A short story, born from a writers' prompt:
'There is a prison where there are no guards, yet the prisoners are too afraid to try and escape.'
The same sound resounded in my head with a deafening vibration.
Drip... drip... drip... drip... drip... drip...
The same unvarying sound that hadn’t stilled in the ten long years I had been held in this place.
This place, five square metres of echoing stone, where the surrounding silence pressed heavily on my ears. The only sound, that never-ending drip... drip... drip...
Had I thought of escape? As any inmate in your average prison would likely confess, of course. Had I ever tried? Not once. Not since the very first month, when my former partner-in-crime attempted it.
Lyra and I were the only ones to make a sound, like tortured souls. For some weeks we plotted our route out of the fortress, our voices echoing along the immense corridor. Lyra — far more reckless than I — was to melt the strangely flimsy, human-made iron bars with her dragon’s breath. It was so scorching that I felt the welcome heat from the opposite end of the corridor.
However even Lyra’s reckless nature didn’t demand that she waltzed out of her cell confidently. We had been told of the place of our incarceration as we were transported to it in chains. The thought of no guards within the place originally gave us a spark of hope.
But then the warden said, ‘There have been many before you who have sought escape. They have neither lived, nor left.’
I heard Lyra’s footsteps tread warily out into the open. A mixture of fear and curiosity drew me to press my face as far between the bars of my cell as possible.
As I heard her come nearer, I hissed, ‘Lyra? Can you see anything?’
With 'anything' bouncing off the stone in response, I listened with all my might for something that would oppose my friend’s approach. But there was nothing.
And Lyra wasn’t to be seen or heard.
I didn’t even notice the halting of her footsteps. It just came into my head that she was suddenly not there.
Minutes passed, or perhaps hours; it’s hard to be sure in a place like this. But after a while, the slow dripping began. It was impossible to tell the substance or location of the sound, but once it had begun it never ceased.
Drip... drip... drip...
After ten years, the infernal voices in my head had become louder. It was to be expected of one with psychological trauma, I suppose. But each voice had developed their own style of whisper and they dispersed themselves between every drip.
Whether there were any other prisoners captive in this terrifying gaol, I never dared to discover. As far as I was concerned I was alone with Kieran, Terrence and Hunter. I wasn’t even sure what I was afraid of more — their voices in my head or the ceaseless dripping sound.
All I was certain of was that if I had the courage to die, breaking out of my cell would be the solution.
So today was the day I tried.
Standing, trembling with weakness and fear, I faced the iron bars before me. Building from deep inside me, a hurricane brewed as I inhaled. The hurricane whirled through my lungs, up through my windpipe and into the cavern of my mouth. With the thought that this may be the last thing I ever do, I opened my lips and blew the hurricane out.
The treacherous wind that had been held back for such a period hit the bars with such force that they banged against the stone wall across from me and rebounded down the corridor. They continued to clang ominously as they settled against the floor.
With the voices in my head screaming at me alternatively to emerge; to stay; to mend the bars, I listened for a change in my enduring environment.
The drip... drip... dripping seemed more persistent now, however it could be that the beating of my heart had increased and I was imagining that the sound had aligned with it.
Convulsing with fear, I stepped soundless from my cell.
A thought crossed my mind, although it may have been one of the voices. Except there seemed to be thousands of other voices which joined us as I walked along the icy stone.
Nearing the end of the corridor, one voice spoke to me. Directly to me, not to Kieran or Terrence or Hunter. With equal parts of dread and relief, I finally understood.
Welcome to purgatory.