By the time Brian got up and stayed up, the Demon had moved out of sight along a bend in the back of the room he'd not noticed before, but the soft voice in his head was as clear as ever.
'Welcome to the second level of Hell, the wonderful world of adultery! A sin that has lasted throughout the ages and has never lost one bit of it's deliciously rotten appeal, entrapping the master and the slave, men and women of all ages and heritageyou could say it is the one unifying quality in all of humanity, and truly worth a Hell all of it's own.'
Brian steadily advanced, trying to take in the scenery, and weary of any threats it might pose to his understanding of the laws of physics, or at least, to the way his body liked to think the laws of physics worked.
'You get paid extra to say that?'
The room now seemed quite happy with the shape it was in, and made no further attempts to alter its dimensions. Brian approached the bend, and started to turn left.
'It sounded like a load of horsecrap to me.'
'Actually, it has quite some truth to it. It seems not unreasonable to postulate that the true sin of man is that, since it is in his nature never to be content with his current state, he tries to cheat his way into eternal bliss with the cheap shots of fleeting happiness he derives from breaching the borders of normality as and when he perceives them. The thrill of realizing that everything might go horribly wrong at any moment must come as very relieving to a being who thrives upon stability and harmony.'
'Are all Demons walking textbooks?' Brian asked, rounding the corner.
'As much as all humans are clever.'
A short, narrowing hallway lead Brian into the second circle proper. It was . . . tiny. It couldn't have been larger than an average house, or at least one as showcased on feel-good sitcoms about your just as average suburban family.
'Well. No doubt you have a decent number of perverts to show me, garnished with the inevitable mind-boggling special effects and well written speeches on human morals! Let's have it!'
'I do know what sarcasm is, you know.'
'Good. I would hate to see it go to waste.'
Brian looked about the room for a pulsating orb, an Imp, a soul, anything that might have indicated activity, but there was only silence, and dark light. Bunu didn't seem to offer any guidance either, and he wasn't about to venture into a whole circle of hell on his own - it seemed folly enough when he had an invitation to, to do so of his own volition went more than a little too far. He kept peering into the void, where, after a while, he felt something was amiss, as if his eyes were playing tricks on him, but he couldn't put his finger on what exactly it was. Did it seem smaller? Warmer? There was still no change in the temperature he felt, but if someone had told him at that moment he was standing in 17,000 degrees worth of heat, he would have believed them.
He turned around, and saw that the hallway behind them had closed neatly, showing no sign of having ever existed. Brian didn't blame it a bit. He slowly turned back, intently studying the walls, and that's when he picked it up. Movement where there was none. The floor was doing . . . something. There was a definite pattern in it now, four large squares, which were being pushed up ever so slowly. There were no rips, no cracks, no sounds, just a change so gradual, that it actually defied the laws of evolution. As if the picture he was looking at was replaced every five minutes with an almost identical one, while the whole room kept breathing an air of eternity, ignoring pointedly that it had only existed in its current form for barely a few minutes.
It became clear that the floor was . . . growing . . . new rooms. These had totally transparent walls, but inside of them rippled the same darkness that hung in the circle. Now that Brian had discovered this process, it seemed to go even slower. Amusedly, he sat down.
'I wouldn't,' Bunu said immediately. Brian started and jumped to his feet. The Demon had been silent for so long, he'd almost forgotten about him.
'You might be mistaken for trash.' Bunu explained.
'By the imps?' Brian remembered, but Bunu did not answer. When he looked at the circle again, the rooms were complete. He knew they were, though there was no clear evidence for it. They just . . . were. Bunu moved to the closest room on their lefta small path had been left between the structures, conveniently extending from where they had entered. Inside of it, the darkness began to shiver and swirl, taking on the form of clouds of black and blue smoke. Bunu moved right up to the wall, and grunted something which threw the smoke into a frenzy of colours and shapes that took some time to settle down. The scene that was gradually disclosed was, in comparison with what Brian had witnessed in Hell up to this point, so vivid and colourful, he had to let it sink inin small, gradual drops.
The floor looked medieval, made of uneven dark brown wood with holes and curious marks in it. The walls were painted, perhaps, for their colour changed from a slightly lighter brown than the floor at the bottom to a bright yellow at the top, which just went up and out of sight. Geometrical shapes, sometimes of the most absurd complexity, ornamented the walls in glistening red strokes. There was no furniture, or none that had any recognizable roots in household carpentry, for there were two . . . devices . . . in the middle of the room, placed opposite to each other. The one on the left was easiest to identify as some kind of life-size wooden cross, though it did not seem to be crafted. It sort of extended from the floor, reaching up and splitting sideways like a branch off a perverted tree, skinned of its leaves, twigs and bark.
Facing the cross was a metal bed, tilted on its front legs so far it was almost vertical. It had no other support than the two pinpoints on the floor, like an elephant standing on its toes, but gravity apparently didn't mind. Everything about the bed was in a dull grey, even the silken sheets it was covered with, which contrasted vividly with the bare skin of the girl that lay upon . . .
'Hello!' Brian said, thinking out loud more than anything.
'Yes?' Bunu asked patiently, but his protégé did not elaborate on the comment, seeming rather engrossed in the torture of the soul there displayed.
Pale green eyes. Short red hair. Unusually white skin. Concentrate. Sleek figure. Adorable face with a longing look. Limber looking legs. Uh . . .
Quite young. Trusting smile. Intensely erect nipples.
Concentrate! Surrendering pose. Slim belly. Protruding hips. Arched feet.
Small hands with long, slender fingers reaching . . .
Is she actually touching . . .
'That's not the soul.'
'Uh? She is . . . n't?'
'No. It's not.'
Brian put his hand on the window that separated him
from the scene. It felt cold and liquid. He leaned forward.
'I eh. I thought I knew her. From somewhere.'
'An old girlfriend, perhaps?'
'Eh. Yeah. Way back. Very old. Yeah.'
'Ancient history? Brian?'
'Here. Let me help you.'
Brian leaned closer to the window, until his face was
only inches away from it.
'I want to hear her breathe...'
The girl disappeared. Brian stood baffled for a minute,
unable to keep his thoughts from wandering through parts of his mind he'd
been keeping under lock and key, for reasons long forgotten. He rested
his head next to his hand on the strange glass, and murmuredor rather,
moved his lips, for he made no real sound.
'What?' Bunu asked.
'I wrote her a poem.' Brian said, going silent again, trying to remember. 'I would throw my entire civilization at your feet, and still call you Queen of my Underworld, ravage and plunder you for your riches, replenish your vice with mine...'
'That doesn't seem all that nice a thing to say, if I'm any judge,' said Bunu after a while.
'No,' Brian replied, waking from the memory, 'no, perhaps
not.' He squinted and peered at something beyond the room, something very,
very far away. 'Then again, I'm not really sure she was all that nice
'This is multiple-eternity-torture,' Bunu said. 'It's
our latest in extensive punishmets.'
There were no nails, or straps, or any other devices
that kept the soul on the cross. There was no need for any, since he and
the cross were one, as if they had been carved from the same piece of
wood. Only his bald head was free, and it looked on fire with the strange
grey blood, which glowed almost purple under his dark skin as he furiously
tried to break away from the cross that was his own flesh, his very own
'What did he do?'
'Do? Not much. Let's say he had a hard time focusing
on the priorities in his life, like his marriage. His attention went rather
to the girl across the street, and to the many friends she had over on
slumber parties. He kept a rather interesting diary in which he crossed
his impeccable observations with large amounts of fever-driven imagination.
It served me well designing this punishment.'
'Really? He raped his neighbour's kid?'
'No, he longed to do so. And much more.'
'Then why is he here? Why is he in the multiple stuff?'
'Multiple-eternity-torture. It's really quite clever,
'I'm sure it is, but how...'
'Well, because time plays no part in the existence
of souls, or of Hellboth are said to be everlastingwe figured...'
'I ran this by my superior, and he proposed a few tests with temporal constructs. We knew how to loop and repeat endlessly, speed up and slow down, but to run two eternities simultaneously was based only on a purely conjectural non-linear timeframe. So I figured no timeframe would do, and programmed two separate punishments while disabling any and all temporal functions.'
'And this is...' Brian gestured at the scene in the room.
'One of them. You, of course, can only perceive a one way stream of time. Would you like to see the other one?' Bunu asked, and waved several armsthey were armsin an intricate dance at the room before Brian could protest. He slowly turned his head back to the glass. The girl had reappeared.
It was the girl. Or had been. It was . . . horrible. Her breasts, her belly, her neck were cracked and torn, puss was oozing from them, a vile bloodlike substance that squirted out of where her heart might have been, if there had been no nest of cockroaches lodged in her chest that swarmed all over her, over the bed, over the room. Her face was crusted and scaly, and Brian felt a wave of nausea as she ran her tongue across her infected lips and her rotten teeth, which cut into her flesh. She lay on the bed and grinned and writhed with pleasure, the roaches scurrying over her and through her, burrowing in her thighs and sides and tearing bits off her warm flesh . . . Oh God, they were everywhere. Everywhere.
Brian stood mesmerized, but trembling so violently inside he felt he was going to fall apart at any moment. Slowly, the room swirled, and was swallowed again in darkness, and sank into the ground. With the fading of the last glimpse of her infested bodya red, swollen hand grabbing hold of a nipple which was only barely still attached to the body, and tearing it offBrian snapped out of the spell, and landed with a smack on the floor a few yards back. He gasped for breath, a deep breath of whatever air Hell was filled with. It felt like he was sucking on chimney smoke, but he had never tasted anything sweeter. Dazed, he sat and waited for every part of his body to stop spinning in random directions.
'You should really get up.'
'I'm not sure if I can,' Brian murmured hoarsely.
'Does it feel as if you are still falling?'
'Yeah. I guess so. Falling in lots of directions.'
'You were almost caught in the punishment. You should really be careful about sympathising with the souls exhibited here. If I hadn't shut it down, you would have been trapped in there with him.'
Brian smacked his lips.
'Have you any idea how much paperwork that would have caused me?' Bunu said, moving towards him. Something grabbed him - a hand. Okay, a very, scaly hand. With really long nails. And little pins across the palm. A hand grabbed him by the neck, and picked him up. Swiftly, the coldness of the touch spread through his body, and steadied him. The hand lingered just a little, as if to make sure he wasn't going to fall down again, and then retracted. Brian stopped his own hand mid-air from reaching back and feeling his neck, and stared at where the punishment had disappeared.
'So, why is he being . . . tortured like that . . . if he never did anything?'
'The evil for which he is being held accountable is the evil of his soul, Brian, the essence that is undergoing the purging. I thought you'd know that by now. Hell has nothing to do with either actions or thoughts.'
'Uh . . . huh?'
'The shock you just experienced was graver than I thought. Perhaps we should quit this tour?'
'No. No. I'm just . . . I'll be ok. Really. You were
saying that . . . ' Brian squinted at the thoughts dancing in his head,
'that we are measured by our capacity for doing evil, not necessarily
by the evil we've done, is that it?'
'Oh,' Brian said, suddenly growing so sad he wanted
to sit down and cry, but a tingling sensation in his neck made him refrain
from that. Instead, he just swayed a little under the implications of
what Bunu had just told him.
'We're all going to Hell, aren't we?'