I SLAMMED THE GLASS down on the wooden table before me. I flicked my wrist at the waitress that was walking by, saying simply, “Another,” in a loud voice of contempt. She nodded and quickly hurried off toward the bar, her flaxen hair flowing gracefully behind her.
The other barflies around me stared, but I continued to look ahead, a snarl on my face and a fire in my eyes. The glowing firelight from the various oil lamps throughout the room lighted my face like the sunset. The flames flickered ominously in the shadows throughout the room. The dim lighting was plentiful enough to be able to see, but dark enough to not bestow any cheer.
It was perfect. I took another puff from my cigar, the tiny embers on the end glowing a burnt orange, before slowly releasing the wispy smoke. The new glass came, and I slid the old one to join the others; a cluster of glasses that I had already drunken from. The glass clanked with a satisfactory sound as it hit the group. I took a sip from the new drink and immediately warmth flowed through my being. It was the only sort of jubilation I would have this evening: the intoxicating, inebriating liquid providing it.
It was another of those nights. A night where the nightmares emerged and the visions screamed. Forcing more guilt upon me. Relentlessly grabbing ahold of my very soul and never letting go, consuming my being. Haunting me. Devouring the life from me.
And so I drank, drank until the sorrows floated away. But they never did. As I took another sip from the glass, immediately my mind was thrown into the past; a vision of a previous time, an earlier life. A life where I had failed – where I had left another to die.
Then the horrific screams came. There was nothing I could do, nothing at all to rid the shrieking from my mind. I covered my ears with my hands, thrashing wildly, but the cries continued, merciless, wrapping themselves around my mind as though they were physical objects; tentacles of some sort of eldritch abomination consuming my being. The other barflies were staring again, thinking me mad. But they had no idea. No clue as to what I was going through, what I went through almost every night.
The vision began. First only spurts of blood, flying off from a midpoint in every direction. Then the picture began to clear, focusing in my mind. I saw a man clearly, kneeling by a post, his back turned to me. Then the whips. Whips ripping into his skin again and again: the source of all the blood. The image rotated, and suddenly I saw his face. In all its clarity, in all its explicitness. The face of my best friend. He looked up at me, his eyes burning with rage and pain. They screamed at me, and without him saying a word I knew what he was thinking: “You did this to me.”
And I had.
A chain hung from his neck, bearing two dogtags; one displaying his name and information, the other a sign of our brotherhood, a sign of the organization we belonged to. And I had betrayed him.
I ran a finger across my back, feeling the scars. They had tortured me for weeks, but finally I broke as most men eventually do. But it didn’t matter if most did. It only mattered that I had. That I hadn’t been strong enough.
His eyes pierced my heart, and I knew I had failed him. Failed to uphold my honor. I had talked. It didn’t matter that The Black Fist – a ruthless mercenary organization – had the most ruthless interrogators. I failed to protect him and my unit.
I had told my torturers the location of our camp. I had betrayed the honor I had sworn my life to. And his face clearly showed his disgust at me. He screamed at me, and I shouted back how I was sorry. It wasn’t enough, and I knew it never would be. It was the worst torture I had encountered. They forced me to watch as they ripped away at his body and mind. I yelled at them to stop, but they wouldn’t. I knew that, but still I yelled, pleading.
Finally, the images released their grip on my mind and I was thrown back into the bar, screaming. The other patrons looked at me worriedly before returning to their merry laughter when I stopped, just another night out in town for them. A luxury I could never have again, not as long as these visions plagued me. I set my glass back down on the table.
The worst part of it was that I never made things right. I never avenged my friend, never got back at them for what they did. I only turned to the bottle and allowed the chimera of my past haunt me night after night.
And I knew it could never be different.
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