A peek in to the mind of the antagonist in Dead of Nyte.
The scent of cold rice roused him from sleep. Like the gentle brush of his wife when she rolled over in bed, it brought a welcomed comfort. The bowl arrived every morning before dawn and had become his only luxury. Like breathing in and out, the rice tethered him to a fragile thread of life, of sanity. It embodied his daily quest.
When the imprisonment began, he had used his fingernail to memorialize each sunrise with a hash-mark on the wooden floor of his prison, but after two years ticked by, it just didn’t matter. He had become like a circus animal. Chained by day and caged by night, he performed his mindless tasks from daylight to nightfall.
Nine years of exposure in the sweltering jungle had baked his mind to an anesthetized numbness. The macabre screams of the innocent lives he had slaughtered and the thrashing visions of his buddies’ last breathes vanished from his nightmares. The image of the three-year-old son he left crying on the front porch had long faded like an echo in a secret crevasse, yet there remained a child-sized breach in his memory that yearned to be filled.
Even though his own name retreated so far into the past it seemed of no importance to his daily existence—not worth the effort to recall— the phantom with sergeant stripes stalked day and night. The questions he asked in the beginning—intentionality, cowardice, misinformation, dereliction—had faded with the other bits of his life. But in the void, the face symbolized all his loss and gave sustenance to his present reality.
Sold and resold, stolen and re-stolen, beaten only to revive to be beaten again, if he had ever been a prisoner of war, those days were long past. He was now MIA, yet even more true, a slave who gave willing assent to whoever held the key to his coop— the faceless men who delivered the rice.
So why eat?
Reduced to the most basic human precedence, even pain by whip no longer gave witness to life. It would have been easier to acquiesce to the evidence. Release, rescue, or escape could never be attained. He should have forsaken the thought that the next marauding gang would be someone sent from home to rescue him, and not another warring tribe to seize his servitude. Death offered an almost uncontrollable appeal, yet he fought the longing with each breath. He purposed to stall its final onset because there remained one thing, one leash, one hope— the end of the cage.
He sat up, leaned his back against the familiar bars—his home—and caressed the bowl. Around him, the familiar sounds of the jungle waking for a new day—chattering vernal hanging-parrots and a couple of black crested gibbons singing their morning breeding song—filled his ears.
In his hand the only meal he would see today writhed like a bucket of snakes. He reached in with two fingers, scooped the white rice and maggots into his mouth, and savored the insipid pleasure.
Excerpt by Jearl Rugh, Featured Author Published with Permission