An ancient city. A lost city.

A jigsaw of palaces and slums. A maze of rats and cats.

Three stars shone in the sky one night above this flagitious city. Amidst its overflowing sewage and gutters, much like a rodent, stumbled a brute. His sharp stink polluted the hot summer air. Under grubby and greasy rags his stomach roiled full of cheap brew, yet a hunger still clawed at him. The craving was animalistic in nature; a carnal desire for flesh. Digging inside his rags he produced a few coins, the last of his day’s earnings. Turning a corner he arrived at a busy and noisy alley.

Similar rodent-like figures loitered about in pairs, satiating similar cravings. Simultaneously, they suffered and enjoyed their vulgar existence. He approached many a wench in scanty dresses but was spurned as what he offered was too little. Alas, he found one sprawled in a dirty, dark corner, knocked out, one lip bruised and bleeding.

She was no pretty wench, in truth, she appeared to be the ugliest and oldest of the lot. He seldom cared about their looks. To him one whore was every whore. Yet something pulled at him this time. There was an innocence about her, a purity of someone who has never felt pleasure in any act of life. A look of Pure Misery. Beside her lay three white lilies in the dirt, oddly out of place. Bending over, he aligned his filthy body to hers and started devouring her flesh with his hands. This pervert took pleasure in combining his misery to hers. And so, there, in filth and darkness The Child of Misery was conceived. When this animal was satisfied, he left his last coins in the dirt beside her. Upon second thought, he recollected and pocketed them.

                                                         *   *   *

The sun awoke Maria. Three milk-white lilies were the first things her eyes encountered. She wanted to smile – nobody had ever given her flowers, but she could not find her body. Her soul was floating somewhere in the air. She moved to sit up, her body followed in a disjointed manner. Pain came shooting in from every direction. The pain of being ravaged and devoured by a beast. Suddenly she could feel the weight of every pore and every nerve in her body. Yesterday came crawling back in with the pain. She had been doing her nightly hours around the block when a quarrelsome customer had hit her over the head.

The Madam had only two rules. The first, to make your day’s cut, the second, to never lose your wits about the streets. She had broken both the rules.

Whores rarely survived an unconscious night in the alley; and if they did, they were most likely to be with child. The horror of her situation sunk in slowly. Her head drooped down in the palm of her hands; tears came as easily as ever. She would most certainly be thrown out of the brothel. Her employer did not tolerate old whores unable to earn their keep. With her age it was unlikely for the seed to take. However, by some miracle if she was with child, it would buy her some time. If the child was female she would be allowed to stay and look after the girl until she was old enough to earn for both of them. Madam rarely kept boys. A male child would be sold to the slavers and she would be thrown out. Now all she had to do was wait and see which of these possible dooms she was destined to.

She had been a proper woman once, with a house to keep her and a husband to beat her. Even back then she had never encountered pleasure, not in life, nor in sex. In fact, the act itself was confusing and unpleasant. They had never been able to make children, she and her husband.  However, it did not matter now. The house and the beatings, it had all gone with his death, she was left to fend for herself. Nobody took her in except the city brothel, they too, reluctantly. To her, the main unsolved mystery of human existence was The Pleasure House. The need to survive, however, triumphed over all curiosities. As long as it provided her shelter, she did not care to solve the puzzle.

In her early days there she had promised herself she would run away if she had a child. She was determined to keep that promise if it came to it.

A sudden high-pitched voice snatched her attention away from her personal crisis.

                                                              *  *  *

The city faced its own crisis. A man was preaching. It was rare, no, bordering on scandalous to find a preacher this far north in the city, along an alley with such ill repute. The religious were known to conspire with the rich. However this unexploited area provided a golden opportunity for this man that his fellow preachers failed to perceive. His high-pitched voice was heard around the block calling all the sinners and the sodomites, promising them salvation from God and vengeance from the wealthy. All they had to do was renounce the flesh. At first nobody came, the indigent were mistrustful of promises. They had long accepted the victory of the privileged. But as time went by his perseverance and passion opened old wounds and salted them. The first one to stop was an old and ugly wench. She was in such a sorry state that he considered stopping and inquiring after her. However, she only lingered for a few moments, next she was hurrying along as if she did not care. Slowly but surely, a crowd gathered and listened to him with silent passion. But from windows of the brothels around the block he was met with a rude protest. It was their death in fact he was preaching.

Day after day, this Pied Piper would return to the same spot. He would sing his praises of The Lord. Many entranced rodents followed him back to the temple. His influence grew far and wide. First, the wealthy, the wise and the wretched resisted him. After some riots it soon became clear that the city would burn at his single command, so they all joined him.

The preacher himself felt truly victorious when his first disciple found her way back to him. It took her six full moons. She approached him where they had first met. She was heavy with child. Coming before him, she knelt and confessed her sins. He refused to honor her presence, the same way she had refused to honor his. Only when her voice sung of the anguish inside her and her face was washed with tears did he look down, smile and say, “Rise my child, you have washed away your sins.”

Sitting in that dirty alleyway, she imparted to him all her life’s sorrows. Her suffering moved him. He found, in all her expressions of pain, a strange purity. When she was done he glanced at her stomach and asked her, “My child what would you offer The Lord as a sign of your love?”

She patted her round belly and said, “This child.”

He felt her stomach and was satisfied. He told her to go back to the brothel and wait, assuring her that after four moons he would help her escape.

                                                            *  *  *

A single pearl was the one thing of value Maria had. Even in the most desperate of times, she could not bear to part with it. Her mother had given it to her. She bundled it up inside the infant’s blanket for the time being. The Lord had blessed her with a daughter; perhaps one day she would give it to the child. The day her daughter was born a great celebration had occurred at the pleasure house. It had been too long since the birth of a female child. Such human etiquettes were exclusive to whorehouses in the city. Most of the city-men despised the birth of a daughter. This birth was a sign of hope for the brothel – it promised survival in an increasingly religious city.

Maria did not care, soon she was going to be saved. For six moons she had watched her stomach grow with a feeling of dread. All this time a man had preached below her window. To her it seemed he came everyday only to call upon her. On the sixth moon she worked up the courage to ask to be saved. Three moons later her daughter was born. She was the strangest creature on earth, so beautiful and happy; she rarely ever cried. Maria envied her.

The missionary had promised and now it was time. A man was waiting to take her away. This man would pretend to be a client and in the meantime sneak her away to the temple where she would be under the preacher’s protection. She picked up her baby and her precious pearl on her way out.

                                                           *  *  *

There was something wrong with her, Jane had long known. The more they hurt and humiliated her, the more pleasure she felt. Pain was the main unsolved mystery of human existence to her. She clawed inside her soul trying to find it. Her curiosities triumphed over all humanly needs. She fasted regularly. The present one was the longest fast she had ever observed, two days; yet still, she did not feel any pain, only a growing sense of comfort. The Head Preacher had told her salvation lay in suffering, so she persisted in her resolve and chose only to break her fast when she felt pain.

She lay on the cold, stone floor of her room inside the temple. It was small and bare. Most of her fellow devotees despised their humble abodes; Jane loved hers. After all, this was where she had been raised. Her mother had given her up in the service of The Lord while she was still an infant. The temple had since sheltered both of them.

Moving her frail and bony figure she pushed it into a sitting position; back slumped with fatigue, legs crisscrossed.  It was time to purge her soul of all her sins. Stripping herself naked, she said a long prayer. Her skin was covered with numerous cuts and bruises as if an animal had attacked her, but they were all self-inflicted. The skin on her back was perhaps the roughest; caked with the dried blood of half-healed wounds. Jane’s skin tingled with anticipation as she picked up the knotted rope beside her. Gripping one end, she closed her eyes and swung it hard over her shoulder. She felt the knots slap against her back. She continued whipping it over her shoulder again and again, slashing at her flesh. Now and then, she shivered and moaned as the pleasure started to build up inside her. She hit herself harder each time, yet pure delight was all she felt.

With foolish hope she dug deep for past sins; maybe guilt would coerce her hide into subjugation. The first time she had felt her unclean urges was the day she had lost her mother’s precious pearl. She had been nine then. Her mother warned her not to play with her things, but she could not control her curiosities. One moment she had the pearl, the next she had lost it. Her mother had beaten her bloody that day. The beatings had aroused in her a sudden atavistic excitement. A spastic laugher had escaped her as something sweet had spread from between her legs and through the rest of her body. At first, this bizarre reaction had scared and puzzled her mother. She glimpsed in her daughter something she herself had never known. To her it seemed dangerous and dirty, but with time she convinced herself it was just willful mockery. Eventually, the mother grew to despise the daughter.

The true extent of her mother’s hatred was evident to Jane on the day she took her vows of chastity and became a devotee of God, body and soul. After the official ceremony, her mother had taken her aside and had said with an ugly expression on her face, “You may fool everyone else, but not God. You were born of dirt and filth and you will remain so.” Showing her disgust by spitting on the ground, her mother had left.

After that, Jane did not see her face until the day of her death. On that day, the old, ugly, terrified face on the deathbed had filled her with strange delight. She had had to control her laughter in the presence of The Head Preacher, who was there to console her and comfort her dying mother.

“What comes after misery?” Her mother had asked The Head Preacher.

“Eternal bliss, but first you must suffer death,” he had squeezed her mother’s hand and reassured her.

Jane’s past sins failed to inspire her. Back in her room as her blood began to flow, she felt divine ecstasy; as if God Himself had come down to kiss her soul. Her weak body shook with spasms. Her face was on fire. Her mind exploded with rapture and delight. Alas! Fatigue won the battle. Her pale and starved body toppled sideways. Unlike her mother she was not scared, she opened her arms wide and embraced Death. Perhaps now she would feel pain.

Maham Shamail For Beyond Sanity Publishing

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Comments
  1. mahamshamail says:

    Reblogged this on Ink For Psychos and commented:
    Hey I wrote a supercool short story. Feel free to read, disect and critique.

    Liked by 1 person

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