After my vain boasts of before I really have finished The Book of Pain. All plot holes filled and gratuitous wordiness expunged. I realised about three thirty this morning that if I didn’t call a halt I’d be doing this for the rest of my life. Thus here’s a quick sample before it’s release to Amazon and Smashwords on the 20th of Jan. No spoilers but simply an overview. It’s the longest novel I’ve ever published though not the longest I’ve ever written. That one got irretrievably lost in the bottomless pits of Volatile RAM. For those of you who don’t know what that is, just count yourselves lucky you don’t live in the eighties.
Tom Fletcher has been alive since the late seventeenth century. Throughout that interminable time food, sleep and and madness have all been denied him since that would ruin the effects of the curse which is to be his for eternity: ceaseless, unspeakable agony.
After two hundred years he discovers one final facet of the hateful punishment. He may finally rid himself of the curse and live a normal, mortal life.That opportunity comes one hundred and fifty years later. But has the ceaseless agony warped his mind enough to commit this hateful deed?
Here’s an excerpt. Not for the squeamish.
‘After being found guilty of attacking, without provocation, one of the ship’s officers, I am given no alternative but to award you the ultimate sanction for this offence.’ The curiously high pitched monologue paused as he took a breath, allowing Fletcher a moment to consider the words. “Award”. He almost laughed, but was given no opportunity as a boot crashed into his ribs. Perhaps he was not treating the situation with enough gravity, or more likely enough terror. Certainly he was not afraid, but he was curious. ‘Thus it falls on me to order you keelhauled. Marines; do your duty.’
At this final word he was grabbed again, two hands expertly fastening ropes to both wrists. With agonising pain, his legs and arms were roughly forced apart and he was dragged without ceremony to the bow of the ship, his head and various other limbs crashing painfully over several sharp protrusions on the way. The last thing he heard before the rushing of air was a slight chuckle of the evil petty officer. Then with a crash he hit the slowly pulsing sea with a sickening pain in his back.
Once the momentary disorientation and concussion of his impact passed, the vague light from the sun disappeared as he was expertly wrenched into a face-down position. With but a second to twist his head a dark shape above hove into view. The ship’s hull was huge and solid and as he was slammed into one side far below the surface, he saw it was also festooned with barnacles. With another jerk the ropes tightened around his feet and began to drag him slowly, roughly along its length. In an instant a new pain began; if possible even more incredible than anything he had thus far felt. And perhaps on cue, or probably to increase the agony, the movement stopped, but not for long. They obviously did not want to deprive him of more pain by drowning. As he was slowly towed down the rough hull the firmly fixed shells began to peel his flesh like razors; every single one tearing deeper. Within moments the skin was gone but if he had imaged that to be it then he’d been mistaken. Soon the barnacles and other shells affixed to the bottom cut past the skin and into his muscles like butter. He even felt his ribs and spine clattering over the hull. By now the pain had risen to a level his near demented mind could barely comprehend. It seemed incredible that he could suffer so much and yet still survive. But of course he would survive; the curse would never let him escape so easily.
The slow uneven dragging continued for almost five minutes as his back, legs and arms were flayed unmercifully and dark pools of blood bloomed into the murky water reflected by thin shafts of sunlight lancing into the depths. It seemed even the beasts of the sea wanted to torment him. Long thin fish just grey glints in the water, jerked forward silently, their tiny teeth nipping at small shreds of skin as they flowed past, and yet more still attached to his back.
Fletcher opened his mouth, his scream audible only to himself. He swallowed. Mouthful after mouthful of putrid water poured his lungs. He resisted the urge to cough, to vomit. Please let me die, he prayed. Let me die. Yet he did not die as the pain, his constant escort roared, eagerly tormenting him and laughing at his agony. Then just as he thought he finally would go mad, and already begged for death for the tenth time; first his legs, then the rest of him was hauled free of the water and dragged from the foam astern the giant rudder. Moments later he dropped unmercifully onto the desk, gasping, crying within a spreading pool of his own blood, urine and other stinking liquids.
Yet if he thought it was all over, he was still to endure the last course of the horrific menu. With a dull thump, he felt a thick bristle brush smearing something deeply into his ravaged back. The very instant it touched the most inconceivably horrific agony shot through his wounds, burning, scalding his body for the culmination of this awful punishment.
‘A nice bit of salt.’ A satisfied voice whispered into his ear. ‘Always like some salt with me dinner.’