Then he felt a new sensation—warmth—but not a comfort like a blanket on a chilly Boston night—heat. The heat of a thousand suns intensified by millions of magnifying glasses focused their pin points of light on every cell of his ravaged skin. The further he fell the more intense it became until it was intolerable, but even then it increased. The smell of his burning flesh began to fill the already noxious air and he saw what remained of his skin had begun to blister, blacken, smolder, and melt. Next his bones began to burn and boil from the inside out. His marrow turned into something like smelting steel. The source of the heat now revealed itself. Orange, green, blue, and black flames leapt from some vast unknown body through the smoke and seared his flesh even more. He opened his mouth to scream, but when no air filled his lungs, no sound escaped.
And then there was silence.
A silence so deafening he thought he would lose his mind. A silence so dark, so sinister, he feared whatever may lie before him, would be so much worse than what he had passed through. He recognized his mind functioned fully, but his body was paralyzed as if it had turned to stone. His face began to contort beyond his will into the shape of a demonic scream. The fall stopped and he was suspended over the raging caldron below. The flames lapped up and engulfed him, burned him, charred him, but did not consume him.
Then a distinct voice came out of the din and mayhem.
“Welcome, Henry Plancrest-Rogers.” The deep haunted voice resonated from a place within his skull.
Laughter from the host of the tormented erupted uncontrolled and then it twisted into contempt, sneers, and derision as they gave sardonic jeers at his arrival.
“Where am I? Who are you? What is this place?” Hank screamed and was surprised that he had found breath and that his voice had begun to work again.
”Welcome to Hell!” came the voice again and it echoed unrestrained in his mind. “This is the place of the damned, the place of the unrepentant.”
“Unrepentant?” he screamed, and if his arms would have worked, he would have thrown his hands over his ears to try to stifle the cavernous voice that bellowed inside his head.
“Yes, without repentance this is your home and, once you’re here, you can never be anywhere else.”
“But I was an acolyte, I went to mass, I said my prayers, and I confessed to the priest. I shouldn’t be here.”
The chiding voices grew louder. They no longer resonated just from the mass, the smoke, and the fire, but they came from inside his body. He could feel their presence and was petrified.
“Was! Went! Confessed!” the voice screeched, and it no longer just resounded inside his head but filled the place where he and the host were suspended. “All in the past. When, my child, was your last confession?”
“Oh my God, help me.”
“Too late for Him,” the voice resounded
“I don’t want to be here,” Hank shouted.
“Do you think my host does? They want out, but they made their choice and I won’t allow it.”
“But what about me, have I had my last chance? Is there no way back?”
“No one has ever found it.”
“Not being found means there must be a way. Show it to me!” he pleaded.
The silence returned but not like before. It wasn’t maddening but felt bearable. The flames and smoke, the voice. and the faces dissolved. He became aware of a throb and recognized his own heart beat hard against something foreign, something hostile in his body. Then, a new voice with a softer more feminine quality called to him.
“Hank! Hank!” Natalie shouted, and shook the man in her lap with her bound hands. She looked into eyes fixed and growing dim. His face bore a mask of horror as if he wanted to scream but his muscles had frozen in an exacting twisted cramp. “Wake up Hank. I think he’s dying! Do something, he’s not breathing.”
“What the hell?” Tony shouted, and swerved the car to the side of the road.
Hank’s gasp for air, like a man taking one final breath at the end of a hangman’s noose, startled Natalie. Like the hum of a forceful wind through a dense forest, combined with a wheezing, raspy rattle, the sound filled her ears. She looked into the eyes of someone returning from the dead.
“Hank!” she screamed.
His eyes came to life. He searched the darkness like one desperate to find the one who knew his name. When his jaundiced orbs fell on Natalie’s face, he whispered, “Forgive me, please.”
Unexpected, she heard herself say “I do” before she realized what had happened. How could she forgive this man who raped her once and was only stopped from doing it again by the bullet she put in him? How could she forgive this man when she still bore the bruises and bite marks from his assault? How could she ever forgive this man who defiled her with his own urine? How could she forgive this man when the last look he gave her before he succumbed to unconsciousness, screamed that he blamed her for his plight? How could she forgive this man whose flesh and blood she still wore under her fingernails to remind her of how much she hated this man? But she said it again “I do,” and knew it was true.
Tony had stopped the car and forced the driver’s door open. In the light of the dome lamp, she watched Hank’s eyes become fixed and the blood drain away from the face at rest on her thighs. His cheeks, marred by the scratches she inflicted and scars from his life of abuse, were left a sallow hue. She knew he was gone and a lone tear coursed down her swollen, blackened cheek.
Not only had she taken a life but her fate was now sealed.
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© Jearl Rugh 2012
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