"Breathe. Deeply. And when you do, savour all the clean, pure air you can. Enjoy the sensation; this will be the last of it you'll ever experience. You sentence has been passed, and you will die a terrible death. Have you any last words?"
He pulled tightly at the cords binding his hands together, but it was to no avail. They were bound tightly, and he couldn't free himself no matter how much he desired it. He could taste the sickly tang of fear; acknowledging it only made it worse. Breathing laboured, he could feel his calmness and oft-prided ability to think clearly no matter what the situation slipping away into oblivion as it was relentlessly replaced with an overwhelming sense of panic and dread. They were going to kill him, and there was nothing he could do to stop them.
Roughly, he was dragged to his feet and pulled towards a dark opening. It was being guarded by two heavy-set men. At first he was puzzled—his method of execution hadn't been made known to him. His eyes widened in sudden terrible understanding: he was being dragged towards a tomb. Resisting to the best of his ability, the man struggled, screaming to be released.
"Please!" he cried in terror. "You can't put me in there! Hang me, burn me, anything but that!" His eyes darted in fear, and he kicked out desperately at the legs of the grim and silent men dragging him to his death. One of them cursed under his breath as the condemned man made hard contact with his shin, and let go. He tried to run towards freedom, drunk with fear and the wild possibility of escape. It was his last and only chance.
And it was unsuccessful.
More forcefully, the men grabbed him. He realized that he knew one of them intimately—in his frenzied stupor, his brain hadn't made the connection. "Please!" he begged. "Let me go… let me go…" He started screaming again when his friend only stared at him with cold indifference. For a dizzying moment, he thought he was going to be sick. Light-headed and reeling, he stumbled and began to dry-heave. His escorts dragged him closer to the tomb. Once again, he began to shriek in fear.
Upon reaching the entrance of the tomb, he lost his voice. Inside, barely illuminated in the meagre light that crept past the threshold, was a rotting corpse. The man stood unmoving, entrenched by his horror and revulsion. Without realizing it, he once again begins to shake and yell frightened protestations until his voice began to go hoarse. Mad eyes pushed up to meet his former friend's gaze, and he sprayed saliva as he hissed, "You can't. You can't. I want to live. I don't want to die. I want to live. I don't WANT to die…" He repeated it over and over, continually getting closer to the other man's disgusted face. The cowardice was unsightly, and made everyone involved feel dirty, but the man was unaware of anything but his over-whelming need to continue living. That was the only certainty he had of anything.
Filled with revulsion, the men shoved their prisoner into the already occupied tomb, blocking any exit with their bodies. The men who had been waiting when they arrived began to push the corpse further into the tomb; one of them grinned maliciously, relishing in the twisted execution he was taking part in.
"You're not going to take it out?" the condemned man asked, eyes filled with dawning realization and drowning in horror and fear. Once again he turned to the one person he'd thought would defend him. "Please, don't do this… it was an accident, I didn't mean for the boy to die… it was an accident!"
For the first time, he received an answer. "There's no such thing as an accident."
"Please! Listen to me!" he begged. "The rain… the road was washed out. I didn't—I mean—I thought he was a deer in the road! I didn't see! His eyes…"
"Enough! You'll pay for his death soon enough. You too will die like an animal."
The men sealed the tomb, and the last thing he saw were his friend's grief-stricken eyes overflowing with tears. In the darkness, he wept for the misfortunes that had come upon the both of them. Outside, he could faintly hear one of the men declaring that he was getting better than he deserved. His last glimpse of the sky had been dark, foreboding clouds.
He was alone. Not completely alone—there was the corpse. His throat raw from screaming, and his voice hoarse, he had given up calling for any sort of help hours before. Terrified and pathetic, his own thin voice had been no comfort to him. The stench in the tomb was unbearable to him, and he nearly choked with every breath he took. Even in the state he was in, he thought it strange that there was still breathable air left in that cramped space.
Although it was cool in the tomb, the man had become thirsty almost immediately after entering it. The thirst had only grown in intensity as time passed. He was also hungry, but he strongly doubted he would have been able to eat anything even if he had the option.
At least a day had passed with no great change, except perhaps that the strong smell was becoming gradually easier to ignore. There was no way to measure the passing time except by slight, barely noticeable changes in temperature. Thirst had become predominant, outweighing any other thoughts or desires. Water. Liquid. Anything. His tongue was beginning to swell, and he had no idea how long he would be able to continue living. He hated the desperate need he felt to survive. What use was it in a place like this, where death was inevitable? Still, he could not force himself to give up, even thought it meant escape from the terrible hunger and thirst and the pervading, suffocating odour. The only escape was death, yet still he clung to living consciousness with all he had. He had made a pact with himself long ago: always survive, no matter what it takes, and everything will work itself out for the better. It was something he couldn't shake even when he needed to. As he drifted off to sleep, he thought of the boy.
Hunger. Thirst. The hunger he could take for a short while more; the thirst he couldn't.
But he would survive. Whatever it took.
The corpse had long since lingered into the background of his consciousness.
Thirsty. There was nothing he could do about that.
Unseeing eyes stared vacantly in the direction of the corpse, then quickly turned away, reeling at his own thoughts. He would survive, but not that way. At least, not yet.
He *would* survive.
He couldn't smell the corpse anymore, though he knew that to anyone entering the tomb for the first time it would be worse than ever before.
Survival was his last thought as he drifted uneasily into unconsciousness and death on yet another day.
He awoke slowly, startled at being alive. He noticed that he wasn't as thirsty as before. It was still there, but it had abated some. His hunger, however, still carved into his stomach, an endless torture. He howled at the unfairness of it all. How was it that he was still alive? Why survive? Why go on? He thought of the corpse, and of his hunger. 'Maybe… if I'm not so hungry I could die properly…' he thought hesitantly. 'Maybe the gods are angry with me, and want to humiliate me before allowing me passage to the next world.' He crawled towards the corpse.
When he lay down to die again three days later, it was with the hope that it would be final. When he awoke once more to the hunger and thirst, he laughed maniacally.
And so the vicious cycle of hunger, thirst and death began anew.