Disclaimer... The following story is a purely fictional account. Any relationship to any real person living or dead is coincidental. The narrative deals with the torture of a human being. It is intended for mature readers who wish to view such material, and for whom it is legal to do so. The author in no way condones or promotes such acts in real life.
Copyright (c) 1999 by POW. For spam prevention, an animal name has been added to the author's e-mail address. Remove the animal name to get the actual address: POWauthor zebra at yahoo dot com. This story may be freely copied and distributed so long as it is copied in its entirety, unchanged, including the author credit information and disclaimer. The author welcomes feedback.
The Nerve Artist
The young man had no warning at all. One moment, he was walking carefully down the dark street towards his car, weaving a little from the drinks he had just finished. The next, his head was encased in a dense web of blackness. The sticky substance adhered tightly to his skin, blocking his breath and obscuring his vision, and he could feel it slithering down onto his neck and chest. He clawed at the inky net, but succeeded only in spreading the goo onto his hands and arms, speeding its envelopment of his body.
Within seconds, the black web had covered him from head to toe, and he collapsed in a heap to the pavement. He fought to move his hands, his legs, anything, but the substance encasing him had tightened and solidified. He gasped and gagged, straining to get air through the mesh covering his mouth and nose. As he began to panic, he felt a hand brush some of the confining material away from his lips as if it were nothing more than water. The hand cleared off his nose, too, pressing the web into place around his mouth and cheeks, where it stuck, for the most part. It took a couple of tries, as the web kept wanting to flow back into place, but eventually his airway stayed clear.
He felt his body being lifted, and he was thrown into the trunk of a car. The journey that followed was only about fifteen minutes long, but there was no way he could even guess where his unseen kidnapper was taking him.
At the end of the ride, he was lifted out, carried roughly for a short bit, brought down a flight of stairs, then dropped to the floor. The hand returned to wipe more of the encasing web from around his head. His eyes were cleared, then his ears, and finally the black ink was firmly pressed collar-like into place around his neck. He was still immobilized from there down, but at least he could see and hear. In the sudden light, he had to squint to make out the figure standing before him.
"Good evening, Will. I imagine you have some questions. I'll be happy to answer any you may have, but I'll need just a few seconds first to remove that net and get you set up for your stay here."
Will was too stunned to reply. As his eyes adjusted to the light, he began to take in more of his surroundings. He was in a small room, devoid of any furnishings but for a table and two chairs. Except for the closed door, nothing else broke the featureless white surface of the room's four walls. The floor on which he lay was of hard, cold tile. Uniform light came from panels in the ceiling. It resembled a hospital room, only smaller.
He watched as the man who had spoken drew two small glass vials out of his coat, pulled off the stopper of one of them, and poured what appeared to be nothing at all over Will's helpless body. Instantly, he could feel the tight mesh melting away from his skin. As quickly as it had formed, his portable prison dissolved. The man repeated the action with the second vial. Will tensed, not sure what to expect, but nothing happened. The man put the vials away, stepped over to one of the chairs and sat down, gesturing for Will to make himself comfortable, too.
"OK, ask away. I'll tell you anything you want to know."
Will stood up slowly, testing his newly freed limbs, and took a long look at the closed door. Deciding that escape was too risky to attempt just yet, he carefully sat down in the room's other chair. He stammered in his uncertainty the first question that came to mind.
"Wh... who... who are you?"
"I am your kidnapper. I like to think of myself as an artist. You may call me that, if you wish. Or you may call me 'Asshole' - it really doesn't matter. Next?"
If he had been asked before now, this is not how Will would have described the course of an abduction. He had, of course, dozens of questions he wanted answers to, but the open, even friendly nature of the man across the room was confusing him so much that he couldn't spit out even one. The man seemed bothered not at all by his silence, and looked as though he would happily wait there forever. With an effort, Will pulled himself together. "OK. OK, you've kidnapped me. Why? What are you going to do with me?"
"I am going to torture you."
Will was not sure he had heard correctly. "Tor... torture me? B-but why? What do you want to know?"
"Oh, I don't want to learn anything from you. I simply want to cause you pain."
"But why? I don't understand!"
"Because I enjoy inflicting pain. I do it simply because I can. Next?" Will was beginning to feel sick to his stomach. He tried to stand up, but a wave of dizziness forced him to sit back down.
"Did you drug me or something?" he said. "I don't feel so good..."
"No, no drugs. Next?"
Will tried to focus. "Why me? Did I do something to offend you?"
"No. I chose you because you are a healthy, good-looking man in his prime - my favorite type of victim. I selected you a few weeks ago and spent some time studying you in preparation for taking you tonight. You have few friends in this area, and your family members all live fairly far away. No one will miss you for some time."
"Some time! What happens after that? Are you going to kill me, then?"
"No. You will be alive for many years to come, barring any accidents or diseases. Virtually all of that time you will be experiencing pain to one degree or another. As I said, I enjoy inflicting agony."
"No. No, that's not going to happen," Will said, shaking his head to clear it. "I'm leaving here, right now!"
"I think you'll find that's not as easy you expect," the kidnapper said dryly.
Will again tried to stand. He wobbled toward the door, and even got his hand on the knob before his legs gave out and he crashed heavily to the floor. His head was swimming faster. He tried to keep his captor talking while he looked for a way out.
"What are your plans, then? What are you going to do to me?"
"Well, the first stages are already taking place. You are obviously feeling some dizziness now. As I said, I did not drug you, but I did infect you with nano-machines, coded to respond only to your genetic ID. They are now in your bloodstream, multiplying and taking control of your body functions. When there are enough of them, which shouldn't take too much longer, they will begin the second stage of their program."
Will felt a sharp pain shoot through his intestines, and the tips of his fingers and toes began tingling. He tried to haul himself up to reach the doorknob, but could not overcome the powerful cramp in his gut. He had a hard time making out the words his captor spoke.
"These machines are designed to destroy any living tissue with your particular DNA, with two exceptions: they will not damage anything above your neck, and they will not harm nerve cells. In fact, they will be attracted to your nerves, using the material of your other cells as their food supply. There, they will form a protective sheath, which ... "
For Will, the voice faded off into a red haze. The continuing intestinal cramp became suddenly ten times worse, doubling him over into a ball. Then his body exploded with agony. Convulsions wracked his muscles as the nano-devices ripped him apart from the inside out. His limbs twitched randomly, helplessly, and screams tore from his throat. The pain seemed to go on for hours. A few times in his thrashing he got a glimpse of his body, and saw it dissolving away like butter in boiling water. He slumped into a heap on the floor as his bones liquefied, and finally lay twitching in a puddle of his own gore, jaws locked in a rictus of agony. The light dimmed...
When Will came to, he found himself sitting upright. He tried to look down, but discovered he was unable to move his neck, or indeed any part of his body except his face. He rolled his eyes around, trying to take in his surroundings, but there was not much to see. A wall, a door, an empty chair. His head appeared to be propped up on a table, which prompted him to think about where his body should be, and he suddenly remembered everything. In a panic, he tried to scream, and found he couldn't make a sound. He couldn't even draw a breath. Descending into mental chaos again, his lips moved in a silent image of stark terror.
A slap across his cheek brought him back to reality. He forced his eyes to focus, and saw his captor standing in front of him.
"Will, let me explain what has happened to you. As I told you before, your body has been destroyed. All that is left of you is your head and your nervous system. Your head is plugged in at the neck to a portable life support unit, which is sustaining your existence. Here, let me show you..."
The man brought out a mirror and positioned it so Will could see himself. There was not much to see. His skin ended at his neck, where it seemed to merge seamlessly with a box about a foot square and six inches in height. The box was entirely self-contained - no cords or cables connected it to anything else. Will retained control over the muscles of his face and head, but could not turn or bend because of the attachment to the box. He stared at his disembodied head for several minutes, then turned his eyes mutely upward to his tormentor.
"Ah, you want to speak. One moment."
He reached around and fiddled with a knob on the box. Will suddenly felt a pressure in his nose and mouth, and opened his lips to expel the air which was now flowing freely up from the box through his throat.
"There. Now you can talk, although your throat may be sore from the procedure you just went through. Take it easy."
Will spoke, his voice flat and lifeless. "What... have... you... done..." With no control over his airstream, his monotone voice sounded like a cartoonist's version of a robot.
"Will, that's a foolish question. I just told you what I did. Please, if you want to speak, say something meaningful. Otherwise, you're just wasting power. The electrical cells in this unit won't last forever, and it's a pain to change them out."
"Please... please... put... me... back... I... don't... want... to... be... like... this..."
"Come, now, Will, I can't do that. You saw it yourself - your body was dissolved. The box is the only thing keeping you alive now."
"Then... kill... me..."
"No. As I said, I am going to torture you. Did you think the nano-machines WERE the torture? Oh, that was just the beginning. You see, now that you are nothing more than a brain and a bundle of nerves, I can inflict all the pain I want and not have to worry about you dying inconveniently from the stress. Here, let me give you a sample..."
Will started to protest, but the man switched off his air. He then opened a small panel at the front of the box and extracted what appeared to be a lacework of gossamer strands, which stayed connected to the box by only a slightly thicker cord. Will felt odd pulses of sensation wash over his body as the strands of his nervous system slipped through his captor's fingers. It was like being touched all over, inside and out. He watched as the man laid the bundle of lace into a second box, then shut the lid. More odd sensations assaulted him; not exactly painful, but definitely unpleasant.
"I've been working for some time on this arrangement. You're my first human experiment. Let me tell you a little about how it works.
"As I mentioned, your nerves are now surrounded and sustained by a protective sheath of nano-machines. They bring the oxygen and nutrients that your blood used to supply down along the strands from the life-support box. However, the machines also have a secondary function, which is to stimulate the nerves. That's where this second box comes in. Right now, it's going through a calibration cycle - I'm sure you can feel it testing out your circuitry. When that is complete, I should be able to provide you with just about any sensation you can imagine.
"As I said before, I am an artist. You, Will, are my canvas. And pain is my medium.
"Of course, I'm still working on the stimulation algorithms, so the results will probably be a bit crude. That's part of why you're here - to help me refine it. I've got other machines in your brain that monitor your reactions, to let me know how I should tweak the programs to get the maximum effect. Still, this early version should be enough for you to get the idea. Ah! We're ready."
The Artist pushed a few keys, and Will tensed and waited for an explosion of agony. When it didn't come, he opened his eyes and looked around warily. In his state of heightened awareness, it took a while for him to even notice the familiar sensation of his bladder filling up. However, unlike when he actually had a bladder, this time it kept filling. He quickly moved past the point of discomfort into outright pain, and still the sensation kept coming. He tried to squeeze his legs together, to void himself, to do anything to lessen the pressure, but to no avail.
He would have screamed had he been able, but even that release was denied him. His bladder felt fuller than it had ever been. He thought he was well past the point where it would have burst open, had the sensation been real. But it was not real. The rupture would never come, and this man could keep him feeling like this for as long as it amused him. There was nothing, absolutely nothing, that Will could do. A single tear tracked slowly down from his tightly clenched eyes.
Then, abruptly, the pain vanished. "See what I mean? Feels just like the real thing, but causes you no physical harm. Had I actually forced you to feel that sensation with your body, your bladder would have burst, and you probably would have died. This way, there's no health consequences at all. By the way, you should be glad I didn't run you through the whole program - the rest of it continues with you expelling all that urine through a badly infected urethra. But I want to save the genital tortures for later. Here, let's try another."
This time the pain came sharply, centered around his abdomen. Had it been real, he would have been doubled over with the force of it. Instead, he sat, wordlessly enduring. Through the haze of pain, he could make out words from his tormenter.
"This is appendicitis. An inflammation of that useless little organ that does nothing at all except flare up in a few unlucky souls with a massive infection. This is about as bad as I can make it for you - there are only so many nerve endings on the inside of your body, and when you max them out, that's all there is."
Will was relieved in a vague way. True, the pain was horrible, but at least he now knew the upper limit of what he would have to endure. Then the voice went on.
"So, let's broaden the scope a bit. This, now, is the sensation of an appendectomy. Without anesthesia."
If Will thought the pain was bad before, this was an order of magnitude worse. He could feel the knife slicing into his skin, separating his muscles, piercing his abdominal wall. He could feel the icy cold touch of the blade probing around his swollen appendix. He could feel clumsy fingers squeezing the organ, fumbling around to get a grip, and finally grasping it and tearing it out from his tortured body. Every nerve sang with the horror. Then, a final indignity - the poke of a needle and the rasp of coarse thread, pulling the imaginary wound closed and sealing him shut again. Then, like before, it was gone, and Will was left reeling with the ghost of a sensation.
"Pretty realistic, eh? I'm proud of that one - took me weeks to develop. Did you like the stitches at the end? I thought that was a nice touch of irony. Anyway, I've got more to give you, but I don't want to overload you on your first day, so I'll leave you for now."
He removed the shimmering threads of Will's nervous system from the torture box and replaced them in the cavity under Will's head. "By the way, you do still need sleep, so feel free to nap when you can. You won't feel hungry, or thirsty, or the need to breathe. Unless I want you to, of course. So try to relax. I'll be back for you tomorrow night." With that, he left, dousing the lights on his way out. Will was left alone in the desolate darkness.
There was no way to know how much time passed before the Artist returned. Will was able to sleep only for brief naps, and spent the rest of the time peering into the gloom. As the hours wore on, he found himself itching more and more to move, even if the movement was no more than the twitching of a toe. No natural human ever spends more than a few minutes completely still, even in sleep. Will's inability to make normal body motions quickly passed from frustrating to unendurable, and he would have screamed if that release had been permitted to him.
The lack of light and sound took its toll, too. Will began to feel like a ghost, disconnected from the physical world he had inhabited only yesterday. He fought to maintain his sanity by exercising the few muscles that remained under his control - eyelids, cheeks, lips, tongue. He ran each through a series of motions, just to prove he still could. Even so, the hours dragged on seemingly forever.
When at last the Artist returned, Will was nearly ecstatic with the sensation of light and sound, any distraction from the endless monotony of the previous night. The ecstasy was short-lived, though, as he watched his captor once again pull his nerves from their box and place them in the torture chamber.
This time the torture was exclusively genital. In one program after another, his penis and testicles were pierced, abraded, pulled, squashed, twisted, chewed, blown up, and ripped off. The Artist was proud of the last.
"It's not hard to make you feel like a body part has been removed," he explained. "All I have to do is have it send no signals up to your brain. The hard part is getting the timing right. The pain should build and build until the breaking point is reached, then shut off abruptly. And even then, there's the 'phantom' sensation to mimic. I want to get that exactly right."
So Will endured, over and over, his own castration. The Artist was especially interested in how it felt to him. The sensor machines in his brain provided a numerical analysis of Will's reaction, but the Artist also wanted to hear the subjective version. After the dozenth time, Will simply could not distinguish the subtle differences he was expected to feel as his genitals were mutilated once again, and he was allowed to rest.
And so the days passed, one after the other. Sometimes the Artist focused on a specific body area, other times he worked the whole thing over. One of his favorite techniques was to run the program, then ask Will to guess what it was. At first Will resisted, wanting to take no active role in his own torment. But when it became clear that the Artist would simply repeat the program over and over until Will guessed correctly, he gave in.
"You're removing my leg."
"Yes, but how?"
"You're sanding it off."
"Close. Try harder."
"You're... you're shaving it off a little bit at a time?"
"I don't know!"
"Let's do it again, then." This would go on for hours.
"A cheese grater?"
"Yes! Very good, Will! I'm proud of how acute your perception is becoming. You never knew your body this well when you still had it!"
In between the torture sessions came the almost equally unendurable solitude of the nights. Will needed less and less sleep in his inactive state, so even the solace of dreams was largely denied him. And the lower, animal part of his brain never got used to the lack of movement. Several times a day, he would be seized with the urge to shake, to move, to twitch, anything to let his brain know that his body was still there. Which, of course, it wasn't. The frustration brought him to silent tears on more than one occasion.
A day came when the Artist broke from his usual routine. He adjusted a knob on the box, and Will found himself immediately drowsy. Within seconds he was asleep.
When he came to, his first sensation was of extreme, bone-numbing cold. Before he even opened his eyes, he was aware of a chill far deeper than any he had ever experienced. The cold was so intense it burned. If he still had muscles, they would have been convulsed in shivers.
Opening his eyes, he discovered that he was in an unfamiliar place for the first time since his abduction. The Artist was standing in front of him.
"Hello, Will. I needed a break for a while to work on my first major program, so I brought you out for a change of scenery. You're in a small cave overlooking the Oregon coast. As soon as I move out of your way, you should be able to see the ocean. It's a fairly quiet spot - no one's likely to come by this way in the next few weeks. When I'm done with the new program, I'll come back and get you, but in the meantime, I wanted to show you that not all of your agony has to be machine-inflicted.
"You may have noticed the chill. It's February, in case you've lost track of the time. The temperature here is about 40 degrees now, but it will probably drop a bit during the nights. If you'll take a look, you'll see that I have taken your nerves out of their comfortable, temperature-controlled box and spread them around on the cave floor. The sensations they are sending back to your brain are completely real. You are now colder than you have ever been in your life."
The Artist turned to leave, and stopped at the cave's entrance.
"Don't worry about freezing to death - the box won't allow that. See you in a few weeks!"
With that, the Artist left.
The days dragged on interminably. The cave was situated a short ways above the high tide line. On windy days, which meant almost every day, the spray that whipped up from the ocean blew into the cave and condensed onto the walls, the floor, and Will. It brought with it a fresh, raw chill from the ocean. Had he still possessed a body, he would long since have passed through numbness and hypothermia, and would have frozen to death. As things were, though, he was awake and conscious throughout the whole thing, perhaps twenty hours a day.
The only event to break the endless, frozen monotony was the day when a storm blew in off the Pacific. The winds whipped up enough of a swell that Will's cave was not only soaked with spray, it was inundated. The force of the water was enough to push his box around a bit, but not enough to tip it over or wash it away. Will found himself wishing it would - that he would be swept out to sea and lost to the Artist. It may take months for the box's power cells to run down, during which time he would suffer the excruciating cold, but at least he could be sure it would someday end. But it was not to be. When the storm passed and the water receded, he had been pushed up against a wall and his nerve net was strewn haphazardly around the small cave. The cold hours dragged on.
Will eventually reached the point where he could remember nothing of his former life. His entire existence, for as long as he could remember, consisted of waves of icy pain and a dim view of a moist rock wall. There was nothing else.
Then, abruptly, a shadow blocked the gray light, a hand brushed past his ear, and he knew no more.
This time, when he woke up, he was back in the familiar basement room of the Artist's home. The cold that had been his entire existence for so long was only a memory. "Will, my latest work is finally ready for you to try. Sorry for the delay."
"I've worked very hard on this one, and I think you're going to find it's my best ever. This time, I've added vision and sound to the experience. You won't just feel what's going on, you'll see and hear a simulated version, too. With three of the five senses covered, I think you won't be able to distinguish this scene from reality. It's a long one. You'll be in for at least two weeks, so you'll have plenty of time to lose yourself in my little fantasy world."
He went on. "I'm even going to set your breather to read the signals from your motor neurons, and adjust your blood oxygen level accordingly. Not only will you be able to 'breathe' as you used to, you'll even feel like your body needs the air - though of course it doesn't. Your oxygen level will never sink low enough to cause you any real harm. Still, it will make the scene more realistic, and it will enable you to scream, which is all I'm really after."
With that, he placed a helmet over Will's head, covering his eyes and ears. Will felt the now-familiar sensation of his nerves going through the torture box's calibration cycle, and saw and heard the gray buzz of static. Then, with an abrupt lurch, the program began.
Will was lying on the floor of a dank cell. The chill of the stone sank into his naked skin everywhere it touched him, bringing back a sudden memory flash of the cave.
But this time there was a difference - he had his body back! Will sat up and looked around. The simulation was incredible in its detail. He could move again! His arms, his legs, everything right down to the tips of his fingers. And not just his body, but his head, too. He took a few experimental steps around the tiny cell, rejoicing in the sensation of movement.
There was nothing to give away the fact that this was all an elaborate computer-generated fantasy. When he rapped his knuckles on the stone wall, he saw the contact, felt it, and heard the dull thud. When he spun around, he found himself momentarily dizzy. When he shouted with the joy of it all, he felt the sound in his throat and heard it in his ears.
His euphoria was short lived. The cell's tiny door opened, and two burly guards stepped in. Without a word, they grabbed him by the arms (oh, to have arms again!) and dragged him through the door, lifting him nearly off his feet in the process. They carried him through dimly lit hallways of cold stone, winding ever upward through a subterranean maze. At last they emerged into bright sunlight. Will squinted against the sudden glare.
His escort didn't slow at all. The guards continued, Will kicking weakly between them, out along a dusty road through a small town. As they rounded a corner near the town's last building, Will happened to look up, and saw a sight that froze his blood in his veins.
The road wound along the base of a small hill. And there, at the top of the hill, stood a cross.
Will felt his knees buckle, but the guards continued their inexorable progress. He exploded in a frenzy of struggle, screaming "No!" at the top of his lungs and twisting violently against the steel hands that held him. It was all of no use.
Will watched in helpless horror as he was dragged up the hill. At the top, four more soldiers were busy lowering the cross-beam from the fixed upright post. They laid it out on the ground, then turned to watch Will's progress up the last bit of the slope. Will fought and screamed, kicked and begged, but was unable to deter his captors from their task. With no more care than one would show a sack of potatoes, they dumped Will to the ground next to the cross-beam.
Will knew what the next steps would be. True to the script, two of the guards grabbed his wrists and stretched them wide apart on top of the cross beam. A third guard knelt on his upper arms; Will felt like the bones were being crushed beneath the weight. Another pulled out an enormous spike, at least six inches long and half an inch in diameter, with a wide head and a wickedly sharp point. With no fanfare, he placed the point of the spike on Will's left wrist, feeling for the place where the two bones were furthest apart.
Will couldn't tear his eyes away. He tried to pull his hand in, but the soldier's grasp was too strong to escape. He watched as the point of the spike drew a drop of blood from his exposed wrist. He watched the guard with the hammer steady the nail against the soft skin. He saw the hammer rise. And he saw it fall.
Pain shot through his arm like lightning. Every nerve sang with agony. Blood spurted from the wound and ran down his arm. The first stroke of the hammer was enough to sink the spike completely through his wrist and into the wood behind, but the guard delivered four more blows. When he was finished, the spike was so deeply imbedded that its wide head crushed Will's wrist cruelly against the beam.
His right arm was treated the same way, and in less than a minute, both of Will's arms were on fire, stretched viciously far apart and held in place by unyielding metal spikes. For a brief moment, Will thought that if his arms felt this bad when he was lying on the ground, how much worse would it be when his weight put even more tension on them? Another wave of pain washed over him, and he forgot to wonder.
The sensation of movement brought him back to consciousness. The cross-beam was being lifted on poles, dragging his pinned body with it. Two guards were on each side of him, lifting him up. Sure enough, as his feet left the ground, the tension did indeed make the pain much, much worse. He was jarred and bumped as the guards guided the cross-beam into a notch on the upright, each jolt sending fresh waves of pain down from his wrists.
When the two beams at last settled into place, another guard climbed a ladder and drove two more spikes through to hold them together. Will hung by his wrists, the top of his head about even with his hands. His toes were only about two feet from the ground, but the distance might as well have been two miles. As soon as the crossbeam was firmly attached, they grabbed his ankles and proceeded to fix them to the upright beam.
The upright was a square post about 10 inches on a side. The soldiers bent his knees a bit and placed his feet on either side of the post, then drove spikes sideways through each ankle, pinning them in place. The nails smashed right through the bones, and each one brought with it a new pain to add to Will's already overloaded nervous system.
With that, the men left him. Will was alone on the hilltop.
Time slowed to a crawl.
Will hung with the morning sunlight shining in his eyes. Almost all of his weight was being supported by his nailed wrists. The stretching on his simulated arm muscles was as bad as the pain from the spikes. His shoulders ached, his pectorals felt pulled to their limit, and his biceps and triceps were straining so that he thought they would tear apart. And it only got worse as he slowly settled with the pull of gravity.
In an effort to relieve the strain of his upper body, he gingerly tried to support some of his weight on his nailed feet. But they, too, were searing with pain. He was able to press down a little with his leg muscles, but every bit of relief in his arms was countered by more intense pain in his ankles as his weight settled on the open wounds at the spikes. At last he gave up and sank back down, and instantly, the fire returned to his arms, even worse than before.
Explosively, he let out a breath, realizing just then that he had been holding it in without noticing. The Artist was right - he did feel the need to breathe, even though consciously he knew better. He also realized one of the further torments of his position - crucifixion makes exhalation a conscious process. He had to work to breathe; it no longer just happened naturally. A weak groan of despair escaped from his lips. He choked it back, not wanting to give the Artist the satisfaction of seeing how much he was hurting.
As the minutes crawled by, Will sank into a routine. Endure the agony in his arms as long as possible, then try to stand briefly and snatch a breath. Endure the searing pain from his butchered ankles while getting enough air to satisfy the imaginary oxygen demands of his imaginary body. Then sink back down to new bolts of fire in his arms and repeat. The minutes stretched into an hour, then two, and the pain only got worse and worse. There was never any way to reduce the pain he felt; he could only shift it around from place to place.
The sun moved higher in the sky, pouring its rays onto his stretched skin. Sweat formed on his body, on his head, dripping into his eyes and down his cheeks. In a moment of lucidity, he realized that if he was feeling it on his face, it must be real, happening to his imprisoned head in the Artist's tiny cell. He clung to that vision of a real world outside this fantasy as a way to escape the horror he was experiencing. Somehow, it made the torment more bearable.
Still, the nightmare kept drawing him in. In addition to the spikes and the stretching, he was now feeling the pain of the heat. He looked down at his body and saw it turning pink in the sun's glare. Evening was hours away; he had no doubt that by then he would be suffering from a severe sunburn on top of his other hurts. And he suspected the Artist could make it feel worse than any burn he'd ever felt before...
The day wore on. Sweat pooled in his eyes, burning and itching, and he could do nothing to get it out. His mouth was dry, his lips cracked. The fire in his wrists had subsided to a dull ache, only flaring up if he tried to move his hands. His weight had stretched him down from his original position as his muscles and joints yielded to the strain. His legs were bent a little more, giving him a fraction more freedom of movement. Not that he could do anything with it. He still had to struggle for each breath, but he grew used to the pattern - hang, stand, breathe, hang, stand, breathe.
Twice during the day he found he had to urinate, and did so. The stream ran down his legs, with some leaking into the wounds in his ankles, causing new bursts of torment. The blood at his wrists congealed into dark clots, baked in the heat. Will steadily lost focus, trying to keep alive the vision of his real self, unharmed, intact, in the Artist's room, but failing more and more as the pain overwhelmed him.
Finally, when the sun was slowly sinking toward the horizon, he snapped. The endless pain and the feeling of his trapped arms and legs, held immobile while he suffered, pushed him over some invisible edge. Screams erupted from his mouth. He pulled fiercely on his arms, heedless of the new agonies it caused him. In his frenzy, he didn't care if he tore his hands off his wrists - anything to be free, to move, to get down from his prison. He tried to kick, to buck, to writhe, but the effort would have been laughable to anyone watching. Despite his strongest pulling, his pinned limbs remained exactly where they were. His only accomplishment was to rub some splinters off the rough post into his back, where they added a new pain for Will to feel.
Spent at last, he gave up and sank back down, sobbing with impotent rage and helplessness. The blaze of pain from his struggles settled back down to a dull ache, and his breath came in shallow gasps. In his exhausted daze, he heard a voice that seemed to come from the very air around him. It echoed in his ears.
"Very good, Will. You lasted much longer than I thought you would. I expected you to crack sooner. Do you feel better now that you've expressed yourself? Hmm? I hope so. Well, I have to leave you now. It's almost time for supper, and I have some friends over. Did I tell you that an image of what you're experiencing is showing on my screen upstairs? We've been enjoying watching you, and look forward to more entertainment while we eat. Go ahead and struggle again, if you feel like it. I'm sure my guests would enjoy that very much."
"Just for your reference, you've been up a little over eight hours now. I did tell you this would be a fairly lengthy scene, right? Just so you know... Have a good night, if you can. Try to sleep - remember that your mind needs its rest, even if your body doesn't. People who go without sleep for too long tend to get a bit crazy, you know."
The voice disappeared, and Will was alone again.
Rest was, of course, impossible. There was no way Will could put the agony of his racked body out of mind long enough to sleep. The night passed very much as the day had - hang, stand, breathe - with one exception: the heat of the day had been replaced by a freezingly cold night.
His sunburn didn't help at all. Will felt heat radiating from his skin into the cold night air. Barely an hour after sundown, he was shivering uncontrollably. In one sense, the cold was a relief; it gave him something to focus on besides the pain. Countering that was the fact that every twitch of his arms and legs tugged on the spikes anchoring him to the wood. His body wanted to cramp, to fold over on itself and conserve his precious warmth, but he was held cruelly spread, naked to the air.
Eventually, he sank into a state of delirium, where the pain seemed far away, and someone else was responsible for fighting for every breath. He spent most of the night lingering in this twilight state. Every once in a while, he would slip so far away that he would forget to breathe. This would snap him back to consciousness, desperately gasping to suck precious air into his lungs. Of course, as soon as he was aware again, the pain would come rushing back. The fourth time this happened, Will could take no more. He began crying and screaming to the Artist, to God, to anyone. This nightmare had to end - he could endure no more.
And yet no end came. In the last hours before morning, even the illusory comfort of his twilight state was denied him, and he spent every minute feeling the pain. First his hands would scream their torment, then the focus would shift to his knees, his upper arms, his chest, his feet... Will was awash in a chorus of suffering, each new voice seeming worse than all the others before it.
When the virtual sun first broke over the horizon, its rays fell upon the broken body of a completely demoralized man. There was no fight left in him. He simply hung there, enduring the private hell that had been designed personally for him. His body had stretched during the night as his joints and muscles loosened from the tension. His head was now well below the cross-beam, angling his arms upward so that his body formed more of a "Y" than a "T". His knees were bent forward, too, taking up the slack since his feet couldn't move. So engrossed was he in his torture that he failed to notice the return of the Artist's voice.
Will finally snapped to alertness, hoping against hope that the Artist would take pity on him and end this horror.
"Glad to see you're awake. I was beginning to worry about you. Look, my guests loved your show last night. They were absolutely amazed at the degree of suffering they could see etched on your face. A couple of them even wanted to trade places with you - temporarily, of course. All in all, it was quite a success. I just wanted you to know that your work is appreciated.
"Now, it looks as if we need to tighten you up a bit. You've still got thirteen days to go, so we can't have you looking all sloppy like that. Here we go..."
With that, the voice trailed off, and Will became aware of another sound - footsteps. Coming up to the crest of the hill was one of the guards from yesterday. He pulled out a crowbar and began to work at loosening the spikes at Will's ankles. The left one came out easily enough, but the right was so tightly embedded in the wood that by the time the guard got the spike free, he had utterly mangled Will's foot. More simulated blood gushed from the fresh wound, and Will would have passed out, had he been able to.
The guard grabbed Will's feet one at a time, pulled them down as far as they would stretch, and pounded the spikes back in. He had to make a new hole in the right ankle, higher up on Will's leg. His work done, he headed back down the hill, leaving Will to face the fresh pain and another whole day of suffering.
Breathing became even more unimaginably difficult. With his body stretched even more tightly than yesterday, Will could barely fill his lungs to half their capacity. As a result, he had to breathe more often, with each breath feeling less and less satisfying. Two new sensations were added besides: hunger and thirst. As the sun rose higher in the sky, pouring its heat onto his exposed flesh, Will began to crave water like he never had in his life. His lips were blistered and bleeding, and in what seemed like a rare moment of lucidity, he realized that since his lips were one of the few real parts of his body, this must really be happening.
That idea pushed him over the edge. He slipped into delirium again, his mind trying to blot out the pain that awareness brought by avoiding awareness at all.
When he next came to, the sun was low in the west, and the Artist's voice was again ringing in his ears.
"Will... Will... come on, Will, wake up... Oh, good, there you are. I just wanted you to know, this is the last time I'll be talking to you until it's time to end the scene. I wanted to tell you that you 'died' about 10:00 this morning. Your body finally gave up trying to breathe. If this had been really happening, your suffering would be over now. But, of course, it's not, and I'm looking forward to seeing your reactions over the next dozen or so days. Good bye, Will."
For Will, the next 'dozen or so days' passed in a murky fog, punctuated by bright spots of consciousness. He had no memory of events taking place in any particular order. He merely had impressions...
... of fingers grasping at his genitals, tying a leather thong around the base of his balls. Of a whole new type of pain as a weight was tied to the other end of the thong, then dropped. Of more weights being added, more and more force pulling on his trapped ball sac until at last the taut skin parted, tearing his testicles loose from their moorings and spilling them in a shower of blood on the ground beneath his feet...
... of carrion birds landing on the post above his arms, tearing at his fingers while he blindly fought to drive them off. It was no use - when the birds were at last gone, so were his fingers...
... of the six guards returning, each armed with a bow and a quiver of arrows. Of being their practice target. Of feeling arrow shafts sink into the wasted muscles of his arms and legs, his chest, his guts. Of hearing the laughter of the guards as he vainly fought to twist away, to protect himself, to hide...
... of having a giant wooden dildo rammed into his ass in one brutal stroke. Of splinters biting into his fragile skin, sphincter muscles stretching and tearing from the shaft's girth. Of wondering how someone could even reach his ass to violate him in this way, then realizing that, in the Artist's world, anything was possible...
... of one lone guard standing under him, armed only with a saw. Of feeling the saw sink into the skin at the top of his left leg. Of watching the saw chew his bone and muscle apart, until at last the leg slipped free and spun down to hit the ground, still anchored to the upright by the unmoving spike. Of thinking that at least he had that much less weight dragging on his arms...
... of feeling hands once more fumbling at his penis, stretching it downward where his balls used to be. Of nails pounding through its soft flesh into the upright...
And finally, of the return of the birds. There were many more this time, hundreds, all fighting to get at him. They tore at every inch of exposed meat, ripping his skin to shreds with their beaks and talons, devouring his body as he watched, helplessly, hopelessly, until there was nothing left of him but his head, floating under the cross beam, falling to the ground, rolling down the hillside, tumbling against rocks, at last coming to rest, battered and bruised on ...
.. a table in a small basement room.
The Artist smiled at him and said "What did you think?"
There was more after that, much more. The Artist was a master at what he did, and Will endured pain far beyond what any intact human could have borne.
Once he found himself turned loose in a cold, boggy forest. He looked around dimly, bewildered as to what his torment would be in this setting. The answer came in the form of a pack of Beowulf-style warriors, huge and looming. They captured him, bound him, and carried him back to their camp where they speared him from ass to throat with a long spit and set him to roast slowly over a bed of coals. The torment lasted for days. They started at his feet and worked their way up, periodically tearing off the cooked parts of his body to feast on. A normal man would have died early on in the process. Will stayed awake and aware right up until they reached his neck.
Another time he endured his own evisceration. A man dressed as a surgeon opened a hole low on Will's belly, then proceeded to draw out his internal organs one by one. Liver, spleen, kidneys, intestines, stomach, and more all came out to be laid neatly on a table. When Will's body cavity was empty, the surgeon stitched Will up and set him free to stagger about, now slimmer than he had ever been with a fourteen-inch waist.
On yet another occasion the Artist actually treated Will to some pleasure. There was no audio or video with this program, only touch. At the start of the scene, Will found himself developing an erection, the first he had had since the destruction of his body. It felt huge and hard, as though his penis had become an iron rod three feet in length and as thick around as his leg.
He was granted the ability to move, and found that if he thrust his hips forward, his enormous phallus buried itself in a hot, tight, moist hole. Delicious sensations coursed along the entire monstrous length. He knew that somehow, the Artist would not grant him this kind of pleasure without providing at least an equal measure of pain, but still he couldn't stop himself from thrusting harder and deeper, over and over again.
Eventually, the familiar sensation of impending orgasm overwhelmed him, and he lost himself in wave after wave of a thunderous climax. Spent, he dimly heard the Artist say "Great job! I recorded every move you made. Now let's play it back again, only this time from the other side."
He barely had time to register the words before his ass was split in half by the very same monster cock. The pain was beyond belief. The giant cock ripped through the fragile tissues of his rectum. Its owner showed no mercy, as indeed Will had not when he had been in control of it. It plunged relentlessly in and out, rubbing Will's ass raw and stretching it far beyond its ability to stretch. After what felt like hours, Will felt the shuddering explosion of his rapist's orgasm and at last the cock slipped out.
The Artist said "You know, you hear the phrase 'go fuck yourself' all the time, but you, my dear Will, may just be the first to have actually done it."
But despite all the torments the Artist could devise, something in Will had changed irreversibly during his time on the cross. It was as though he had been through hell and come back, and nothing from then on could ever be worse. No matter how bad the Artist made the pain, there was some part of Will that he couldn't touch.
The Artist eventually grew frustrated at Will's lack of response. He tried to turn up the torment to inspire a reaction, but past a certain point he was unable to do so. And as time went on, that point became easier and easier to reach. Will continued to slip away, increasingly getting lost in a private space where the Artist couldn't touch him.
Will felt himself pulled back to awareness. He was cold. Looking around, he saw that he was back in the cave by the ocean, and his nerves were once again spread out all over the rock floor. The Artist was standing in front of him.
"Ah, that seems to have done it," he said. "I knew I could find some mix of drugs that would bring you back. It's a shame the effects are only temporary.
"Will," he went on, "I know this isn't a tactful thing to say, but I have to be honest - I'm tired of you. You just don't respond to my art any more. I pour my heart and soul into writing these programs, and you just lie there like a limp dishrag. You have no sense of appreciation for my work. It's very depressing.
"So I'm creating one last piece of performance art with you. And this is it, here. I call it 'Endurance'."
The Artist walked around the tiny space, looking like an actor spouting a Shakespearean soliloquy.
"It's hard to build for the ages, you know?" he said. "So many things can go wrong, and then you're just Ozymandias. 'Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair!' and there's nothing but empty sand.
"But I'm a modest guy. I'm not trying for centuries. I'll be happy with a few decades. Even so, I'm pretty sure the weak link, the component that gives out first, will be you. I've got redundant self-contained power systems - solar, wind, and wave-driven. The ocean provides a constant supply of nutrients and a convenient place to dump your metabolic wastes.
"I've bolted your box in place, so you won't wash away. The metal mesh around your head will keep curious critters from nipping pieces off of you, and the nano-machines around your nerves are strong enough to resist any force they're likely to encounter. Everything's camouflaged, so even if someone walked right past the entrance to this cave, they won't know you're here. Unless you call out to them. Which you can't.
"Basically, I can keep you alive forever. That won't happen, of course. Something in what's left of your organic body will eventually give out. Even with all the techno-medical marvels of our age, no one has yet solved the problem of mortality. But as long as the sun shines and the sea rolls, some part of you will be here to watch it. There will come a time when there's no 'you' left inhabiting your brain, but your blood will still pump and your neurons will still fire. Even if those firings are just random flickers in an ever-darkening night."
Will felt his awareness growing fuzzy again.
"You're here for the long haul, Will. I won't be here to watch, of course. I've already picked out my next victim, and I'm going to be busy putting him and his successors through all the programs you helped me create and refine. Ten years from now, if I think about you at all, it will be to fondly remember my very first piece of canvas."
The Artist turned and walked out of the cave. As he stepped into the soft sunshine of an autumn afternoon, he turned back and looked one last time at the disembodied head in the dank cave.
"Good-bye, Will," he said.
The Artist turned again and left. For a long time after he was gone, Will watched the spot where he disappeared from view, staring emptily at the waves crashing on the rocky shore. The cold was overwhelming. He found he could think of nothing but the sensation of ice eating into what still felt like his bones. Eventually, the sun set. Darkness enveloped him, and the chill in his bones deepened further.
Unseen in the night, the waves rolled in and out, endlessly churning yet accomplishing nothing.