The Womb, A Short Story (Sample)

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The floor felt cold against his body. In his feverous state he had fallen off the metal cot once more. He felt around in the dark for his glasses and put them on – not that it mattered in this blackness. He wondered why they had let him keep them. Perhaps it was all part of the torture, the sadistic game they were playing. There were rules for the treatment of prisoners, rules that kept him alive and fed, but deprived of dignity and robbed of sensory stimulation. He sat up against the cement wall, wrapping the thin wool blanket they had given him around his battered body. In that instant he thought he could hear music. Was it real? Was it part of the interrogation? He wasn’t sure, but as he listened, the music seemed to soothe him. It was faint and indistinguishable, but it was real, at least to his troubled mind.

The door to his cell burst open, flooding the room with a blinding light. He covered his eyes with his hand and attempted to stand up. He knew that if he didn’t get to his feet the guards would soon rush in and force him to rise. He pushed himself off the wall and stood at attention. A voice spoke: “Time for another treatment…Father.”

“Yes, Monitor,” the young priest replied. 

“If you please...” the Monitor said, gesturing toward the end of the long hallway to the door marked, “Treatment Room.” The priest slowly made his way across the small cell and out the door, past the two dispassionate guards, and down to the room. The door was opened and he entered as he had so many times before, moving to the sterile metal chair with the restraint straps and sitting down. The guards secured his hands and feet to the chair, then attached the thin metal band around his head and backed away. The priest sat there, trying to hide his intense fear; though deep down he knew they could see right through his facade.

In through the door walked another man, a gangly, grotesque figure of an officer in a dull gray starched uniform. He was holding a small wooden box in his right arm. The Monitor and the guards gave a gestured salute by raising their hands to their chests, palms up, and moving them outward, as if scattering their souls to the wind. The officer waved them on and they left the room. He moved to a metal table in front of a large mirror that faced the priest and sat down. 

The officer looked at the frightened young man sitting in the chair attempting to calm his labored breathing. It had been said that the more you breathed normally, the less effective the treatment would be. The officer smiled a nauseating, yellow-toothed sneer and placed the box on the table. He glanced behind him at the mirror and opened the box. “Now, let’s see what we have to show you today, eh, Father David?” He paused and snorted. “I suppose I shouldn’t call you, ‘Father’ – I know how against the rules it is – but it does amuse me...Father. Now, let’s see what’s in the box, shall we?”

The officer removed a gold-plated ciborium from the box and placed it on the table. Immediately, David felt the sickening sensation of unpleasant images mingling with his memories – memories of his priesthood before the war, before the time when the Church and her allies stood as the last bastion of sanity in a world gone mad. He struggled to control his feelings and to differentiate between the false images being placed in his mind and the true memories of his calling as a man of God.

“Oh don’t fight it, David,” the officer croaked. “You’re only prolonging the inevitable. In time, you’ll see just how pleasant your life can be if only you give in.” He reached into the box and pulled out a large host. As he held it up, David saw the cross imprinted on its surface and a tear fell from his eye.

“Tears? You know they’re not allowed.” The officer again looked behind him at the mirror and David could feel immediately the intensity of the device increasing as the images once more began flooding into his mind. The officer broke the large host in two, folded the halves together and broke those as well. “This is how you do it, isn’t it?” He then joined the smaller pieces and broke those in half once more. 

It’s not real! It’s not real! David thought to himself. He spoke the words aloud: “It’s not real!”

“Of course it is, David,” the officer replied. “At least as real as your religion makes it out to be. We obtained this from another priest who was in here last month, who unfortunately died refusing to yield to the treatment. He was just too old – 94, I believe. Well, we can’t get to our destination without a few bumps in the road, can we? I have much more confidence in you, David. I know you’ll break long before that.”

The words made David shake with anger as the mental torture of the device continued to build. David knew that the host had not been consecrated, but he was unable to stop the barrage of images assaulting his weary mind. He watched as the officer looked up and smiled. “Still not convinced? How about this?” He took the host and crushed it in his hands, letting the crumbs fall into the ciborium. He rose up, flung the ciborium against the wall behind David and shouted, “WHERE IS YOUR GOD NOW? WHY DIDN’T HE STOP ME?”

David could take it no longer and began to slip into unconsciousness. At the last moment he again heard the subtle, soothing music playing somewhere beyond his understanding. When he at last awoke, he was once more in his darkened cell, lying on the floor. He felt for the metal cot and climbed up into it, pulling the wool blanket around him. He began to sob quietly, ashamed of his broken state of mind. Again he began breathing slowly to calm the emotional deluge filling his soul. As he had done before, he fought against the treatment in the only way he had learned: he began praying the prayers of the Divine Office as he called to mind the true events that had led up to his current state of affairs....

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