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The Inquisition (3rd Prize Winner - Group III)

March, 2011
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I shall repeat myself once again: Gentlemen, your time would better be spent on something else for I did not kill Dr. Freeson. The words I speak are the truth. I am neither attempting to cloak reality nor deceive your ears Gentlemen; I only wish to cooperate and guide this inquisition to the truth. Do you not believe me? Then confine me here until you are satisfied; you may torture me, you may threaten me with death, you may dig up my fingernails and let my blood stain this wooden chair and splatter the floor! But I assure you, my story shall not change. My words are fact, and I, like you, seek knowledge. That being said, let me retell my tale once more so that you may scrutinize it, come to a verdict, and pass judgment upon my soul. 

Two weeks ago, on the seventeenth of November in the year nineteen twenty-eight, I received a call from Dr. Nicholas Freeson, for whom I have been the closest friend for several years. Nicholas called me early in the morning, before the sun had left its cove.   As I have said before, I cannot remember the exact words of the call. In fact, I can say with absolute certainty that at the time of his call, I could not understand his rapid speech pitched so high it was nay inaudible through the crackling lines. I only managed to extract garbled words of a meeting for nine am the next day at Topper’s from his cryptic call.   Immediately after I set the phone receiver down, I returned to sleep. The rest of the seventeenth of November was spent in a jumbled mess of work, sleep and tea. That I neither left the house nor contacted anyone, I will affirm. 

I must admit, the next morning I was inclined to stay wrapped in the warmth of my covers. However, as my hand, trembling with the morning’s lack of vigor, hovered above the phone, I suddenly felt compelled to clamber off my mattress, quickly shave, don a crisp white shirt, ironed gray slacks, and worn brown loafers, grab the same exact black overcoat I have hanging on the rack behind you, and briskly walk to Topper’s. As of now, I attribute my sudden change of heart to unknown causes. Perhaps it was destiny; perhaps our meeting was written in the Akashic records, I am not sure. 

From here on, you dismiss my story as a vision, a delusion, a nightmare. You are wrong Gentlemen. You claim that my lone appearance in Nicholas’s home, a week after the eighteenth, unconscious and dirty with his blood is evidence towards my conviction.  My anecdote carries an explanation for the entire circumstance! Why would I murder such a close friend? A paleontologist like myself would never commit homicide so liberally—Nicholas Freeson never posed a threat to anyone and I held a deep love for the man, platonically of course. I beg that you pay consideration to my word, and not scoff as you have before. 

As I mentioned before, when Nicholas opened the door to Topper’s he began a cascade of events that changed our lives, and depending on the outcome of this inquisition, will change the world. That day, on the eighteenth of November, Nicholas and I met in Topper’s, a cheap bar praiseworthy of nothing aside from its normality. There I indulged in a simple breakfast of buttered scones and tea over some light conversation, although I took notice of Nicholas’s eagerness to boast about his latest discovery and ate quickly for he appeared to be growing physically nauseous from withholding his news. Right when I swallowed the last bite of my scone, Nicholas’s words burst out of his caged mouth. Oblivion? The man said that he had located Oblivion! Nicholas had always been eccentric—yes, he dabbled and extended his hand into the sinister recesses of forbidden, arcane arts, professing interests in necromancy, maleficium, and daemons—but Oblivion was a stretch! To say that he had found purgatory, the afterlife, I was sure that Nicholas was jesting and I laughed exorbitantly! Yet, his unfaltering stare bore holes in my suspicions and I pursued his wild claim with curious reluctance. That nightmarish night, we were to enter Oblivion, the first of the living to enter the realm of the forgotten.

Once more I will plead and settle my innocence; I was unaware and unprepared for the consequences that were laid out before us as we ventured into Oblivion. 

The late Nicholas Freeson lived on the second story flat of the boarding home, which is patrolled by a monstrous ogre of a landlady. But of course you, Gentlemen, already knew that; after all that is where you found me on the twenty-fifth. On the eighteenth, Nicholas’s flat was in disarray. That night, an icy gust of stale air greeted me as I swung open the heavy oak door to his home. I surveyed the decrepit room littered with old, heavy, leather-bound tomes of unknown origins and with trepidation stepped past the mess and into the master bedroom where the man stood waiting for me. He held a forsaken tome, the dusty cover plastered with hieroglyphics, along with several slips of scrawled notes jutting out at odd angles; candles were lit on the floor in a peculiar shape, reminiscent of those used in ancient Mayan and Inca sacrifices, and a musky scent of decay wafted around the room. The chill and odor sickened me to the bottom of my stomach, but Nicholas’s gesturing hand lured me into the middle of the flickering candles. We stood together, shoulder by shoulder, and Nicholas began a solemn chant. I cannot recall what words, if they were even words at all, that Nicholas chanted. My instincts told me to run, to escape this insanity, but my feet were frozen in place. As the chant progressed, the room began to swirl, object blended into object, my vision blurred, colors faded into a monotone grey, and a scream grew and GREW AND GREW until I could hear nothing else. The room continued to distort itself, enveloping Nicholas in a sphere of twisted space.   I clamped my eyes shut in agony as the screaming cleft my eardrums in two, and I retched from the pain of having my skin, flesh, and bone flayed by the warped space.

All of a sudden, I was standing upright in an unknown locale. My knees quickly buckled; my body and mind ached as if they had been flogged with steel. I scanned my surroundings for Nicholas and found him, collapsed on the ground, a couple dozen meters away from my position. With all my strength, I crawled over to Nicholas’s side and shook him vehemently. I croaked his name, my throat dry. 


Nicholas feebly raised his head, and for a moment, did nothing but stare. Then with a mad energy, he dug his fingers into the ground before gazing at the powdery residue left on his hands with a wide grin so full of glee that I couldn’t help but take a step back. The wicked gleam in his eyes only lasted a moment before he professed his relief that we weren’t harmed. On our feet again, I took my first gaze at this surreal world, the air, or perhaps our very eyes tinted with an eerie blue. The place was a vast, empty expanse of glowing white stone, completely desolate except for several sparse spots of pale vegetation that crawled out of cracks in the ancient stone blocks; the sky was a block of unmoving darkness, devoid of a source of light. Directly above us was an even darker ball of blackness that seemed to absorb the white light the ground emanated. It peered at us through such serene, lucid air, unfound in our world of Earth and indescribable to anyone who has not witnessed transparency beyond that of nitrogen. As Nicholas gazed into the distance, I observed that we, the intruders of the lethal silence, were the only ones with color aside from shades of blue, black, and white decorating our earthly clothes. 

Deeply fascinated by this new realm, Nicholas stood up and removed a golden pocket watch from his breast pocket. He showed me how the hands had stopped moving with a cheeky smile.

“Nicholas, are you sure this is Oblivion?” I tentatively asked. 

“Of course it is…” Nicholas’s words trailed off as he lost his breath. Only then did I realize that we were not breathing out of necessity, but breathing for the air to speak. My doubts about this strange world vanished. 

“Let us return and procure more supplies,” I suggested as Nicholas got to his feet. 

“We should take this chance to explore first. We can go home anytime,” Nicholas assured. My heart, still beating, quickened its pace. I did not understand the means by which we traveled to Oblivion and was not reassured by Nicholas’s words.

 I repeated my plea to return, but Nicholas ventured out into the distance. Seeing no other choice, I trailed behind for unknown hours.   Every thousand or so paces, Nicholas would check the golden pocket watch he carried in his breast pocket; whether or not he was checking it for oddities, I do not know. Eventually, in the distance, we were able to observe a monolithic obelisk so tall that it penetrated the floating darkness above us. We trekked towards the obelisk, Nicholas now checking that pocket watch every couple hundred paces, me pondering the artificiality of this world. I do not know how long it took for us to reach our destination for there was no day or night, no movement in the acheronian sky or wind sweeping across the bereft land. We neither rested nor ate; in Oblivion we did not feel such urges. 

Gentlemen, please bear with me for the story you have heard so many times is almost over. Pay attention to the words that come out of my mouth—I pray that they may contain the key to end this inquisition. 

I could feel my sanity slipping away as we neared the obelisk. From a distance, it appeared blurry, a phenomenon I had attributed to my ailing sight; however, upon approaching the construct, I witnessed true horror. The obelisk was a towering structure made up of the same luminous stone that Oblivion consisted of; razor sharp edges, protruding straight up from the ground for hundreds of meters until they disappeared into the darkness. Embedded in the obelisk were thousands of what I believe to be “souls,” although I cannot ascertain what they are without another journey to that foreign world. Unlike Nicholas and me, these souls were translucent specters of human form, writhing in distress, misery, and woe; they mouthed silent moans of pain and reached out towards us, as if we could grant them salvation from their entrapped fate. 

I felt like vomiting in the presence of the grotesque obelisk. Nicholas, unaffected by the sight before us, took out the golden pocket watch and wound it, murmuring a chant under his breath. Suddenly, he dropped the watch and crushed it with a sharp crack under the heel of his shoe. The shattered fragments of the broken watch melded into the liquefying ground, expanding into a hole the size of a large automobile. Nicholas watched the pool grow with pride, the same frightening grin plastered on his face.

“This is our way back home. All we need to do is jump in and we should be back at the flat.”

I steeled myself for another nauseating trip, but right before I leapt, I noticed Nicholas walking steadily towards the obelisk in a trance, his insanity laced smile gleaming in the white light of the stone. I called out to no avail; Nicholas kept stumbling towards the obelisk, hands outstretched towards the souls. Filled with an ominous coldness, I rushed passed the pool and raced towards Nicholas. Alas, too late! The moment Nicholas’s hand met those of the outstretched souls, he was pulled in. Amorphous blobs congregated all over Nicholas, gripping him tightly as he blinked away the madness. I grabbed Nicholas’s hand and pulled with all my strength, but the souls held on tight, refusing to give up their spoils. Nicholas, his throat being crushed, called for help in whisper more portentous than any shriek:

“Save me…please…save me…”

I clenched my teeth and mustered my strength and pulled as hard as I could. 

“I’m getting dragged in…”

Nicholas’s desperation rattled both my soul and my mind. I feared that I could not save Nicholas. 


Visible bruises had appeared all over Nicholas’s body; the skin around his arm tore from the opposing forces, moistening my hands with maroon blood. Nicholas’s arm, drenched and slick with blood, slipped through my hands, patterning my shirt with corrupt rubies. I clawed the floor and dived, catching and digging my nails into his damaged flesh; I would be damned before I would let my friend die.

Nicholas grimaced from the pain, his face contorted in both anguish and alarm, but his wide eyes told me not to give up, even if it meant tearing his limb off. I glanced backwards to see the distance we had lost and discovered that the pool was shrinking. Too fast, too fast! My thoughts skittered like cockroaches, my heart quickened as dread spread over my mind—I had never known terror like this, and I doubt I will ever again. Suddenly, a black shadow loomed over me and with diseased tendrils, slowly pried my fingers from Nicholas’s arm. I screamed in reluctance and frustration and I tried to tighten my grip, but the shadow was too strong! The black shadow manipulated my legs, walking my body to the edge of the pool. I roared apologies and cursed my own lack of strength as I stood before the portal home. I lingered for curious moments on the boundary of worlds—the shadow did not act. Then my leg moved, and I fell. 

I regained consciousness in Nicholas’s bedroom, a week later, where I was taken into custody.  

Gentlemen, do you understand yet? I tried to save him! The black shadow slew Nicholas, not me! The black shadow tore me away from Nicholas; it left him in that filthy world! I did not choose to kill him; I did not choose to leave him; I was forced!


By Chi Wei Zhang,

Shanghai American School

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