I wrote this last night in a little under a hour. It was the first time in ages I had written something fresh and new each sentence building on the other, the words pouring out almost too fast to type. I’d forgotten how lovely it is to write without a destination. I have no idea who this character is and what will happen to her. But it was such a fun diversion from my interminable work-in-progress subtitled the novel will not die.
I’ve never done this before but I thought I would post it here. I’d be really grateful for any feedback but please be kind and constructive. Anyway here it is unedited.
The hungry ghosts
When dawn comes, I will die. The sound of the celebration drifts across the river through the bars of my cell window. All the tribes united, as they have never been before, with the single desire to see my blood soak into the sand. The only matter for dissent is how the deed shall be accomplished. The K’are would like to stake me out in the desert for the ants to eat me, inside out. The Rezir would prefer I was hung drawn and quartered my steaming guts shown to me as my eyes dim. They have been tutored well in the ways of civilisation. The Ferang just want me to die quickly in the name of the old gods. And so the arguments continue.
The only thing that stops the terror clogging my throat and prevents my heart from pounding so fast it would break my ribs is to categorise them as my father would have done, coolly weighing up the pro and the cons. But its harder when its your body they are arguing over, when the wave of hatred is so intense it almost suffocates you.
He, who valued intellect above all else, would be disappointed. I can see him now leaning forward, a sardonic smile playing on his lips as he coolly lists my mistakes as if talking about a historical figure in one of his scrolls. Not a living breathing girl, his daughter. A man of few words, my father. Even fewer since I cut his throat.
I can almost see him in the corner of the cell a hungry ghost waiting with the others for me to join them.
The thought makes me shudder, the metal jangling. Instead of necklaces strung with pearls as big as a nightingale’s egg, my body is strung with chains of iron the links larger than my fingers. The chains are too tight, scabs braceletting my wrists where they rub. The too sweet smell tells me my flesh has already begun to fester.
You’re too early, I tell my body. Wait a couple of hours and you can rot to your hearts content.
There’s a soft pad of sandals slapping against the sandy flagstones.
I brush my matted hair away from my face. Licking my crusty lips wasting moisture I can barely afford to loose. Will my husband come to me now? I don’t know if it’s dread or excitement I feel. Do I want to spit in his face or kiss him goodbye?
As I see the guard through the bars my heart skitters. Have they come to get me early? To do the deed under the cover of darkness and avoid a riot as the crowds jostle each other for the best position to watch the traitorous witch die.
But he’s alone, his frightened bony face painted silver in the moonlight that floods through the narrow bars of the window. His energy a distant hum tickling the edge of my consciousness. The others must have left him to join the celebrations. The town full to bursting with people come to watch me die. The guards will crawl in with the dawn reeking of hashish and sweat.
‘Get back.’ He squeaks his pubescent voice as thin and reedy as a flute. I scuttle back pressing myself against the stone wall, still warm from the suns kiss.
With shaking hands he unlocks the hatch and pushes the jug and plate of dates through.
It closes with a slam and I scurry forward picking up the jug with both hands my arm muscles protesting. Carefully, very carefully, I take a sip. It’s barely enough to wet the inside of my mouth, and my parched throat screams for more. But this has to last me –
The thought strikes me with a hammer blow. No need to savour the water, measuring out the mouthfuls by the passage of the baking sun across the floor. There won’t be a tomorrow, not for me. I take a gulp, letting the water trickle down my dry throat, pleasure curling through my body.
The guard hovers in the doorway, curiousity overrides his fear. Talking to me is forbidden. But this may be his last chance.
I straighten placing the jug on the floor. It’s heavy enough to be used as weapon if only he would step nearer to the bars.
‘Yes.’ My voice is cracked, unrecognisable from disuse. It has been so long since I have talked to anybody but the ghosts.
I drag myself to my feet swaying slightly, keeping an eye on the guard. He stays planted in the corridor torn between coming closer and fleeing back to the guard station. I take pity on him.
‘What do you want?’
I can only imagine picture I present. My hair a snarled mess covering the pink blisters that dot my face. The coarsely woven stained dress rubbing the sand fly bites that dot my body. So he can’t be after that unless…
‘Did you kill them?’ He lowers his voice stepping closer to the bars his macabre need for information overriding his sense, ‘Did you kill your children?’
The old pain strikes and I wonder how I can breathe through it. There is a special hell reserved for mothers that kill their children. This is what he wants to bathe in their blood so he could say he talked to the witch. Earning himself a spot by the fire and a warm body or two for the celebrations tomorrow.
‘Do you really want to know boy? Aren’t you afraid.’
I step forward dropping my voice.
He leans in his eyes glittering with repulsed fascination, his spear forgotten by his side. But all I can see is the knife at his belt. It would sink into his side as easily as into butter, the blood running warm over my hands. Easy. Even easier to distract with the truth whispered in his ear as I fastened my fingers around the back of his neck. I am so weak I can hardly remember the sensation of stolen lifeforce coursing through my body like fine wine. But the guard shines with it like a candle in the dark. It would be enough to escape the prison and if I ran into the other guards on route so be it.
‘I held them down’ I whisper in his ear. My hand weaving its way through the bars, slow and careful as a snake. My gaze falls on his neck, his adams apple moving up and down.
‘Get out of here.’ I shove him, forcing myself back shuddering with need. I am ravenous, consumed with a deep hunger that will never be fully sated. I knew that if I looked in a mirror my eyes would be black, my hair swirling around me like ink in water.
With a horrified glance he runs his sandals slipping on the flagstones, and I am alone again. Good, maybe it will teach him a lesson I think sinking back down against the wall.
I can almost see my father shaking his head at me in the corner. Mercy, Anna, is a luxury you can scarce afford. Did the Castelli show the cowering tribes mercy? Where the K’are merciful to the Ferang?
With effort I tune him out. There will be time enough for lectures in the afterlife. Carefully I wrap the knife in the folds of my dress. By the time the guard notices it will be too late. And the feel of the steel at my side comforts me more than any doll ever has.
I don’t know if I have bought them enough time but these extra hours could make all of the difference. All I have to do is sit here running through my mistakes like memory beads.
What else can I do?