I had been sitting in the cave, gazing upon the seas of gray, when The One invaded my thoughts next. “What are you doing, Leanord?” I was thinking about how my Hell was set in nothingness. It was not light, it was not dark. It was not cool, it was not hot. No breeze stirred the heavy air. But on the other side, opposite the wall of Nether, there was a tiny white light, at the top of the underground cavern, lighting the darkness beneath it with pureness, reaching to the ground, but not quite strong enough to make it there. “It is Benediction”, He told me. “The Hell that is bliss. The closest thing to your so-called Heaven.”
I stared up at the white light, trailed it down to the dimness of where I was. I decided that this would be The Hub from now on. It was nestled, in the cavern, between the two extremes. The middle. The only place I could see where souls roamed free, though I assumed Benediction was the same. I wondered how one could make it there, to the realm of the ethereally peaceful. “One soul may achieve bliss by making a contribution to the living world.” So not only was The Hub nothing itself, but it was for the nothing. The useless. The charge that ran from head to toe left me, and I was alone, in the sea of solitary.
I sat there, at the mouth of the cave, for a long time, trying to find a soul who held a spark in their eye. I found zip. Anger ignited within me. Anger at myself, for not trying a little harder in the world. For giving up so easily on the life that was handed to me on a silver platter. Anger at The One for noticing that. Anger at his sentence. Anger at the souls milling around, shuffling their feet with no other purpose than just being.
The anger muted the blazing trail of electricity. “I see the need within you, Leanord. The need to be something in life. I cannot give you that, but I can grant you what you seek. The domain of Benediction is in your grasp. But first, you must strike me a small deal.”
And though the knowledge that making deals with the Devil is dangerous can be found in pretty much any form of media on Earth, though I had the feeling that all this deal would bring was destruction and detriment, I shoved the warnings that were going off in my head deep into the recesses of my mind and I agreed before I could hear what the deal was going to be. How much I regret that, I cannot convey to you. Because as it turns out, my first instinct was right. And so it is that for the thirty-six days I spent in The Hub would be equal to the number of people I would drive to suicide.
Why? I wondered, back in the cave. Why this? “Because, Leanord. I am, above all else, a king of this world. I rule those that have passed through the portal.” Yes, I thought, I know that. But why do you need me to kill them “How is a king supposed to rule a kingdom if there is naught in the kingdom to rule?” He had a point. A sick, malevolent, disgusting point, but a point nonetheless. And so, I regretfully kept my side of the deal.
I did not know at the time the pure agony of watching one’s mind melt within them, like candle wax. Did not know that once Sanity disappears from a person, all that is left is ash, after the flame subsides, blowing around in a shell that was once a fully functioning person. I didn’t know the toll it would take on my own sanity, being the things that nightmares consist of. I didn’t know.
But I do now. A feverish, angry sickness fills me. Shadows envelope me, whispering nettles that prick my skin as I enter The Veil. As they gradually cover me from head to toe, the prickling on the skin suddenly goes subdermal, The One’s voice ramps into my mind, and this is the part that I dread. I know that I’m going to kill a person already. But telling me their name and age is just plain cruel.
“You will be Haunting Hope, a fourteen year old.”
No. Not a child. Anything but a child.
“As always, you will have the day to prepare for your Haunt.”
I can’t do this. I can’t. Please, what does a little girl hold against you? I won’t. I can’t.
“You will. When darkness nestles the sky is when you begin your Haunting.”
I can’t! I can’t do this. Fury staunches the flow of bile rising up in my throat and I choke.
I won’t. I won’t do this. I will not kill a child.
“Do not lie to me, Leanord.”