Penance
Part One
By: Stephanie J. Bardy

The smell of decay surrounded Reese as she lay as still as she could. He would be back. He always came back. Something slithered nearby and she cringed just a bit. He had never left her like this before. Just lying on the cold stone. It was always in the hole. This time he had just dropped her like a ragdoll and left. She could feel the damp beginning to seep into her bones.

"I have to get up." She thought. She almost laughed out loud because that is what she always thought. "I have to get out of here."

She moved her left hand slowly across the floor until it was beside her. The arm was broken at the joint and she knew it was going to hurt like a bitch to put it back. She grit her teeth as hard as she could and twisted her arm back to its rightful angle. Bones popped and snapped as she did. The sound of flesh tearing almost made her gag but the searing pain that quickly followed it made all her senses shut down. She neither saw nor felt beyond that pain. Then there was a loud pop, and the arm was again as it should be. She took a moment to catch her breath, tears flowing freely from her eyes and getting lost in her hair. She continued to stare up at what she assumed was the ceiling. She never saw the sun, the stars, or the moon, never felt a breeze or heard the sound of the trees, so she assumed she was inside somewhere.

Slowly she moved her legs and repeated the same process she had with her arm. After what seemed like hours, her limbs were back to rights and she could push herself up to a sitting position. She looked down and realized that her feet were not where they were supposed to be. Sighing sadly, she turned her head back around to face the right direction. Once she was as she had begun, she wiped the tears from her face, and stood. Her legs shook beneath her, but she remained upright. Sheer determination and the will to survive rode her and she lifted one foot and then the other. When she reached the door at the far end of the room, she gave it a hard push.

Nothing.

She pushed again and still nothing. Not even a slight movement.

Sliding down the door she crumbled on to the small step and lay her head on the cold stone. If she had any tears left, she would have shed them.

The smell of dry leaves, wet dirt, and the cold blew across her face. She raised her eyes slightly and she could see a small line of light under the door. Every time the wind blew, the line got bigger, then smaller as the wind stopped. She watched it closely. It was blowing inwards, not out.

She stood again, a small spark of hope igniting in her chest. If she had a heart, it would have beat faster as she placed her hand on the door handle and pulled inward.

The door stuck for a second then came loose and swung open. Light burst in and engulfed her. She threw her arm up and shielded her eyes and shrank back into the shadows.

"Get it together Reese!" she said out loud. It almost sounded like words. She had not used her throat or her voice in over a hundred years. What came out was harsh, dry, and raspy. She crept towards the light again and felt the warmth on her skin. Paper thin and cold she just stood for a moment and drank it in. She could smell freedom. Feel it. She just had to make her feet step beyond the threshold of her prison. One step and she was free. One movement of her foot. She stood, swaying slightly as she fought with herself.

A deep male chuckle echoed from the room behind her.

"It's always the same Reese. I do not hold you here. You do."

Her head fell forward, and her shoulders dropped.

"You built this prison. Each stone, each board, every nail. Created by each sin, by each life you took. Every soul extinguished by you; built the prison you now can not escape."

Marlon pushed himself off the far wall where he had been leaning, watching Reese go through the same ritual she put herself through every night.

"Do you not think you have suffered enough?" he asked, "Do you not feel that your penance has been paid?"

Reese stepped back into the shadows, pushing the door closed. The room was engulfed in darkness once again.

"No." she said. "It will never be enough."

She walked over to the stone slab in the middle of the room and lay down on it.

"Begin." She said.

Marlon walked over to the door and opened it. Again, the room was flooded with light.

"No." was all he said and then disappeared outside.

Reese lay on the slab staring up at what she now could see was the ceiling of a crypt. Each stone bore a name. A life. Marlon was right.

She sat up and looked around the room. It was not an ordinary crypt although it passed as one from the outside. There were no slots for bodies. No human had ever been laid to rest here. Each stone, each board had a name carved into it. Each name, a life she had taken. A soul she had destroyed.

She slid down off the slab and the sun hit her again. The warmth crept into her. She stood for a moment, again soaking it in. It would be so easy to just walk out, breath in the fresh air instead of the fetid stench of this prison. She had spent a hundred years trying to do penance for the sins she had been accused of. Marlon had been her jailer at the beginning. Her persecutor. Some how over time, he had become her guardian.

Each night he would pull her, limb after limb, breaking bones, tearing flesh, rendering unbearable pain upon her, then he would place her into the hole. She would wipe her memory, heal, she would try and escape, and she would fail. Just as all those who's names taunted her from every angle, had. She would clear her mind of the memory of what was to come, clear her mind of her duty to pay such a price, and begin the fear, the anguish, again each day. The night was her reprieve. Her moment of peace. That is how she had come to know Marlon as more than just the one tasked with her sentence.

He was once a man. Not an overly good one, but an honest one. Which is why he had been given the job. He would carry out the punishment, without fail, no more, no less. Until she told him to stop. She had not removed his free will, just the ability to leave her permanently. His body would not allow him to venture to far from her side. She knew he would be just beyond the door, sitting sullenly on the stoop.

She walked to the open door. This was new. This defiance.

"Marlon." She said. He grunted from the sunlight.

"You can't ignore me." Reese stepped closer to the threshold.

"No, I can't. You took that away from me. I have to tear you apart every day, watch you scream and writhe in pain, and then talk to you like an old friend every night." He stood angrily.

"I can't do it anymore Reese. Physically I cannot stop, but inside, I am dying."

Reese chuckled a bit. Marlon glared at her. "You know what I mean."

"Marlon, we are immortal. We cannot die. Outside or in. You know what I was accused of. You know that I do not remember my time of change. Until I know for sure one way or another, this is how it must be." She turned back towards the shadows.

Marlon stormed after her. "How are we to find out if we never leave this place? If we never seek out those who know the truth?" he waved his arm, "This is not your prison, I see that now, it is your escape. You do not want to know the truth. It is easier to hide here, bear the pain, and play what they painted you to be, than to seek the truth. You are a coward. Nothing more."

Reese's eyes became slits, a fire burning in them. "Tread carefully jailer. You live because I will it. Should that change, your name can be added to the stones that you stand upon."

Marlon huffed angrily and stormed out of the crypt again. She knew he would pout for a while and come back. He always did. After all the years of torture and pain, there were moments, during the night, as she reknit her bones and mended her torn flesh, that they had become something akin to friends. He had never loved so when she bound him to her, he had nothing to lose but an honorable death. He had hated her for that for a long time, taking his frustration and anger out on her day after day. She had welcomed it. Sinking into the devastation he caused her, to pay for what she had done. She was guilty, no matter what Marlon said. Maybe not of all she was accused of, but she had taken lives. Many of them. Each a name now in stone.

She stared at the sunlight streaming in the open door. To just step beyond that threshold, to feel the warmth, to relinquish her penance. It was so easy, but one of the hardest things she would ever do. She inched closer to the door and stepped into the sun. The threshold lay before her, small, insignificant, dull. She stood here every evening, during the "great escape". She always turned away. What if she did not this time? What if she lifted her foot and stepped over that threshold? What would happen.

"Nothing." Said Marlon from the stoop outside. "Nothing would happen. The world would keep turning, the sun would keep shining, and the souls you took would still be gone. You would remain immortal, and I tied to you."

Reese looked down at him. "Since when did you learn to read my thoughts?" she asked.

He snorted in disgust. "I don't have to. I have seen it every evening for a hundred years. You come to the door, you mimic wanting to escape, you ponder the reality of said escape, then you close the door, and lay on the altar and I tear you apart until full dark. It is not easy to know what you are thinking. It is written all over your face. Your eyes take on this faraway look."

Marlon stood and reached up for her hand. "You are eternal, you have made me as such. Why can we not have a life outside of this crypt? You have paid dearly for your crimes, real and otherwise. You are the Mother of All, let us go and look for your children. Those they created from your flesh. You no longer need to be alone."

Reese stared into Marlon's eyes. Those beautifully gold flecked eyes. She ached to step out into the light with him. To take his hand, let him pull her out. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and lifted her foot. Slowly she moved it forward and put it down. She waivered for a moment and Marlon took her hand and gently tugged her the rest of the way.

Warmth surrounded her. The fetid air of the crypt faded back, and the scent of cherry blossoms filled her. The birds, who always sounded hollow and distant, chirped loudly. The breeze teased her hair and tickled her face. She opened her eyes and immediately squinted.

"We may have to find you a bonnet to shield your eyes until you adjust." Said Marlon. He pulled her close to him and turned her to view the forest they were in.

"It's so…so…green!" She exclaimed. Marlon laughed. "Yes, it is, and in the fall, it is red, and orange and brown."

Distant barking caused Reese to tense. Marlon moved to stand in front of her as a black and brown dog burst out of the brush and skidded to a halt in front of them.

"Biscuit!" a male voice shouted, "Get back here you fool!"

A man, dressed in britches that were missing the bottom half, and a strange kind of shirt with a triangle on it came running after the dog.

He too came to a skidding halt. He looked around and then back at Marlon and Reese.

"Hey, you guys, ok? Did I interrupt some kind of cosplay thing?" he asked grinning slyly at Marlon. "You know this is private property, right?"

Reese sniffed. "Of course, it is. It belongs to the Duke and Duchess of Highton."

The man laughed. "Not for about a billion years it hasn't. It's a B and B now. My cousin owns it." His eyes narrowed slightly.

"Who did you say you were?"

Marlon again moved to put Reese behind him, not trusting this strange loud man.

"I am Marlon Gibson, and this woman is my prisoner. Who be you?"

The man laughed. "Dude, you can drop the character. No one is around. Name's Chris. Chris Martin. That's my dog Biscuit."

Reese moved around Marlon and walked toward Chris. She could feel the frailty of his spirit. He would be easy prey, and it had been so long. She licked her lips and suddenly she had Chris's full attention.

"Tell me…Chris…is there shelter and nourishment at this B and B place?"

Chris nodded.

"Wonderful." She smiled, giving just a bit more pull, his energy came easily. "Take us there."

Chris smiled and without question, turned and led them out of the forest to a small country home.

Reese looked around panicked. "What has happened?"

Marlon looked down at her and grinned. "It has been a hundred years. Did you think things would not change?"

Reese looked around again and grimaced.

"Not quite for the better I see."

Chris opened the front door and immediately they were bombarded by loud music.

Reese and Marlon both recoiled.

Chris furrowed his brow. "Megadeath not your thing?" he asked.

"Mega…what?" questioned Reese.

"Never mind, you don't look like you listen to much rock."

Reese stepped close to Chris and captured his gaze.

"Let me make this clear. So, there is no misunderstanding. We are not from this time. The last time we saw the light of day, it was 1921. You will be our guide in this new land."

Chris shrugged. "Sure." He turned and sauntered towards the back of the house. "Kitchen is this way."

Marlon looked down at Reese. "I see your powers of persuasion are still intact."

Reese looked up at him puzzled. "I didn't use them."

They both turned and looked down the hallway towards where Chris had disappeared. Strange noises had started to emanate from the kitchen.

"Strange." Said Reese. "Very strange indeed."

-

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