The cruel end of the whip bit down into Rich’s back. Rich stumbled, groaned, and then, using the muscles in his thick arms, lifted the brick. He placed it heavily on the stack. Turning, he glared at the man who had sent the whip down upon him.
The man grinned and raised the whip again.
“Work faster, slave!” he taunted, and Rich balled his hands into fists.
If only I could bash your head in, Rich thought, but knew that if he even touched one of the slave guards, he would be immediately killed.
Rich turned and walked the five paces to the jumbled pile of bricks to pick up another. He steadied himself, tightened his muscles, and pulled. The brick rose slowly and he moved over to the neat pile. He stacked it nicely on top and went for the next.
On and on it went. Forever, it seemed. Rich’s forehead was slick with sweat. His arms bulged every time his muscles tightened. There was not a single layer of extra fat to cover his muscles. He was thinner and stronger than he had ever been, and he hated it.
Some people thought being strong was a good thing, but here it meant you worked double shift, non-stop. Every job that required muscles was given to him. Here, in this underground prison he was trapped in, being strong was one of the worst things that could happen.
Rich stumbled and fell to one knee. The whip hit him again. He gritted his teeth. Didn’t the guards know that whipping him just made him work slower? Yes. They probably knew. They just enjoyed doing it to see him suffer.
Rich steeled himself, rose to his feet, and gripped another brick. Then dizziness washed over him and he collapsed. He couldn’t take it. No more.
The whip bit into his back again and again but he did not move. He needed rest, he needed healing. He needed hope. Darkness overcame him and the pain from the whip disappeared. So did the world.
Rich awoke to a damp cloth on his forehead. He groaned. His stomach immediately barraged him with hunger pains and he slowly rested his hands on it. His stomach was terrifyingly thin and very shrunk.
Despite the great headache that was pounding away inside his skull, he opened his eyes and saw Terrance, his cell mate, bending over him with a worried expression on his face.
“Rich?” the young man asked, his blond hair falling into his green eyes.
Rich tried to smile, but he couldn’t. He moaned and tried to sit up – then the pain erupted. It crashed into him as the wounds on his back tore open and he barely smothered the scream that exploded from his lips.
Terrance flinched and he quickly pushed Rich back down so that once again he was lying flat on his back on his cot, staring up at the cell ceiling.
“Dang, that hurts,” Rich hissed when he had composed himself a little more.
Terrance nodded and sucked in his breath.
“The slave guard didn’t let up for another ten minutes or so. It was horrible. Then they called me and made me take care of you. Unfortunately for you, I’m not much of a doctor. But with rest you’ll be up in a few days!”
A guard suddenly appeared outside the barred door of the cell.
“Is the wounded slave awake yet? Good! He will be back in the work line tomorrow morning, normal time,” the guard walked away.
Rich groaned slowly.
“So much for rest,” he told Terrance.
Terrance flinched again.
“It’s not the work that’s the worst part,” Terrance said glumly. “It’s the food. This stuff tastes horrible!”
Rich didn’t find it very appetizing either, but not because it tasted bad.
“Yeah,” he said, only paying half of his attention to the conversation.
It had been a few days after he had been whipped into unconsciousness and he was just beginning to heal. The wounds still hurt him bad.
“Rich, you don’t seem yourself. What’s up?” Terrance asked.
Rich slowly looked up. The pain that was not physical, but mental, which had been inside him for over a year, exploded from within him.
“I am tired of being a slave,” he burst out, standing up. “I am tired of being the worst. I am tired of working all day and all night! What did I do to deserve this? I need something… something stronger to hold onto.”
Terrance stared at him. His mouth was partly open, his fork half way to his mouth. Rich slowly sat down with a groan.
“I’m sorry,” he apologized.
Terrance gave him a half grin and shook his head.
“Oh no. You don’t have to be sorry. I was just surprised, because I have the answer.”
Rich leaned forward.
“What is it?”
He tried to appear calm, but inside, his heart was beating faster than horse hooves in a gallop. Terrance leaned forward too, pushing away his plate.
Rich didn’t move, then he blinked, and then he sank back into his seat and closed his eyes. He raised his hand and began to massage his temples and a groan escaped his lips as all the excitement rushed out of him.
“What? It’s true!” Terrance said, chuckling.
“Oh, I’m sure it is! I’m sure that you have lived through two years of this place, being whipped, beaten, moving bricks, eating horrible food, with love. That’s all that kept you going?”
Terrance nodded, all seriousness in his eyes.
“Yeah. Pretty much.”
Rich stood up and started to walk away.
“Hey, Rich!” Terrance’s voice stopped him and he turned back.
“What?” he asked.
Terrance beckoned for him to come over, so he turned and walked back, dreading with every step what Terrance might say. He had been hoping so hard that what Terrance had said would be valuable, but now he just didn’t care. He wanted to give up on life.
Terrance pointed toward a guard.
“See that guy?”
“Yeah, the snobby, well-fed, whip-holding, evil of a guard?” Rich said sarcastically. “Oh, yes, I see him very well.”
“Well,” Terrance said, not dampened by Rich’s sarcasm, “he was once a slave.”
“So what does that have to do with love?” Rich asked.
“What I mean is that he was ranked up to guard, yes, but he still misses his family. He was taken from them, just like you and me. He is still not given good food and he is still captured. He just brings out the pain at the end of the whip, but it still doesn’t get it all out. That’s why we need to love him, pity him. Just because he whips us doesn’t mean he doesn’t hurt just as bad or worse then us. See what I mean, now?”
Terrance let out a breath.
“You are so hard to instruct. All I’m saying is that when you love somebody else and you pity them and help them out, it helps you too. I have experience. Two years,” Terrance grinned.
Rich frowned, but the more he thought about it, the better he liked the whole idea.
“Maybe you are right, Terrance,” Rich said thoughtfully as he picked up his fork and began to eat again. “Maybe you are right.”
Throughout the work, Rich looked at things in a different perspective. He looked at the guards and tried to show pity for them, but it didn’t work very well. He looked at the food as if perhaps it had just not been cared for enough and turned bad. He tried to see everything with love in his mind, but he only did it halfheartedly.
Terrance met him once again in the lunch rooms. He set down his plate of shriveled roll and dried meat that had no seasonings on it.
They began munching on their food wordlessly, but after a while Terrance looked up.
“Did you try it?” he asked.
“Trying to see things with a loving perspective? Yeah,” Rich hung his head. “Didn’t work at all. I don’t know. It just doesn’t seem like it’s the thing I want. And how can I when I’m stuck in a prison? This is the worst place!”
“No, it’s the best place to try to see things in a loving perspective. Because when you see with love, you see hope, and with hope, durability. We will get out of this someday. You just have to stop and wait for it.”
“It’s just so hard to believe I don’t believe it!” he cried out.
Terrance nodded and smiled.
“Give it time,” he said. “Just give it time.”
Rich had finally finished moving the pile of bricks and now he was cleaning the guard rooms. It didn’t take as much strength and effort, so his back would heal quicker.
He was dusting a large shelf when a guard walked in. Rich gulped and froze. This was usually the time that all guards were on a shift so that he didn’t disturb any of them. Had he gone overtime, or was this guard not doing his duty and neglecting his shift?
The guard plopped into a chair, not noticing Rich in the corner. Rich tried to sink away. Hopefully the guard wouldn’t see him.
The guard shifted and fidgeted in the chair and finally stood up and began to pace the room. He grunted and muttered under his breath.
“I was snatched away just like that. It was so quick, so sudden! Now where am I? Just because I was an obedient slave, now I’m a guard. I’m still trapped. I’m still stuck. Will there ever be a time to rest?”
Rich was shocked. It sounded like the words were coming from his own mouth. It was exactly as he felt.
The guard walked out of the room and slowly Rich finished dusting the shelf, but he couldn’t get the guard’s words out of his mind. They really were hurt. They really were just like Terrance had told him. They needed love.
Please talk! What did you think of the first part of this short story?
To be concluded next week in Hope in Chains: Part 2
Short Story: Hope in Chains: Part 1
Caleb E King
Copyright © 2018 Caleb E King
All rights reserved.