Welcome to Hell
The young woman crouched in fear under the desk, a phone clutched desperately, her fingers fearfully stabbing three buttons.
"9-1-1 emergency services, this is Michael, how may I help you?" Breathy squeaks emerged first, then the woman found her voice. "The house is being robbed, and he has a gun." Michaelís voice never faltered.
"Stay where you are, and tell me the location of the house." But the phone clicked in his ear. Frowning, he began to trace the call, police waiting to move the moment he found the location.
The young woman crouched in fear under the desk, the phone no longer in her hands. Vikten stood over her, slight wisps of smoke curling from the barrel of the gun. The young womanís eyes still stared at him with reproach, but she would never again pose a threat to him. He stooped over the womanís body, and picked up the phone, calling onto the screen the last number dialed.
"Shit!" She had managed to call the cops. Faintly now, he could hear the sirens. He shoved the girlís legs farther under the desk, savagely breaking the phone in a fit of useless anger. The sirens were homing in on the apartment complex. Whirling, he tossed the bag of stolen goods out the window, and jumped after it, landing easily in the back alley. Sirens sounded behind him.
"Damn!" The bastards were closer than he thought. Dropping the bag with a brief regret for its value, he started running. The paved alley was slippery -- it had rained only hours before. He slid dangerously when he risked a look over his shoulder.
A cop, a young cop, raced behind him, arms and legs pumping.
Vikten didnít see anyone else. He still had a chance. Ahead, a smaller, darker alley connected to the wider one he ran in now. He ducked into that alley, aware that the young cop was following him easily. Again, he zigged into another alley; it led into a bad section of town -- a section that Vikten was familiar with. There was a dumpster ahead, behind a corner. If he was lucky ...
He was. Behind the dumpster lay a sturdy two-by-four. He crouched behind the large metal container, and hefted the plank. Waiting for the footfalls, he stepped out; the wood extended, cracking the cop across the head.
The young cop -- so young that he looked like a kid playing dress-up -- grunted and fell heavily.
Vikten dropped the timber beside the fallen cop, breathing fast. He felt his heart rate slow, the adrenaline slowly leached from his system. Relief set in. He was safe. Grinning slightly at his fortune, Vikten bent slightly to grab the timber. A nightstick descended with him and black geysered into his vision, obscuring everything.
Vikten slowly opened his eyes; flickering red-black light limned an oval entrance -- the stones beneath his feet were black, jagged, eerily rimmed with red reflected from the light at the end of the tunnel. He stood warily, his head feeling soft, and delicate. He held his neck still, and pushed a hand in front of his face. He saw the hand clearly, though his head pounded. His entire body pounded.
He continued to stare at his hand, until a large drop of blood obscured one eye. He wiped the blood away, his headache increasing. He could hear the patter of blood hitting the rough stones, but it came to the right of him -- it wasnít his blood.
Beside him, kneeling, was a man with half his face shot off.
Viktenís own face throbbed in commiseration, and the blood fell thicker. A strangled sob and scream of horror tangled in Viktenís throat. He knew that man -- he had been a professional assignment. The order had come from the Gianetta family -- the kind of order that you obeyed if you wanted to keep breathing -- but he'd been eager to prove himself anyway. That was the hit that had made his career -- got his name out.
The man stared at him with his one remaining eye. Seeing him like that -- obviously dead, but not dead, still suffering -- Vikten couldnít look away, even as his own blood dripped in a warm path down his chin, onto his chest, and then his feet.
Feeling the liquid spatter against his bare toes, he moved involuntarily -- yelping as the sharp rocks cut into his feet. But the red and black light intrigued him. The kneeling man made no move to stop him; instead, he seemed to encourage Vikten to walk past.
As he walked, struggling not to cry from the pain of his shredded feet, the blood from Vikten's face dried, the flesh mended, and he was whole again. He looked back; the man still knelt, and blood still ran, but his mouth was curved in a chilling half-smile. An eerie, grotesque smile, as his lips disappeared in the ruin of his left side. The lips continued to curve, and then the man raised one arm, waving at Vikten. A low laugh swelled around Vikten, slowly morphing into a keening shriek. There was pressure in Viktenís chest, and then it was suddenly released.
He clutched his chest -- heíd been shot. The wound dribbled between his fingers, and the wail grew louder. He turned to his left. A woman stood there -- it was from her mouth that the wail issued. A single hole sat in her chest; it should have killed her instantly, but she had had time to let loose that God-awful scream. Vikten shuddered. That wail had given him a nightmare for a week. He hadnít meant to kill her -- she had gotten in the way. Stupid bitch thought he was after her children. He just wanted the diamond necklace. The woman had thrown herself at him; trying to protect her children -- she hadnít given him a choice. He had to kill her. And heíd gotten a handsome profit on the necklace.
The wail stopped suddenly as she saw Vikten. Like the man, she smiled horribly, and extended a bloodstained hand. "Enjoy your stay," she said throatily, then added her voice to the low cackle once again resounding through the tunnel.
Viktenís nerve broke. He began to run, no longer feeling the sharp stones cutting his feet. He concentrated only on escaping the tunnel. There was no other objective. But as he ran, the awful truth forced its way into the forefront of his mind. He was in Hell. The absolute certainty hit him, physically stopping him. Gasping for breath, covered in blood, and aching from dozens of gunshot wounds and beatings, he turned around. A crowd of the dead followed him. They stood immovable, each bearing the injury inflicted upon them. Many still cried and screamed their denial. Others simply stared at him with hatred. And then one stepped forward. It was the first person Vikten had ever killed. He watched her approach with horror. He had never wanted to kill her...
She slapped him.
"Figured it out yet?" she asked sweetly, then slapped him again. "Youíre in Hell, Vik."
He gaped at her, scrabbling backwards, but he could only go so far before his strength gave out. Sheila smiled again, gripped the edges of her bloody sweater -- and pulled them apart. The knife still jutted from her stomach. She laughed again, and Vikten looked down.
The same knife protruded from his belly. Agony seared through him; he couldnít think, couldnít scream. He was paralyzed by the pain. He didnít know how long it lasted; time had no meaning in Hell. Hell was eternity. He was bound for an eternity of pain. Sheila gloated silently, stepping forward.
"I still donít think you fully understand," she said, looking down at him. "You donít get to see the white light at the end of the tunnel. You get the red light -- the eternal fire. You will relive our deaths over and over and over again. For eternity. Welcome to Hell, Vikten."
"Welcome to Hell," the others all murmured, then as one bared their fatal wounds. Vikten fainted.
A beeping intruded into his conscious -- a beeping interspersed with short bursts of murmured conversation, and the crinkle of plastic. Vikten held himself carefully. Maybe they wouldnít realize he was there. He couldnít take any more pain. The voices faded away, and he slowly cracked one eye. A matronly woman peered back. With a muffled shout, Vikten jerked away from her, screaming again as he ripped an IV. The nurse clucked, and ruthlessly fixed the needle.
"Now letís not have any of that," she soothed, checking the bandage wrapped around his head. "Youíve had a traumatic experience ... donít go making it worse!"
Vikten smiled feebly back, content to let her talk. She smoothed his sheets, then looked at him conspiratorially. "Do you want to talk about it? Most people do. Iím a good listener." She saw Viktenís eyes widen, but mistook the emotion for relief, instead of the terror it truly was. "Itís quite natural," she said. "After all, you did die. Itís not uncommon for people to see deceased loved ones, or the proverbial white light at the end of the tunnel."
Vikten jerked. "N-no," he murmured. "I didnít see anything." He rolled over on his side, effectively ending the conversation.
The nurse frowned, but didnít say anything more. Later, after the police had talked with her, told her who Vikten was and what he'd done, she never spoke to him again.
Vikten was all right with that -- he needed the silence to think. Never again, he vowed, would he kill, maim, or hurt. He swore off burglary -- determined to live his life by the law. But justice had a way of evening out all accounts.
"Vikten Bailey, I hereby sentence you to solitary confinement for life." The judge raised his gavel, about to make the sentence official.
"B-but you donít understand," Vikten babbled. "I have to do good! I-I must! You canít understand!" The Judge chuckled mirthlessly.
"Oh, but I do understand." And he dropped the gavel, ending all of Viktenís protestations.
Vikten sobbed instead. When the guards came and pulled him up by his arms, he didnít struggle. He was stupefied. How could this happen? A half-remembered thought winked into his mind -- a remnant from a dreaded Sunday school class. He remembered the old crone going on about a halfway state: Purgatory. A spark of hope jumped into his chest. Maybe he would go to Purgatory. His eyes bright again, he looked at the guard on his right. The guard winked.
"We donít believe in Purgatory around here." He laughed uproariously upon seeing Viktenís countenance, and shoved him hard into his cell. "You deserve where you go. And I think you know where youíre headed." With a final leer, the guard threw the door shut, dangling the keys suggestively before hooking them to his belt.
Vikten simply sat, shock settling in. Finally he turned his head towards the closest wall. There, scratched into the concrete walls by dint of desperation, boredom, and the tang of death, were three chilling words: "Welcome to Hell."
Vikten laughed hysterically. They had no idea what Hell was like. But he knew. He knew what was waiting for him...
© 2005 by Diana Rohlman
Bio: Diana Rohlman and her dog Narnia live in Washington. They both enjoy long walks in the rain, and puddle-stomping. Puddle-stomping aside, Diana writes fantasy and science fiction novels and short stories in her spare time. She began writing when she was fourteen, and was published by the time she turned sixteen. She is the author of the fantasy novel Death's Avenger (published by The Fiction Works). Her story Terminated appeared in the May, 2003 Aphelion.
E-mail: Diana Rohlman
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