Images Are Blurred

Images Are Blurred

Please check the bottom of this post for an exciting announcement!
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“You can put a stop to this.”

She could barely hear the words over the pounding in her ears. Her own personal drum, beating the rhythm of her doom. While the respite lasted she could do nothing but gulp great gasps of air, filling her lungs in hope they would hold on to that life-giving substance the next time they were deprived. Moments at most.

Water streaked down her cheeks, dripping from the edge of her chin. It plastered her long, tangled hair against the sides of her face, neck and back, making it hurt worse as the queen’s hand tightened in her hair.

“Grant me what I wish and your suffering will end.”

Sudden pressure drove her body downward. Her face broke the surface of the murky pool, clouding her vision. She squeezed her eyes closed but it made no difference to drown in the dark. The water was freezing. Already her arms and legs were numb, like icicles hanging from a forgotten rooftop. She barely felt the bite of her manacles as she struggled to break free, to lift the hand from the back of her head, to break the surface and breathe.

Her lungs burned, aching for the air her body required to live. Her heart fluttered like a panicked bird, smashing against every part of her ribcage in its desperation to escape. Her lips parted and water surged down her throat, searing her lungs with fresh fire. She coughed and sputtered, trying to reverse the damage, but her lungs tried again to breathe and the water poured into the open space.

She could not give the queen what she wanted. She had no power, no secrets, and no understanding why the old woman continued to torment her, as though her slow death would unlock undiscovered potential.

She prayed for the blackness to take her, and it did.

She prayed this time, oblivion would last forever. It did not.

Her limbs tingled when she woke, trying to replace the heat sapped by the icy water. Her chest ached, sore from the memory of the foreign substance invasion. Her first breath summoned another coughing fit and she rolled onto her side, curled into a ball and tried to forget.

Her cell was small. Her cot uncomfortable, her blanket threadbare. Beyond these cold stones were more tiny prisons, filled with other miserable souls who toiled day and night to please a ruler who could not be satiated. She wondered, briefly, if they too were asked to provide secrets they had never known.

She closed her eyes and tried to remember a time before the castle, the queen and her dank stone dungeon. But she had been born here, in darkness and agony. She had never eaten enough to feel full, had never drunk enough to slack her thirst. She had never known a warm bed or what it was like to feel rested. She only knew her name because it was how the slaves were summoned. Her only legacy was the scars earned by provoking her queen’s displeasure.

If the kingdom this woman ruled was as barren as her castle, what people could possibly inhabit it? There was no doubt how she maintained her power; cruelty had ever ruled these halls. Any who did not fall to their knees to follow the queen’s command dwelt here, briefly, before they departed the world all together.

She would gladly give the woman what she wanted, if only it were within her ability. The years before the dungeon, if ever they existed, were blank. No, not quite.

There were images there, dancing on the edge of her memory. Ghost figures, strange voices, words for the tip of her tongue. She tried to push beyond her earliest memory, to grasp the specters and make them solid.

Places flashed before her eyes, alien landscapes she couldn’t possibly have seen. Familiar people dwelt there. But the images were blurred. No matter how she poked, prodded or enticed, they remained painstakingly indistinct.

With desperation, she clawed at the depths of her memory, digging for one solid piece of evidence that her life had not always been this way. She didn’t dare hope the queen would ever grant her freedom but, if she could find that pearl of wisdom the woman desired, she might be able to end her torment.

The clouds parted and knowledge came to her, a deep sense of certainty that she had, indeed, once dwelt beyond these walls. She had once walked green pathways and colorful gardens, far from the crash of the sea against the jagged rocks just outside these walls. She remembered the smell of spring, of the grass just after rain. She recalled birdsong and piano music. It was as though she had emerged from a long winter into the warmth of sunlight for the first time in ages.

But the details remained beyond her grasp. What she had done in those places, who she had talked to and why remained a mystery. She couldn’t say how long she remained curled beneath her threadbare blanket, trying to force her mind to release its mysteries, before someone in a neighboring cell slipped a stale piece of bread between the bars for her.

The images remained blurred and she couldn’t, for the life of her, determine whether or not she had imagined them.

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Please take a look at what my writing partner did with this prompt! (Incidentally, it may be somewhat related to this scene from a few weeks ago ;)

As always, if you’d like to participate, share a link to your response in the comments and I’ll feature it next week.

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There will be more details about this on the blog tomorrow (when it starts), but I wanted to give everyone a heads up that there’s going to be a huge science fiction and fantasy book sale this weekend (and Island of Lost Forevers is one of the books you can buy)! Be sure to check it out!

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