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Into the Inferno – The Middle Levels

Into the inferno the middle levels


Estimated reading time — 23 minutes

You can read Part one here

And so, my torturous tale continues…When I last left you, I was still in the early stages of my unplanned and certainly unwanted journey through Hell – a latter day repeat of Dante’s Inferno. Why was I chosen for this unenviable odyssey into the underworld? I couldn’t say, and my enigmatic guide – taking the form of an elderly elevator attendant – was unable to tell me. Technically I was not dead, but it was clear I could suffer during my travels, and the monsters I encountered could certainly harm me, both physically and mentally. What’s more, this hell was very personal to me, as I was confronted by literal ghosts from my past, dragging up old traumas which I’d tried my hardest to bury deep in my sub-conscience.
First my sister and then my father – gut wrenching experiences that shook me to my very core. That was levels one and two of Hell, and I still had seven to go. And, if this wasn’t bad enough, the Devil was aware of my presence in his kingdom and was watching my every move.
These fears were foremost in my mind as the elevator hit the third level, emitting an ominous ping before the doors slid open.
“Level Three, Gluttony.” My guide announced, “I would advise you to watch your step.”
When the lift doors were fully ajar, I found myself looking out on yet another wasteland, stretching as far as I could see. Except, while level 2 was a rocky, wind-swept plain, level 3 was an endless field of wet mud under a seemingly permanent cloud front emitting cold, icy rain. I sighed in miserable resignation as I realised we would need to cross yet another grim hellscape to reach the next level.
The attendant led the way, motioning for me to follow. The freezing cold rain hit me as soon as I walked out, and my feet sunk into the mud. Every step was a struggle as we trudged forwards, but before long the true horrors of level 3 were revealed. I looked to the horizon and saw the beast emerge through the heavy wall of rain, a huge monstrosity tearing towards us. I started to back off instinctively although noted how the attendant stood tall and did not retreat.
As the monster rapidly approached, I made out its hideous shape for the first time. The creature was a black dog as big as a horse, but instead of having one head it had three – a trio of snarling maws full of dagger-like teeth, and six eyes filled with hunger and hatred. The monster barked aggressively as it charged, the sound amplified by its three mouths. I didn’t share my guide’s courage and so attempted to flee, but my feet became bogged down in the mud and so I didn’t get far.
I turned back around in impotent terror as the beast closed the gap, its howls growing louder and its three maws salivating as it closed in for the kill. But the attendant didn’t budge from the spot, instead reaching into his jacket pocket and inexplicably withdrawing three slabs of raw meat, flinging them into the beast’s path. To my astonishment the trick worked, as the hell hound ceased its charge and the three hungry mouths grabbed at the meat, devouring their meal in quick order.
Nevertheless, I thought it would only delay the beast temporarily before it renewed its attack upon us, but once again I was wrong. Once the beast had finished its meal, it cast us a parting glare through its six eyes before casually retreating back into the rain-swept hellscape.
I stayed down in the mud until my guide walked over to me, offering me a hand and pulling me up.
“Cerberus, the Hound of Hades. He guards this level and torments its inhabitants. My offerings will keep the beast at bay for a time, but it is not safe here and we must move on.
“No shit!” I swore.
I knew I should be grateful to my guide. After all, he’d already saved my ass on several occasions and hopefully would continue to do so, but by now I was thoroughly pissed off. Clearly the attendant had at least some idea of what we’d face on each level, and he should be keeping me informed of the threats we faced. I threw my head up when he ordered me to continue through the mud and rain, to an unknown destination.
“This is bullshit man!” I exclaimed angrily, “Just look at this shithole!”
I pointed to the endless wasteland of wet mud, noting the wretched figures slowly sinking into it, utterly defeated as the grim misery of this hellscape weighed them down.
“We can’t cross this! I can’t go on!”
The attendant looked upon me with curiosity rather than frustration, and in an instant, he offered a solution of sorts.
“You must cross this level or stay here for all eternity. But hell can take many different forms, and this environment is only one. Would you rather take a different path?”
I nodded my head enthusiastically and answered – “Yeah, of course I would.”
“Very well.” he answered, as the rain continued to beat down.
“It shall be done. But I have already warned you, sir. There are no easy routes through Hell, and this alternative path will be just as challenging, in its own way.”
“Fine.” I replied without thinking.
I should have considered his warning more carefully, but right then I just wanted to get away from the damned mud and rain. What happened next defied logic, but then so had everything which had occurred thus far. All the attendant did was click his fingers. This was followed by a sudden burst of light which temporarily blinded me, and a moment later we were miraculously transported to another place.
I adjusted my eyes to my new surroundings and was astonished to find myself in what looked like the inside of a saloon bar – a real ‘spit and sawdust’ establishment with wooden fittings and a stench of whiskey, piss and vomit. It really was like something out of an old western.
I walked across the sticky wood floor in astonishment as I took in the bar and its patrons. It soon became obvious that there was something very wrong with this bar room. When I looked upon the tables I realised there was no joviality in this place, only miserable over-indulgence.
At one table I saw what looked like a family, consisting of a middle-aged mother and father and two teenage boys. I noted how the table they sat at was filled to the brim with fast food – cheeseburgers, fried chicken, pizzas, tacos and more. I watched in disgust as the family stuffed the greasy food into their mouths. They ate and ate, never stopping even to take a breath. From what I could tell none of them were taking any pleasure from their feast, merely piling food down their throats like it was some kind of mandatory task.
I soon realised that this was the whole point of the enterprise. These damned souls weren’t eating because they were hungry, they were being forced to feed by some unseen power. Their bellies could never be full and their hunger never satisfied. I could only watch for so long before my stomach turned.
At the next table I saw a group of grizzled men wearing outfits from different periods of history, including a Roman dignitary dressed in a traditional toga, a cowboy in jeans and boots, and an 80s dude with a mullet and shell suit. They were playing cards and downing shots of whiskey. Once again, there was no pleasure in their game or drinking, only grim faces and dead eyes. The men could have been robots, merely carrying out automated tasks which brought them no satisfaction.
This depressing scenario was played out at every table and stool within the bar, as hundreds of tortured souls lived out their own individual nightmares – all victims of the vices and addictions they’d had in life.
“Gluttony.” confirmed the attendant, as he followed closely behind me. “Whether they sink into the mud or are dragged down by their vices, in the end it makes little difference.”
I nodded my head but made no comment. I was too busy thinking about my own gluttonous habits – drink, drugs, sex…Was I any better than these folks? Honestly, I didn’t think so.
“Care for a drink squire?”
I turned around in surprise to see the figure standing behind the bar, apparently waiting to serve me. There was something extremely unnerving about the barkeeper however, a barely concealed malice in his dark eyes and a wide grin which was anything but sincere. The attendant touched me firmly on the shoulder. I turned and saw fear in the man’s eyes, and his voice quivered as he spoke.
“Don’t engage with him. Don’t even go near him…” he whispered.
I had never seen my guide so scared before and therefore took his warning very seriously. I didn’t want to risk the twisted barkeeper’s wrath however, and so I answered politely, saying – “Thank you, no.”
The barman’s grin didn’t falter, although I noted a glint of anger behind his eyes as he spoke.
“Suit yourself buddy.”
We slowly backed away from the bar and pushed past the tables of suffering souls. The attendant was right – this hell was no better than the mud and rain on the outside. I wanted to leave this level, but it wasn’t done with me yet.
I found her crouched in a dark corner, hiding from the world as she fed her addiction. I looked over her emaciated, half-naked body and was horrified to see needles sticking out from almost every vein. She slowly raised her head, brushing back her straggly hair. The recognition was instantaneous whenever I glanced into her bloodshot eyes. It was my mother, the woman who’d brought me into the world but who’d been dead for 18 years.
And so, I must return to my tragic family history and unveil the next chapter of my fucked-up life. I don’t know when my mother first developed her substance abuse problem, but I can’t remember her ever being sober. Vodka was her tipple of choice when I was a kid. In a way I can’t blame her for the drinking. My father treated her so badly that I guess she needed something to dull the pain. Still, in truth she was a nasty drunk prone to violent outbursts.
I’d hoped things would improve after my father left, but mum took the breakup hard. Her drinking got worse and she started taking hard drugs. The final straw was when Sarah died. That’s when mum got hooked on heroin, and there was no way back for her after that.
I’m not going to claim I was a dutiful son, but I did check in on her occasionally and gave her money when I had it, even though I knew she’d spend it on a fix. It was me who found her – overdosed and lying in a pool of her own bodily fluids, a dirty needle still protruding from a vein in her arm. The memory of my mother’s emaciated corpse was yet another traumatic image I’d tried to forget. But it was no surprise that I had to face her here, as my journey through the hell of past nightmares continued unabated.
I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her as I looked into my mother’s pained eyes, although I was horrified by her physical condition. At first, she didn’t seem to recognise me as her son as she muttered incoherently whilst jamming yet another needle into her thigh.
“It doesn’t matter how many times I fix. Nothing takes away my pain. I just want to die, but I can’t! I don’t OD, no matter how many fucking needles I stick in me!”
Her words shook my very soul. Did my mum realise she was already dead? I dreaded having to be the one to tell her. I stuttered, struggling to speak my words through quaking lips.
“Don’t you remember me? I’m your son!”
I saw the sudden change in her bloodshot eyes, the slightest of sparks as she opened her mouth to visibly gasp, revealing yellow and rotten teeth as she did so.
“My boy…my baby boy.” she exclaimed in astonishment, “You’ve come for me after all this time. I always knew you’d come back!”
My heart sank as I lost control of my emotions, and tears began rolling down my cheeks. Abandoning my abusive and absent father hadn’t been very hard, but this was different. For all her faults, this woman was still my mum, and I didn’t want to see her suffer like this. There was something else too – a lingering guilt about her death. True, I hadn’t forced her to take drugs, but I had enabled her addiction and done nothing to help. The image of her decomposing body was etched in my memory, but now she was here…not alive exactly, but conscious and in pain. Was this my second chance?
“Take me away from here, son.” she pleaded, “I want to get clean! Take me home and we can be a family again!”
I shook my head and broke eye contact. This was too much. Suddenly I remembered the attendant, turning to face him and delivering a heartfelt but desperate plea.
“Surely there must be something we can do? We can’t just leave her like this!”
He nodded his head and opened his mouth to speak, but I never got his answer…because in that moment, all hell broke loose.
We heard an immense crashing sound and turned around in time to see the far wall collapsing under a huge impact. There was a terror-filled moment as we all stood dumbstruck, waiting for the dust to settle. And then we saw it, Cerberus – the three-headed hell hound. The beast was hungry and this was his all-you-can-eat buffet. There followed the briefest of pauses before the bar room descended into bloody pandemonium. The gluttonous patrons suddenly came to life, screaming and overturning tables as they desperately tried to flee, but there was nowhere to hide.
The hound hit the obese family first, using all three mouths to tear into their flesh, creating a horrific display of chaos and viscera. I could only watch in abject horror as hungry jaws ripped bodies apart, flinging limbs and intestines in all directions as the floor was covered in blood. The massacre of the family was sickening but thankfully didn’t last long. Soon, Cerberus was done with them, raising its three heads, their jaws still dripping with fresh blood as they searched for new prey.
By now, the bar had descended into total chaos, as screaming and terrified patrons searched in vain for an escape. Cerberus moved fast, hitting sinner after sinner, ripping them to shreds and feasting on their flesh before moving on to its next victim. The beast acted like a fox in a chicken coop, and no-one could resist its bloody wrath.
I looked down on my mother and saw the sheer terror in her eyes. Instinctively, I reached out to grab her hand as I planned to pull her up onto her feet, but as soon as I touched her cold skin, my mother’s frail body literally fell to pieces, her ashes scattering all over the floor. I shed a tear but almost felt relieved.
By now, Cerberus had finished its killing spree, leaving bloody carnage and viscera in its wake. The beast slowly walked towards us, its stance now more curious than aggressive.
The attendant bravely stepped in front of the beast, raising his right hand and speaking in an assertive, booming voice.
“You have had your feast. Now go!”
To my astonishment, Cerberus obeyed my guide’s order, slowly retreating across the blood-splattered floor and heading back towards the hole in the wall. I don’t know how he’d done it, but once again the attendant had saved my skin.
“We should leave now.” he instructed, whilst pointing to an elevator door which had suddenly appeared on the far side of the bar. I didn’t need to be told twice, but our time in level 3 was not quite done. A shout from behind forced us both to turn our heads, and the voice was a familiar one.
“You think you’re special, don’t you? You have your little fucking hall pass and think it will keep you safe.”
It was the barkeeper, who was the only one still in one piece after the massacre, but this was no man…that much was now very clear. I saw how his eyes burned a demonic red and his teeth were replaced by predatory fangs. Suddenly, I realised who was addressing us.
“You know who I serve, who protects us…” the attendant answered, although I could sense uncertainty in his voice.
The barkeeper cackled sadistically before replying.
“Yes, I know who your master is…But this is my realm, and the deeper you delve, the more powerful I become. We shall see how far my enemy’s protection will take you both. It will be…interesting. Be gone now, vile trespassers. Until we meet again.”
The warning chilled me and I looked to my guide for reassurance, but he appeared uncertain and did not respond, instead retreating and walking briskly towards the waiting lift. I quickly followed, not wishing to stay in this circle for a moment longer. But, just before the elevator door closed, I saw how the bar room had reverted back to its previous appearance, with the gluttonous patrons now restored in body if not soul, back at their tables indulging in their individual vices. And there in the corner was my mother, inserting a needle into her arm whilst muttering incoherently to herself.
I understood then that this scene would be played out forever, and as soon as we left, Cerberus would launch another attack. As the doors closed, I could hear the Devil’s hateful laughter, and we descended to the next level.
The fourth circle of Hell was initially less imposing than the previous two. When I stepped out of the elevator I thankfully wasn’t hit by extremes of weather, only by a darkness and a cold chill, which I believe was more due to the atmosphere than the temperature. As always, I obediently followed the attendant as he led me down a dirt path illuminated by burning torches on each side. I felt uncomfortable as we walked past the fire. I don’t know whether it was paranoia, but I was sure there was something in the flames. When I stared into the fire, I swore I could see eyes staring back at me. He was watching us, always…I remembered the Devil’s words and realised he was waiting for his opportunity to strike.
This was the worst thing about Hell in my opinion – the danger increased the farther you descended, but apparently we could only go forwards, not backwards.
We walked for some time along the torch-lit pathway before reaching a steep hillside, and then I began to understand what this level was about. I saw men and women lined up at the bottom of the hill, all looking down-trodden and defeated, both physically and mentally. The damned were split into three lines, all waiting for their turn to climb. At the bottom of the hill was a pile of massive rocks, and each victim needed to carry this weight while they ascended the hillside.
Their progress was slow and painful, but this wasn’t all. An overseer was present at the start of the line, a huge brute with bulging muscles, his face scarred and eyes full of pure rage. He wielded a mighty whip – an old-fashioned cat-of-nine-tails by the look of it. The overseer was very zealous with his whip, thrashing his victims without mercy as he ‘motivated’ them with abuse and threats.
“Come on you maggots! Move, damn you! You think you know suffering? I’ll show you fucking suffering!”
He hit them again and again with the whip, and I winced with every strike. The damned cried out in agony but offered no resistance, merely continuing their slow climb up the steep gradient whilst carrying their heavy boulders.
“Level 4 is Greed.” my guide diligently explained, “The weight they carry is punishment for the material possessions they craved and accumulated during their mortal lives.”
I nodded my head but did not respond. It struck me – not for the first time – that the punishments seemed well out of proportion to the sins committed. This was Hell I suppose…but I’d done some really bad shit in my life and so dreaded what fate was awaiting me.
I didn’t want to witness this violence but my guide took me close to the lines, until my ears were filled with the lashes from the whip and pained cries of the damned. I wondered why he was subjecting me to this horror, but of course I should have known. For when we reached the bottom of the hillside I saw a familiar face – my brother, deceased for over 15 years.
Time for another trip down memory lane, and a delve into my always tragic family history. I was the middle child, between my little sister Sarah and older brother Chris. He was five years my senior and – to be honest – a total shithead. My early memories of Chris were as a bully – very much cut from my father’s cloth. He picked on me and Sarah and I’d fight with him frequently to defend my little sister. Chris left home before Sarah died and Mum got hooked on heroin, but I’d reconnected with him later in life.
Why, you might ask? Well, he was still my brother – my flesh and blood. But there was an altruistic reason too. I was turning bad, getting myself involved in petty crime – shoplifting, pocket picking and the like. I was small-time but ambitious, wanting to break through to the big leagues. Back then I looked up to my big brother, if only because I didn’t know any better. In my naïve and impressionable young mind, I saw him driving fast cars, dating hot women, and living the high life…and I wanted that lifestyle.
I knew Chris had connections with the criminal underworld and his wealth wasn’t made honestly. I thought he was my way in. I later learnt that my brother was nothing more than a petty conman who lived well beyond his means, owing money all over town. His addiction to the high life was only going to end one way, and in the end his love of sports cars was the death of him, when one night he drove his Ferrari off the side of a bridge and drowned in ice-cold water. Greed had been his vice, so it was no surprise that he’d ended up here.
My brother was in a sorry state – slumped over, his back covered in scars from the whippings. The confidence and bravado he had when alive was gone and it was sad to see – a once proud man reduced to a broken wreck, his eyes sullen and full of pain and fear. I thought he would be shocked to see me, that he would plead for my help like the others…But that wasn’t Chris. He looked me over and smiled for what I imagined was the first time in years and greeted me in a manner that was nearly friendly.
“What’s up little bro? Long time no see. I guess they sent you to this shithole too?” He laughed, but it didn’t sound sincere.
“Well, not exactly.” I answered awkwardly, “How are you brother?”
He sniggered again, although this time the pain in his voice was clear.
“Oh yeah man, I’m having the fucking time of my life. What can you do, eh? It is what it is…” He paused for a moment, looking thoughtful, “Man, I miss the old days though. Remember the good times we had man? We made a good team, didn’t we? Brothers-in-arms!”
In truth, I had few good memories of my brother. In life he’d been an arrogant, selfish bully who’d done next to nothing to help his family. But when I saw Chris now I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him – to see a once proud man reduced to this. I was still mulling over my answer when the attack took place, as the brutish overseer lashed out with his whip, thrashing the defenceless Chris on his bare back.
My brother screamed in agony but was given no mercy, as he was struck again and again until he could no longer stand. I ran to my brother’s aid, noting the bloody wounds across his skin. Then I looked up in anger, confronting the attacker.
“Leave him alone! What the fuck is the matter with you?” I shouted.
I soon realised my outburst wasn’t the smartest of ideas, because when I looked up to the whip-wielding brute I saw his face was filled with rage. The overseer was huge, his muscles bulging as he gripped his whip tighter. I was terrified but wanted to protect my brother, and so stood between him and his attacker. Once again, it was the attendant who saved my neck, putting a firm hand on my shoulder and shaking his head in the negative.
By now Chris had somehow gotten up on his feet and had lifted his heavy boulder. He was obviously struggling with the immense weight and his injuries, but no doubt knew from bitter experience that more beatings would follow, unless he completed his task. He looked at me with vulnerability in his eyes and spoke his most genuine words yet.
“What do you say brother? Will you help me with my burden, for old time’s sake?”
Instinctively I nodded my head in the affirmative, reaching out to take hold of the boulder. Whilst doing so, my hand accidently touched my brother’s cold skin, and the results were predictable, as his broken body suddenly disintegrated into dust, and the rock fell heavily to the ground.
I took a deep breath to calm my nerves and tried to collect my thoughts, but my musings were interrupted by a sudden burst of movement and a sharp, biting pain. I screamed and fell backwards, glancing up in horror as the brutish overseer prepared to strike me again. I closed my eyes and braced myself, but a familiar booming voice called out.
“How dare you? We have protection from the Almighty!”
The overseer laughed in open mockery although did not strike.
“Your protection is waning old man! My master is always watching. Now, begone you lowly maggots! Your time in my domain is at an end!”
In that instant the torches marking the path up to the hillside burnt even fiercer, until the flames engulfed everything, burning the lines of the damned in a horrifying inferno. Amazingly, the wretched made no effort to escape the growing fire. It was almost as if being burnt alive was preferable to the endless torment they would otherwise face.
Chaos ensued as the whole world burnt. The attendant grabbed me and shouted in my ear – “We need to leave!”
A second later we were sprinting up the steep hillside, escaping the inferno and anarchy behind us. My lungs and calves were burning by the time we eventually reached the top. To my immense relief I saw the elevator there waiting for us – our escape…if you could call it that.
I cast one last look down the burning hillside, watching as the crazed overseer continued to mercilessly whip his victims, even as the flames engulfed them all. I gave a final thought to my brother before jumping into the lift and preparing myself for the next level.
My guide stopped me from stepping out of the lift once we reached level 5, and for good reason. There was no solid ground on the other side, only a dark, mist-covered swamp which stank of something foul. I physically retched when I looked out upon the grim marshland and wondered how we would ever cross this hellscape, but a moment later a small boat emerged from behind the fog, a wooden vessel seemingly piloted by a sinister figure wearing a black robe which covered his entire body and head.
The boat moved slowly towards us. I had no idea how the vessel was being powered but supposed this wasn’t really important.
“This is our ferry across the Styx and will transport us to the city of Dis.” the attendant explained, “Welcome to Level 5, Anger.”
I didn’t want to climb onboard this vessel and put my life in the hands of this creepy pilot, but I had to trust my guide’s judgement. I watched as the attendant deftly reached into his jacket pocket and withdrew a single gold coin, coolly throwing it across the void where it was caught by the hooded pilot in his bony hand.
“Shall we?” the attendant asked, motioning me towards the waiting boat.
I took a deep breath and climbed onboard, closely followed by my guide, and we began our slow journey across the hellish swamp.
I couldn’t look at our pilot during the uncomfortable journey. I never saw his face or even knew whether he had one, and the pilot never spoke a word. Instead, my attention was drawn towards the dark waters beneath us. We hadn’t gone far before the swamp started to bubble, as if it was boiling under extreme heat. I almost had a heart attack when I saw the first figure emerge, his head rising out of the slime as he screamed with absolute rage at sky above. A moment later and a second figure popped up, a soul filled with hate who instantly attacked the first man, diving and grabbing him by the throat.
The two fought fiercely, tearing strips out of each other until they both sank back underneath the surface. They were only the first of many however, as more emerged from the depths of the swamp, fighting furiously with each other as the water boiled around them. To my astonishment and horror, I saw the entire swamp transformed into a chaotic battleground. The water swayed back and forth, and I was sure our little boat would capsize under the waves, but somehow we stayed afloat and kept moving forwards.
But the hellish cries, the violence…it was too much. I closed my eyes and covered my ears but couldn’t drown out the sound or forget the horrific scenes. My guide moved closer and whispered in my ear. For once, his tone was sympathetic.
“It will be over soon. Stay strong.”
His words brought me some comfort, but our journey across the Styx seemed to last an eternity. I experienced a great relief when our boat finally reached the barren shoreline, leaving the cries of the desperate fighters behind, but any satisfaction I felt disappeared as soon as I set eyes upon the city.
We stepped out on the shore and looked up at the wall, which was easily one hundred feet high and adorned with war-like turrets which ascended up into the dark skyline. I saw what I can only describe as demons, winged harpies with scaly skin and mouths full of sharp fangs. They glared down upon us with malice, cackling as they flew between the ramparts, closely watching our progress as we moved towards the long bridge which granted access to the huge gate built into the city walls.
I made the mistake of looking over the side of the bridge as we crossed, seeing the deep moat below. It was too dark to see much, but I noted the predatory creatures swimming in the foul water, snapping and biting excitedly as they sensed the potential prey walking above them. As if this wasn’t bad enough, the harpies chose that moment to swoop down, shrieking like banshees as they flew only inches above our heads, snarling and snapping at us with their claws and fangs.
“Holy shit” I cried in terror, as I ducked to avoid the beasts’ assaults.
“Keep on walking!” the attendant ordered, “Don’t look up!”
I don’t know how I kept moving forward, but somehow I summoned the strength. Finally, we reached the end of the bridge and the gate – a huge doorway of thick wood and steel. I was astonished when the attendant confidently approached and banged his fist against the gate, shouting out to someone or something unseen.
“We have been granted permission to enter! I insist that you open this gate!”
The harpies that soared above us cackled cruelly, but they didn’t carry through with an attack, instead withdrawing and taking up positions on the towers above. A moment later and the huge gate opened ever so slightly, allowing us access to Dis, the city in the middle of Hell.
I knew none of this at the time of course, typically receiving the bare minimum of information from my secretive guide. Nevertheless, I found Dis was predictably grim and soul-crushing – devoid of any beauty or character-and instead made up of brutal military structures and crumbling buildings. As soon as we entered the walls it started to rain – a heavy deluge descending from the dark skies above, only adding to my misery.
I observed the depressing architecture of Dis as we walked through the labyrinth-like streets of Hell’s capital. Dis appeared to be abandoned and I wondered whether it had any residents – dead or otherwise. But then we walked out into a small square and saw a gang of thugs squaring up to fight.
There were four men in total, three against one from what I could tell, all preparing for mortal combat in the heavy rain. The three attackers were an odd mix. Their tattered uniforms marked them out as soldiers from different periods of history – a Roman legionnaire in full armour, a British redcoat from the American Revolution, and a German infantryman dressed in a First World War uniform and helmet. All were armed with sharp blades – short swords or bayonets.
The man they were facing off against was very familiar to me, my old friend and criminal associate ‘Rocky’, the toughest motherfucker I’d ever known. Back in my teens I ran with a street gang in my neighbourhood, petty stuff mostly – shoplifting, burglary, selling weed…shit like that. We frequently fought with other gangs too. Now, I was handy enough with my fists back in the day, but I was nothing compared to Rocky (which obviously wasn’t his real name). This guy could beat the shit out of six rivals without drawing a sweat, and he fought with the cops, winning most of the time.
No-one would fuck with us when Rocky ran with our crew. But we were frightened of him too. This was a guy who would go from zero to a hundred with a snap of your fingers. He had a foul temper and you never could tell what would set him off. But, when the red mist came over him, you were wise to get the hell out of his way.
Eventually, our little gang split up as we went our separate ways. I lost touch with Rocky in the years that followed, but a crazy son-of-a-bitch like him was never going to live into old age. A few years later I heard he’d been shot and killed during a botched armed robbery. I felt bad for my old friend but quickly moved on. But now here he was, preparing for deadly combat on the rain-soaked streets of Dis.
I knew my friend was tough but didn’t think he’d survive an attack by three trained soldiers. Therefore, the rapid flurry of violence that followed was astonishing yet sickening. Rocky, armed only with a baseball bat, dodged the first attack by the legionnaire, avoiding his sword and striking him in the throat with his bat. The Roman reeled on the ground as Rocky quickly grabbed his sword, using it to stab the legion man through the eye.
The British and German soldiers both attacked simultaneously, slashing out with their blades as they desperately tried to deliver the killing blow. But Rocky countered their attacks, blocking their blades before he struck back. He stabbed the redcoat in the belly, leaving him thrashing in agony in the mud. Next, he moved on to the German, slicing his head off with a mighty swipe of his sword. Rocky finished by putting the Brit out of his misery, clinically cutting his throat.
He exhaled heavily, his eyes wild and face covered in the splattered blood of his victims. It was only then that Rocky noticed my presence, greeting me amicably as he stepped over his freshly produced bodies.
“Hey, what’s up old buddy? Fancy meeting you here!”
I stepped forward under the heavy rain, shocked and confused by what I’d just witnessed, but also strangely reassured. Rocky was the first damned soul I’d encountered who was able to fight back against his tormenters…to fight back and win. Perhaps this was a turning point?
“That was impressive.” I stated, looking down at the three dead men.
“Yeah.” Rocky said proudly, “Shit’s crazy down here, but if you know how to fight you can hold your own. Stick with me man, we can really clean up in this joint.”
I smiled for the first time in a long while and seriously considered his offer. Maybe Hell was like prison…you just had to join the right gang to survive. But of course, it wasn’t that simple.
Rocky was still grinning when a horde of zombie-like attackers charged him from behind. I shouted out a warning but it was too late, as the bloodthirsty mob jumped him. Rocky fought back bravely, taking out several, but he was soon overwhelmed by sheer numbers, as the mob beat him mercilessly before slicing his belly open with daggers. Rocky screamed in agony as they feasted on his flesh and internal organs in a sickening display. I turned away in disgust as my friend’s screams died away, the sound being replaced by a sadistic laughter that was sadly all too familiar.
I turned around to see a solitary figure standing at an open window overlooking the blood-splattered square. He’d taken a new form but I recognised him at once. It was the Devil, still stalking us and observing our progress, taking a perverse pleasure from our setbacks and failures.
“The house always wins in Hell, sooner or later.” he exclaimed, still cackling as he moved away from the window and disappeared into the shadows.
I fell to my knees in despair as the rain kept beating down. Predictably, an elevator had suddenly appeared in the doorway of a nearby crumbling building, and my ever-present guide was motioning for me to join him inside. But I couldn’t. I’d reached my breaking point and refused to get off my knees.
“I won’t go any further!” I screamed emotionally, “This shit is crazy! Every level is worse than the last. How can I hope to survive this? Enough is enough…I won’t play this sick fucking game anymore!”
The attendant’s response surprised me, as it seemed so out of character. I watched in dismay as his face screwed up with anger and he marched towards me, striking out with his right hand and slapping me hard across the face, knocking me down as I cried in pain and shock. Next, he grabbed me by the collar and forced me to look into his intense eyes.
“How many times must I tell you?” he screamed angrily, “We cannot go back or stay in one place. We keep moving forward or die! Believe me, what you’ve seen so far is nothing compared to the suffering you’ll face, if you fail this task. I will drag you through these hells even if it destroys us both! Do you understand?”
I shook my head vigorously as I looked into the old man’s crazed eyes. In that moment I was more afraid of my long-suffering guide than I was of all the demons and horrors in Hell. He pulled me up on my feet and dragged me into the waiting elevator, and I held my head in my hands and wept, as the lift doors slammed shut and we descended once again.

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Credit: Hell Tourist

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