Greetings and salutations, all. Joshua T. Calkins-Treworgy here once again. Today, I bring to you another excerpt, this time for the Amelia City novella, ‘Empty Prayer’. Considering the current goings-on with the Westboro Baptist Church, with Phelps Sr. near passing, this tale is particularly in touch with current events. If you like what you read here, I ask that you consider heading on over to Amazon and purchasing the full work.
A little background: the character in this scene, Butch, is a member of the True Power Baptist Church, who have come to Amelia City to protest the funeral of a homosexual police officer killed in the line of duty. I don’t think I need to be much more obvious than that with the parallel, do I? Anyhow, enjoy!
All Butch felt at the moment his mind clawed back towards consciousness was cold, all over his body. Without opening his eyes, he might have imagined himself lying naked in the middle of an ice field at the North Pole. In particular, his wrists and ankles felt frozen through.
“Wake up, Mr. Garner,” said a deep, thunderous barritone from somewhere nearby. Butch groaned, lifting his head from his chest and looking around with bleary eyes. At first, he could make out nothing more than some blurry blobs of color, but as he pulled himself to his feet, the details sharpened.
Butch stood in the center of a boxy chamber lines in ice and frost, the walls all blue and white. Manacles clamped his wrists and ankles, and he could see that he was wearing only his dingy gray boxer shorts. The chains on each restraint went to the four corner points of the flat ice wall behind him, disappearing into the wall.
Before him stood the bald weirdo Kelly had told him about, though she had left out one detail about him which creeped Butch out to no end- his eyes were solid black. Standing next to the weirdo was a steel rolling cart, atop which sat a large black box with tiny holes studded throughout. Something moved inside the box, making clawing, mewling sounds like an angry tom cat.
“Hail, Mr. Garner, and well met,” said the weirdo, giving him a sweeping bow. “I am the stranger named Marick, known to my kith and kin as Marick of the Chains. Do you know what this is,” he asked with a lascivious smile, waving his hands at the black box in an impression of Vanna White showing off a prize on Wheel of Fortune. “Let me tell you what it is, Mr. Garner. It is that which will spell your certain demise, if you aren’t careful. Are you listening to me, Mr. Garner?”
Butch, nervous sweat running down his forehead, nodded. “Y-yeah, I am,” he stammered.
“You have a chance to win free of this place, to win free of the chittering demon I’ve put inside of the box. But to do so, you must free yourself of your binding chains. It will be hard to break them, though,” said Marick thoughtfully, rubbing his chin. “After all, they are made of your lies.”
“What?” Butch’s vision quivered, the stranger blurring into a twitching stain of blue before suddenly appearing nose-to-nose with him.
“Your lies,” Marick roared, grasping the chain leading from Butch’s left wrist back to the wall. “You are bound in chains, each one forged in the fire of your deceptions! And if you wish to survive this ordeal, you will listen! Do you understand?!”
“I do, I’m listening,” Butch sobbed, now blubbering from his terror. “Please, give me a coat or something, I’m freezing!”
“No,” Marick said flatly. “Now, I am going to ask you some questions, and you will answer truthfully. Are you ready?” Another nod. “Very well. Have you cheated on your wife?”
“Naw, naw I haven’t,” Butch said weakly. The stranger threw wide his cloak, revealing the leather armor beneath, crisscrossed with half a dozen lengths of gleaming silver chain.
“Already you lie,” the stranger named Marick intoned, grasping one of the chains over his chest and tugging on it. The manacle on Butch’s left wrist yanked on his arm as the attached chain pulled back and up into its corner near the ceiling behind him. Something crunched in his shoulder, eliciting a howl of agony from the cable installer. He drooped toward his knees, but the pressure of the manacle on his left arm kept him suspended.
“Okay,” he sobbed, “okay, yes, I’ve cheated on her, okay? But I begged the Lord’s forgiveness!”
“Each time? For I know t’was more than once, Mr. Garner. Does your repenting make it okay to go out and do it all over again? Your hypocrisy is typical of your kind, human. Your first chain has been drawn. Shall we proceed?”
The stranger tapped on the black box, and the mewling thing inside whipped a wickedly hooked set of claws out through a hole in the side. Butch’s heart, already drumming too fast, stepped up the pace a little more.
“Speak true, Mr. Garner, and you may yet have a chance. Speak true, and you will be closer to getting what you need to escape your bonds. Now,” the stranger named Marick said, holding one long finger skyward to emphasize that his next question was part of this bizarre test he was administering. “Mr. Garner, why did you marry your wife, Kelly?”
The question was asked in a soft tone of voice, without any underlying hostility. Butch bit his lower lip, then said, “Because I love her.” Marick seemed to mull this answer over, then twitched open his cloak and yanked another chain. The manacle on Butch’s left leg yanked back painfully, dropping him toward the floor with a holler as his ankle snapped from the violent pull.
“You mean well, Mr. Garner, but still you lie to me. I know that you married her because you got her pregnant with your son, Bobby. You do love her, yes, but it isn’t the kind of love a good husband has for his wife.”
Dangling at an angle over the floor, right arm hanging so that the back of his hand lay on the frosty surface, Butch managed to lift his head and spit. “Fuck you,” he croaked, blood welling up around his bare, naked foot where the manacle had ripped flesh. “Fuck you you fucking freak.”
“Now, now, Mr. Garner, there’s no need for vulgarity. Your next question, Mr. Garner. Do you believe in God?” Butch looked up with an effort, meeting the stranger’s pure black eyes.
“Yes,” he choked out. “If there are monsters like you in the world, then there has to be a God.” The stranger named Marick tilted his head to one side, pursed his lips in a pout. He approached Butch and crouched in front of him, inches away.
“Curious. You’re telling the truth. Very well,” he said, turning and striding back to the cart and box. He waved one set of widely spread fingers, and the manacle on Butch’s right arm popped open, the attached chain pulling away into the wall. “You see? The truth, they say, shall set you free.”
“If I get out of these I’m going to kill you,” Butch snarled.
“Ah, temper temper,” the stranger cooed, waggling a bony finger. “Not very Christian of you, my boy. What ever happened to ‘turn the other cheek’?” The stranger knocked on the black box again, and this time the snarling sound that came from the caged thing within reminded Butch of wolves he’d seen on the Animal Planet channel. “One more question, Mr. Garner. You have cheated on your wife. You have lied a lot in your years. But what is the greatest sin you have ever committed against your God? The absolute worst?”
Butch was silent a minute, the gears turning in his head. He thought about the scripture, about the teachings of the Bible. Finally, he looked up and met the stranger named Mareck’s black eyes.
“Murder,” he said softly. “‘For to be wrathful and think of killing another is the same as doing so, as wicked as stabbing him in the heart’. That’s how I learned it when I was a kid.” The stranger gave him three long, slow claps and waved a hand, springing open the manacle on his right leg. The chain retracted into the wall, and Butch immediately hopped and shimmied back and to the left, so that his agonized left arm and leg were no longer overextended.
“Congratulations, Mr. Garner,” the stranger boomed, spreading his hands wide. “As promised, you have earned that which you will need to escape this place.” The stranger approached, pulling an eight-inch long serrated combat knife from his right boot. He stopped a few feet out of Butch’s reach and tossed the weapon down at his feet.
“What the fuck is this,” Butch screamed, snatching the knife up. “Get me out of these,” he shouted, hauling on his left manacle as hard as he could, rattling the chain.
“I only ever promised you a way out,” said the stranger, walking away. “I never said it would be painless or easy.”
“I ain’t cuttin’ through my foot and my arm,” Butch cried out. “I ain’t gonna! I’d sooner freeze to death in here!”
“Oh, Mr. Garner, cutting through your arm and leg are secondary concerns,” said the stranger, grasping the front of the black box. Butch held the knife in a white-knuckle grip now. “The first one would be our little friend here. I wonder how you’ll fare against him with only one arm and leg free to defend yourself.”
The box was opened, and Butch Garner began to howl as his doom skittered down off of the cart to the floor. Comprised of three long, segmented, brown-shelled sections, it looked like a gigantic cockroach with nine tiger legs flailing over its back, claws lashing at the air. Eyes blinked up and down its flanks as it clacked along the ice toward him, a gaping mouth full of shark’s teeth gnashing wetly.
Butch swung the knife down toward it when it closed, but its foremost segment wrenched aside from the stab, its head whipping around, teeth piercing down into his wrist. Blood sprayed, meat ripped, and bones snapped, the creature wrenching back and forth like a dog with a chew toy. The knife clattered uselessly to the floor, the sound drowned out by Butch’s screams.
The creature yanked once more, tearing the pulped hand free, swallowing its prize. Butch held the stump up to his watering eyes, his screams reduced to gibbering moans as the beast’s claws raked up into his belly, disemboweling him in less than five seconds.
As the creature arched up to begin feeding on his innards, Butch’s last sight was of the stranger named Marick walking through the ice-layered wall, disappearing as if he’d never been there.