This year my class read George Orwel’s ‘Animal Farm’ and were told to write a short story using one of the themes from the book.
This is mine.
I hope you enjoy it!
No lights reach down into this darkness. No heat penetrates these stones. So I sit here, in the dark and the cold, alone. They left me here, in this prison. The men I trusted, the men I thought knew better than the rest, better than the common rabble. This place, they built it for me. They had it constructed while I fought to control my empire, while I fought for their homes. An Oubliette: A Place Of Forgetting. They call it that but I know not why. I have not forgotten. In truth, I have remembered. I have remembered my cause, my reason for being – my destiny.
How far I have drifted from that destiny.
A slippery Serpent led me astray. He showed me a fruit that I thought sweet but under its shiny red skin waited a poisonous pride that pounced upon my heart as a starving cat claims an unsuspecting mouse in the prospect of a good meal. I let it consume me; let it eat away at my being, at my mind and soul. It stretched and ripped, tore and moulded until there was nothing left of what I was. It had shaped me into what I so despised, into what I had sworn never to become.
A lion to a snake;
And a snake to a rat.
Left to scurry through this pit of filth and despair until my heart slows to an inevitable stop. I have long since made my peace with this. As I gaze at my prison now, I see the elegance in its design, hidden by a mask of malice and death. A perfectly round base, no more than five feet across, at the bottom of a shaft at least three hundred feet deep. The walls and floor are made of a stone that has been polished so smooth, not even ivory vines could climb its unforgiving face. A cage designed to intimidate and frighten its occupant. A carefully constructed torture chamber. So deep that the cold bites into your very bones, so small that the only comfortable position is standing and so dark that any spark of hope is snuffed out like a candle. However this Oubliette has one subtle difference to its brethren. This Oubliette has a roof. Their builders leave the rooves out of their designs to give the prisoner the false impression of freedom and hope but even that has been denied me. My air would have run out long ago if not for the Serpent’s men leaving one brick out in the centre of the ceiling. The hole permits just enough air that I might starve to death before I suffocate.
They are kind and courteous captors indeed.
All of these things make for a rather inhospitable environment but on my fifth day of solitude I began to wonder whether I had any right to complain of my own discomfort when I had caused that of so many others. At first I had managed to convince myself that I was doing what was right for my people but…
It is not simple, making decisions that affect a nation. You can’t please everyone. I tried only to please as many as possible. At least that’s what I thought. Looking back I suppose I can understand their frustration. The pigs got what they wanted, their daily slop, and the tigers remained well respected beneath me but they were not the ones that sought to quarrel. It was the ants, the ones that worked to bring the pigs their slop and the ones that marched in the tiger’s army. In my attempt to please the pigs and the tigers and the horses, I had forgotten the ants. For this reason they did not rebel, no. That, dear friends, was the reason they sought to speak to me in person. Their revolution was the result of that meeting. Their revolt was caused by the boot between my teeth. They asked for my help. They begged.
‘Please Lord, our children are dying!’ they cried, ‘You must help! We need food, water, medicine.’
I simply spat in their faces and said that a disloyal ant quickly met with a hard-soled boot. I ordered my tigers to take them away and have them executed. That meeting, those simple words, the same words one would utter as a threat, pushed them into action. They rose up and corrupted my tigers; they threw me down into this pit not caring if I survived the fall. But I did. I may be unable to move but I survived. Thus I find myself here, in the lonely confines of my own personal hell, trapped in a broken body, left to die, or survive to watch my work fall at the hands of those barbarians but that is not a hope I dare to cling to.
I was not born of silver and gold. Perhaps it was the allure of power, that beautiful metallic sound, holding all the kingdom on the end of their puppet strings, that drove me to be the man that I have become; the tantalising feel of the throne beneath me, of the weight of the crown upon my head or the oceans of people that kneeled at my command.
Where did it come from, this need for power, for wealth? I wanted for nothing on my father’s farm. I planted seeds, tended animals, prepared to take over when he grew too old; but then news of the war reached us. The army began conscripting and I was of age. Perhaps it was the war that changed me. I was forced to kill; men, women, children, it didn’t matter to them; they were all enemies. I bloodied my hands in the name of my king just as those beneath me have done in mine. I tainted my soul for the promise of eternity in paradise but I know now that paradise is lost to me. All that awaits me are the flames.
When I returned from the war my father had passed. The farm was meant to be my responsibility but I wasn’t there and the Lion had given it to another of his tigers. I was outraged. My father’s will had been completely ignored, my mother left out on streets and I had nothing to return to. I protested to the Lion. He called me disloyal and had me thrown into the dungeons. I attacked one of the guards who tried to force me into a cage. As punishment the Lion had my mother publically executed, forcing me to watch. I sat in my cell, much like I do now, and seethed. I let the anger boil beneath my skin, forming into a raging fire that burned for revenge. The longer I sat the more I became aware of the dozens of eyes that watched me. I was not alone in the dungeon. The cells were filled with other ants of all ages. Some sat cowering in a corner, others howled at the guards to be released. They were all too busy to notice the man scratching his arm raw out of pure frustration.
All but one.
The Serpent leaned through the bars and handed me a rag to quell the bleeding that I had started. Out of that simple gesture we formed a quick friendship and I soon discovered that we shared something. A burning hatred for the Lion and all that he was. So, we planned and schemed, readying for the day that we would carry out justice.
On the day of my release I took my chance. I broke free of the guards and opened all the cells. The other prisoners and I fought our way to the throne room; some of the guards joining our cause. I did what seemed right, not caring that the world around me seemed red as fresh spilt blood. I held the Lion down and slit his throat, a slaughter worthy of a beast. The men cheered. I was never entirely certain of what happened next. I killed the beast and then I was pushed into the throne and the crown was slid onto my head.
An ant to a lion.
I looked up at the one who had pushed me into my new position and smiled at him. The Serpent. My most trusted advisor, my most loyal friend. He gave me the fruit and I gulped it down without a second thought.
Here is where my corruption began.
I know not what possessed me at the time; to go to my old home with the Lion’s men, my men, and slaughter the family of the tiger who stole everything from me. They were the ones that started all this. I held down the beast and slit its throat but not before I made him watch his family murdered as I had mine. It was cruel, yes, but I cannot deny the joy it gave me to feel power once again. But then a thought struck me. Perhaps it wasn’t the tiger’s fault. He wouldn’t have been given the farm if the dogs that the Lion had sent to drag me off to hell hadn’t come.
And so, I hunted them down as well. They were executed publicly as an example to the others; the ants that scurried across the pavement, weak and pliable. I bent them to my will, made them believe that justice would rain down on those who fought against me.
All the while the Serpent stood by and watched as I became more corrupt, more power hungry, less deserving of the throne. But what if that was his plan? With me now in this wretched pit he stands to take my place. The Serpent will become the Lion. I could rest all the blame in the world on his shoulders but in truth it lies with me. Here in this hole.
It was not the Serpent who hadn’t refused the throne, knowing he was unworthy. It was not the Serpent who slaughtered innocents out of unjust vengeance. It was not the Serpent who ate the poisoned apple.
What is that noise? I can hear it. Footsteps? Yes. I know why they are here. Not to free me, no. they come to end me. What are they pushing through the hole? Are those…? Yes. They plan to end me in the same way they know my soul will rest. I do not blame them for wanting me not to be. They fear I will somehow find my way out of this prison of stone and earth. They wish to end it before it begins.
It feels… strange… the scorching tongues licking my skin, their warm, musty breath in my lungs. It feels like… I’m not quite sure actually. It’s not a comparable sensation; it’s of its own class. No matter. It will be over soon. Then I will know this for eternity. My chest feels tight. I suppose it should, I can barely breath. I will not cough or cry out. I will let the ministrations of the tongues guide me off.
My time has come. The end I feared has come to pass. I won’t… give in… Let the… flames… begin.
Silent tigers stood vigil beside the doors to the throne room. Inside waited the Serpent, coiled and ready to pounce on anything that dared disturb its rest. The patter of hurried feet echoed down the long winding corridor, carried to the tiger’s ears by the stone walls. Their hands slowly slid around the hilt of their swords, bracing themselves for an onslaught.
Two small ants came around the curvature in the hall, their faces red with exertion and smiles glued to their lips. The tigers had their orders.
They stepped to the side and allowed them past.
They hurried inside and dropped to their knees in front of the throne. There, seated on the cushioned gilded chair, was a shrouded figure, his head down turned and his temple resting on his hand, the long fingers of the other curled around the arm rest, his sharp fingernails scarping at the gold coating. They were like snakes in themselves but their owner was twice as venomous. With his face downcast, blanketed by black waves, he tilted his head with an almost imperceptible movement, prompting the ants to speak.
“Lord,” the braver of the two squeaked, “, the former Lion is dead. Now we can establish a council and the people will be free.”
“Yes!” the second chimed in almost hysterically, “We burned him! Burned him good, Sire!” he burst into a fit of manic laughter.
The Serpent lifted one of his hands, waving it in a dismissive gesture. The ants fell silent as the grave. Their master tilted his head back ever so slightly, just enough to allow them to see his lips curl into an insidious sneer; his pale lips curving to a crescent moon, pulling tight skin tighter, showing sharpened canines stained yellow.
A low rumbling laughter shook his slender frame as the ants watched.
All at once, the illusion of freedom shattered.