The Black Mask and The Executioner

“I am innocent!” the man protested, unable to rain down his fist for emphasis. The blood dripped from where his finger nail used to be.

His hands were taped down to the kitchen table of his youth. He couldn’t get up. He couldn’t move. A whimper escaped his lips. The Black Mask did not notice.

He muffled an indignant and a righteous howl as the Black Mask unexpectedly reached across the table with both hands and tore the tape away with a speed that rivaled lightning.

Maybe it’s over.”

The man prayed, thanking his god for rescue. Almost imperceptibly, he lifted his head to get a better look at the masked man and the torture room, once his safe space.

The walls were charred black. The place where the stove used to be–the stove which received his mother’s love, meal after meal of his distant childhood–was now as empty as a reluctant warrior’s gaping chest cavity after receiving an RPG round on a foreign battlefield, in a forgotten war. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner, she stood, stable as an oak tree, beautiful as a sunset–and apparently as fleeting–never so much as hinting that the effort she spent preparing his food should cost her more than the mere hours it took.

Before his hands had moved even an inch, an agonizing pain began at his left wrist and tore through his left arm like a tornado through a Texas trailer park.

Then he felt something moist smear across his face.

Then he heard the sound.

Then he saw the instrument.

The head of the ax was buried into the kitchen table. The handle stood cocked like the minute hand of his parents old wall clock, except that this cursed chronometer just announced Pain’s time of birth. And like a watch, it divided his wrist from his hand as cleanly as up from down, as permanently as left from right.

“Where do you think you’re going?!” barked the hot voice, smoke bellowing from beneath the Black Mask.

Time was running short. One hand already lost, coupled with the fact that the Black Mask was running out of torturous tools, the man decided to sing out one final protest. His voice, his majestic, his chivalrous, his heavenly voice–the voice that had drowned forest fires as it chased them down mountains, the voice that had serenaded thunder back into the puffy clouds from where it came–his only weapon.

Attempting to use his body to help elevate his noble cause to the gates of heaven, he began to stand as he proclaimed, “I’m sorry!” He drew his next breath as if it might be his last. “But I am innocent! And I demand you cease these proceedings at once.”

Uninterrupted, he boldly continued his pathetic, and now somewhat benevolent, plea, “And what have you done with my moth-”

But before he could finish a button had been pressed. Straps of scalding, sinewy snakeskin sprung out from the floor beside his chair and wrapped painfully across his thighs. The wooden chair legs groaned under the new, nearly unbearable load.

The man heard what he supposed was a laugh–but sounded more like enemy tank tracks grinding toddlers’ teething smiles into the wood-chips which fill schoolyard playgrounds–flap out from the bottom of the Black Mask as the eye holes sparked flame-red with delight.

The realization that there was no point in protesting hit him like thirteen jackhammers during a construction sign-studded summer drive at five.

Seeking, but seeing no disagreement, he stretched his right fingers out and felt for the brier-barbed pencil.

Did the Black Mask leak a solitary beam of light?” the man wondered confusedly, his left stub likewise pulling the loose-leaf paper close.

The outside world could have fallen away, burned away, dried away, or shaken away and the Black Mask would not have noticed as he watched the boy sigh and write out for the sixtieth time, “I am responsible for my gloves. If I lose my gloves, it is my fault. I will not lose my gloves again.”

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