And now to rewind for Hell and Styx #9…
As always, an explanation of what the heck this series of short stories is can be found on their page, which you can get to in the upper right hand corner.
Hope you enjoy!
Hell and Styx #9: Where Are You From?
It didn’t seem like Hell should have a lot of free time on her hands. She was charged with delivering souls to hell, and people just kept dying.
But purgatory was massive. The size of three or four ballrooms, it could easily accommodate a build up of souls if Hell needed a break—to think, to shower, to try to fall asleep.
It didn’t feel massive. It didn’t even feel big. To Hell, it was a cage, shrinking every day she spent in it. She had long since memorized every crack in the walls, the exact number of steps it took to haul a soul from one place to the nearest crack. She knew everything there was to know about purgatory, except anything that mattered. The why. The how. The who-designed-it and the where-is-it. The why-me and the why-not-someone-else.
But to make up for all those unknowns Hell’s mind obsessed over other details, memorizing and categorizing, until purgatory didn’t feel massive. It felt tiny. It was so known, so familiar, that Hell forgot how large it was, only seeing the fact that she had never left it, except to go to her room, or Styx’s, and weren’t they just another part of purgatory? It mocked her with its smallness, the ceiling lowering, the walls pressing in with every moment she spent in it.
And the souls with their slimy, tar-y blackness, that clung to her skin and made her feel like puking, like ripping off her skin would be the only way to be clean. So she shoved them into hell as fast as she could but a few screams escaped, sticking to the oily darkness, haunting her. The walls pressed closer and Hell needed to get out, get out of the pit of the dead.
Hell was fifteen and it had gotten so bad that she could only stay in purgatory for a few hours before she had to rush to her room. She only ever let herself have a few minutes, to catch her breath, to loosen the knot in her chest, to get the ringing screams out of her mind, before she went back.
Today, Hell let herself lie on her bed, staring at the ceiling. The lights in her room were off; that was how she liked to keep them. Purgatory was always bright, despite there being no source of light, besides the gray walls and abundance of the dead. After a minute, Hell sat up, grabbing a hair tie, and put her hair up, twisting to see the tiny mirror she hung to the right of her bed.
Even when all of her hair was pulled back and secured, Hell felt scattered. A drug cartel died that morning and she had had to grab each of them and shove them into hell. There souls were some of the worst she had touched in a while, and their deaths—violent, bloody, screaming, gunfire, and rage—replayed in her mind. She didn’t mean to see how they died, but she didn’t have enough self control to block it out.
Styx did, she knew.
But Styx didn’t have to fend off black, sludgy souls and he didn’t have to listen to the screams from hell as she shoved another person into its depths. Styx had more free time to build up his resistance.
“Fuck him,” Hell cursed, falling back onto her bed.
“Oh, is that how it is these days?”
Hell bolted upright, flying off her bed and into a defensive crouch. She stared at the intruder.
Blond hair, that awkward length between a buzzcut and…regular hair (Hell didn’t know the correct wording, and, wow, she didn’t care). Tall, taller than Styx, maybe six foot seven or eight. Pale skin and gray-green eyes. Dress pants and a white collared shirt rolled up to the elbows. Something like a smirk that made a face that could be incredibly attractive hideous.
Hell had never seen him before in her life.
Hell did not ask, “Who are you?”
She asked, “How did you get in here?” because he couldn’t answer it without giving away who she was, and she would get more information out of him without him noticing.
“I live here,” he said.
“You really don’t.”
“I do now.”
“Doesn’t work like that.” Hell clenched her fists, thinking back to the self-defense divine knowledge from a few years ago, gifted to her after a mob boss knocked her out when she tried to send him where he belonged. Since then, Hell had gotten very good at using it. She wondered if this guy had any idea.
He stuffed his hands in his pockets and shrugged helplessly. “It kinda does.”
God, that arrogance. Hell longed to rip it right off his face, but she wasn’t ready to give up on her vocal interrogation yet. “Sorry, did I take the No Assholes Allowed sign off my door? Let me just replace it and you can be on your way the hell out of here.”
And of all the things he could have done—
He laughed. “‘The hell out of here,’” he repeated to himself. “Wow you appreciate word play, don’t you, Hell?”
He probably expected Hell to freeze, to panic, to blurt out, “You know my name?”
Hell knew this, knew that he didn’t see her as a lethal weapon but as a little girl cowering from an intruder, and she decided to demonstrate that she wasn’t cowering, she was in attack mode. So she lunged forward, grabbing one of his arms and twisting it behind him, slamming her elbow into his throat and shoving him against her wall. With her other hand she grabbed his remaining arm and shoved it behind him, where the other one already was.
He gasped with pain, his eyes bugging as Hell slowly let him run out air. If he was a dead soul, he would pass out. They still had the same need for air that they did as humans. And if he was—by some far stretch of the possible—like Hell and Styx, he wouldn’t need much air to survive. And Hell knew exactly how much pressure to apply to keep death’s gatekeepers conscious.
(She had practiced on Styx a few years ago when he asked in a very crude way if her red hair was natural.)
The guy was an idiot.
He kept gasping for air like a human, even when he clearly did not lose consciousness. So he was clearly not a dead soul. But he was also…confused.
Finally, Hell settled on kneeing him in the crotch and backing up.
It took him a pathetically long time to recover.
If this was his new home, he seriously needed to get a higher pain tolerance. Like Styx.
Panic burst alive in Hell.
If this guy was here, and apparently moving in, then—was he Styx? Was he a new Styx? Was he replacing Styx?
No, no, no, no, no, no—
Styx had to be fine. Styx couldn’t be dead, or moved on, or whatever it was happened to Hell’s type when disappeared. But Hell didn’t know how any of this worked, and Styx was the only other gatekeeper she knew of, and if this guy was here—
“Are you Styx?”
The crumpled human form got in enough air to laugh and said, “No.”
“Then who are you?”
The guy had the nerve to smile arrogantly again and wink, as he said, “I’m Heaven.”