Hell For A Hobbler: Short Story

This is a free-written excerpt from a larger piece on which I am working inspired by my recent circumstances (Hint: I wrote it yesterday and edited last night and today). I apologize for the unexplained, magical jargon. Just go with it. If you have questions, please let me know. 🙂

Also, please leave comments and/or likes on this page and/or Facebook so I can keep track of how many people are actually reading these and so I may improve my craft as well. Investing that extra second of your time will make me a better writer and leave you a more satisfied reader. Thanks ahead of time for reading!

Here it is:

Following the healers’ diagnosis, Paul’s body ceased fighting the demon-gnomic malignancy and allowed it to fully ravage his entire being. Paul hobbled through the infirmary lobby, bag of Slyphic healing stones in hand, toward the gargantuan entrance doors. They loomed like two metal and wood-clad sentries guarding the exit of death’s realm. These gate guards were excessively heavy to the point of immovability by most men. The irony of the doors was epitomized by signs posted on each one which stated “CAUTION: GNOMIC-INFUSION IN DOOR FOR AID OF INFIRM.” In truth, the doors required a considerable amount of energy on the part of any healthy and able body. The pusher would bear the entire weight of the door until, once fully open, it tripped a myriadic mechanism which would hold it open for several seconds. This allowed the weakened or infirm to pass in and out before it slammed shut again. In his newly weakened state, Paul could barely open it.

As he pressed himself fully against one of the doors, a million thunder-charged needles shocked him with every twitched muscle. At this, the obstinate door mockingly creaked ajar. This anti-thesis of a portal was the threshold of death existing to prevent his spirit from escaping from this world of oblivion and returning to the realm of physical being. The door’s hinging groan was derisive laugher to Paul’s whole-hearted, whole-bodied, yet foolishly and hopelessly naïve attempts to escape the house of the dying and dead.

The door’s creaky-hinged bliss fell on defiant ears, and Paul pushed even harder. If he didn’t get out now, he would never be strong enough to escape. Paul refused to resign himself to oblivion, at least just yet. If he could get home before the pain caused his body’s spiritual preservation spell to sedate him, then he could ingest the Slyphic stones and heal himself entirely. Falling asleep wouldn’t prevent the malignancy from spreading; it would merely stave off its progress as long as Paul remained asleep. The moment he awoke, it would be ready to devour his well-rested body. There was no choice. He had to get home, and he had to properly heal himself. His eyes tearing up, Paul let out a primal grunt and squeezed through the hard-fought crevice like water fighting through self-made cracks in a giant boulder. Behind him, the door gave a muffled closing sound as it returned to its post, silently ashamed in the wake of its defeat. However, Paul’s victory was as short lived as his following exhale. Upon taking his first step outside the infirmary, Paul’s entire body tensed, instantly feeling heavier. Had his body betrayed him? It felt as if his body were somehow drawn to the house of death, its present resistance a means of binding him to the spot until death heaved open the heavy wooden doors and dragged him back inside.

At this point, the pain was no longer confined to the surface of Paul’s body. He could deal with outward pains, but this had infiltrated to the deepest levels of his extremities as though it were wrecking havoc inside his very bones. In the same way that he had pushed through the doors of death’s palace, his pain escaped from his tightly clenched jaw. He no longer possessed the energy with which to restrain this hybrid utterance of a shuddering moan and a gasping cackle. It burst forth. His face twisted in tremulous excruciation, his mouth forced agape with the awe of breaking past a threshold of pain, which one had never before experienced. His contorted face curled into a tortured smile, his only means, at present, of coping with the task of pioneering this new realm of desolation.

Paul’s eyes re-opened, facing the ground. He saw the infirmary’s shadow towering over him a looming shade of death emanating from a fifty-story gravestone. Paul turned away in the direction of his safe haven. With his next steps, Paul’s knees buckled, and his body shook violently on the half-sturdy, splintering pillars of his legs. His back felt a depth of pain, resounding through his body on several arcane planes, which culminated in the feeling of being stabbed by a fiery dagger through the spine’s flesh and bone tickling his spirit with the tip of the burning blade. A scream burst from Paul’s lips in a twisted cackle that dripped with the woe of his present circumstance. Paul hobbled, counting each footstep as he went “1,2…1,2…1,2…1…” toward the Slyphic tuning spire shooting up from the ground before him.

Huffing, Paul made it to the Slyph Spire feeling the whisper-quiet thoughts intercepted from every being in Kravashna. His calves and the back of his legs felt as though there were splitting open from the inside, the glass temple of his body being smashed apart from within by the malevolent demon-gnomic within him. He hugged the slim spire with his entire body as if it were the last refuge in Eucropole to which he could cling. Forsaken by once-benevolent fortune, Paul looked to the sky, fortune’s home, for answers but received none. With this, the realization seeped into his mind, the venomous trickle of a thought rending its way deeper into the stone stubbornness of his mind. Paul discovered he wasn’t in Eucropole anymore; he wasn’t even in the larger world of which Eucropole was a small piece; he was wandering through the expanses of hellish Kravashna guised in the imprint of his former world. Or was it the other way around?

With the Slyph Spire hundreds of feet behind him, Paul waded through seas of blind Slyphic entities crashing against him like a stone fighting a river’s current as it tumbles along the river bottom. To Paul, every step seemed just as awful as the first, yet each was somehow worse because it was one more insult added to the previous barrage of steps which he constantly hoped would be the last.

Paul saw the willingly unseeing eyes of the Slyphs around him. Like the imprint of worlds long gone and overwritten by generations of existence, the Slyphs looked beyond him as though he, like the long gone cities, were dead, a mere imprint of their former glory which lingered on the wind. But this was different; he was alive.

Paul knew they could see him. Before some could avert their eyes to something else behind him, he caught their glances through the pain-winced slits of his eyes. Paul crept along, forcing himself to hold his head heavenward, raising his eyes in the exultant misery that came with every arduous and shaking step to face the world both before and above him.

“Damn you, and you, and you” Paul muttered under his breath as each unseeing Slyph passed by him, “and burn the heavens.” His eyes darted skyward, piercing through the clouds to stare at the faces of the ascended ancients, whom his people called gods and heroes. These same gods and heroes were the ones who left him to die in that infirmary. Paul looked on them all with contempt, but this slowly drained out of him.

He realized that even if they had been benevolent enough to offer him their most gracious charity (whether by one of the passing chariots which rained ashy dust on his bare, twitching body or just a shoulder to slump against and be dragged along like a useless, dying man to his haven, which no longer seemed steps away but rather entire worlds) he would not accept it. He would refuse vehemently.

Prior to the healers’ rituals, Paul remembered standing before the infirmary braced against another Slyph Spire catching his breath to ease the shooting tenseness of his body. A female Slyph came to mind. As reality, just like the past, was starting to become a sweaty blur, Paul couldn’t recall her face or name. The arcane safeguards deep within his body designed to prevent him from further excruciation were beginning to preserve his memories and stifle his thoughts.

Fighting to recall, he remembered she said something to the effect of “Do you want some help?” While he couldn’t recall the entire moment, the muscle memory of his feeling was vivid. Paul’s eyes were closed, and he took deep breaths to hold the painful fire within so that it wouldn’t consume and burn him alive. The nameless, faceless Slyph interrupted his numbing self-steeling, and Paul looked at her, half amazed that someone was speaking to him.

But even at the dawn of his pain, Paul responded politely through clenched teeth and a forced smile “No. I’m fine. Thank you, though.” He waited for her to turn and walk away in order to manage himself on his own terms. Paul could not bear having someone who was conscious of his pain see him show it. After he was certain she had gone far enough away to not hear or see him, he allowed his body a tremulous buckle, almost falling into the handrail of the stairs, which lead to the entrance of the infirmary. He clung to it, using it to press his body upward toward those looming double doors.

Paul’s memory dripped away like beads of sweat falling from his forehead. If Paul didn’t accept help then, if he had made it all the way to the infirmary from his haven on his own, he would be damned if he wasn’t going to make it back the entire distance. “Either I make it on my own terms, pain and all, or I die” he told himself.

Paul’s will made a puppet of his own body as he went through the monotonous “1,2…1,2” sequence holding himself erect in forced defiance of the circumstances prescribed for him by the gods and the self-imposed adherence to his own self-reliant standards. At this point, Paul abandoned the thought that anyone, divine or otherwise, would offer help. He merely saw the world as an expansive, ashy wasteland of disinterested corpses wandering around him and a sky fiery with the hatred held for him by gods and heroes burning through its blood-orange dome. Pressing onward, each step chipped away a piece of his body’s resilience and fed it to his soul’s engine stoking the flames with which to force himself to make it to the haven before his body shut itself down entirely.

The slow incline of the ground gave Paul a pained smile. “Of course the whole world turns to hills as I become a-.” Paul closed his eyes and bit his tongue trying to pinpoint through his teeth the pain shooting down his entire body. With a huff, he managed “cripple.”

Paul made his way from large stones to building walls, from Slyph Spire to Slyph Spire, finding that the only way to avoid the pain was when pushing or pulling on something, giving his body a purpose other than looking and feeling feeble. At the top of hill, Paul could see the roof of his haven, its golden-peaked top a mockingly encouraging beacon. How can it be so close yet seem so far away?

He clutched the bag of Slyphic healing stones in his hand and savored every aspect of his body’s misery, cataloging it for later reference. He knew that he would be home soon, and he could not escape the pain before that time. Sure, the stones would alleviate the present soreness, but Paul would lose all consciousness and control after swallowing them, leaving him (one of the world’s most wanted tuners) vulnerable in the middle of devilish Kravashna. So, until he passed through the doors of his safe haven, he would take everything step by step.

With recent steps, Paul had lost the “1,2…1,2” cadence. He began muttering variations on “You are going to die” under his breath to himself like a mantra of comfort which a healer whispers to a man on the verge of death’s cliff. Paul savored each twinge, each shaky step, each stab of pain to the deepest recesses of his essence, and each sharp breath that turned to laughter at his own pathetic condition. If gods and heroes were no longer a source of enlightenment, if sylphs and men alike would not help him, then, Paul concluded,  “this,” the pain, which he presently felt coursing through his entire body like a feverish poison, “will be my enlightenment.”

As the haven towered before him, Paul’s body was giving in. His body’s defensive magicks were making him wearier with every deliriously sweaty, quavering movement of his body. He could no longer hold himself up without aid. Vainly, his hands braced each leg attempting to hold himself together for just one more second until he could taste the relief of the Slyphic healing stones.

Paul relied on each structure as a crutch, reaching for and falling into them like vertical monkey bars. In his present condition, unaided by man or Slyph, god or hero, Paul found that the only things he, or any other man could rely on, were himself and the land, and even for the land, it was only whatever a man could take from it that he gained. The land, like everything else that wasn’t himself, gave nothing on its own.

At the haven’s gate, Paul held his hand to the magical sensor, and the gates slid open. He walked to the nearest trolley hexed to take the inhabitants to their designated buildings. Paul’s face rippled, cringing as he sat down on the seat of the trolley car. He kept a hand on the lip of the car’s roof as a crutch to hold himself still. As the trolley bumped along, pain erupted in his back as if a steel cable conducted the shock in his lower left back through the remaining mass of his ever-tightening body. In response, the spiritual mechanisms within Paul began numbing. With this, his mind was becoming less and less focused. All that remained was his determination to make it through the doorway.

Finally, after what Paul guessed was either a decade or three minutes, the trolley stopped at the steps of his golden-peaked haven. Paul’s fingers tightened on the car roof’s lip, making sure he didn’t move his hips and focusing only on pulling or pushing with his arms, as he hoisted himself out.  Paul’s moment of ease was gone the moment he attempted to straighten his back. The briefly forgotten pain had crept up on him like a pack of ravenous wolves on a wounded prey. Against the deadening weight of his body, Paul pushed himself up the stairs lifting one foot at a time up each step, every one bringing him ever closer to journey’s end.

At the top of the seemingly infinite stairwell, Paul clung to the balcony’s rail, fishing for the keys in his pockets. The keys clinked in his quivering hand, and he opened the door. He held a hand out for the sensor to lower the veil barrier long enough for him to enter his haven safely. Upon stepping inside, Paul’s mind was more clouded and his motions more fumbling. He rushed, at a brisk hobble, over to the Slyphic preparation circles on the tabletop across the room.

Onto the table, Paul emptied the bag’s contents: four small pouches of stones each with a tightly wrapped scroll attached. Paul tore the papers from each bag one after the other staring at them through tear and sweat-blurred eyes, hardly able to read. He looked through all of them, placing each somewhat close to the bag from which he took it. “Where the hell are the Talcor stones?” He muttered desperately to himself, half-delirious, body damp with sweat and trembling from the inside out. Will this kill me before I can even save myself? Even if my body shuts down, only these can really heal thi- As if in combat to the increased numbing caused by his body’s preservation spell, the demon-gnomic fought back. The pain was unbearable. In that moment, Paul wondered if the infirmary had actually made him immortal so this demon-gnomic within him, along with a horde of tiny Slyphic-drunes for good measure, could perfect their torturous methods on him, the undying victim of their collective malevolence, in what Paul hoped was slowly killing him but never would.

Paul rummaged through the tiny, unfurled scrolls again. Picking up the paper with which he began, he read the paper “Talcor stones- Take one every four sand glass cycles with a gnomically infused tea.” In that instant, Paul turned, reckless and only partially aware of his spinning surroundings. He shifted through objects on the shelf with the utmost speed. He was in a full out sprint with fleeting time, which, the legends always said, had never been beaten. What hope does a newly crippled man have against such odds?

He sparked a fire in the Slyphic circle, giving it a moment to breathe, while he moved to prepare the ingredients with which to brew over his false flame. Phasing in and out of awareness, Paul compiled the concoction and placed it over the fire. Staring at the steam and counting off the tea’s preparation time on a small sand glass next to the circle and gauging how long he expected to remain awake, Paul knew the brew would be completed one drop of sand after his collapse. It will be too late!

Paul felt his body manually shutting down his functions, as though his higher mind was fed up with his more stubborn, outward self which begged to hold on for “one more second, just one more.” Seeing that the tea’s sand glass had a few more sands left, Paul grabbed the Talcor stone bag and emptied it on to the table fumbling for one of the many scattered stones. He chewed it in his mouth, the acrid taste enough to put him out, as he counted down the sands. Three more to go!

The last drop of sand fell.  As the vile chalkiness of the Talcor stone began trickling down the back of Paul’s throat, his body impulsively lurched forward. With the continuous nodding of his head and closing of his eyes, Paul had neglected his vigil of the sand glass. Not sure if it was real or not, in his melting world of delirium, Paul’s nearly blind eyes stared at an empty sand glass. It’s done!

Paul tore the pot from the flame and poured it into a small, bone-crafted cup in the circle’s center, more tea dripped onto the table than into the cup. Then, he grabbed the slick cup with two violently shaking hands and washed down the bitter, mashed dregs of the Talcor stone. With this, the cup fell to the table and so did Paul. He grasped the table’s edge. His entire body tensed viciously and pulsated, like a human accordion haphazardly played by a destructive child, as Paul slumped onto the floor.

Losing all feeling and sense of place, his pain washed away as the soothing tea coursed through his body scorching the malignancy.  The crippled man had won in the race against both time and death, at least for now. In his last waking seconds, Paul’s wearily tormented face eased into a smile as he realized his victory. Locked safely in his haven and basking in the glory of escaped fate, which fell over him like the sun setting through his window’s blinds, Paul plunged into the world of darkness and sleep not to return until he had purged himself of the demon-gnomic entity within.

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~ by theblogofmatthew on December 5, 2012.

One Response to “Hell For A Hobbler: Short Story”

  1. Too many times I passed over this blog, and that was a blunder. I’m happy I will be back!

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