I was hoping to get this finished on Friday, but I ended up going in a totally different direction so here we are: a Flash Fiction Friday post on Sunday. Whatever. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ For this short, I grabbed one of Chuck Wendig‘s list of random titles. I’d thought to use The Bridge and the Rose, but after mulling it over I gravitated to The Reaper’s Rope and this story evolved. Fair warning, it’s kinda dark (What is it about Chuck’s FFF prompts that make me kill people?) but I hope you enjoy!
The Reaper’s Rope
Her soul sang with triumph. He was here! He was here! She danced around the room, fingers brushing over all the special gifts she’d left for him. She adjusted the cuff of one shirt, smoothed a wrinkle from a waistcoat. Her fingers lingered on the fine velvet. Everything had to be perfect. She’d waited so long…
“Is anyone there?”
Do you see anyone, my lord? She chuckled to herself and completed her rounds. The torches were oiled, waiting to be lit. Her silent guests waited for her signal. Yes, all the pieces were in place. Let the game begin.
“What do you want with me?”
So many ways to answer that question. Tilting her head slightly, she tapped her lips with a long-nailed finger then shook her head. No, no answers. That would spoil the surprise. She hadn’t answered his compatriots’ questions and they’d figured it out. Eventually.
“Why am I here?”
Why? Her hands closed into fists. You don’t know why?! A howling wind raced through the room, knocking over a chair and disturbing her careful preparations.
She scowled and paced along the wall farthest from him. Distance. She needed distance and he needed time. Time to learn and understand and appreciate all she’d done for him. She smiled. Yes, that was it. He just needed time. She righted the chair, tidied her gifts, and glided from the room.
“Please.” His voice broke on a cough. Hoarse, raspy… had he spent the whole night socializing? Silly man. “Just let me go.”
Let you go? She frowned. You just got here! Do you find my hospitality less than sufficient, my lord? Where are your manners? And not a word of gratitude for your gifts when I spent so very long obtaining them.
She dropped into a chair and glared. She’d planned this for years, spent months gathering everything so it’d be perfect for him, and he wanted to leave? She didn’t think so.
He sat up, spine straightening and a familiar tension tightening his shoulders. His voice changed between one breath and the next, grew harder, crueler. “Fool. Do you think to hold me here forever? Better men have tried. Their screams fueled the peasants’ nightmares for years.”
Peasants? She rose from her chair, ice frosting the air and coating the walls. You dare?
She stepped silently around her gifts toward his squirming and bound form. The cold seeped into the stone beneath him, through his hunting leathers, and into his very bones. It wasn’t enough. Even when blue tinted his skin, his teeth chattering so hard it stole his words, it wasn’t enough. She scraped her nails down his chest, slicing the thick leather like a hot knife through butter. He stilled.
Cowering like a field mouse in the shadow of a hawk already, old friend? She sneered and peeled aside his armor to reveal the skin beneath. He flinched at her touch, skin greying with the cold. She withdrew her hand when his pulse picked up and his breathing turned shallow. Oh, no. Not yet. My other guests have been so eager for you to join us. I can’t disappoint them.
She rose and retreated to the farthest corner of the room. A flick of her fingers and the ice began to melt. He shivered at the warmth, jerked at the first plop of water. So nervous, my lord. Trust me, I won’t drown you. As the room warmed, his breath evened out but his pulse? It hammered and pounded at the cage of his ribs.
A deep inhale and she sighed in ecstasy. His burgeoning fear was a sensory delight. Piquant and succulent but so, so sweet. Soon she’d gorge. On his terror, on his pain, on his screams. He, more than any of the others, needed to taste the cold bite of fear, the nauseating crush of despair. He needed to suffer as she’d suffered, as he’d made her suffer.
Noises from the corner, the wriggling of wounded prey caught in a trap. Ah. Finally. He’d be free soon, or so he’d think. She watched the ropes fall away from his wrists, saw him tear the sack, stiff and odorous from those who’d gone before him, off his head. Saw realization dawn in eyes she’d seen shine with laughter, gleam with cruelty.
She grinned at his whispered curse. Father Wilhem would be most disappointed, my lord, and now you have no one to grant you forgiveness for your blasphemy.
He made quick work of the ropes around his knees and ankles. Good. Her knots worked as they should. She’d learned from her first mistake. It wasn’t as much fun if they didn’t believe they could escape.
He felt around him, found his satchel, and struck flint to steel to light a nub of a candle. The flickering halo of light did little to ease the stygian darkness. He cupped his hand around the fragile flame and rose slowly, keeping his back to the wall. It wouldn’t provide him any protection, but she let him believe it helped. Hope was necessary. If he lost it too soon, it would spoil the game.
He inched along the wall with careful steps. Just a few inches more and he’d find the next piece of the game, weave another thread of futile hope. Ah! There. He hummed in triumph when his foot touched his sword; she clasped her hands in joy. He knelt, gripped the hilt, and rose, all without snuffing his sputtering candle.
Very good, my lord.
“Foolish to leave me a weapon.” The arrogance had returned to his voice. Excellent. All the pieces were in place. Time to watch the game unfold. “I’ll make sure my father’s men are creative with your death.”
She sipped his emotions like a fine wine: the sharp bite of his anger, the smooth woodiness of his determination, the acidic burn of his cruelty. She smothered a giggle when he spotted the first torch, growing tipsy on the effervescence of his triumph.
“Holy mother of God.” The clang of his sword falling to the floor muffled his horrified whisper, but she heard it and sighed in ecstasy.
The torchlight cast ominous, flickering shadows on the room. On the far wall, chains kept a skeleton upright, the rotted remains of cloth peeking beneath the rusted manacles. A whip lay discarded on a corner table next to other instruments of torture. Metal bars lined a second wall. She remembered the last time the door clanged shut, the laughter of the men laying the bricks, the satisfaction in this man’s eyes when the last stone slid into place.
She made the bones clatter in response.
“I didn’t know! Gods, if I’d known what my father had planned…” He scraped his fingers through his hair. His voice was horrified, sympathetic but his eyes were hard. “You know I’d never do anything to hurt you. I loved you.”
She smiled and flicked her fingers. Fire leaped from the burning torch to light the others in the room. No shadows to hide her gifts now. No way to ignore her other guests.
His moan was a feast to her soul. A bloodstained rope hung from the ceiling, the loop at the end offering a dark invitation. Beneath it sat a single sturdy footstool. The castle’s torturer used that stool to eat his dinner, laughing at her rumbling belly, and to rest when his arms grew tired. Now it provided another service.
Four chairs ringed the stool and rope. Each chair held a corpse. The torturer had been her first guest, teaching her much about her new existence, her limitations, her hunger. She’d taken the guard next. Three days of frigid cold followed by stifling heat had drained him of energy. Then she introduced the insects. His mind broke before the sun rose on the sixth day.
His father had been disappointing. Powerful and cruel in his rule, it’d taken her less than thirty-six hours to reduce him to a sniveling, shell of a man. But his mother? His mother had fed her for weeks. Now it was his turn.
She materialized before him, a formless wraith of insubstantial mist held to the world by anger, pain, and vengeance. Her scarlet eyes glowed fever bright, her lips curving in a smile that revealed rows of jagged fangs.
“I hope you enjoy the party, my lord. My guests have been dying to meet you.” Her laughter roiled through the cell and ended on a wail of despair. “When you’re ready to leave, just tug on the rope and I shall answer immediately. I have ever been your loyal servant.”