The stench of the unwashed masses pervaded the cracked masonry and wooden rusted iron bars barring each cell, the cries of the mad echoing through the darkened tunnels and corridors. Some cackled at voices that only they heard, while others wept at acts they had done… while some merely screamed for reasons privy only to their own tortured souls. St. Gregory’s Home for the Mentally Ill was hardly a home at all, more of a prison for those that could no longer fit into society and deal with the pressures of sanity.
That was why Samson had willingly come here, to this monastic sanctuary hidden deep in the mountains. Ragged and tired, he’d walked for days to reach the rogue citadel of Kal-Rasha, where he’d merely waited for one of his episodes to occur. Sure enough, after merely two days he awoke in a dim cell atop a bed of straw. The three meals served to him a day, all composed of bread, cheese and meat, were served by quiet nuns.
They never opened his cell door, instead choosing to leave a wooden plate just outside his cell, laden with his small meal. A bowl of water was refilled by a patrolling nun that walked by every hour, and once a week his rusty cell door would groan as it opened, two burly guards storming in to drag Samson away from the safety of his cell for a bath.
Upon returning, his cell would have fresh straw and an empty chamber pot, as well as a fresh bible.
Those never lasted very long.
During the long nights when Samson would listen to the crooning tune of the mad calling out through the asylum, he would feel his body shake and quiver. Sometimes he would blackout, waking up to find his room littered with torn pages from the holy text, singed from some unknown fire. He would bare similar burns upon his hands and arms, though he dared not guess at what the connection could be.
For years he stayed this way, fading in and out of consciousness as he lost track of the hours and the days. How long he truly stayed within his darkened hole in the ground, he couldn’t say. But it all changed one day, when the priest arrived.
A man of God, swathed in black robes with a long rosary dangling about his neck, he was a young man, straight backed and stiff as a board. His eyes were fresh, and kind, and he spoke to the passing nuns in quiet, but comforting tones as he went from cell to cell, peering in at the various caged beings.
He stopped at Samson’s cell, hands behind his back, staring into the shadowy room with squinted eyes.
“Hello?” He said, rapping his knuckles on the stone near the iron bars. “Is this the residence of the one they call Samson?”
Samson snorted from his corner, revealing himself to the priest with his derisive noise. “Residence? I think I like that term…”
“Well I certainly prefer to think of these halls as a place of healing, a temporary home for those in need of God’s care.”
Samson, naked from the waist up with arms as narrow as the iron bars that held him back, slowly crawled from his spot in the corner into a sliver of light. “I have no desire to ever leave here Father, no desire whatsoever.”
The priest looked surprised at this declaration, and leaned forward expectantly. “I’ve been told you were brought in by the Citadel’s guards for a violent outburst in the city bazaar. You threw a pot of boiling water towards a group of children before clawing at a merchants face, maiming him for life.”
Samson rolled his shoulders, a series of cracks and pops echoing from his emaciated frame. “If you say so.” He said dismissively, turning on his hands and crawling back into the darkness slowly.
“You mean to say you don’t agree with the story?” The priest asked, curious about how… normal this man seemed. The rest of the inmates here were hopelessly mad, some dangerously so. But this man seemed to have control over his mind well enough to converse in a civil manner.
“I mean to say,” Samson’s voice hissed from the darkness, “that I don’t remember doing any of that.”
“Really? I find that hard to believe…” The priest said, staring into the cell as Samson began to let out wracking sobs and choking laughter.
“A man of the cloth who has trouble believing…” Samson choked out, his raspy voice cracking as he chuckled. “Tell me Father, what is your name?”
“My name is Father Isshal, and I’m to serve as the new parishioner of this monastery.” Father Isshal said, inclining his head in greeting. “I’m making my rounds to familiarize myself with the residents, to see how I can help them become whole once more.”
“I have all I need here Father, and no desire to be reformed. It would be wise for you to focus your attentions elsewhere, as I am beyond redemption.” Samson croaked, curling into a tiny ball in the corner of his cell, rocking back and forth gently.
“No man is beyond redemption my son.” Father Isshal replied almost automatically before leaping back, just out of Samson’s reach as he slammed himself into the iron bars with a sickening crunch, one arm whipping out and slashing at the air with long yellow nails.
“This one is mine priest! Go find your own sheep to shepherd!” Samson cried, his voice now high and reedy, his eyes alight with unholy life. By the light of the flickering torch set into the wall, the good Father could see the long scars covering Samson’s torso and arms, obviously self-inflicted; runic patterns carved into his flesh with his own hardened yellow nails.
Samson cackled and shrieked as he swiped back and forth with his rail thin limbs, palms wide and fingers curled in an awful form of a hook as they sought purchase with the soft flesh of the priest.
Gathering his courage, the priest gripped his rosary and moved forward, mumbling a prayer to Him as he approached the cackling man, which quickly retreated back into his cell, hissing as if in agony as he slunk into the shadows, his dark eyes gleaming from the blackness.