corridor and room to room, all the while Jason’s legs trailed behind as swollen, broken lumps of useless flesh. He flung his arms out in frantic confusion as he tried to stop his journey towards the unknown. Through a large banquet hall, on into a library, through another corridor adorned with paintings of curvaceous blindfolded women in provocative poses, and then through a wide door which led to a courtyard behind the castle. The courtyard had a six-foot-high wire mesh fence surrounding it. Jason’s face stretched in horror as he realised his fate.
On the right-hand side of the courtyard stood a row of six metal cages. Each cage housed five to ten people, each person battered and maimed. All of them had suffered barbarous and unrestrained sadistic cruelty. Legs and arms hacked off or hanging from their respective bodies by the merest shreds of skin and sinew. Eyes were gouged out. One man had a finger sewn to each eyelid, which flapped about over empty sockets. A few vocalised their rage towards Xavier with muffled moans and rattled the shackles that held their arms to the roof of the cages. But most of the prisoners hung from their restraints in silence, with a look of sorrowful resignation upon their faces.
“Welcome to your new home,” Xavier said, as he pulled Jason past the first cage.
When Jason saw the decapitated heads scattered around the courtyard’s dusty ground, he screamed against the stitches holding his lips closed. The heads looked on with despairing eyes as he went by—they were still alive. Some opened their mouths as if trying to speak, while others twitched and chewed on the remnants of their tongues. He could see that each head had once also had its mouth sewn shut, the threads hanging from their lips like clumps of pubic hairs.
“See, no matter what, you will not die. Fucking amazing. Look, Jason, they’re saying hi.” Xavier kicked one of the heads away from his path. “Don’t worry, I won’t be doing that to you just yet. Not much fun when you’re just a head. But, in time, you’ll join my headless crowd, once I’ve had fun with the rest of your body first. Hang on, that’s not right, a head is all they’ve got now. So, I should say, the bodiless crowd. Yes, that’s what I meant to say.”
He dumped Jason against the door of the cage at the far end of the courtyard. “I’ll have to make some new kennels. It’s getting crowded around here. Hey, do you want to see a screamer?”
Jason shook his head, his eyes almost bulging from their sockets.
“Sure you do. Hang on.”
He watched Xavier walk back towards the castle, but his gaze stopped at four crosses leaning against the back wall, two either side of the castle’s arched doorway. The crosses appeared to be formed from twelve-foot-long scaffolding boards. Each of them had a man tied to it with rope, and the rope was fastened around their wrists, ankles, waists and around their chests. Large nails held each of their hands in place and still more nails pierced their bodies at many other points. As Jason looked up at the men, it became obvious to him that crucifixion hadn’t been enough to appease Xavier’s cruelty, as their limbs had also been severed, still held in place by the various nails. The head of one crucified man bobbed up and down. He had no eyes and had a plaque chained around his neck, and the plaque read:
This man has seen the light.
Jason rolled onto his side and dragged himself away from the cage and towards the fence at the back of the courtyard. He could see a gate midway along the fence. Please be unlocked, he thought. The fence was about ten feet from him, although it seemed like more than a hundred as he inched himself along the ground. His legs pulsated with excruciating pain as he moved, scratching at the hard crusty ground and pulling himself forward with his one good hand while his broken hand flapped around as a useless appendage. He moved his upper body in a snake-like motion, and thoughts of the possible torture he might soon endure gave him the impetus to keep moving through the pain. He had made it to within a few feet of the gate when he heard Xavier call from behind.
“Hey, where are you off to?”
Jason lunged forward and managed to touch the gate with a hand, but it was Xavier that opened it.
“Go on then. I’ll go get a head. Good thinking, though, don’t want any bloody screamers too close to the castle. Ruin the whole ambience.”
Jason scrambled for the open gate, clawing at the ground as he went, dragging himself through the opening. Where are you going to go? he asked himself. A few metres from the gate was the dry moat. He could see a row of statues from the waist up as they stood on the shallow moat bed. Beyond them, he saw nothing but the foreboding desert. A desert sure to be full of more sick bastards like the one that had just smashed his legs and stitched his mouth shut. He had fallen at the first hurdle, and now the game was over. Despair took hold as he imagined himself as nothing more than a helpless amusement for Xavier. Was he destined to be tortured by that madman and then decapitated? Waiting for a death that would never come.
“There you go.” Xavier dropped a decapitated head in front of Jason. “That’s the Russian fucker I was telling you about. Still knows everything but can’t say a damn thing about it anymore.”
Jason recoiled from the head, as swollen, bruised, pleading eyes watched him. Its mouth moved as if it was speaking, but nothing audible came from it.
“You ready?” Xavier positioned himself on the other side of the Russian, across from Jason. He gripped a pickaxe in both hands, a demonic grin spread across his face as he raised it above his head. “Keep watching, and prepare yourself, because it’s gonna pop.”
Jason stared at the head, and his eyes bulged in shock as he watched the Russian’s lips moving faster and faster as he tried to speak. A moment later the head shattered under the falling point of the pickaxe. Pulverised pieces of brain sprayed in all directions as the brutal tool rendered the head unrecognisable as human. Jason screamed through the stitches holding his mouth shut. He blinked skull and brain debris from his eyes and screamed again. A stitch tore free from his lower lip with his vocalised terror. He looked up at Xavier, who was backing away from the smashed remains of the Russian.
“Here it comes, get ready for the pop.”
Jason looked away from Xavier and back to the remains of the skull, just in time to see a fountain of black smoke burst ten feet in the air from the white, grey and pink fragments.
The smoke swirled for a moment and then coalesced into an apparition, a translucent human form rippling within a black flame. The figure raised its head and arms towards the sky, and a moment later it looked down and fixed on Jason with its empty obsidian eyes. Jason pushed at the ground with his hands in a frantic effort to put distance between himself and the vaporous apparition, but his broken legs hindering his retreat.
“Don’t worry, Jason,” Xavier said. “It can’t hurt you. A caretaker will come around soon enough and take it away. They sniff the screamers up like a line of coke. A beautiful sight, though, don’t you agree?”
The apparition looked up to the sky once more, its mouth opening in a wild and twisting motion. It was silent but looked as though it was in immense pain, a continuous, unrelenting, hopeless and silent scream as it burned within a black flame.
Jason focused on the apparition’s agonised motions, feeling its despair. He didn’t notice the pickaxe being raised and then swung down again. This time, its sharp point forced its way through his thigh and embedded itself in the ground beneath, anchoring him to the spot. Three more stitches ripped free from his lips as he called out in shock and pain.
“I feel that we’ve connected, Jason, and I want to do something special for you. I’ve been working on something new. It’s quite messy but I think you’ll like it. Be right back.” Xavier ran off, back through the gate and towards the castle.
Jason took hold of the pickaxe with his one good hand and tried to pull it free from his leg. The slightest movement made the pain rise in intensity, sapping what little strength he still had left. He fell back. The ground felt soft, comforting somehow. He looked up at the apparition, which still reached and screamed to the sky. It flickered as it hovered above the remains of its skull.
Just let it go, Jason thought, you need to rest… For just a minute, rest. He closed his eyes and let his mind escape the horror and dissolve into the past.
* * *
“It’s a bit of a shit-pit at the moment but I’m planning to fix it up.” He was back in his flat with Zoe.
“Jason, you’ve lived here for over a year. If you were going to fix it up, you would’ve done it by now.”
“I know, I know. It takes me a while, but I’ll get there in the end.”
“If you say so. I could help you, I suppose, or you could…”
“The landlord wouldn’t appreciate me burning the place down, Zoe.”
“Or… you could move in with me. You know, if you want to.”
* * *
“No!” Jason screamed. The strain of his jaw ripped more stitches free. He raised his shaky hand to his mouth and tried to pull the dangling thread away from his lips. This proved futile. It felt as though a row of angry wasps sat upon his lips, injecting their venom with every touch from his fingers. He sat up and tried once more to release himself from the point of the pickaxe, but it was heavy and cumbersome. He remained anchored to the dusty ground.
He turned and looked back through the wire mesh fence and at the castle across the dry earth of the courtyard. Xavier was nowhere to be seen. One cage shook as a woman slammed her feet against the mesh of her small prison. Her wrists were shackled but her legs hung free and she used them with vigorous energy. She kicked out again and again as she moaned against her own stitched mouth, staring back at Jason with her eyes ablaze. She was nodding at him and looked as though she was trying to direct him to do something. He looked up at the apparition, which was still swaying in the wind, and then looked around himself—what was she trying to say? A few metres away, the castle’s encircling line of grey figures stood in silence. He looked back at the woman. She nodded her confirmation and then her head fell and hung at rest.
The memory of the struggling man flailing about in his garden came to the forefront of his mind, and he now understood what the woman was telling him to do.