Read Part one here
Read Part two here
Read part three here
‘Abandon all hope, ye who enter here’. These are the ominous words which Dante claims were engraved upon the Gates of Hell, as told in his seminal work – Inferno. If you’ve read my previous accounts charting my own journey through Hell, you’ll realise that my experience was somewhat different to that of the famous 14th century Florentine poet.
I never saw this sign or read the inscription, and the stark warning wasn’t exactly accurate in my case. Dante and I have little in common. We both were unfortunate enough to find ourselves trapped in Hell and needed to be guided through all nine circles in order to escape. That’s where the similarities end however.
By most accounts, Dante was a respected figure – a famed poet and righteous man. None of these descriptions apply to me. After hearing my story you’ll realise that I didn’t have a good start in life. My childhood was chaotic and early tragedies nearly broke me, resulting in my descent into violent crime. On each level of Hell I visited, I was confronted by a ghost from my past, all bringing back painful memories of loss and shame.
It’s debatable whether I was to blame for some of the tragedies during my childhood, particularly given the lack of any responsible adult role models in my early years. However, the sins I committed in my later life are inexcusable, and sadly, my worst crimes did come back to haunt me during my descent through the eighth and ninth levels.
You will learn my worst secrets during this fourth and final part of my hellish odyssey. You may well judge me, and I won’t blame you. Perhaps I did deserve to suffer the fates of the damned and share the suffering I was forced to witness. And, when the Devil taunted me on level 7, I’ll confess that I did just about lose all hope. The protection offered by my enigmatic guide had faded and now I was at Satan’s mercy. I felt certain there would be a final confrontation once we reached the lowest circle of Hell, and we would surely lose.
But my bleak assessment wasn’t entirely accurate. There is always a glimmer of hope, even in the darkest corners of the underworld. And I am one of the lucky ones who got a second chance. I may not be fully redeemed in the eyes of God, but at least I’ve been granted the opportunity to make amends, and there will be a meaning to my eternal existence that was so lacking in my mortal life. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Let me begin where I left off, at the end of level 7. You’ll recall that my guide and I were sucked into a vortex, pulled down to an uncertain fate as we were forced to listen to the Devil’s hateful laughter and taunts. There was a swirl of chaos before everything went black, and the next thing I remember was being shaken awake by the long-suffering attendant.
I felt groggy as I glanced up at the old man, noting how the spark in his eyes hadn’t quite extinguished. He’d been on death’s door during our arduous trek through level 7 but appeared to have summoned an inner strength. He helped me to my feet as I got myself together and surveyed our surroundings. We stood in front of what I can only describe as a massive crater in the desert floor – a gaping hole in the ground that must have been several miles in diameter.
We were at the very edge of the precipice, facing a steep drop. I didn’t want to look into that hellish void because I knew whatever was down there wouldn’t be good, but the attendant guided me to the very edge and prompted me to see what lay below. What I saw was a vast cavern, many hundreds of feet deep and shaped like a funnel, with circular ledges descending down to what looked like a body of water or ice at the bottom.
The cavern was dark and deep, but I could observe people or beings moving on each ledge, and I heard God-awful screams, as thousands of damned souls cried out in pain and fear.
“Level 8, Fraud.” my guide explained, his voice weary and croaky, “Also known as Malebolge. It consists of ten bolgias or ditches, each holding a separate class of sinner and administering a unique form of punishment. As the very bottom is level 9, our final destination.”
I shuddered as I tried to come to terms with what I’d been told. We’d come so far but still had a huge distance to cover, and I feared our destination was a hellscape beyond my worst nightmares.
“How do we get down there?” I asked, part of me not wishing to know the answer.
“Alas, we must climb down through each of the ten ledges.” the attendant answered solemnly, “there were once bridges and walkways one could use, but these were destroyed long ago. The deeper one descends into Hell, the greater the decay and desolation.”
To my surprise, the attendant reached into his jacket and withdrew what looked like an oil lantern, using it to illuminate the ground ahead of us. He then descended into the darkness, finding a rough and narrow pathway cut into the side of the cavern. I followed in his wake, watching my step carefully and praying I would not fall.
The blood-curdling screams grew worse as we descended, and it became quite impossible to drown them out. We soon reached a substantial ledge about the width of a football pitch, which I assumed was the first sub-level of Malebolge. At this point I could hear pained cries and footsteps emanating from the darkness, the sounds interspersed with lashes from a whip and the roar of something hideous.
As if by magic, the attendant was able to increase the light emanating from his lantern, thus revealing the appalling scene before us. What I witnessed was a line of naked wretches chained together – their bodies emaciated, and backs scarred by many lashes. They kept their heads down as they marched single file in a circle, forced to walk the circumference for all eternity.
These poor wretches were overseen by a monstrous beast – a horned demon with burning red eyes and hooves instead of feet. The demon was easily twenty foot tall, and he roared like a lion as he stomped down the line, using a huge, barbed whip to mercilessly beat his victims and force them to keep moving.
The beast noticed our presence, briefly halting his torture of the damned to glare down upon us, his eyes burning with a pure hatred as he lifted his whip and appeared ready to attack. In a panic I searched for an escape but noted my guide was standing tall, seemingly unafraid of the monstrous brute standing before us.
The demon roared, exposing rows of razor-sharp teeth. I noted how his breath stank of raw meat, a foul stench which made me retch. I felt sure he would attack, but at the last moment the demon withdrew his whip and stepped back, grunting loudly before returning to the line, where he proceeded to whip his victims with added anger and vigour. I breathed a sigh of relief as my guide offered an explanation.
“That is Malacoda, leader of the thirteen demons who patrol level 8. These beasts will harass and threaten, but they will not harm us, if only because our souls are promised to their master.”
I shuddered upon hearing this, not knowing whether to feel relief or terror. It seemed clear that the Devil had special plans for us, and that couldn’t be good.
We soon left Malacoda and his victims behind as my guide sought out and found the pathway leading down. I had time to think during our descent and asked him a question.
“You say Level 8 is Fraud. This seems like a pretty tame sin compared to what we’ve seen before…” I winced upon remembering the twisted horrors of Dis and the burning sands of Violence, not to mention the sickening revelations the Devil had revealed to me. “How can they justify such harsh punishments for this crime?”
The attendant nodded his head and appeared deep in thought for a moment, before he answered.
“In Hell, it is rare for the punishment to be proportionate to the mortal sin. The Devil has a twisted sense of justice after all. But you think of fraud in a literal or legal sense. Think instead of those who peddle poisonous substances or ideas, and the thousands of lives they destroy. These are the type of people you find on level 8. This will become clear to you before we leave.”
I nodded my head in acknowledgement. He hadn’t exactly answered my question, but I knew this was as much information as I would get from him. And, based on previous experience, I expected to encounter a ghost from my past somewhere here on level 8.
When we reached the next ledge, the smell was almost unbearable, the fumes so toxic that I could hardly breathe. The attendant seemed unaffected by the foul stench as he lit up the scene, revealing a literal river of shit which flowed in a circle. To my horror I saw many damned souls trapped in this foul stream, desperately crying out in disgust before they sank underneath, their bodies consumed in human excrement.
Thankfully we didn’t stay long on this gross sub-level, as my guide led us downwards, although the stench remained in my nostrils until we reached the next circle. But the horrors inevitably grew worse as we made our slow path downwards, ledge by ledge. I wished we could proceed in darkness and at least be spared the appalling sights of torture and suffering, but the attendant insisted on lighting up each and every sub-level. It was as if he wanted me to witness all the horrors in their entirety, to soak in the brutal cruelty inflicted by the minions of Hell and the vile and twisted worlds they’d created.
The third ledge contained a circle of prisoners chained upside down against the rocks, the bare soles of their feet burnt by hot oils carried and poured by a team of cackling harpies. They clearly took joy in the suffering of their victims.
Number four was populated by people with their necks twisted unnaturally by 180 degrees, so their heads faced backwards. They struggled to walk the ledge, wandering aimlessly in circles as they searched in vain for some respite. Occasionally, a disorientated victim would stumble over the edge, falling to an uncertain fate.
One woman staggered over to me, her bloodshot eyes full of pain and fear. She tried to speak but her vocal cords must have been twisted beyond use, and so she could only mouth her plea for help. To my shame I pushed her away and kept on moving.
Once we descended to the fifth ledge, the attendant put a firm hand on my shoulder, warning me to stand back. What we witnessed was another river flowing in a circle, this one filled with what appeared to be burning tar. There were people inside, their bodies melting as they struggled to keep their heads above the surface. This was horrific enough, but what concerned me more were the hideous creatures patrolling the riverbanks – demons of a similar shape and size to Malacoda, stomping along on their mighty hooves and swinging grappling hooks as they mocked the burning victims.
Somehow, one of the damned made it to the shoreline and climbed out from the tar, but he didn’t make it far, soon being set upon by a trio of ravenous demons. I watched on in horror as they affixed hooks to his body and pulled in opposite directions, ripping the poor bastard into three parts. And, as if that wasn’t bad enough, they proceeded to feast upon his raw flesh, greedily stuffing their mouths with his limbs, head and torso until there was nothing left.
“Malacoda’s underlings.” the attendant explained dispassionately, “They are under orders not to harm us, but sometimes their enthusiasm gets the better of them. We should leave before we draw too much attention.”
“Yep.” I agreed, not wishing to witness any more of this sickening spectacle. But of course, it only got worse.
At first glance, the sixth ledge appeared almost identical to the first, with a single file line of chained prisoners slowly marching in a circle, as they were ‘encouraged’ by a huge demon, similar to Malacoda. But, on closer inspection, I spotted several differences in how the damned were punished. While the sinners on the first ledge were naked and emaciated, those on this sub-level all wore heavy, body length coats adorned with heavy metal weights.
Clearly, they struggled to perform the forced march given the heavy burden they were forced to carry. From what I could see, some of the victims could hardly stand let alone march. I thought that at least their heavy robes would afford them some protection from the constant beatings. But then I realised something. The demon overseeing this ledge wasn’t armed with a whip but rather a long metal pole. I wondered what function this implement was used for, but I soon found out.
When a prisoner faltered, the demon struck out with the pole, and a surge of electricity shot through it, operating much like a cattle prod. The weights proved to be the perfect conductor for the electrical current, and the victim yelped out in agony as the electricity shot through him. The demon cackled cruelly before moving on to its next victim, pausing briefly to cast us a hateful glare, snarling aggressively before continuing his grim task. We didn’t linger and soon re-joined the path through the cavern.
The seventh bolgia turned out to be the most bizarre and twisted yet. It took me a moment to figure out what was going on. While the previous levels were violent but ordered, this ledge appeared to be in anarchy, as victims ran amok in a blind panic. I soon realised why.
Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of bright red snakes were slithering across the rocks, attacking every damned soul they could reach, leaping up and biting exposed skin, their venomous fangs plunging deep into their victims’ flesh. The damned screamed out in pain as they were bitten, but that wasn’t the worst of it. Because within seconds of being bitten, these wretches began to physically transform – their flabby skin turning into hard scales, their limbs inexplicably disappearing, and their heads transforming into those of serpents.
Before long, all had morphed into grotesque monstrosities – half human and half snake. And so, they joined their former attackers, slithering aimlessly across the rocks. There was no escape for the victims other than to jump off the edge. I’d seen this happen before on the previous ledges and wondered what happened to those who fell. I suspected it was nothing good.
I was so transfixed with watching the horrific scene that I almost missed the coming attack. I heard an ominous hissing and looked down to see a snake rapidly approaching, its dark eyes focussed upon me, and its fangs extended, ready to bite. I found myself frozen in fear, unable to shift from the spot as the assault played out in slow motion. But thankfully my guide and protector was on the ball, as he leaped forward and trampled the snake under his boot, before reaching out and snapping its spine with a single movement.
“Foul creatures.” he said, while briefly examining the body before tossing it away, “Treacherous and full of venom. Much like the souls condemned to this ledge. We should go.”
I was impressed by the attendant’s swift actions, particularly given how weak he’d seemed back in the seventh circle. Still, I couldn’t shake my concerns about my enigmatic guide. He didn’t seem to have inherited a new burst of life but had rather tapped into a last reserve of strength, one that would surely run out. Then there were the seeds of doubt planted in my head by the Devil. Who was the attendant really? What was his story and motivation? I really didn’t know anything about him – not even his name. But, on the other hand, I had no idea what lay ahead and so didn’t think it was an option to go solo. Therefore, I continued to follow the path he led me down.
There was no need for the lantern on the eighth bolgia as the entire ledge was lit up by bright flames. Initially the scenes on this sub-level reminded me of the sixth circle, Heresy. As before, the victims were encased in coffins built into the rock walls, chained up so they could not escape. On Heresy, the damned were incinerated by a fire-breathing dragon. This was not the case here, as the flames emerged from inside the individual coffins, like a form of spontaneous combustion.
But the punishment seemed far worse than before, because the victims’ agony was extended well beyond what should have been physically possible. They burnt like lumps of coal, their bodies taking an eternity to disintegrate into ash…And the poor bastards were conscious through it all – their awful screams filling the air as my nostrils were filled with the foul stench of burning flesh.
I didn’t even ask what these people had done to deserve such a terrible fate. Frankly, I didn’t want to know.
We’d been lucky up to this point, observing the punishments and tortures inflicted upon others whilst escaping unscathed. But our luck ran out on the ninth bolgia. When we walked out onto the ledge we witnessed a familiar sight – a line of down-trodden and beaten sinners, chained together and walking in an endless circle around the precipice. The difference on this sub-level was that the sinners all had terrible wounds – deep cuts in their skin and chunks of their flesh cut off.
I soon saw the beast who’d inflicted these grievous wounds – yet another horned and hooved demon, standing at over 15 feet in height and brandishing a flaming sword at least the length of a man, which he used to inflict terrible injuries upon his victims, striking out and slicing them like they were slabs of meat. But no matter how hard a victim was hit and how severe their wounds, they kept on moving, at most emitting a pained cry and stumbling before re-joining the circle and continuing their futile march.
At first the scene appeared to be nothing more than another sickening sight to add to the menagerie of torture and suffering we’d already witnessed, but the situation soon took a turn for the worse. The sword-wielding demon soon spotted us and reacted with rage to our presence in his realm. I watched with concern as his eyes burned with fury and he roared, advancing upon us with his sword raised.
I remembered what the attendant had said – that the demons on this level wouldn’t harm us, because we were promised to their master. But clearly this son-of-a-bitch hadn’t gotten the memo. He charged at us, roaring louder as he swung his mighty sword. As always, the attendant stepped forward, showing no fear as he stood his ground and confronted his attacker. I was sure he’d pull something out of the bag at the last moment and produce some magic trick to halt the demon’s attack, but his luck ran out.
The demon sliced downwards with his sword, seeking to cut his victim in half. Fortunately, the attendant moved at the last possible second, falling backwards as the sword came down. I don’t know what came over me in that moment, but I experienced a surge of adrenaline as I rushed forward, putting myself between the attacker and his victim.
I glared up at the beast, meeting his hateful gaze and screaming out in defiant anger.
“Leave him alone, you ugly motherfucker!”
I didn’t expect my rash words to do any good but surprisingly the demon seemed shaken by them. His eyes widened and his sword dropped, and he snarled at me before retreating, returning to his work in tormenting the trapped souls. I couldn’t believe my ruse had worked and so stood there in astonishment for a moment, before the attendant’s pained groans brought me back to reality.
Running back, I kneeled down to be by his side and examine his wounds. The demon hadn’t succeeded in chopping my friend in half, but he had inflicted a nasty wound from his chin to his abdomen, a cut not so deep to be immediately fatal, but certainly serious enough to disable the old man. But to my surprise, the attendant actually smiled as he looked up at me and whispered words of encouragement.
“You did well my friend,” he said, “Your choice of language was rather crude, but it had the desired effect.”
I didn’t dwell on what he said, instead examining the man’s wound.
“You can’t go on like this.” I stated.
“But I must.” the attendant replied, “We are so close, and soon my burden will be lifted. Now please, help me to my feet.”
I didn’t like it but could see no other choice but to comply with his wishes, and so I helped him to his feet and supported him as he directed me towards the path leading to the final sub-level of the eighth circle. I held the attendant up, supporting his frame as we struggled onto the final ledge. I really didn’t know what to do at this point and suppose I was just on autopilot, having no other option but to trudge on.
I do think there was already a change in me. The old me might well have abandoned the wounded attendant as a burden, but I didn’t even consider this. The old man had taken me so far and I felt obligated to help him through to the end.
The last ledge didn’t appear to contain any vengeful demons to torment and abuse its victims, but only because this wasn’t necessary. All of the damned on his sub-level appeared to be suffering from a wasting disease, as their naked bodies were covered with unsightly sores and lesions. They struggled to stand or walk the rocks as the mysterious disease slowly ate away at their flesh, and they rotted from the inside out.
In many ways, this sight of thousands of afflicted souls was the worst yet, and the smell was also terrible.
We walked through the suffering masses for a time before I suddenly stopped, seeing a face I recognised that was staring fearfully back at me. I was so shocked by his appearance that I inadvertently allowed the attendant’s frail body to fall to the rocks, as I stumbled to confront an old enemy.
Now, observant readers will notice how this is the first familiar soul I have mentioned encountering on level 8. However, there may have been others on the sub-levels above. There were times during our hellish descent through the ledges when I thought I recognised a face in the crowd. It’s very possible that there were damned souls on each and every sub-level that I’d known in my life. I’d encountered so many nasty pieces of work during my long association with the criminal underworld.
Nevertheless, none of these brief encounters stood out – not until I reached this final bolgia and found Zak. This was an individual I was very familiar with, because I was the one who’d ended his life.
Let me explain. You’ll remember that my drug-addicted mother died of an overdose and I was the one who found her body. Well, that wasn’t quite the end of the story. I didn’t go out looking for vengeance straight away. The way I saw it, my mother had done this to herself. But then I started hearing stories on the streets, rumours of a series of overdose deaths, all linking back to the same dealer.
This was Zak, who’d been my mother’s regular supplier. It seemed he’d been selling a bad batch – poison that killed a dozen of his customers. I didn’t know whether the deed was intentional or not, but it didn’t sit right with me, and so I decided to pay Zak a visit.
I confronted him at a crack den where he dealt out of, and the conversation soon turned ugly. What happened next was a blur in my memory. I remember him going for a gun and I went for him, initially acting in self-defence. What followed was a brief but violent struggle which ended with Zak dead. It hadn’t been my intention to kill him but that’s how it turned out, and I was left with a corpse to dispose of.
Zak had been punished in life but was still suffering in the afterlife, with his body diseased and his skin covered in bleeding sores, as he looked up at me with pitiful eyes. I didn’t want to feel sympathy for him but couldn’t dismiss the role I’d played in his untimely death. This was the first time I’d killed anyone, and that’s something you can never take back.
He opened his bone-dry lips in an attempt to speak, but the only sound which came out was a pained groan. I overcame my disgust and reached out to touch him, hoping his body would disintegrate into ash, as had been the case in my previous encounters, but instead something very strange happened.
Suddenly, I was transported to another place – a location I remembered from many years before. The squalid, dirty apartment was exactly how I recalled, right down to the stench of decay and desperation. I was in my body but didn’t have control of it, instead merely playing out actions as if I were on autopilot. Zak was there of course. His reaction upon seeing me was one of fear and panic, as he ran back into the apartment to retrieve a pistol.
I moved instinctively, diving and tackling him to the ground before he reached the gun. A desperate struggle followed, but I soon triumphed, pinning Zak down on the filthy floor with my hands wrapped around his throat. I didn’t want to repeat my past mistake and would have done anything to stop the savage attack, but I no longer had control and could only watch as my rough hands applied immense pressure against Zak’s throat, slowly strangling the life out of him until he stop breathing and the light behind his eyes extinguished.
Next came a moment of panic as I realised what I had done, but soon I formulated a plan, dragging Zak’s limp body into the bathtub and using a hacksaw to chop him up into pieces which were easier to dispose of.
When the foul deed was done, I found myself transported back to the eighth circle, my hands covered in blood as I looked down upon Zak’s dismembered corpse. To my horror, I saw his decapitated head sitting upon a blood-stained rock and noted how his eyes continued to blink and his mouth opened and closed, as he made a futile attempt to speak.
I turned away in disgust and shame, only to find myself confronted by our nemesis – the Devil, once again taking on a vaguely human form, as he glared down on me with malicious and almost lustful eyes.
“This is the moment when I knew I had you.” he exclaimed gleefully, “The point of no return. You lost your soul the moment you throttled that bastard, condemning yourself to an eternity in my kingdom.”
I lowered my head as tears welled up in my eyes. Surely he was correct. But the attendant still had something to say.
“You’ve jumped the gun, Lucifer.” he proclaimed, “This isn’t over, and you haven’t won yet…”
The Devil laughed sarcastically before he replied.
“Yes indeed, my old friend. Traditions are important and the rules must be followed. Still one level to go. I shall wait a little longer to claim my prize. Gentlemen, I look forward to seeing you both real soon, on level 9.”
With that, the Devil suddenly vanished, and an elevator appeared in his place. There was only one place left to go – down…down to meet my destiny.
A lot of emotions went through my head during that short descent down to the final level. Fear, anger, shame…but also a strange feeling of calm resignation. I had a good idea of what awaited me in the ninth circle. Zak was the first person I’d killed, but not the last. There was a worse crime from my past that would surely be revealed. And then I would be at the Devil’s mercy.
I looked to my stricken guide as he bled inside the lift, his face turning pale as his life force slowly drained away. The poor man could hardly walk let alone protect me. And perhaps this was the way it should be…maybe I deserved the fate which awaited me. One thing was for sure. By this stage in my hellish journey, I was both physically and mentally drained and felt resigned to whatever lay ahead.
The terrors of level 9 began sooner than I’d expected, as we were accosted as soon as we stepped out of the elevator. The first thing that hit me when the doors opened was the extreme cold, an icy chill unlike anything I’d experienced on the previous levels. I needed to support the wounded attendant as we walked out, and so almost missed the coming attack, only prompted when my guide cried out – “Get down!”
We ducked just in the nick of time, as a huge club as thick as a log swung just above our heads. In a panic, we scurried off the rocks and onto a large body of ice, looking back to see our attacker.
Behind us was a giant – not a demon as such, but a humanoid of immense size, about 25 to 30 feet in height with bulging muscles and a face red with rage. I watched with concern as he swung out with his improvised weapon, but thankfully we were now beyond his reach. Upon closer inspection, I realised his huge body was restricted by heavy iron chains, securing him to the spot. The giant roared in angry frustration but had missed his opportunity to crush us.
“Ugly and dumb brutes.” the attendant said, as he struggled to speak due to his pain, “They guard the entrance to the ninth circle but cannot pursue us.”
We turned our backs on the chained beast and looked ahead.
“Level 9, Treachery…” my guide confirmed, “Otherwise known as Cocytus. The final stop on our journey. Our fates will be decided here, one way or another.”
I gazed out onto a vast frozen lake – a surface of blue ice that would almost have been beautiful, had it not been for the horrific setting. As we cautiously walked across the thick ice, I looked down to see the damned souls trapped underneath – naked bodies frozen solid and unable to move, but somehow still alive, their eyes following us as we walked over their icy graves.
“Here dwell the worst traitors and human monsters of all time.” the attendant explained, “They live alongside the worst traitor of all, the angel who rebelled against God and was cast out of Heaven to live his eternal existence in shameful exile.”
I didn’t need to ask who he was referring to, but the Lord of Hell wasn’t quite ready to see me. He had one last surprise to spring before our final confrontation.
We struggled along for some time across the freezing ice before I saw him. At a distance I could see an elderly man with white hair, a cruel smile, and piercing eyes. Only his head and shoulders were visible, as the rest of his body was below the ice, meaning he couldn’t move from his frozen tomb. He was still conscious however – following my progress with his predatory eyes and opening his blue lips to speak.
“Well well, look who’s finally shown his face! It’s been a long time kid, but I’m sure you still remember me.”
I did of course. This was the man who’d condemned my soul, making me commit a heinous act that could never be forgiven. His name was Angelo, but this man was no angel. In fact, he’d been a gangster while alive – a mob boss who ruled over the criminal fraternity in my home city with an iron fist.
Angelo’s organisation controlled everything – including gambling, extortion, drugs and prostitution. They called him ‘The Butcher’ and he was said to be responsible for dozens of murders over the years, either committed by his own hands or on his orders. But, despite his long criminal history, Angelo had never spent a day in prison. Some say he had the police and judges on his payroll, while others claim he made a deal with the Devil.
In any case, Angelo had died peacefully in his own bed shortly after his 85th birthday. And now here he was, at the very lowest level of Hell…and I knew exactly why he’d ended up here.
“What’s the matter kid, cat got your tongue?” Angelo mocked.
“What do you want from me?” I whimpered, fearing I already knew the answer.
“Come on, you’re a clever kid. You know why you’re here, and what connects us.”
I shook my head, finding myself unable to speak. It was left up to Angelo to prompt me.
“The time has come. This is your destiny. Touch my dead flesh and you shall see.”
I didn’t want to but found myself unable to resist. Reluctantly, I reached out and touched his ice-cold skin, and in an instant I was dragged back to another place and time.
A dark alley, late at night. Two thugs were kicking and punching me hard. I could feel every blow and was experiencing the pain for the second time. Angelo walked towards me as his men held me back. He looked down upon my beaten body with utter contempt.
“You thought I wouldn’t find out, didn’t you? The cops might not know who killed Zak, but I do. That son-of-a-bitch was one of my top earners, and you took him out! Now you’ve got to pay!”
I shuddered as the pain shot through me, and my whole body shook as I begged for my life. Angelo laughed cruelly as he delivered his final verdict.
“Relax kid, it’s your lucky day! I’ve got a way out for you. One little job and your debt’s paid off.”
I didn’t like the sound of this but was desperate and scared.
“What do you want me to do?” I asked meekly.
Angelo’s smile wavered and the expression on his face turned deadly serious.
“There’s someone causing problems for my organisation. He’s a real thorn in my side. I need him taken care of.”
I gulped in dismay. It was clear what Angelo meant, but why would he ask me to kill a man? Why me, when he had a whole army of hitmen at his disposal? I soon got my answer.
The gangster pulled a photograph from his jacket pocket and held it up to the light so I could see.
“You recognise him?” he asked.
I nodded my head in the affirmative, so shocked I couldn’t speak. The man in the picture was Angelo’s brother. He wanted his own flesh and blood dead and had blackmailed me into doing the hit.
Suddenly I was pushed forward in time, as I stormed into a seedy drinking den with a machine pistol in hand. My target was sat at the bar, inebriated after a night of heavy drinking. His bodyguard sat beside him and was more alert, going for his gun as soon as he saw me. But I had the drop on them both, firing my weapon on automatic and pumping both men full of rounds, watching in shocked awe as the bullets cut them to shreds.
Their bodies fell to the blood-stained floor like lifeless ragdolls, their eyes dead and mouths wide open, as if they were screaming all the way to hell. I paused for a second, surveying my grim handiwork, but then I saw her. A young barmaid, perhaps in her early twenties – blonde haired and blue eyed, her face frozen in shock and terror.
I met her gaze and realised what I had to do. She’d seen my face and there could be no witnesses. I recall the girl pleading for her life as I re-aimed my gun, and the sick feeling I had with my finger poised on the trigger. I wanted so badly to stop this horrific re-enactment and scream in the young me’s ear, telling him not to do this. But of course, I couldn’t – the deed was already done, and I couldn’t turn back the clock. I pulled the trigger, ending her life with a barrage of bullets.
My flashback ended, and I found myself back on level 9, looking down on Angelo’s frozen body. I don’t know which of my emotions was strongest – the shame or the rage.
“You killed my brother.” Angelo said in an accusatory tone.
“You gave me no choice!” I exclaimed angrily.
“Like hell I didn’t!” Angelo shot back, “There is always a choice. You took the cowards’ way, taking the lives of others to save your own skin!”
I lowered my head, realising he was right. But still, this man was a monster. He’d killed dozens during his criminal career, and ruined scores of lives. Why should he get away with it?
I looked back to the attendant, seeing he was lying on the ice, nursing his wound as his wrinkled skin turned blue. He spoke just two words, but their meaning was clear – “Finish it!”
I nodded my head and turned back towards Angelo, my heart filling with rage as years of pent-up anger was let loose. In the absence of any weapons I kicked out with my boot, stomping on his head with all my might. I didn’t know what would happen but experienced a grim satisfaction when his body broke like glass, shattering into a thousand pieces. The relief I felt in that moment was immense. It was like a huge weight had been lifted from my weary shoulders. But my victory was short-lived, as within seconds all the fury of Hell was let loose.
First the ground beneath our feet started to shake, making it nearly impossible to stay on my feet. And then, I heard the ominous sound of cracking ice, experiencing a fresh terror at the prospect of falling through to the deadly cold water below. I saw an explosion of ice a few hundred yards in front of me and watched on in horror as a huge beast emerged from beneath, unveiling a vast pair of wings as it flew high above our heads.
The monster had a wingspan of at least forty foot and appeared in the guise of a giant harpy, complete with clawed hands and feet, and fangs as sharp as steak knives. This was no ordinary winged demon however – I could tell from his burning, soul-crushing eyes and the sadistic cackle he emitted as he flew. It was the Devil in a new form, here for our final confrontation in the heart of his vile kingdom.
I didn’t attempt to run or hide as the winged beast approached, soaring through the cold air and heading straight for me. This was always going to be the final chapter…I realised this now. When we first began our journey, the attendant had promised he would do everything in his power to get me home. Perhaps he’d meant it too, but I now believed the Devil was always one step ahead. He’d drawn us down here to the lowest depths of Hell, biding his time until he grew strong and we grew weak.
In this scenario, he was the predator and I was the prey. And maybe, when all’s said and done, this was my deserved fate. After all, I was a sinner and a killer, and no number of excuses could make up for my crimes. Clearly, this was what the Devil wanted me to believe, as he hovered over us and delivered his final message in a booming, inhuman voice.
“Did you really think this would be the end of it? That you could walk away from this? Oh no my friend, that’s not how it fucking works! You’re a sinner of the worst kind, and that means you belong to me! Your soul is mine to torment for all eternity!”
“HE IS NOT YOURS YET!” came the thunderous response.
I turned around in astonishment to see my long-suffering guide, still bleeding but somehow now standing – his wrinkled face filled with a fresh vigour and an angry defiance. The Devil didn’t take his warning seriously however, merely laughing in his face.
“You old fool! Haven’t you learnt your lesson yet? You have no power here. Just look at yourself…such a pathetic old man! I shall deal with you first before taking possession of my prize.”
With that he dived down in attack mode, gunning for the attendant. I don’t know why, but in that moment I experienced an unprecedented surge of bravery as I placed my body between the stricken attendant and his winged attacker. The Devil looked down on me with scorn, striking me so hard that my body slid across the ice.
“I will deal with you later!” he exclaimed, before once again turning his attentions towards the attendant.
I lay on the ice, still winded from the blow and unable to intervene as Satan swooped down and grabbed hold of my guide with his sharp claws, digging them into his vulnerable flesh as he ascended. I saw him glare into the attendant’s eyes, savouring his enemy’s suffering before he delivered the killer blow. But just as it seemed that all hope was lost, something extraordinary occurred.
My attention was drawn upwards by a heavy clapping that sounded like thunder. I looked past the 10 ledges we had just negotiated and up to the surface, wondering what the hell was going on. A moment later, there was a blinding light that forced me to look away. And there followed the lightning strike – more powerful and intense than anything I’d ever seen.
A huge bolt struck the attendant head on, using him like a human electric rod. The lightning strike wasn’t a one-off however, as the powerful current surged through my guide’s limp body. He served as an unlikely conductor, the electricity passing through him and into the Devil, who still held my friend aloft. Next, I heard a piercing shriek of pain from the Devil’s mouth and looked on in astonishment as his hands burned and he transformed again, back into his human form.
With that, Satan continued to scream, I guess from a combination of pain and humiliation, and he beat a hasty retreat, running back across the ice and leaping into the hole from which he’d emerged, diving into the frozen depths as he made good his escape.
I was left flabbergasted by this sudden turn of events, but soon recovered enough to run to the attendant’s aid, finding him lying on the ice where the Devil had dropped him. As I approached, I saw my friend was in a bad way – his frail body broken and his spirit nearly extinguished. I took his cold hand and tried to revive him with words of encouragement.
“You did it old timer! You beat the bastard on his own turf!”
The attendant glanced up at me with exhaustion as he struggled to speak.
“I did nothing,” he replied, “I was merely a vessel for God’s power. The Devil has no answer when faced with the Lord’s divine strength…Now, there is only one more task for me to complete before I move on to a different place. I must fulfil my promise to you…”
“But I don’t understand!” I exclaimed in frustration, “There are still so many unanswered questions!”
The attendant smiled thinly in spite of his pain.
“You once asked who I was during my mortal life.” he said, “The truth is, I was once just like you…a sinner of the worst kind. But I was given a second chance, just like you have been.”
I shook my head, gripping the attendant’s hand tighter as I asked the obvious question.
“But, why me? Why should I be shown mercy, when so many others continue to suffer?”
The old man surprised me by emitting a muffled laugh.
“You think you’re being shown mercy…Far from it. When your time comes, you shall take over my role, guiding sinners through the nine levels, witnessing unspeakable acts of cruelty, and fighting an endless battle against Lucifer which you cannot win. Believe me, this is a punishment, not a reward…” he paused, unable to finish his sentence as he coughed up blood, “The time has come, remember what I told you.”
Those were his last words, as he stared into my eyes with an uncharacteristic emotion. I stifled a tear and muttered just two words in reply – “Thank you.”
There followed a bright light which blinded me, and I came to in the back of an ambulance, with a paramedic applying a defibrillator to my chest. I was back from the dead, unceremoniously returned to the mortal plane. But the news was far from good. They took me to hospital where the doctors ran a series of tests. My MRI scan showed that I have an inoperable brain tumour, and they’ve given me six months to live.
And so that’s that. I know I’m going to die soon but find myself in the unique position of knowing what will happen to me after. But, after all the shit I’ve done in my life, I kind of like the idea of having a purpose in the next world. I want to help lost souls find their way, just like the attendant did for me.
So, why am I telling you all this? Well, if you’ve led a sinful life like mine, there’s a good chance you’ll find yourself on the wrong side of the afterlife. And, if you encounter an inexplicable elevator manned by a mysterious attendant, make sure you do what he says…Because your immortal soul could well depend on it. I’ll see you in Hell, my friends.
Credit: Hell Tourist
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