The Pain Cages – by Paul Kane

November 18th, 2010

Today, we’ve a special treat from Paul Kane – a sneak peek at the opening of his forthcoming novella The Pain Cages.

Hmm. Is that the sound of flesh being torn asunder?

Enjoy…

The Pain Cages

By

Paul Kane

 

Prologue

Ask someone to describe pain…

And they might say, the feeling they get when they stub their toe on a table, or accidentally hit their thumb with a hammer when they’re banging a nail into the wall. Pain can be more than merely physical, of course: it can hurt when a marriage breaks up or a loved one dies. That’s even harder to put into words.

But these are all just shadows, echoes of something much greater.

Pain, true pain is impossible to describe, no matter how hard anyone tries. It can rip apart a person’s soul, leaving them a shell of what they once were. And if it is hard to endure, it is certainly much harder to watch.

For some.

This story is about pain, in all its forms. We enter this world screaming and crying as we fight to take our first breath – being struck on the back to rouse us into consciousness. Most of us leave this world the same way: with a jolt. If we’re lucky it will be quick, if we’re not…

This story is about pain.

True pain.  

Chapter One

The piercing screams wake me.

Not straight away, but slowly. They sound as if they’re coming from a million miles away. The closer to consciousness I draw, though, the louder they are, like someone turned up the volume on a stereo: surround sound, sub woofers, the works. Then that I realise they’re not part of some strange dream, but coming from the real world.

From somewhere nearby.

I open my eyes, or at least I try to. I never would have thought it could be so difficult; the amount of times I’ve taken this simple action for granted. But now… Actually I can’t tell whether they’re open or shut because it’s still so dark and I can’t really feel my eyelids… My guts are doing somersaults; I feel like I need to be sick.

And all the time the screaming continues.

My face – my whole body – is pressed up against a hard, solid surface. I’m lying on a smooth but cold floor, curled up like a cat in front of a fireplace, though nowhere near as contented. I try to lift my head. I thought it was difficult to open my eyes, but this is something else entirely. Jesus, it hurts – a shockwave travelling right down the length of my neck and spine. Instinctively my hand goes out to clutch at my back, but I can’t move that either. Must have been one hell of a bender last night. And the screaming? Had to be a TV somewhere, someone watching a really loud horror film with no thought for anyone else. Wait, had I turned it on after managing to get back home in God alone knows what state?

This is the weirdest hangover ever. I have some of the symptoms – head feels like it’s caving in, aching all over, stomach churning… But my tongue doesn’t feel like someone’s been rubbing it with sandpaper; I’m not thirsty from dehydration. Maybe someone slipped something into my glass?

Maybe you took something voluntarily. Wouldn’t be the first time…

There’s movement to my left and my head whips sideways; I immediately regret it as stars dance across my field of vision. I still can’t see anything, even after the universe of stars fade. Now I realise some sick son of a bitch has put a blindfold over my eyes.

More movement, this time to the right. I try to lift my hands to pull down the material, but again they won’t budge. My fingertips brush against metal and now I know why I can’t move them. It’s not because of any fucking hangover: I’m handcuffed. My fingers explore further and find a chain attached to the cuffs…The manacles?

When I hear the screams again, the terror racked up a notch, it dawns on me that I’m in a whole world of trouble. Maybe my groggy condition made me slow on the uptake, I don’t know, or perhaps I just couldn’t acknowledge the shouts of agony as real. But they are; there’s no doubting that now. And I’m definitely suffering from the after-effects of drugs, just not in the way I thought. Drugs designed to knock me out rather than get me high.

More movement, this time a swishing sound in front and behind me at the same time. How is that possible? My heart’s pumping fast, breathing coming in heavy gasps. I try to say something but all that comes out are a series of odd grunts.

“Sshh,” whispers a voice; can’t tell whether it’s a man or a woman, but they’re close. “Keep quiet, and stay still!”

The advice seems sound, but I’ve never been one for taking any kind of orders. I pull at the chains holding my hands in front of me. Now I realise my feet are shackled too.

Do as he says,” comes another hushed voice, this one definitely a woman, “or you’re going to get yourself killed.”

“And us with him,” spits the first person.

Killed? What the fuck? So many questions: where am I, who are these people talking to me? Why can I feel heat on my face? Smell something burning? No…cooking. Like roasting meat on a barbeque.

Struggling again, I scrape my face against the floor, trying to pull down the blindfold. The screams reach a fever pitch, mixed with pleas for help. The cloying smell is in my nose, down my throat; I gag.

I nose at the ground like a horse eating hay…and the blindfold slips a fraction. I can see a little through my right eye; there isn’t a lot of light, but I see metal bars in front of me, all around me. A glimpse of the cages on either side: a man, no more than forty, cowering in the corner of his. A woman – the one who’d told me I’d get myself killed – is transfixed by something right in front of her, tears tracking down her cheeks.

I follow her gaze and wish I hadn’t.

I see the shape, the thing in yet another of these round cages. It’s smoking, charred almost black, but here and there are patches of pink. A tuft or two of singed hair at the top of what must have been its head. Its eyeballs have melted, the liquid running down its cheeks, viscous and thick; flesh pulled taut over teeth that gleam so brightly they could have been used in a toothpaste commercial. This hunk of burnt flesh I’m looking at is – was – a person. That makes the stench even more pungent; just that bit more sickening.

I notice the screaming has stopped. It must have been coming from inside that cage as the flames did their worst before petering out.

It feels like I’m watching the body for hours, but it can’t be more than a minute.

Then, without any warning, the burnt figure lurches forward. No screams this time – its vocal chords are jelly – but its body rattles against the bars of the cage, which swings, suspended above the ground (as we all are).

Flesh, and what’s left of the person’s clothes, have stuck to the bottom of the cage, coming away from its body like molten plastic and revealing more raw pinkness. It makes only one last-ditch attempt for freedom before collapsing, never to move again.

This time I really do throw up, seeing stars again as the blindfold slips back over my eye. Too late…I’ve seen it now…I can’t ever forget…

When I pass out I barely notice the transition – darkness replaced by darkness, black with black.

But I still see that body, hanging. A scorched mess that had once been human.

The ghosts of its screams following me back now into the void… 

 

Interlude: Twenty Years Ago

 

This happened to me when I was ten; still holding on to childhood for grim death, in no particular hurry to be an adult.

I grew up on a council estate away from the city; farms and fields within walking distance. The houses were all uniform grey, there was a small park that the older kids wrecked periodically, and the council failed to keep any of the streets tidy. Old women gossiped over fences while young girls left school and became baby-making machines so they could live off benefits for the next twenty or thirty years.

Mum and Dad were still together back then. She worked part-time in a bookies and he worked on the busses. At family gatherings I’d sometimes hear my Uncle Jim telling people Mum could have done so much better than Dad.

“With her looks, she could have had her pick.”

He was right about my Mum, though. She was beautiful in a kind of film star way, all blonde hair and curls like Marilyn Monroe or Jean Harlow, and even at that age she’d lost none of the glamour. Sure, Dad was boring, but I like to think she ended up with him because he was a kind man with a kind face. In the end she did ‘do better’ as my Uncle would have called it, running off with owner of the bookies. She ended up with money, but was as miserable as sin. And, we suspected, the guy beat her. While my Dad wallowed in a tiny flat, getting drunk until his liver just gave up the ghost…but that’s another story, and long after this one.

I first saw The Monster one Bank Holiday. Dad was working overtime, but Mum had the day off. I was an only child, so had to amuse myself a lot of the time. That day I was getting under my mother’s feet while she was trying to watch some musical on TV.

“Christopher Edward Warwick, do you have to make such a row!” she finally bawled.

I couldn’t really blame her: I’d turned the whole house into a spaceship and was busy piloting it into the deeper reaches of the Galaxy, battling one-eyed aliens with veiny skins.

She sent me out to play with the other kids, but that wasn’t really my thing. I ended up wandering off to explore what the locals called ‘The Cut’ – I never understood why, because it didn’t look like anyone had cut the grass down there in centuries. Maybe it was because a pitiful excuse for a canal ran the length of it like a wound… Here I could pretend that I was in the jungle where giant snakes and lions lived, and down by the water there were man-eating crocodiles (in actual fact you were more likely to find used condoms and fag ends).

I didn’t come down here very often, not many kids did, but on that day I wandered further than I meant to – up a winding path to a small iron bridge crossing the canal. There I played Pooh sticks, something I hadn’t done since I was six or seven – dropping twigs in the water on one side of the bridge to see which ones would come out first on the other side. Not much of a game, but the snakes and lions appeared to be hiding today.

There were only a handful twigs lying around, so when these were gone I went into the undergrowth to find more. I hadn’t gone that far in when I found the den. It was covered up with foliage; quite well hidden beneath the trees, a hollowed out bit of green with earth for the floor and the remains of a fire. It was empty. I figured it must have been the older kids that had made it, looking for a private place to hang out.

At that age caution always fell a close second to curiosity, so I dropped the twigs and went inside. There was a strange smell, a toilet smell. I was about to leave when I spotted something towards the back, pages scattered.

And a glimpse of something that, until today, had been forbidden.

I crept further in, certain that the older kids had been here because they’d left behind an Aladdin’s Cave of porn. The magazines were screwed up, the pages creased – yet the pictures of half naked women posing for the camera were a revelation. At that age girls in my class were just pests, there to torment, but this was different. These weren’t girls, they were women, and they were showing me parts of their bodies willingly, opening up as easily as I was opening the pages.

I began to feel stirrings, a pleasant sensation as I ogled the photos. Then something fell out of one of the magazines. A piece of paper with handwritten scribblings all over it. I bent and picked it up, but could barely make out the spider scrawl. All except one phrase, written time and time again: ‘They watch, and they wait.’

I frowned, then checked more of the magazines. I hadn’t gotten very far when I heard the snapping of twigs I’d left in the entranceway. I spun and saw my monster. It was big, hairy, and its skin was almost black. It wore an old trenchcoat that strained tight at the shoulders. When it opened its mouth to speak I saw rotting teeth inside. Drool spilled onto its beard as it gargled, “Did they send you?”

I shook with terror. My erection shrank away and I dropped the magazine, a couple more of the handwritten sheets slipping out onto the floor. His wide, staring eyes followed them down. He covered the distance between us easily, grabbing hold of my arm – so hard I thought it might break. He towered above me. “They did, didn’t they, boy.” It wasn’t a question. His fetid breath almost caused me to pass out.

I shook my head, unable to get any words out.

“Yes. They’ve sent a little spy…”

“P-P-Please don’t hurt me…” I spluttered.

He yanked my arm. “I’m not going back!” he shouted. “You hear me…Never.”

I nodded. He seemed pleased that he’d got through to me. Then he drew me in so close I could see the insects living in his beard.

“You go back, you tell them that, boy,” he growled.

He let me go. I gaped, but suddenly my natural survival instinct kicked in and I ran out of there. I plunged through the undergrowth, catching my head on the branch of a low-hanging tree. I fell; hard. Shaking my head, then casting a glance over my shoulder, I got up and began running again…

I felt the wetness at my temple, but didn’t stop. I ran up that path, never looking back in case the ‘monster’ had decided to give chase.

I’m never going back…

Never…

When I got home my mother said, “For God’s sake, Chris, whatever have you been doing?” She took me into the kitchen, washed the cut on my head, then put some antiseptic on it. When she asked me again what I’d done, whether it had happened playing, all I could do was stare, opening and closing my mouth.

“Christopher Edward Warwick,” she said a final time, “you tell me what happened, right now.”

“M…Monster…c…canal…” was all I could say.

“You and that blasted imagination of yours,” she said. “Go to your room!”

When the truth emerged a day or so later, she felt pretty bad. I heard that some of the older boys had stumbled upon my monster and gave him a good kicking before telling their parents…who called the police. He’d gone by the time they got there, but it was all around the estate about what had happened: that some pervo nutter had been living rough down by the bridge.

Mum hugged me when she when found out. She never said anything, but she knew. Knew the monster had been real.

I know better now – he wasn’t really a monster at all. Just someone who knew the truth, and it had sent him insane.

‘They watch and wait’ he had written.

They watch and wait.
        

 ©     P. Kane   2010.

Paul KaneAbout Paul Kane:

Paul Kane has been writing professionally for almost fourteen years. His genre journalism has appeared in such magazines as The Dark Side, Death Ray, Fangoria, SFX, Dreamwatch and Rue Morgue, and his first non-fiction book was the critically acclaimed The Hellraiser Films and Their Legacy, introduced by Doug ‘Pinhead’ Bradley. His award-winning short fiction has appeared in magazines and anthologies on both sides of the Atlantic (as well as being broadcast on BBC Radio 2), and has been collected in Alone (In the Dark), Touching the Flame, FunnyBones and Peripheral Visions. His novella Signs of Life reached the shortlist of the British Fantasy Awards 2006, The Lazarus Condition was introduced by Mick Garris, creator of Masters of Horror, and RED featured artwork from Dave (The Graveyard Book) McKean.

As Special Publications Editor of the British Fantasy Society he worked with authors like Brian Aldiss, Ramsey Campbell, Muriel Gray, Robert Silverberg and many more, plus he is the co-editor of Hellbound Hearts for Pocket Books (Simon and Schuster), an anthology of original stories inspired by Clive Barker’s novella, featuring contributions from the likes of Christopher Golden and Mike Mignola, Kelley Armstrong, Tim Lebbon, Yvonne Navarro, Richard Christian Matheson, Chaz Brenchley and Nancy Holder.

In 2008 his zombie story ‘Dead Time’ was turned into an episode of the Lionsgate/NBC TV series Fear Itself, adapted by Steve Niles (30 Days of Night) and directed by Darren Lynn Bousman (SAW II-IV). He also scripted the short film The Opportunity which premiered at Cannes in 2009. Paul’s mass market novels for Abaddon’s Afterblight Chronicles – Arrowhead and Broken Arrow – detail the adventures of a post apocalyptic version of Robin Hood. His latest novels include The Gemini Factor, from Screaming Dreams, and Of Darkness and Light, from Thunderstorm books. He currently lives in Derbyshire, UK, with his wife – the author Marie O’Regan – his family, and a black cat called Mina.

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