Friday, December 02, 2005
the child, part 3, chapter 7 - 'solitary'
Alone had never before felt so very, very alone.
Stone and Starr stood in the tiny, mire-floored cell. It seemed so eerie down here, now that all their companions had left to start on their own assignments.
In the dim light of the torches down the hall, Stone looked across at Starr. And the thought hit him hard: What have I gotten her into?
Starr, for her part, reached for his hand. 'What do we do now?' she whispered.
'Umm...' he replied.
'Well - we ought to search this level for Walker.' And a cruel irony it would be, he thought, if the guards had brought that poor guy down here! 'And we also ought to try to find that someone who's ready to get out of here.'
'All right,' she said. 'Do we start now?'
'Umm...' he said.
He squeezed her hand. 'Starr-girl...'
The wide-eyed, childlike innocence just fairly oozed out of her, didn't it? How could he have brought her down here?
'I'm... not sure that both of us should go out searching, Starr.'
'Because... it's, well, it's pretty ugly down here, Starr. I don't want anything to... upset you.'
Her hand squeezed his now. 'You mean, you want me to stay here, while you search?'
Silence. Stone watched her face, wondering would she agree or argue.
Then she smiled. 'All right, Stone. If you want me to.'
Relief! He started to smile back.
'Are you sorry you brought me here?'
The smile froze on his face. How did she do that? Never mind - he knew how she did that. Slowly, taking both of her hands now into both of his, he answered, 'Yes. But that's because I want you safe. I want you protected.'
'It's not safe here?'
'Well...' He didn't want to frightened her.
'It isn't safe up on the top level, either,' she added gently, 'back where I used to live. Right? It's all dungeon.'
'True. But, Starr - some dungeon is more, uh, dungeony than other parts.'
'Oh.' She nodded solemnly.
He squeezed her hands between his lovingly. 'Wait here for me,' he said. 'I'll try not to be very long. I just wish - my favorite word, I know - that there was somewhere clean and dry in here where you can sit down while I'm gone, dear.'
'Oh, it's all right. Don't worry about that,' she replied. 'I don't mind.' And she sat down in the mire.
'Stay in this corner here,' Stone said, 'right next to the door. That way, if someone comes by and peeks in, they won't be as likely to see you.'
She scooted deeper into the corner. 'You think someone will come by?'
'Probably not. But just in case.'
'All right,' she agreed. She was so agreeable sometimes!
'Stone,' she said suddenly as he was fitting his key into the lock to let himself out. 'Before you go...'
He chuckled warmly. 'You want to remind me that you love me,' he guessed. 'And I love you too, Starr-my-girl.'
She paused. 'Actually, I was thinking of something else, dear,' she admitted. 'But yes, I do love you. With all my being. And I'm glad you love me. So very, very glad, dear Stone!'
He felt a sweet warmth spread through him, right up from his toes. He smiled. She smiled. They smiled.
'And the something else?' he prompted.
Hesitation. 'Stone... you remember my dream? The one I wrote down, so long ago?'
He too hesitated. The dream he had read back at the Master's house. 'Yes,' he said slowly. 'I remember. You dreamed of here.'
She nodded. 'I dreamed of screaming. But it's quiet.'
True. But it was night now. 'Trust me,' Stone said grimly. 'You'll hear plenty of screaming soon enough.'
'And the burning,' she added. 'It's very cool here. Almost chilly.'
'But the burning was on the inside. Remember? Like a hunger. A consuming hunger.'
'A hunger to be free?' she asked.
He sighed. 'No. Not really. Walker thinks no one can ever leave this part of the dungeons, and most of the people down here believe the same way. We - they - don't often think in terms of getting free from here. Most think freedom is a myth. Even a cruel joke.'
'Then what is the burning a hunger for?' she asked.
Stone fitted the key into the lock again, turned it this time, then pushed the door open. Carefully putting the key away in his pocket, he said, 'I've thought about that for a long time, Starr.'
'And... and now... I can see that what I was really hungry for all along was the Master's love. But I didn't know that back when I was here. And if someone had told me back then that I was craving the love of the Master...' He hung his head. 'Well. I would have laughed in his face.'
Starr nodded. 'Or cursed at them.'
Ah, she remembered about that! 'Yes,' he said. He was standing out in the hall now, hand on the door, ready to push it shut again. But still he hesitated.
'Stone?' she whispered.
He shook himself, scattering the memories. 'I love you, Starr,' he whispered back. 'I'll be back as quick as I can. Try to get you some sleep.'
'All right,' said she.
And he shut the cell door and walked away.
Softly, a voice was calling to her. And she felt, so gently, the touch of a mouth, a kiss, upon her forehead. And she smiled and shifted a little in her sleep.
And now the kiss was more insistent. And it was not on her forehead anymore either. Now, now the kiss was on her mouth, gentle still, but definitely intended to get her attention. And to wake her up.
Wake she did, stretching, blinking. Who...?
Yes, indeed - who would kiss her - here? Who would dare?
Again she blinked. The dark dungeon cell was no longer as dark as it had been. For right here, bathed in a light only he could carry about with him...
He beamed down at her as she gasped, her hand flying over her mouth. 'My love,' said he.
'Master!' she replied, only just barely having the presence of mind to keep her voice low.
'Master?' he repeated back to her, and tilted his head. 'Have you forgotten, my sweet one, my little love, my Starr? Have you forgotten the name I gave to you, for you to call me?'
Her face went pale. Oh! It had been so long, she had in fact nearly forgotten. 'My Beloved...' she breathed.
His eyes crinkled in merriment. 'I love to hear you call me so, dearheart.' And again, he leaned towards her. He kissed her.
How she melted into that kiss! Months fell off of her, as she lived in his embrace, in the rapture of the deep wellspring of his love for her, of hers for him. She had forgotten the abandonment of being utterly his, of living and dying in the one desire to please him, whatever the cost. Beloved!
The kiss ended and he leaned back, his eyes delighting in her. 'My Starr,' he whispered.
'My Beloved,' she responded, and reached to touch his cheek. Then she saw, in the radiance of him, how miry her hand was from being here in the dungeon. 'Oh,' said she, 'you'll get messy down here.'
A chuckle crinkled his eyes. 'Since when can anything get me messy?' he asked. And then...
He breathed over her. As always, her body convulsed to draw in his breath, as if she would drown without it. Her eyes closed for a moment.
And then opened. He was still there, smiling on her, so real, so close, so here.
'Starr, my love. Many promises have I given thee which, at the moment, thou dost barely remember. Many are about to be fulfilled.' He smiled. 'Things are going to begin to happen.'
'Stone...' she whispered, and turned her head to look. Where was he?
'He returns shortly,' said the Master. 'But even before that, before he sets foot in this room with you again - things are going to begin to happen.' He smiled, an eagerness in his eyes that was infectious. 'Trust,' he said. 'Let me flow. I have kissed thee, my darling,' and he leaned forward and did so again, gently, passionately, lingeringly, 'as reminder of what I spoke into thee long ago. That my kisses,' and now his hand lingered on her cheek, as his eyes sparkled over her, 'are as symbols of my words being in you. Stone, in whose hands I have placed you in safety, is not the only one whom I intend to love whole through your loving heart, dear. Stone is to be thy husband; now, I shall give thee a brother.'
She looked up into his face. 'But I don't under...'
His hand touched her lips, forestalling the syllable 'stand.' 'Don't let it concern you, love,' said he. Then his face lifted, looking for moment beyond this tiny cell.
Again his eyes, so merry, returned to her face. Swiftly, he bent once more to kiss her, his promised bride - a wonderful memorable kiss on the mouth, followed by again a kiss on the forehead. 'Trust,' he whispered. 'And let me speak and love through you.'
And he was gone. Or the brightness of him was. Through the darkness, she saw him no more, nor felt his presence with her. But - he was there, wasn't he? Whether she saw him or felt him or not.
And then she began to hear something. A splatter of feet in the mire - many feet. And the slurp of something being dragged along. Torch light spilled in through the tiny window in the door, starting on the far wall, then travelling down the wall and across the floor to the very center. Where it stopped.
Someone was outside that door right now, thought Starr. Someone with a torch!
She pressed her hands over her mouth, squeezing herself back into the corner of the cell as tightly as she could. Whoever this was, it wasn't Stone. Of that much she was certain, for Stone would not risk drawing attention to himself by using a torch.
The sound of a key being scraped into the lock. And then the sound of the lock turning over.
And then, the door was being dragged open. More torch light spilled in then, reaching right across the floor, touching the hem of Starr's dress.
She stared up, wide-eyed, expecting at any second that whoever had opened the door would reach in a great hand and grab her up, demanding to know who she was and how she had come to be here.
But that was not what happened next. No, what happened next was that great hands instead heaved in a small bundle of rags, which landed with a jangle in the middle of the patch of light on the floor.
And then the door slammed shut. Guffaws sprang out beyond the door as the torch light reversed itself, crossing the floor to the foot of the far wall, then climbing that wall until the light of the torch faded away altogether.
And silence. Starr still sat there, crammed back into the corner, barely breathing, staring through the dimness at the place less than a yard away from her foot where the bundle of rags had landed on the floor.
Rags that landed with a jangle? Why would that be?
And then the rags groaned. And sat up.
Oh, my Beloved! Starr cried deep within herself. It was a man!
From her dark corner, Starr stared at the stranger. The rags, she now realized, were the man's clothing. A small, thin man - bone-thin - barely any bigger than she was herself. Pale as a ghost he was, sharp-faced, with dark thinning hair, a half-hearted beard, and great hollow eyes that had plainly seen far more horror than any eyes ever should.
The man just sat there where he had landed, there in the mire, looking stunned. And then his head dropped down into his arms, and his shoulders began to shake.
He was crying. The chains hanging from his wrists were shaking, a soft and mournful clanking, as his muffled sobs gradually grew louder.
He cries like a lost soul. The words dropped whole like that into Starr's head, and from there down into her heart. Softly, barely even noticing what she was doing, she began to pray.
It was strange sometimes how Starr would pray. Words, though they were not words that she could understand, would form inside her head and then she would pray them out through her mouth. This, she knew, was the Master's doing. That he was speaking through her in this way. And she willingly cooperated.
She was praying like that now, softly, as the man cried softly. And time passed.
Abruptly, he stopped crying. His head jerked up and he stared around him into the dimness. 'Who's there?' he hissed.
Starr's mouth shut just as abruptly. He was staring straight at her now, and she sat paralyzed, her mind absolutely blank as to what she ought to do next.
The man's eyes went wide with panic now. He opened his mouth and curses rained out, as if that was his ordinary language (which it was). And, in the midst of the curses, he gasped out, 'It's a giant rat!'
Starr was stunned. I'm a giant rat? she thought.
'...and it's going to eat me!' the man squeaked between his curses.
'I'm not going to eat you!' she all but giggled.
'...and it talks...! Wait.' He looked closer, actually moved closer. Put out a finger and poked at her. Another torrent of curses as he said, 'You're not a giant rat!' He almost sounded disappointed. 'Who are you?'
'I'm Starr,' she said.
'But what are you doing here?' Curse. 'If they'd known you were here in Solitary, they wouldn't have shoved me in here.' Curse. 'They call it Solitary for a reason, you know.' Curse. 'And anyway, you sound like... Get up there. Get in the light. I want a look at you.'
She obliged, standing up and moving into what little light filtered in at the door. His eyes narrowed and widened as he looked her over from head to toe. 'You're a woman!' he hissed. 'And you don't have chains!'
The man scrambled to his feet. 'What are you doing here?' he asked again.
'I'm... looking for someone,' Starr replied slowly.
'In Solitary?' He barked with laughter. Then, amidst curses, he made it explicitly clear to her that Solitary was a fool place to expect to find anyone. 'Who you looking for, anyway?'
'Someone the Master loves,' said she.
Even in this dim light, she saw it. She saw how his eyes... well, it was like something inside them snapped shut and locked. He snorted. 'Oh. One of those. Well, you can forget about looking down here in this,' and the curses he let loose then came close to blistering her ears. 'Ain't no one down here that your Master,' and he said that word like it was a curse too, 'loves. He hates all of us down here.' He glared at her. 'Didn't you know that? That's what your kind says all the time. That your Master hates my kind.'
Starr heard herself reply, 'I guess I must have missed class the day they taught that one.' And she smiled. 'Here I am. Because the Master sent me here - right here - to find someone he loves.'
Again the man snorted. 'If you're here,' and his finger stabbed violently through the air, pointing at the miry floor under their feet, 'then maybe you ought to be questioning just how much this Master of yours really loves you, to let you get stuck here in Solitary.'
'I'm not stuck,' she said.
'Yeah, right! They found you and threw you in here to rot...'
His voice was already trailing off on that thought, as she reminded him, 'You said yourself that they wouldn't have put you in here, if they'd known that I was in Solitary already. Right?'
He frowned severely and scratched at his head. Cursing thoughtfully under his breath, he said at last, 'That's right... Then what are you doing here? How'd you get in here?'
'We have the keys,' she replied. 'We thought Solitary would be a good place to hide from the guards, while we make our search down here for the one the Master sent us after.'
'Yeah, yeah, your Master,' he sneered. Then, 'We? Who's we?'
'Stone and I.'
The man started, then peered all around into the dark corners of this little room. 'Maybe you haven't noticed,' he muttered, when his eyes spied no one else, 'but there ain't nobody here but you and me.'
She pointed at the door. 'He's out there right now, searching.'
'Hmph.' The man spat into the mire at her feet, with a healthy curse for the brand of fools he counted the pair of them to be, for looking down here for someone their Master might love! 'Don't you know what we do to fools like you who come down here?'
'I, uh, have an inkling,' she said softly.
'You'll have more than that, time we get done with you. I oughta...' And he stopped.
'Ought to what?'
There was a hardness in his face and eyes, a sullenness. 'I oughta holler for the guards right now, that's what I oughta do. Let them deal with you and this Stone guy.'
For a second, Starr felt a tightening around her heart as fear tried to take hold of her. But then in her mind she saw again the Master, how he had looked just minutes ago - the excitement in his face, the anticipation. Whatever was about to happen, he welcomed it. And he knew what was about to happen.
So why should she fear?
A stirring of the air touched her face, reminding her of the Master's sweet touches just now, his dear kisses. How he loved her! He would not let something awful like the guards taking her happen - or - he would not let it happen without good reason.
She thought of how the rest of the company had been captured just days ago, and how that had led to them meeting Walker. And the thought struck her: If the guards were to capture her now, might they not take her to the same place where they were holding Walker?
Starr blinked and looked again at the man in the cell with her. 'Yes?' she said.
He was staring at her, puzzled. 'Ain't you gonna beg me not to?'
'Not to what?'
'Not to call the guards on you, you little...!' and he went off into curses for a bit. Then sputtered to a stop. 'Aw, forget it.' He flopped down into the mire and muttered, 'Ain't no fun in it, if she's not even scared.' He eyed her. 'What's with you anyway? You stupid or something?'
She sat down too. 'Something, I guess,' she agreed, smiling.
He snorted. 'Well, you stay here very long, you are stupid, I'll tell you that much. Anyone who would stay down here, when they can be out instead...'
And then he stopped. It hit him, what he himself was saying! Another snort, and he added, 'Well, I'm gonna sleep. So you just take that precious key of yours and make yourself disappear. Hear me?'
'I hear you,' she replied.
'Hmph.' He rolled himself up into a ball. And as he made himself ready to sleep, he thought how, if that girl was still here when he woke up again, that would be one of the biggest surprises of his life.
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