A man takes a personal journey through hell. His haunting memories and emotions are cause for him to reconsider his life choices.
Nor dread nor hope attend
A dying animal;
A man awaits his end
Dreading and hoping all;
Many times he died,
Many times rose again.
A great man in his pride
Confronting murderous men
Casts derision upon
Supersession of breath;
He knows death to the bone
Man has created death
by William Butler Yeats
The orange coals burned steadily beneath his bare feet and the seared flesh that hung from his legs turned to ash as he walked. The agony was eternal. No matter how far he walked he could not escape the fiery pits of hell. The torment and suffering pursued him, shredding his flesh and bones until he was stripped of everything. His heart felt like it was made of granite but there was nothing he could do. High walls of broken cliff sides surrounded him and the deep abyss of crevasses beckoned beneath. He felt weighted down. He looked across the vast expanse of hell; a place where the haunted darkness was broken with flickering taunting fires, the fires which brought no light; they brought no heat, but somehow they burned you, from the inside out, they attacked the core of your being. It was eternal he thought. Everything was eternal. He walked on listening to the faint beat of drums somewhere in the distance, until he approached the notorious lake of fire, a shimmering powerful source of torment and affliction. The evil emanating from the heart of the lake rose in black clouds, swirling higher and higher. Sometimes he would stand in the centre where it was calmer, and he would watch the walls of hell rise about him, churning the inferno and smoke in a looming tower of impending doom, and then he was swallowed. He would hear satanic laughing echoing around him. Sick sadistic laughing that pierced his skin. The demons would be out. That was their time to play.
He would try to block the screams from his ears, but hell forbade it. No amount of peace or solace could be had in this abhorrent, god-forsaken place. So he endured the soul wrenching shrieks of those being tortured around him. It split him almost in half every time he heard it but now, today, he walked steadily past the expanse of burning water, holding the same desperate expression he had worn for years. He was damned.
In the kitchen he went about his daily routine in the quietest manner possible. He reached into the back of the cabinet and pulled out a bottle of tonic water. That’s what the label said at least. He needed a nice soothing sedative before he went to bed. Tonic water. He sneered at the very thought. He needed something to numb him and take him far away. The moment his fingers curled around the bottle, a shiver of excitement ran through him and he smiled crookedly. Like a child on Christmas Eve waiting for the next day, he had been waiting all evening for her to go to bed. He caressed the lid for a minute, anticipating the taste of the contents before twisting it off and pouring it into a small glass, watching as it sloshed down the sides. He couldn’t contain himself and in one swift move he downed it. He poured himself another. He took this one a little slower as if savouring it, loving the smooth warming feeling it gave as the liquid hit the back of his throat and trickled down. The third glass he mixed with some milk in case she woke up. This one was crucial; he couldn’t have himself waking up thirsty in the night. Carefully he reached into his briefcase and pulled out another bottle, topping the first with the second, and then he quietly replaced the tonic bottle in the back of the cupboard and put the vodka bottle back in his briefcase.
The rays from the sun glinted off the sharp snow peaks and vast tundra, like a thousand tiny crystals, exploding into a rainbow of pure colour and beauty. The blue skies were clear a moment ago, now however, they were far from clear and a dark ominous cloud threatened to disrupt the serenity of his surroundings. He turned to his right to look for her but she was gone. As he searched around, he witnessed an alarmingly large patch of snow rise higher off the ground, churning as it picked up momentum. His much loved daydream shattered. A dirty little red and orange minion interrupted his moments of peace. The brief escape from the torments of hell would just be remnants of a memory in the back of his brain, hiding in the folds of nerves and muscles waiting the time they could return. He was back living this nightmare. The servant of the devil emerged out of the magma, dripping lava from every pore of it body. It’s little horrid mouth twisting in a grotesquely satisfied grin.
The drums in the distance began to beat louder and more franticly, infiltrating his stone-like heart and vibrating every fabric of his being right down to his feet. Then the shackles of fire appeared, snaking around his ankles and tugging him forwards. He didn’t know where he was heading but a painful force was leading him there very quickly; the demon cackled behind him as the shackles smouldered on his heals. Even though only moments had passed, he felt like it might as well have been hours. The misery and despair that he witnessed all around him cut him deeper than his own sad self-pitying, and he felt the gut wrenching regret of spending half a life in a drunken stupor.
As a man, grief for not only his own forgotten happiness, but for those all over the world, had engulfed him. He didn’t know where it had gone but the excitement of his life had packed its bags and disappeared. Maybe it had left with her. That small tiny package of joy had left through the doors leaving a trail of silver sadness behind, like a small garden snail. She hadn’t understood what he needed to escape from. Why hadn’t she understood? She said she was tired of watching him self-destruct. But the sadness all around him was too much to bear. The only thing that kept depression at bay was a little sip. But that sip was never enough. Once the vice like grip over his heart was loosened, he felt he owed it to himself to loosen it some more. But it would never let go. She had hated what it did to him; she had hated the endless days of lying about money and hidden bottles and late nights. He spent years mourning the days when he used to smile and live for the next tomorrow but now the next day was only a worse version of yesterday. His once radiant green eyes became sunken and hollow. Without her he couldn’t sleep, he lost hair, and he withered, becoming a shadow even in the dimness of his lonely room. He was attractive, he had been told so by many female acquaintances, but he saw what was behind that; the tortured soul of a man who broke many promises, a man who was weak, allowing himself to be pulled down with every passing moment. He couldn’t be strong enough for those around him, so he turned to the one thing that would make him forget who he was. But the hangovers became unbearable. He had to end it. This was the man he once was, a lost soul on the way to the underworld.
He finally stopped moving when he arrived at two enormous intricately carved gates. They appeared to glare at him challengingly as they towered above, glinting in the firelight. The beautiful gold and red designs on the black iron seemed to be moving, slowly the colours merged into each other and separated again. For all his faults the devil was a good architect, he thought miserably. He squinted his eyes for a closer look and then screwed up his face when he realized that the patterns were serpents, writhing in and out of the bars together like some disgusting sea creature with tentacles. He tried to step back but agony wracked his body. He looked down and saw the shackles had not been loosened. Instead they remained suspended a few inches off the ground, where the red and white magma boiled, popping against his blistered skin; a reminder that he was a bound and owned man now. He listened to the drums beating behind the gates and his heart quickened pounding harder and harder, the blood pulsated in his limbs, as if he was on fire his body began to burn. Then the gates opened, a roiling mass of slithering reptiles parted. Swirling black smoke came rushing at him, choking him as it wrapped around his throat and then dissipated, leaving him stunned and scarred from head to toe. He opened one eye slowly, testing if it was safe. Then he blinked a few times to get the burning out of his red eyes. On opening his watery eyes again, he saw a figure standing in front of him. Shrouded in darkness he could only tell that it was small. Maybe a child he thought, and then he laughed. A child in hell? NO. It had to be a demon. He waited for something to happen and sure enough the shackles around his ankles dropped to the floor and melted back into the ground. Suddenly a massive fire flared up in a circle around him, illuminating the child’s face. Jesus Christ. He dropped to his knees. The child was no more than 6 maybe. He knew this because the child was him.
A tear dripped halfway down his burnt face before it evaporated. The child’s eyes had the same haunted look as his own, revealing a pain that reminded him of why he wanted to escape. His past came rushing back in one overwhelming wave and he tried to stand but he couldn’t move, he couldn’t even cover his eyes with his seared hands so he remained kneeling, intently watching the child’s face. A movement caught his eye beside him and he turned in a hesitant daze to see what it was. A hooded figure in a cloak loomed over him but it was not human, of that he was sure; no human had a six-inch beak protruding for what could almost pass as a face. The twisted form under the hood was a black mess of angry ruptured flesh. Was the figure meant to take him or the boy? Within seconds the answer came in the form of four other hooded creatures, and all of them glided their way over to the child. He tried to call out in fear and tell the boy to run but his mouth was abruptly bound by a wisp of silver smoke. This was it, he thought. I’m meant to watch this happen in person. The child reached out a tiny hand out to him. Before he could take it in his own blistered hand, one of the creatures flew up in the air and swooped down again, it’s cape billowing behind. It intercepted the intimate gesture and clamped its beak onto the boys arm, gripping on until it twisted and landed again. The drumbeat became louder and drowned out any possible screams from the child. As if taking that as their cue, they all closed in on him, tearing at his flesh like vultures on a carcass. After the initial feeding frenzy, the drums softened and slowed until all he could hear was the sickening sound of flesh dropping to the floor and sizzling. In a horrified gesture his body attempted to make him throw up, but he couldn’t, and instead convulsed repeatedly. Before his eyes the child was disappearing. He let out a muffled roar. His father should have been here instead of him, witnessing the consequences of his own actions. When the carnage was over he shakily got to his feet, his knees threatened to buckle as they healed again but he forced his way over to the exact spot where the child had been standing. When the silver wisp over his mouth disintegrated, he threw up. Wiping his mouth with the back of his hand he stared at the magma bubbling round his feet. Suddenly his throat felt very dry. Dammit where’s a drink when I need one.