Die Asche Meines Herzens
Disclaimer: All recognizable characters belong to Jhonen Vasquez and Slave Labor Graphics. Buy their stuff. Unrecognizable characters were probably spawned from the depths of my vile mind at ungodly hours of the night, and may not be used without first receiving my holy permission. This applies to all further chapters.
Author's Note/Content Warning: Parental Advisory: Proceed with caution, kids, or Mommy might get angry, and you won't like Mommy when she's angry. This story is rated M for a reason. I am not responsible for any mental damage caused by reading this fic. Feel free to critique, but should you flame me, you'll taste the awesome power of my unholy wrath and be humiliated along with all the rest of society's defects. I respond to each and every one of my reviews. Also, this chapter is more of an introduction. I won't be getting into the meat of the story until chapter two. So just hang tight, my lovelies! Enjoy.
Chapter I: Window
In his room there was but a single window through which he could see a remnant of his past, the lone figure of the Church. It may have been distant and fading, but even now, in the misty darkness of the twilight, he could see it in vivid detail, clearer and brighter than anything else, and so it would remain all through the night and into the light of the morning. Then and now. Always and forever.
Despite its beauty, it was oddly out of place when compared to all else within view of the window, so much so it prompted him to shudder as he gazed upon it. Constructed of sandstone, it towered well above anything else in the immediate premises, the tallest spire soaring high into the darkening sky, seeming to pierce clouds of scarlet silk, the rich color bleeding all across the heavens, glazing the ivory of the Church with glossy traces of roseate blush. Twin towers flanked a rose window, dazzling in the slanting sunlight, golden shafts dancing over glass stained with the brilliant hues of the greens of summer, the blues of midnight, the violets of dawn, the yellows of sunshine, the reds of blood, stone tracery radiating from the center of the window in a flowing, petallike fashion. Why such a grand building was ever constructed there, just outside his window--made, so it seemed, specifically for his viewing pleasure--remained a mystery, but it stood just the same. In the early morning, the church would fill the rich, warm light of heaven as the sun beamed through the amber glass of the fourteen clerestory windows along the eastern facade, the effect repeated with even greater brilliance in the late afternoon as the sun penetrated the western elevation. But now, the sun having sunk beyond the reach of the horizon, only the faint rays that dared to shine still in the twilight sky lighted the Church, and writhing shadows gripped the structure in their dark embraces.
He could see the many features on the outside of the Church, the white sandstone inlaid with ornate and sparkling veins of alabaster marble, etched deeply and intricately with archaic designs. He could see the flying buttresses of the chancel and the nave, the canopies and statues in the northern gable, the text of the Ave Maria and other invocations carved into the stone high up on the walls, the many sculpted saintly faces which gazed benignly down, and, way up on the great towers and turrets, the more menacing forms of the gargoyles, threatening and cold, their harsh eyes forever locked in malicious glares, hideous faces eternally twisted in rage and anger. He found himself gazing upon the gargoyles quite often, feeling that when their empty eyes met his own, a common destiny would pass between them, and he knew beyond doubt that his pain was not his alone, that there were others who could understand, others that endured all he himself did. He was fond of the gargoyles simply because he could relate to them, feeling that his madness was carved into him just as the madness of the gargoyles was carved eternally into them, because, like the gargoyles, he longed to break free from his rocky encasing and soar the skies, but could never find the strength nor the will to break through the surface, forever trapped.
Even despite the distance of this fading figure, he could see, beyond the ivory walls of sandstone and the intricate panes of stained glass, the dimly-lit interior of the Church, shadows wrought upon the floor by the flickering flames of hundreds of candles weeping wax before the altar. His stare straying beyond the main doors, hand-carved of only the finest oak, he was drawn forward along the length of the nave. His gaze traveled toward the white pinnacles of the high altar screen, and the rich colors of the northern window beyond. The high altar and the screen, and the altars in the chapels of the Sacred Heart, St. Joseph, the Virgin Mary, and St. Peter, were construed of marble, a luscious and buttery white such as warm cream, soft and smooth as the wavering light of the candles, dancing in cool drafts of air, poured warmly over the stone. Scarlet cloth frontals draped over the altar, golden strands braided along the edge of the velveteen cloth, the dressed pedestal standing before a nonexistent congregation. Alone and expectant, ever-hopeful that someday the eyes of others would fall upon it and smile. Eyes that weren't so empty as his.
The columns of the main arcade were crafted of the same warm sandstone as the exterior and interior walls, also used in the vaulted ceilings of the side aisles, the faces of long-forgotten saints carved delicately into the stone, condemned, like him, to watch the Church for all eternity. Blessed, some might say. After all, who else could boast of being forever welcomed into the house of God, comforted for always by His embrace? He didn't see things like most people, however, didn't see things in the same light as many others would. He viewed the saintly visages with the same peculiar empathy and understanding as he viewed the gargoyles: cursed, ever trapped in an impenetrable prison, bound by chains unseen.
He looked past the yawning archways that led to the confinement of the confessional rooms, divided by pillars of granite. The dripping of holy water, spilt from a bowl at the front entrance, was sharp and almost metallic as it resounded sharply off the could acoustics of the Church, ringing like the bells that hung silent in the tower, the soft patter singing in the room. His eyes glided past rows of pews, adorned with intricate carving and indecipherable angelic script, made of fine ebony. They were in stark contrast with the rest of the structure, which sparkled and glowed with the purity and grace of the angels themselves, seemingly blessed by the right hand of God. The pews, however, smooth and chilling to the touch, seemed cursed. If the stones that constructed the architectural wonder were endowed by the Lord, the pews must have been tainted by the sinful touch of Satan. Perhaps they were so dark, so hauntingly alluring, because they depicted the sins of mere mortals as they sat undeserving before the altar, residing within His house. Maybe, he concluded, they were unworthy to sit amongst the angels, and so were cast to writhe amongst the demons.
He saw also the confessionals, where he was certain he'd be spending most of his time some day.
The Church outside his window, such a pedestrian and trivial matter to most people, seemed his only comfort anymore, for he knew that nothing, no matter how small and insignificant, was trivial. He took nothing for granted. The window in his room was his only link to the world outside these days, and the Church kept him from losing his grip on his sanity completely.
Of course, there was no window in his room at all.
No, his room was dark, devoid of light, reeking with stale air and longing to feel the breath of wind through a cracked window, longing to fill with the soothing sound of linen drapes rustling in a cool breeze, longing to fill with the golden light of the morn and the platinum glow of the eve. Longing to feel warmth at all. There was nothing he wouldn't give for a window, and even still, no window ever came. At least no window that submitted to the longings of his room, his own longings. His memories, however, provided him with a window to the past, a way to see beyond his room full of Hell. Memories were all he had. And as of late, all that seemed to occupy the banks of his recollection was the vivid images of the Church he knew still stood beyond his room, beyond all the rooms. He'd paid no mind to it at first, but only at first. Now it was all he thought of, using it as an escape from everything. He realized quickly that it wasn't something bad. It wasn't bad to recall memories that didn't burn, to be touched by his past in a way that didn't hurt. He had yet to figure out why brilliant imagery of the Church were taking sole precedence in his thoughts, but he embraced the comfort just the same. It was an anchor to sanity, a reminder that he had not yet succumbed to darkness.
They had told him upon his arrival that it was a hospital, but they had lied to him then. It was a prison. They were cunning, though, but even still, he wasn't fooled. Those thought to be doctors and orderlies were no more than guards and officers, carefully disguised, but it was still not enough to trick him. He saw through their lies. There were no doctors. There was no hospital. Just a prison.
And if you spent enough time with people who tell you you're crazy, you eventually have no choice but to break.
He often felt as though he'd made of fool of himself in doing so, in proving them right. Now that he actually had lost his mind, or so he had concluded, there would be no escape from this prison. They would never let him out. He'd be left in his room to rot for all eternity, and no one would care. Why should they? He was, after all, insane.
And to top it all off, he was exhausted. Completely exhausted.
Now that the shutters around his window had been pulled shut for the night, he could see nothing but the backs of his eyelids as he sat in the corner of his room. The padded floor beneath him was worn, softly imprinted with the rough outline of his body, curving gently to fit to the deft contours of his thin frame. He sat curled loosely into himself, his knees pulled up to his chest, a chest that rose and fell every so often with each deep, though painful, breath he drew into aching lungs, the dull throb a constant reminder of his existence. His head rested against the wall at his side, the padding soft against his cheek, the familiar musty scent and the warmth welcome comforts. His shoulders slumped almost lifelessly, his arms hanging loosely at his sides, his hands working tirelessly where they rested against the floor. His hands . . . Drawing from the last reserves of his strength, he willed his eyelids open slowly, painfully, feeling as though they had been reinforced with concrete and stitched together.
He'd always loved his hands, found them to be one of his few admirable qualities, if not his only one. They had once been beautiful hands, hands that should, by all rights, belong to a pianist or a painter, cursed instead to endure the harsh grate of leather straps and the sickening warmth of blood and broken flesh rather than the chill of ivory or the soft grain of canvas. Long, slender fingers, callused, the flesh pale, a healthy cream, dark blue and red veins stark in contrast. The life line of his palm was long and deep, braided, his head line so faint it was hardly there, his heart line chained and ending abruptly at the edge of his palm. His nails had always been relatively thin, unblemished, and cut short, slightly rounded, clean and trim with no traces of dirt lodged habitually beneath the nail or driven into the shallows surrounding cuticles he had an unbreakable habit to pick whenever he was nervous. Delicate and strong, they had made movement elegant and fluid.
But now . . . now his palms were scarred, bleeding and raw almost beyond recognition as if they'd been grated across harsh concrete time and again. Blood was caked underneath chipped and splitting nails, bits of flesh clinging still to his fingertips, and furious, scarlet gashes ran across the backs of now sickly pale hands, deep, so deep they hardly bled as muscle and tendon glistened in the half-light of his room. Burns--electrical burns--enshrouded those hands, oozing, and they were shaking violently.
With a tired sigh, his eyelids fell shut once again, blocking out reality, not wanting to believe what he'd seen. He swore they'd never touch his hands, that he wouldn't let them ruin the sole thing he prized about himself, but now his hands were ruined. His life was ruined. He hardly noticed the near-constant shaking in his exhausted muscles anymore, hardly noticed the electrical burns branded into his temples, hardly noticed the deep cuts and abrasions encircling his wrists and ankles, but his hands . . . his hands he noticed. He wished he hadn't. He wished he could have blocked it out just as he did everything else, but there was something about the destruction of beauty that really got to his head.
And so, summoning what little remained of his strength, he pulled his sleeves carefully down over his hands, and rested his hands gently in his lap, breath turning instead into a weary sigh as he pressed closer to the padding of the walls, his top teeth locking forcefully over his lip to restrain a cry that was tearing viciously at his throat. Life wasn't fair . . .
The past two days of his life were a blur. He remembered them telling him to forget, telling him that he'd forget regardless if he tried to remember, but he never really did forget. He glimpsed it in fleeting images, as if trying to recall a dream he wasn't entirely certain he ever had. Nothing seemed to fit, however. It all came to him in pieces that wouldn't go together no matter how desperately he tried to force them. It all came to him as if through a heavy fog, as if it was all blurred images printed upon wet paper. Distorted and hazy, none of it made much sense.
He could remember sitting in the corner of his room some time ago, just as he was now, when they stormed in through the door. There were about four of them, the guards in their crisp, white uniforms and latex gloves, and they had grabbed him. Naturally, he had tried to writhe free of their grasp, somehow break their hold on him, but he was small, too small for a boy his age, and was easily overpowered. His struggles, however, were not in vain, because he distinctly recalled the spatter of blood that certainly wasn't his own against the white padding of a wall. He knew it wasn't his blood by the smell, because his blood had a distinct scent, and the stench that had exploded in his room then, wafting sickeningly into his nostrils and making his vision reel and head swim, was far too acrid to be his.
He could remember hoping that he'd broken a nose or knocked out a tooth, split a lip at the very least. He could remember a sharp pang, a biting pain, shooting along the length of his spine as a needle was driven into the base of his neck. He went limp as the muscle relaxants went to work, falling with a muffled thud to the floor, thinking for the briefest of seconds that he was glad the floor was padded rather than solid concrete. He could do nothing in his defense as cold, uncaring hands hoisted him forcefully off the floor and onto a gurney, which, as fate would have it, was far more comfortable than the horrible padding of his room, but far less welcoming. He could remember groaning disdainfully as he was strapped against the chilling metal framework of the gurney, the leather chafing his scarred wrists and ankles, brass buckles digging into his flesh and reopening wounds that had hardly begun to heal. He could remember the slick warmth of blood as it flowed--oozed--over his hands and feet, gliding smoothly along his skin, feeling oddly natural as it seemed to caress him in a tender manner, the caring touch of a lover, so perfectly intimate, so perfectly comforting, so perfectly perfect. Though, that was the last thing he could remember before the sting of a hypodermic needle dove into his arm, plunging into his vein, his muscles all contracting intensley, a great rush sweeping through his body as the morphine went to work. His vision blurred, he quietly slipped into a lethargic state, and his mind blanked.
After that moment, all he could remember came to him in flashes . . .
A cold gel being applied to his temples . . .
The cool nuzzling of electrodes against his flesh, pressed firmly over his gelled temples, creating a faint buzz in his skull . . .
Sudden pain. White-hot, intense, coursing through his body in agonizing currents. . .
Thrashing, writhing. Violent convulsions wracking his frame, his pain swallowing him completely, his eyes wide open but unseeing . . .
Leather straps ripping through the soft flesh of struggling limbs, tearing at his wrists and ankles, blood spraying against his face, a metallic taste blossoming in his mouth, bile rising in the back of his throat and stinging his tongue . . .
A tortured cry, swiftly truncated . . .
The rancid malodor of scorched flesh and hot blood and tears assaulting his senses . . .
And then there was silence. All was still. The violent convulsions were gone as swiftly as they had come. He didn't move. He didn't blink. He didn't swallow. He didn't breathe.
He couldn't breathe.
Once again, he blanked.
When he had regained consciousness, he had found he was back in his room, propped up against the wall in his corner. The blood had disappeared from the walls, from his clothes, from his face, though he could feel it, sticky, cooling, and moist, against his wrists, clinging to his sleeves, crusting over on his skin. He hadn't had the will to shift into a more comfortable position, or even the will to open his eyes when the hinges on his door moaned softly and footsteps echoed in his room, announcing, along with the overpowering scent of bleach, that one of the guards had come to deliver his food. He saw, through a crack in his eyelids, a plastic tray placed on the ground at his side, and he heard the guard make haste out of the room. The scent of bleach left with him, replaced instead by the rich aroma of chicken broth and fresh bread. Chicken noodle soap and a whole-wheat roll. His gut lurched horribly as he thought of the food, and before he could situate himself, bile was burning in the back of his mouth, and he expelled the contents of his stomach--or lack thereof--onto the floor. Vomit clung to his lips, the taste lingering still in his mouth, stinging a cut on his tongue, the acidic odor mingled with that of the food in his room. A series of dry heaves had coursed through his body, his stomach churning, water stinging his eyes, saliva pooling in his mouth, sore muscles screaming in protest, his throat burning already. He had lurched forward, gagging, sobbing silently, and fell to the floor with a dull thud, but had somehow suppressed the urge to vomit, and instead curled into himself, his knees drawn up to his chin, his arms wrapped tightly around his legs, shaking violently as he had been overcome once more with the shadow of unconsciousness.
The food had been taken away when he roused, and the vomit cleaned, though he had remained in the same position. For how long, he wasn't certain. Two days, perhaps? There was no way for him to measure time in his room, not that he'd particularly want to monitor all the eternities he spent in this Hell, anyway. He had slowly made him way back to his corner, and there he had collapsed, thoroughly exhausted, shaking terribly, every inch of his body pulsing with agonizing pain. And there he had remained, even as the guard brought and took away more food, injected him with something, and shoved some kind of pills down his throat, thinking of nothing.
Nothing, that is, but the Church.
The sudden sounds of business cut through the silence that reigned in his room, jarring him from disjointed memories.
The faint whir of a lone security camera could be heard through even his walls as it swiveled mechanically on its perch in the corner, somewhere outside his room, fixing a stranger with a bulging, acutely-focused lens. The low, dull thrumming of a guard's fingertips upon his door, impatient and habitual. And then there was a tapping, a tapping that belonged not to a guard or an officer, but to another, someone who didn't work at the prison. An intruder. An enemy.
Nobody familiar with the prison wore heels while treading upon its grounds. Though, there were few exceptions. Squat, tailored pumps were commonly reserved for the ocassional woman who roamed about with a briefcase and a clipboard, the ocassional woman who didn't fret over getting her shoes wedged into cracks along the floor, because it was very rare indeed that such a woman could be seen walking through the prison. Business women, who weren't under the prison's jurisdiction, who were a class all their own.
He almost felt important knowing that they'd sent a woman to him. They never sent him women, just because women seldom made it down this far, deep into the bowels of the prison. It was a risk they weren't willing to take. Women were trouble in these parts. His room was found beyond the wards where the inmates could mingle, down in the region where there could be no windows and no fraternizing. Each room in this region was bolted, and only a select few individuals had the authority to so much as touch the doors, let alone enter the codes that would release the locks and allow entrance into the rooms. Despite the seclusion, though, this region of the prison was seldom--if ever--silent, tortured screams and moans piercing through the air and carrying down the long corridors, digging deep into the brains of the other inmates, working more screams and moans from unwilling throats. Few mentally stable beings would brave the insanity there in the lowest level of the prison. None of those brave souls were ever women.
Except the one standing outside his door, the woman they sent for him.
And knowing such almost worked a smile across his lips. Almost.
Greetings were exchanged beyond the walls of his room, the woman justified her presence, papers ruffled, and the guard grumbled disdainfully in response, the almost-musical beeping of the code soon to follow. He knew that maddened song by heart. He could whistle it on command, if any other so demanded it of him. But he never let them know. If they knew his secret--knew that he'd deciphered their code--it would be changed before he could get a word in edge-wise, and they would once more be a step ahead of him. And he couldn't let that happen.
The door hummed mechanically, and, in a hiss of air and a groan of hinges, the thick locks were released, and the door swung open.
". . . Todd Casil."
The voice didn't belong to the woman. The voice belonged to the warden, who still pretended to be a doctor despite the damning evidence against him. He could recognize that horrid voice anywhere.
"Squee," he said. Or at least he thought he said it. He hadn't conversed with another in so long, he was unsure if the words he thought ever passed through his lips, or if they remained within his head. Certainly they could hear him, though. He wouldn't doubt it if they were able to hear his thoughts at this point.
And they'd used his real name. His full name. He'd never used his real name since coming here, had never told anyone. He had been simply Todd for the first few months, but when he began to realize that the so-called hospital was more than it appeared to be, his name was never the same again. He'd been Chekov for several months after that, Scotty for a couple weeks, Kirk for five days, Spock for a matter of hours. They were all names he'd heard before on one network show or another, back when he was still permitted to mingle with the other lower security patients in the dayroom where he and the younger children would gather around the television set, and they were all names he'd decided he liked. They would be his for a day, perhaps longer, but perhaps not, depending on how much he truly liked them. He would never use a last name, though. It was too easy to make a mistake if a last name was added. He could accidentally use his real initials and give himself away, not that he would ever make such a mistake, seeing as how he hadn't used a first name that started with his real initial since he grew bold enough to venture from his first room and into the dayroom.
Over the years he'd been here, he hadn't even spoken his real name aloud. To do so would ultimately be suicide. He had trained himself to refrain from so much as thinking it, since some of his enemies here had learned to read his mind. He'd also learned to make himself inconspicuous, doing absolutely nothing that would draw attention to himself, barely moving, never speaking, certianly never screaming. Not like all the others. Oh God, the noise they made . . . How could they be so ignorant? So blindingly stupid? Didn't they know that they'd only warrant attention?
But now he felt like the ignorant one, the stupid one. Had he truly spoken to this woman? To the warden?
"What?" It was a soft, lilting voice, musical, a sweet sound that filled the cell, sank deep into the padding of the walls and there lingered, forever entombed, just like him. It was a voice he'd never heard before. The voice of the woman. The most beautiful voice he'd ever heard.
The most deceptive.
He couldn't trust the woman. After all, she was with the warden. Lord knows he wanted to trust her, wanted to hear her melodious words whispering to him, warding off the hellish nightmares that plagued him by night, beckoning in the dawn, the sweet rays of sunshine he hadn't seen in . . . years.
But like all things he wanted, he couldn't have it.
"Squee . . . My name is Squee."
Yes. This time he was sure he's said that out loud. He felt his throat tingle, heard the tremulous vibrations, the sound waves, the verbal articulation, the hesitance.
"Okay, then. Squee."
Again, that angelic voice. Yes, that was the word to describe it, the perfect word. Angelic.
With a gruff cough, the warden turned on his heels and slipped reluctantly out the door, slamming it shut in his wake. With the slam of that heavy metal door, he knew that the woman was his. Imprisoned in here with him. Perhaps not forever, but a minute in Hell can seem like an eternity. In here, the mind granted power. In here, he was God. And the woman . . .
She was his angel.
This would be fun.