The Continental: The Reunion, part II

“Ah- see? The lady you paid for is joining us at present, mon ami,” The Muffin Man said with the same silken tone that must have once tempted Eve.

“Whadabou’ Grant?” FitzClarence slurred. The speech showed that he was still inebriated, but the question eluded that the fog in his head may have been lifting.

“We are going to play a little game with Monsieur Grant.” With those words spoken, as if they were themselves a command, I found myself hoisted upwards by my bound wrists and ankles.

I once read a book about various corporal punishments when I was at The Academy. One of the instructors thought it was imperative for officers to know how best to inflict pain on soldiers. An old and outdated notion in the modern times, but old ideas have a near-immortal life of their own and generations of adherents to fight for them.

The book mentioned something called reverse hanging, and went on to describe in detail what rigors it put the body through. Explaining that such a punishment was not lethal until it was. How the recipient would be in excruciating pain for hours, perhaps even days, until their lungs collapsed under the weight of their own muscles. It was compared to crucifixion in its severity and recommended over it for obvious cultural reasons.

The vivid description of the pain evaded my memory’s command of recollection as the reality of the pain overwhelmed my senses. I was suspended in midair as The Muffin Man turned me to face out of the cell. A woman was suspended by her wrists from the ceiling, her ankles were tied together and fixed to a weight of stone. Her feet being flat on the floor, it was clear that any torture that would befall her would not be from gravity. She was nude aside from the manacles, rope and a gag fashioned of swaddled linen. The face was not quite recognizable as it showed age and abuse beyond her years, but I did recognize the dark nipples and darker bush on the light brown curves of her body. Too much had befallen The Queen of Tarts for my actions.

Oscar guided FitzClarence behind her and handed him a stiff strip of oiled leather as another one of the minions laid a small, wilted tree branch with 5 leaves on it on the floor between myself and the other victim. The Artifact.

“I will ask a question, and if I don’t like Monsieur Grant’s answer, then you may hit her. Understand, mon ami?”

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The Festival: part III

I’m sure that I looked like a complete idiot as I stared, and then blinked with a nonplussed mien.

“Do ya’ wanna’ know the real reason this is called The Black Bear Festival?” The giant in overalls with the chaw dribble stained beard said again in the voice that belonged to a jailbait cheerleader.

“‘Cause the first Magistrate of this backwater won his position by rasslin’ a bear and then he kilt it with ‘is bare hands!” I said, going into full snark mode and letting the cadence and vernacular of my speech slip into that of my raising.

“Ya’ heard the story, ‘ave ya’?”

I tried my best to keep the surprise hidden from my face and voice as I replied, “well, shit yeah! Who ain’t heard it?”

“Some people don’t believe it,” the man said in the voice that I was trying to ignore. I shouldn’t judge the man for his voice, maybe he has an under-developed vocal chords or something. Clearly he wasn’t a young lady, but less clear was whether or not he had tried to flirt with me.

“Bah! Course they don’t! Don’t mean it ain’t true!” I said as true as any fervent believer. I thought that I pulled it out of my own ass and that the bearded, girl voiced man was only playing along with what we both knew was absolute bullshit.

“Wha’ if I toljya we still pick our Magistrates thataway?”

“I’d say that be some shit I’d wanna’ see!”

The bearded man smiled one of those creepy-warm smiles. The type that wasn’t openly malignant, but unlike one of the genuine variety hinted at hidden motives. The type smile that was more mask than emotion. The type smile that with only a cursory appraisal you would trust despite the screaming of your deeper senses. “I hoped you would be a’sayin that!”

The Continental: The Reunion

“Wha-da fuck isdis? I’se paid fora girl!” Hobbes slurred as Oscar led him to the door of my cell. He leaned on the bars and looked at me through the large dark circles of mezcal and coca hazed eyes. Speaking as someone who had partaken in more than he should have of either substance, I can tell you it was a wonder he recognized me as a man at all.

“Of course you did, mon ami!” The muffin man said. “She will be joining us shortly, consider Mr. Grant a gift from me.”

The iron door protested as it swung open on hinges. Hobbes stumbled into the cell, followed by Oscar. The four of us together in the cell showed just how small the area was.

“Grant? Who’sat?” Hobbes, FitzClarence, slurred. Apparently he could stick to our aliases better when he was inebriated, or maybe he really couldn’t remember with all the intoxicants in his blood stream.

“The man who tried to sell you out, Col. FitzClarence. I have him here for your enjoyment.” I couldn’t see his face, but I could feel the acid dripping from The Muffin Man’s tongue as he spoke. I’m sure it was only my imagination, but the flecks of spittle seemed to sear the bare skin on my back as they landed. If I am honest with myself, I deserved this. Every decision I have made in my life, before and after I acquired the artifact, had led me to this moment. Being tied up, in a dungeon, held by an ex-lover and being handed over to someone I had tried to betray. Still, it seemed as though something was missing.

The same unseen heavy door that had produced FitzClarence and Oscar opened again. The her that FitzClarence had paid for had a voice that was known to me, and I was surprised by how bad my heart hurt to hear her.

“Take your hands off me you brut! You may see me as only a whore, but don’t forget who I am!”