The Heir of Ice and Stone | Nine of Clubs
Posted September 8th, 2017 by Zelda
in a perpetual predicament
A/N: I'll try not to be a flake about this one. Please again forgive the lack of clarifying italics.
NINE OF CLUBS
It’s cold. It’s always been cold. I have always been cold. No, that’s not right. I used to be warm, long long ago, I used to get so warm that I would complain about the heat. But I’m cold now, I’m so cold. I want to go back to the too-hot warmth, I would give anything to be too hot. Dim grey blots out my vision and stale air fills my lungs. There’s nothing to look at here. There’s nothing to hear, here, except my own heartbeat, and the rattle of air passing in and out of my lungs. There’s nothing to pass the time, or even to tell what time it is. How long have I been here? A month? Seven?
It feels like years. Ages. Eons.
Did I ever know the sun? I can’t remember. I don’t shiver like I used to, when I first arrived here that’s all I could do. Shiver. Now the cold has seeped in, my flesh is frozen, my bones are frozen, my marrow is frozen. I don’t shiver, I don’t have the energy to anyways. This is killing me, I know it is. I don’t know how I’ve held on for so long, I know I had a reason to...once. A reason that is buried now, hidden in the back of my mind under blocks of ice too hard to chip.
A thump, followed by a thump, followed by a thump. Footsteps. Food is coming. Meals are the only acknowledgement that time is passing here. I get one every once in a while, it comes on a grey tray, pushed through a slit at the bottom of one of the walls. It used to be, my stomach would cramp up, tighter and tighter, and that was how I told the time. ‘Is my stomach cramping?’ I believe so. ‘Is it bad?’ Not yet. ‘Then it must not be time to eat’. Now my stomach pains are a dull, constant ache, interrupted only by the sharp demand of my bladder needing to empty itself.
The footsteps stop, there is a moment, and another moment, and another. They like to make me wait. To make me drool and beg for my food.
There are more moments.
My fingers rub the hard ground anxiously. At the notion of food my mouth fills partway with saliva that spills past my cracked lips, leaking onto the patchy scraggles of my uncut, unwashed beard. The biting cold sucks away the heat of my spit before it’s even dripped off my tongue. My teeth ache.
There are more moments.
“Please,” I rasp. The plea is papery, torn on the insides of my throat and caught on my teeth as it fights its way out. My lungs tremble with the effort. In this silence, whispers echo. “Please.”
A spine-curling scrape breaks the air, the edge of the tray pokes into the room. The bottom of it drags on the ground. Plastic against stone, the loudest noise since the last time the tray was pushed through the slit.
I rise, pushing myself onto shaking arms and sloven legs. The backs of my hands are white with lack of warmth, my fingernails are split and peeled, like bad paint, my own filth fills in the cracks. I crawl towards the tray, painstakingly slow. The floor bites my palms. My weak muscles protest every forced shuffle forward, my legs are so dead that I nearly have to drag my body with only my hands. Each time I make this journey, across the floor to the tray, it gets harder.
At long last, I hunch over the tray. My clumsy fingers reach out and grapple the lip of the tray to pull it the rest of the way through the slit. Pearls of shrivelled white rice spill on the floor beside me. I scoop at the rice on the tray, scoring half the mound in one go, and shove it in my waiting mouth. The rice crunches when I chew. I scrape the rest of it from the tray, then pinch the hardened crust of bread that lies just beyond where the rice mound rested. The crust is black and cold, the only way to eat it without breaking my teeth is to place a corner of it in my mouth, and suck on it until it dissolves.
My teeth still ache. One of them is cracked, from an earlier time here, when I didn’t know better about biting the bread. Shards of the bone have burrowed into my gum, and with my swollen tongue pressing against all the walls of my teeth, the pain is jarring. I think it’s infected.
The outside of the chunk of crust resting in my mouth is becoming softer, I scrape at it with my tongue, sucking the mushy crumbs down my throat. The one upside to the hard crust is that it takes time to eat.
Years later, when the last of the crust has scraped down my gullet, I reach for the cup. The cup is small, dirty, and holds the most precious commodity in the world; two mouthfuls of water. It is a feat in and of itself that my numb, trembling fingers can bring the cup from the tray to my cracked lips without sloshing the water onto the floor, but I can’t afford to waste a single drop, so my fingers must not spill. The rim of the cup presses to my lips, a slight tip, and the thinnest trickles of frigid water leak into my mouth. It rolls down my tongue, easing the hot swollenness of all that it touches, and slides down my throat. I take small sips only, savoring the relief of the liquid for as long as I can.
Sometimes I get water more frequently than food. The footsteps will come and pass the squat little cup through the slit, sans tray. It’s never enough, no matter how many times they push the cup through the tray, there will never be enough water to satisfy my cotton throat, to smooth completely my puffy tongue or fill my compacted stomach.
But it is enough to keep my body on this side of the thin veil that separates me from death.
When the cup is drained, I set it back on the tray, and prod the tray back out the slit. I must do this. They don’t want me to keep the tray. I tried, once. I stacked the tray against the wall instead of pushing it out the slit. It spent ages there. I flicked it, I gnawed on it, I examined every inch of the plain, grey plastic. It is a boring tray. Then the stomach cramps came. Tighter and tighter, like normal. I wasted away time, checking the clenching of my stomach, and when the cramps reached their peak, like they always did before the tray came, I went and crouched by the slit.
There was nothing. There were no footsteps. I waited, my stomach contracted so hard it turned itself inside out and began to eat me from the inside. I waited, until it became clear that they wanted the tray back. Then, hunched over from the pain of the cramps, I gathered up the tray, and gave it back.
They do not want me to keep the tray.
Exhausted from my meal, I collapse beside the slit. It is time, I think, for sleep. The ground sends fresh chills creeping along my shoulder, and frozenness needles my cheek. I worked up just enough warmth from chewing and crawling, that it hurts now to return to the icy cold. My tooth hurts. It is cold. I do not know anything else.
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