It was always wet in the Dark Place, although it hadn’t rained for a very long time. Victor only knew this because when it did the walls ran with foul water, which dropped down onto the gurney in a slow, sporadic rhythm, a gentle torture, ghosting his dreams with its patter.
His eyes since the start of it all had been obscured by a length of rough cloth. It had been over a year since Victor had last seen the sky, or indeed anything at all. Three hundred and eighty-five days, in fact, lest he be mistaken, which was unlikely. Victor had always possessed a scientific memory for numbers, a skill he now clung to, having little else to occupy him in petrichorous gloom.
There were, of course, his memories, also, which he watched behind his eyelids, a pitiful substitute for sight. But even the strongest of them seemed muddled, impressionistic, losing their substance to time, and the dark.
Thus it was the counting of things, first and foremost, that kept Victor from the stumbling poltergeist of madness, counting everything from the grooves on the gurney beneath him to the unpredictable number of visits his captor made to him.
These visits ranged from a neglectful few to so many that Victor would come to recklessly crave that dissociative blackness rather than hear that creature’s voice again.
But the one who kept him was clever. After any length of time alone Victor would cling to him, finding the seams of clammy palms through mere instinct.
“Please. I beg you– I am sorry– I have suffered enough–”
“Never,” the creature would reply, in disgust, yet sometimes he would allow Victor to paw blindly for him, seeming to glean a solemn entertainment from such overtures as Victor would never have extended to him, before.
Other times he would twist from Victor’s grasp and merely perform whatever task he’d come to do, each as grim a ritual as the one before it. Although there were days Victor lay in squalor the creature would, on occasion, rinse him down, the ice water broken over Victor’s flinching body joining the sodden quality of that terrible room.
The worst of it was the vile sustenance fed to him by hand, as if he were some wretched cur, begging for scraps. Indeed, street dogs likely ate better fare than Victor, yet as he sieved this nameless slop through teeth softened with decay he still opened his mouth for more.
But it was to torment him that Victor’s captor returned to the chamber the most, and through this cruel activity such tapestries of pain wove their redness through the dark.
First the one who kept him took his legs, paring each hip from its joint. A fine saw ate silverly of flesh and sinew as Victor lay in a narcotic stupor, listening dully to the music of distant thunder and grinding bone. New limbs were brought to him, or rather old; Victor smelled the sweetness of grave soil upon them still, of cool meat beginning to warm.
His body should have poisoned him in revolt against these intruders– yet the creature had thought of this, also, and had accounted for it. After each like mutilation a second pain would follow, jarring volts of power borne down through enigmatic means into Victor’s limp torso, wringing screams from him, and, from the foreign limbs, an unnatural life.
Never then did his flesh refuse these vile additions, but seemed rather to assume from them an alien vitality, writhing against their bonds with a strength that should have been far beyond the capabilities of Victor’s malnourished form.
Still, these restraints were more robust than he, and regularly maintained by his captor. Each time Victor fought he would wear himself quickly to exhaustion, and lay bathed in his own sweat, its scent indistinguishable from the moulder of standing water.
“One day,” his captor said, after a fevered night, his voice sonorous, and trembling with emotion, “one day I will remove the sash from your eyes and hold a mirror to them, so that you can see what I have made of you. Were I merciless I would abandon you, here, in your anguish, but there– I am not so cold as you, it seems. I cannot leave you. Whose heart was it you gave me, that I still care when such affections are undeserved?”
Victor clung eagerly to the sentiment, whispering hoarsely even as the creature shambled away.
“There! You have love for me! And I– I, you. I have grown to do so. If I did not cherish you at the beginning it was only my ignorance that prevented me. I have changed!”
The one who kept him paused, and for a moment Victor dared entertain a futile hope.
“Yes,” said the creature, at length. “You have changed. But it is not enough. Still you must pay for what you have done, and that debt may never be extinguished.”
Alarmed, Victor pulled at his bonds with such ferocity that the gurney creaked beneath him, but to no end. He was trapped, still, and his captor had gone away, losing interest in the harrowed plight of his victim.
Only once did the creature ever signify regret. He came in what Victor had calculated to be the night, standing over him, silent, for some time. A wetness glanced Victor’s cheek, and it was only when his captor sighed that Victor realised he was weeping.
It frightened him.
This creature was the God of this dank world, and were he to lose his grip upon it Victor would be lost entirely. Suddenly it no longer mattered that the beast had tortured him, had thieved his life as surely as a murderer.
The comfort and stable mind of this accursed being was paramount, and thus Victor spoke into the dark as softly as he would a grieving child.
“What ails you?”
The answer came with all the miserable cadence of a eulogy, so drenched was it with self pity.
“Long have I thought your pain would be a balm for mine. I confess your suffering has brought me some degree of satisfaction, but joy it has not. And no more can I think of putting an end to your abjection with the mercy of death. Merely to consider it engulfs my every sense with illness. Nothing consoles me, for now I see that I have made your mistake.”
The creature’s vast hand caressed Victor’s face, and in fearful despair he leant into that touch, feeling nothing of warmth or humanity in that slick palm.
“You see, Father,” his captor said, quietly. “When you created me you thought only to discard the life that you had endeavoured to mould, such was the magnitude of your regret. I, too, look upon my vengeful machinations with remorse- but it is from there we differ.”
The grip on Victor’s cheek tightened, its vitality threatening to shatter the cheekbone beneath the patchwork of skin and stitches.
“I confess that I cannot abandon such a labour of love,” whispered the monster. “To keep you is my burden, and my great declaration of feeling.”
But it was not love that he pronounced, after all, unless of a most insidious kind.