Every scream seemed to reverberate off her bones, a man several cells away, was begging for his life. He had a wife, he told his torturer. He was a woodworker in his past life. He only has six months left on his sentence.
His words fell on deaf ears, and they were swallowed up by the empty halls. Another shriek chilled her blood, another string of pleas went ignored. Her eyes darted around of their own accord, for anything to drown out the noise, or a place to hide. It was useless, in five years there had been nothing, there would be nothing today. The cells were built that way.
Each one was as large as a city flat, to make you feel like you weren’t caged. The walls stood some twenty feet tall, with a small hole at the top, covered with more iron bars. It allowed sunlight on the best days; rain, and snow most days. There was plenty of room for one to wander, to feel the rough stone walls, looking for a handhold to climb, to get the hole at the top, but they were also big enough for every sound to echo off the walls so that it felt as if it were right next door; When in reality it may have come from several halls over, or maybe imagined. The iron bars at the front were spaced wide enough apart for a person to almost squeeze through, and they were just short of the top of the cells so there was a gap, about three feet wide, over the top only ten feet away.
There was also the darkness.
Beyond what the little shaft of sunlight that came through the top the cell and fell in a perfect circle in the center of it, there was no light. They did not light the hallways that led to other cells, and once you stepped out of your small pool of sunlight, you were blind, enveloped by your worst fears and forced to feel like a blind man through the darkness. Sure, it might conceal a prisoner should they decide to escape, but there was no telling what else was in the darkness with them. Lurking. Waiting. She knew for sure of the hooded men that came to bring food, and thin ratty sheets when it got cold. There were dogs too, not that anyone had ever actually seen them, only heard them, the click of long nails, and their growls right before they devoured the rare escapee. No one spoke, except to cry or plead for their lives, because they didn't know who else was out there, listening. Outside you could hear every prisoner's shriek, the clink of the chains when a new one was dumped into an empty cells, likely still splattered with the last’s blood.
At some point in between the screams she heard the slap of bare feet on the stone floor, and the heavy breathing of someone who thought they were brave as they sprinted through the blackness hoping to find a door, any evidence that there was indeed a way out. Not soon after she heard the the dogs, who seemed, like everything else in The Prison, to be made of shadow. The beasts only came out when someone was out of their cell. The click of nails on stone was enough to make her want to vomit, she knew what came next, they all did.
She did not wait for the growls, she stood from her spot on the floor, and stepped out of the ring of light. She stumbled forward until her toes felt the moth eaten sheet they had given her some weeks ago, which she hidden the dark. She never knew who was watching, so she had suffered night after night of freezing cold just so they would think they had forgotten to giver her a blanket when they came to get them back. Last night she had sat and tore the cloth into strips, a millimeter at a time, so it could not be heard. Now she wrapped her feet with them, then began to feel her way around the perimeter of her cell in the direction she thought was the front. She held her breath as the seconds ticked by, then her fingers grazed cold iron. She had been convinced she could lose no more weight, and starving herself of moldy bread would do nothing, but now she found it had helped and she slipped roughly out from between the bars, when just two weeks ago she was too wide.
A growl carried down the corridor, so loud and clear she thought the creatures must have been right next to her. She swallowed hard and took a ginger step, when it made no noise she quickened her pace. Each breath came through her nose easily controlled and silent. she kept one hand against the wall to her right so she would not get turned around. The cry that came next made her want to abandon all caution, the escaped prisoner had already been found. It had been less than a minute. They would comes for her next. She gulped down her fear and forced herself to stay in control. Her fingers came to the end of the wall and into the cold air of a new hallway, without thinking she turned right. The dogs had gone silent except for the occasional crunch of bone accompanied by the pained moans of the dying.
The tortured man’s screams still filled every corner of the prison and she hoped it would cover the sound of her footsteps. The halls fell quiet, for only a heartbeat, the switching of instruments, the swallowing of flesh. They would come for her.
She would not run. She would not run.
She turned another corner, left this time, hoping that she wasn't going further into the belly of The Prison. She stumbled blindly, the darkness somehow deepening, it seeped into her and began to chisel away at her resolve. She should turn around, she would never find the way out, she would become lost, and if she didn't die under the jaws of the dogs, she would die of starvation. Her heartbeat sped up, and her body began to betray her as the panic set in, and flowed through her, dissolving her bravery.
No. She couldn't turn back, there was nothing there except the screams, and the terror of not knowing when it would be her turn.
The next hall she turned down was different. It was chilly, but not freezing cold like her cell. The smell of death and blood was as strong, and it was lit, ever so dimly. The stillness of death and shadows was stirred by a breeze. A breeze! It could only come from Outside. She was close, her feet picked up speed without her noticing, she was running.
The moaning had died out some time ago, and she assumed the poor victim to finally succumbed to his fate. What had gone unnoticed by her was the dogs too had gone silent. The dogs were always silent when they were hunting. A fresh wave of desperation and panic washed over her, she ran faster, following the feeling of fresh air.
The clicking of their demonic claws sped up behind her, each one counting down the breaths she had left. She slammed into a wall when she slid around a corner too sharply, her face scraped against the rock. This corridor was different, at the end of it, near the floor was a sliver of light.
Everything went silent, only the blood pounding in her ears reminded her that she was still alive. Her time was nearly up, it was now or she would die here, devoured under the earth. Her only legacy: to be a reminder to whatever prisoners were near enough to hear her last cries.
Was she faster than the dogs, and if she was would they follow her Outside?
She was ten feet away. Her wrapped feet slipped, and she stumbled. There was a sharp bark, and then pain, the most pain she could have ever imagined shot up from her thigh to her head, fogging her mind. She brought her fist down as hard as she could and it connected to what could only be a skull. The dog fell away from her leg, pulling a flesh away with it. She dared not look back, she didn’t want to know how many there were behind her. She kept running.
Six feet. Four feet. Two feet.
Her body slammed into a heavy wooden door, she shoved it with every ounce of strength she could muster, until the door gave, it moved sluggishly open, light poured in, and for the first time she could see what the dogs of The Prison looked like. They weren't dogs.
The creatures looked something akin to a panther, if panthers had slimey black scales, and four large pincers that covered their blood-soaked mouths. Every breath they exhaled the pincers shook silently letting out globs of saliva that dripped across their claws. Each one had a set of four milky, eyes, boring into her, looking for her weakest spot. She counted seven of the creatures, too many for her to fight off. She pressed herself against the door, ready to give it one more push. The beast closest to her took a step forward, and flung open its jaws to let out a loud hiss. Spit splattered across her skin, before it could lunge at her she gave the door a heave and slipped through the gap. The door shut heavily behind her. There was a loud thud against the other side of door, followed by several more, their weight pressed against the door was too much. She fumbled around the edge of the door for a lock, desperately willing one to be there. Her hand landed on a wrought iron bar, frantically she slid it into place, across the aged wood. They threw themselves against the door once more, and she didn't wait to see if they would break through.
She was at the bottom of a steep slope, but stairs had been carved from the stone, she bounded up them two at time until she hurled herself over the top and fell into a pile of dead leaves, that crunched under her weight. She lay quietly on the pile and listened. There was no clicking on the stairs, or any growling of those terrible beasts. She hauled herself up to her knees. She couldn't run anymore. She looked around her, the stairs she had just climbed led down the mouth of a cave to the door, still barred shut. Ahead of her was dense mountain forest and a small creek babbling quietly a few feet away from her. All of it so tranquil and so unaware, or unbothered by the death just below it.
She too would pretend she didn't know what lay beneath her, she would move forward and put the hell behind her. She began limping alongside the stream, wherever it led it her it would be better than what was behind her.