Hell and Styx #18: Promises

Finally, Hell and Styx #18! I know I’ve been really slow recently with writing these stories. I was on vacation. Also, I’m editing my novel, so I’ve got a lot on my plate right now.

I’ll try to write faster this week.

This one picks up right where H+S #17 left off. Still the Heaven plot line. This one is getting really long–sorry. You can find the rest of the series on the Hell and Styx page.

I hope you enjoy this one! Likes and comments are always welcome.

Hell and Styx #18: Promises

Hell didn’t like breaking promises. Just having enough contact with a person to make a promise was a major event in her life. It was Hell and Styx, alone, together, and if she promised him something, it would take a cosmic implosion for her to go back on her word.

But now there was Heaven, too, and Hell had promised him that she wouldn’t get distracted while she worked. She had wanted to make this promise and she wanted to keep this promise. Spare time was suddenly more valuable than it had ever been.

Hell ducked as the dead woman before her punched at her face. She shot her arm up and blocked the hit, using her other hand to wrench the offending arm behind her, forcing the woman to double over.

The woman elbowed Hell in the gut and Hell gave a faint gasp, annoyed at her distracted thoughts when her quarry slipped out of her grasp.

“Who the hell are you?” Hell asked, circling, looking for an opening, not really curious.

“You think only men can fight?”

Hell stopped and gaped at her. “What do you think I’m doing?”

The woman, thinking Hell had left her guard down, charged.

Hell had not.

Ducking down under the woman’s grasp and twisting behind her, Hell capitalized on the woman’s momentum and gave a small, directing shove. The next second, the woman disappeared, swallowed by the walls of purgatory.

Hell turned back to the ballroom to find Styx grinning. “Not your most graceful capture ever.”

Hell grinned back. “Shut up.”

Her promise flashed through her mind. I won’t get distracted.

She forced her face flat and turned to look for the next soul. She could feel Styx frowning at her back, but this was not something she would be explaining to him.

* * *

How had Hell never noticed how much Styx talked?

He never shut up.

If he wasn’t talking about the souls in purgatory he was poking fun at Hell’s work or making inane, random comments about food.

Hell realized, also, that she was usually chatting with him. Musing about the ballroom and laughing at her violence and agreeing that pizza was good no matter if it was chain restaurant crap or a luxury meal.

This went directly against her promise.

Which was problematic.

Hell had never considered that in making a promise to one boy in her life she could harm her relationship with the other boy in her life.

And for Hell, someone who had very few people in her life, severing ties was the last thing she wanted to do.

It was hard, weighing the promise of this new relationship with the steadfast sureness of her life with Styx. Hell had never considered having anything more than her friendship with Styx, but she was a beggar who was starving for affection who had been offered an invitation to a feast. She wasn’t stupid enough to refuse it, even if she was afraid of accepting it.

Everything was too new, too complicated to deal with. Hell felt herself channeling her frustration into her disposal of the souls around her. She let herself get into fights that weren’t necessary and drew them out longer than was her style. But every time a soul vanished through a crack in a wall, Styx would talk about it, so she put that off as long as possible.

But in protecting herself from one way of breaking her promise, she was again breaking the promise. The longer she toiled with the souls, the longer she was in the ballroom.

It wasn’t a surprise when she realized that she was avoiding dealing with Heaven as much as she was dealing with Styx. They were two sides of the same coin. The same problem, no answer.

With every blow Hell delivered and received, she felt as if she were waking from a dream, as if a haze were falling from her mind. Whatever last night with Heaven was—whatever this morning was—it didn’t work. At all. It wasn’t worth the confusion in Hell’s heart. It wasn’t worth breaking promises to keep others.

Hell was loyal to herself first. Save yourself first. Then deal with the rest of the world. You can’t do that if you aren’t alive.

That she could count Styx as someone she trusted enough to save him as well was something that never sat well with her. She never meant for him to enter that tight circle around her heart, but it happened, years ago, between the jokes and the shared duties. They were as close as siblings and closer. She’d never had to consider what that meant.

That Heaven had knocked on that circle around her heart and was loitering around the entrance was something Hell could not fathom and that she wanted to be rid of as much as she wanted to open the door, just to have one more person inside.

Hell delivered a roundhouse kick to the burly man in front of her, shoving him into her domain.

“What was he?” Styx asked, refusing to admit her stony silence.

Hell answered automatically. “Dirty cop.”

“You took your time with him.”

Hell glared. “He was putting up a fight.”

“And you were looking for one,” Styx muttered.

Hell pretended not to hear, looking for her next victim, afraid that Styx would be the next fight she’d find.

In between the next two souls, Hell’s mind wandered back to Heaven, plotting a trail that hadn’t existed a week ago.

Heaven wasn’t reliable. He hadn’t existed for Hell a week ago, and he had been gone for half of that. His obsession with the human world was more powerful than Hell’s hatred of the place.

How could anyone who liked to live invisible deal with the real world enough to be anything for Hell?

He said he wouldn’t vanish, but was he as loyal to his promises as Hell was to hers? She somehow doubted it, even if she wanted to believe it.

Enough of this. Hell slammed into a teenage boy reeking with the blackness of his soul, sending him headfirst into a portion of the wall that didn’t have a crack, then twisted him sideways, into a waiting opening. She got rid of three more souls before her brain could catch up. Adrenaline pulsed through her veins and her hands shook, looking for her thoughts next distraction.

Styx, watching Hell calmly, only asked, “Pancakes or waffles?”

Hell turned around to gape at the idiot. “Waffles,” she said, exasperated.

“Pancakes, waffles, or French toast?”

Hell glared. “We are not doing this right now.”

Styx shrugged, humming to himself as they both looked around the slimming crowd.

Hell’s fists clenched as the near silence drew on. “French toast,” she said, her jaw tight.

Styx smiled to himself but otherwise ignored Hell.

When Hell returned to the remaining souls in the room, it was with a cooler head, most of her blood lust gone, replaced with an itching need to confront Heaven.

What she would say, Hell didn’t know.

Hell and Styx #17: Distracted

I know it’s been a while, but here is Hell and Styx #17!

This one picks up where H+S #16 left off, after Hell and Heaven went to the human world. By now this plot line is really long, and I don’t want to repost all the links, so you can link to the rest of it from H+S #16 or from the Hell and Styx page.

Hell and Styx #17: Distracted

Styx woke up the next morning to find that the kitchen was back.

Purgatory couldn’t seem to decide if the gatekeepers needed a kitchen, making it appear and disappear at random. They rarely cooked, when meals could be produced by a simple thought; it was a luxury to have enough time to conjure specific ingredients and then manually combine them. It was more the presence of a shared, neutral room, not either of their bedrooms, that the kitchen seemed to symbolize.

Styx found the door at the lowest flight of stairs before the ballroom, leaning open halfheartedly. A prickling sensation crawled up his spine. Hell never did anything halfhearted unless she was extremely distracted. Doors were either wide open or closed. There was no in between.

But today there was, and Styx, who had noticed a distinct souring of Hell’s moods since Heaven up and left four days back, proceeded with caution, peering into the kitchen, wondering if he should abandon the whole endeavor and skip breakfast.

The thought of dealing Hell, after she had had a few gruesome deaths in her to add to her bad mood, dispelled that notion. Now was the best time to find out what was wrong, before it got any worse.

He steeled himself and entered the kitchen.

He stared for a moment at the scene before him, and then jerked back into the entranceway.

There wasn’t anything wrong. Not unless Hell disliked making out with Heaven, which it really didn’t appear she did.

Styx crept back in and stared at his best friend pushed up against a cabinet, wondering if he felt more like cursing or applauding. He’d seen this coming, of course. Since Heaven left, but really, since he showed up.

Hell meets Heaven—how could this not be the end result?

Styx backed away quietly, suddenly without any desire to eat. Finishing the descent into purgatory proper, Styx wondered if he would mind if Hell had to deal with a few murders’ murders today.

* * *

Hell would have given everything she had to keep every bad person on earth there one day longer. But the voices were already encroaching, whispering, like static from a radio turned all the way down. Purgatory used to leave her alone longer, but it had grown impatient in its old age. Having not dealt with any souls since before meeting Heaven last night, it had been half a day since she had dealt with any of the dead. Hell didn’t have to focus to feel how cramped the ballroom below was growing.

“I—I have to go,” she said, when the voices were louder than the pleasure of kissing and being kissed by Heaven.

Heaven leaned back to watch her face. “Is something wrong?”

“Just purgatory being chatty.” Hell pointed to her head and tried to laugh off her disquiet.

“You’ve haven’t been away a day!”

“Yeah, well, tell the dead guys that,” Hell said, ducking out of Heaven’s grasp and heading toward the door.

“Do you want me to come?”

Hell shrugged, not wanting to turn him down, but not wanting him to watch her work. “I’m going to be really busy.”

“Getting that,” Heaven muttered.

“I’ll get it over with quickly. I won’t get distracted.” Hell couldn’t understand what compelled her to promise that.

“Thank you.”

Hell nodded in response. “Look—do you want me to tell Styx that you’re back?”

Heaven blinked. “Why wouldn’t you?”

Hell crossed her arms, leaning against the doorway, kicking the door out of the way with her foot so it slammed against the wall. “Are you staying?”

Heaven gaped at Hell. “You’re asking me that question?”

“Better safe than sorry.” Hell gave a wry smile, but Heaven could tell she didn’t find any of this funny.

“Of course I’m staying. What was last night? You think I’m just going to leave after that?”

“The kissing and falling off a building? You got your rush. Are you going to go back to pining over Lily-what’s-her-name? Is the guilt going to stain your angelic soul?” Hell’s voice was laced with sarcasm.

“I’m over Lilith. I wouldn’t be kissing you if I weren’t.”

“Can you stop obsessing over the human world?”

Heaven glared. “What does that have to do with anything?”

“I. Live. Here. I can’t up and leave whenever I want to spend time with you. I’ve been gone barley twelve hours and the powers that be are already calling me back. I need you here, if this is every going to be anything.”

Heaven hadn’t meant to get angry, but the next minute, he was. “I like the human world, though, Hell. You can’t ask me to never go back because of your petty issues with it.”

Hell snorted at petty issues. “Fine. Visit your precious world. But if purgatory decides to remove your room, I’m not appealing their decision.”

“I won’t obsess.”

“You’d better not.”

“I’m really happy where I am,” Heaven said, forcing Hell to make eye contact with him. “Really happy.”

Hell knew what he was saying, but didn’t want to deal with it while she was still burning on anger. “I have to go to work.”

* * *

Hell watched Styx gently guide a grandmother through a crack, forcing her smile away as he turned around.

“The kitchen’s back.”

Styx raised his eyebrows. “I noticed.”

“Heaven’s—also back.”

Styx noted the flush creeping up Hell’s neck. “Must have just missed him.”

Hell wanted to tell him that she’d been to the human world. He had been badgering her for years over her irrational hatred of the place, and he would be proud that anyone had managed to convince her to go.

What else he would feel at the news, Hell decided she didn’t want to learn this early in the morning.

“Gotta shut the voices up,” she said with a tight-lipped smile.

Styx watched her weave her way through the crowd, abruptly noticing how packed the room was, wondering how distracted Heaven had kept her that the voices were chattering away.

 

Hell and Styx #16: Far From Normal

Hell and Styx #16!

Sorry I haven’t posted one of these in a while, I’ve been busy reading and enjoying summer (read: doing nothing).

This story continues (sort of resolves) the plot begun in H+S #9-#15 (skipping #10). These stories span Heaven’s appearance, his arguments with Hell, and the flashbacks detailing his past with Lilith. Links to those stories can be found on the Hell and Styx page, which also has a description of  what this series of stories is all about.

I’m experimenting with adding pictures. None of them are mine, just random ones I found online. Some of them should be pinned to my Hell and Styx Pinterest board. Don’t think of the pictures as exact images of what is happening, more abstract, to add to the aesthetic fo the story. Feel free to tell me what you think in the comments.

Enjoy! 🙂 Likes and comments are always open.

Hell and Styx #16: Far From Normal:

Heaven returned three days later.

His white shirt was coffee stained and he smelled like smoke and grease.

“What happened to you?” Hell asked.

“I tried to escape,” he said, a secret smirk pulling at his lips, but Hell didn’t get the reference.

Hell stood there, at the door to his room, staring at him, trying to decide whether she wanted to smile, because she had been right, and continue the argument, or ask why he had run away, and show sympathy she hadn’t intended to feel.

He beat her to it. “You were right.”

Hell didn’t smile. “About what?”

“I was…torturing myself. And I did love something—someone—in that world. But I think I’m ready for a break.”

Hell bit her tongue, not trusting herself to speak after that news.

“Can we—get out of here? I want to…show you the human world.”

Hell’s fists clenched, but she forced herself to think about the offer. Heaven had come back. He had come back to admit he was wrong, and to show her something.

“Why?” Hell asked.

“Because I want to.” Heaven said the words like they tasted bitter in his mouth, but Hell believed them.

Hell closed her eyes and felt below her, feeling for how many of her souls were in purgatory. A good number, not impossible if she started now. On a normal day, she never would have considered taking a break. She had only allowed herself a minute to check Heaven’s room.

But today wasn’t a normal day, because Heaven’s room hadn’t been empty.

“I’ll come.”

* * *

“Just, imagine being there. Your body will drift apart and then back together in the human world.” Heaven bit his lip, conflicted. “Here, hold my hand. I don’t want us separated. Geography can be a bit confusing, especially in the beginning.”

Hell suppressed a glare and took the hand he offered her. Then she closed her eyes, and tried to imagine being in the human world, where she had grown up.

A feeling of detachment washed over Hell and she felt weightless, like she was separating into random pieces. Then, as if gravity were compressing her back together, she reformed, solid again.

She opened her eyes. She was standing on a fire escape. She’d never been to this city before—it was all honking cars and flashing lights, tall buildings and bustling foot traffic.

“You wanted to show me this?”

“Not really. I just wanted you to…experience this.”

Heaven lead her over to the stairs, and they started descending. Hell stopped on the next landing and crossed her arms. “Why are we walking?”

“What?”

“We aren’t corporal, right? We can’t get hurt. We could just…jump.”

Heaven genuinely looked like the thought had never crossed his mind. “Uh…sure.” He lead her over to the railing, taking a few test swipes, running his hand through the metal. He quickly scanned the crowd below, though Hell couldn’t fathom what he was looking for. “Yeah, let’s try it.”

Hell smiled, enjoying herself for the first time. “Ladies first.” And then she calmly stepped off the platform.

It was a bizarre experience, falling without a real form. Gravity still worked. Ground was ground. But any other object was as bothersome as air, and Hell crashed through an awning and a restaurant table, before calmly landing on the ground. A rush of adrenaline hit her, leaving her gasping as Heaven appeared next to her, equally exhilarated.

“That was awesome.”

Hell nodded, catching her breath.

“Dinner?” Heaven asked, grandly gesturing to an open table in front of the restaurant they had just fallen into.

“Can we eat?”

“Just like in purgatory. Think and it shall appear.”

Sitting in chairs was difficult. They couldn’t pull them out, but once they actually sat in them, the universe recognized them as another surface to be made solid. Hell ended up with the corner of the table stuck painlessly into her chest, unable to back up her chair. Heaven had a potted fern drooping through his head.

“What will you be having tonight?” Heaven asked.

Hell closed her eyes and “ordered.” A second later, she was eating a gourmet fish stew in front of a simple, faded-paint cafe.

Heaven created a filet mignon, served with a mushroom risotto and caramelized onions.

 

They both got two bites into the meal before they burst out laughing at how ridiculous they were being.

“This is wonderful,” Hell said.

Heaven sliced his steak. “A step up from burgers and pizza, definitely.”

Pizza. Hell remembered a previous argument. “You know Styx and I aren’t involved or anything…right?”

Heaven grinned. “Any particular reason you thought I should be clear on that?”

Hell willed the blood rushing to her face to stop. “Just thought I’d finish that argument.”

“Nice to know anyway,” Heaven said with a wink.

Hell ate in silence, cursing her stupidity, barley tasting the tomato broth, which was the exact shade of her flaming cheeks.

“What’s your story?” Heaven asked.

Hell looked up sharply. “What do you mean?”

“What made you Hell?”

“My dad named me.”

“Not what I meant.”

Hell knew exactly what he meant, but she didn’t feel like talking about it. But she knew a bargaining chip when she saw one. “I’ll tell you mine if you tell me about that someone.”

Heaven glared, but agreed. “Fine.”

“I started hearing voices when I was five. The souls in hell, you know. Screaming. Trying to get my attention. When I was six Styx found me at school, asked me to come with him. I vanished and I’ve never been back.”

“Your parents?”

“Mom was out of the picture long before this. Dad had no idea what to do with me, so he did nothing. He’s still alive, I guess, probably wallowing away into nothingness. Probably over me being gone. He’s one of Styx’s, for sure, if you know what I mean.”

Heaven nodded. Styx sorted the souls that had done nothing good or bad with their lives, those who simply wandered through life toward an inevitable death.

“And then you just started sorting souls?”

“What else was I going to do?”

“They’re horrible—and you were six.”

“It’s funny that you think I haven’t realized any of this yet,” Hell snapped, her good mood souring.

“I’m sorry,” Heaven said, his eyes grabbing hers. “For everything.”

Hell nodded, accepting his apology. Heaven wasn’t jealous of Hell’s cosmic duty anymore.

Heaven blinked, then stared at the ceiling. “Her name was Lilith. We met by accident. She was—different. So damn tired of being normal, you know? It’s horrible. Everything we want, she despised. School. Jobs. Homework. Normal friendships.”

“She could see you?” Hell asked.

Heaven nodded, but it was clear he didn’t want to talk about it. “She knew I wasn’t normal. She wasn’t an idiot. But she liked it. I was exactly what she needed, she thought. She called me Risk.”

Heaven exhaled sharply, like he had cut himself on his words.

“You okay?”

He shook his head. “I’m fine.” He flexed and clenched his fists a few times. “I just wanted to be normal for once…you know? She was perfect. She could see me. We just walked around her town, and talked. Every night, for two weeks. Made inside jokes. Laughed. She told me secrets.”

Heaven’s speech got jerky, full of pauses, as if he was piecing together the most basic of details, cutting out huge swaths of emotion. “I didn’t know how bad it was getting. I knew she was trying to escape her life but I didn’t know that I was no longer enough. I learned later that she’d started taking risks. Jumping off of roofs. Running across train tracks. Anything that would get her a thrill.

“That’s what killed her. She tried to jump from just a bit too high. Didn’t land properly. Paramedics got to her too late.”

“And she went to purgatory?”

“Right. She was one of mine. She was calm, just leaning against the wall. She’d known it was coming…you know? So I kissed her…and let the wall take her.”

Hell stared at Heaven, chewing on her lip, unable to find the words to express what she was feeling. She finally tried, “I’m sorry,” but she knew it wasn’t enough.

Heaven laughed cruelly. “You know, I’ve been reliving those two weeks for a year and a half. You were right—I’m obsessed. But I’m so freaking tired of this shit. It’s over. It’s my fault, and her fault, and that stupid, boring town’s fault. It’s gravity’s fault. I just need it to be…over.”

Hell understood what tonight was, or at least what it needed to be: as far from normal as possible.

“You want dessert?” She made a massive slice of carrot cake appear in front of her, then raised her eyebrow at him that clearly said, “Your move.”

Heaven swept his hand across his face and forced a grin. A bowl of ice cream appeared on the table.

“That the best you can do?” Hell snapped her fingers and chocolate sauce drizzled itself over the ice cream. Whipped cream swirled itself atop the dish until you couldn’t see the ice cream below it. One cherry landed with a plunk on the top.

Heaven waved his hand and two milkshakes appeared, one Oreo, one strawberry.

Hell took a sip of the pink shake and created a strawberry shortcake that was a foot tall.

Heaven countered with a cheesecake the size of a deep-dish pizza, that balanced precariously halfway off the small table.

Hell conjured up a chocolate cake, then karate chopped it with a knife, revealing an oozing center of molten chocolate.

Heaven clapped and a massive scoop of vanilla ice cream dropped onto the steaming cake. A confetti of colorful sprinkles followed, covering everything on the table.

“I want to eat,” Hell said, allowing Heaven the minor victory.

“This is ridiculous,” Heaven said, mouth full of three different types of cake, ten minutes later. “We can’t eat all of this.”

“Admitting defeat?” Hell taunted.

Heaven smiled and glared, cutting himself another slice of cheesecake.

It took them an hour to polish off the desserts. Both of them were nauseas, but refusing to admit it to the other.

“Ooh, let’s be obnoxious!” Hell dragged Heaven through the table and into the crush of people on the sidewalk. She started jumping up and down in front of people, pulling grotesque faces. When they—of course—ignored her, she walked next to them, making rude speeches about human dignity. She was half a block away before Heaven joined in.

It was fun, being incorporeal. Heaven walked half a block overlaid on top of a grumpy fat man, while Hell walked beside his wife, saying random, suggestive words extremely loudly. Hell danced a jig in front of a liquor store. Heaven tapped random passersby on the shoulder, pretending to be an obnoxious pollster, asking questions such as, “How long have you been growing that nose hair? It’s impressive!” and “Did you know that your child has been screaming bloody murder for the past ten minutes?”

At one point, Hell create a water balloon and lobbed it at Heaven, who was busy harassing a old lady about her hair dresser.

And then it was war. Up and down fire escapes, through restaurants, at one point, even into a private bathroom, the two chased each other, hurling water balloons at each other. By the time they found themselves on the roof of a towering apartment building, they were both soaking.

They both stood on opposite ends of the roof, armed with balloons, arms cocked, ready.

“Truce?” Heaven called, taking a step forward, lowering his arm.

Hell shrugged, walking toward him. When they were ten feet apart, Hell threw her water balloon at his face. “K. Truce.”

Heaven dropped his off the side of the building. Smiling, Hell joined him on the edge. “This has been fun.”

“I’m glad you came.”

“I’m glad you came back.”

“Were you waiting up for me?”

“Of course not. I knew you were going to come back eventually.”

“Didn’t think I could stay away?”

“Knew you couldn’t.”

“Did you want me to?”

“Stay away or come back?”

“Whichever.”

Hell didn’t know when the two of them had gotten so close together, or the sun had set. But she knew what she wanted to do.

“Guess,” she said.

It wasn’t that she kissed him, or he kissed her. They kissed each other, each caught up in a rush of emotion that they’d never felt before.

Hell grinned. “Are we doing this?”

Heaven stared at this crazy redhead, who had convinced him to jump off a fire escape, eat a mountain of dessert, and then chased him all the way across the city with water balloons. She was the opposite of Lilith, but that didn’t even occur to him, because it was like Lilith had never existed, she was so far from his thoughts. “Yep.”

And the second time they kissed, they let themselves fall over the edge.

Hell and Styx #15: Remembering and Forgetting

Hell and Styx #15! This story finishes the flashback begun in H+S #13 and H+S #14, and ties back into the argument in H+S #12. If you’ve missed any of these stories, you probably want to go back and read them. For an explanation of what this series of stories is, you can go to the Hell and Styx page.

Hope you enjoy! Likes and comments are always open.

Hell and Styx #15: Remembering and Forgetting

“And then, he just left!” Hell spat, finishing her account of her latest argument with Heaven.

Styx shrugged. “You’ve been trying to get him to leave.”

“But—he just left.”

Styx knew Hell wasn’t about to admit that she wanted Heaven back. Even if it was only to finish their argument, it would be too big of a concession on Hell’s part to the person she had decided to hate.

“You were doing everything you could to ruin him. You knew exactly what you were doing, pushing his buttons. And every argument before that was just gathering information so you knew exactly what subtle allusions would press his buttons. You’ve been planning this since he showed up in purgatory and that fact that it succeeded should put you to peace. But if that’s impossible for you, then I guess…you could go try to find the guy.”

“In the human world?” Hell’s nose crinkled with disgust.

Styx shrugged, knowing Hell would never go along with it. “If you want to, you know, ‘finish your argument.’”

Hell’s mouth opened, but she clamped it shut and leaned back, crossing her arms over her chest. “He’ll come back.”

Styx almost laughed at the battle between Hell’s two stubbornness: to win every argument she started, and to never give Heaven any power over her.

* * *

Heaven liked his fire escape. As random places to brood went, it was one of the nicer ones he’d found over the years.

He didn’t let himself think about the room waiting for him in purgatory, or the fact that his newfound stubbornness could cause it to vanish again.

Lilith. Right, he was remembering Lilith.

There wasn’t much left, but he couldn’t slam on the breaks. It was a year and a half ago, but time hadn’t tarnished his memories, no matter how hard he’d tried to forget.

 

After that second night, Heaven stopped wondering if Lilith would be there, waiting for him. She always was.

They would walk and Lilith would do most of the talking and they always danced around the truth of Heaven. But Lilith was fine with that, because she was tired of how her boring life always chased her while she was trying to escape, and she found herself talking less and less as well, because why would she relive every detail of her six-periods-a-day high school life when she was on an adventure with the least normal guy she could imagine?

She kissed him the first time when they accidentally walked to her high school. It was the last place she wanted him to see—evidence that she was human, that she was normal, that there was no reason he should bother talking to her—so she…distracted him.

Heaven didn’t mind.

Looking back in those weeks the one thing that struck Heaven was how opposite they were. Lilith needed a break from the norm, but all Heaven wanted was to be normal for once. It was a cruel irony that what Heaven loved about her, she hated about herself, and what fascinated Lilith about Heaven was what Heaven was trying to forget.

But they made each other happy. It couldn’t last, and in their lengthening silences, they both seemed to realize it.

But Heaven was close to happy, and Lilith was as well. And that was enough.

And silences could be just as powerful as conversations.

 

Heaven took a sip of his coffee, trying to give himself a break. He knew what was coming. He knew what was going to happen next. He’d already lived through it. Why did he have to remember it?

 

It was only two weeks. That was what struck Heaven, when he realized it was over, when he pulled himself back from the blackest despair he’d ever felt.

He had only had two weeks with Lilith. But it was enough.

Enough that when she wasn’t there one day, it hurt. Enough that when she wasn’t near the café the second day, Heaven couldn’t breathe. Enough that Heaven ignored the pull of a soul, that promise of pure joy, to see if Lilith would show up on the third day, or the fourth.

She didn’t, and Heaven gave in, following the pull of the dead soul.

On some basic level, he knew who was waiting for him in purgatory. But he had been able to deny it for four days.

But he had to give up the ruse when he saw her, leaning against the wall of purgatory like it was the ice cream shop’s window, wearing her skinny jeans and her high school’s sweatshirt.

Even dead, she couldn’t escape that school.

Heaven didn’t want her to see him, but she did. Of course. That was how they began, so Heaven didn’t question the universe when that was how they ended, too.

She wasn’t shocked when their eyes met. Heaven could tell. She had known. She had heard his name and known that this was coming.

Heaven forced himself to walk over to her. “Lilith.”

Of all impossible things, she smiled. “Heaven.”

He looked at his feet. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be,” she said.

Heaven kept his arms firmly at his sides, afraid of knowing how she died.

“I thought of a nickname for you,” she said.

Heaven forced a grin. “What is it?”

“Risk. I think the best lives benefit from it.”

“Thanks.”

Lilith smiled.

Heaven felt her aura pulsing off her skin, a dead heartbeat. She was one of the good guys. She was his responsibility.

And he had a feeling he knew what had killed her.

He gently kissed her, letting her death wash through him. There was an edge, a fall, and an ending.

He was right. The danger of being tired of a safe life is that risk can kill. And Lilith had been addicted to risk.

Details of her life flickered through his mind, of the last week. There were train tracks and staircases and street lights. Every day, she pushed the limits. And every night, she saw him, what could have been her key out of normalcy, had he not been equally obsessed with being human.

She hadn’t wanted to die. She had just wanted to live.

He didn’t let the kiss end. He waited for the crack in the wall she was leaning against to open, and then he let her vanish.

Pain and loss berated the residual euphoria from her soul. Heaven felt Hell and Styx returning to the room and forced himself to leave.

Risk. That was a good name for him. No one should ever get too close.

* * *

Heaven finished his coffee. His mind reminded him of the weeks of pain, the shadow of an existence. But he was tired of remembering.

He was finally ready to forget.

Hell and Styx #14: Fairies and Bitter Coffee

First of all–it’s the last day of school!!!! Holy crap, I’m done.

Also–Hell and Styx #14! It’s a continuation of H+S #13, and if you want the timeline explained again, please go check out what I wrote for #13, because it is complicated and I don’t feel like going through that again.

Still a flashback. Still technically continuing the Heaven plot line of 9, 11, 12, and now 13. Some sense can be made of this series on the Hell and Styx page.

Hope you enjoy! Likes and comments are always open, and check out the new Hell and Styx Pinterest board.

Hell and Styx #14: Fairies and Bitter Coffee

Heaven sat down on a fire escape, happily invisible, a cup of coffee held between his knees, and watched a busy city wake up. The physics of the human world were strange for Heaven. He walked through objects but the floor was solid. He could walk up stairs but not knock on doors. He figured gravity had something to do with it, but there were never solid answers.

The coffee was the product of his imagination. All food in purgatory was—everything for the gatekeepers was. You need another room? Purgatory creates one. You want to eat pizza? It appears. You want to cook? A kitchen, ingredients, and—hopefully—some knowledge of what the heck you’re doing will appear.

He wasn’t sure if Hell or Styx ever came to the human world, but the rules were the same. He wanted a cup of black coffee to overpower the bitter loneliness in his mouth? Poof.

The choice of scenery was an unconscious effort to keep himself as far away from memories of Lilith as possible. But he couldn’t, and he kept remembering.

 

The next night, a year and a half ago, he chanced visiting the street again.

She was waiting for him in front of the café, perched on the sign he had knocked over the day before, in jeans and the same sweatshirt.

“Now you’re just showing off,” he said, stopping in front of her.

Lilith shook her head. “I was, but now I’m stuck and I think if I try to get down it’s totally going to undermine my illusion of gracefulness.”

She suddenly seemed to him like a fairy that hadn’t figured out how to use her wings yet without knocking other things over.

That was a person he could relate to.

“So, what? You’re just going so sit there all night?”

“Well, I sort of thought this guy was going to be nice to me and help me off,” she teased.

Heaven laughed and stepped closer and she wrapped her arms around his neck as he grabbed her waist and lifted her off. Her foot got tangled in the sign and they tripped, Heaven dropping her to keep from falling down. The sign fell over anyway.

Lilith took a step back and smoothed down her hair. “Well, that didn’t work.”

“I think the sign hates us.”

“Us? There’s no us. That sign was perfectly nice to me before you came along.”

And Heaven remembered Hell growling, “There’s no our work.” But the two girls were too different to exist in the same universe, so he went back to remembering Lilith.

“Have you thought of a nickname for me?” he asked.

“I haven’t. Everything I think of sounds…bad.”

“That’s okay. You don’t really know me yet.”

“Nope.” She looped her arm through his and started down the street, leading him away from his house. “At this point you’d probably be the Sign Murder or something.”

“That’s not very flattering.”

“I guess we have to get to know each other better.”

Heaven followed her through a sleeping town. He wasn’t sure where he was, some small town in the US. Geography wasn’t something he kept very close tabs on, as he could blink himself to wherever he wanted.

She talked about high school and complained about grades. She gossiped about the head football player and a creepy science teacher. Heaven just listened, closer to be a human had he’d been in years.

“You should meet my friends. They’d love you.” She grinned and admitted, “They aren’t every picky, to be honest. You’re cute, that’d be enough.”

Cute?

Heaven wrenched his mind away from her adjective and forced himself to say, “I’m not sure that’s a great idea. I’m not normal…”

She nodded, like she had expected his refusal. “I had a feeling.”

Heaven gently pulled his arm free from her embrace. “Look, Lilith. I’m not sure any of this is a good idea. I’m really not kidding when I say I’m not like you. I don’t know why this happened but it probably won’t keep happening.”

Lilith frowned at him. “You think I haven’t figured this out yet? You dress in suit shirts when its forty degrees outside and don’t have a jacket. You seem surprised whenever you touch something.”

Heaven stepped back, worried about how much she had figured out in such a short amount of time. He wasn’t ready for people to know him. He was here to be invisible, not…whatever this was.

“But that’s okay,” Lilith said. “I’m the girl that saw a random guy on the streets at ten o’clock at night and decided to start a conversation with him. I’m not normal and I’m probably not very smart, but I decided to talk to you, not the other way around. Just—remember that.”

Heaven blinked. “I won’t.”

And he never had.

 

Back in the present, his coffee was cold. A simple thought would warm it up again, but he didn’t. He thought about Hell’s words and decided she was wrong. It wasn’t torture to remember happiness, and it wasn’t torture to look for it again.

It was how Heaven dealt with a world without Lilith. He looked for more Liliths.

Hell and Styx #13: Lip Gloss and Pineapples

Ta-dah! Hell and Styx #13, where you get to see a snippet of Heaven’s past and how he ended up as who he is today. The flashback story will take a few more posts to finish, but this one introduces the plot line.

Technically, this story is a continuation of the running Hell and Styx plot line, starting up after Hell kicks Heaven out of purgatory in H+S #12. (If you are behind on the Heaven plot line, you should go back and reread stories #9, #11, and #12. For an explanation of what this series is, go to the Hell and Styx page, found in the top right corner.)

But here’s where it gets complicated. The flashback–which is most of the story–actually takes place a year and a half ago, around the time of H+S #10. (Don’t know how I’m going to deal with this on the H+S page, but that’s my problem, not yours.)

Maybe that made things a little clearer. Or not. It might be better explained in the actual story. So I’ll shut up and you should go read it already!

Likes and comments are always open. Also, check out Hell and Styx’s new Pinterest board.

Hell and Styx #13: Lip Gloss and Pineapples

Heaven let himself vanish from purgatory, drifting back to the human world, his atoms breaking apart and then calmly reassembling themselves in front of a yellowing yard. He ran his hand through his hair and opened the gate, pacing through the dying grass to stand on the front porch.

He took a deep breath and held it, reminding himself that Hell was right. He didn’t need to breathe. No one could see him. He was fake.

He wasn’t corporal, so he couldn’t knock. So he waited.

And he remembered.

He remembered a thin girl with blonde hair with a stubborn chin and a freckled, upturned nose. He remembered the sweatshirt with her high school’s mascot and the skinny jeans.

 

It was a year and a half ago.

Back when his obsession with the human world was simply habit, a part of himself he had forgotten to erase when he stopped being human.

He liked being invisible. He would walk empty streets, leaving no trace, touching nothing, completely unable to screw anything up.

It was 10:00 p.m. and Heaven was walking aimlessly down residential streets, turning onto a street of shops that all closed at five, lost in his thoughts. Yesterday, he went to purgatory to sort a soul, but he knew he wouldn’t need to go back for weeks. A nagging in his mind would alert him to the next soul of his, but they were rare.

Neither Hell nor Styx had seen him. That was by design. He didn’t want the responsibility of being friends, of having to wait around for a person to die on him while they tirelessly did their individual missions.

The little girl had gone with him with no complaint. She was intrigued but not particularly scared, as were most of his dead. Her soul was blinding and clean, and Heaven caught himself lingering, not willing to release his drug of choice when he wouldn’t get another hit for weeks.

Heaven was still remembering the pure rush of joy from the girl’s soul, wishing the world had more good people, and that they’d have shorter life spans, jealous of his counterparts, with their cornucopias of dead, when he saw her. She was alone, hair blown across her face by a vanished breeze, hands in her pockets, not afraid, not lonely. Heaven paused to watch her walk toward him, taking in the beauty of her simplicity. She stopped to look in the window of an ice cream shop, pressing her face against the glass, then laughed to herself, free to be happy in the silence.

Then she turned to keep walking, and froze.

Her eyes were green.

That was Heaven’s first thought.

But his second?

They were seeing him.

* * *

The girl wedged her hands back in her pockets and strode toward him. “Hey.”

“Hey,” Heaven said, more taken aback by her beauty than the obvious fact that she could see him.

She giggled, pausing beside him, waiting for him to fall into step with her.

His mind stuck somewhere between noticing her exact shade of lip gloss—light pink—and the fact that she could see him, did the only thing it could think off. It followed her.

“Aren’t you cold?” she asked, looking at his collared shirt and dress pants.

A breeze whipped by and Heaven realized—it was cold. Like, really cold. How had he never noticed before?

He shivered and she smirked. “So…what? Just came from a wedding? Going to prom…in November?”

Heaven looked down at his choice of attire, trying to remember when he had first decided to wear it. It was so many years ago he couldn’t remember the why. “Oh, no, this is just sort of how I dress. I guess it’s—weird.”

She smiled. “Nah, I like it. More interesting that a t-shirt and jeans, definitely.”

And suddenly, the original why didn’t matter, because Heaven knew he would never not dress like this again. “Thanks.”

Heaven was watching her face as they walked, but even if he had seen the sign outside the restaurant—declaring ALL ENTRES HALF PRICE ON TUESDAYS 3:00-6:00—he wouldn’t have avoided it.

But today, he should have. Because today, he crashed into it.

The sign collapsed against itself and clattered into the ground. Heaven jerked to the right, trying not to step on it, bumping into the girl’s sweatshirt. It was soft.

He was corporal.

The girl laughed. “Did the sign offend you?”

Heaven bent down to fix it, his hands cautiously touching the surface, afraid that they would lose their sudden solidity and fall straight through the board. “No…I was just distracted.”

“That’s okay. I’m a total klutz, too. All my friends know not to buy me anything fragile for my birthday. My mom doesn’t let me drink out of anything that isn’t plastic.”

Heaven laughed, and wondered if he could eat now that he was solid.

Wait—was he human?

Did this mean his duty was over?

Nostalgia swept through him like a draft, leaving him with the bitter taste of loneliness in his mouth.

“You okay?” she asked, noticing the change in his mood.

“Just reminded of something,” Heaven said, shaking his head to get the thoughts out.

The girl frowned, then exclaimed, “Pineapples.”

Despite himself, Heaven laughed. “What?”

“It’s a thing one of my friends does. When someone is sad, she yells out the first word that comes to mind. It’s so random and funny that it usually makes the person forget what they were upset about. Did it work?”

Heaven smiled. “Yeah, I think it did.”

“Good.”

They turned onto the same street Heaven had come from, and the girl slowed her pace. Heaven let her, understanding her need to preserve the night.

They walked in silence, until the girl stopped in front of a lawn. Even in the dark, Heaven could tell it was lush and green.

“This is my stop,” the girl said.

It was Heaven’s turn to awkwardly put his hands in his pockets. “It looks—nice.”

It looked human, was what Heaven wanted to say. It was normal, just like this girl, and tonight.

“Are we going to see each other again?” she asked.

Heaven grinned. “I think that could be arranged.”

“Good.” She stuck out her hand to shake. “I’m Lilith.”

Heaven shook her hand before saying, “I’m Heaven.”

Lilith laughed. “Wow…that’s—really girly.”

Heaven shrugged. “I had weird parents.”

“We’re going to need to get you a nickname,” Lilith promised.

“I’ll be around.”

And Lilith let herself into her house and Heaven left, walking straight through her trashcan left out on the street.

That was his first night with her.

 

Now, a year and a half later, Heaven stared at the door in front of him. He wasn’t in the mood.

Not while he was remembering a different yard, and a different girl.

There were houses all across the continent, all across the world, that Heaven could visit. Where he had friendships. Where he could live.

But tonight, he knew the truth: he was never more than a ghost.

And the only person he wanted to see was already gone.

Hell and Styx #12: Easy to Hate

Hell and Styx #12! It’s a dozen. (It’s the dozenth?)

School is finally ending (hello, finals) so my posts have been a bit sporadic. Apologies.

I think you’ll like this post. It’s insight into Hell and Heaven’s dynamic, and foreshadows some of the next posts I have planned.

It continues the plot line that has been running since Heaven’s arrival, which would be posts #9 and #11. If you haven’t read those, you probably want to catch up.

As always, an explanation of what the heck this series of short stories is can be found on the Hell and Styx page in the upper right hand corner.

Hope you enjoy! Likes and comments are always open. 🙂

Hell and Styx #12: Easy to Hate

Pretty much every conversation Hell and Heaven had over the next two weeks went like this:

“Why are you so [blank]?”

“Why are you so [opposite of blank]?”

And then it spiraled into an argument, which ended with Hell calling Heaven a perv.

 

When Heaven saw that Hell’s closet only contained variations on black pants and a unisex black or grey t-shirt:

“Why are you so opposed to dressing like a girl?”

Hell glared at his white shirt on freshly ironed dress pants look. “Why are you so obsessed with looking like a preppy jackass?”

“Just because you deal with death doesn’t mean you actually have to dress like the grim reaper.”

“At least then I’d be wearing a dress, right?”

“Not the kind of dress I want to see you in, Hell.”

“Perv.”

“Wimp.”

“Do you want me to sock you in the nuts again?”

 

When Heaven kept walking into objects because he was so accustomed to being incorporeal in the human world.

“Why do you spend so much time over there?”

“Why do you never spend any time there?”

“There’s nothing there for me.”

“How would you know? Have you ever been back?”

“Nope. And I’m proud of it. I don’t pine away for what can’t see me.”

“Don’t you?” Heaven asked, one eyebrow raised.

“Nope, but I’m not a perv.”

 

When the powers that be in purgatory decided to create a room for Heaven:

“Why do you have to be so…human?” Hell sneered, looking at his walls, covered in posters for movies and bands.

“Why do you have to hate everything from that world?”

“It’s done nothing but abandon me.”

“You left it! And you’ve never been back. How is that it’s fault?”

“I’m not human. You’re not either. What is it about you that makes you try to fit in with them? They can’t even see you!”

“You don’t know why I go back. You don’t know who I am.”

“Oh, the chickflick dialogue? We’re gonna fight like that? Can I play the my-father-never-loved me card?”

“How do you know mine did? How do you know I love anything about that place?”

“You loved something enough. Even though purgatory apparently thinks you’ll be moving in, you’re never here. I’m downstairs sorting souls and you just poof out of here to hang out where you’re invisible. Which is pretty pervy, if you ask me.”

“What about me makes you insist that I’m a perv?”

Hell gave him a cynical once-over. “You need me to answer that question?”

 

When Heaven walked in on Styx and Hell in Hell’s room, sharing a pizza.

“I know I’m new but could you put a sock on the door?”

Hell’s jaw dropped, pizza frozen halfway to her mouth. “We’re eating pizza.”

Yeah, you are.” Heaven bro-nodded to Styx. Styx just stared.

“Why are you so pervy?”

“Why are you so determined to call me that?”

“We are eating a pizza. Special divine delivery service from above. I know it’s not human but it’s enough for us.”

“Can I have a slice?”

“No.”

“Then you two are on a date.”

“Actually, it just means that you’re a jerk, and I don’t share the holy gift of pizza with people I hate.”

“Everything in this world is a divine gift. Don’t suddenly act like this is a big deal.”

“And ‘ungrateful’ goes on the list of adjectives to describe our newest roomie.”

“Hell, they invented the word ‘cynic’ to describe you.”

“Not even close to the worst insult we’ve come up with for you,” Styx said casually, speaking for the first time.

Heaven waved him off. “I’m fighting your girl.”

“I’d work on your pronoun use if you value the ability to eat pizza,” Hell threatened.

“Or really anything,” Styx added.

The two shared a grin, smug in their rebuttal of Heaven’s entirety. Heaven gaped at the couple and left the room.

 

“Why do you hate me?” Heaven asked Hell.

“You’re really easy to hate.”

“But why?”

“Because you get an easy life. You get to sort awesome, pure, euphoric souls. And chill out in the human world. Which is weird, but whatever. You get to stroll in here ten years late and act like we should love you for no apparent reason. I can’t do that.”

“My life isn’t as easy as you think it is.” But for once, his tone wasn’t defensive or hostile.

“Well, duh. We’re death deities, even if you get to play God. You’ve clearly got issues I don’t even want to get into. The perviness, for one.” Heaven started to interject but Hell held up a finger. “And other, realer issues. I’m sure you’ve got your fair share of abandonment issues and random dependencies.”

“Thank you,” Heaven said, nodding his head, accepting Hell’s understanding without a fight.

“However,” Hell said, and Heaven regretted his decision to be civil. “Your issues—they’re your fault. I’m trying to heal, okay? I’m living my life in purgatory and trying to forget what I’ve lost. You’re torturing yourself. You’re throwing yourself day-in and day-out into a world that just wants to rip out your soul and spit you back into this hellhole. Don’t endure Prometheus’s punishment when you haven’t done anything heroic. Why would you put yourself through that?”

“It’s not like that—”

“Oh, no, I’m sure you’ve got real issues, too. But you’re hiding the PTSD and the hurt and whatever the else I could relate to under this obsession with the human world. You’re avoiding the truth by torturing yourself.

“I have enough pain, without intentionally hurting myself. It is despicable that you would do this to yourself. Either ask for help, or leave. Say what you want about me, but I don’t hide. And while you childishly refuse to face anything actually existing in our world, I can’t be around you.”

Heaven’s spine was painfully straight. He forced himself to adjust his cuffs, calmly, preparing to say the words he never wanted to have to say.

“Then, goodbye.”

Hell and Styx #11: Lucky

Et voila! Hell and Styx #11!

This one is picks up right after the ending of H+S#9: Where Are You From?. If you haven’t read it, go back and read, possibly with H+S #10 first (sorry, my posting order got screwed up).

Enjoy! Comments and likes are always open.

Hell and Styx #11: Lucky

“Well, you’re everything I imagined,” Hell said.

Heaven laughed. “I know, right?”

“As in, you look like a complete, arrogant, too-good-for-the-rest-of-us jackass. Which is, you know, the impression I’ve always gotten from you, when I tried to imagine what kind of bastard would leave Styx and I alone in purgatory while you enjoy your blissfully rewarding existence.”

“You don’t pull any punches, do you?”

“Would’ve thought I’d already demonstrated that.”

Heaven winced at the fresh reminder of the kick his crotch had just received, but he covered it up with more bluster. “And would you like to hear my first impression of you?”

Hell turned her back on him, casually strolling out of the room. “Nope.”

At the staircase, Hell shouted, “Styx!” and then leaned against the hallway wall, tapping her foot impatiently.

A full minute later, Styx appeared in the staircase. “Yeah?” he asked.

“There’s a thing.”

(Neither of them knew how often this phrase would slip into their vernacular in the coming years, or how much dread it would come to inspire.)

It was at that moment that Heaven followed Hell out of her room, pompous smirk reaffixed, to say, “A sassy little girl trying to hide up her dependency on the people around her with self-imposed loneliness in the name of being ‘strong’.”

Styx gaped at Heaven. Heaven ignored him, staring straight at Hell. “That was my first impression of you.”

Styx glanced at Hell, trying to piece through the echo of a conversation, the forced plainness on her face, the charged hunger of her muscles. “Heaven, I presume?” Styx asked, extending his hand.

Heaven frowned at the quick deduction but accepted the hand shake. “Styx.”

Styx took a step closer to Hell, staying parallel with her in the hopes of conveying that they were equals, of showing the intruder that Hell was not a little girl trying to be strong but a strong girl wishing to be little again. From Heaven’s smirk, he didn’t get it.

“And now your protector has shown up. No need to fight dirty anymore.”

Hell wanted nothing more than to spring forward and point out to him that she wasn’t fighting dirty, she was fighting with some of the most specialized forms of martial arts from history.

But he wanted a reaction, so it was exactly what she wouldn’t give him.

If Hell was anything more than she was violent, it was stubborn. “Dirty is what the losing side calls any fight.”

Styx gave Hell a playful frown. “Did you kick him in the crotch?”

“You know me so well.” The two shared a mischievous smile and swayed toward each other, tapping shoulders in a practiced gesture of friendship.

Heaven stared between the two of them like a toddler trying to stay calm after a parent stole away a toy.

Hell turned to Styx. “How bad is it down there?”

“Crowded. You should probably get back.,” he replied with a sympathetic shrug. “I was just about to come get you.”

“Yeah.” Hell gave Heaven a distracted half-wave and disappeared down the staircase.

Styx wordlessly followed, eager to see how Heaven would react to the only two people in the universe who didn’t care to get to know him.

* * *

Purgatory had a sick, evil feeling when Hell returned to it. She took a deep breath of the toxic air, centering herself.

Then she did her job.

It was a day of horrible people and horrible deaths. Hell grabbed, shoved, kicked, elbowed, headbutted, and forced souls into her personal domain, taking out her frustration with Heaven on the dead. The blackness of the souls leeched into her, but she ignored it, pushing through the crowds to find the next soul. She didn’t let herself stop and think. She worked until only Styx’s souls remained, and even then she stayed in purgatory, leaning against the wall, trying to catch her breath.

Then she went upstairs, waving goodbye to Styx as she left purgatory, to go to her room, praying that Heaven was gone with a passion almost approaching religion.

Heaven was waiting for her in her room, grinning. “It’s wonderful, isn’t it?”

Hell started, then cursed herself for showing weakness. “What is?” she growled.

“Our work. It’s so fulfilling. So spiritual.”

Hell gaped at Heaven. “Our work? There is no our work. There’s my work and there’s your ‘work’ and they aren’t even sort of in the same universe.”

“We both take souls.”

“Is that right? Then how come you’re never around here?”

“I prefer to work on Earth.”

“And that works cuz you sort, like, twenty souls a year. I just sorted a hundred souls in a few hours.” The great disparity between the number of good people in the world and the number of bad was something the keeper of angels didn’t seem to dwell on.

“I guess you got the better end of the bargain.” A hint of jealousy burned in the corner of his eyes.

Of course. If evil souls felt like tar and blackness, then good souls had to feel like light and joy, Hell realized. Souls were a grayscale and Hell, Styx, and Heaven were assigned different portions of the gradient.

And then she realized another thing:

Heaven hadn’t figured out her side of it.

“You clueless bastard,” Hell snarled, grabbing his wrist and yanking him down the stairs, into the confines of purgatory. She scanned the crowd for the blackest soul, focusing on the minute buzzes of grayness or blackness each soul emitted.

Minutes ago, there were none. Already there were a dozen of rank, dark auras oozing out of souls. Hell selected a hefty, glaring, muscled guy in the corner. Her highly trained skin could feel his blackness from yards away. She dragged Heaven over, careful to accidentally tighten her grip on his wrist to a painful extent.

They stopped a few feet from the man. Hell pegged him as a hired goon, probably a security guard with a vague and morally flexible job description. By no means the worst soul she would come into contact with in her life, let alone in a given day. Hell dropped Heaven’s hand and turned to face him. “You think I’m lucky?”

Heaven rubbed the blood back into his hand. “Yes.”

“Try taking his soul,” Hell dared.

Heaven gave the guy a once-over. “He’s yours.”

“I know that. But if I’m so damn lucky, try taking him, just for kicks. Get a taste of my daily life.”

“That’s pointless. You know purgatory won’t let me take him.”

“Just touch the bastard’s soul.” Hell feigned a lunge, making Heaven flinch.

“Fine.”

Heaven straightened his tie, pushed up his shirtsleeves a few inches, and grabbed the man’s hand.

Hell leapt forward, latching her hands around both of the men’s wrists, keeping them together.

The effect was immediate. Heaven shuddered and convulsed, his face pinching with disgust. The longer he held on, the less strength he had, until he wasn’t fighting the contact, just whimpering and moaning.

Satisfied, Hell dropped her hands. Heaven stumbled backwards, gagging, shaking his hand as if he could get the residue off.

Hell smirked. It was never that easy.

Then she manhandled the guy into through a portal, a maneuver that required what Heaven would deem ‘fighting dirty.’

Heaven was still dry heaving when she was finished.

“Yeah. I’m incredibly lucky.”

Hell and Styx #10: What She Deserved

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.

 

Hell and Styx #9: Where Are You From?

And now to rewind for Hell and Styx #9…

This story takes place when Hell is fifteen (almost 16), between H+S #3 (Dragons in Shining Armor) and the Wainscott plot line (H+S 4567, and 8).

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.

Styx.

Oh shit.

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.”