Reanimating from a blunt force trauma black out while being emerged in total darkness is a whole new experience in the realm of uncertain consciousness. Being awake is as real as the depth of your imagination, or in my case, the depth of the well. Trapped is trapped, whether down here, or in a plastic body.
I felt a lump on the crown of my head, but the pain alone did not convince me I was awake. The water that drenched me was historically cold, but the chill in my body did not convince me either. Certain death plagued my mind, but the hopelessness of the situation still could not convince me.
Recollection protects and enhances your life. You learn from pain, remembering how it hurt without thankfully having to feel it again. Sounds like songs or bells ring in your head even though you can’t hear them in the moment. After the party when you were a teenager, the room was gripped in a reprehensible odor that you haven’t smelled in years or maybe since.
Hell, I declare could never be pitch black. As if designed specifically to thwart the Devil himself, beautiful life can be brilliantly recalled. You can see it in your mind’s eye, the shapes, the colors, the faces. Hell would have to be a place where eyes were open all the time, where the stench of rotten decay bellowed from the bottom of a well. I never knew that smell before, my mind could not recall it, therefore, I must have been awake.
The homemade ladder was crudely constructed with unstable uprights and rungs too far apart to be serviceable. It was of the sort hunters made in the field in order to ambush prey not conditioned to look up for danger. As I began the climb, I cried at the prospect of survival as the length appeared to be sufficient enough to get me out of the hole.
Finally back on top with my face buried in wet leaves I appreciated the exchange of one rotten stench for another. I still had my gun, even though I lacked the dexterity to use it. I walked ahead, stiff legged and slowly, relishing the early stages of hypothermia.
When I fell, I estimated roughly three hours had passed since I left the city, but now I didn’t know. All I could be sure of was that it was still dark outside.
Crisps of flickering firelight against leaf-less treetops were cemented in my memory by the sort of crying one would normally expect at a funeral or the scene of a terrible accident.
“Philippine, I was beginning to worry. We’ve been waiting for you. Allow me to introduce you. You’ve already met Tempest of course. The other members of the coven are See No, Speak No, and Hear No evil. Ironic isn’t it? Witches stripped of their own evils? I thought so anyways. Very classic in nature, very, oh how should I say it? Cliché I guess. I couldn’t resist,” John said.
The three young members of the coven were all kneeling with their arms and ankles tied and knotted on the back sides of their respective trees.
“See no” was responsible for the wailing I had heard earlier. Blood replaced what should have been tears trickling out from under a blindfold, gluing strands of jet-black hair to her cheeks. She leaned forward, exhausted, letting the ropes that bound her wrists keep her from falling face first onto the ground.
“Speak no” made no discernable sound. She was the only blonde of the group, a fact I’m not sure had anything to do with her individual hell. A piece of wood whittled and tailored specifically for her, filled her mouth to the limits of an open human jaw. A handful of dislodged teeth laid on the folds of her black coat like crumbs after coffee cake. Her breath nearly whistled through what appeared to be a half of a fountain pen jutting from her trachea. The blood around it was coagulated making me wonder if she was first.
“Hear no” did not appear to be conscious. Both sides of her head were hastily shaved with what I’m guessing was the same knife he used to cut her ears off flush with her skull. They laid in the dirt she plowed up with her feet in front of her, kicking and most likely screaming until she passed-out from either pain or loss of blood.
Tempest was center stage, the apparent star of the show. Like witches of old, she was tied to a dead tree in the middle of a pile of dry kindling, ready to be burned at the stake. The gag in her mouth was wrapped tightly around the tree as well, effectively tying her head in place. She tried to speak to me, pleading with her eyes.
“I believe she’s telling you to run,” John said.
“You sick son-of-a…”
It was all I could manage to say. Once I was able to digest what I was looking at, I trained my pistol on the center of John’s fire-lit forehead.
“You let them go right now or I swear I’ll kill you where you stand. Now!” I demanded.
John looked at me and smiled, then looked towards Tempest
“Don’t worry about them Philippine, they’re going to be just fine. Well, probably. And that includes you as well, just as long as you do what’s requested of you,” he explained.
“Fuck you, you tried to kill me you son-of-a-bitch,” I accused.
“The well was never designed to kill you Philippine, only slow you down. Once you were inside, I knew exactly where you were. Once you got out, with my help of course, I knew exactly where you were going. As you can see, I needed a little time, you were too close,” he said.
“Now! Untie them now!” I screamed.
Someone tackled me low from behind, taking me to the ground. I was weak, injured from the fall down the well. I spun and fired once, twice, three then four times as he stood over me. The bullets had little to no effect, easily passing through his dummy body. While I sat paralyzed in wonder, he kicked the weapon out of my hand.
“Oh and let’s not forget our mutual friend Roy. I’m sure you remember him from the mall, well, from the health club. I’ll bet you’re wondering all about that Philippine. You know it’s funny, he practically begged me not to hurt you. Seems he has somewhat of a crush on you,“ John said.
Roy turned quickly towards John, tossing up his arms in silent protest.
“The security guard,” I said.
It had been a tea kettle, simmering in the back of my mind, but I would never allow myself to turn up the heat, to accept the alternate reality.
“Where’s John Blake?” I asked.
“John Blake was disposable. He’ll mean more to the trees now,” he said.
I moved to get my gun, but Roy beat me to it. He raised it slowly, pointing it directly at the middle of John.
“Do it, shoot him,” I said.
“Oh yes, that’s right. John Blake was a friend of yours. And what did your friend do for you again? Do you think he respected you as a guard Roy? Or did he dismiss you? Did he just tolerate you so you would leave him alone? Think about it Roy. He was using you, like the witch. They never spoke to you, never gave you what you needed to be free. I did that for you my friend, me. I’m going to help free you, and she’s going to help. Between us, we’ll make the witch break her spell. Then the two of you can go back together, just like you’ve dreamed,” John said.
“Shoot him, he’s crazy,” I said.
Unfortunately, Roy could no more shoot a gun than recite the emancipation proclamation, his hands nearly as useless as his hate.
John stepped up and quite easily took the gun from Roy’s hand. He walked towards me spinning a piece of rope like he was a sick old man twirling a stopwatch, about to offer me candy.
“No way you’re doing me like them, no way, you’ll have to kill me,” I said.
“I wouldn’t dream of it Philippine. What sort of man would I be if I didn’t keep my word to my friend here? But I can’t really have you running, or should I say, limping away either. Hold her,” he said.
Roy was designed to save lives, not fight. I managed to tear-off his left arm during the struggle. Brandishing his limb as a weapon, I landed a solid blow to the side of John’s murderous head. He staggered backwards buying me enough time to flee as fast as my damaged body would allow. I hopped, I dragged, I limped and hell yes, I ran. Roy attempted to give chase but fell to the ground after only a few steps. Seems he wasn’t built for running either.
I pushed myself hard, fighting back pain while reeling from the shock of what I had just seen. There was a horrid familiarity in the air. Back again to the dark of yet another forest, another psychopath. I was lucky then. I remembered the flavor and I was desperate for another bite.
I broke out of the trees into an open field. I was turned around, but the starlight gave me hope. Time was a cellist, hellbent on playing my funeral song. He was coming. I couldn’t see him, nor could hear him over the cacophony of my own blundering retreat. But as sure as daylight, he was coming.
Over the crest of the field, on the edge of another wood line, I stopped to catch my breath and get my bearings. Quiet laughter from the dark broke my soul.
“Where for art thou Philippine?” he called mockingly.
A lump welled-up in my throat. I thought about crying, about just giving up and dying like the grass I laid in. I’d let the season take me in hopes that I’d grow back in spring.
“Come now Philippine, it is time. I need you. I need you to see what I see. All your questions can be answered. You can save him Philippine. You can save them all. If the witch dies, he will be trapped forever, and you my dear will have sentenced them. You are the judge Philippine, you are the key to their survival, you always have been since the day I met you,” he said.
I couldn’t see him, but he was close, lurking in the darkness, a sociopathic wraith.
Roy stood in front of Tempest, staring into her eyes for a million minutes. He picked up a branch nearly as long as himself and as wide as a bottle cap. With his one available arm, he pried the gag from her mouth.
“Please, please, I can’t help you Roy, I can’t help you. You’re not this person, you’re not him. But you can help us, please Roy, please,” she begged.
Roy laid the stick into the nearby fire until the top few inches were burning. He held it close to her face, watching the flames reflect in her eyes. He teased it over the pyre below, tapping it against the dry tinder at her feet that threatened to ignite at any given moment.
“You bastard! I guess you are who I thought you were Roy Manis. Go ahead, do it, lose whatever soul you had left. Everybody already knows what you said to those boys on the beach. Too bad shit don’t float? Ring any bells? I don’t know how she did it, but you got what you had coming, every minute of it,” Tempest said.
Though the torch was no longer engulfed in flame, the coal on the end of the branch still glowed red. He pushed it into the middle of her right cheek, sizzling a brand deep enough to last a lifetime. Had it been a peaceful night, her scream may have been heard for miles, but it carried far enough.
“Time to go,” John said.
He stepped out of the brush astonishingly close to me and placed his hand on my shoulder. As much as my heart desired, I could run no more.
“Come, we have to hurry,” he said.
We were closer to the epicenter of horror than I knew. I felt like I was running in a straight line the entire time, but in reality I was just making a big circle. Upon arrival, the fire that threatened Tempest raged halfway up the tree to which she was tied. The intense heat peeled the skin away from the body, her exposed flesh glistened and shined in the light of the fire, tickling black around the edges of fresh wounds.
“No. What have you done?” he said quietly.