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A Lion's Whelp

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There is nothing living in the last cell on the right.

Flaccid patches of soggy straw litter the mildewed floor. The far wall is striped with the shadows from the barred door and a persistent dampness imbues the fetid corners with murky sludge, once water. Not even mice skitter within this earthly purgatory.

Behind the door, tucked into the driest corner is a man. Not dead, not living, he breathes out of habit alone. His pale cheek stippled with imprints from the rough stone wall he’s leaning against and every wrinkle in his skin is caked with dirt. Limp and hollow, sleep is the closest thing to comfort he can fathom.

Lost to dreamless doze, something beckons him to wakefulness – a strange vapour beginning to tickle his nose. Eyes creaking open, he finds his cell is slowly accumulating more and more silvery fog; so much so the opposite wall is already obscured. Very faintly, the walls hum with a processional tune – deep and untraceably old.

From the ether, a silhouette takes shape, a dark figure molded from the mysterious miasma. Then another, and still two more. The first is now definable, with fine details chiseled on the monochromatic face. Soundless and weightless, the figure of Sicilius Leonatus detaches from the mist and steps towards his son.

Posthumous – nigh delirious with grief cannot bring himself to believe in the family long lost before him now. Father, mother, brothers, faces just as he imagines them and yet so foreign. He would have willed the ghosts away, chalked them up to a symptom of his crumbling psyche and beat his head against the wall until it shattered…had the apparitions not begun to speak.

First father: Steady timbre resounding grandly in the enclosed space. The baritone conjures nostalgia his son can never have. Fatherly advice, a hearty clap on the shoulder, bellows of laughter fading into impossibility.

Then mother: An earthy voice grounded and wise as a redwood wraps him in a mournful embrace. The walls thrum with heartbeats from within a womb.

Then brother: One still scratchy with pubescent uncertainty, the other gruff and inarticulate from the shadow of a gash running across his neck. Trebled rhymes punctuated by gurgled syllables in a gesture of fraternal solidarity.

All four calling and echoing each other, chanting for their pitiable son and brother; arcane rhythm in the walls beating louder with every line. There is a blinding flash of light from within the miasma and before Posthumous can make a sound his family dissolves into mere imprints, rippling in the wall to make way for the new figure forming.

A squiggle in the vapour growing larger and larger, a bird, wings spanning three of the four walls, diving directly for Posthumous. On it’s back, thunderbolt in hand rides a God.

Posthumous presses himself against the wall behind him praying his end will come quickly, trying to shrink until the head of a giant eagle emerges from the mist, beak rippling with mysterious vapour, open as if to herald its divine passenger. The walls are filled with thunder.

Finally, the smoking form of Jupiter himself fills the small cell, dwarfing the already minimal Posthumous. Bolt flickering, poised for striking in one hand, and index finger pointing directly at Posthumous in the other Jupiter speaks.

A deafening rumble in an ancient language booms in constant cannon fire. Like their long-lost relation the Leonatus clan cowers at the inescapable presence. Every vein and artery in Posthumous’ body vibrates in time to the pulsing walls and the God’s proclamation. Prophetic words rock him and just as he think’s he’ll combust from the sound, Jupiter stops. A final couplet calls a final clap of thunder to the room and the God recedes into the mist, cries of praise sung from the still fearful family. Like a wave racing back into the ocean a vacuous roar comes from the eagle’s mouth, threatening to engulf the entire room in it’s gaping beak…

And Posthumous awakes.

Soaked with sweat, mouth dry, he listens for any noise in the walls. There is nothing. Only mouldy stone and rotting hay. No vapour, no Jupiter, no family.

But even as the Jailer leads him towards the gallows, still does the roar of a thundering blessing fill his tired mind.