THE SCOURGE OF NINE-RAH
Lawrence R. Dagstine
It was nothing less than a dungeon.
The last pieces of the brick wall along the dim-lighted corridor slid into place, sealing off the remainder of the afternoon light and fresh country air. And in this new environment, dark, dank cells were revealed. Disturbing looking hovels with candle stumps for light, small rooms with strange torturous equipment, scattered with the filth of many generations of untidiness. And to each of these rooms were keepers. The dungeon taskmaster called them masochists for short.
Alfred Hunter, during the course of his investigations and journalistic studies into the underworld of such places, found himself one of their newest arrivals and most promising of prisoners. And not just because of his intelligence. The writer had seen it swollenly―through unblinking eyes and dread fascination―as a place of pure evil and ultimately worthwhile sin. What went on beyond these dark halls were unmistakably amoral, but, oddly enough, to some of the inhabitants it was a place of escape and pleasure.
Alfred put his face down on the still warm floor of the cell he was in. He woke to a loud scream―the torturous cries of the innocent or misbehaved. A man next to him in shackles said calmly, “I die…I die happy in my innocence. At least these slaughterers allow you that.”
The man swallowed and was silent.
It was only then that the journalist was aware that his photographer was also in the dim-lighted, high-vaulted prison. He turned his head to see the young man glaring at the elongated figure of large muscles and a leather mask with a sewn-in expression of shame and anger, the theme of the dungeon. Anguish and suffering also played a vital role in its surroundings. It was obvious that the photographer, too, had forgotten himself and wanted down from the crucifix in which he hung.
Alfred was ashamed of himself, especially for getting his coworker involved in something which he had no business getting involved with in the first place. They put them down here like dogs in a kennel, only the kind of pooches that get put to sleep. Oh yes, then there was the sleep factor. What was it? Three days now? The tiredness was torture in itself. Alfred was lucky to get one hour straight at a time. The tightness and dryness of his lids pulled up the corners of his eyes; the clothes he wore, filthy with blood and ragged, with the scorching marks of many different sizes and kinds of chains and whips. He could easily say that these last three days were hell for him.
A voice came from outside the cell. “You grow weary, dear?” A rustling sound followed its mutterings. “Perhaps it is time for the other entertainment while they recover themselves.” The gentle facial expression roamed around the cell and fell upon the young photographer. Behind the rustle, like a subsidiary part, came the tread of heavy feet.
Alfred lifted his head up. “Huh? Who is that?” Depraved eyes were still on his picture-taking intern. He suddenly tensed. He had to find a way to help him. He had to help him. God, how?
The rustle grew closer. The woman finally stepped into the light―what little there was―her tall, seductive figure wrapped in a mass of nearly transparent silk. The headdress was no more; her brown-black hair clung like a sheath to her head. Behind her came a group of six masochists, enormously muscled, clad only in loin cloths and sandals. Unassisted, she stepped into the cavity part of the cell.
Alfred gathered strength and lunged forward―fearing for his photographer’s life―shouting incomprehensibly. Four huge shapes landed on him and held him down. “Leave him alone!” he shouted.
The woman raised her eyes and looked perpetually at the journalist. She then laughed harshly from the other side. “You would not have him die?” She sounded amused. “Then speak now, and speak carefully.”
“We have nothing to say,” Alfred answered for him. “Spare him from the wall. Please!” His heart ached, and he was shivering inside.
“Then speak!” The woman clapped.
He could not move. But neither could he allow himself to talk more. And yet he struggled and swore, demanding the photographer’s release, but refusing, still, to give in.
The woman clapped again.
There was a deathly silence.
The crucifix rose higher. Alfred saw the young man’s face upon it, serene and calm as a medieval looking pulley with a giant chain propelled him upward.
“I think you should say it,” the woman said. “In the end they all come to obey. At Nine-Rah, torture and death is your only reward―never any exceptions!”
Alfred became frightened as the cross rose higher and higher; the ceiling was littered with metal spikes. “All right, all right!” He urged the woman to stop. “Yes, mistress. I obey your every wish. I am here to serve and please you.”
The woman smiled. “Excellent,” she said. “I am Mistress Joleen.” She gave an overpoweringly evil stare, and, like her masochist-crazed servants, possessed the air of someone rather dark and brooding. “Mordecai awaits.”
Alfred had a curious look on his face. “Mordecai?”
“Yes, our lord and master awaits.” Joleen’s eyes glistened with anticipation of the joys to come. “You’re that newspaper writer, aren’t you? You actually mean to say you’ve never heard of him?”
“My article was supposed to be about an underground voodoo cult―not some house of scandalous torment!”
“Well, then it seems your investigation has led you someplace uninvited.”
“Unintended is more like it,” the journalist mumbled throatily. “I knew places like this existed, but I never imagined the extent of your pain-giving crimes would surpass the modernity of common fetish and bondage and masochist pleasures. I am truly disturbed by what I see.”
“Why we have well over three hundred torture camps just like this one across the country,” the mistress informed him, “chambers and dungeons occupying the basements of America’s great S-and-M clubs, as well as the bondage scene. Many of our clients or captives prefer dying this way. Suffering is big money. For them, Nine-Rah is a damnation-themed release before the final approach to heaven.”
“I doubt people want pain inflicted upon themselves before death.”
“I beg to differ, Mr. Hunter―or may I call you Alfred? I see this dungeon as a remedy for the soul before death, but through the use of hardcore pain whilst still in its berth of life. Ours is a masochist organization, Mr. Hunter. We take torture and death seriously. We enjoy the abuse of the human flesh and spirit before the final transitioning of both body and soul. As an investigative reporter you should be able to understand that.”
Joleen clapped her hands and the masochists once again came forward. They brought the giant crucifix down from the ceiling and released the overly weak and dehydrated young photographer. Alfred, who had only a few lash marks and cuts, now stood up. He wondered what part of the dungeon this evil-eyed mistress was bringing them to now, especially after a three-day stay in the malign environment of a trap and rat-infested cell. Almost magically, on the opposite side of the outer corridor, a section of the far wall opened to reveal a dark, stone-lined passage.
Was this the path to Mordecai?
As the two captives were hauled unceremoniously away, Alfred listened to the moans and groans of those less fortunate. There was one woman hooked up to an old vise-like device, where her extremities had been practically crushed. A female in a cell just opposite sat strapped beneath a large rusty swinging pendulum. And a man to the right of them sat with amputated legs and a gaping hole in his cheek, praying to a god that wasn’t coming for him. The gaping had come from a drilling mechanism in the wall; the amputation was self-inflicted, as he was given a blade and toxic waste was poured purposely on the lower half of his body.
Alfred turned to watch the mistress. The tall gaunt figure of a woman walked alongside, and faced her servants and stretched forth her hands. Most prisoners, excluding Alfred, sank down on their knees at the sight of her, their eyes and ears alert to her agile and flowing gait, postures humble. But not so, however, here and now. A rough shove sent the overcurious journalist staggering down to the damp passage on the photographer’s reluctant heels. The twenty-year old was strangely silent. But then there wasn’t much to say. Dungeon prisoners died quiet, or they were not prisoners and this was not a dungeon.
They stumbled through a long maze of stone-walled passages and out into the cold dark night that bit viciously into their half-naked bodies. Then there was the sound of a metal drawbridge spanning a deep moat and ahead of them a string of low stone pillars crouching like crypts or tombs against the secret acreage of land. At least they were no longer underground, Alfred thought. Beyond, there was yet another open space, and then the high sweep of the outer walls. A strange temple lay like a silent, cavern-mouthed monster―in no way resembling one of the city’s buildings or normal houses―with no roads in sight. More or less a community of torture-loving freaks, a sect or compound, settled beneath a starlit sky.
They left the night air behind them and entered the temple lot. Joleen led on, silently, and they entered a hollow passage which led down into a torch-lit, stone-walled room, circular in shape. A second, much narrower corridor stood opposite the main entrance. Other than the sconces on the walls and the cobblestone brick flooring, the room was furnished with a wooden table and a throne-like chair.
Behind the table stood a tall, muscular man with a curiously nondescript face and shrouded eyes. And on the table lay a collection of strange blades that looked like―and was―his utensils for torturing.
The great door slammed behind them.
The masochists stepped back like waiting executioners.
The mistress smiled. “Meet Mordecai,” she said graciously, like a hostess at a tea party. “The founder of Nine-Rah, and the man responsible for turning it into a community for those wishing depravation and pervasive death through torment.”
Mordecai of the nondescript face inclined his head politely, as he polished his tools for stimulating and encouraging agony. “Welcome,” he said, his voice rather calm and friendly. “Please, don’t be shy. Step a little closer to the table. So, that’s better. Now we talk. Please, tell me a little about yourselves.”
Alfred snarled and spat on the brick floor. “We speak to no one, chum. Not to your servants, not to your courtesan―no one! The only way you’ll get us to speak is if you free us. I will not stand here half-naked and converse with killers.”
The taskmaster nodded to one of his servants. “Release them for the moment. We talk.” There was a slight hoarseness about him. His voice was not harsh, only deep and throaty with some words, thin and raspy with others. The air, however, could be slight condescending if it wanted to be.
Mordecai now clicked his tongue reprovingly. “Will you talk now?”
“Never!” shouted Alfred. “You’re demonic. A bunch of uncivilized scum!”
Mordecai howled with laughter. “Call us killers, call us what you like―but we take pride in what we do. We take things to the extreme.” A brief pause, and then with sincerity in his voice he added, “You must realize I have a duty as taskmaster of this secret establishment. I do not detain you on my own behalf. You are not a client of mine, with sick fetishes or fantasies in mind and who is willing to pay top dollar just to fulfill them. You are not a guinea pig in some medieval prison about to go through an inquisition of sorts. You are not some incapable man or woman on the verge of committing suicide, who just happened to come through my door. You are, from what I am told, a newspaper writer. And you and your friend here were caught prying. You came someplace where you didn’t belong, and all I ask is why you dishonor me with this unexpected visit.”
One of Mordecai’s leather-masked understudies came inside and interrupted happily, “Sir, I have wonderful news on our sodomy client. He was overjoyed with our gift. He received the young woman’s fingernails in perfect condition.”
“Excellent,” said Mordecai delightedly. “Another satisfied customer. Put him in the system. The October catalogue will be coming out soon; I want him on our mailing list.” He turned and faced Alfred. “Now…where was I?”
Alfred couldn’t believe what he heard. “You people are just plain sick!”
“Fanatical, perhaps…” The taskmaster came around the table. “But you broke in for a reason. And if there is one thing which is not permitted, it is photographs and articles about this place. It must remain hidden from the outside world.”
“Our coming here was based on false information through my newspaper, but not altogether unexpected,” said Alfred honestly. “It was, after all, the chief harlot of this establishment that brought us here.”
Joleen’s eyes snapped, but she said nothing.
Mordecai raised his eyebrows. “So I understand. But why the necessity which drew her to you? Was it seduction? Need and attraction?”
“It was an investigation,” said Alfred. “I wished to write a two-page spread on cultist organizations―open the lid so to speak, but got more than I had bargained for. I never imagined I’d become locked up like a treacherous slave.”
“Ah, I see.” Mordecai nodded. “That is understandable.” He polished his tools of torment one last time. And then the room was absolutely silent. He asked that the mistress be brought forward, to see how true this was.
At last, the taskmaster spoke. His tone was oddly hesitant. “I don’t know who to believe,” he said. “I think you are lying. Will you speak the truth now, enemies of Nine-Rah, defilers of the dungeon that honors suffering?”
Silence. Mordecai stroked his cadaverous cheek thoughtfully.
“So be it. We have more for you. Death will wait. You will call upon God for mercy for what you are about to endure.”
Joleen’s eyes lit up her ivory face. Both she and Mordecai demurred silently, and she turned around and laughed. “Who are the liars now,” she said. “You have good reason, for you have labored well. Coming all this way for nothing, just for a couple of sentences put into print and a few snapshots. But you will rest tonight, such rest as you have never dreamed of. The wonders of another world shall now be yours. Your pilgrimage ends soon. But be patient. First, the pain.”
Mordecai circled Alfred and the photographer, smacking a dagger in the palm of his hand. “So what do you suggest? What should their punishment be?”
“Death by a thousand needles,” the mistress breathed.
Mordecai shook his head. “No, something more. Something better.”
“The whip and splicing instruments?” the mistress suggested cheerfully.
“No, but we could start with that.”
“Putting their bodies in sugar and letting the ants have their way with them?” whispered Joleen hopefully.
Again, the taskmaster’s head wagged in the negative. Dozens of ideas swirled around his head. He clapped his hands. “Up, dogs. Stand!” The men rose swiftly. The photographer dragged himself to his feet. Alfred was already up, frowning at Mordecai in a manner far more offensively than he had shown before.
Joleen was gasping with excitement. Her teeth gritting and her hands tightly clenched between her breasts, something very heinous shone out of her eyes. The true darkness of her soul, thought Alfred, his heart half-dead within him.
“Oh, my lord, my master, pray tell me what you have devised to punish them? I cannot endure the waiting!”
She was evil incarnate. But her passions were fired by her more-evil ruler.
“For them,” Mordecai intoned musically, “a torturer’s delight.”
“The specialty of the house?” Joleen murmured smilingly.
“There is no greater pain than fear itself.” The brown stumps in the mask that shrouded his eyes now stood out like cannibal’s teeth. The adorned head nodded. “And there is no greater fear than that of being buried alive.”
Joleen’s cold eyes snapped with incredulous delight. “Illustrious master!” she cried shrilly. “At last, a torment suitable for even our victims’ taste.”
“The cement wall in the antechamber,” Mordecai finished, clapping his hands sharply. “Take them away.”
Four leather-clad masochists came forward and fastened their vise-like hands on Alfred and his photographic assistant. Two more stepped up to form the head and tail of the procession. Two others stationed themselves near the cement wall, as if they were an honor guard humbly standing by for the command to start with the bricklaying.
Joleen’s gay laughter spread through the room.
The great beauty of underground torture, from the torturer’s point of view, is the fear and mental anguish inflicted upon the sufferer even while his body bears affliction. Many brave men and women successfully endure physical atrocities so awful and so final that their bodies die even while their determination to defy the pain still burns strong. Their spirit is broken by fear of the torment, but also fear of the unknown; fear, even, of their own capacity to be afraid. They are victims of a highly specialized form of persuasion―death.
The tortures listed so enthusiastically in Mordecai’s temple were fair samples of the method. The piercings and lashings of the flesh were small, superficial slits made at random all over a victim’s body―and that was only the beginning―done at irregular intervals during a prisoner’s stay before preparations were made for a final demise. By the time the masochists were finished, a great many more than a few stab wounds or whip marks crisscrossed each other, oozing droplets of blood. Each performance took considerable time. In the course of it the victim would be continually wondering when the next little cut would come, penetrating the outer layer of skin, and just how much more painful an increasingly raw body could get, and, given the circumstances, how long it would be before he bled to death.
But not so, however, in the case of Alfred Hunter and his photographer. They would suffer a more horrible form of torture, one which would eventually become their ultimate fate.
Being buried alive.
Dry fingers snapped and a whip lashed out and hotly licked the writer’s chest. Alfred fell to his knees. “Prepare them,” Mordecai ordered of his servants. “We’ve got a wall to fill.” He now looked down at his captives. “These niches shall be your tombs. Get used to them.”
As Alfred looked up at the ultra-thin recess in the bricking, a shiver ran down his spine. Beside him, the dispirited photographer groaned.
“On your feet, slaves!” Mordecai’s voice lashed out like the long, curling whip he carried in his right hand.
“You can go to hell,” said Alfred, and once more spat upon the floor.
Mordecai let the damning words run on for another moment. Then he shook his head regretfully and chuckled. “That is enough. You know the outcome. Now, in your next life, we shall hear the story behind your honored visit.”
“What the lord and master is trying to say,” said Joleen casually, “is that since you are to become part of this temple’s foundations, Nine-Rah welcomes you.”
“Through your suffering and torment, you will make Nine-Rah a better place. It will teach others to be wary of prying eyes. Torment as a medium shall become an artform, and your names shall become urban legends amongst it.”
Two masochists hurried a panting, staring-eyed journalist across the room to the far wall beyond the piled-up layers of bricks. One of them pushed a muscular hand against a section of the wall. The chamber creaked and groaned. The whole wall seemed to move, to slide sideways like a revolving closet door. Alfred stared unbelievingly. Then he saw that the apparent stone wall was a façade with a bond for holding a prisoner still by the neck and waist. Stone blocks, loose ones, lay in neat piles beneath the wall. And in the wall were four deep cavities. Two of them were reserved for Alfred and his young friend. There had, it appeared, been other tomblike cavities, for there were tall rectangular areas in-between that resembled bricked-up windows.
There was no doubt what they had been used for. Alfred’s face was a study in fear. His mouth worked silently. He shook his head and trembled violently.
“Have you anything to share, newspaper man?” Mordecai inquired.
There was no reply.
“Ah, well, makes no difference.” Mordecai clapped his hands again. “Let’s put the other one in first.” Two of the masochists now forced the young photographer up into one of the recesses of the wall. The one who had gone so swiftly from the room came back with a metal pail and a trowel.
It was then that Alfred’s partner, through despair, finally found his voice and screamed. One of the masochists slammed a fist against his head and the twenty-year old, stunned, fell back against the inside wall of the recess. The metal bonds were tightened around his neck and waist. From the back, the mistress looked on in delight. The masochists worked quickly and efficiently; two hands to a brick or stone, until there was a layer. The slap-slapping of wet cement, and then another layer. Cement and stones, cement and stones. The photographer screamed again and Alfred saw him reaching wildly over his half-built tomb. A masochist hit him carelessly, but with great force. The photographer extended his neck and came at him biting. The masochist hit him again, smashing his head against the back wall with an even greater blow than the first time. Slap-slap and heave. The clink of a trowel, the thud of stone. The barrier grew higher and thicker. The photographer screamed again, a gurgling, maddened, high-pitched cry.
Mordecai intervened. “Do not damage him any further. After all, this cement wall will be his eternity.” This time they let him scream. And there was absolutely nothing Alfred could do about it.
The mistress smiled approvingly. “It is good this way, is it not, oh great lord?” The taskmaster nodded enthusiastically.
“Better by far, Mistress Joleen. You could, perhaps, say one of my greatest. I sometimes even surprise myself.” Looking at Alfred from the corner of his eye, he went on, “And I have reserved the same punishment for our reporter friend here.”
The journalist turned his cheek. “Sick!”
“I used to gag them,” Mordecai said to Alfred, as quietly and conversationally as if describing what he had eaten for breakfast, “because if they live two or three weeks their screaming can be awfully tiresome. But then I learned that their cries had a most salutary effect on my masochists. They would remember the screams and cries far longer than any instructive lectures I could give them, and far longer than when they had put on their masks.” He inhaled a deep breath. “Listen how a man being walled up alive reacts to his well-deserved suffering and fate.” He then cocked an ear appreciatively. “Isn’t it wonderful?”
Alfred would have given anything to have been unable to distinguish sound at that moment. The pain suddenly left his punished body. Even the purpose of his being there and his own fear-inspiring predicament faded. All he could hear was one loud scream, ripping from the very soul of the doomed man. The awful, mad sound echoed and reechoed terribly through the large, high-ceilinged room. And then, under Mordecai’s instructions, Alfred was brought forward and thrown into the wall cavity next to his friend’s.
Mordecai took the metal pail and trowel from his masochist servant and said, “Please, allow me.” He began by sealing up the recess with Alfred in it. “You came here looking for a story,” he said, slap-slapping stones and bricks. “Your curiosity helped you find it. Nine-Rah, our organization, and the kind of things we do here would have made the perfect article, wouldn’t it? But as a writer you should know one thing. Not every story has a happy ending…”
Doomed to spend eternity in a wall, it was Alfred’s turn to scream. And then, only the last stone, the last high stone of the outside layer, cut off the sounds and everything else completely. It slid wetly into place bringing with it darkness, like the last piece of a puzzle.
"Scourge of Nine-Rah” is copyrighted 2006 by Lawrence R. Dagstine and may not be reproduced without his permission.