The challenge prompt today, from storyaday.org, is to write about a character who tells a story within the story, to avoid a disaster — like Scheherazade did.
My story is based on an idea I had for a full novel, which never quite took off.
Even the tightest shackles barely fit Kavon’s wrists, his body emaciated after months of torture and solitary confinement in a windowless cell. As he staggered through dungeon corridors, a hand on each elbow kept him upright. He knew the guards’ delicate treatment wasn’t thanks to gentle souls; they were worried he might crumble to dust without the pageantry of a public execution.
They left him in a room with a small table and two chairs. One occupied by a uniformed man he’d never seen before. A fancier bully, the kind they awarded with ribbons and titles.
On the table sat a gramophone, its horn opened toward Kavon like a brass flower.
“I’m Officer Renald.” The man didn’t look up from the papers he was reading. “Your constitutionally-mandated confession period begins now, and lasts exactly 48 hours. Unless you’d like to hurry things along, without wasting my time…?”
Kavon tried to shake his head, but it lolled around bonelessly. So he added in a hoarse croak, “I have much to say.”
“Don’t we all.” Renald couldn’t have managed more disgust. Eyes still lowered, he felt around and flicked a switch on the gramophone.
“Does anyone ever listen to these recordings?”
“Sure, collector’s love them. Even the most common lowlife seems a little more important once their head is removed from their body. There’s something romantic and ennobling about a violent death.”
Kavon’s agonized grimace was only a ripple over deep waters. “This is my story…”
The first time I saw a wizard was when me and Demro were playing out by the landfill, at dusk. He staggered toward us, leaning heavily on this jeweled staff, and scared us out of our wits. But before we could run, he collapsed in the dust.
He mumbled something about danger, the viscount’s betrayal, the portal opening, how we had to warn the king.
I bashed his head in with a rock, and took the big ruby from his staff.
“Hold on.” Officer Renald finally looked up with beady, suspicious little eyes. All that disinterest had been a deception. “It was you who killed him, not Demro?”
The weight of decades fell upon Kavon, the memory of two boys covered in dirt and blood, standing uncertainly between vast rolling hills of garbage. The ragpickers had all gone home for the day. No one to see, no one to judge.
He had no wish to remember the past; he only wanted to recite it. “It was me.”
Renald took out a pen, flipped one of his papers over, and started scribbling. “Awfully young for a murderer.”
Awfully young for a lot of things that happened. “We were poor, and that was all the reason I needed. I don’t apologize for it. That’s not why I’m confessing.”
“And I suppose you never bothered telling anyone about the Arch-Wizard’s warning? If that’s what he really said.”
“What did any of that nonsense matter to a couple of shoeless boys, who played around landfills, in fields of broken glass?” Kavon stared into the room’s dark corners. “Now this is my confession, if you don’t mind…”
Did you know a man who’s been starving a long time can die just from eating? The same danger applies to a boy without a penny, who finds himself in possession of a great treasure.
Me and Demro weren’t stupid. We knew we couldn’t sell the wizard’s gem on our own. So, we had to trust someone. His name was Horgoth. A huge brute, muscles like rock. Brain, too. Used to look out for us slum kids, though.
But even he was smart enough to realize he could effortlessly rob us once we, inevitably, revealed what we were selling. He took all the money from the buyer, and left us nothing. Moved out of the slums, abandoned his wife and children. She never forgave us. I suppose it was our fault. Make a note, Renald, that’s the only thing I’ll apologize for. We should have known better. Should have buried it for a decade, and taken our chances with starvation.
Years later, his wife put a curse on us. Pretty good one, considering the quality of hexer she could afford. But that’s another story.
Now the man who bought the ruby, whose name I won’t mention here… as you can guess, he was a significant underworld figure. He was impressed with me and Demro, despite us getting outplayed, and took pity. Not any sort of monetary pity, of course, but he offered us work.
I accepted, Demro didn’t. You’re well aware of who, and what, he became long after.
Truth is, I didn’t think some old crime boss had anything to teach me. But I couldn’t let the ruby go. I knew someway, somehow, I’d get another chance to steal it, to get my just due.
I left a long trail of blood, broken promises, and withered hearts. Chased that ruby from the lowest slums to the highest palaces, and every place inbetween. Became a man, and then something much older.
After two decades, and only a few days before my arrest and imprisonment in this fine establishment, I got the closest I’d ever been. I tracked the ruby to an eccentric collector of magical artifacts, Eldruian, who claimed he’d buried it in the Arch-Wizard’s final resting place. He had too much protection for me to strong-arm him, but he couldn’t have been lying. He enjoyed taunting me too much, and the ruby’s value was a pittance to him.
So I dug up the wizard’s grave. And I dug up that landfill, where he died. A hundred other places. Nothing.
Went back to Eldruian. This asshole thought he was cute now, talking in riddles. Probably spent all that time before my return just thinking up more clever bullshit. He said, “It’s where the old stone embraces the new, in brightest shadow of darkest sun, where no man can live.”
As though anyone could follow his demented logic.
I’m confessing this to whatever rich bastard buys this recording, for one simple reason. If you ever want to kill someone for sport, I recommend starting with Eldruian, the collector. It’ll make you… part of my story. It’s an experience all your gold can’t buy.
That’s all I wanted to say. I’ll see if anything more comes to me later.
The following day, the guards brought Kavon back to the same, small confessional room. Renald was a bit twitchy today, couldn’t sit still. Kavon was quietly nervous, too, until he got a closer look at the man.
“Good morning, Officer Renald. Why the long face?”
“Why the- Oh, shit.” His hands rose to his face, to rearrange its melting, putty-like appearance. The end result wasn’t quite Officer Renald — making eyes that beady was impossible — but it might pass muster.
“Sloppy, Fern. I taught you better than that.”
“You know nerves make it worse, there’s no fix for that.”
Except a quiet retirement. Kavon had no such intentions, but he hoped his accomplice would live to see it. “Any problems?”
Fern shook his head. “You led him straight to me. Got him while he was still digging beneath that crumbling statue in oldtown. He never realized he was digging his own grave.”
Kavon couldn’t summon any emotions, either way, about that. He told himself it was just a symptom of exhaustion, not the smothering effect of all his crimes. “I thought the clues might be too obvious. Make him suspicious.”
“Never underestimate the capacity of a guard to be enamored with his own wit.”
On shaky legs, leaning against the table, Kavon rose. “We may not be able to bluff our way out of here, together. And I’ll be no good to you in a fight. I wouldn’t blame you for reconsidering.”
“Reconsidering is all I ever do, boss. I wouldn’t be here if it worked.” Holding Kavon’s chains, Fern yanked the heavy cell door open.
Kavon peered into the dungeon corridor, hearing footsteps behind, seeing impassable obstacles in the empty darkness ahead.
Thanks for reading!