This short story is what i will be submitting for my university assignment this year, tell me what you think.
The Father of Lies
She felt the whispering before she heard it. It traced the nape of her neck, drawing the fine hairs of her pale flesh into salute. It might have been a caress if it were not so cold. But this was the chill of a breath.
The voice seemed to speak to her from every dark corner of the cell. It whispered words that Sarah Buckley’s thumping heartbeat muffled before it gave a great retching cough. Then, out of the shadows flanking her came a hand, curled into a fist even blacker than the gloom; gnarled and calloused as if it had been hewn from an ancient tree root. The long, spindly fingers creaked as they unfolded, as if the bones beneath the meagre flesh were snapping. Sarah Buckley’s blood roared loud in her ears as her darting gaze caught sight of the symbol branded into the flesh of the palm. It was an inverted cross, and from it issued a thin tendril of smoke as if, only seconds ago, it had been seared into the skin.
There was a rattling intake of breath and the voice came again. “Are you well, Sarah Buckley?”
She did not answer, could not, for fear had lodged in her throat like a stone. Her wide, green eyes were unblinking as she watched the hand withdraw, seeming to melt into the darkness from which it had taken form. Her shaking hands gripped the wooden bench she sat upon and the terror rendering her paralysed made her unable, even, to feel the splinter of wood piercing her soft palm. Blood pumped from the wound, falling in beads to the earthen floor of the cell. The cold air congealed her blood into rubies that winked under the moonlight reaching its skeletal fingers through the bars of the cell’s solitary window.
“Do you fear death? The voice said. “Do you fear the eternal torment that awaits you, the abyss of despair that encroaches?” The words came slowly, growing louder as if they were travelling a great distance to reach her.
For a seemingly endless heartbeat a ringing silence filled the cell, closing in on Sarah like the pressing bodies of a crowd.
“Let me show you what waits beyond the noose, Sarah Buckley.”
A sudden pain lanced through her body, akin to a thousand bodkins piercing every inch of her. The hand returned from the shadows and fingers like hot pokers tightened about Sarah’s shaking wrist. Tears streamed down her pale cheeks, leaking into her mouth and filling it with a bitter taste. And through the blur of her tears she saw a sliver of scarlet light growing from the darkness before her; as if the very air were being sliced open. The scar widened, opening like the scarlet stained maw of some smouldering beast. Hot coals gushed from the fissure in a tide, smoking and hissing as they spilled across the damp earth.
The next instant she was standing, held fast by the blistering hand’s grip, on the periphery of a jutting cliff. The sight that opened up before her was one so unimaginably horrific that she could not tear away her gaze. A sea of roiling lava swept against the cliff face, showering the rippling air with smoking embers. Flames gushed and writhed across the vast expanse of shadow and caverns, clawing at the roof of darkness above like desperate hands. Gusts of heat such as that Sarah Buckley had never felt, assailed her from every angle, filling her lungs and searing her throat. She saw silhouetted forms, hunched and marching slowly in endless lines across the swelling waves of fire. She heard the manacles binding the figures’ twisted hands, clanking; the glowing links emblazoned with the sins they had committed in life. The boiling air rang with the animalistic screams of a hundred million tortured souls. The sound of snapping limbs, of sloshing blood, of necks twisted and broken by ropes drawn taut, assaulted her ears. A haunting orchestra of screaming and roaring and howling, conducted by the fingers of a thousand flames.
Now she did speak, but her uttered words gushed forth in a scream that rendered them incoherent. She thrashed at her face, beating her tightly fastened eyes with the hands she had balled into fists. Yet the sight she had just bore witness to would not diminish, it played before her closed eyes just as clear and horrific as before. And all the time she writhed and howled, unable to escape, the voice spoke to her.
“You served me well, Sarah Buckley. The Father of Lies always rewards those most faithful to him.”
Sarah’s lamentations met no mercy; the white knuckles of her clenched fists, pressed against her closed eyes gave no subsidence to the sights that still danced across her vision. Her echoing scream could not drown the chanting voices of the dead and her shadowy tormentor paid no heed.
Until, a drawn breath… and silence.
The burning fingers that had clutched her wrist let go. She took a breath and felt cold air rush mercifully down her throat, filling her lungs. And though it seemed to demand all of her strength, Sarah Buckley opened her eyes to see not the burning plains of fire and lava but the hay strewn ground and her own bare feet. Relief flooded her, shunning the despair she had been teetering on the edge of. As she stared down at the floor, at the silver dappled earth, the final tendrils of clinging fear left her. She took in great lungfuls of air, not caring that it was so glacial, just relishing how real it was, thinking she’d never tasted anything so sweet.
“A price must be paid for your sins.”
The voice struck out of the silence like a knife.
“Do you not agree, Sarah Buckley? Those who sin must pay.”
“Sins? I didn’t commit no sins.”
“But surely you must remember?”
“Yes, the contract and your signature upon the curling page.”
“I never signed no contract.”
“I never signed no contract!”
“Yes, Sarah Buckley, you did.”
“I didn’t. I never!”
“And the hurt… the hurt you put on those people.”
“I never hurt no people. I never hurt nobody.”
“Remember, Sarah Buckley, remember… her.”
There was the sound of something thudding softly against the ground. Opening her eyes that she had clamped shut once more Sarah looked down upon the object that had landed by her feet. It was a doll, staring up at her with black, unseeing eyes. Like her eyes had been that day. The doll’s white smock was raggedy and blood-stained, sodden and dirt smeared. Like her dress had been that day.
“I…” Sarah said, as memories crept back from the corners of her mind she had banished them to.
“Yes, Sarah Buckley…”
She saw the shore, her feet bloody, torn by the sharp rocks as she ran to the lake’s edge. She felt the cold, searing through her skin and numbing her as she plunged into the water. The girl’s pale face- her girl’s face- breaching the lake’s black surface like a fallen moon. Green eyes staring up through the murky water, wide and unblinking. Raven hair rippling about her head and shoulders like tendrils of blood. The white dress, shifting about her ivory body, patterned with crimson tears and smears of black earth.
“I remember her… my girl.”
“Yes,” the voice urged, “your girl, your poor, innocent pretty girl. And what they did to her.”
She saw herself turn from the lake, from the sight of her dead daughter and through the blur of tears she saw them. Silhouetted against the red sun were five figures, like scars against the scarlet sky. Standing there and calling down, voices carrying on the whining gale, “Witch, witch, witch!”
“They murdered her.”
“Yes,” said the voice, the word transforming into a drawling laugh. “And you delivered them their just deserts, did you not, Sarah Buckley?”
“Oh, but I think you did. You signed the contract, in exchange for those powers you needed to avenge her life. You hurt those murderers with witchcraft.”
“I never did no witchcraft.”
“I think you did, Sarah Buckley, I think you did. Let me show you.”
Voices echoed up from the recesses of her mind: chanting, jeering voices. “She deserved what she got, that little witch.”
Sarah was standing in the doorway of a house, looking down at the fat priest sitting at a table, his face ruddy, thick yellow fingers clasping a tankard. Rage boiled in her, it seemed to rise in her throat like bile. She brought her trembling fist from behind her back, clutching the crude effigy of the man sat before her. In the other she held a bodkin.
“What’re you doing, witch? D’you think-”
In one swift movement she plunged the bodkin into the doll’s chest, saw it appear, sharp and shining through its back. At that moment the fat priest’s sickly yellow eyes bulged. The tankard thudded to the floor, spilling ale across the flags as the priest’s fat fingers scrabbled across his chest. Raspy, choking breaths rattled from his throat. Veins, blue and thick as cords, struck out across his pale, doughy neck. The next second his eyes rolled back in their sockets, transforming into two bloodshot white orbs, and he fell limp.
“Ahhh,” the voice said. “Is revenge not the sweetest of tastes?”
“I never did no witchcraft.” Sarah closed her eyes, willing the memory to change. She saw herself again, standing in the doorway. It was not a doll and bodkin clutched in her hands but an axe, her white knuckles wrapped tight about the haft, the blade shining dully in the wavering flame light of the priest’s hearth.
“I never did no witchcraft, liar! You’re lying.”
The answer came as a drawling, guttural laugh. “Yes… yes… But you must forgive me, Sarah Buckley, I cannot be without lying. It is in my… nature. After all, what is the devil, what is the Father of Lies without deception?”
In her fury, Sarah forgot her fear. Forgot the terror keeping her from looking upon her tormentor. She turned, and the sight that met her eyes sent her mind spinning. Her already racing heart quickened its beat, hammering at her ribcage so hard it hurt. Her eyes, wide and uncomprehending fell upon no creature, no hellish daemon sent to torment her. The Father of Lies did not sit beside her, his palm did not expose the branded symbol of an inverted cross for there was no palm to bear it. And the whispering voice did not thaw from the cold silence for there was no mouth from which it could be uttered.
The jailor bound Sarah’s hands with a lopsided grin on his pockmarked, stubbly face. The thick rope bit the flesh of her wrists as he tugged her out of the cell and led her up towards the grey daylight. A driving rain greeted Sarah Buckley, beating her exposed flesh like the fists of a hundred angry townsfolk. She did not lift her gaze to meet the eyes of those who watched. Instead, she scrutinised the ground she walked upon, her wounded, bare feet in the soft churned mud, her blood staining the puddles scarlet. There were taunts and jeers from the gathered crowds, but she did not hear them. She heard nothing but the voices of the crows that had taken perch upon the freshly cut beams of the gallows, their shrill cries cutting through the thrum of the rain. Something struck her, thrown by a member of the masses, but she did not flinch or wince. And the rain came harder, stronger than she had ever imagined rain could be. It wasn’t long before the rags that hung from her emaciated body like folds of pale, dirty skin became burdens on her aching back and shoulders.
She arrived at foot of the stairs up to the gallows. One… two… three slow steps up. The jailor led her across the slick boards, the splits in the wood grinned up at her like so many sardonic mouths. Splinters bit the soft flesh of her feet, but she did not feel them. She stumbled, almost giving into the weariness pressing upon her. But hesitation provoked a jab in the chest from the jailor’s staff. “Don’ worry,” he sneered. “There’ll be plen’y o’ time for rest soon enough, witch.”
Sarah stepped up onto the stool. Invisible fingers seemed to press down on her eyelids but she managed to keep them open. She felt the saturated noose fall about her neck. Rough fibres chafed against her skin, as if tasting, bristling, almost, in anticipation of a fresh victim.
“You, Sarah Buckley, have been accused of four counts of murder by means of witchcraft.”
Now Sarah’s eyes grew wide, life ebbed back into her. That voice… She looked down, searching the sea of pale, scowling faces. Her searching gaze found him, taller than the rest, face pinched, eyes black and empty. “Do you confess it?” said William Yfel.
For a moment the only sounds were the crows and the rain.
Sarah Buckley met the eyes of William Yfel, the man who had ordered the murder of her daughter. The man who now stood there, unblinking, figure unyielding save the trembling of his lifted arm.
Then Sarah Buckley answered, she bellowed her reply to the heavens, screaming her words at such a pitch it burnt her throat. “You’re a liar! I’m no more a witch than you are, and neither was my daughter. You are the only servant of the Devil here, little man, and if you take my life, he will deliver you and all those who follow you to the burning gates of Hell!”
William Yfel’s raised arm dropped and the noose drew tight.