Hell and Styx #5! Can I get a whoop-whoop!?
This one takes place immediately after H+S #4, which ended with an old man seeing Hell as she ran from her father’s funeral in the middle of a complete mental breakdown. Here is the story of her first meeting with the old man, Wainscott. The next few stories I post will probably be sequential installments of this meeting and the subsequent plot lines.
Hell and Styx #5: From Invisible…
Hell couldn’t remember the last time she cried.
She knew she had before, many times. No one goes to purgatory and takes over hell and loses everything she had every known without crying. Not even Hell could deny that her eyes had tear ducts.
But this wasn’t a lone tear sneaking past the gatekeepers late at night and wandering down her cheek, soaked in melancholy. These weren’t the violent tears of a girl tired of existing for eleven years with only dead people for company.
These were angry, hot, painful sobs. These came so fast Hell didn’t notice them until she swiped at her face and found an ocean spilled across her cheeks.
She didn’t know where she was. A market. Somewhere. People were speaking English in American accents. People were selling basically everything you could sell at a farmer’s market: jars of honey, ripe vegetables, art prints, glass jewelry, loaves of bread.
She was alone. She was invisible. She needed to think.
She stopped moving, grabbed her anger, which had spread out around her uncontrolled, and dragging it back inside of her. She held her arms close by her sides, a self-imposed straight-jacket. Taking deep breaths, she mastered herself. The fire inside her quieted, never gone. Hell doubted anything else in her world could ever extinguish it. Her father’s death had—but it had also provided infinite kindling.
Sarah, with her blonde hair and quiet, tear-stained eyes and her grief standing next to her mother. And her mother with that same hair—in the moment, at the funeral, these details hadn’t registered, but now they were swarming Hell, demanding attention—and those same eyes. Did either of them know Hell had ever existed? Did either of them know they were replacements?
Did they care?
It’s fine to be a replacement, when you get to take a person’s love and wrap it around you like a shawl and be safe in knowing that you won, you got your place.
It’s the person that gets replaced who has to be alone.
Hell thought about Styx, and realized something–
Her father. He was going to go to purgatory. It took a few days for souls to dissipate from this world and trickle into Hell’s, but her father had died two days ago, the knowledge of his death hitting Hell in the face like all of her other “divine wisdom.” Hell would need to get back to purgatory soon—already the voices were creeping into her mind, and she had only been gone a few hours—and he would be there, waiting for her.
Would he recognize her? Souls were essentially the people they had been, capable of speech and movement.
But Hell had aged eleven years since she was his daughter, and lost her youth and innocence to the fires of hell, and he had moved on without her. They were strangers in every sense of the word accept for the truth: they were daughter and father.
Hell couldn’t take it. She needed Styx to do this for her. She needed Styx to take her father’s soul before he ever got to purgatory, to keep Hell safe. She needed Styx, because she could never take her father’s soul, even if he had been the worst man alive.
He had betrayed her.
But Hell couldn’t find it within herself to condemn a man for living. Not when she was dying to have that chance.
God. What is wrong with me? Hell wondered. She was mad. She had the right to be mad.
But really, she was just sad. The anger was gone but the tears wouldn’t stop falling. Even when Hell’s breathing was back to normal, her cheeks were wet, like her tear ducts had had dams and the events of the funeral had shattered them.
Hell held her arms to herself and shook, trying to think. Trying to use logic to make the world into two dimensions. Three was too many. She needed this world to be flat, like a map, so she could find her way home. She needed to find Styx.
Hell closed her eyes, centering herself. The voices—the souls in purgatory, impatient to be sorted—were only white noise for now. She settled into it, finding a comfort in their familiarity. She could feel purgatory calling to her, a yearning deep in the base of her spine, not pulling her in a specific direction, just away. She didn’t need to go somewhere to get back to purgatory; it couldn’t direct her to any route. It was another universe—a compass couldn’t express it’s location in regards to this dimension. A thought alone could take her back—the intent to be back. That was all it took. No ruby slippers required, she thought wryly.
Hell had the thought on the tip of her tongue—sort of…she didn’t know how to describe the difference between a random thought and intent—but she held it in. She felt like there was something she was missing. Something was about to happen.
Puzzled, Hell opened her eyes, pivoting around slowly, searching the market for answers. Nothing. Turn. Nothing. Turn. Nothing. Turn.
An old man standing on the steps of a church made eye contact with her, his eyes widening slightly when they took in her face full on. Then he slowly held his hand up in greeting.
Hell blinked, looking around. No one was next to her. She looked back at the man and pointed to herself.
He could see her.
* * *
Hell stalked over to him, breaking into a run in her impatience. When she reached the steps up to the church she lunged, grabbing at his collar—
And touching it.
Hell jerked back as if flame-bitten, cursing with a sailor’s dexterity.
The old man tried to smother his smile. “Who are you?” he asked.
“Better question—who the hell are you?” Hell asked. “Are you from—my place, too?”
He raised an eyebrow. “I don’t know where your place is.”
A woman with a toddler in her arms hustled up the steps, waving a quick hello to the man, never seeing Hell.
Hell backed up another step. “They can see you?”
“I’m human,” he said humbly, clearly aware that she was not.
Hell’s face flamed as she remembered her complete mental breakdown and realized he had seen it.
The old man’s mouth quirked again. “We should probably talk.”
“Yeah,” Hell said, aware that he was currently talking to air as far as an average observer was concerned.
“Follow me,” the man said, walking up toward the church.
Hell stopped on the threshold. Faith was a murky area for her at best, and she was not at her best right then. The arching double doors—ornate and aged, Hell realized, suddenly aware that this church was a sacred relic, not just some recent construction project—taunted Hell, whispering her name. Maybe that was the voices. Hell had lost track.
Because she was hell. The opposite of faith. And even if this man could see her, that didn’t mean the universe was splurging on miracles.
The old man watched terror and anger dance a frantic waltz across the girl’s face. After watching her contain her emotions in the street, the old man was surprised to see her poker face drop when confronted with a church’s door. She didn’t seem the type to reveal much, but here she was, an open book.
She seemed to catch herself, conscious of her face’s betrayal, and a cold mask dropped between the two of them, closing her off.
“What’s your name?” she asked.
“Daniel Wainscott.” He held out his hand to shake. “Father Wainscott, here.”
Hell, who had inadvertently held out her hand to accept his, pulled back. “You’re a priest? Here?”
“Fifty years and counting.”
Hell’s face scrunched with displeasure. “God, you’re old. And white. I mean, Daniel Wainscott? Can I say snooty rich guy?”
The priest’s jaw clenched in an effort at civility. “Do you want to talk inside?”
Hell stared at the church, weighing the tugging force of purgatory with the fear-slash-hope in her gut from the idea of a holy place. Finally she sighed and said, “Fine.”
She stepped across the threshold like it was any other door, and Wainscott pretended not to notice the relief on her face.
to be continued…
The next story will come out soon and start where this one ended. Hope you enjoyed this one and look forward to the next one. 🙂