THE DARKNESS, ABSOLUTE, turned the world into a tomb. Wretched cries bounced from the cold stone walls and he wondered if he was in the grave, or in Hell. Only the fresh pain, cutting through the dreary numbness of his flesh, assured him that he still lived.
A flickering gold and orange light brought a moment of hope into his weary mind, but this was swept away by the thought of the new horrors that awaited. The looming shadow of the inquisitor struck his heart with fear equal to any demon.
His broken body was freed of its bonds and roughly yanked away. The groan that escaped him was rewarded with a smashing, ham-sized fist that shattered his teeth to pointed shards. He made no more noise until he was dragged before the cardinal.
“Confess your heresy,” demanded the holy man, then offering, “and your end will be swift.”
Swallowing blood, he replied, “I do not.”
“The pain you have known,” taunted the sacred monster, “will be nothing to what comes if you do not.”
“He is neither a king nor a god. He is a man, and only a man. His death proves that.”
“He is whatever we say he is,” dismissed the cardinal, “and he will be so for all of time.”
“The heresy is yours. Heresy and hubris!”
A cruel laugh rose from the cardinal and from the council at his side.
“You fool. We alone decide what heresy is. We are the church. We are the law.”
At each blasphemous sentence, the prisoner winced, snapping his head side to side as with a blow. The cardinal savored the anguish, the features twisted in pain. He could not resist one more.
“We are God.”
At this, a pitiful growl of ultimate pain rose from the prisoner and his head slumped forward, as though defeated.
“The inquisitor will break you, sooner or later. In the end, all men break. You will beg for death before we grant it. And you will say whatever we wish.”
Noticing a subtle movement of his captive’s jaw, the holy man smiled.
“Are you praying? Are you asking God for justice? Better that you beg it from us, for we are real and he is not. Only we can grant you mercy, the mercy of flames. Your death, along with your confession, will establish a god the people will fear. And they will cheer for it, the ignorant savages.”
From the doomed man came a heavy sigh.
“I will give you one more chance. Confess your heresy and I will let you die,” and with his honey sweet voice, he mockingly pleaded, “Spare yourself the pain.”
The prisoner lifted his head. With tears streaming from his eyes, he smiled a final time. Then he spat a small red puddle upon the floor. At the sight, the cardinal gasped.
For in it was the prisoner’s tongue.
That night several bonfires burned high. The crowd roared at the spectacle of atrocity.
The following years were the bloodiest ever known and the cardinal kept his place through them all. But he was not a god and death came for him in time.
In his last moments, the holy man lost his mind. He screeched at things unseen and sobbed hysterically.
His whimpering final words recorded.
“Almighty God! He has no tongue!”
story by Joe Stanley