Hell and Styx #10!
I messed up and thought I had already posted this story before yesterday’s post, Hell and Styx #9. They don’t directly play off of each other (if you already read #9, you aren’t missing any major plot details) but I intended to have you guys read this one first. So if you haven’t read #9 yet, read this one, and then go back. I think it will set up the conflicts better.
(Sorry about that.)
This story takes place after H+S#3, when Hell has just turned fifteen and Styx is about seventeen, but before H+S#9. Having read Hell and Styx #2: Hell’s Childhood, would probably help understand some of the character conflicts mentioned.
Hell and Styx #10: What She Deserved
The little girl had done nothing wrong.
She was jumping on her trampoline and her dad went inside to get lemonade but she could see him through the window so she jumped just a little bit higher and waved her arms and shouted, “Daddy!” and he turned around to look and she reached toward him and lost her balance and looked at the ground as it rushed up toward her and snapped her neck.
She was five.
No one could be blamed for her death, though Styx knew that back on Earth it would be the dad who left her alone and the trampoline company that made a net so flimsy that it couldn’t survive the thunderstorms of the year before and said dad took it down because it was so uselessly shredded by the elements.
Styx didn’t care about blame. He had been down here long enough to stop caring about the why of a death. He found out the how with a simple touch and a pointed thought—all it took was contact with the soul’s persona and the intention to know how they died. Usually Styx avoided the knowledge. He could tell by looking at the person, by the brief touch of their soul against his aura, if they were his problem or Hell’s. Hell looked at more of the deaths, but that was who she was.
It was a perverse curiosity, sometimes. It was a morbid gratefulness often. It was a helpless urge other times. It was reflex the rest of the time.
What she saw she rarely said, but Styx learned to read her, and could tell how violent the death was by how pale she was as she shoved them into an eternity of violent punishment. He could tell if the person’s death was connected to their life of horrors by how forcefully she shoved them into her namesake.
Styx knew he had ended up with the better cards in this game. He got to deal with the nobodies. The people who weren’t good or bad. The majority of the population who did nothing but live. Of course they sinned. Everyone did at some point. And of course they did wonderful things. But the bad wasn’t enough to make them Hell’s issue and the good wasn’t good enough to warrant them an eternity in heaven—if that was anything more than a legend.
Styx had come to terms with it. He didn’t know where his souls went, but he knew about the myth around his namesake. The Greek underworld. One of the more ambiguous ones. Some torment, some palaces. Styx guessed that the reality was neither, closer to his purpose. His domain was an empty place, a barely conscious place, a vague life. Probably the most merciful. The souls hovered near death—the absoluteness of death, the real death, the death Hell and Styx both doubted existed. The end. Of thinking. Of being.
Styx was a mercy. The human life ended and they for the most part stayed dead, possibly no more alert or aware than a person on the twilight between dreams and reality. They were free.
He didn’t care how they died. They were here. They were over.
Sometimes, Styx could see their lives, too. And this little girl’s life was perfect. Innocent. Tea parties with stuffed animals and parents that loved her. Her father wasn’t a bad man, not at all. It was homemade lemonade and a freak accident caused by a little girl’s love for her father, her need to not even be separated from him for a minute.
This girl deserved heaven. She should have gotten to grow up.
Styx was tired of his job. He wanted a reason to keep going. He didn’t want to take this girl’s soul. He couldn’t. Hell would say he was being unreasonable, make a crack about therapy, but Styx didn’t think there was anything wrong with him for wanting there to be a kind side of death.
Styx didn’t know what heaven was, or if it even existed, or if it had a gatekeeper, like hell and the underworld did. He didn’t know how he should go about summoning Heaven.
So he did what he did best. Nothing. He waited to see what would happen.
The first day she was there, Hell said nothing. It wasn’t weird for Styx to take a little longer to get around to a peaceful soul when the chamber was crowded with large, confused adults.
Even on the second day, Hell allowed the girl to remain. Lots of people seemed to be dying on them and Styx could easily make a show of choosing others to push through the cracks before her.
But when the girl was still there, hovering at the edge of purgatory, watching with wide eyes, never saying anything, on the third day, Hell got angry.
She grabbed Styx’s arm and yanked him out of the chamber and up the staircase into their personal rooms, shoving him into the hallway when he was on the top stair. He winced as he tripped, remembering exactly how Hell spent her day.
“What the hell, Hell?”
“That girl. Why is she still here?” Hell’s face was red like her hair, angry.
Styx was never ready to deal with Hell’s anger. “She’s fine. There have been others, more pressing. I’ll get around to it.”
“There are barely any souls down there right now. How about we go down together and you show our guest to her eternity?”
Styx shook his head, searching for words to express his denial. He couldn’t. The girl didn’t deserve him. He couldn’t take her and kill her. That wasn’t his job—he couldn’t believe that. He had to believe that some people, the few great souls of the world, got a reward. If there was a punishment, there had to be a reward. And Styx was not that.
“You can’t do it, can you?” Hell asked. “You think she’s special.”
“She’s so young.” Styx didn’t want to tell Hell about the girl’s soul, so white, so pure, blinding like sun after an infinite night.
“I’ve taken those just a few years older.” Darkness crashed across Hell’s face. “You took me when I was just a year older.”
Always that little bit of blame in Hell’s voice. Always the reminder that Styx was the one that took her away from everything she had ever known to live a life in purgatory.
“You’re different.” It was true. Everything about Hell was the opposite of this girl. Hell was stuck in a black night, half by her own will. She had been raised in it. Who could fault her for reaching for the blanket that cocooned her since she lost her world?
Hell snorted. “Thanks. I hadn’t realized that one.”
“You know what I mean.”
The look on Hell’s face told Styx to back away from the subject of her and refocus on the intended purpose of the argument.
“She’s done nothing wrong.”
“Great. So I can’t take her. Who else could?” Hell made a show of exaggeratedly looking around the room. “Oh, look! Maybe you. You’re the only other person I see with keys out of this place. Use them.”
“Let her have a few more days.”
“What will change in a few more days?” Hell asked.
Styx stared at the floor. He wouldn’t voice his hopes. Not in front of Hell. Hell was the strong one, but she was also the one with the closed-off heart. Her heart’s armor was made of scars and she was too tired to risk feeling and getting another memento to remember it by.
“You think she deserves Heaven.”
It wasn’t a question. It was an accusation.
“If anyone deserves it—” he tried.
“Not her. You said it yourself. She hasn’t done anything. She’s five. She can go to your underworld. Don’t drag superstition into this mess.”
Styx didn’t bother correcting her misparroting of his words. She had a memory of granite. If she messed up his words, it was deliberate.
Hell went on. “You’ve sent good men to your world. You’ve let go of soldiers and heroes and saintly mothers. Why does this girl have to be different?”
“Have you touched her soul?” Styx asked quietly.
Hell paused, thrown off. “Of course not. She’s clearly yours.”
Styx forced a challenge into his gaze, knowing if he phrased this right Hell would listen. “Go down there and feel it and tell me I should damn her to an eternity with the rest of those gray, lumpy oatmeal souls.”
“You think it will change my mind?” Hell asked with the defiance of someone who has been promised the same result many times before and found herself sorely disappointed.
“Would I waste your precious time?”
His sardonic, mocking tone grated at Hell’s nerves. “Fine,” she said, stalking down the stairs. “If you’re wrong, I take her myself.”
Styx shuddered, unsure if this was a bet he was willing to take. Hell paused on the stairs and looked back, giving him a chance to refuse.
Styx shook himself, reminding himself of the few pieces of humanity he had seen in Hell. He remembered the girl he had transported here. The girl who laughed with him. The girl who made herself dresses and kept them in her closet but never wore them, who thought Styx hadn’t seen them the many times he’d visited her room.
There was a girl in there. There was a person underneath the armor. She had to be hard and strong and unfeeling—that was her purpose, as much as Styx’s was to be bland and wandering.
But she was human. She would touch the girl’s soul and she would know that she was pure, that she was good, that there were actually people who deserved a heaven.
Styx met her gaze and let her turn back around and stalk down the stairs.
“Where is she?” Hell asked, spinning around in the middle of the room, her gaze blocked by the hundreds of other souls who had died recently.
Styx looked to her corner, where she had spent the last three days.
She was gone.
“I don’t know,” he said.
They never found her.
Hell never spoke of it. Styx never brought it up. But it was there, a tiny hope in that place between death and hell, one star in an endless night.