Papic missed the only warning sign: there was no smell of urine.
It had been a good weekend. Saturday Papic had taken his children to the big game and made a day of it. Sunday he left his offspring with their grandparents and dedicated the day to Madam Papic.
Locking the cell door behind him Papic moved to his desk and placed his Monday morning coffee amongst the tools there.
The naked man strapped to the wooden chair with a black cloth bag over his head remained silent as Papic fiddled through his week starting routine.
Often a night of restraint would break a prisoner. Always they soiled themselves, unable to do anything else. This simple degradation took the fight out of most. Papic liked to prepare a suspect before he got to work. White noise had blared randomly through the night. Under instruction the guards would rattle the locks to keep the prisoner awake and fearful.
"Good morning," Papic said, pulling off the hood.
Under the cloth was a man in his mid fifties. Stubble and lack of sleep cast shadows across his face. Shakily he turned his head to the interrogator.
"You may think it is," the suspect croaked.
"You need a drink." Papic observed, collecting his coffee and sipping it.
"Iím not thirsty."
Papic took another sip of coffee; it was good.
"You're here because you were seen with Doran," he said. "That's all. Youíre not known to us; I donít think youíre a threat. Tell us what you know and youíll get maybe five years hard labour. A slap on the wrist compared with where this could end."
"Anyone brought to you is executed and buried in a mass grave to the North of here." The croak was gone. "I have been there many times."
Papic disguised his surprise and considered the man. A brave one for a change. But heíd had a few brave men in the chair -- their courage never lasted long. Papic was the best, exercising his skills every day, while his subjects only had one go in the chair.
And Papic was dedicated to his job. These dissidents were a threat to the State -- a threat to his family -- and he would not let a secret be kept that might harm them. This one obviously knew more than the snatch team thought and was clever too, trying to distract him.
"You were seen consorting with Doran outside the cathedral. Where is he?"
"I was not consorting with Doran."
Papic pulled a file from his desk, switching on a soldering iron at the same time.
"I have photos. In the shadows of the ruined cloisters, at 6 pm yesterday. You talked for ten minutes." The imbeciles on the snatch team had gone for this minion instead of the leader.
"He was consorting with my Master and He sent me."
"Master? Whoís your master? This is foreign interference! Weíve always suspected Doran had support from outside. Who?"
"Do you enjoy it when you have women here? Do you pick the pretty ones? Does it excite you having naked women at your mercy? Do you tell your wife when you hurt them? Do you dream of her in this chair?"
"Oh, very clever," Papic said. "But you can't distract me. Donít think Iíve not heard it before. Now who is your Master? Is it the Americans? Is it the Russians?"
"Many think ghosts are imprints in the fabric of buildings or furniture. Do you wonder what the imprint of this chair is?"
"I will know what you know. This could be done without pain. Start telling me what you know and Iíll put in a good word for you. You might live. If youíre valuable to this paymaster of yours, maybe we could make a trade. Say your life for Doranís."
Papic picked up the soldering iron. He tested the temperature on a piece of leather. It sizzled. Some of his guests would babble all they knew at this little demonstration -- the stench, the wisps of smoke that rose as the leather blackened and cracked ...
Papic examined the smoking point as if it was a dirty fingernail and then observed:
"If you ask people what the most sensitive part of the body is, theyíll stumble around thinking itís the genitalia. Itís the nose. I researched this carefully. The nose has the highest density of nerve endings so that is where I will apply this." It helped that the captive could see it coming. Writhing, unable to escape, they would rub their skin raw on their bonds, choke on the strap around their necks or even urinate in fear before the charring tip would touch.
Papic brought the soldering iron forward.
The prisoner didnít flinch, saying calmly:
"I can feel imprints. There was a woman who hated her nose feeling it too big for her face and as she burned her only thought was: Ďthis is my punishment for vanity.í"
"Who are you? How do you know this?" Papic demanded. He couldnít hold the iron steady. "Who are you?"
"My Master sends me to the woods to gather the murdered and I wondered why so many had burnt noses. Iíve counted hundreds."
"Tell me who you are or I will burn you so badly you wonít live to be shot!" Papic blustered, but his voice couldnít carry the threat. Even to him, it sounded weak, uncertain.
"When the woman with the big nose was shot, she was so pleased she wasnít scared."
Papic drove the iron in.
A hand caught his wrist. Papic thought he heard distant calling. Gradually it became a choir screaming, pleading and crying. He looked at the hand. It was the prisonerís except it was beautiful. Michelangelo would have wept had he seen its perfection. Its owner was no longer a middle-aged man. He was an athlete at the peak of his physical power. Nor was he restrained -- the straps that had bound him to the chair hung open.
The other hand plucked the iron from Papicís limp grip by its hot end. No sound of melting skin. No wince of pain. The man discarded it.
"I want you to feel the imprints."
As if plunging Papicís hand into hot fat the man rammed it into the arm of the chair where it stuck.
With the audible pain now came all the foul odours that Papic had created: burning skin, excrement and vomit. In the chair was now a human shaped blur. It writhed in all directions as all the bodies who had occupied that chair were present as translucent shells, like a single frame of film somehow exposed a thousand times. Out of the fog of agony would poke one face, then another, and another; many had a blackened crater where the nose should have been. A leg might break free from a strap or some other protrusion might become clear for a second.
Papic fought to pull free, but could not; his hand had sunk wrist deep into the chair. He screamed. He couldnít hear it because his ears were full of all the screams heard by him in that cell.
Sinking into the wood like an animal consumed by a tar pit, Papic twisted until he was seated in the chair, but his legs vanished into the legs of the chair, his arms became the arms, his torso submerged into its back. Electric pain shot through Papicís limbs wherever his body had fused with the chair. His head -- no more than peaks of nose, lips, cheeks and eyes protruding above the surface of the chair --stopped moving as he vanished into the scrubbed wood.
"Now reap what you have sown," the angel said. "Become one with the products of your deeds until Final Judgement." Great wings the colour of a flawless dawn beat once and nothing was left in room that could be called human.
© 2005 by Roderick Gladwish
Bio: 'Roderick Gladwish is an aerospace engineer living in the UK. An amateur SF artist he has produced many magazine illustrations appearing in The Zone, Scifantastic and Premonitions. When he canít resist the urge he writes a story; most recently these have appeared in webzines Quantummuse and Scribal Tales. More of his work (pictures and stories) can be seen at SF Art by Roderick Gladwish. Rest assured he is not working on a novel.'
E-mail: Roderick Gladwish
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