Dim light shone through air holes in the dungeon's ceiling. Vlad sat in one corner, the darkness concealing him from his prey. Shallow breaths billowed upward, and he shivered in the cold, clenching his teeth to keep them from clattering.
The roach appeared in the dusty light. Tentative steps from the shadows led to a quick dart across the room and back into darkness.
Vlad shifted his weight, lowering his body into a crouch. With eyes long adapted to the black of the tunnel, he followed the roach's movements toward the crumbs of molded bread lying near him.
Again, the roach crawled from the shadows, stopping in the center of a patch of light. It was large--a couple of inches long--its brown shell dirty; long antennae twitched, feeling its surroundings.
"Come," Vlad whispered, cupped and lowered his hands to mere inches above the ground.
The roach scurried toward him, tickled Vlad's big toe. Vlad's breath caught, skin tingled as the bug crawled beneath his hand. With a quick swipe, he scooped up the insect. It squirmed, legs tickling Vlad's palm.
"Little bug, I name you Matthias."
The roach poked its head from between Vlad's thumb and index finger. The once proud ruler laughed. "You can't escape me, Matthias. You have sinned against your king. For the crime of betrayal I sentence you to death by impalement."
Vlad stood and hobbled to the corner closest to one of the air holes. He lifted one of the many slivers of wood he had pulled from the giant door that kept him from escape. The roach squirmed.
A crooked grin split Vlad's face, and he drove the splinter into the roach's abdomen. Its legs moved fast, trying to run; antennae twitched and its cerci vibrated wildly. Vlad pushed the small stake in further. He imagined the bug screaming, begging for mercy. He chuckled in delight, his chest heaving, tingling in excitement.
Vlad lowered the roach he named after the ruler who imprisoned him, made a hole in the dirt and set the stake's edge into the ground. In the dim light of the dying sun, he sat, watching the bug--watching Matthias--twitch and writhe in agony. His eyes glazed over as he scanned the many insects and rats he had impaled, each one given a name of an enemy, each one having died slowly.
He leaned his head against the wall, eyes fixed on the dying roach, his body quaking in ecstasy.
Hours later sleep found him. Cradled him in her arms, he dreamt… dreamt of thousands of crying, screaming boyers and princes, women and little children, all of them on stakes, all of them sliding, sliding…
AJ Brown is a writer that sits in a small box with holes poked in it for air. He pens stories that have appeared in SNM Horror Magazine, Sinister Tales, Allegory, and Liquid Imagination among others. Be wary of his fiction--you've been warned.