Saturday, August 8, 2015

A deleted chapter of Clean Hands

I've decided to take this chapter out of "Clean Hands" just to get right to the meat of the story. Here it is in its entirety.

The air was creamy, like goat’s milk, and a warm, but demanding wind rubbed Galahad’s face and rustled through his clothes and hair. Each gust pushed him toward the rectangular entrance of the pyramid.

“Hello,” he called into the entryway. His voice echoed, even though he couldn’t imagine the interior to be so cavernous. How had he gotten here? One moment, he was sinking into a deep sleep, and the next, he was stepping through a shadowy fog and into the desert. The sand crunched beneath his sandals.

When he looked back, the horizon rushed forward, as if the land itself was being swallowed up by some giant, invisible serpent. Galahad whimpered and darted into the pyramid.

Fetid air instantly grappled his face. He reared back, but it had already infiltrated his nose and mouth. The taste of something spoiled and squishy, like a rotten tomato, clung to his tongue. The rancid, pulpy taste pushed its way down his gullet. His chest rose and fell with sharp, unfulfilled breaths as warm, foul-smelling piss snaked down his leg. He retreated into the doorway, but his back felt only hard stone, a wall where his only means of escape had been. A blanket of darkness engulfed him.

“Wait!” Galahad scratched frantically at the rough surface. “I wasn’t ready!”

The inner world of the pyramid shifted behind him. Nearby, two shrill voices called out, each gasping and screaming for air, as if drowning. He pictured two children, their small hands reaching up for him, just out of reach. This vision of their wavy, frightened faces shook Galahad so violently that it forced him to turn and face whatever horrors awaited him.

A dry, sterile light fell upon the space. Its dull luminescence pushed back the darkness ever so slightly to reveal a series of five narrow pillars. Behind each pillar was the faintest hint of a passageway. Claustrophobia gripped him.

A wall-mounted torch ignited nearby. Its bright, flickering light startled him. His fingers trembled as he reached for the torch. He pulled it close to his face, praying its warmth could quell the cold, paralyzing fear that clung to his brain, but he felt no heat from the dancing flames. He blew into the base of the fire and was rewarded with a momentary intensity of light. But the flames provided no heat, and no comfort.

Another shrill wail echoed inside the pyramid. The children’s sobbing strengthened. He could hear the gurgling as the two children sank beneath the surface. For a moment there was silence, and then the screaming began again, louder. Galahad had to get away from their panicked cries and the sound of them dying. But which pillar to choose? Which pathway?

Why not try the second one from the left? An unmistakable voice advised above the awful din.

“Is that you, Asim?” Galahad asked. A reassuring presence caressed and calmed his pounding heart.

Galahad followed his instincts and rushed around the second pillar to the left. The cold torchlight cast a circle of light around him on the ground as he moved deeper into the pyramid. Along the walls at regular intervals, the words “Neglectful” and “Abandonment” were etched in red.

Don’t mind those, Asim told him. Focus. You are coming to a fork in the road.

“Which way?” Galahad called out into the darkness.

Right, and then two lefts. Hurry, my friend. I’ll meet you there.

Joy flooded Galahad’s heart. He made the right and two lefts, and at the end of the corridor, surrounded by a strange, green aura, stood his friend, Asim. As always, he donned his tasseled red fez and friendly smile.

Galahad rushed forward and embraced his old companion. “I’ve never been so happy to see your face, my friend. Where are we?”

“We are in the space between.” Asim motioned for Galahad to follow. “Now, come. It’s not much further. I’ll get you through this loathsome maze.”

They turned left, right, and then left again. The markings on the wall changed to “Accident” and “Mistake”.

“I told you not to worry about the markings,” Asim said as he pulled Galahad forward.

“But what does it mean? And what’s outside this maze?” Galahad asked.

“Your next adventure,” Asim turned and smiled. But suddenly, as if a wall had dropped right in front of them, Asim stopped in his place and reached for Galahad’s hand. His grip tightened and the green aura thickened.

“What?” Galahad asked, wincing. “You’re hurting me.”

Asim stared up into the darkness as if he heard something that Galahad couldn’t. The green aura pulsated like a heartbeat. “What’s happening?” Galahad asked.

Asim pointed to the wall.

“Your fault” was scrawled in red against the grainy, gray surface.

Asim’s firm hand lost its grip.

“Asim, what’s wrong? What’s happening?” Galahad looked to his friend. Asim shook his head and a frozen screamed locked into his fine features. His face began to droop and melt from his skull.

“Asim!” Galahad screamed. The eyes that had always offered him friendship and comfort imploded and dripped down a set of bony cheeks. Asim’s flesh sizzled like pig fat, his bones charring and turning to ash. Within moments, he was only a bubbling puddle on the floor.

Galahad dropped to his knees and tried salvaging what was left of his friend. He leaned the torch against the wall and frantically churned his hands through spuming meat.

“No,” he blubbered. “I need you, Asim. I need you!”

“I’m sorry,” Asim’s voice whispered in a stale wind that skirted through the corridor. The torch light flickered.

He pounded the ground and cried for his friend. His cries echoed into the darkness and were soon joined by the same shrill screaming that had driven him from the columns. He could hear the water choking the life out of the two children. The sound grew louder and louder, filling the corridor around him.

Galahad grabbed the torch and ran from the noise. He turned right, then left, oblivious to direction. He ran until his heart felt it would burst from his chest, until his lungs burned from exertion. He paused and pressed his forehead against the wall to catch his breath. The smell of rotting fish overwhelmed him. Just outside the torchlight a hunched outline eyed him.

“No!” Galahad shouted. “Please!”

All around him, accusatory voices shouted out in disgust. The walls were soon covered with new words like, “Filth!” and “Liar!” and “Murderer!”

Though his body screamed for relief, he forced his feet to move, but he could not escape the smell. The sickening stench of rotted fish gagged him, stealing precious air from his lungs. The creature followed behind and then it was ahead of him, too. It was all around him. He was trapped.

In the spindly light, Galahad turned to face his fate. The monstrosity had three heads, one where a head ought to be, and two, like muscles, jutting out where the clavicle bones should be.

He recognized the distorted faces in the torch light. The head on top was that of his brother. His face was twisted in a still image of agony. The other two heads were his nephews. Their eyes shone with glassy blankness, and their small, gaping mouths leaked saltwater. They inched toward him.

A gust of greedy wind extinguished the torch.

The sound of gasping and gagging from both sides crept closer. Galahad heard the sound of his own scream before his consciousness succumbed to the malevolent darkness of his mind.

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