One quick thing before today’s post:
I was published on the Rebelution this week! If you remember my post on complaining from a few weeks ago, they published it on their site under the name 5 Things I Learned on My Quest to Stop Complaining.
And now on to our regularly scheduled program. This week’s post is a short story I wrote based off of Dante’s Inferno (an epic poem about Dante’s journey through Hell on his way to Purgatory and, finally, Heaven). Please keep in mind this is all fiction and everything written here was done so on caffiene and with tongue firmly in cheek. My own mini epic is entitled…
Staircase to Hell
Forgetting a flashlight was my first mistake. Locking myself in was my second. I hadn’t meant to forget to prop the door open, but there you have it. The cellar was pitch black and smelled of wet cats. And I was stuck in it.
I banged on the door and yelled for a few seconds, despite knowing that no one else was home. It was just me and long dead wet cats for the next couple hours. Counting my blessings that I wasn’t scared of the dark, I settled onto the top stair with my back against the door and closed my eyes. Someone would be home soon.
Minutes ticked by – or maybe hours. The darkness morphed the time. I yawned and twisted around to get comfortable, to no avail.
Something at the bottom of the staircase flickered, just for an instant. I rubbed my eyes. Ridiculous. It was too dark to see.
But no. There it was again. A short flicker, then it died out. I rose to my feet and descended, running my hand along the wall to keep my bearings. The flicker came back and stayed. Was it my imagination, or were there a lot more stairs than I remembered?
I kept walking, down and down, the fiery light welcoming me in as I stepped deeper into the ground – for underground I must be. The steps kept going.
“Hello, my dear.” I screamed at the hissing whisper in my ear. I might not be afraid of the dark, but sudden silky voices out of nowhere do have an effect on me.
The echoing voice laughed and a figure shimmered into being in front of me.
“Surprise you, did I?”
“Who are you?” I was determined not to show my fear. Why did the man’s body waver like that in the heat?
“I am the Fuhrer. Surely you have heard of me!” He straightened up and somehow managed to look down his nose at me, despite being a few steps below.
He made an irritated noise in his throat. “Fuhrer will do. I am here to guide you through the depths of Hell. Your God has determined you should see it, and I am to accompany you.”
“Through Hell?” Fear was replaced by shock. Surely I couldn’t have heard correctly.
“Yes, Fraulein. Lass uns gehen.” He reached for my hand and all went dark again.
When I could see again, we were no longer on the staircase. Flickering fluorescent lights glinted off of miles of splotchy tiled floor. Every few feet, what I assumed to be a soul covered its ears and wailed. Each was surrounded by demons. Some only two or three. Others ten or twelve. The demons crowded in close, vying for attention. Some screeched, others laughed, and more babbled incoherent words.
“What is this place?” I had to yell above the noise.
“Why don’t you ask one of the shades themselves?” the Fuhrer suggested.
I looked around and chose a soul with only four demons surrounding it. “Who are you? And why are you here?” I shouted.
The soul raised its eyes to meet mine and groaned. “I am a nobody. You would not know my name should you hear it. But I spent all my life as the cause of agony for those who work for hourly wages. I gave no one my full attention, but talked on the phone while checking out, fixed my mascara while ordering food, and made countless cashiers wait to hand me change so that I might only finish replying to a text.”
I took a step back as one of the demons screamed to my right.
“That doesn’t seem so bad,” I yelled.
“Ooohhhh! I didn’t think so either. But I didn’t value the image of the Great One within the people I ignored. I considered their needs as nothing and my own distractions as monumental when I should have placed them above myself.”
I backed away and re-joined Hitler.
“Do they suffer like this forever?”
“Yes. For all eternity they must endure the demons all crying for their attention since they were so willing to divide it on earth. Kommen Sie hier. We have more to see.” He took my hand and the blackness returned.
This time the darkness cleared to reveal that we were in a hedge maze. The bushes towered high above on either side, closing us in. An assortment of animal like sounds, including the occasional human scream, rang through the air.
“What punishment is this?” I took a few steps forward, but retreated as the bushes just ahead rustled. Footsteps pounded the earth, coming nearer.
“Why don’t you ask Mr. King?”
A soul appeared from around the corner of the maze. He stopped abruptly at the sight of us standing there. He took off his glasses and rubbed them on his shirt, looking over his shoulder with terror in his eyes.
I leaned closer to get a better look at him. “Are – are you Stephen King?”
“Yes.” He glanced around, every muscle tensed.
“What are you doing here?”
“In life, as I’m sure you know, I wrote horror. I became deliriously famous and wealthy. But that good fortune came only at the expense of my readers. I preyed off of their fears – their terror provided my daily bread.”
“And your punishment is running through a maze?”
“My eternal burden is confinement to this labyrinth with the creatures of my creation. Every book I wrote, every movie adaptation. The monsters are here. Each of us in this place is given our own such arena.”
Something screeched nearby and Mr. King jumped. “I must go!” He vanished around the corner.
“I’ve seen enough,” I said.
“Oh, Fraulein…there is so much more!” The Fuhrer spread his arms wide and laughed.
“Take me back!” The screeching was coming closer.
“If you insist.” He grabbed my hand and the darkness fell.
I had never been so relieved to find myself alone in the black cellar. I leaned back against the wall, breathing hard, thanking God that it was over and determined to never forget a flashlight again.