Friday 17 June 2011

Friday Flash - The Pardon Man

Charlie landed in the filth with a splash. His arms plunged into the cold waste, and he gagged at the smell. He struggled to turn before the cell door swung closed, but the guards were gone before he could pull his hands free.

“Come back! I shouldn’t be ‘ere!” shouted Charlie.

“They won’t let you out, lad.”

Charlie turned around at the sound of the voice. He peered into the darkness. Three heaps of rags pushed up against the back wall where the filth wasn’t as deep. A scrawny arm stuck out of one heap at an unnatural angle, a blue bloom on the pale skin. Charlie waded through the sludge and nudged the bundle with his knee.

“That was old Barnabus. Dead three days now. I keep telling them but they won’t take him.”

“Why not?” asked Charlie. He peered at the other heaps and saw thin men swaddled in rags. One lay on his back, eyes rolled back in his head. His chest hitched as he laboured to breathe. Blood-flecked spittle clustered around his cracked lips.

“This is Newgate, lad, not a hotel.”

Charlie turned to the third man. He leaned back against the wall, gazing at Charlie with bloodshot eyes. In the low light, his skin looked as though it were made of wax. He’s bloody melted, thought Charlie.

“I shouldn’t be in ‘ere,” said Charlie.

“Aye, and nor should any of the rest of us. This is the closest we’ll come to hell, you mark my words.”

“You talk too proper to be in ‘ere. What are you in for?” asked Charlie.

“Non-payment of debts. Did you know that your debts get bigger the longer you stay in the debtor’s prison? When my family stopped paying, I was sent here. They shan’t hang me, they’ll just leave me to die. They’ll be satisfied soon enough.”

Charlie stared at the man. An uncle of his was sent to the debtor’s prison when Charlie was six, and after a few months, the family stopped talking about him. Was this where his uncle ended up? Charlie shuddered.

“How about you, lad?”

“They say I stabbed a man.”

“Did you?”

“Only because he hurt my sister. She’s pregnant, see, and ever so big. A man tried to rob ‘er and I took after ‘im with my knife. I didn’t stab ‘im much.”

“Did he die?”

“No but they’ll ‘ang me for tryin’ to protect Mary!”

“There is one thing you can try, lad,” said the man.

“What’s that?”

“Seek the counsel of the Pardon Man.”

“The what?”

“The Pardon Man. Call him, and he’ll come. If you’re innocent, he might be able to help. If you’re not, he can grant absolution.”

Charlie stared at the man, and burst into fits of laughter. He laughed so hard that his ribs ached and tears washed clean tracks down his dirty face. The man gazed back, impassive as a dove.

“He’s no laughing matter, lad.”

“What nonsense! You should be in Bedlam, not Newgate! I ain’t never ‘eard of no ‘Pardon Man’,” said Charlie. He wiped his eyes with a dry patch of sleeve.

“Suit yourself.” The man settled down against the wall and closed his eyes. Moments later, the sound of gentle snores filled the dank air.

Charlie sat against the bars at the front of the cell. The stench of death wasn’t so bad there, and he gleaned a sliver of comfort from the flickering lamp hung on the wall outside. He wriggled until his spine rested in the gap between two bars, and wrapped his arms around his knees. He glared across the cell at the sleeping man.

“The Pardon Man, what rot. The Pardon Man – I ask ye! The Pardon Man, never ‘eard of anythin’ so stupid in me life.”

Movement in the corner caught Charlie’s eye. The shadows above the dead man grew deeper. They coalesced into a figure draped in midnight, its skin pale with the passage of time. Sad eyes peered out of a craggy face. Charlie froze when the figure picked its way across the cell, lifting its cloak out of the slurry.

“Boy, you called my name thrice. Thrice you called. What is it you seek?” asked the figure. Its voice rumbled with the promise of absolution and the threat of damnation.

“Who are ye?” asked Charlie.

“You know my name. I am the Pardon Man. Tell me, boy, what is it you seek?”

“I just want to go home,” said Charlie. His face crumpled and his body racked with sobs. Charlie spilled his story between tears. The figure knelt before him. Dizziness gripped Charlie as he looked into the figure’s eyes, yellow as a cat’s.

“You did injure the man, but your intent was not murder. I cannot set you free, but I can protect you from damnation.”

The Pardon Man leaned forward and reached behind Charlie’s ear. Charlie suppressed a giggle as something tickled his neck, and the figure drew his hand back. Something small shone between thin fingers. The figure inspected it for a moment, gazing along its hooked nose as a jeweller might appraise a diamond. Its thin lips curved into a smile.

“Yes, yes, much goodness here. I shall see to it that this reaches its proper home.”

“What? What did ye do?” asked Charlie.

“Sleep, boy, sleep.”

The Pardon Man dissolved into the rotten shadows of the cell. The sparkling flame in his hand disappeared last. Sleep overcame Charlie, and soon his snores joined that of his cellmate’s.

* * *

“Two dead in one cell? Christ, what do they think we are, bodysnatchers?” Ricks kicked the corpse at the back of the cell.

“Look at this ‘un, Ricks. At least he died with a smile on ‘is face.”

“That’s one way to avoid the noose,” replied Ricks. He looked over at the boy slumped against the bars.

A serene smile gave him the appearance of one only dreaming, not dead.


Sulci Collective said...

The Pardon Man - what a great concept that is! Loved the line about spilling his story between his (spilling) tears

marc nash

Anonymous said...

Beautiful last line. And I loved the descriptions, "Charlie suppressed a giggle" and "the sound of gentle snores filled the dank air". Those were my faves.

Was sad that he died but I'm glad he didn't suffer.

Helen A. Howell said...

What an interesting concept someone who can take and direct souls to the right place. I felt sorry for Charlie though, he was only defending his sister. I wonder how the Pardon Man would have gone about saving him if he could?

The characters were strong and the dialect good, I felt like I was watching the events in that dirty prison of victorian times....

Anonymous said...

This was a beautiful story Icy. I feel sorry for Charlie's sister now!

mazzz_in_Leeds said...

Love the concept of the Pardon Man!
Wonder whether "not an inn" might be more in keeping with the tone than "not a hotel"? Just a thought!

Janet Lingel Aldrich said...

I know the Pardon Man (different name, though) ... great story, Icy.

Cathy Olliffe-Webster said...

I too love the Pardon Man concept and the name. As soon as I saw this posted I was intrigued. A character like this could fill a whole book, maybe a series of books. Icy, you do come up with truly great reads. Oh, and saw your comment about the Mother Pucker lip gloss. Stuff's great, eh? Bizarre how it makes your lips all tingly.

Diandra said...

Didn't see where this was going. Nice trick you did with the talking.

Larry Kollar said...

A thing of beauty shone through the ugliness. So the Pardon Man took his soul to Heaven (I presume)? Now who will watch out for his sister?

Tony Noland said...

Great kick in this one. Gives one a whole new take on what it means to go home.

Icy Sedgwick said...

Marc - I don't even know where the idea came from, I just overheard someone in the office say 'pardon' and the image of a grotty Newgate cell popped into my head.

Henrietta - He managed to avoid the noose, at least. At least he had a more peaceful end.

Helen - I get the feeling the Pardon Man could be a right bastard if he wanted to be...those two ghoulish guards could have been in for a shock if Charlie was intended to go free!

Stacey - I'm awful, aren't I? I just merrily killed off her brother without stopping to think about Mary!

Maria - I wasn't sure what word to go with, really. It's a tough one.

Janet - Thanks!

Cathy - It's mental being inside my head sometimes. And yes, that lip gloss is so weird when you put it on!

Diandra - Thanks!

FAR - I like to think people can read whatever they want into it - maybe Charlie went to heaven, maybe he became part of the Force, maybe his heart just stopped. It's up to the reader to decide his fate.

Tony - I'm a bit preoccupied with the concept of home at the moment, though when I say I want to go home, thankfully I'm talking about a geographical location!

John Wiswell said...

Like a medieval pardoner. Might even be one, transubstantiated into a promotion!

Anonymous said...

I've had a story about Newgate in my head for ages now and even started some research (although the Pardon Man didn't crop up), so I now feel inspired to go and do something about it. Great story Icy, brilliant in fact.

Anonymous said...

Icy - great story as always! liked the idea of the pardon man. poor boy. he was only defending his sister.

Anonymous said...

Yes the Pardon Man is a great character. I'd hate to see what he would do if he pulled your life force from behind your ear and you were beyond naughty.

Steve Green said...

The Pardon man was true to his word, he did save him from damnation, and much suffering too probably.

An unusual concept Icy, and a great flash.

Anonymous said...

I liked this very much so, Ice.
Great story there. And the dialouge was very spot-on. And damn that blimey wanker for hurtin' the preggo!

Icy Sedgwick said...

John - I don't think Charlie would have even considered that!

Justin - It's a while since I'd done anything historical and I was starting to miss it...figured the degradation of Newgate was a good place to start!

Storytreasury - It's that age old dilemma about whether you should punish the crime or the motive. Of course, in the days in which the story was set, it took the slightest thing to see you end up in Newgate.

Lara - I didn't even think of that!

Steve - Thank you :-)

Cambronwriter - I'm glad you liked it.

Joz Varlo said...

So much to love in this...but the Pardon Man most of all. Like a lot of others that commented, I think this is a brilliant concept.

Louise said...

Good post - very enjoyable read. Just found you on twitter - will follow - always good to connect with a fellow writer!

Angel Zapata said...

It's nice to see a writer employ mercy in a supernatural tale. The "Pardon Man" is absolutely intriguing. It opens the door for so much more of his own folklore. I enjoyed this.

Stephen said...

A nice twist on death here, Icy. The Pardon Man reminds me of the boatman who carries souls across the Styx. At least Charlie's soul will find a good place.


Just wonderful.

Okami said...

I love your stories. I'm enjoying Checkmate and Other Stories, btw.

Donald Conrad said...

Folklore for the modern age. You've fit this one nicely into the realm of flash. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

What a brilliant concept. So very sad, but kicking goals for the Pardon Man.
Adam B @revhappiness

Anonymous said...

Wicked - love this. Your descriptions are fab too - tears washed clean tracks down his dirty face - great!!! Well done

Icy Sedgwick said...

Maria - Thank you!

120 Socks - Glad you liked it!

Angel - Making up mythology is one of the best bits about being a writer ^_^

Stephen - I like to think the Pardon Man is essentially a good creature.

Al - Thanks!

Julie - Glad to hear it!

Donald - Yeah, just about! Damn word count.

Adam - It's one way to avoid the system.

Brainhaze - Thank you!

Lily Childs said...

Icy, I keep coming across your name but this is the first story of yours I've read - and I'm hooked. An enticing title - enough to make us curious and nervous, with a perfectly-nailed Victorian dialogue. Wistful and sad, yet the tragic resolution seems fitting.

I look forward to reading more Icy Sedgwick!

Mari said...

I too loved the concept of Pardon Man, but what really hooked me was how good is your description of a filthy prison cell. Ugh. You had me gagging with the MC.

Another great one, Ms. I!

AidanF said...

I agree with Mari, great descriptions that pull you into the story. The other men sharing his cell felt so real and with the dead man as well really pointed out the hellish place he'd ended up.

I like how you briefly touched on the debtor's prisons and then moved on with the overall story.

Icy Sedgwick said...

Lily - Glad you found me! I hadn't written anything historical in a while and was starting to miss it.

Mari - Yeah, prisons weren't particularly nice places in those days.

Aidan - In reality, the cells probably would have been even more crowded.

Sam said...

I really enjoyed the atmosphere you created here, it's just how I imagine Newgate to have been and the Pardon Man, what a great character. I felt quite sorry for Charlie, but that was a better way to go than swinging on the end of a rope; I hope Mary was okay in the end.

Unknown said...

Well done story with a great atmosphere. I really enjoyed this one.

Stephen said...

Hi there Icy - very well put together. Liked all that floating ick and raggedy old men, as well as the build up of your urban-mythological-feeling, Pardon Man. Nice dark and(I'd say) up-beat ending. Boy made it out... one way or another.

Very good.


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