Something drips. Interminably slow, heavy, and monotonous, it is a beat at the very edge of consciousness, lulling him slowly back to awareness. There is no other point of reference, the darkness about him absolute, though he can feel the roughness of the stone wall against his back and the smooth coldness of the metal bonds that hold his wrists and ankles tight against it. Flexing his toes, he feels water lap around them. The damp infects his bones.
Straining his senses, he searches the cold black air, though he has no idea for what. He has no memory of what has happened, no memory of anything that has gone before, yet he knows that he is waiting, waiting for... something.
Then, suddenly, there it is a change in the sound, the drip accelerating until it becomes a trickle, then a cascade. The rising water reaches his knees, his waist, his chest. The coldness of it makes him gasp, presses against his ribcage, forces his lungs to fight for breath. Through his panic, a thought surfaces: there are so very many ways to die–perhaps drowning is not the worst.
The water splashes his face. It has reached his chin and will soon be in his mouth, in his nostrils, in his throat. He wonders how long he could hold his breath, or if it might not be better to breathe the deadly liquid in, a swift conclusion to this life that he cannot quite call to mind. Then, as if some faraway valve has been shut down, the gushing water stops. It drips for a moment, then silence returns.
Something brushes his leg in the darkness, and in that instant, the sluice gates of his memory burst apart, and he remembers. He remembers the terror in the eyes of his son and the bargain that was struck. He remembers the oozing, milk-white eyes of the beast and the yellowed stumps of teeth that spewed saliva as it shook its awful head in triumph. He remembers his last sight of the boy, running for all he was worth, running because his life depended on it. And he remembers submitting to the fetid embrace of the worm; a living sacrifice, a lamb to the slaughter.
A sound disturbs the darkness, a sound as soft and chill as the flick of a serpent’s tongue—a gentle movement of the water, sending saltwater ripples to lap against his lips. The sweet, stagnant smell of decay fills the chamber, announcing the arrival of his host as surely as a fanfare of trumpets. The beast is on the move. Its huge, elongated body cuts effortlessly through the water, scarcely disturbing the surface. His fists clench, a futile act of resistance. There can be no going back, no change to the terms of the contract. In the stinking blackness, he turns his head to the wall and steels himself for what is to come.
The water seethes as the creature rises before him, its rank, hot breath burning his cheek. He tries to scream, but it is useless; his voice was taken long ago. He will do what he has always done; take the pain inside himself and await oblivion. Tomorrow he will wake and have no recollection until the dripping starts again.
KB Willson is a British author, specialising in SF, Fantasy, and Horror. As his ‘day job’ requires him to be professionally jolly – he has spent his working life as a performer, everything from theatre to circus via magic and fire-eating – writing enables him to indulge his darker side! He lives beside the sea in Dorset with his wife and dachshund dog, one of whom likes to sit on his lap while he is writing.
For more information visit www.kbwillson.com or follow him on Twitter at @kbwillsonauthor.