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hell awaits

this happens to me more often than i like to admit. i'm perusing my writing files and come across a title that i don't remember. part of the problem is that i usually name files according to the first word that jumps into my head as i'm working on something, which would be awesome, if i could keep track of the things that my brain is thinking while i'm writing, but i can't even keep track of the things my brain is thinking when i'm doing nothing but thinking. my brain is not a multitasker.

so i opened up a file intriguingly titled "hell". really, i was thinking that it would be very cool if there was actually a portal to hell on my computer that was fiendishly hidden in a folder where i am most likely to open files wondering what they are. i mean, if there was a devil and he thought that up, it would be evidence that he was really wearing his clever pants. but it turns out that file "hell" was actually just a piece of writing that seemed exactly like something i'd do, except that i had no memory of it whatsoever. i mean, the first few lines were clearly like me, but i was staring at it and wondering if i should let dom know it was finally time to check me into a facility.

it's not just that i'd forgotten writing it, or anything about it. it's that when i checked the creation date [i'm really thrilled about that feature normally], i realised it was something i'd written around the end of august. normally, when i find things that i've no memory of, they at least have the decency to have been fermenting on my hard drive for a few years, but this was something that had evidently been done three and a half months ago. and who knows what else i was getting up to in my literary fugue state?

as i read, i realised that it was, in fact, something that was based on a dream of mine. a dream i'd written about here. more shocking yet, i'd written about writing this thing. of course, the downside of this is that i still can't remember writing this thing. that's right. despite the fact that i wrote out some of the inspiration and despite the fact that i wrote about the feelings i had on completing this, i still have no memory whatsoever of doing the writing itself. i know the writing happened. if i stretch my brain, i like to think that i can remember the writing. except what i'm remembering is me sitting at my desk and typing, which is something that happens every day. it's happening now, for instance. i do sort of remember creating the visuals from the "unicorn poop" post.

anyway, i sort of like the way this came out. it's about halfway between a poem and a prose story, which makes me link it to "spook house", which also struck me as some kind of halfsie. so please enjoy my version of hell. at least, i think it's mine. it might actually be a portal to hell that's trying to fool me. one never knows...



And when I saw their twisted faces, I ran, ran until my heart made me stop and forced me to the ground;
Ran until the lights behind my eyes burnt out those twisted moments of agony as they fought to the last breath,
Fought to hang on and cheat me of that small victory, that hollow note on an empty vessel.
I waited to see the last shudder of air depart their lips and then looked at each of them, full in the face, red and contorted, not sleeping beauties these, with sweat and strain still on them; No! All anger and desperation and horror.
They lost.
And I ran, because I knew then that I couldn’t abide it being over any more than I could have gone on living as they continued on their parallel plane, scooping great honeyed handfuls of what had once been mine and feeding it, one to the other, from the tips of their delicate fingers.
I ran because I knew I still lay pressed flat on that grey expanse to which they’d condemned me, all their trickery and wild stories to trip me up and land me here, compressed by gravity and choking on my own venom, just as poisonous to me.
I left them there for the bugs to find and knew I’d never return. But I know I could not have run far.
I pictured myself lost in the wilderness, but no such thing. I was burrowing through familiar streets that had turned their backs on me, using their slick reflective windows to pass judgment:
Look at how it runs like a stray, like a reject finding its way for the first time
And I hear the solemn pines tittering amongst themselves, so proper.
Perhaps I had thought it would be peaceful, that I would usher them out with dignity and gravitas and that the howling in my head would abate at last, but it attacks me still. No better, no worse, because for me, nothing has changed. The sun is soaked with the oncoming blue twilight and I am as alone out here as I ever was. I want to shriek at the sky and the trees and make everyone hear what’s inside me. I had wanted them to hear and perhaps they did. Perhaps that’s why their faces screwed up so in the final moments, because they heard that soul-destroying sound. I’ll never know and that leaves the thirst unquenched.
Wild things roam these streets at night, rustling shadows with fierce eyes that are only seen too late, things I could not fight for all my brutal pretensions. Things that feast on fools like me who jump into the river without checking the depth.
Oh we’ll eat well tonight
I’m wandering through settled territory, civilization spread over its demonic bones and now I see what lies in wait for all of us:
Their tongues slither in and out and their poison drips in anticipation, knowing all they have to do is wait- and they are all patience- knowing too well they’ll be rewarded.
This is strange-familiar, it does not feel like it did this morning when I paced through these hard-angled streets, this reassuring grid all connected to itself in perfect order. Now I roll over bumps in the impeccable carpet of lawn and ordinariness; hints of the filth beneath. I know that when the people in these houses walk here that it is flat for them. They do not run from faces they created. They have no reason to fear their surroundings.
I do not see the hole open before me at first, until I am at the edge, tipping forward and barely able to stop myself. It yawns, not figuratively, but with a real chthonic, ancient, ugly sound that sets my hairs on end and then it waits for me to decide.
Stay and fight the demons that run in the roads, whose derisive voices whistle through your mind all day and night, or find out what awaits on the other side of the dark, it says and chokes up a sooty cloud as it breathes and stretches wider.
And I want to know if letting myself fall will stop the noise.
And I want to know if letting myself fall will bleach away their faces.
And I want to know if I will be saved in its steaming belly, but there is no time to ask and it would not tell me if I did.
I do not step forward, but simply let myself plummet through the oily walls of the cave, that shift from dirt to mud and then to stone. I feel each bruise as it arrives, until my skull lands on a jutting piece of masonry and then I know no more.

*

I wake up on the floor (hard and cold but clean enough) my head still aching and my throat to dry to make a sound. For a few moments, I am conscious only of this:
That I am in a small space;
That I am in a round space;
That there is another with me
Gradually, I see that there is a rough cup filled with water next to my head, a gesture of hospitality, perhaps, I like to think, and I am nearly delirious at the thought that I might indeed have fallen to safety.
Even in here, in this place that looks so much like a dungeon, so dimly lit and sparse in every way, I think I could be happy, because at least the blow to the head has dulled my memory of the faces.
My companion is seated next to a large wheel with a handle. On the wall beside the handle is a small iron door, a dumb waiter that he sometimes opens, just a little, never enough to let me peer inside. When he rises, he is scarcely taller than when he sits, bent over and crippled with every form of bone disease he is, hardly able to move, but regular in his checks, opening his little door, wiping his mouth each time he does, sometimes glancing up and then returning to grasp hold of the wheel and turn it. The effort snaps his tendons, I can hear it in the thick quiet of this place and I want to ask why he still does it, when no one can be watching.
I was the first one here, he grumbles in some accent I can barely understand. And I will be the last to leave.
I drink instead of answering him, strange hunchbacked little man, dark with matted hair, like a dirty pelt, who keeps his back to me. I want to answer him and ask so much, but the pain in my head spins me whenever I part my lips and nothing can emerge. I know not how long I sit like this, my memory shoddy and wondering if this is the best it will ever be and thinking perhaps it would not be so bad, just lying here and keeping company with this sad little man.
You came here by accident, you were not meant to come.
But I know I came here on purpose. I let myself fall in, trying to escape the demons of the upper world.
There has been a mistake.
There have been so many.
I wonder at his voice, tinged with every sort of foreign tongue. Where do you come from, mon frère?
And he sings something back to me in a language I have never heard, sings sadly and tunelessly, the man left behind at the end of the night.
Once again, he stands to check behind the iron door, looks up into what I can just now tell is some chute, slams it quickly shut and reaches for the wheel.
“I can help you!” I cry, alarmed at the sounds of tearing at his limbs, although I am not sure I could.
Stay there, he commands gruffly.
And the wheel turns and for the first time, I am aware of some muffled horror behind the door, some deep and anguished thing that never fully trails away, its distant echoes weaving themselves into the tapestry of the silence of this place.
“Where am I?” Because it must finally be asked.
Where do you think you are?
“Lost,” is all I know to say.
This is the Hell of which you’ve heard so much.
“I don’t believe in Hell.”
Do you believe you are?
And I have no answer, for if I am, then where could I be but where he says, or somewhere locked inside my own dreams.
The great wheel creaks forward again and once more there is that sound, now I can tell, each one a little different than the last, all reverberating endlessly.
“And I am not supposed to be here?”
No. I know everyone who comes to me and I am never surprised. I can keep you safe, but you must never leave this space. I cannot promise excitement, but you will not suffer as long as you stay here. Do not go looking for what you cannot find.
“It does not seem so bad.”
I do not ask him about the chill-inducing sounds that come from the chute or why they never entirely leave. I leave him to his work and rest my throbbing head here on the floor and try to tell myself, it could be worse- was worse out there where those pawing things in the shadows waited to devour me. I know it could be worse. But each turn of the wheel pokes at my gut until the nausea rises, unbearable; and I know the sounds will come again.
A staircase curves upward, just behind where he sits, up into the murk and who knows what beyond.
“Am I allowed to go up the stairs?”
Never. I can protect you while you stay in my sight and not a second more.
And yet he never turns to see me. Never lets me see him full on.
But I am still human and want to know. Still me and trying to justify my curiosity.
I do not know this man who says that he can keep me safe.
I have no reason to trust him.
He is trying to hide himself from me.
There is some horrible secret in that chute.
I could go on for hours in my head. I do go on, although how long I can never know. There is no way of telling time in here and even my erstwhile protector’s ratcheting of the wheel comes at uncertain intervals.
If I am here by accident, perhaps I was meant to be in a better place?
Why would he rather keep me here than send me out to where I’m meant to be?
I see with his gnarled hands, he cannot grip the lever that moves the wheel, but merely presses on it with his palms.
“Why do you keep doing it?”
But he doesn’t answer and sits back on his little chair, his posture more despondent than ever.
My head still hurts and I am swollen with injuries sustained in my fall. From what does he protect me if not from the physical pain of his little world?
They’re here, he whispers, looking up into the chute.
And with a sloppy thwop, I see them, faces more wracked than ever, land on the cruel spikes inside, hear their flesh ripped, their organs pierced, see the blood burst from them, weeping over their shattered bodies and yet they will not be still;
All the tortures they inflicted upon me are twitching on their muscles, each hurt its own vibration.
And my hunched protector turns his wheel with all his strength and they turn with it, into the chink of metal on metal, into the grinding and tearing of more devices beyond my sight.
And then their screams rise like the sun breaking the horizon, like inextinguishable fire and ceaseless motion; their screams and others beneath them, all the voices rushing out from the unbarred door, sucking away the oxygen until I can feel time peeled away from my life.
That is when he shuts the door and unaffected returns to his chair.
They belong here, is all he says.
I say nothing. I can say nothing. That sound has filled me to bursting, eats away at me like a cancer. So that is why he is the way he is: his body deformed, all twisted up with untold time here breathing in the sickness of that sound. He cannot protect me. He cannot protect himself.
I slide millimetre by millimetre along the floor, an eyelash breadth each time he checks the chute and cranks the wheel. There is nothing to say between us now. He sometimes turns a little, as if to face me, but never commits to more. Only so that I can see more darkness upon him, radiating from him, his dying light imprisoned in a carbon shell.
No more, I say and make for the stairs, just a few steps before I hear him screech like a wounded beast and my legs fold in fear of the power of that sound.
But the sound is all and from him there is nothing more, although I am certain I hear him return to the chute and the grinding of the wheel, now mercifully beyond my sight.
The stairs curve so that I cannot see the room below or the place to where they ascend. A small window just above me emits a faint light, but I see the promise of something brighter, a rosy glow on the stones above, a happy light with no consciousness what happens below. But I know better than to rush towards its arms.
As still as I am, I do not hear him approach until he is upon me and for a moment fear it is the wheel-turner until my eyes break free of my fear. He passes me with an almost imperceptible glance, tall and thin and so formally dressed, a gentleman of another era, whatever era I find myself in now. He alights quickly to the top of the stairs and somewhere in the air there is conversation, sweet human voices, healing voices, no scraping of machinery. Voices like salve on my wounds, I would not disturb them, but just know a little more of what they are saying.
I crawl one step at a time, snatching random words and holding them to me until I have squeezed the juice from them, then reaching for another. I crawl until I can just see them, the elegant man and the pretty woman who smiles as they chat and I drink their nectar in with my eyes, holding my breath so as not to disturb them.
But my feeding is ravenous enough to catch their attention without sounds and both faces fall cold as they turn to me. Without another pretty word she turns and retreats into the rosy room, its pink warmth radiating with a power I could not have foreseen.
The man turns, expressionless, to me and raises his arm as if to direct me into the room.
A look can’t hurt, I say.
A look can hurt more than anything, I know.
Just a quick check and nothing else.
A quick check and nothing else can ever be the same.
I approach him pleading with him to speak, to show that I am a welcomed guest, that this is the place where I was intended all along to be, but nothing. And as I approach I think how handsome he would be, but for the fact that pain strangles his face and blacks out his eyes, burning hotter inside him the closer I get.
I see the edge of an unmade bed from inside the room, the shadow of the young woman moving around it, making some pleasant sound to herself, over the comfortable roar of a live fire whose patterns dance along the wall in her wake. I cannot see the bed, but I know what is there, I can smell the flesh and more, the heavy human perfume and greasy familiarity and then I know that I am not welcome here, that I could never be welcome in this place.
He stands still with arm outstretched, still as a post, his eyes flickering with questions as my legs drag, increasingly heavy.
And I can see the dark and sticky matter on the sheets, the irreversible truth I will not face.
“You cannot ask me to go in there. You cannot be serious.”
He does not move and makes no sound of response. I hear the woman inside, now singing something high and sweet and sickly. I cannot go in there.
Trembling, I retreat down the stairs until I am pressed against the window, watching the man grow taller and monstrous, reaching out as if to pluck me and throw me in that room with his sadistic partner and… that unthinkable thing. I can feel the grate of the window against my back, old and rusty, the heavy metallic scent in my nose, not just the metal of the grate, but now my blood as the window splinters under the pressure of my body, sending me tumbling onto the grass outside.
Impossible!
The window rises barely a foot above the ground and here I am, breathing the sharp night air and looking at those same pale houses I always knew. I can rise and pluck the shards of glass from my skin and the world is there as it always was and I am just alone in the night as I was before.
But on my first step, I see them, those ominous shapes that slip unseen between the shadows of wavering branches.
I see that hyena pack close in around me on all sides.
And it is now that I realize that I knew the song they sang, the wheel-turner and the woman in the room, that same song both of them with its endless questioning refrain. I always knew what it was they asked and now I know how I would answer.
But now is too late and a round of red eyes and unsheathed claws tells me what the future holds.

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