Punitive Measures by Albert Berg

Punitive Measures

 

Page 1

How did this happen? How did it all go so wrong? You were so cunning, so careful. And now to end up trapped in this place. With these…these worms, these insects.

They walk you down the hall to your cell. There’s people yelling, some of them at you, some of them at the guards, some of them just yelling. This is your life. This is your world. It hits you like a piano dropped from orbit. Something inside you screams out in terror.

Get. Out.

There has to be a way out. Has to be.

The next few days you spend getting the lay of the land. Turns out your cell wall butts up against back end of the kitchen, behind an industrial sized freezer as near as you can tell. The kitchen area is locked down pretty tight during the day, but at night the guards and a couple of the kitchen workers take shipments of grub from the big loading dock out back. You figure if you time it right you might be able to get out with the food truck.

You also meet Carlos. Carlos is…respected. Your first instinct is that he’s a gang leader of some kind, but the longer you watch the less sense that makes. The guys who know him treat him like some sort of religious figure, and lots of his men have a small tattoo of an upside down pyramid on their left hands.

You don’t much care about whatever prison house voodoo he’s into. But you do catch the scuttlebutt that Carlos and his guys are looking to get out of the joint. From what you can tell they’re planning something big and flashy. Probably dangerous too. But if you throw in with him, you won’t have to hack through a foot of steel reinforced concrete in the middle of the night for only a chance at escape.

If you dig through the wall turn to Page 5

If you help Carlos turn to Page 7

 

Page 5

The thing they don’t tell you about the digging is what it does to your skin. It’s not so hard to find ways to hide your work from the guards at night. They’re mostly lazy, rent-a-cops anyway. But you almost wish they would catch you, because your fingers are raw and covered in blisters from scraping away at the wall with the metal handle of a spoon.

You wrap your fingers in bandages to hide the oozing sores and bum a pair of gloves off of your cell-mate to hide the bandages.

Your cell-mate is a guy everyone calls the Glass Man, you don’t why. He knows what you’re doing, but he doesn’t seem to care enough to raise a ruckus. Even so you get the impression he finds the whole thing amusing.

That bothers you. He’s never overt about it, but you can see it in his eyes. Those eyes are laughing at you.

That bothers you doesn’t it? You lay awake at night, your hands aching and bleeding and the idea of that smirk of his gnaws at you like a rat trying to gnaw its way out of your intestines.

I don’t mean to meddle in your affairs, but if you hate him so much, why not kill him? After all, we both know you’ve killed before.

You have to be discreet though. You’re almost three quarters of the way though the wall. If they suspect you’ve killed him they’ll move you to solitary confinement, maybe even take a closer look at the cell. It has to look like an accident.

I’ve noticed this Glass Man character has asthma real bad. Maybe a touch of sleep apnea too. How hard would they look if he had an attack in the middle of the night? Asphyxiation is asphyxiation, no matter how you slice it. But still, there’s a chance the autopsy might turn up something untoward.

There’s another way though. The Glass Man has a habit. Some kind of drug, you’re not sure exactly what; that was never your vice. Cut with the right cleaning chemicals that stuff could turn deadly really quick. And who’s going to point the finger of blame at you for cutting whatever prison dope he’s doing with industrial strength bleach?

If you choose strangulation turn to Page 10

If you poison the Glass Man turn to Page 13

 

Page 7

Carlos doesn’t trust you at first. Why should he? But you have…ways of making yourself useful.

Carlos’s little prison cult has enemies. And by coincidence one of the worst of them meets an untimely end when a whole avocado is shoved down his windpipe like a cork. Accidents will happen. And you make it very clear to Carlos that you’re the kind of man who can make them happen.

So eventually Carlos brings you on board. You can tell he still doesn’t like you, but at the very least he knows you won’t rat him out.

The pieces are slowly falling into place. The way it will go down is this: When Carlos’s guys get the word they’re going to rush the guards all at once. None of the guards inside the prison have guns, but they do carry non-lethal take-down devices like mace and stun guns, and the plan is to take those and turn them on anyone who tries to resist. Some of the guards have been paid off by Carlos’s crew on the outside to open the first set of doors during the confusion letting Carlos’s chosen few, including you, through into the next layer of security.

While all this is going on, Carlos’s guys on the outside will roll up like cavalry and take out the outer perimeter of guards, opening the gates and letting you through.

I suspect he thinks you’ll get caught in the crossfire and he’ll be done with you, but he doesn’t know you like I do. You’re harder to get rid of then that aren’t you?

When the day comes your hands are covered in blood. The riot within the prison goes off without a hitch, and you breach the first door with no problems. By now the other guys are looking at you with the respect that only fear can inspire. Even Carlos looks a little shaken by the carnage your hands have wrought.

But this is the part where things go wrong. Because you can hear the gunfire from outside the second door and it doesn’t sound like things are going your way. Carlos’s men have been overrun, their assault a failure. And now the guards outside are calling reinforcements.

Carlos looks ready to throw in the towel. But the way you figure it, maybe there’s still a way to turn this defeat into a victory.

You can kill Carlos and his men. They’re not expecting it, and they’re weak and tired and defeated. For someone like you it would be easy enough. Then you can take advantage of the chaos in the confusion and try to find a way out when the good guys finally crack open the can to see the sardines inside.

Your other option is to advise Carlos to take hostages. The man’s a little dazed right now, but you think this is the kind of plan he would go for. Maybe you can negotiate your way out of here.

If you kill Carlos and his men Turn to Page 17

If you decide to negotiate turn to Page 23

 

Page 10

This is how you like to work, up close and personal. You wait until night time, mentally count off the seconds after the guard passes and then you’re up, folding your blanket into a square dropping down next to the gently snoring Glass Man. He wakes when you put the blanket over his face, but you’re ready for him and soon his struggles fade away and he lays limp under you. You hold the blanket there for almost a minute longer, just to be sure. And just as you’re about to pull it away you feel Glass Man twitch a little. Probably just nerves, but just to be sure you press the blanket down tighter.

It doesn’t help. The twitching continues and it’s wrong somehow. Not like the twitching of muscles at all, but a kind of writhing motion as if something were moving under the Glass Man’s skin. You pull away, partly in confusion, mostly in curiosity. And that’s when you see that there is something moving under Glass Man’s skin. Something pushing out and twisting and writhing just beneath his slack facial features making them bulge into something monstrous and unearthly.

You jump back in terror and that’s when you see his whole body is moving in a way that shouldn’t be possible, twisting and bending as if there were no bones in him at all, just a human-shaped meatsack full of…full of what exactly?

And then you have your answer. Because one of them starts to crawl out from between the Glass Man’s dead blue lips, a worm-like creature with hideously pale skin and a body segmented like a nightcrawler, but far too large to be any normal earthworm. It’s so thick that as it emerges the Glass Man’s mouth starts to split further open, and a tear in his skin appears as two more of the hideous worms emerge from his face. Then the tear opens down the length of him like a zipper and hundreds of the hideous things pour out.

You back away, babbling gibberish, your mind trying to correlate what your eyes are seeing and failing. The worms tumble toward you in a terrifying white writhing mass, leaving the Glass Man’s skin lying on the bed like a discarded pile of clothes. You try to run, but there is nowhere to run. You try to scream, but no one comes to your aide. The the worms are on you, climbing up your legs, your arms, their slimy slippery skin sliding over yours. You open your mouth to scream and suddenly one of them is inside of you. You try to bite down, but the translucent white skin is surprisingly tough, and you feel the thick worm cutting off your own air supply, splitting the lining of your throat with its thickness and something inside of you is burning burning burning.

Turn to Page 57

 

Page 13

It isn’t easy, but you manage to get your hands on the right concoction of chemicals. Then one night when the Glass Man is sleeping you drip the poison ever so carefully into his slightly open mouth. He sucks down the sweet tasting stuff without stirring. When you’ve given him the full dose you wipe the dropper clean of fingerprints and toss it out through the cell bars.

You sleep well that night, knowing the Glass Man is dead. You wake refreshed and ready to take on the new day with all of its potential and problems.

You’re hungry after the night’s work and you wait for the guard to open the cell so you can go to the mess hall, but after an hour your stomach is still grumbling. You bang on the bars and try to get someones attention, but no one notices you. You try again, louder this time, right in a passing guard’s ear, but he doesn’t react, not even to tell you to shut up. Almost as if he hadn’t heard you at all.

More time passes, it’s difficult to say exactly how much. You’re really hungry now, and you’re ready for someone to take Glass Man’s body out of your cell. You try yelling that he’s dead, but even that doesn’t do the trick.

A whole day passes. And then another.

You’re beyond worry now. You’re infuriated and confused and a little bit scared. Glass Man is starting to smell and you still haven’t eaten and you can’t understand what has happened. It is as if the world has forgotten you exist.

With hunger gnawing at your belly you do the only thing you can do. You start work on the hole in the wall.

Its easier going now for some reason. The concrete comes away in chunks and the rebar seems to be rusting into dust; no one interrupts to ask what you’re doing. Before long you’ve broken through to the other side. You can’t fit through yet, but you can see that instead of the kitchen there is daylight beyond the break. You don’t understand, but you keep digging until at last the hole is big enough for you to fit through. You scrape through and crawl out on the other side.

You look back at the hole you’ve crawled through, and you see a stone wall about shoulder high that stretches from one horizon to another.

The world around you is grey. Almost colorless. There is no grass. No trees. Seemingly no life of any kind. With hunger filling your mind you start to walk through the dead landscape.

It doesn’t matter how long you walk. The weak sun never sets. One step leads to another and another and another. Do you walk forever? Who can say?

The only thing certain is this: when you finally reach the end of your journey you find me waiting. You’re already emaciated, shriveled up into a stick man, but somehow still alive thanks to me. You beg me for mercy. You beg me to die. But I only smile. And tell you to keep walking.

Turn to Page 57

 

Page 17

After all the blood you’ve shed, what’s a little more? It goes off easy, easier than you expect. You take out Carlos first, and without leadership the rest fall quick and easy, snapped necks, eyes gouged out, fingers bent broken backward. You know all the pressure points, all the weak spots. You know how fragile the human body is.

Then you lock yourself in and wait. You’re good at waiting aren’t you?

But there in the darkness you find that all is not quite silent. A voice is whispering. At first you think it must be your imagination, but no, the longer you listen, but more you are certain that there is someone else in here with you.

Someone left alive? It’s not impossible. But you know from firsthand experience that the will to live can be a powerful thing. You go walking among the dead men, searching for the one that doesn’t belong. At last you find him.

Carlos.

He shouldn’t be alive. His neck is at an awful angle and one of his eyes is gone, but somehow he’s still moving. He’s muttering something under his breath; even now it’s difficult to hear, but you’re pretty certain it isn’t English. It doesn’t sound like any language you’ve ever heard. The syllables are wrong somehow. There aren’t enough vowels. It’s almost a guttural clicking.

He’s moving too, not very much, but his left hand, the one with the pyramid tattoo, is outstretched, finger trembling, scrawling something in the ink of his own blood. It hurts your eyes to look at the figure he’s traced and it isn’t just because of the low light. The angles don’t seem to add up the way your brain tells you they should.

You’re ready to stamp the life out of him when suddenly the finger goes limp, the throat seizes in a final guttural utterance and the man is well and truly dead.

Silence falls again, but this time it is so complete you can hardly stand it. You try to speak, but though your lips move no words come out. It as if the air has been sucked out of the room and replaced with something else. Then, from the darkest corner of the room comes the merest suggestion of movement. You would swear you’ve heard nothing, the shadows are too dark to see and yet you are certain something is moving in that silent darkness.

Something is approaching.

You see the glisten of the red light on its wet skin before anything else. Pale, white flesh the color of death. You know that color don’t you? The eyes…there are no eyes. Just a blank expanse of pale whiteness stretching down over a featureless forehead until a meets with the horizontal gash that must be the thing’s mouth. There are teeth, so man needle-like teeth, like the teeth of some creeping thing from far beneath the ocean where the sunlight never shines. It steps toward you, terrible mouth gaping, webbed hands grasping, and for the first time in your life you understand what fear is.

Turn to page 57

 

Page 23

“There’s a still a way out of this,” you tell Carlos, pointing to the guards.

He nods, as if in understanding, and starts barking orders to his men in Spanish. They take the trussed up guards and lay them out like sticks on a long table. Then one of the men brings a rolling mop bucket from a storage closet.

Before you can ask Carlos what is going on his men start cutting the guard’s throats, one at a time, draining their blood into the mop bucket.

Horrified you hiss to Carlos, “What are you doing? Those men were our only bargaining chip!”

Carlos smiles and says, “Wait and see my friend.”

The last few guards try to fight or get away, but their escape is quickly cut off by Carlos’s men who finish the butchery with a ruthless efficiency that impresses even you.

You don’t have time to ask questions though because Carlos has poured out an abandoned coffee mug and is dipping it into the bucket of blood passing it to one man after another. Each drinks from the cup without hesitation, until Carlos comes to you. He offers you the cup and you recoil in terror.

“Are you crazy?” you sputter, still trying to process what is going on. “I’m not drinking that!”

“Take the cup, brother, and be reborn.”

You stagger back from him in shock and terror and he gives you a pitying look before passing on to the next man. Last of all Carlos himself drinks. Then he bows his head and speaks a few words. They aren’t Spanish this time, but some other tongue that sounds sweet and melodious, almost like singing. Almost instantaneous the words have an effect on the men who drank of the bloody cup.

They scream and writhe in a fusion of pain and ecstasy. You shrink back into a corner, but none of them seem to take any notice of you. Carlos goes on intoning those beautiful terrible words, and as the pitch of his speech rises, the men begin to tear at their own skin, scraping with fingernails, cutting with makeshift knifes, tearing and ripping with their own teeth.

You expect to see more blood, but instead the skin sloughs off like loose fitting clothing revealing something black and shining underneath.

Slowly, the creatures beneath the skin are revealed, insectile monsters with segmented plates covering their bodies. But the heads are the worst. They’re covered in multiple eyes, but not like the eyes of a fly. Instead, staring out at irregular interval around the misshapen cranial plates are a variety of human eyes, differing in color and shape, and somehow all of them seem to be staring at you.

At last Carlos is done speaking and his own exterior falls away revealing a creature of roughly the same  composition but with strange runes running along the chitinous armor that covers his impossible form.

The creatures join together in a rough circle and begin to wail together in that haunting inhuman tongue. You can hear the men outside trying to break through, but before they can breach the door something happens in the middle of the circle. A black circle opens in the air, growing until it envelops the circle of strange creatures expanding outward until it passes through you. And as the circle of darkness passes you, you find yourself transported to an alien landscape. The terrain stretches out in all directions, strange and lumpy, and at intervals thin grey stalks protrude upward into the dark sky waving like hairs on the exoskeleton of some enormous insect. And in that sky glows a green star that casts the whole landscape in an unearthly pallor.

You gasp in terror and the air of the world burns at your lungs and throat like acid. You fall to the ground retching and coughing until the dark light fades from your eyes.

Turn to Page 57

 

Page 43

The ruin of the prison smolders behind you, and you, indomitable, implacable walk away from the ruins of that place.

You walk for a long time, until the night rises and the stars reign in the sky again. And somewhere in the dark away from all human eyes you unfurl your wings and rise slowly, silently into the air.

This is your triumph, sweet and serene. And I will never let you find it.

The End

 

Page 57

This is what you deserve.

But it isn’t enough. Not to pay for what you did to me. Not to pay for hiding it for so long. Not for wearing the mask of a good, righteous, moral person while your heart crawled with wickedness.

It isn’t enough.

Turn to Page 1

 

 

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4 Comments

  1. The writing is good, verging on really good. And the story concept is clever and well constructed, especially page 43, and I really ought to like this but…

    Actually, the heck with my childhood “choose your own adventure” issues. This is clever, well constructed, the concept made me kick things but I read it anyway and I enjoyed it.

    Kudos to Al for coming up with another creative angle on a writing prompt.

  2. Ha, very clever ending. Or rather a clever NOT ending. I played the game, and went through the story every possible way, and tried and tried to get to page 43 where I knew the story ended, but just COULDN’T make it there for some reason! lol Once I scrolled up and down a few times and verified there was no way to reach page 43 I just read it, like I knew I was expected to eventually. And the last line explained all my frustration away. Well done. And well-written.

    My only suggestion is, it would have been interesting if there was a common, deeper thread interconnecting all the scenes besides just a nightmare of worms and bugs. Something that would have allowed me to know who the narrator truly was, why he was torturing me for eternity, and how we both ended up in that prison in the first place… I’m going to assume it was Satan or some similar type of character, and this was/is Hell, but if that’s right, more imagery or subtle items scattered throughout the story along those lines would have tied it all together nicely. 🙂

  3. I mean, what to say here that hasn’t already been said. Al told me early on in the week that he was going to write a CYOA story, which led to all sorts of ponderings on my end while I waited for it. And then this shows up.

    At first I thought it was a neat idea, and I was having fun with it at first. And then the turn came. And this…I mean this is some nightmare fuel here. Every iteration of things going bonkers was effectively creepy and even when I was prepared for them they still made me squirm.

    And then the real mind-fuck was glossing over the happy ending and realizing that you were never allowed to get to it.

    A really amazing use of this idea and the prompt…though technically we are forever stuck in prison and the prompt was supposed to provide an escape.

    Also, as other have said, this is so good but it’s just somehow shy of solidifying. Some hint as to what “we” as the character had done, or some way of showing how it all inter-related or something. I don’t know. If it was easy to pinpoint what je ne sais quoi was needed then this writing thing would be easy.

    All in all though a great journey of a story.

  4. Jon Jones (@dvwhat)

    Bravo, Mr. Berg. This was completely unexpected, and very entertaining. I followed each thread of the story, as it turned back on itself and took me on journey after journey, through surreal and desperate entanglements, coming finally to the realization that I would never escape to page 43. Very clever and fun stuff.

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