Outside the window, through the hole he scraped into the ice, he watched a fresh layer of snow powder onto the months of hardened accumulation. He sighed and the steam of his breath quickly filled the hole. In a matter of seconds ice crystals starred and blossomed and the hole was no more.
He turned away from the window and stared down at the pot beginning to boil on the stove. The thick red paste bubbled once and popped sprinkling his hands. Though it burned he did not pull away. He dipped one finger into the pot up to his first knuckle and held it there, momentarily, before bringing it to his cracked lips and sucking it. His eyes closed and the corners of his lips circled upward.
From the adjoining room — the living room — a muffled groan brought him back. He snapped his eyes open and turned the stove to a low boil.
She was waking.
He crossed the kitchen and stood in the doorway. The ropes were strong and the gag held. Her eyes rolled behind her closed lids but she moaned again.
“It was just a taste, Charlie. A taste.”
He cowered and lowered his eyes. He was so hungry. He’d been a good boy. Hadn’t had a bite or a drop for the past two days. Not a thing. The smell was just too strong when that bubbled popped. He couldn’t help it.
He shook his head and made another of his rounds, checking all the windows, lights and doors, then lighting any candle that went out.
The altar stood as erected and he stopped and said another quiet prayer, this one for forgiveness. He was so hungry but that would soon be alleviated.
“Soon,” he whispered, keeping his eyes shut tight.
The screeching woke him. Under it the muffled cries of the woman reminded him where he was. He sprang to his feet, his knees popping loudly.
How long had he nodded off?
He ran passed the woman, noting that she had managed to wiggle her way to the front door but the rope barred her from any chance of escape, to the kitchen. Thick black curls of smoke tendrilled around the ceiling, dancing like ghosts or the tentacles of some great deep sea squid. He covered his stinging eyes, removed the pot from the burner and turned the stove off. His skin sizzled on the handle of the pot and a thick layer peeled off as he set it down.
The room spun and needles danced around his head and stomach.
“Didn’t mean to, Charlie. So hungry.”
He leaned on the windowsill for support then opened it and hung his head out into the crisp night air. Tears crinkled over his eye lashes and froze before they could fall. Deep breaths, shaky but clarifying — in and out, in and out.
“OK, Charlie. OK. I’m thinking it’s time.”
He left the window open and went back to the woman. She lay on her back and was frantically trying to undo the bolt lock on the front door with her stocking feet. he stood and watched her for some time. Her shirt slowly rode up her stomach as she moved, the muscles lean and hard. Her skirt was nearly inside out and he could count the flowers of her panties through her thin stockings. Her wrists still bled, though much more slowly now, and he retraced her blood trail back across the thick living room carpet to where he’d taken her by surprise earlier that afternoon.
The smoke alarms cut off one at a time in rapid succession leaving only the sound of the heavy heartbeat in his ears and the woman’s grunts. Her feet stopped and her back arched. She froze. He noticed he was moaning and stopped himself.
She stretched her neck back and slowly moved her head onto the floor until she was looking at him upside down.
Her eyes widened and he fell to his work.
He made his offering, hands glistening in the flickering candle light, then set about the litanies.
One for Mortification, one for Purgation, one for Invigoration and the last for Jubilation.
“Sweet Jubilation. It’s time to eat, Charlie.”
“They said you had the bitch’s wrists open, bleeding her out,” he said. “Like a fucking stuck pig. That’s batshit, man.”
The man leaned forward and nudged Austin with his fist.
“I mean she must’ve really fucked up, you know?” he said.
The man looked at Austin, the smile still on his face, but his eyes searching, trying to read Austin’s mood.
“What’d she do? Fuck around on you or something?” he said. “I’d gut her too if the bitch did that shit to me.”
Austin’s face did not change.
The man fidgeted on the uncomfortable bunk. He opened his mouth, let it hang open for a moment then snapped it shut and rose to his feet.
“Yeah, they got me with a couple of ounces,” the man said, clasping onto the bars. “Which was lucky, I guess, if being busted is ever really lucky.”
The man laughed; it sounded strained and annoyed.
“I just dropped off the key at my buddy Tony’s place,” the man said. “Didn’t want to risk having the week’s product with me in case something went wrong. Thank god, right?”
The man turned back to Austin and smiled down at him. It had the air of beseeching.
Austin watched the man, his face impassive.
“Well, Richards should be going my bail by the morning,” the man said, turning back to the bars and the darkened corridor just beyond.
From somewhere on the other side of the block, someone was weeping, sniffles and gasps echoed into Austin and the man’s small cement cell.
“I bet you’re sticking around, huh?” the man said. “Yours is like three-quarters of a million or some shit, right?”
The man didn’t turn to Austin for confirmation.
“That’s tough, man. I’d lawyer on up if I were you. Shit seems pretty deep,” the man said, turning his face towards the sounds of the prisoner’s crying from the darkness. “Apparently the neighbor lady, the old cunt, had called about you for the past three days. Said you were just hanging around watching the place.”
The cries petered out and the block was quiet.
The man walked back to the bunks and climbed up onto the top bed. The man burped then swallowed, hard, several times.
“Fucking bologna was rotted. Jesus Christ,” he said, between two small coughs. “You were right to pass on that shit, man.”
He rustled around, the sheets crinkling against his jumper.
“She must’ve really fucked up,” he said. “Heard you had opened her wrists and had put some of the bitch’s blood in a cup or something. That’s some sick shit, man. She must’ve really, really fucked up bad.”
Austin listened to the man’s breathing in the silence of the night. The man was quiet for some time before he spoke again, his voice much quieter then.
“This punk tried to stiff me one time and I flipped out like that,” the man said. “Went to his mother’s house and torched her fucking Buick. When she came out, I slipped in behind her and set her mattress on fire.”
The man’s breathing slowed and the silence of the place rose into a static screaming in Austin’s ears.
He waited. When he was sure the man was soundly asleep he removed his jumper, his naked body bristling in the chill of the cool concrete cell. He bit a hole into each of the sleeves and pants legs then worked the holes large enough to slip his fingers inside. He slowly, quietly tore each of the sleeves and pants legs off and set them in a row on the bunk beside him.
When he was finished with the sleeves and legs, Austin carefully tore the torso of the jumper into strips and laid them on the bunk. He bit into the rough linen sheet then rendered it too into strips longwise.
Austin rose to his feet, naked and flecked in gooseflesh, and strained his eyes into the darkness above the top bunk. It took several moments for his eyes to adjust and when they did he watched the slow rise and fall of the man’s chest and listened to the slow, rhythmic breaths.
Austin sank to his knees on the cold cement and set about with the Litanies. Halfway through he stopped and realized he hadn’t his idol. They’d taken it from him when they brought him in. Put it in a box, along with his candles and lighter, separate from his knife, which they stuffed into a plastic, ziplock bag.
He hoovered in between Purgation and Invigoration unsure how to proceed. He decided to ask forgiveness from the Creator for his shortcomings. He asked for his cleansing, asked still to be made king under Him despite the break in the Rites. Austin asked permission to offer this as his new pledge against the Darkness.
He waited, naked and on his knees, in the cell for a reply. Austin waited so long he thought He’d turned his back and there would be no answer but then it came. Austin’s lips curled upward and tears spilled over the rims of his eyes. He thanked the Creator then finished the first round of the Litanies.
Austin took up the long strips that used to be the bunk sheets and set them on the sleeping man softly, careful not to stir him from his sleep. He placed one on each of the man’s ankles and wrists. It didn’t feel the same but it was still good to be about the Rites. Three days without food and water, nurtured solely by prayer and by promise, made any deviation from the norm feel odd. He’d received his answer and the Creator was pleased, so Austin put it out of his mind and went back through the Litanies.
The sleeping man murmured from within his dreams and Austin held his breath. The man sank back into slumber and Austin passed from Invigoration to Jubilation. He started with the man’s wrists, carefully looping the sheets around the man’s tattooed and hairy arms. Austin moved the arms slowly above his head until he was able to tie the sheet around the pole of the bunk. He knotted the sheets again and again until he was sure they’d hold then he moved to the man’s ankles and repeated the process.
When he’d finished tying the man to the bunk he took the strips of his jumper from his bunk and as quickly as he could move he opened the man’s mouth and stuffed them deeply inside. The man jerked awake and fought against his bonds but they held; the knots Paps showed him so long ago did their duty as Austin knew they would.
Austin took the last bit of his jumper and wrapped it around the man’s mouth, keeping the man from spitting out his gag. He climbed onto the top bunk and straddled the man’s fidgeting waist and set about the Litanies for the final time. One for Mortification. Another for Purgation, the next for Invigoration and the last for Jubilation. He couldn’t follow the Rites completely but he was going to stay as close to the ceremony as these unfamiliar circumstances would allow.
As the last word whistled into the quiet of the night, Austin sank his teeth into the man’s left wrist until the blood flowed around his lips onto the bunk. He dipped his fingers into the gash at the man’s wrist and set about coating his face. He closed his eyes and ran his fingers across his eyelids then moved on to his cheeks, his lips, his chin, on down to his neck.
The man’s eyes were frenzied and great puffs of air pushed in and out of his nostrils like a frightened horse. Austin smiled down into the man’s face and thanked the Creator for the fuel. He thanked the Creator for the coronation and the means to Shine the Light into the Darkness.
With hands unshaking, Austin lifted the man’s chin and bit into the left side of his throat. His mouth quickly filled with the warm blood and he swallowed once before sitting back up on the man’s wrenching midsection. He listened and heard nothing but the liquid sounds from the tied down man. He slid his fingers into the gushing opening at the man’s neck and set about it.