The Death(s) of Dan O'Brien

He wrenched in invisible flame, which flared from the vise that held him, that scalded him while leaving no mark. 'It' watched on, his tormenter, a dark presence with no clear face, only a void from which sprawled dozens of gnarled limbs, tentacles and probosces. Only a voice, a mocking laugh, one familiar, but twisted, demented by time and by suffering.

                "Never will you wake from this, but…”

                These suppurating limbs enveloped him, caressing the flesh left free and unmolested by the vise.

                "…you will become accustomed. Even as we hurt you more and more."

                The limbs touching him bled acid, and as lesions budded on his skin, he screamed louder and louder. This death was not the ecstasy he imagined. His heart raced, and as he bled, and as more damage was done to him, it finally slowed.

                "Soon this dance begins in earnest. Die now, but not for real. Not yet…"

                And with a scream, and a paradoxical smile, the victim-to-be awoke. Words chasing him back to the world.

                “Remember, this is not a dream.”


                His guide left him at the lip of the valley, unwilling to even cross a foot into its shadows.

                "I go no further."

                Dan did not reply, only matching the Sherpa’s fretful gaze with his steely one. This was always a journey he meant to make alone.

"One is not to travel in this wasteland before their time. Only fools… only the dead embrace this path."

                The look in his dark eyes made it clear which he felt Dan to be. And without a word, Dan left the man who—though not even touching the Valley’s darkness was yet quaking—behind in the sun.


The further Dan descended into Shadow Valley, the more desert it became, and the more death surrounded him. He walked through its shade, but felt no evil, despite the fact that he bore no protection and sought no benediction from God. He did not fear, Perdition was what he hunted. Oblivion was what he craved. He lusted, not after the idle wasting endured by most men and women, but the pinnacle of suffering. One that would be worthy of the path we all carve towards the black. Here, among the nether-creatures flitting at the edges of his vision, betwixt the skeletal plants grasping at his tow-hair, in the hot sand swallowing him down to his ankles, blistering his pale, cracking skin, he sought a torture to surpass all others. His entire life he wished for little else.

                Ever since his childhood, the world's pleasures were ashes in his mouth. Dan instead found stimulation in destruction: of the self and of others. When he was six, he burned his hand against a pan and felt a thrill like nothing he knew. Months after, a speeding car struck a dog right in front of him. And did not stop nor slow to see the life it had ended. He knelt by the whining, trembling thing as it bled out on the road, touching the creature as it shuddered and then went still. The world opened, and he saw Earth's throbbing heart: a rotten thing. Blood seeped from its festering sides, black and bitter. It was all he could do to stop himself from taking a bite and luxuriating on the road with the taste of death on his lips.

                His Mom found him and, misinterpreting the distant look in his eyes, ran to his aid.

                "Oh, honey…" She said then, "Don’t look. You are too young. Don’t look.”

                She hugged him, missing the smile that creased his lips as his eyes never left the roadkill carcass. He envied that dog and dreamed of surpassing it. The heights of pain that might be achieved, he had only tasted them. Depravity’s depths, he dipped mere toes in its surface. He knew, deep beneath that rippling pond lay a monster who might show him who he truly was. Then began the dreams, the beckoning fiend and exquisite anguish.

                Even above the ruin of others, his own end fascinated him. A gory prophecy visited him night in and night out. His self, naked and flayed upon some strange creature's altar. Garish devices with designs on discomfort spilling his blood into a trough illustrated by the grotesque. One truth became clear: no simple man could bring him the death he sought. The idea of being felled by some disease or mortal killer horrified the boy. He needed to find one from beyond. One who transcended. The multi-limbed horror that skinned him again and again in his dreams.

                And so he sought, in rumor and legend, hints of the thing that seduced and promised unholy excoriation. Years of seeking, of fruitless wandering, of unfulfilled promised, finally lead him here, to Shadow Valley, deep in a desert in the center of a nation the world forgot.

He looked up to where once spread the sky, but he had traveled so far, plumbed so deeply, that where he stood now was more a chasm than a valley. Instead of the sky, there was a single gray streak, swallowed on either side by walls of rock and sand. Dan left life far behind—even the thorny flowered plants, even the nether-creatures—abandoned the land he trespassed now.

                In the distance a heart beat… thud… thud… a clear sign he grew closer to his end. An end worth experiencing was nigh at hand. Here crowed the telltale heart of his destruction. And here he hesitated for this first time, where fear first nibbled. Before now it had all been an unrealized fantasy. But this was the threshold, beyond there lay monsters and no possibility of return.

                Dan frowned as he descended, on his lips echoed the metal taste of that dog's blood, the poor son of a bitch. You passed beyond all those years ago, Dan. He told himself. There is nowhere to turn back to.

                Remember… this is not a dream.

                The cavern he entered was no natural formation. He passed beneath beveled arches, sloping downward at the same rate as the staircase. There was no handle, but despite his hesitation, Dan's every step fell true as he sank further into the dark. The blackness, omnipresent shadow, swallowed him whole. The maw of a fearsome beast whose body was the valley floor. Its heartbeat the one he heard before. Passing through its belly, he felt the pulse all around rattling his bones. Its pace matched his own.

                Underneath his hands, which he extended to each wall to orient himself, he traced over an alien design. Letters unlike any he knew were carved into the stone. The light was faint, too faint to read this bizarre screed, but not entirely gone. Its source was not obvious. The steps carried him far beneath the valley floor, far beyond the reach of any sun or torch he could see, yet there remained just enough for him to see the step in front of him, then the step after that, and after that…

                Finally he reached the bottom, and the arches above his head ballooned in all directions, expanding into an atrium with a ceiling hundreds of feet high. The arches blossomed, creating an intricate design on a dome more ornate than the finest Catholic chapel. Suffice to say, his hands could no longer touch either wall. The roof rose past his sight, and, aside from the first few feet, the rest of the cupola before him lay veiled by shadow. Dan's imagination preyed upon him, and he thought of the darkness as a singular organism, the father-mother of the beasts who beset him on his descent into this Shadow Valley.

                Not quite…

                Dan leapt at the voice, his heart exploding in his chest. Fear bloomed in his soul, leeching its strength from his assuredness, foisting aside his confident façade with a wave of its yellow hand. Here it was, he knew that voice, a twisted, magnified parrot of his own. There in the darkness lay the beast destined to consume him.

                “Who’s there?” He asked, anxious and aroused in equal measure.

                We are those beyond life… or death. We transcend it.

                The darkness cleaved, collapsed, molded into a writhing form. It shrunk until it sat at the room's center. A black hole from which all light fled. Dan sensed in it a malevolent intelligence, and though he saw no eyes, only a countless sprawl of limbs, he knew it watched him. Probing his thoughts with a cruel incisiveness, before it he felt himself stripped bare and his masochistic intent exposed.

                Whispering more to himself than the presence which revealed itself, Dan said, “Long I have dreamed of this.”

                You wished to be… like us?

                Some force lifted the young man from his feet and dragged him through the air towards the blackness in the heart of the valley’s vault. The… creature inspected him in silence.

                You wish to know our pain.

                These were no longer questions. It had his measure, had read the depths of his soul. As he grew closer, he saw the spasmodic movements of its many limbs and other unidentifiable appendages, thrashing about its black, misty body with incredible force. What would one do to him if it touched him? He shuddered at the thought, from fear… and from excitement, filled with hope that here was an end worth suffering. One that might transform him into something more than dust, than another mere human forgotten in some distant, swirling eddy of time.

                He swallowed his doubt and answered. “I wish to know a death worth the trial of dying.”

                The cavern quaked, a low trebling sound that might be a laugh reverberated from the unknown being’s dark center.

                Worth? There is no worthiness in death. There is only passing, and passing, and passing, but if you desire knowledge of what one becomes in our hands. Then we will show you.

                Dan gulped, but nodded, he had traveled too far, had searched for too long, to deny himself the truth once found.

                We will show you…

                And it began.

                With sudden alacrity, the black tentacles whipped themselves around Dan’s torso, crushing him. His bones cracked and shattered, and yet as they did so they healed, then shattered again. Shards from the old bones burrowed deeper into his muscle and organs. He screamed, and choked and coughed up pools of blood blacker than he remembered. And eventually his heart slowed and stopped.

The beast spoke an all too familiar mantra.

                Die now, but not for real, not yet…

                He woke, weak and weeping, but could not rest for long. Other limbs caressed him, bleeding a brackish substance, and as it rained on his skin it burned. Blisters shot across his bleeding husk and he gibbered and moaned and regretted every step that had brought him to this place. His scalp sloughed from his skull and, scrabbling against the unforgiving ground, he once again died.

                Not yet…

                Alive again, his hands and feet were immediately bound by restraints he could not see. Though his eyes were much weakened by the hardship he had already endured. Invisible flames leapt from this invisible vise and lanced, not his outside but his innards, leaving no obvious mark. He felt his intestines curdle and his liver explode and he begged wordlessly for the end. His eyes lolled in his head and he went still.

                Not yet…

                His eyes opened, and, before hell descended on him once more, he yelped for mercy: “Please! Please! I was… I was a fool. I did not understand what it is I thought I wanted.”

                But you dreamed of this day for decades. Did you not?

                “All lies, my desires, they were all lies,” Dan panted, deranged by suffering. “I beg of you. Have pity on this harangued soul.”

                It is too late. Our only way out is through. Become accustomed, only then can you be free. The only escape lies in turning in the gyre, from the falcon leashed on the glove to… the one who unleashes.

                “No. No more. No more!” Dan squeezed his eyes shut and willed that this trial would end, prayed that this was all just a horrible dream. He would open his eyes and be a child again, all those years in the interim but a long, terrible nightmare.

                You are almost finished. We are almost free.

                The tentacles and probosces, the dripping appendages and cancerous limbs wrapped themselves one by one around Dan’s prone form, dragging him towards the dusky abyss that birthed them.

                Welcome, Dan O’Brien. Open your eyes.

                Inch by inch he approached the end he had sought, but never fully understood. Now he did and one truth remained: his quest, his entire life, had been a fool’s errand.

                “Wake up Dan, come on, wake up!” He struggled with all his dwindling might, to no avail.

                The darkness had him.

                Remember, this is not-

                Dan opened his eyes, and at first did not recognize his surroundings. A child’s room, before him snored a slumbering boy. Still and untroubled. But he could feel somehow, the lust that budded in the youth for sadism and self-harm. He saw a vision of this child crouching in the road as a mongrel suffered its last moments. He saw the boy’s dreams, and his place within them. He swirled into the child’s head, caressing its dream-self, watching the lesions and pain and the cravings for pain bloom.

                And he knew what he was meant to say:

                Never will you wake from this, but…

Endless Night -- Chapter Three

Even once he enters the room, even once he chooses the method of punishment, the Inquisitor does not begin right away. Every moment is extended, such torture, such desire. He walks around his bound suspect, teasing. Weapon of choice lingering on his flesh but not biting, not yet.

            “You’ve been a naughty one.” Not a question, but a fact.


            “And you want to be punished.” Again, just a fact.


            And suddenly the cat o’nine whips out, striking Rodgers on the leg, just his leg. He flinches, but does not scream. It is painful, but not too painful. Pleasure quickly dwarfs the sting. His blood rushes. Endorphins flow. And he leaks even more.

            “Now, now, we’re just getting started. You can’t finish so soon.”

            “Yessir. I’m sorry sir.”

            “You’re going to tell me everything you know. What you want… what you don’t want. You’re going to beg for release"

And if you’re good, I just might give it to you.”

            Rodgers waited. And in the hours that passed he wet himself. He held on for as long as he could, but eventually, despite his best efforts, stinging warmth dampened his legs, his cheeks, his spirits. And yet the torture had not even begun. And yet the sharp, gleaming tools waited in the dim, unused. The depravity they hinted at might have excited him in any other context, but not that night. That night, no consideration would be given to his needs, to further exploration of his dark masochist. They would only be used to take, and take, until nothing endured but what he knew.

Until only a traitor remained.

Eventually the door creaked open, throwing a sliver of light onto the journalist. A young man threw buckets of water over him until Rodgers thought he might drown in the cascading torrent. The Inquisitor would come soon, he knew. They wanted him disoriented and pliable. They wanted him desperate. They wanted him to spill all he knew, before anyone noticed he was missing. Despite his desperation, he had to remember. He too had leverage. A well regarded editor, a popular columnist. His disappearance would be noted before long.

            And perhaps, if I’m lucky, he'll be the one to… he always said he was the best. If they have any inkling of what I know, they’ll want the best.

            And the best, at least a part of him, belongs to me.

            The door opened. The small lithe shadow darted in once more, disappearing in the blackness as the iron door shut behind him. From that blackness, a torrent of water washes away Rodgers sin, the sodding stench of urine.

            "The Inquisitor comes soon, prisoner," A mousy voice chides him, "He wants you ready. Are you ready to be made clean?"

            Rodgers closed his eyes, muttering a silent prayer to the forgotten Gods of this land. The Mistress, the Maiden, the Lord, Gods of chastity and passion who encompassed all of man. Who loved them despite their sins, because of their sins, who existed on the fringes of a monarchy that would deify its line. But men and women die. These Gods endured, even when they were forgotten, they lived. In the throes passion we still called to them. He smiled.

            Lord protect me. Mistress please maiden. Maiden absolve me. I stand before you a chastened man. Let me stand before them, let me be strong, let me say nothing until the time is right.

            "I am already clean, young one."

            Instead of leaving after dousing Rodgers, as he had done the many times before, Parsons, the Inquisitor's apprentice, walked up to the bound suspect. Regarding his naked form in the lowlight, Parson caressed Rodger's thigh. And, despite himself, he swelled at the ministration.

            "I can see your sin traitor," He sniffed, the washings-cum-waterboardings had not fully washed away urine's scent or fear's stench. "I can smell it."

            Parsons tilted Rodger's head upwards until their noses almost touched. "Nothing about you is pure."

And behind the apprentice, the door opened. Into the dark slid a masked, berobed figure. The mask had a long, curved nose, two sunken black eyes that beckoned like bottomless pits. He stood in the doorway, blocking the light like an eclipse. It surrounded the Inquisitor’s dark frame like a halo. Then he entered, approaching the tray of tools. His slinking gait looked so… familiar.

            Could it be? Could it be?

            "Thank you squire." The Inquisitor nodded his head toward the door, indicating that Parsons should leave he and Chuy to the dark. Parsons turned to leave, but before exiting, he leered in the light cast through the open door.

            "He will make you name your sins, traitor. You will cry them out like you cry the name of your favorite whore. You will go to the noose, clean at last."

            The door slammed shut behind him. Like a death knell, like the turned back of God, leaving him in darkness and, so Parsons thought, hopelessness.

            But Rodgers knew. Where there was still breath, there was always another chance.

            The Inquisitor lit a candle, and his shadow flickering behind him made him even more inhuman, his form shifting, growing, shrinking on the wall behind him. Like what Rodgers saw merely hid what truly stood there. A monster in the Wolf's cloth.   

            “Rodgers, Chuy Rodgers, editor of Truth to Power, 'voice' of the people. Here you are in our grasp.” The voice, filtered by the mask, sounded obscured and unnatural. But it was unmistakable. Rodgers smiled, here lay hope. Here lay his escape.

            Leverage. I have leverage. Oh Tomas, it has been too long.

            “Wh-what do you want with me Inquisitor?” He continued to play the fool, and the fear trembling his voice was not all a lie. His life still dangled by a thread, a thread wrapped around his neck. All it would take is the slightest fall. All he had to bet was that… Tomas, yes it was Tomas, was under strict orders not to end him here and now.

            He had to play the game just right. There was enough rope for both their necks.

            What I know is too important. He told himself, with less conviction than before. They will not let him end me. He must make me talk, and what I might

            “It stinks of your piss in here Rodgers. How far are you willing to go to defend the acts of terrorists?”

            “I know no terrorists, Inquisitor.”

            “Freedom fighters then, whatever you call them. We know you know them, and what they’re planning. You've advocated on their behalf for too long. We've heard too many whispers. Make no mistake, we will find out what you know. What you must endure beforehand... well that is up to you.” The rough hands traced the blades, the cudgels, the electric instruments of coaxing. Rodgers struggled mightily to swallow his apprehension.

            “We both know things, Inquisitor. They say knowledge is power, and power… power is dangerous to both the wielded and the weld.”

            This gave the masked man the slightest pause. Does he know? Know who I am? He must be wondering thus, he must. Will he tell?

            But he paused only slightly, and as his hands caressed his toys of the trade, they came to rest on a bronze tipped stick, silver looped handle on the other end.

            "You know what this is, don't know?" Inquisitor Tomas whispered, his own subtle acknowledgement that they knew each other.

            A picana. Oh you bastard.

            "You know I do, you already know… Tomas."

            Rodgers feels spit flecking at the corners of his mouth, though whether it is from the pain, the small welts the cat o'nine tails left behind on his thighs and chest. Or the pleasure, the pain forces him inward, scours his soul. Here he atones. For his sins he is punished, and is cleaned. He throbs, but this masked man, this master, keeps him dancing along the edge, without plummeting over into oblivion.

            "You've done well," Tomas, his guide into this torment, breathing heavily, places the multi-tailed whip back in its place on his tray, and reaches for an unassuming looking stick, tipped in bronze. The Inquisitor hooks his finger through its silver loop, swinging it around as he advances back to the bound journalist. His lover, his co-conspirator in a relationship between two men on opposite sides of the law.

            Pressing the button on its side, the stick crackles, electricity jumping between the small prongs on its tip. Rodgers lets out an involuntary moan, from anticipation? From fear? Not even he can say.

            "How far are you willing to go? What are you able to withstand, my dear? Let's find out together. Are you ready?"

            Rodgers takes a deep breath. He was too far gone to stop now, physically aroused, emotionally engaged. He nods.

            "I can't hear you… boy," The last word, though it diminished Rodgers, calling him a child, is spoken with nothing but love.

            "Yes… yes sir."