[ Johannes’ POV ]
A figure stood in the distance, the gentle tide rolling over his bare feet. I had followed his footsteps through the sand, a cool wind blowing my hair against my face. His blue eyes were to the horizon, the crystalline surface of the calm waters reflecting the swirling clouds and orange and violet hues of the darkening sky as Mother Owl brought the night to our Kingdom.
The King’s dreadlocked hair whipped in the quickening breeze like licks of golden flame, draped in a scarlet cloak fringed in shimmering black feathers. The expression on his bearded face was solemn, his sword glinting in the fading dusk in one trembling hand.
A storm was heading our way, black clouds billowing towards us from the north. A fire burned dimly within the looming darkness, bursts of red lightning and a malevolent sentience snaring out like barbed wire from its depths as it barreled towards the shoreline.
I called out to him amidst the sound of thunder, and he turned his head towards me as I approached. A small smile reached the warrior's lips, emanating a kind warmth that I would never feel again. His azure eyes were lined sharply in khol and glittering with sorrow, and yet he never cast aside his warrior’s composure as his gloved hand reached for mine.
The sky began to scream, the swirling blackness twisting through the atmosphere, choking the color from the sky like an infection sucking the life from its host. I could hear my name drifting from the eye of the storm, a low, resonant growl that echoed through my mind. My legs felt as if they'd collapse as I ran towards my King, my heart pounding in my ears as the void began to laugh.
I fell to the sand beneath me, but it wasn't the cool, fine grains I'd tread on not moments before, but hard and littered with jagged shards. I lifted my head to the ugly, tremulous expanse above me, the sun never to touch my face again as it was swallowed forever. The water had become black as ink, the tide rolling in faster and steam rose from its bubbling surface. I knew I had to get away, flee before the sea boiled me alive, but The King was gone. Something glinted faintly at the shoreline, black waters rolling over something gold and splattered in crimson.
I could feel the tears welling, choking back a scream. The ground cut my hands as I struggled to my feet, an ominous chill creeping through my bones as the earth began to tremble. Amidst the lustful howl of the raging storm, the cries of a thousand crows tore through the air from the epicenter, their wings glittering like many black blades as they ripped through the air.
I felt something curl around my legs, spined barbs slicing through the fabric of my pants and twisting up my calves. I kicked at whatever had seized me, fighting to free myself and yet I could not bear the thought of what I might see if I turned my head.
The grip around my legs only tightened, slithering further up my body as hundreds of tiny, curving blades pierced my flesh. I howled in pain, coppery warmth spilling from my wounds. The sickly stench of rotten flesh assaulted my nostrils, skeletal claws twisting in my long hair. There was a crushing weight on my back, the sensation of dozens of pointed, yellowed teeth against my neck. And despite the fear paralyzing me to the cold, dead sand, I had to see the face of my killer.
Slowly, I turned my head. The gnarled fingers in my hair relaxed their hold, sliding down my neck almost sensually before wrapping around my throat. The red glow of those eyes held me in place, every thought, every secret, he read them like an open book. I was barely aware of the tears rolling down my face, my hatred overpowering my grief as I gazed into the abyss.
He smiled through many rows of teeth, a skeletal grimace framed by a mane of wild chestnut and wearing a crown of jagged obsidian. His grip around my throat tightened.
“Rise and shine, Johannes!”
The sudden snap of my neck tore me from the wastelands of the desolate beach and boiling black ocean, and I woke with a scream. I moved to sit upright, but my arms were tightly bound to the bed. I lay on my back momentarily, the fluorescent light flickering dimly above chasing the last nightmare vestiges of shadows from my subconscious. I heard myself whimper, my vision blurry as I began to remember where I was.
There were no windows here, no clock to tell me the time of day. The room was small and painted in a sickly shade of green that reminded me of vomit. I had begun to catalog the length of my stay at Brookhaven in notebooks scattered amidst my poetry, but the days and nights blurred together in a perpetual pharmaceutical stupor they forced upon me. For the last three days, I had been strapped to this bed, the leather straps too tight around my wrists.
I was aware of another presence in the room, snapping my head in the direction of the shadowed figure standing over me. My eyes widened, thinking I saw the pale fire burning in those eyes, then my lip curled angrily as the orderly’s face drifted into focus.
“Time to wake up, sunshine.” The orderly sneered. I noticed the bandage on his nose, my own handiwork from days earlier when I wasn't confined to my bed, and I smiled.
The greasy little man flinched as I lunged towards him, only as far as my restraints would allow. I would have loved nothing more than to break the bastard’s neck for what he had done, stealing my poetry and strapping me to this fucking bed!
“You had a visitor this morning...” the little man said coolly, a gleeful edge to his voice as he said this. A hand was hovering above the taser he kept clipped to his belt, however.“Because of your little tantrum, we had to turn her away. She had this for you, though...” He held a manilla folder in his hand, and my heart sank when I realized what it was.
“You little…” I felt the snarl rising in my throat, rage flooding to the surface as the desire to finish what I'd started overcame me. He stood there with a smug grin, watching me struggle against my restraints. The leather straps had been stretched from my many nights here alone with my nightmares, and the folder in his hand, no doubt holding divorce paperwork, promised an eternity of solitude. I promised myself that I would tear him apart with my bare hands.
- - -
[ Three days earlier… ]
“I'll be nice to you if you're nice to me…” He'd whispered in my ear, making sure to check the darkened corridor before closing the door behind us. I couldn't move, my senses a muddled slurry from the the new medication. My vision swam in and out of focus, barely aware that I was standing in a tiny utility closet with the fat little orderly whom I'd only seen making rounds at night.
My arms hung limp at my side, my mouth dry and unable to protest as I felt him push me against the shelves. I stood a good head over the man, peering down at his balding pate. He was touching my hair, twirling the inky black strands around a finger. I swatted at the hand as if it were a fly, only to be greeted by a wave of vertigo.
“Woah, woah… Don't want to hurt yourself there…” I heard him say, but his voice was muted, as if drifting from behind a wall on another plane of existence. I wished I were elsewhere, anywhere but here as I felt hands drift to my shoulders, pushing me down to my knees. I blinked up at him dumbly, tilting my head as I saw his hands drop to his belt.
Before I could comprehend what was happening, a shadow in my periphery caught my wavering attention, its long, skeletal fingers reaching out to me from the darkness. A sound escaped my lips as a hand reached down to grip my jaw roughly. The gnarled claw pointed, and then I was awake, my stupor washed away in a wave of sudden, violent clarity.
The man was on the floor before he or even I could blink. I saw myself standing over him, relishing the sharp scent of copper, blood dripping down my forehead in warm rivulets. He was pathetic, squealing like a pig in agony as his nose spurted crimson through his pudgy hands. My expression was calm, unfaltering as I turned to leave.
I didn't take more than five steps from the utility closet before I felt 1500 volts coursing through me at once. The tile came rushing towards me then, and the empty nothing was a blessed relief compared to what waited after. The next morning, I woke strapped to a hospital bed with a pounding headache and a pending assault charge.
The orderly had been quick to claim I had attacked him unprovoked, and no one thought to consider the defense of a violent psychopath…
- - -
“Your white knight isn't coming from the future to save you, Sarah Connor. Now, are we going to play nice?” His tone was snide, making sure I saw the taser again before unfastening the restraints around my wrists and ankles. There was bruising from my previous struggles, and as much as I would have loved to leap up smash his tiny head against the cold tile, I hugged my knees to my chest and simply glared.
“Touch me again and I'll bite it off.” I hissed, absently rubbing at the purple lesions on my bony wrists, which suddenly looked thinner than I remembered.
“Looks like I'm all you've got now, pretty boy.” I kept my hands at my chest, my fingers longing to write even when no words came. The orderly sniggered, and I suddenly imagined myself writing songs amidst his corpse. “Pussy ass rockstars… Doc says you gotta eat or else you get another night here.”
I eyed him suspiciously. The food here was rancid, poisoned with the cocktail of drugs they fed us at the med station every morning and evening, flies buzzing and infestations growing even though they insisted over and over nothing was wrong. They'd sent me here before, when I warned the others of worms and insects crawling through our plates, force fed to us by sadists. The orderly rolled his eyes.
“Unless you want another three nights with just you and yours truly, get your skinny ass out of here, Eckerström.”
My bones creaked and ached as I stood, the muscles weak from being tied down. The fluorescent white light spilling into my room seemed too bright, the astringent stench of industrial disinfected and shit overpowering. I was vaguely aware of the little bastard looking me up and down as I hesitated, overcome by an incomprehensible fear.
I remembered a time when I ran through the trees cloaked in the shroud of night, the Owl Mother keeping watch under Her many glittering eyes. I heard the sound of hooves galloping through fields that stretched through the ages, where there was no slavery of animal or man and we lived in perfect symbiosis, the fertile soil ensuring that no living thing would go hungry. Corruption and greed had been slain by the King’s hand…
Now as I found myself sitting at a cold, steel table in the commissary across from a mousy woman muttering conspiracy theories under her breath, I questioned the reality of waking to this fresh hell of enforced sterility and empty motivational quotes everyday. The insects were beginning to appear under a wedge of lettuce on my plate, squirming and multiplying before my very eyes as they began surging across the table. My stomach churned, and I drifted elsewhere.
I remembered the palace, a glittering monolith of twisting spires and colorful glass standing before the sea. There were grand balls held in checkered halls draped in scarlet and gold, rainbows of feathers and silk swirling and merging together while fireworks illuminated the night. I sang the people songs of triumph and tragedy, the music coursing through me like an electric current…
The silence was painful. I turned my head towards the old piano that sat in the corner, the top locked as an attempt to deter patients from disturbing the peace, or so they said. My fingers moved along to sheet music I saw in my mind. My heart ached to hear the music again, those haunting melodies keeping me alive until my King came back for me.
That night, I dreamt of towers...
[ TO BE CONTINUED... ]