The Keep

The Keep

By Eric Poirier

The room is cold and colorless, dark with an atmosphere of death. The space is very small, with only a stack of hay in one of four the corners. The ceiling, the floor and three of the walls are made of stone and the fourth is not a wall at all, but a thick wooden door with a little square opening offering the only view outside the room: a dark, endless hallway. The only light is a candle that is replaced every two days. For the last five days this dungeon cell has been my keep.

June 14, 3256: I was returning home from my two-month voyage out at sea. It was also the day I wrote a passage in my journal that destroyed my life. I set out to explore this misunderstood world to find a topic for my next paper. The captain of the ship, Jonathan L. Manner, had the same goal as I, to find change, some sign of evolution. What we found were all kinds of living creatures and plants, things that might have been seen as deviations back home.

I wrote in my journal that deviations were performing, very slowly, a work of reclamation. When I returned home, my journal was published. Several days later my home was invaded by a group of religious men who arrested me by order of the Inspector. I was brought before a judge and jury and was found guilty for encouraging deviational progress. The date was set for my execution by beheading three weeks after my trial. The reason I was found guilty so easily was that the entire town of Kentak referred to me as the Devil’s Spawn.

Banishment to the Fringes was too good for me; to be humiliated and killed in front of the town was the only punishment they saw fit for me.

Here I am, almost a week later. I await my sentence in my cell, thinking of my poor wife, Helen, all alone in that big house, forbidden to see me. My wife is my inspiration, hers is the only voice I hear above all the accusations of the town’s people. To think of her in a state of depression and grief brings a great sadness to my heart. But she is strong and determined to hold on until the end…my end.

The wind blows through the cracks in the walls rushing cold air down my back and blowing out my candle leaving me in total darkness.

‘Blast. Now I have to wait two days to see.’ I said this to no one; or so I thought.

‘Are you enjoying every minute of this, my friend?’ A voice rose from the darkness somewhere within my cell.

‘Excuse me? I didn’t quite get that,’ I responded to no one.

‘Are you enjoying every minute of this?’ the voice repeated.

The deep, grungy voice seemed to be that of an old man’s.

‘Where are you?’ I asked.

‘Cherish every moment of it, son,’ the voice said.

‘I am not your son,’ I said.

‘You type of people are always looking into the future. Your minds are never on where you are or what you are doing,’ the old voice continued.

‘I’m sorry but I don’t understand what you are trying to say,’ I replied.

‘Not what I’m trying to say! What I am saying!’ He broke into a series of coughs which lasted for a few seconds. He cleared his throat and continued: ‘You probably think I’m senile don’t you? That I don’t know what I’m saying. Well, I’m the only person in this whole town who knows what I am saying. That is why I’m in here. Because of what I said. They thought they could break me by putting me in here, but they were wrong. I’ve been here for six years and they haven’t broken me yet.’

I now found it useless to try to make sense of what he was saying, so I decided to listen

He continued: ‘I’m going to die soon. I’ve been cherishing my final moments, even if I am in the pit of Hell. You should always start cherishing your moments the instant you realize you are going to die. I’ve been doing it for six years.’

‘Sir…’ I started to say.

The voice interrupted me replying that his name was Robert.

‘Robert,’ I corrected myself. ‘Why did they put you in here?’

‘When I started to say that we all are deviations in a way. If we can banish our brothers and sisters because they are different, we too are monsters. People in the streets started throwing rocks and fruits at me. I lunged at the nearest person. I was arrested and I’ve been here ever since.

‘You’re the first person I’ve talked to since they took away the other young man who was occupying your cell. I saw them drag him away down the hall. I knew that was the last time I would ever see him again. So you see boy, you should start cherishing your moments because we both know we are going to die.’

The old man stopped speaking. I assumed he fell asleep and decided it might be best to get some rest as well.

I woke to find my candle lit. I could hear a cell door open, the sound the hinges made drilled into my head. I could hear the sound of dragging feet coming from the hallway. I looked out from my door’s opening to see a tired but happy, old man in rags being dragged away by two guards towards the entrance of the dungeon. The man was silent. He had a peaceful smile. His eyes linked with mine.

‘Cherish your final moments,’ Robert yelled back. They walked through the door at the end of the long hallway, closing it behind them. Robert had just cherished his last moment.

Later in the day I found a hole in the wall that was about the size of my fist. The hole was about four feet from the ground and it ran right through the wall. I could see inside the cell next to mine. That was how Robert’s voice seemed to be coming from inside my cell.

My door opened, making that loud screeching noise, hurting my ears. The light from the hallway flashed into my cell, lighting up the entire room, almost blinding me. The cell guard stepped in.

‘Dinner is served. You piece of garbage,’ the guard said, setting down a plate of maggoty bread on the ground. ‘Come on, get up.’

The guard grabbed my shoulders to hoist me up and throw me against the wall.

‘What’s the matter, you piece of filth? Feeling weak? I brought your supper.’

He reached down to pick up the plate. I held out my hands to receive it but he turned it to let the bread fall to the ground.

‘Oops, sorry. Looks like you’re going to have to eat off the floor again.’

He grabbed the back of my head and forced me down to the ground where my bread had been dropped, squeezing my neck. If he applied any more pressure, he would surely squeeze my head off.

‘Eat it!’ he screamed. ‘I’m not letting you up until you have a bite of your supper. Come on, better men cut this bread for you, you scum.’

I held out as long as I could but the tension on my neck was too intense. I easily grabbed the bread with my teeth. It wasn’t until I swallowed that he let me go.

‘There, that wasn’t so bad, eh?’

He grabbed me around the waist and shoved me into the corner. He stood beside me and kicked me twice in the ribs.

‘Piece of garbage.’

Two other guards entered the cell and stood behind my abuser. They stared down at me for what seemed like several minutes. Finally, the shortest of the guards raised his baton and brought it down on my head.

I was unconscious for two hours. When I awoke, they brought me before the judge and jury again. My wife was sitting in the back row of the court room. The town’s people had poured in, all their accusing eyes upon me. The judge called for order.

‘Marther,’ the judge began. ‘Have these last days in our dungeons helped you to see your sins?’

‘I have committed to sins,’ I replied.

The entire room gasped. Several slanders were thrown at me. It took several gavel strikes to calm the crowd.

The judged regained control and continued: ‘We all disagree. The gravity of your crimes need not be repeated. We deliberated though the decision was made before you came here. At this time tomorrow, your head will be separated from your body for evil ways.’

The judge’s gavel fell again in one swift movement. The room exploded in cheers and clapping. But I could still hear Helen sobbing in the back.

The next morning my cell door opened and a young man stepped in. He was a skinny man and quite tall. He was well-groomed and seemed well-mannered.

‘Hello Marther,’ he said.

His voice was deep and he spoke politely.

‘My name is Walter. I’m going to be bringing you outside for a nice day in the sun,’ he said.

‘They are going to let you do that?’ I asked.

‘No, but I insisted they let me. I think it’s only fair since you’ve been in this cell for a week. Actually, they only agreed after concluding that letting you out before your execution will denote to the public a certain mercy on their behalf.’

‘I don’t think so. I would rather be alone,’ I replied.

‘How can you say that? I would think that being alone is the last thing you wanted before…’ he stopped.

‘Before what? I am beheaded?’

‘So what if it is,’ he replied. ‘There is no way you are getting out of this situation. The entire town is howling for your blood and the judge is going to give it to them.’

‘Where will we go?’ I asked, conceding.

‘To a garden about a mile from here. It’s just going to be you and me.’

I nodded my head. Before leaving my cell I took a look around; this was to be the last room I was to occupy. The last space my presence would fill.

We arrived at the garden and it was the most beautiful sight. All different kinds of flowers were planted in the ground on both sides of a path. The garden was surrounded by a wooden fence that stood six feet tall.

In the center of the garden was a gray statue of a judge. In its hand was the hammer of justice and in the other was a book. Everywhere I went I was reminded of the men who condemned me. The statue stood on a circular platform with a step at the base where Walter and I sat.

‘Do you have a family, Walter?’ I asked.

‘A wife and two beautiful daughters,’ he answered immediately. ‘Gloria, my eldest, and Michelle. My wife and I have been married for twelve years. We have a very close and loving family, but we have very little money. I can only make enough money to put food on the table with my…’ he stopped, looked around the garden trying to find the right words I guessed. The expression on his face made it look like he was ashamed at what he was about to say. ‘…my life’s work. I have no choice but I am trying to give something back. What about you Marther? What of your life before all of this?’

‘Well, I traveled a lot. Trying to find interesting things to write about in my paper. I wrote many articles that made me one of the most acclaimed journalists in the region of Waknuk and Kentak. When I came back from my latest voyage, I wrote something that put me in this situation. I am ashamed. Not because of what I wrote but because of what all of this as done to my wife.’

‘What did you write?’ he asked, emitting an expression as if he already knew and simply wanted to make conversation.

‘I wrote that deviations were taking back their homeland. The same homeland we occupy today. I saw so many things out at sea that I did not think existed. It made me realize that we have so much to learn. We are so isolated in this little world of our religion of fear that we refuse to evolve. I thought writing the article would open people’s mind, make them step away from their single belief and create new ones and make them start answering their own questions about the True Image of God.

‘Instead I have closed their minds further. Walter, do you realize that we are mindless puppets?’

I looked into Walter’s eyes and I could see him listening. But he completely ignored my question and changed the subject.

‘How long have you been married, Marther?’ he asked.

‘I have been married for twenty-two years,’ I responded.

‘Do you have children?’

‘Oh no, with all my traveling we never had the time. We both decided not to have children so when I returned from adventures out to sea, we could spend time together. And plus, secretly…it felt wrong to bring children into this world.’

‘Are you enjoying this beautiful day?’

‘Yes. Yes I am.’

I looked at Walter and a feeling of freedom suddenly came over me. I stood up and looked around the garden.

‘You know. I think it’s about time I started taking the advice of a friend I recently made.’

I turned to look down at Walter who was still sitting but now smiling. I started to run around the garden following a path that lay between the fence and the beds of flowers. Ah, the flowers were of all sorts of beautiful colors. Walter remained sitting, smiling at me.

I stopped and looked down to see a beautiful red tulip. I reached and picked it up out of the ground. I brought it close to my face and I could smell the beauty. I began to walk singing an old tune I heard from Captain Jonathan’s crew, when we were out at sea with no land in sight.

‘We sail the great big sea and attend to its beauty. With the sky so bright and blue it is hard to fall in sickness.’

As I sang the song I walked by the garden’s entrance where there were two large wooden doors that swung outwards when they were opened.

I continued to sing: ‘We work all day and night and…’

A hand fell on my right shoulder. I turned to see the judge and a group of four large men standing behind him.

‘It is time, Marther,’ the judge said.

My arms dropped to my side and I let the flower fall to the ground. I looked back to see Walter approaching. He passed by us without saying a word. The judge stared at him and said: ‘Still trying to save yourself?’ Walter left my sight. I looked down at the flower that lay there looking lifeless.

‘You’re early, judge,’ I said, still looking downward.

‘Justice grows restless,’ he said, looking down at my flower with me.

The judge and I were riding in the buggy Walter and I came in. The other men rode their own horses. I could see that Walter was already far ahead of us on the horse the judge had used.

‘I still don’t know your name, your honor,’ I politely asked the judge.

‘Why do you want to know my name? All we need to know is that yours is Alexander Marther,’ the judge responded.

‘So that I can inform the good Lord who sent me.’

A crook appeared in the corner of the judge’s mouth. For the entire ride I never took my eyes off him. Everything else around us was turned white.

‘What’s your name?’ I asked again.

‘Alexander Louise.’

‘Are you ashamed that you have the same name as I?’

‘Well…the devil attempts to connect us with those who would do his bidding.’

‘Therefore God is powerless to stop the devil from naming us?’

‘God can’t do everything,’ the judge said, turning his head to me, his crook turning into a full smile.

We rode in silence for several minutes. I could no longer see Walter in front of us, up the road.

‘What of my wife?’ I asked.

‘I took the liberty of moving her to Waknuk because of the town’s people who didn’t feel comfortable having the partner of a devil spawn in the community. She is now in a resting home under close watch. Do not worry, she will be well-informed of your passing. Just be lucky I didn’t condemn her as I did you.’

When we arrived at the site of my execution, a massive crowd had gathered around a large platform set in the center’s main market square. On the platform stood a tall, slender figure dressed in a long black robe with a black hood over his head. He held an axe in his right hand.

I stepped off the buggy and one of the men that rode with us from the garden tied my hands behind my back. The crowd had made a path for me to the platform. Everybody was shouting, calling me names. Some kicked me in the back and I fell to the ground. The man escorting me to the platform picked me up and pushed me forward, not seeing it fit to intervene in the crowd’s violent celebration.

I finally arrived at the platform. My hands were cut free. I was breathing hard but I remained composed. The executioner set the axe on the ground and tore off my clothes. I stood in front of the crowd, elevated on the platform, naked, while everyone laughed, throwing rotting vegetables and rocks at me. The judge remained on the buggy, his view elevated above the crowd. My hands were tied again and the executioner bent me over a wooden box, looking down at the basket that would catch my head. The crowd suddenly fell silent.

The blood rushed to my eyes and I began to shake. Tears dropping into the bottom of the basket. I could hear executioner breathing; it was fast and shallow. I noticed a moment of hesitation. Someone yelled, ‘Do it!’ The executioner took one last breath and held it.

‘Stop this at once!’ I raised my head and looked into the crowd.

Captain Jonathan and five of his crew members were at the edge of the crowd on horses. I didn’t even hear the horses come in. The crowd’s silence had dwarfed all other sounds. Jonathan got off his horse and jumped onto the buggy with the judge.

‘Thank God,’ the executioner whispered.

With much effort, I stood up and faced the executioner in time to see him take off the hood. The face under the hood was Walter’s.

‘I am sorry Marther,’ he said. ‘I have to keep my family safe by conforming.’

‘Cut me loose,’ I said and turned around.

I could see Jonathan and the judge arguing. Jonathan took out a piece of paper and showed it to the judge. The judge stared at the paper. Throughout the entire argument, the crowd remained silent and was now facing them instead of me.

Once Walter finished untying me, I turned to face him again and stuck out my hand. He looked at me with amazement and took it. We both stepped off the platform to greet Jonathan standing in the middle of the path the crowd had cleared for us to meet. He instructed the judge’s guards to keep their distance from me. Jonathan took off the cape he was wearing and covered me with it.

‘What is going on?’ I asked Jonathan.

He explained: ‘When I heard what had happened to you, I went to see Kentak’s government council and explained to them that what you said in your journal was true and that you had been condemned without a fair trial. I told them I could prove your innocence if I could come get you and set sail to the places where we saw these so called deviations. They agreed and signed this contract stating that judge Alexander Louise must accompany us to confirm our proof and ensure that no deviations have the ability to come to our lands.’

He showed me the contract with his signature and with those of five council members; all names accompanied with ‘Servant to the Lord’. I looked around at the crowd who was still silent. Most of the people had left but the ones who stayed all had their eyes on me and Jonathan. I looked at the judge still sitting on the buggy, his gaze on me.

‘We have to make a little stop in Waknuk if that is alright with you?’ I asked Jonathan.

The next morning we set sail for Waknuk to retrieve my wife. The judge was hanging his head over the side, vomiting the contents of his stomach. I went to him and patted him on the back and asked if he was enjoying the sea. He looked up at me. His strong gaze had been replaced with a lost look. He moaned and vomited over the side again.

Here I was, on my way out to sea one more time. Only this time, to prove my innocence and to reassure our government of the inabilities of a threat that doesn’t exist. I decided to continue cherishing every moment of my life even though the date of my death was once again unknown.

Copyright Eric Poirier 2013


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