Ashley Lister’s A-Z of Horror: T is for Torture

the action or practice of inflicting severe pain or suffering on someone as a punishment or in order to force them to do or say something.
inflict severe pain or suffering on.

In the real world torture should not exist and is indicative of a warped society. In fiction, particularly horror fiction, torture is a wonderful trope that plays on our readers fears of pain and suffering. In Kurgan: A Dark Tale from Innsmouth, I’ve presented the horrors of torture in two different ways. The first can be seen in this from one of the opening chapters.

Pushing his face close to the sacrifice Hargreaves lowered his voice to a growl and said, “It doesn’t have to end like this.”
“Hargreaves?” Sharon insisted hotly. “What are you doing?”
Hargreaves continued to ignore her. Still staring at the sacrifice, he said, “Is there any point in taking your secret to the grave?”
“You’ll kill me anyway,” the sacrifice sobbed.
Sharon stiffened. This was not something she had expected to hear.
The sacrifice had been with them for a month and he had repeatedly denied having any secret information, no matter how persuasively he was interrogated. There had been electrodes, needles, heated blades and ice-baths. There had been hunger and drugs and alcohol and insidious torment. His fingers were now tipped with the scabbed remnants of blood-crusted nailbeds. His arms, chest and legs were a crosshatch shading of thin scars. His knees and elbows bore the bloody memories of fine-bore drill holes. And yet, for an entire month, the sacrifice had insisted he knew nothing. He had said there was no point to their interrogation and nothing to be gained from them asking questions he could never begin to answer.
According to the sacrifice they had selected the wrong victim because he had no knowledge of the things that they wanted. Yet now he was saying, ‘you’ll kill me anyway,’ a statement which had the implication that he did have something he could share with them.
Furious that he had been lying to them, Sharon pressed the blade of the athame more firmly into his breastbone until she could feel the tip scratching against his sternum.
The sacrifice wailed.
Hargreaves slapped Sharon across the face. The blow was sharp and stinging. Its retort rang through the chapel like a gunshot. “Let him speak, woman,” Hargreaves spat. “Give him a chance to say what needs to be said.”

The sacrifice’s story is relatively unimportant. He’s there to deliver a small piece of information and his backstory is of no consequence. For that reason, there was no sense in giving the readers an insight into how he suffered on a daily basis. Perhaps it might have worked for those with a prurient interest in descriptions of pain, but because this is a character that no one knows, it would be difficult for the majority of readers to care about him on a personal level. With that rationale in mind, I thought it was enough to paint this scene with broad brush strokes. Personally I find I have more sympathy for Sharon who’s suffering the embarrassment of a public bitch-slapping at the hands of Hargreaves.


I also think this is enough description so that readers can understand the misery that has been inflicted on this unfortunate character. Casually mentioning electrodes, needles and fine bore drills is enough for most of us to think that the sacrifice has had a rough time, but it’s not so much that the reader is going to be distracted from the plot by tedious descriptions of physical cruelty.
The sacrifice’s torture scene at the start of the story can be contrasted with the torture scene we encounter later in the story:


They stripped his clothes away, trainers, jeans, underpants, jacket and T-shirt, all disappearing with disturbing efficiency. The night’s air was not particularly cold on his body but he felt a chill of unease rush through him as he understood this was not going to go well. His clothes were dropped on the beach, his wallet, hotel key and mobile phone remaining in the pockets of his jacket.
Then Steve was being carried toward the campfire to the welcome cries of those celebrants dancing around the obelisk and the flames. A handful of faces turned to stare quizzically in his direction. The majority remained focused on their rhythmic gyrations and explicit acts of intercourse.
“I’m sorry,” Steve told them. The apology in his voice was more sincere than he could have ever dared to manage. His tone was rising on a spiral of genuine panic as he realised there could be ramifications for his actions. “I’m truly sorry,” he insisted. “I didn’t mean to spy. I was just… I was just…”
Again, his voice fell silent as he realised he wasn’t sure what it was he could say that would excuse his voyeurism.
“Don’t apologise,” the woman told him cheerfully.
She was one of the shorter figures, a mere six foot, Steve reckoned, and embarrassingly naked. He could see her bare breasts tipped with fat nipples the size of cherries, and the downy thatch of her pubic bush which looked wild and untamed. Her skin was smooth and taut over her well-defined muscles and, whilst he should have found the sight arousing, Steve was simply scared by the knowledge that he had seen too much.
“Don’t apologise,” she said again. “We needed a sacrifice for this ritual.”
He made renewed efforts to pull himself free but his arms and legs were being held with ruthless efficiency. He was dragged to the obelisk and had his back pressed against it. His arms were pulled behind him and his hands were secured at the wrists.
“Hear us Deep Ones,” one of the dancers called. “Hear our prayers and accept this sacrifice.”
“No,” Steve insisted. “I’m not a sacrifice. I was just… I was just…”
His voice trailed off when he saw one of the taller creatures wielding a pair of shears. He understood exactly what they were going to be used for and a moan of raw misery fell from his mouth. “No,” he begged. “Please, no. Not that.”


The reasons why I think this torture scene has a different impact is because we get to know Steve in this story. We get to understand him and his motives and empathise with him. Therefore, when we realise what horrors are about to befall him, we feel for him: and feeling is an essential component of fiction. We read romances to feel the pleasure of love. We read mysteries to feel mystified, and we read horrors to feel horrified.


Kurgan, A Dark Tale from Innsmouth, is available from Amazon

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