"You think that Hell is only for the damned? You fool."
A Little Slice of Hell
"You think that Hell is only for the damned? You fool."
It was too real to be a dream, although the images were nightmarish, enough. But it was too surreal to be reality. Perhaps he was dead. The creature before him had eyes that looked dead.
The gash of a mouth opened again, and he heard a contemptuous, mocking laugh. His gaze was transfixed by the mouthful of needle-like teeth, but his ears heard the monster's next words.
"What other sweet illusions need shattering? I can be very accommodating."
"N-n-none - thank you," he winced.
Timid politeness had not left him, even looking across this sulfurous landscape. He hated the attitude, but it followed him everywhere, like his shadow. Like the stutter, which if this was a dream he shouldn't have. He wanted control over his mouth and vocal chords for once! He shuddered at the anger churning inside him, and concentrated on the writhing columns of smoke.
The demon grinned, following his gaze. "Prettier picture than me?"
Screams of torture and pain rang out from the fog that swirled everywhere. Dim shapes were only just visible, and this left far too much to the imagination. Suls were preying on souls. Was that his mother being torn apart by those around her? Or was the shade really Dr. Falger, his chest forced onto the rocky ground, his hips in the air, like a horse in heat, and awaiting the same fate?
"No, it's horrible," he confessed honestly. In comparison to the view the strangely elongated monster, human-shaped, yet with bat wings springing from his back, and scales covering his dusk-green skin in blood red patches, seemed almost a calming presence.
The demon, however, reared back from his crouched pose as if he had been stung.
"I hate getting the meek," the reptilian-esque monstrosity snarled. "The only people they are dishonest with are themselves."
This made the more human of the pair look troubled. "What do you mean, "getting the meek?" You mean me, right?"
He tried not to quail in front of the dead grey gaze. Tried not to seem meek. He wasn't meek.
"Yeah," the demon leered at him, and a horribly livid red tongue flickered out between his teeth. "Got a problem with that?"
The demon snarled, again, and clawed the air in front of the young man's face. "Bah. Honesty!"
"Should we talk about something else?" The black haired human stood uncomfortably, feeling uncharacteristically talkative. "What are you, and why are you here? Wherever here is," he trailed off, and looked around.
"This is Hell, and I am your guide," the demon shrugged his shoulders, his black -- or were they dark grey? -- tatters of wings moving with them.
The less horrifying of the pair saw a bit of a catch. "Into, or out of here?"
He could here the quaver in his voice. How had he gotten here in the first place?
The monster shrugged again. "It all depends on what advice you listen to. And don't expect any divinity to help you. God, if such a fantasy does exist, doesn't care."
He found himself nodding. He had learned that a long time ago.
"So, let's go," the monster jumped from the rocky perch, his wings snapping taut to catch the updraft with their full length, sulfurous vapor twining him.
"Where?!" his grey eyes went wide with surprise, seeing the spindly figure in the sky.
Suddenly, the monstrous disproportions looked delicate and graceful. He wondered if the bones were hollow, like those of a bird. And those muscles stretched over the spare frame, they were probably all that kept this creation aloft. He could see arteries pulsing gently in the pumping wings.
"Where ever. This is your mind, not mine," one tattered wing tip flicked, and the creature went into a barrel roll. Probably just to show off.
"I thought that you said this was Hell!" he exclaimed, stalling for time. He didn't want to go anywhere.
"It is," in a rush of dusky grey, and red the "Guide" landed behind him. "Y'see, Nick-,"
"That's not my name!"
"Really? Then what is?" the red creature grinned.
"I - I don't know," the dark face was cast downwards at the yellow ground.
"I like the name Nick," the guide continued as if he hadn't been interrupted. "It has so many wonderful connotations. Anyway, Nick, it's like this. Hell is what you make of it, and you've created a little portion here, right inside your own mind. Remember when we first met, and I told you that Hell wasn't only for the damned?"
"Nick" nodded his head, feeling despair wash over him.
"I was only partly lying. The Hell is only for the damned. But it's the self damned. People who are lost, and have given up hope. No outside force is involved. There's no justice to it. Sometimes people who deserve this pain never feel it in their lifetimes, and continue their horrible disgusting lives enjoying every minute they pollute this beautiful planet."
The light had been streaming through the windows. She turned away from her circle of friends, and smiled at him.
"At least you have to agree, it's a beautiful world. You spend more time in class looking out the window at it than paying attention."
He had looked away. Scared.
The landscape changed. The bareness remained, but the feeling of wilderness, and openness became closed in suddenly. The forms of rocks became ordered and rectangular. Walls had sprung up.
"Hmm," the demon looked around, "must have struck a nerve. What a dull little prison."
"You were saying how bad people can get away without feeling pain!" Nick almost growled, another thought had formed in his mind. Anger was suddenly on the rise.
"Not everyone. Plenty of people have guilty consciences, which will haunt them when ever they stop to think a moment," the monster replied. "It eats at them, all of their cruelty and deceit."
"What are you doing? It's late, and we have to be up early to go to the hospital."
The tall woman moved over to her husband, and kissed him gently on the forehead, a slight smile on her face. The light came from the hall, and the computer screen in front of the man.
"I need to write this letter. I'll come to bed as soon as I'm done."
"Oh?" Nick remembered the smile in her voice. "And what's so important about this letter?"
"I'm firing one of the section heads. I'd love to be there in person, of course. Their expressions are so amusing. However, if the family really needs to be there," Nick remembered the vile uncaring malice in the man's voice. He knew, /knew that the man saw nothing interesting in anyone, or anything that couldn't be kept at arms length by cell phone./
Nick's mother put a hand on the man's shoulder.
"Come now, honey, the doctors say that positive reinforcement helps. Don't be so grudging."
"Easy for you to say," the tone was bitter, but the man put a hand up to cover his wife's. "He doesn't look at you with those big eyes, as if he's trying to see through you. I swear that child hates me."
"You're paranoid," her hand moved to ruffle his hair in the familiar motion that Nick remembered. "Come to bed. Work will be there in the morning."
"Less, if I get it done now. I'll be with you in a few minutes."
He hadn't gone to bed until three in the morning, Nick remembered. He knew, because he'd been watching the man from the corner the whole time. Hunched and hidden as only a young child can be. He hadn't lost that edge as he'd grown older.
The yellow walls drew in closer, and the brightness of the prison increased. The demon flapped up to the heights, looking jittery.
"Come on. Stop doing that. Let's go. We can talk on the way."
"No! I've seen what's out there, and I don't want any part of it!" Nick yelled at the flying fiend.
The needle teeth literally gnashed.
"No! You never do!" the demon yelled. "You're in the last group of people bloody stupid enough to lock themselves in here! You're scared of bloody everything! You're so sensitive you shut yourself down rather than experience anything that might lead to pain! And you torture yourself daily with everything you lock inside that crammed little cranium of yours! You don't dare talk to that interesting girl who sits in front of you for fear of her voice, which sends such a shiver down your ears. What the Hell are you afraid of?! That she'll laugh at your stupid stutter? That she might, oh Lucifer forefend, listen to what you have to say? Force you to look her in the eye? Anything but that!"
The demon dived, and Nick found himself slammed into the ground. The monster was light, though, and soon Nick had kicked him off and sat up. The walls moved in closer, and the demon glowered, as he rose, shaking his head.
"Oh, that's right! Box yourself in again!"
Nick backed up, angry, and scared. The world hurt, with its bright colors and strident noise. Everything about it hurt. The touch of skin against cloth, or grass. Tastes exploded in the mouth, and the smells made his nose close up in defense. Isolation was the only defense. The only way to preserve any sanity in the insane chaos of it all.
The click of knee joints was his only warning. The demon was behind him, jabbing a pointed knee into his back. Nick stumbled forward, only to meet a boney fist swinging the other way. His cheek stung, and pain exploded in his back, as the monster backed away, rubbing scaled knuckles. He wanted to lose consciousness again. Just fall asleep and stop dreaming. Going back to his happy place, an imaginary place in a dark wood where the colors were muted, and there were no sounds. He wanted to hide there. Away from the horribly bright yellow earth, and the attacking demon.
But unlike his previous mental commands, nothing happened to his environment, except the walls moved in even closer.
"Stop it!" the scaled creature growled, glaring wildly at the shrinking walls. "I'm sick of being /trapped/!"
His gigantic wings folded up behind him, like a bird rather than a bat. He rushed at Nick again with his blinding speed, raking him with unforgiving claws. Nick stumbled back, pain burning him now. He felt weak, and useless.
"Fight back, for once, damn you!" the demon commanded, as he tore at Nick, leaving trails of blood hanging in the air. "Try and save your miserable life! Stop taking everything in! Stop being so useless! Stop being so afraid!"
The demon's knee came up, cracking Nick under the chin. Black spots danced before Nick's eyes. Then his opponent shoved, and he went sprawling on the ground, bleeding from gashes on his sides, and face.
The winged menace stood over him.
"You pathetic fool. Would it kill you to tell Daddy what you really think?! Would you die from giving that malicious weasel a piece of your mind? What's the worst that could happen if you yelled at him to come home more often? To stop making Mommy cry from loneliness? Why won't you fight back against something as lowly as that /worm/? Why won't you force him to admit to himself what he is? Why won't you talk?"
"Oh, darling, why won't you say anything?"
Nick curled up on the ground, holding his head.
"Stop looking at me like that, kiddo. Jeeze. Why the Hell can't you be normal?"
"Leave me alone," he whimpered. "Leave me alone."
"It's just a few tests, honey. Nothing to be afraid of."
"Stop it," his voice grew in volume.
"Well, you know the drill by now. Just go into the room and put on the lead vest. Don't worry, you'll be able to go back to school, soon enough."
How many more tests loomed in his horizon? How many more nice psychiatrists with gentle voices? Here, right here, no one could bother him. The walls closed in. The demonic bird-human stretched out his arms to block the encroaching walls of rock.
"I told you, stop closing yourself off! I'm sick of it!"
Nick looked up at the face, dusky blue grey, with livid red scales, and steel grey needle teeth. But beyond those scales, the dead grey disks of eyes were his own.
~ ~ ~
"He's coming around."
He shrunk away from the contact of the hand trying to help him up.
"You okay?" the words beat on his ears. "You just kinda collapsed in the middle of the side walk."
It was the girl from his class, and a smaller, blond boy. Sunlight streamed down, hurting his eyes. He scuttled away slightly, before trying to stand.
"Do you want help home?" the girl asked, looking concerned. She had her cell phone out, and it looked like she was planning to dial 9-1-1. He shook his head, backing up another step, trying to flee.
"You sure?" her eyebrows had snapped together in a frown.
He nodded. No more of this world of sun and pain. He'd get home; and run up to his attic room, and hide in the shadows. Maybe he'd paint something. Something scaley moved inside him.
"Th-th-th-thank y-y-y-you. I-I-I-I'm f-f-f-f-fine."
The girl smiled, hearing his creaky voice managing to stutter out the words that scared him so much. For a second the world went white and he swayed. When reality reasserted itself the blonde boy was looking at him with a confused expression.
Wings beat the air.
"W-w-w-w-ant t-t-t-to w-w-w-w-walk h-h-h-h-ho-me, a-a-any-ww-w-way?"
The girl shrugged. "Sure, why not? You don't look good."
He just nodded, again. His head hurt. He wanted to run from the two other beings. Run and hide. But that didn't seem to be happening. He was fighting back against fear, for a while, anyway.