Umwelt: Darkness Flows Like A River Episode 33: Cruel Shadows

broken_finger_xray2Rolf lies spread-eagled, a beautiful rag doll, on the cold floor of a vault with walls smooth and reflective as mirrors. Dried blood lines his nostrils, too dark against the ghastly white of his skin. Blood matted hair has welded in clots to his cheeks, to the floor, creates a sticky halo above his pale brow. His uniform is ripped beyond repair and one foot is missing both boot and sock. The bottom of the exposed foot is filthy with dirt and a bruise ripens on the heel.

The vault is empty bar his body, shrunken somehow even in these claustrophobic confines, but there is a sound running ceaselessly beneath the hoarse stutter of his breathing. A hissing. Low and continuous it ebbs and rises as though breathing itself, flows around the walls and down again, seethes across the floor, seeming to sweep across his body like an invisible tide.

Rolf stirs. His eyelashes flutter. He twitches and a low moan filled with hurt escapes his mouth. One eye cracks open. Rolf moans again, feeling each individual injury yelling for attention. His body is a chorus, a requiem of tenderised nerves.

‘Fuck.’ He sounds parched. Voice guttering like a candle. ‘Oh fuck me.’

One of his hands fumbles upward to clutch at his skull, leaps away again when the contact proves to be far more agonising than expected.


Moving in tiny, wincing increments, Rolf levers his head up, clenching his teeth as his hair rips from the floor, leaving a tarry stain behind. Eyes at half-mast, he surveys the room. It’s a blank cube lit by an array of dazzling led lights in the ceiling. There are no windows, no doors. No way out. Rolf knows enough to know this doesn’t mean there isn’t one, but he’s trapped either way. Just because there’s a way in somewhere, doesn’t mean he can use it to get out.

‘Oh, Margo hon, I’m in a pickle,’ he whispers.

Nursing his body, his head, and his spine every inch of the way, his arms wobbly and uncertain, Rolf pushes upwards, moving his legs in cautious increments until he’s sitting, swallowing hard against nausea, and swaying. He’s too tired and worn to hold his own weight but determined not to lie down again. He’s not a quitter. He groans, the sound half laughing, half despairing.

‘If you could see me now, Moe baby,’ he says, closing his eyes. ‘Bet I look a picture.’

In the four corners, silent and stealthy, shadows gather against the light, as if they were waiting for him to be off guard. Thick and gluey, they expand in waves, filling the room like water, surrounding him. Rolf stiffens, sensing their presence too late. Slowly, as if he knows he won’t want to see this, he opens his eyes. The darkness surrounding him is obsidian and unreflective, absorbing the gaudy led light as if it’s simply not there. Rolf licks his lips and tries for casual.

‘Well, hello there. What do you want?’

One of his arms jerks upward, straight ahead of him. He stares at it in fascinated horror, then screams, high as a child, as his index finger snaps up and back. Gasping for air, Rolf tries to speak; only to scream again as his middle finger, with a crack of sound so loud it resonates like a gunshot, joins the first. Rolf leans back, trying to pull his arm away, but it won’t move, and the fierce pain in his shoulder forces him to quit fighting and he shouts.

‘What the fuck do you want?’ Though he’s yelling loud as he can, his voice is too hoarse for volume and comes out a whisper. His next scream too is almost silent, as the shadow’s only response is the brutal snapping of his ring finger and Rolf’s driven beyond speech, trembling violently, his breath hitching in sharp gasps. He hopes silence is what it wants, but his little finger wrenches to join the other three standing to grotesque attention above the back of his hand and he’s trying to scream again, trying not to, trying to think of what to say to make it stop. His thumb lifts then, rising higher and higher until it strains near to breaking point.

Rolf breaks first.

‘Please, please stop. I don’t know what you want. Talk to me!’

He shrinks back, expecting his thumb to snap, but nothing happens. It remains where it is, vibrating against the resistance of joint, muscle and tendon. If his hand weren’t baptised in agony it would probably be unbearable. Then the darkness responds. All around him. One voice made of thousands of voices speaking in concert and so heartless. So utterly without emotion.

‘You are an inadequate plaything.’

Rolf’s thumb bends further, the bone creaking ominously. He struggles to relieve the pressure, leaning in toward his hand to try and push the force away. Panics when nothing happens and tries to pull away again, so afraid of how much the breaking will hurt he’s forgotten to care about damaging his shoulder, but he can’t affect it either way. None of this shadow touches him yet it nonetheless holds his arm firm and will not let it go.

‘Why the fuck are you doing this?’ He’s sobbing now, hating himself for this capitulation to fear. He’s not weak; he’s never been weak. This though, this is more than he can stand. Everything hurts. Head, limbs, torso, heart, especially heart, and his hand is on fire with the pain from his fingers. He can’t bear it. Just wants it to be over. Wants to be home. To be in Moe’s arm. ‘Let me go.’

‘Why.’ It’s not a question. Or it could be. Rolf can’t tell. There’s no inflection, no change in tone. He decides to answer anyway.

‘I…You don’t need me.’

‘Yet you are here.’

Each word is enunciated separately, casually, as if they were gloves thrown to the floor by a bored gentleman. And the thumb snaps back, viciously, with a tearing of tendons that can be heard beneath the brittle cadence of bone splintering. A shard of blue-white bone pops out of the pad at the base of his thumb and Rolf shrieks, his eyes rolling back in his head. He collapses to the floor in an awkward pile, bodyweight yanking at his shoulder.

Almost distastefully, his arm is dropped. He’s swept off his feet, dangled like a newborn baby, upside down, his arms hanging limply. The shadow speaks again in that voice of many voices. Expressionless, colourless, empty.

‘Disappointing. Such an inadequate plaything.’

© Ren Warom 2013


One thought on “Umwelt: Darkness Flows Like A River Episode 33: Cruel Shadows

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