Voila! The fourth installment of the story of Hell and Styx. Remember that these stories go out of order (the joy of lazy writers!!!). This one lands between #3 Dragons in Shining Armor and #1 The Funeral, with Hell age 17, attending her father’s funeral. If you’re new to this story, visit the page (in the upper right hand corner, also). To best understand this story, you should probably have read #2 Hell’s Childhood.
As always, this is a quick write. Tremendous apologies for typos or sentences that don’t make sense. The goal of this project is to haphazardly create a story by basically breaking every rule of let-your-story-sit-and-then-edit-it-5-million-times-and-then-maybe-find-one-beta-reader. This is my project. My rules.
Hell and Styx #4: Being Replaced
When Hell left purgatory, it wasn’t for a vacation.
Styx did everything he could to lift her spirits. He made them take a detour getting there and made sure they used their involuntary invisibility to the most humorous of advantages (making funny faces, jumping up and down in front of people like idiots) but he couldn’t do anything to make her feel better when they got there.
“I’ll wait outside?” he asked, hesitating on the doorstep.
Hell nodded, only half there, watching her Aunt Paige walk straight past them, never once noticing their presence, even when her purse slammed into—through—Hell’s shoulder. That was what being invisible meant. No sound. No visual—duh. Barely any physical presence. The bag felt a tiny bit of resistance before Hell’s body gave way for it.
She was no longer of this world, and no one of this world could see her.
“You can go,” Hell said, staring at the door. She hadn’t even heard his question enough to process the words.
Styx watched her, hating the deadness in her eyes, the defeated curl of her shoulders, the flat way her hair drooped around her face. Hell was supposed to be angry. She was so completely that emotion that Styx had forgotten she could be anything but the hard, strong, take-no-shit bitch he lived with.
But today, she was broken. And he didn’t know how to fix her.
“I’ll be close,” he promised, backing up awkwardly. Hell didn’t move, just staring at the door like it was the gate into her own personal hell. Styx leaned forward and touched her elbow.
She jerked away. “Go away,” she snarled, but there was none of her trademark fire behind the words. She could still make her face into a black glare but it was a mask.
Styx obliged, hating himself for abandoning her, half-heartedly comforting himself with that last glare. Maybe she was still in there. Maybe this hadn’t killed her.
Hell listened for Styx’s footsteps’ retreat, louder than even the nearby sounds. That was how this worked. Hell and Styx were on a different radio frequency, and even if they brought themselves to this world, they couldn’t fully join it.
When Styx was gone, Hell squared her shoulders, walked through the door and into her childhood home to attend her father’s funeral.
He hadn’t been a good man, but he hadn’t been a bad man. He was a coward, but he wasn’t cruel. He was weak, but that wasn’t a horrible trait in a single father. He was Styx’s trouble. Hell wasn’t here for his soul. She was here as his daughter, to say goodbye to the last thing connecting her to who she used to be.
Hell disappeared when she was six, taken away by Styx to silence the voices in her head and fulfill her destiny as the gatekeeper of hell. That day, she left this world for purgatory, and she hadn’t been back to this house until today.
Hell assumed her father would have remembered her. He wouldn’t have put up a big fight to find her, that wasn’t his nature, but surely he would remember the daughter of a failed affair, the daughter he raised for six years?
Hell was not often wrong. But nobody’s perfect.
A woman stood sobbing in the middle of the room, the guests crowding around her, soft voices mourning for her loss—like it wasn’t Hell’s. And a little girl, maybe nine, maybe ten, stood next to her, shell-shocked and hollow. Hell saw her own pain in the girl’s unmoving figure—the pain of a daughter trying to understand that her father was simply gone.
A sense of wrongness washed over Hell like a premonition. Her brain was too scattered, too broken to process the information in front of her.
Hell turned to the wall, where pictures always hung, looking for some proof that she had existed here for six years, that she had disappeared from the world but not the world’s heart.
There were pictures. Her father had been a creature of habit, safe in his routine.
But Hell didn’t see herself.
She saw the little girl, smiling, waving, posing. Climbing the tree in the backyard Hell had never been tall enough to conquer. Holding hands with the strange woman and Hell’s father. Standing in front of Hell’s school with a backpack and a wary smile.
(Hell used to have a version of that photo. The first day of school. No one really smiles on the first day of school.)
There were pictures of the woman, too, of course. Photos that were obviously professionally done, that captured her oh-so-accidental smiles and photogenic poses. One maternity photo with Hell’s dad standing behind her, the light on both of their faces proving to the world that they were as in love as you can be. She was pretty, the kind of person who just looked nice, like anyone could be her friend.
The wrongness settled in Hell’s stomach and started to sour. Hell hated people like her. Happiness should not be so indelibly tied to some, when others had to corner situations in dark alleys and shake out their pockets, trying to dredge up a few scarps of contentment.
Her father was shown of course. Older than Hell had left him. He got glasses. His hair went gray.
Hell didn’t know what was worse: if the grayness was her fault, or if it wasn’t.
The pictures told a clear story: we are a family.
There were no pictures of Hell.
Hell knew she was invisible, but that was when she felt it.
Quick math flitted through Hell’s mind and she cursed the divine force that had gifted her with a brain for numbers.
Hell disappeared when she was six. Hell was now seventeen. That meant eleven years had passed.
Hell looked at the girl, her father’s daughter. She couldn’t be younger than nine.
Two years. It took less than two years for Hell’s father to forget about her and move on and replace her. To take down her pictures and start over.
In a fog, Hell went into the kitchen. The room was in the same place but the furniture was rearranged. A new, fancier fridge. A large, wooden table instead of the flimsy glass one Hell had done her homework on. (When Hell actually did her homework. By the time it was actually an issue, the voices were too loud for her to do much of anything except listen.) A painting hung over the sink. A woman’s touch was everywhere, smudging the familiar cobbled-together world Hell and her father had survived in.
Here was somewhere people lived, not survived. Ironic, that Hell only found this place because of a death.
Perversely curious and in the mood to torture herself, Hell inspected the front of the fridge. It was a collage of memories held in place by quirky magnets. Scribbled drawings gave way to more detailed ones, a testament to the little girl’s life. There were pictures of the girl with friends, on a field trip, at a birthday party. More pictures of the girl riding a horse, winning an award at school, wearing a glittering dress in front of a Christmas tree. A report card displayed a row of A’s.
Of course. Why remember the daughter that couldn’t pass first grade when daughter 2.0 will be valedictorian?
Hell started to shake, with rage, with grief. Her body wasn’t accustomed to emotions and didn’t know what to do with this flood.
A man in a suit strolled in, opened the fridge. The fridge door passed straight through Hell, hanging open with the quart of milk in her abdomen while the man searched for whatever the hell he needed. Oblivious to Hell’s presence, he found a pitcher of lemonade, closed the fridge, and left the room, bringing it into the living room.
Hell searched the entire house, passing through walls, dodging funeral attendees, for any evidence that her father ever thought of her at all.
She never found any.
She learned things she didn’t want to know, like that the woman’s name was Kristen and the little girl’s was Sarah and that Sarah was ten, not even nine, which left one year between Hell and her. As far as she could tell, Sarah didn’t know she had replaced anyone, didn’t know she was her father’s second try at having a child, that this was his second attempt to make a life work.
Congrats for him. He’d finally succeeded.
Hell knew she was being selfish. Sarah just lost her father, and Kristen her husband. Clearly the family wasn’t perfect, wasn’t anything to be longed for.
But dammit, Sarah got ten years with her father, and she had eighty more in front of her without him, and she got to go to school and make friends and ride horses and get good grades and be stressed about homework and someday have boyfriends and worry about college and the future.
Sarah had a future.
You know what Hell had? A little room over purgatory and a life of sending dead people to hell.
Hell hadn’t ever thought about dying, but now she had to wonder if she would ever end.
Well, of course. Hell hadn’t existed forever. Clearly someone had been Hell before Hell was Hell. Clearly someone would come after her.
And replace her.
That, it seemed, was Hell’s fate: to be replaced.
Loneliness crashed through Hell. She thought of Styx but jerked her thoughts away. Not him. Not now. She couldn’t risk thinking about the boy who tore her away from this world in case she ended up hating him.
Hell ran out of the house, rushing through people and objects, no one ever responding, reacting. She started crying, tears mixing with the anger in her stomach and lit a fire. It burned and Hell warmed her hands around it’s familiar warmth.
This. This anger was all there was keeping her whole. This was all Hell ever would be.
She knew where Styx would be and ran the other way, through the middle of the road, running faster and faster until she was flying, the world a blur around her. She lost control of her body and it rushed across the continent, across oceans, and back again, like a mad housecat. This was what happened when you weren’t quite a part of the world—it buckled around you, fluid and illogical.
As her energy withered, Hell slowed, realizing that she had no idea where she was, only that she was in the middle of a crowd, in a place she had never been. Was she still in America? Hell couldn’t tell. Didn’t know how to figure out what state she was in.
The crowd was actually a street, maybe a market, lots of venders selling knickknacks and foods. A farmer’s market, Hell thought. That made sense.
They didn’t see her. The fire spilled out of Hell and she turned violent. The games she’d played with Styx earlier today took on a morbid frustration. She jumped in front of people, yelling obscenities at them. She waved her hands above her head like she was drowning in the middle of an empty ocean. She grabbed at people, always going through them. She stood in the middle of the street and screamed like she was being murdered.
And the day went on around her, oblivious to her presence.
* * *
The priest stood in front of his church, listening to the girl scream. He watched her launch herself at people and fall through them. She waved her hands desperately in front of faces. But it was clear she knew no one could see her.
She was sobbing, but he doubted she even knew it. Anger was battling with grief and it thought it was winning. He wasn’t so sure.
The priest frowned, not sure what to do with the appearance of a girl he could see and no one else could. So he stood still and watched, waiting to see what would happen next.