A to Z 2017–O is for Oubliette

I like this one! But I have no doubt there will be those who complain that they want to know what comes next. I want to know too. Why do I do this to myself?

O is for Oubliette

My knees buckle as I hit bottom, the squelching of something putrid the only thing breaking my fall.

“An’ if you’re quiet, I might throw down a crust in the morning.” The guard laughs and drops the grate into place.

I stare at the small squares of sky above me, sure that there is some mistake. They’ll realize their error and come back for me. Surely they won’t leave me in this oubliette.

Then I remember the look on my brother’s face and I know the truth. Not only did he put me in this hole on purpose, there’s very little chance of him ever letting me out again.

It’s not that he hates me, my dear little brother. Hate would be preferable. At least in hate—in the rage that grows from hate—he might have killed me and been done with it.

No, he doesn’t hate me. I don’t believe he feels anything at all. Not for me. Not for my lady love—the one he married just to keep her from me.

Despair washes over me. No quick death is coming, but no freedom either. I’ll be left here to wither and waste. It may take weeks for me to succumb. Maybe months, if, as the guard said, they decide to feed me. I’ll still die, but it will be slow. Excruciating.

I run my hands over the slime of the walls that surround me, hoping against hope to find some purchase. I can climb with fair speed given even the smallest of finger holds. But, while I can see the texture of stone near the top of this man-sized cylinder, there is nothing at my level that gives me any grip at all.

Collapsing in frustration against the wall, I allow myself to fold into a sitting position and weep.

What must be hours later, I awake shivering in absolute blackness. The sky that still retained a wisp of daylight when I entered this oubliette is now as dark as the grave. Even the full moon’s wan glow is obscured by heavy clouds.

The sharp boom of thunder shakes the foundations of this keep, and suddenly I’m being soaked by rainfall.

“A grave indeed, then.” I laugh to myself. “I don’t relish drowning, but maybe it’s better than facing a slow death by starvation and illness.

I force myself back to standing though my cramped legs protest. As this hole in the ground is at the low end of the courtyard, the water-level inside is rising more quickly than I would have thought possible.

As it rises to my knees I begin to wonder how long before I am covered by the deluge.

When the water is at my waist I realize that I am but hours from the end.

With my prison filled to shoulder-height I recall a forgotten pleasure—I was once a fair swimmer.

The downpour continues through the night and the water lifts me ever-higher. I’m ten span below the grate. Then five. Then two.

I’m tired from treading water, but as the sky lightens beyond the clouds, the cover of this oubliette is nearly within my reach.

Why does the rain choose that moment to end, with victory so close to hand?

No matter how I stretch my arm, the grate remains beyond my grasp. But then I realize that the stones here are not as worn as those below me.

I find a crack that I can hook my fingers upon, and I pull. By inches, with fire burning in my arms and shoulders, I ascend until I can reach the iron crosshatch above me. Then one hand on the ground between the bars, I somehow find leverage with a foot.

The cover lifts. I shove it aside and climb to freedom.

I startle when I hear the clapping and turn. There, beneath the portico, stands my brother.

“Bravo,” he says. “Bravo!” A wicked smile paints his face. “The lady of the keep would have been pleased to see that you survived the night. It’s such a pity that her ship sailed last night. I received word this morning that it seems to have been lost in the storm.”

My heart pounds and a current runs through me. I vow in that moment that whatever happens, should I live or die, I shall have my revenge.


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