Read Naked, on the Edge Online
Authors: Elizabeth Massie
Tags: #Fiction, #Short Stories, #Horror
Digital Edition published by Crossroad Press
© 2012 / Authog
Cover Design By: Cortney Skinner
“Beneath our clothes, our bodies are naked. Beneath our skulls, our brains are naked. Beneath our hearts, our souls are naked.” – Elizabeth Massie
What Happened When Mosby Paulson Had Her Painting Reproduced on the Cover of the Phone Book
No Solicitors, Curious a Quarter
Someone Came and Took Them Away
Pushed or dragged or on our own
Past shadowed, bony, leafless trees,
Through tangled briar and rock-strewn field
As hearts pound madly with unease.
Up to the end of all there is,
Where darkness hangs in shrouds of mist
Our souls stand trembling, staring, awed
Within our terror's hardened fist.
It's here, where life and death divide
Where anxious, troubled minds lay bared
The time has come, its time to choose,
Step out or back, be forced or dared.
We stand there, naked, on the edge,
At mercy of ourselves or fate,
Circumstance and dreams collide,
It is too soon. Or no, too late.
What waits out in the fog of night
Beyond what we can see or hear;
A rescue from this bloodied world
Or all the horrors that we fear?
The wind blows hard upon cliff
We cling to hope and to the ledge,
‘Til strength is gone, we teeter, cry,
Shadow of the Valley
Then tumble, naked, from the edge.
ne, two, three, four, five, six, turn, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, turn one, two, three, four.
He stopped, scratched his ear and his neck. Several drops fell from the ceiling and he put his fingers to the wet then brought the wet to his mouth and sucked at it. Then, he picked up where he left off.
Five, six, turn, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, turn, one, two.
And then he remembered, and he remembered hard, and he dropped to the damp concrete, his bare knees accustomed to this move after two years, cushioning the fall with thick, bulbous layers of scar tissue. His butchered hands went together, his blood vessels picked up a rhythm of familiar, sweat-driving dread, and he prayed his impotent prayer.
"Lord is my shepherd. Shadow of the valley of death. Do unto others all the days of my life. I pray the Lord my soul to take. Little hands be careful."
He repeated it until the words lost their meaning and he was freed again from the knowledge of his past, his present, and his inevitable and horrific future. Standing, he felt his way in the darkness to the corner and began again.
One, two, three, four, five, six, turn, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, turn, one, two, three, four, five, six, turn.
His name was Marcus. He knew that. He knew he was thin; he could feel the rib bones and hip bones beneath his naked skin. He knew there were people beyond the darkness, and these people were his jailers. He knew he was fed once a day, and he knew that sometimes, the water he was given through the slot in his door was fouled with urine. But he drank it, anyway.
He knew these things, but he didn't think about them.
Thinking made him remember, it opened the door of his mind and the truth came in and if he couldn't pray it away, he would spend the next hours screaming and crying in a corner. And so, he walked. He counted. He prayed. And when weariness came mercifully, he slept, curled against the door in the single tiny sliver of silver light that came through the food slot, his arms wrapped around his knees, his penis tucked between his legs to keep it safe from the centipedes and spiders that shared his cell with him.
Marcus stopped walking and looked at the sliver of light. For a moment, he saw his father's grim mouth, set hard in soft, fat flesh. Then the vision shifted and he saw the indecipherable countenance of God.
"Shadow of the valley," he whispered. He went to the wall by the door. His hands suddenly dove forward as if they'd forgotten that the wall, as was the floor, was solid, cold. Immovable.
Like his captors in their judgment.
His hands banged on the wall, and he counted. "One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight." He could count no farther because there was nothing past eight. The cell was six feet wide, eight feet long. The door was six feet tall, three feet wide. The ceiling, which he could touch on tip-toe with up-stretched arms, was seven feet high. He had eight fingers, four on each hand since he’d had his thumbs removed for an infraction he couldn't remember.
A shiver caught his bare spine and shook him like a mouse in a dog's mouth.
Dropping his hands from the wall, he turned. He walked.
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, turn.
In a tiny nick in the long wall, six feet from the floor, was a spoon. Marcus had kept the spoon from one of his daily meals. In truth, he hadn't kept it on purpose. It was only a thin metal spoon and could not have been much of a tool for burrowing a hole in the concrete. That was, if Marcus had considered trying to burrow from his cell of eternal night. And he hadn't. Even if the spoon were a chisel, it wouldn't matter. He was in a center cell. He knew this; he remembered being brought down here from the main population on the ground floor so many months ago, and remembered the guards stripping him of his clothes, hosing him down to get rid of fleas and lice he didn't have, then throwing him in and locking the door, shutting off all sounds, nearly all light.
His cell was in the middle of the prison cellar. If he dug through a wall it would only be to find himself in another solitary cell. And then another and another and another. This was not the movies. There was no air vent system to hasten him to the outside world, no sewer system to slide through, no rivers in which to float unseen to a safe haven.
And even if there were, there was no safe haven. Safe from what? His torment in the cell? The random tortures by the sergeant guard? Perhaps. But not from eternity.
Nothing could save him from eternity.
Five, six, seven, eight, turn, one, two, three, four, five, six, turn, one, two.
"Little hands be careful. Shadow of the valley of death." He hit the floor on his knees, his clutching fingers finding each other in the dark like brittle insects driven to copulation, his mind, his heart, his soul tearing at each other, clawing each other to shreds in certainty of his eternity.
He'd been told by the old, craggy minister of his fate.
"God will not forgive you," the minister had whispered after sentencing had been pronounced. "You are beyond the grace of God and no prayer, no supplication, no pleading will deliver you from the eternal damnation in the lake of fire."
To Marcus, who had been sitting in the jail cell awaiting delivery to the state prison, the minister's words hadn't registered. He'd been angry, furious beyond reason that he'd been sentenced to life for a murder his brother had committed. He'd been there, certainly, he'd even taken the Twizzlers they'd found in his grimy pockets. But he hadn't killed the shop owner. Brad had done that with a blow to the skull with a tire iron. Marcus had stopped in his tracks in the shop's candy aisle and had stared as the owner dropped to the floor like a sack of potatoes. Brad had screamed for Marcus to come on come on come on let's get the fuck out of here when a shopper came in, the little door chime tinkling. The man had been carrying a concealed weapon, newly legal in their fine state, and had shot Brad with a single blast directed at the forehead.
The tire iron had been in Brad's fist, but the shopper didn't feel there was enough dramatic justice to have a dead murderer to present to the police. You can't discipline a dead murderer before the public. And so he'd claimed that Marcus had wielded the iron, and as Marcus had used the iron many times in the jack when helping Brad change blown retreads on his truck, his prints were on it. He was convicted.
The shopper had been praised for attempting to stop the robbery and save the already-dead owner's life. Marcus, sixteen at the time, though tried as an adult had not been given the death penalty as most citizens had screamed for, but life in prison. Two times over.
Five, six, seven, eight, turn, one, two, three.
He was sorry now. He knew he shouldn't have listened to Brad. Brad was his brother and Marcus loved him but Brad didn't know shit about right and wrong. God have pity, fuck it all, where was Brad now? In the never-ending lake of torment? Of course he was.
Forever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, turn, one, two, three, four, five, six, turn, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, turn, one, two, three, four...
our tongue's ticklin' my ear!" whined Tonya. "You feel like a old wet worm."
Jimbo pinched Tonya 's cheek then pulled back and tugged the sweat-crusted brim of the guard's hat down, covering Tonya's eyes. "A wet, willin' worm, honey," he said.
Jimbo grinned and lit a cigarette. He was good-looking, and Tonya knew she was lucky to have him like her. He was twenty-three, muscular, and covered with knock-out tattoos. She'd first seen him in the 7-Eleven in his guard uniform, buying a pack of smokes before he went to work. She worked behind the counter. When she'd slid the pack across the countertop to him, he'd put his hand on top of hers and said, "Want to light one for me?"