I wrote this a few days ago for a writing group. Completed it in one day and edited it the next. ~1000 words.
by Clinton Nix
Two men sat, divided by a row of rusted bars. They stared at the lopsided stone wall that lined the path leading out. There was rubble from broken walls lying about the room, and beams of light dripped in from beyond the pathway. The two men’s bodies were naught but skin and bones, and they wore tattered garbs of gray and brown.
“Aye,” the man in the left cell called out. He was sitting on a flat, splintered board held up by chains mounted to the stone wall of his cell. “Jailer hasn’t been round ‘n ages. Can’t recall what th’devil looks like,” he said. “D’you remember, Rossam?”
He stared into the adjacent cell, waiting for a response. Rossam was sitting on the damp floor of his cell, his thin legs crossed, head hanging.
“I can’t ‘member,” Rossam muttered. “You were always ‘memberin these details better’n me, Gunner. S’pose you could tell me about th’ war once more?”
“Aye,” Gunner said, leaning forward, tipping his bed. His dirty face was painted with a smile. “Was—ah, few years back, an’ I was with sword an’ shield . . . made solid w’gold. On the front lines, alongside th’great genral Hilaman. We were ripe to sack the opposin’ army. We had’em—ours outnumbered their lot, I’d say, ten ‘t one. Ten ‘t one!”
“I thought you told five—ah, five ‘t one. Yea, I ‘member.”
“That’s a pail of nonsense—Aye, it was me on those lines, not you.”
Rossam pressed his frail hand against his forehead.
“I s’pose . . . if you speak it, it oughtta be true.”
“Aye! And I had t’save general Hilaman onna number of occasions—”
Footsteps echoed deep within the pathway outside their cells, interrupting their conversation. They stared anxiously as the sound slowly grew louder.
“Aye, it muss’be that devilman—he’s about due this hour,” Gunner whispered. “Behave yerself.”
A large shadow in the shape of a hooded figure emerged from the light.
“Gunner,” Rossam whispered, “mayhap this be the shadow o’ Death ‘imself, come to claim ar’souls.”
“Aye, you speakin’ none sense again, Rossam. It’s that demon jailer.”
The mysterious figure approached, its head cloaked in deep green, carrying a wooden basket. The stranger pushed the green hood back, revealing long, braided red hair and the soft face of a woman. She looked intently as she stepped toward them.
“It be an angel, come to whisk us to th’heavens,” Rossam said, his voice raising.
“Aye, you can’t be th’devil jailer, he was not a beauty—I remember. He was a devil, with horns’n a tail, that he was.”
“You two,” the woman spoke, “have you forgotten me so soon?”
She let out a sigh, her glazed eyes fixed on Gunner, her mouth frowning. She sat the twined basket down and stuck her hand inside, pulling out a piece of bread with sliced meat.
“Here,” she said with short breath. “Eat.”
Gunner hopped from his wooden bed, nearly falling from his own weight, and grabbed the offering from between bars. He hobbled back to his bed and scarfed without word.
She offered the same meal to Rossam, and he hoisted himself up with what muscle he had left and grabbed the food with his thin fingers, nodding. His eyes were fixed wide open.
“Thank you, angel o’the heavens,” he said, taking a bite without blinking.
“You’ve forgotten again. My name is Wyla . . . Wyla.”
“Wyla th’angel,” Rossam said with a calmed voice.
“Aye, y’better scamper, lady. I dunno who you are. But devilman watches over these cells. He’ll be trouble for a fair lady like yerself.”
Wyla stood silently, looking down at her empty basket, her eyes blinking slowly.
“You’re a pitiful lot. I can let you out . . . do you hear me? I can set you free. There’s no one here,” she said, looking up again at Rossam.
“Aye, we’d soon be mauled by wild dogs. That jailer s’waitin for us to slip up. Tell’er, Rossam, tell’er the truth.”
“What Gunner speaks, s’truth,” Rossam said.
“. . . I can’t force you,” Wyla said, her shoulders sinking.
“Aye, hurry out, lady. We’d best not be seen.”
Wyla picked up her basket and turned to walk away, but she stopped herself. She immediately doubled back to Rossam’s cell. She put her hand on the metal latch, pushed heavily, and the mechanism slid over with a screech.
“Aye woman! What’re you doing?” Gunner nearly fell off his bed.
She pushed the door open, and it creaked as it slowly rotated on hinge. She looked at Rossam with an outstretched hand, and he stared at her with wide-eyed amazement.
“I . . . I . . . whaddo I do?”
“Aye! She’s mad! Close it, before devilman comes! We’ll be strung over coals!”
Gunner got up from his bed and hobbled over to the bars separating their cells, panting, and gripped the bars to keep himself from falling.
“Rossam . . . get to yer . . . get yer door shut . . .”
Rossam pushed the door and leaned all of his weight upon the latch, sliding it over with gasps.
“S’pose you’re . . . an angel that came t’us,” he said. He reached out for Wyla’s hand between the bars, but let his arm fall to his side. “What Gunner speaks s’truth. We can’t go with you.”
“I’ll be back tomorrow,” she said as she turned around and walked away. The two men sat in peace in the dank chamber, staring at her shrinking figure. The sound of her footsteps faded into the distance.
“Aye, Rossam. We’re lucky, we are.”
Gunner crept over to his bed and hoisted himself upon it. Rossam stood near the door to his cell, eyes wide and hands clasped.
“Angel, please come back t’us again.”