Screeching of tires, blaring car horn. I smiled, eyes locking with the driver as I finished crossing the street. Two tons of metal weren’t going to scare me. What is the worst that could happen, I get sent back to hell? Not a chance. I’ve paid my debt, given the mark by the Demiurge himself.
Not reincarnation, no recycling of souls and blending of past lives. My fate was much simpler and painful. I had committed mortal sins and was plunged into the everlasting lake of fire. Pulled down from ascent by Abraxas and Preta, smelling the foul fumes from their skull-like faces.
I truly deserved what happened to me.
Most men would break under such strain. I’m stubborn, and I wasn’t about to let the leering taunts of Alal drive me mad. In hell, you got sorted into rough categories. Some of this was done to please the impulses of sadistic demons, but there was a logical reason underneath the kilometer-queues of damned souls.
Hell. Such a short word.
Mortals that haven’t been through it think its like Dante’s Inferno, nine neatly delineated zones where you descend from one to the next. Like a badly written tourist guide, Inferno was missing all the pieces. There were no zones, save for the entrance and a rarely used exit.
The rest was a playground of demonic excess. Flesh rending, pools of acids and caustic liquids, glowing magma, and hordes of insects ready to devour bone-ripped flesh. The demons truly enjoyed their work. Gaki, Kali and Ninurta would take entrails and sculpt quivering statues. Bound in tendons and strips of skin. Hissing with laughter as the freshly harvested screamed and wailed.
Oh the noise. The unholy din of malicious acts, repeated over and over. Chained to a rocky wall, thousands being rent by large mechanical wheels, spiked with prongs and blades. Entire machinery crafted by demons to maximize their pleasure, huge contraptions made of metal, bone and sinew, built with whatever was at hand – or would extract maximum pain.
I gritted my teeth and felt the wheels. Again and again. I had focus, a small hard jewel buried in my mind. I was going to get out of here. I had heard Boruta talking to Sthenno, in a sumerian dialect I had learned in my time here. Hell was infinite, so every century was represented.
“This one, he has a number on his soul.”
“And for what, another rite of blood?”, Sthenno spat, small pits forming in the floor.
“No, he has a limit — it is unusual.”
“Whatever our lord Demiurge requires, it matters not.”
Boruta glared as they stomped away on the road of the newly damned, hooves breaking bones and tearing out eyes.
It was then I knew. If I could keep a small part of me sane, I would make it out of here. Easier said than done. The demons were unrelenting in their schemes and energy. No breaks, no respite. Time was kept by counting screams, blinks between deaths and painful recastings, waiting for the next volley of pain with a heavy heart.
But it happened.
One moment I was being stretched until my joints cracked and split, the other I was surrounded by Oni, Pelesit, and Rakshasa. Holding out a staff tipped with a pentacle, they stabbed my chest and crossed out the tally. My debt was paid. Staff held high, they turned their backs, bleached white bone covered with capes made of skin and pelts of human hair.
They whispered dark words and inscribed a complex pattern mid-air, world bending in half as I fell through the widening crack. Skin steaming from hell’s embrace, lying in an alley as naked as the day I was born.
Nothing bothers you after being in Hell.
I stood on the corner, smiling like a dare.
“Hey buddy, you wanna make something of it?”, a young face with simple ideas leaned out of the window, fist clenched.
“Why yes, I’d love to.”
The demons had taught me much. Pain beyond suffering, the touch of near-death.
Turning towards the car, I hissed dark words, hands aglow with hell-charged fury.
Time to deal a lesson in pain.