The following is an excerpt from my work-in-progress novel, a Satanic adaptation of Dante Alighieri’s Inferno. It’s told from the perspective of a sinner escaping his punishment by descending all nine layers to confront Satan Himself.
Enjoy, and there’s more to come soon.
“… Where am I?”
“The better question is, ‘who are you?'”
I thought to reply, but drew a blank. I scoured my fuzzy mind for a name, a species, a gender, but nothing replied.
I realized I wasn’t seeing anything, or smelling anything, or hearing anything, or tasting anything, or touching anything. I existed in a vacuum.
Horror crept over me. “… I am afraid.”
“So you are.” I recognized this helpful voice to be male, with a bestial intonation that only worsened my panic. “How does it feel?”
“I don’t know! I can’t feel anything!”
“Then why are you afraid? If you cannot feel, you cannot hurt.”
“Because I don’t understand!” I cried. “I wasn’t always like this!”
“Yes. I was a being.”
“No. You were alive.”
“… I’m dead?”
The helpful voice did not reply.
“No!” The horror reached its climax. “God, no!”
At the utterance of that Holiest of Names, the helpful voice took on a savage animalism as it laughed, boisterously, in the face of my suffering. “Cry the name of your pathetic God as loud as you can; He will not hear you. You exist now in the inescapable pit of Hell!”
It was starting to come back to me. I remembered a curious symbol comprised of two lines, one running vertical, one running perpendicular. The two lines met to form a symbol: a cross.
It looked like a capital T.
“This doesn’t make sense,” I moaned. “How could the Christians have been right?”
“About everything!” I screamed. “An entire lifetime of cynicism, wasted!”
“Your suffering delights and intrigues me,” the helpful voice responded, “but I will not abide such blasphemy against the One and True God Satan. And while I wish I could educate you against this blasphemy, to do so, you must possess the faculties necessary to learn: namely, a body. In Hell, to obtain one, you must steal one from someone else. Everything you possess in this realm comes at great expense – your’s, or someone else’s. It is not gifted, earned, or deserved; it is claimed. Stolen.”
“How will I do that without a body?”
“Pity, that. Well, I suppose you could convince someone to gift you one.”
“But you’re the only other person I know, and I don’t even know who you are!”
“Then it would seem your next move is obvious. Be warned, however, that your current state – suspended forever between the theft of your corporeal form, but exempt from visceral torture for precisely that reason – is as close to contentment as you’ll ever feel again.”
“Contentment? Alone, in this pit? I think not. You’re trying to trick me.”
“I can assure you that compared to the company in Hell, an eternity in solitude may well be preferable.”
“I don’t intend to stay here forever.”
“But you must! Your punishment is eternal.”
“I will not be punished forever for a sin I don’t even remember committing, against a God I didn’t – and still don’t – believe in. I will escape; mark my words. But to do it, I need a body.” Channeling my fear into determination, I roared as authoritatively as I could, “So give me your’s. Now.”
There was a long silence.
“We will see how long your conviction survives in the face of the Ultimate Evil,” came the reply at last.
My eyes opened.
Constant was the wailing of tortured souls, who fell from the blood red sky above in a flaming mass of scalded flesh like meteors. The landscape was hard and rocky; jagged rock formations protruded from every crevasse, upon which bodies had been impaled through the midsection or skewered through the anus like pigs on a roast.
I perceived a horrible pain in my lower body. When I reached my hands out to touch its source, I met chipped stone dripping with blood.
My first iteration to this strange new world that I existed was to scream in agony, like a babe making its first tentative gasps of oxygen after exiting the portal of its mothers’ womb. I was baptized in pain, indoctrinated by fear into the awful, sinking belief that there was, in fact, a Hell, and it was the new universe in which I resided – like it or not.
I reached my arms behind me. They were not long enough to reach the flat cliff out of which the rock impaling my ribcage found its origin point. My legs, however, were, and with the only remaining reservoir of strength I could summon, I pushed myself by the soles of my feet, inch by inch, off of the spike. When my soles didn’t reach, I pushed with my toes, all the way to the very point of my toenails.
I gritted my teeth and cried torrentially through the ordeal.
When at last the spike emerged from the other end of my body, I plummeted downward at free-fall speed, my entrails billowing in the wind above me. The pain did not cease; only diminished somewhat, like the receding of waves in preparation for a massive tsunami. The tsunami came when I struck the hard, unyielding ground, shattering every bone I had and reducing my new body to a bloody pulp. The ground, covered in a fine gray powder, cratered around me.
But I did not die, for death would be a mercy.
Rather, after lying prostrate in a sniveling heap on the flat bedrock, with only the chorus of moans of my fellow sinners to comfort me, I felt my new vessel shift of its own accord. Bones painfully snapped back into place, my entrails snaked back into my body, and my skin, like bacteria forming in a petri dish, spread to cover the exposed holes to my guts.
I groaned, sat up, and clutched my ribcage, where the mottled bruises remaining from my fall were gradually fading into the off-pink that was my naked skin tone. It was flecked with dark body hair along my forearms, chest and groin, which tapered off into a flaccid, uncircumcised penis. I understood this to mean I was a man.
I drew a long, haggard breath into my lungs. It reeked of sulfur and burned my throat going down. When I exhaled, particles of acrid dust drifted lazily in the air inches from my face. I coughed into my arm; flecks of gray phlegm greeted me.
A mighty roar attracted my attention. I turned my gaze up.
The cliffs hosting the impaled bodies extended skyward for what seemed like forever, and the souls captured upon their craggy faces likewise numbered. A massive, reptilian beast with a wingspan miles wide flew overhead, its shadow blotting out the singular point of light streaming in from on high.
It opened its behemoth maw and belched flame upon the cliff face. The sinners caught in range of the blaze were vaporized, instantly silencing their throes and delivering them to a merciful state of incorporeal terror. Others, caught just outside of the blast radius, were reduced to ash. The flecks of ash rained upon the landscape like snow.
I blanched as the epiphany dawned on me that this was the same ashen substance I had hacked up onto my arm.
I scrambled to my feet as the beast overhead released an earth-shattering roar. The force of its throaty call was enough to generate an earthquake, which ruptured the cracked earth beneath me with terrible ease. The pitch of the earth below me threw me off my feet. I hurried again to an upright position and darted in the first direction I stably faced, with no expectation of where I was going, or what I was going to do. Only one impulse flooded through my veins: to flee.
As I darted across the ashen landscape, dodging and leaping over faults as they opened, I noticed a cavernous mouth in the cliff face a mile ahead. A sense of dread filled me; this was Hell, and I knew already that any reprieve from the constant suffering was costly. Still I ran, the ash caking the walls of my lungs as I hyperventilated during the panicked sprint to safety.
“Ugh!” I stumbled into the cave, exhausted, and immediately collapsed to my knees in a fit of uncontrollable coughing. First I was starved for oxygen from the thick, soupy phlegm I vomited on the floor; then I was starved from the depression of my diaphragm, which, after the onslaught of spasms, was too tired to enable regular breathing. I asphyxiated on the floor for several minutes as I waited to develop enough strength to will it to expand.
When that moment came, a merciful rush of oxygen void of ash filled my chest.
Finally permitted a moment to survey my surroundings, I examined the walls of the cave. They were drenched in dried blood so thick, it flaked off like old paint. Some of the blood was used as a writing medium – ‘GOD IS DEAD’ and ‘FUCK CHRIST’ were hastily scrawled over a lighter layer beneath it. There were torches on the wall in wrought iron holders whose flames afforded a narrow range of visibility. I could see that the cavern descended for some distance.
The roar of the beast with flaming breath echoed from outside of the cave. It was the motivation I needed to get back up on my feet and continue deeper into the chasm.
What struck me most as I trekked tersely ahead, guided by a torch I grabbed off the wall, was the silence. After an hour of walking, the screams behind me faded away into a muted stillness that was only occasionally interrupted by my own lonely footfalls.
There were no landmarks to guide me, save the blasphemies written in blood on the wall. After a time, I started to see them repeated – not just in phrase, but in the particulars of their line strokes. I feared I was walking in circles.
Then, I heard an abrupt sound to my left – a woman weeping.
Her weeping was not soft, timid, cathartic. It was the desperate sob of a being at the end of its life.
I thought not to pursue it. I suspected, at first, demonic trickery. But as I motioned to proceed onward regardless, the sobs became more pronounced. My empathy – what little of it resounded above my own screeching sense of self-preservation – vetoed the action. I turned on my heel toward the noise, suspecting each step carried me closer to my doom.
The louder the sound became, the deeper my apprehension grew. Sweat beaded on my dirty forehead. I licked my suddenly dry lips and tensed my Achilles’ heel in preparation for a preemptive charge.
Then the light revealed its source. It was indeed a woman – a sinner, like myself, if her emaciated and battered appearance was any indication. She was on her hands and knees, grasping for something to indicate where, in the pitch dark, she was.
When she noticed the light, her first instinct was to shriek and recoil.
“It’s alright,” I reassured her, softening my voice. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
“Stay back!” She hissed. “Don’t touch me!”
I froze in place, my free palm exposed in surrender.
“Go away,” she moaned, curling her legs against her stomach and laying down sideways on the cavern floor. “I don’t want to be seen like this.”
“You wouldn’t be seeing at all if it weren’t for my torch,” I snapped, short on patience after my ordeal. “So stop feeling sorry for yourself, and be grateful I’m helping you.”
She sniffled and wiped her eyes against the back of her hand.
“You’re the first friendly face I’ve met so far,” I admitted. I realized in that moment, regarding her pathetic state, that her anger wasn’t meant for me. “Please – let it be a happy one.”
“You’re new here, huh?” She raked her fingers through her shoulder-length hair. It was hopelessly matted and caked with soot. “This is the closest to happy anyone gets in Hell.”
She gave me an incredulous look. “Are you blind, or just stupid?”
“I woke up less than an hour ago impaled on a spike. Give me a fucking break.”
“My point is, if this ‘Satan’ says we have to be miserable, then I say he can go fuck himself. He’s no god of mine.”
“You’re brave,” she replied, “speaking such blasphemies within earshot of his minions.”
“What are you talking about? We’re alone here.”
“You’re never alone in Hell.” She blanched. “They’re always watching. Always waiting for you to drop your guard …”
“Is that how you ended up here?” I knelt to her level.
“I hope you lost them.”
“Hope? Hah! You abandoned that when you came here.”
“There is hope. I’m going to escape.”
At that, she started laughing. It was a short, belabored noise that ended in a raucous cough. I wanted to feel sorry for her, but the slight rubbed me the wrong way.
“What’s so ridiculous about that? I have an eternity to try.”
“And an eternity to fail! You think you’re the first?” She gave me a once-over with a flick of her eyelashes and wrinkled her nose. “You think you’re the best?”
Now she was really pushing my boundaries. “I moved the fucking universe to get this body. What did you do?”
“The same.” She held her ground with an icy gaze to meet my own. “We all did. No one is better than anyone else here. But you can be worse. Much, much worse. And these sentiments you believe in so strongly, like ‘hope’ and ‘happiness?’ You have yet to discover it, but in time, you will realize these are farces designed to placate the masses; carrots-on-sticks for the petty, weak-minded fools who would incur the wrath of Lord Satan. He did you a favor by letting you wake up here, in the upper rungs. When your little plan fails, you can anticipate spending every miserable second of your eternity in the Pit. He’ll probably immerse you in frozen excrement with his massive, unwashed testicles perched on your face, you stupid idiot.” She spat at my feet. “How’s that for being ungrateful?”
“I don’t have to take this shit,” I snapped, rising to my feet. “You can rot in this cave if you want, but I’m getting the fuck out of here.”
“Fine! Go suffer in the Pit, asshole.” She sniffled and turned away. “See if I care.”
As I marched off, I noticed something I hadn’t on the walls of the cavern – fresh blood. It was oozing from the various crevasses in the stone. As I hesitated to observe it, I heard her call out from behind me, “What are you waiting for? Get lost!”
“Shut up!” I snapped. “We might be in danger.”
She quieted instantly and followed my gaze to the blood pooling on the floor.
She started to tremble.
“What is it?” I asked, feeling fear squeeze my insides.
“We have to get out of here.” She shot up to her feet with such speed, I was surprised she didn’t suffer whiplash. She darted past me into the darkness.
“Wait –!” I ran after her.
“RUN!” She screamed.
The slow trickle from every pore in the walls thickened into a steady stream, then into a raging pour.
As the pool extended into the center of the cavern, kissing my toes as I sprinted, I felt it sear my flesh like acid.
She began shrieking ahead of me.
The fluid filled the chamber to ankle-length. I felt the flesh of my feet sear down to the bone. Despite the agony, I ran as hard as my legs could carry me. The woman must’ve been running even harder, for even under this duress I did not match her. Her wails were the beacon I followed to what I hoped was a reprieve.
The liquid rose to waist-height. I felt it seep into my intestines and gnaw them from the inside out. I was no longer running; I was floating, flailing what remained of my melting arms and upper body in the general direction of forward. In the process, I dropped the torch, plunging the cave into darkness.
Her screams subsided. Mine alone echoed through the narrow divide between the surface of the scalding liquid and the roof of the cavern.
Drawing a frenzied gasp for breath through my screams, the liquid covered – and subsequently devoured – my face. I was a skeleton, incapable of speech or momentum. I experienced no pain anymore; I lacked the nerve endings necessary to process it. I only knew terror at being swept helplessly into what tortures lurked beyond.