Coals of Fire: The Golem (II)

Good day all,

Here is a new section of Coals of Fire: Kindling. I haven’t written much this past week, largely due to family commitments and working over the weekend. But I’m a few chapters in, and things are taking shape, so I should be able to keep to a chapter a week.


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Coals of Fire: Kindling

The Golem: Part II

They keep me in darkness.

They feed me, clothe me, bed me, entertain me, toilet me, water me, allow me to wash, to sleep, to exercise with weights.

But they do not let me see.

I live in darkness for … I do not know how long. Days, weeks, months, or years. Time loses all meaning here.

My rooms are large, and well-equipped. My bed is soft, the sheets freshly laundered. My fridge is stocked, and nothing is allowed to go bad. I explore the foods by touch, the drinks by taste. I have fruit, bread, yoghurt, cake, cheese, cold meats, and more. I have fruit juices, water, milk, and soft drinks.

I have two chairs and a two-seater sofa. I have a rocking chair in the corner that creaks when I sit in it. I have CDs and a CD player: they are arranged, I find, into Music, Radio Plays, and Talking Books. I explore the choices, and they take note of what I enjoy and provide me with more of the same. When I ask for talking newspapers they provide them: but after some days I begin to doubt whether the news is current.

At first I sleep a lot, and in-between sleeping I rage and shout, curse and swear, weep and plead with them to release me. I ask what I have done, what crime I have committed to deserve this. I attempt to starve myself, but I wake with a pain in my gullet and a foul taste in my mouth, and I deduce that they have force-fed me by a tube. After this I refuse to sleep, but the human body cannot endure many days without rest, and eventually I fall victim to my own nature, and wake with my beard shaved and my hair trimmed, in a bed with clean sheets.

I accept the food after that.

There is no sense of time passing. After many, many sleeps I begin to accept that I will not be leaving this place.

Once I try to slit my wrists. I use the plastic knife they give me with my microwave meals. I feel the pain, and the warm blood, and with relief I think it is finally over; but I wake up in darkness shackled to the bed with bandaged wrists.

They keep me in the bed for … I do not know how long. I cry in the darkness, and beg for forgiveness. Maybe I am forgiven, and maybe not. One waking I am unshackled, and the bandages are gone. All that remains is the feel of scarred flesh and the faint smell of antiseptic.

On another occasion, many sleeps later, I hang myself with a pillowcase. Again I wake, shackled to the bed, in darkness. I come to realise that death is not an option here. I am to live, and suffer.

What colour I have lives in my memory, but it fades with every sleeping and waking. In an attempt to retain my sanity, I take to sitting in the rocking chair and trying to remember the events of particular years.

1975: the year of my tenth birthday. My uncle and aunt took me to the zoo to see the tigers. For weeks beforehand I could think of nothing else. I drew tigers. I read about tigers. I gazed for hours at the pictures of tigers in my parents’ nature atlas. I dreamed of going up to the glass of the enclosure and putting up my hand for the tiger to investigate; I dreamed that the tiger would put up its paw to meet mine, and we would then understand each other and form a lifelong bond.

On the morning of my birthday I received a book about tigers, with full-colour pictures and every fact my young mind deemed imaginable. I clutched the book on the way to the zoo, full of anticipation, and when we arrived I ran straight to the tiger-house, losing my aunt and uncle in the crowds, and pressed my face up to the glass, eager to see these majestic beasts in the flesh. There they lay, stretched full-length in the morning sun, huge cats with downy fur on their bellies and feline half-grins on their faces, their incisors peeking through brown-black lips. It was everything I had imagined and more. I knocked on the glass, and one of them raised its great head and blinked at me, then furled itself and loped over on dinner-plate paws. When it reached the glass it investigated my outstretched palm with moist, flared nostrils, then a rasp of its great pink tongue.

And then — looking back, I know that something must have startled it, but at the time I could not understand the reason for the sudden change: its ears flattening, its eyes narrowing, its lips drawing back and its mouth opening in a sudden, hissing snarl that went through my body like an electric shock and sent me stumbling away in tears, crying for my aunt and uncle.

That night I put my tiger book at the back of my wardrobe.

1979: the year we moved house, and I started a new school. It was a rougher area than the one I grew up in: new estates already starting to crumble around the edges, houses with furniture on the lawns and speakers wedged in the windows, blaring Bob Marley or the Sex Pistols until the early hours. On the first day I was stopped in the street by a gang of skinheads. I must have looked well-off, because one of them pulled a knife and told me to empty my pockets. I did, but all I had was fifteen pence and a Hubba Bubba, so they told me to empty my bag. My mum had bought me a new pencil case and put a Mars bar in my packedlunch; the skinheads took both, then they pissed in the bag and made me wear it.

I remember being angry at them, but powerless. It was not done in secret: people were walking past the whole time — kids from school, mums with prams — but no-one tried to help. A couple of them looked in my direction, and I remember how scared they looked, embarrassed, even, at their own cowardice. When I finally got to school I found that one of the boys who had walked past was in my class. He went red when he saw me walk into the room, and looked away, just as he had looked away in the street.

I hated him for it.

2002: the year I was fired from the Metropolitan Police, at the peak of a long and distinguished career, having risen to the rank of sergeant in the Serious and Organised Crimes unit. I had recently joined the Human Trafficking Team on Operation Phoenix, investigating the trade in sex slaves from Eastern Europe. We had received intelligence relating to the whereabouts of one of our prime targets, Aleks Csontos, a high-level pimp operating out of Battersea, and we were scrambled on a night raid to bring him in for questioning.

The raid started badly, and got worse from there.

To begin with, the intelligence was bad. It failed to mention that the warehouse we were targeting, far from being a deserted hang-out, was a brothel housing more than a hundred underage prostitutes. From the start of the operation we had to deal with panicked, terrified, half-clothed girls who clung to our arms and pleaded with us to save them; not to mention the customers, most of whom disappeared at the first sign of trouble but some of whom decided to make a stand with popgun pistols and drug-induced bravado.

Then there were Csontos’s men, who mingled with the crowds and opened fire with their fully automatics when we least expected it. The crowds scattered like cockroaches in the light; we dived behind shipping containers, our boots slipping on the wet floor, ducking as the detonation of an IED shook the air and filled our lungs with black smoke. I saw colleagues stagger from the reek, arms and fingers missing, faces lacerated to bloody rags by the nails and glass packed in with the C4.

Someone touched me, and turned with my MP4 cocked, ready to fire; but she was only nine years old, her face and her body hollow, spent, used up over the course of months or years in this iron-clad hell. She looked me in the eyes, one of the few who had not fled, and my heart sank. She was mine, now: my responsibility. I put out a gloved hand and drew her into my body. She was barely there: a little bag of bones held together by grey skin, trembling like a mouse.

It wasn’t fair, what happened afterwards. Like my superior told me, they needed someone to blame, and I was senior enough to take the rap and junior enough that no-one cared. It was made worse by the photos getting out on to the internet, especially the one the forensic team took of her body. There was an inquest, a panel, due process, and then, as I knew I would be, I was fired.

Sometimes there is little colour in my memories.

My latest memories are the haziest. I have often tried to piece together the last hours of my freedom, but it is becoming increasingly difficult. I remember fire blossoming into the night sky, and a gun; but that is it. Was I in a war? A terrorist attack? I have no idea.

So I sleep, and I wake. I eat, drink, wash, rest, exercise. Occasionally I think of praying, but the words will not come. Besides, I don’t know who I’m praying to, nor what I will ask of him or her. Forgiveness? Escape? Death? No. There will be no forgiveness, no escape. No death.

In time, I forget everything apart from my name.

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