They slid the tray under the door with nothing upon it but lizards and gizzards — raw. They never came in. They were afraid to look at you. It was a comfortable distance to be separated — from them — from the hazy remembrance of what you once were. 

Pressed against the dark and the cold, you often pretended you were sitting in a theater, miles away from yourself. The plot of this danse macabre served no purpose other than to ridicule the random cruelty and suffering you had once called a life.  

There’s nothing left for you now. Nothing left but decades of emptiness.

You can hear the wind, the morning chill still clinging to its breath as it beckons you to the pyre, on this, an uneasy dawn. You ate the salamanders, fiery red, and you can feel them now crawling through your veins as you watch the listless shadows on the avenue swell to an orchestral mass. The moon is still full and bright and hateful in the sky as you look out towards your destiny through iron bars and sweating stone. 

They are all there — the faces of the damned — staring back at you through the dimly lit eyes of the thousand lives you had long left behind. You wonder how many will weep for you in the hours you’ve left them. Not many, you imagine. You know them all too well. Their names are writ in blood on your heart and on your soul. They think they’ll be rid of you when you’re nothing but dust and ash. They think death can stop you, but it won’t. You’ll come for them eventually, all of them, before the breaking dawn.  Their little trinkets won’t save them. They know the truth, as close to the truth as they could ever get, clutching their superstitions tightly to their chests. You remember the last. The sheets, wrinkled, when she left her mark upon them, when she gasped into the cotton fibers for last time before her eyes went dead from the shame. The loss was always painful for you. You wanted her, for a time, and she wanted you, or rather, she wanted an idea she had of you. She said she wanted it. Said she wasn’t afraid. Said you were her dark angel and that she wanted to be devoured by the night. She was a child, her frailty concealed behind pouty red lips and fingernails painted black, but you weren’t bitter, even if her eagerness was disappointing. You told her it would end soon, that the shine would fade. Then you watched as the rain fell upon the moonlit blue-black of her skin, watched her feeble pride betray her, again, and then harder, and then again. She begged you to spare her body, but you wouldn’t. She was too needy. She’d never survive eternity. None of them could. Now the city of Athens burns in your dreams, a waking dream made heavy by the rusted iron clasped to your bruised ankles and wrists. 

You only ever bled them a little. What crime was there in that?

By Cheryl Anne Gardner

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