The man might have been a 1914 banker. He clack-clacked across the wooden floor of the inmate barracks, the pointy tip of his black, bat-wing umbrella scratching a staccato tattoo as he went.
He had a pointy little Van Dyke beard, obviously dyed black, and slicked-back hair. He was dressed in tails, pristine white shirt, white gloves, spats…he had on a lush, fur overcoat.
Around him, human skeletons crawled across filthy, dark floors, desperate for a few fallen crumbs to shove between their dry, cracked lips.
Maybe they could capture a fat, hairy vermin, some denizen of the dark crawled inside to nibble at a fallen comrade…corpse.
Outside, the wind howled cold and threatening, like the Three Witches of Macbeth, assembled around the burbling cauldron that was this camp, this festering pot of disease and hunger.
He stopped at the central throne of the undisputed king of suffering and want.
A miserable old man sat at a rickety chair, his face a comic mask of grief. Before him, a few derelicts were bent, and the Nineteen Fourteen Banker couldn’t, at first, see what it was they were doing.
The man, apparently, was missing a leg, the Banker finally surmised. What’s more, it looked gangrenous and infected…or perhaps someone had come along and lopped it off recently, and the wound was still fresh.
–Yes, that must be it, he said to himself. There was a trickling pool of blood spreading, slick and black, across the dirty floorboards. Thirsty men plunged their dry, scabrous tongues into it. He felt himself wretch.
What was worse were the two or three men gathering around the old man’s dripping stump; they were fighting each other eagerly for a little nibble.
The Banker turned, held his glove hand over his mouth, felt his stomach lurch.
Later, in the dust and grime that grew on the wall like a second skin (while he was as alone as a man could be while surrounded by such a sickening throng) he wrote, for unknown reasons, in the dust.
He traced the letters carefully with his index finger, noting that they came out a little too thick, too smudged. All the same, his graffito seemed readable enough, if not somewhat cryptic.
VISUAL EVIL, it read.
Whatever that meant.
It was not many days before he was another grey, withered thing. The staff of the place receded into the distance, dim shadows conveying hunger and want. Outside, the birds still flew in an azure sky.