's 2019 Horror Write-off:

Severed Tongue

Submitted by Erika Warne-Coles (email)

            They cut out my tongue.

            I don’t know who they are, none of them showed their faces, all of them donned hoods. I am not they only one they’ve taken. This jail is dark, but I know there are others in the other cells. We can hear each other, but communication is rough. None of us have tongues, and none of us are quite sure what’s happening.

            I’ve lost weight. I use the meals to keep track of the days; it’s been twenty, if I only get one per day, which is how often I think they come. I’m not used to eating with this mouth. It still hurts, just less.

            On the twenty-first day, they pulled me from my cell. I flailed but I didn’t have much strength, and they held me on either side. They strapped me to a chair and put something in my mouth, and for a moment I thought they aimed to remove my teeth next. Instead, one of them pulled out a small vial and emptied it into my mouth. The taste was horribly bitter, but I was hardly able to consider the taste when pain, as awful as when my tongue had been cut, started to bloom from the cauterized stump. I screamed, and my screams turned into gurgling wails when blood started flowing, the wound opening again. There was another sensation, however. Even through the pain, I noticed that something was growing in my mouth. After the interminable agony, the bleeding stopped. My mouth still throbbed with pain, but now, my tongue had somehow regrown. Good as it was before it was removed. I nearly forgot the horror of my situation, curiously exploring my own mouth with my new tongue like an infant. I was brought back by the removal of the apparatus keeping my mouth open. Eager to finally speak once again, I started shouting questions at my captors. Hearing myself I don’t know if I was more panicked or angry. But it didn’t matter, they shortly gagged and blindfolded me. I was out of the chair and minutes later leaving the dungeon they made my home. With hands bound I was bumped about in the back of a cart for what felt like hours.

            When they finally dropped me off, they didn’t take my hood off, or unbind me. They turned me in a direction and told me if I kept walking, I would end up at home. I didn’t know what else to do. I just hoped I would fall off anything. Walking seemed even harder than I expected. Not only was I tired and malnourished, by body would inexplicably jerk to one side or the other. It wasn’t enough to change my course, but it felt disorienting.

            I don’t know how long I was walking, but I soon heard the sweetest sound I’ve ever heard, and likely will ever hear: my family. I think they didn’t know it was me, at first. I heard my children, one of them was scared, thought I was some kind of faceless monster, but I barreled in their direction yelling around my gag because I couldn’t do much else. And my spouse came out. Bless them, so kind, seeing this sack-headed stranger they came rushing to aid me without even knowing I was theirs. When they took off my hood, they gasped. We stared at each other for a brief moment, but we were interrupted by our children, now shouting in joyous recognition. They ran and hugged me. My spouse hugged me and cried. I cried. I was so happy. And after a good, solid cry my spouse finally removed my gag and bonds.

            I wanted to tell them right away about what happened. So I tried to. But as I started, I again felt great pain. It felt as though my tongue was slowly separating itself from my mouth, like fissures creeping on either side of it. They were real, because blood was seeping into my mouth again. I gave a short yell, and nearly as soon as I stopped talking my tongue reaffixed itself again, leaving only a dull throbbing and a bloody mouth. My spouse asked what was wrong, but I think that was meant to show me that I couldn’t tell them. So I didn’t.

            My first night back was, by many metrics, the best of my life. My spouse broke into the winter storage and we prepared a feast that seemed fit for a king, or at least a count, and I ate more than I ever had before. I stayed up to play my fiddle for the children, and all of us danced. When they were finally put to bed, I felt as though I might collapse, yet my spouse and I even had a romp in the sheets before finally passing out a few hours before the cock would crow. It was wonderful, and yet uneasy. I knew my spouse wanted me to say what happened and that for some reason, I wouldn’t. The next day would bring more anxiety. My spouse was up before I was, and they said I was talking in my sleep, in a language they didn’t understand. It could’ve just been gibberish, but I don’t think it was.

            I was more sure it wasn’t when I saw… well, I figured it must be a demon. Tending the field, it appeared to me from nowhere. A human figure without skin, the flesh on it had hardly any fat, instead appearing as mostly sinew, but in chaotic, misshapen lumps, thick and some parts and wiry in others. Blood seeped from the muscle and audibly dripped onto the earth. Its body was twitchy, and its face was that of a red corpse, with eyeballs sunk deep into lidless sockets. I was about to scream again, but again my mouth hurt.

            “You will say. What I want.” Its voice was a low, wet gurgle.

            “Dear? Are you okay?” I heard my spouse call. I started to turn to them. The creature was at my side now, and it jabbed its hand towards my head. Its index finger didn’t poke me; it went through my skull, intangibly. Then I felt the tip of its finger. It felt like it was somehow rubbing the back of my eye. My eye began twitching and watering uncontrollably.

            “Do not. Look away. I exist because of you. We are bound. Understand?” The creature demanded. I turned my eyes away from my spouse towards it and my eye stopped. The creature pulled its hand back. Then it vanished. I finally looked at my spouse.

            “Dear?” They asked again.

            “… W-what did you see just now?” I asked them

            They seem a bit surprised, like they weren’t expecting that question. “Um, you looked like you were having a bit of a fit, I s’pose.”

            “… I s’pose I did.” I noticed that even though the creature was gone, its blood was still on the ground. My spouse didn’t see that, either.

            It pained me to leave my family again so soon, but at least now it was on my own terms. My situation might be more easily solvable if me or my spouse were well read, but we were both illiterate. There were only a handful of words between us, so writing was not an option. Frustratingly, even my attempts and drawing seemed inadequate, but at least now my spouse seemed to understand that, for whatever reason, there were certain things I couldn’t speak.

            I was going to a monastery. It was the closest place I could learn to read and write. And if they had any way of dealing with the apparition haunting me, all the better.

            “You’re quite the fast learner.” Prior Oswin complimented me as he scrutinized my latest penmanship. I had spent most of the past few weeks in the scriptorium, learning what I could from him when he wasn’t working on manuscripts.

            “Thank you, brother.”

            “I understand that you don’t intend to stay a part of the order?”

            “Um, no, I don’t, brother. I do have family back home… I’m very sorry.”

            “No need to be sorry. The life of an ascetic is one that hopes to strengthen our bond with the Lord, but it is not necessary for faith. I believe you are a good person, and I do not think God would want you to abandon your family.”

            “Thank you for understanding.”

            “Are you leaving soon, then? You seem to be a competent writer now, although there is always room for improvement.

            “Well… I need to say something that I cannot speak. In truth, it’s why I came to learn, so I can write my words. But my spouse cannot read, I s’pose I could teach them but-“

            The prior sat up without my asking and retrieved a piece of parchment and inkwell and presented them to me. I almost felt as though I might burst from excitement. Finally, I could tell someone. I started to write. Then, I felt a shooting pain up my arm, and my hand started to tremble. I saw the demon again, if that’s what it was, pinching my wrist between two of its skinless fingers. I dropped the quill. Despair washed over me.

            There was a moment of silence before Oswin spoke. “You know, every one of actions is part of our relationship with God. We cannot see Him, so we have faith… the relationship is more mutual than many realize. As we act, we shape God, and in turn God acts on us. And the greatest action, in either direction, is the words we create.”

            “… What?”

            “Your ‘friend’ there is not quite God, though, only part of Him.” Oswin looked at the creature. “Why did you think you needed them to continue keeping secrets?”

            “… Survival,” it answered.

            Oswin turned back to me. “Follow me.” He stood up and began walking out of the scriptorium. I was bewildered, but I followed. And I noticed it was not the three of us now, but four. Another skinless apparition had joined the group. It shared most of its features with the first, but the two were shaped slightly differently, the muscle bulging or wasting in different random places.

            Oswin led me to a chamber beneath the monastery I had never been. Or so I thought at first. I did not recognize these exact rooms, but undeniably the construction was the same as the dungeon I was kept in months before. I was terrified that I had found my way back to my cell, but Oswin was not leading me there. He opened the door to a room dimly lit by candles. A resplendent altar was opposite us. Between us, lying on the ground, was a sickening lump of wet flesh. It was textured in such a way that it almost seemed to be made of hundreds of “petals”. Tongues. They were sewn together. The pile of tongues shuddered intermittently as I stared at it.

            “Through our actions, we can bring God from the firmament to walk among us. He just isn’t fully grown yet.”