I open my eyes to the cold darkness of my cell. My pit. My home. This is truly utopia, paradise, heaven. If only because I am alone. Completely alone. I wish this moment would last forever but I know that it cannot, I know deep inside that all good things must die. This is life's only true guarantee. People are cruel, this is all I know, no one loves me: this is all I've ever been told. I've been trained to kill for entertainment, a warrior, but not by choice. I am a gladiator in the worst sense of the word. I will never gain my freedom; no matter how many I kill, no matter how many souls I crush with my sword, no matter the inflation of my steel, my shackles will never be broken. I have no friends, no family, no one to call my lover. The only relationship I will ever have is that of master and slave. King and servant, arm and sword, jury and executioner. This is all I will ever know. The only symbol that has ever meant anything to me is the thumbs up and thumbs down, life and death, the only time of contemplation I am allowed is the moment when I decide whether I will endure this prison and end a life or chose to stay my hand and let us both find the release of death. I always chose life. If only for this moment, if only for this one moment in my cell every day, if only for the brief reprieve from the war of my life. Now though heaven must end, utopia must die. For this is life's only guarantee.
I let out a guttural growl as the door to my cage is opened, I don't like visitors, I don't like people, and people don't like me. I wish that this war would end, but I know I'm not a redeemed man, and though my time in my cell is peace for me now I know that in fire I will not feel the same. The licks of the fire dancing in the inner circles would greatly change my perspective, the screams of thieves and rapists and murders like me would only add to the torture. And more than anything I refuse to give the demons a reason to celebrate being in their pit, because unlike mine their pit isn't bliss, it's dread. They don't find relief in the dark confines of their cells, unlike me they only find pain; unlike me they find delight when their swords strike down on their targets. Unlike me their pit isn't utopia, it's only hell. All they feel, because unlike me they deserve their fate, is the heat of the screams of those they slash and burn at the stake. But like me they are murderers, adulterers, liars, fiends, and destroyers. And so like me they are warriors, and so like me they fight a losing battle against an almighty God, so like me they look to the heavens in contempt, so like me they raise their fists in rage against a God they once knew, and so like me they cannot be forgiven.
"Get up Dog!" My Enforcer yells, he is the one my master sends to make sure I stay true to him. By now though I don't even feel it when he kicks me, when he screams the foulest curses I do not hear them, I've come to expect the unearned lashes from a whip that is stained with my blood. I do not understand why God hates me, why he would condemn me to live this in this life only to be tortured after death. I can only help but think that He has a reserved spot for me in the deep. I can only think that I wouldn't blame him if He does, because I should be punished for all I've done, but at the same time, it's not my fault. He did this to me. He's the reason I'm like this. I had a family once, when I was a child, but then He took them away. And I hate Him for it.
I feel the sting of the club of my enforcer that I have become accustomed to. He calls it his 'joystick' surely only to be counted as misnomer by those who feel its cold steel on their backs. This name is meant to make us fear him, of this I am certain, but for me, this will never work; I will never submit to him, because I know that he is afraid of me, as well he should be. I am the enforcer; my hands will strike him down. No matter what my master thinks, no matter what precautions God has taken to ensure that I suffer until death as well as after it, I will not submit to the wishes of those around me, because I am the powerful one, if I wasn't they wouldn't try to keep me down. But for now I just take it, the lashes, and the abuse knowing full well that one day he will be at the end of my rod, one day I will watch my master be lashed with a whip of thorns, one day, when I am in control.
I grit my teeth as my own blood soaks my back, as the thin lines in my skin open up to a torrent of endless red. The whip, the club, I do not try to compare them together, I only compare them to the hang. Suddenly the lashes stop and I am ordered to turn around, an order which I consider disobeying, after all, the compound that they keep me in isn't exactly well guarded, there are massive gaps in the fences and no guards that I have ever seen, just my enforcer. I might be able to run for it, but it would serve me no purpose; they don't need guards, they know that I will never risk running into the vast encampment of desert that surrounds me, they know that I would choose food over freedom, life over death and hell. So I turn around to look my enforcer in the eyes, and I know that he knows that I have contemplated running in this moment, as I do every time he whips me, every time he beats me, I know and realize that I could overtake him, and he knows this as well, but he also knows something that gives him power over me; he knows that I will not bite the hand that feeds.
I feel the heat of the desert sun beating down on my skin, the burn of its rays slowly eating away at all of my will power and strength to keep going. I must be evil, all the green plants that I used to know loved the sunlight, the little children in a village in which I used to reside, they all love the sunlight, need the sunlight. Me, I despise the sunlight, it saps my energy, my life, until I would rather die, than endure this prison, this cage. I long to be set free. And so I will be.
My blade comes down on my opponent's blade, knocking him to the ground, sealing his fate. My master does not care if this is training, and I know which way his thumb would go, so I kill the man while he is down.
His blood runs red on the desert sand; staining the ground. He will never see his family, he will never know his paradise, he will wake and be like me, or worse. I take pride in the fact that his pit will not be like mine, his pit will be torture.
"Slave!" My enforcer yells at me, even if I had a name I am sure he would still use a derogatory one, "Who told you to kill that man? Where is your master, because I knew it was not me who gave you the signal." My enforcer asks rhetorically; he knows my master is not around, but he also knows that my master would have approved my decision, although I know that I still should have let the battle continue because now my master will not side with me, for he never does; my master never sides with me unless I follow his exact orders. My master's ego will not allow him to admit that someone else was right.
I duck my head bracing, but his blow never comes. When I look up I see a man standing over me, robed in white, "Follow me," the strange man grunts at me. But where was my enforcer? Was he dead? Was he being tortured as he had tortured me?
When I come down from cloud nine I realize that the man is walking away, toward the gates, and there is no one to stop him. Does he know something I don't, or maybe worse he doesn't realize that we're in the middle of a desert. Suddenly I find myself chasing him; quickly filled with compassion I didn't know I still had, I haven't felt this way since God killed my hope, since my children and dear little Johanna, my sweet loving Johanna, were taken from me. Now I will never be the same.
So I follow him, into the barren waste land, into the wild and cast aside all my fears. And follow the stranger like a lost and cold child.
"Sir!" I scream out to the wilderness but he is gone. How could he be gone already? I was only a moment behind him.
There's a shadow in the distance; that can't be him, no one could get that far that fast unless… I push the thought from my mind because it's so outrageous.
Even though I know it can't be him because it's just too far, I still call out, still wander trying to find him, that man who showed me freedom, the first taste I've had of it in years, because even though this is the desert and I'm destined to die alone out here at least it will be alone, not by the hand of the master, I'll die on my terms, my way, on no one else's dime, I die because I say it's okay, I'm the king, I'm the master, no one else is, just me. So I follow him, not caring if I die anymore, because I'm the only god that I need in my life, the only king to ever sit on thrones on high, no one will ever dethrone me, because I am Master.
I forget where I am for a moment as I contemplate the kingdom of my mind, forget that I am about to die, forget that I lost my sweet Johanna and my children. I take a moment to forget that I am not a god, and that I am completely at the mercy of God. Yes, I take the moment to forget that my cell below will not be pleasant and that the only way I will not find hell today is if the God above chooses to have it be so. All of this completely slips from my mind as I push myself deeper after the man who freed me, deep into the barren heart of the desert.
I press on for what seems like days, even though I know it can only be hours by the sun above me. Now I notice things that seemed minutia when I first left my pit this morning: the dryness of my tongue, the vultures in the sky, the deadly beauty of the cacti, and most of all the complete and utter lack of water. As the hours pass and my life's clock is slowly winding down and my death encroaches upon me I look to the sky and in hatred curse a God in whom I no longer believe.
Even as the sun is setting the only thing that I am aware of other than my hatred is my thirst, and how water seems to hide from me. Evade me, like a rabbit evades a fox.