I expected what anyone else in my place would; fire, ash, brimstone, and eternal torture. We’re only told about this place from our archaic holy books, written by people who have obviously never been there before, who really had no idea whatsoever. Were the depictions accurate or was it even worse, somehow, in some incomprehensible way? An existential question I didn’t have the answer to at that time.
My time with the judges was brief, but it is better to rip off the bandage fast, isn’t it? They had thoroughly terrified me when they damned me to Hell. Needless to say, I was more than surprised when I got there and saw what truly awaited me.
I found myself squinting my eyes because of the intense white light that surrounded me from all directions. I could see nothing around me, no distinguishable features to make out of the empty whiteness. There was no sky or ground, which was disorienting, and I appeared to be alone. “Where am I?” I asked quietly to no one in particular.
I was surprised when a voice answered me, seeming to come from everywhere and nowhere, deep and powerful, yet soft and ethereal. I was unable to determine if it belonged to a man or woman, as I pinpointed two bright oval-shaped sources of light in the distance. “Heaven, I suppose you could say, but not for long,” they spoke with a grim tone.
“What do you mean?” I asked nervously, already knowing without a doubt that I was, in fact, dead. I wasn’t going to wake up in a hospital bed or to someone attempting to resuscitate me. I wasn’t going to be saved.
A second voice chimed in, slightly different than the first, and I was unable to determine if this one was male or female as well. “This is the Pale, an area outside of Heaven, reserved for souls of your… nature.” Their pause and the way they enunciated the word sounded negative.
“Persephone Flemming, your actions in life have been weighed, and you are deemed unfit for Heaven. Therefore, you are being damned to Hell. This is unfortunate for your soul, but it cannot be changed. You have a few minutes before the next scheduled fall.”
“Such a pity, she was so close…”
“Wait, this is actually real? Heaven, Hell, the afterlife?” I laughed, even if it wasn’t funny. “Some kind of cosmic, ironic joke?”
“Yes, it is absolute.”
“There’s a literal fall? And you schedule it?” I asked when they started pushing me forward. To what, I didn’t know, because all I could see was a whiteness that felt almost surreal.
“Naturally. Haven’t you read any holy books whatsoever? They all incorporate the different planes of the afterlife in some way.”
The second voice again. “She probably hasn’t. I believe that was one of the lifestyle choices we weighed.”
They sounded so in control, so authoritative, that I couldn’t help but obey. Everything was telling me to listen to them. My body obeyed them without a conscious thought, but something in the back of my mind was telling me not to. Finally, I could start to see something, dark flecks in the distance that were growing into vague humanoid forms, a group of people just as confused as I was, but lulled into a false sense of security. None of them spoke or moved, standing as idle and lifeless as statues. Another part of me, my instincts, perhaps, was screaming at me to fight the beings at all costs, to get away. I finally found the strength to ask a question, “You are corralling us and going to slaughter us like animals?”
“No, of course not, you’re already dead.”
“This can’t be happening.” I turned around and tried to run back to wherever I had been, but something grabbed me and threw me back into the crowd of people that suddenly came back to life from their statue-like state and were instantaneously pissed off that I had bumped into them. They cursed and shoved me around, turbulent emotions resurfacing. After all, they were in the same boat as I was, and it was heading down. I launched myself forward once again blindly and tried to claw something, anything, to fight and get away, the fire in me fueled by desperation. My hands gripped fabric, my nails sinking into something more solid. I held on for dear life, figuratively speaking, as the judges tried to get me off. I screamed and fought as hard as I could, scratching and biting, not caring if I was making a scene.
I was blasted away by a force I couldn’t describe, almost like a very strong wind, and landed hard on my back as the voices boomed and echoed. “The fall is scheduled in less than a minute now. Persephone Flemming, you are damned. You are going to Hell and there is nothing that can be done now. You have been judged on your actions in your past life. Nothing can be changed about what you did in life and after this day, it no longer matters. As a result of your fruitless actions now, you are going to be the first of this group to fall.”
“This has never happened before,” the other one whispered quickly. “Should I add it to her file?”
“Yes, and quickly, maybe now she’ll be placed in Sector Violence.”
A quick moment passed, my heart pounded in fear despite it no longer giving me life. “Done.”
“Good. Farewell, Persephone Flemming. Enjoy your eternal damnation in Hell.”
Before I could get up and try to make another break for it, the ground opened up below me and I screamed as I felt my stomach drop before I did.
I was disoriented, spinning out of control and screaming in terror. The air was hard to catch with my lungs, even as it battered my face and ripped tears from my eyes. It was so cold that the tears crystallized before they had the chance to be ripped away, feeling as if pieces of my skin went with them. When I was flipped around, I saw other people starting to fall with me. The white blankness was replaced with a pure blue, which I fell through for quite some time and never ceased my screams. The smell of cold rain came thick and heavy as I saw that below the blue was a rolling sea of dark gray, which I fell into and was completely drenched in impossibly cold water that froze across my skin and covered me with a thin layer of ice. Loud booms reverberated in my bones, deafening but familiar. Lightning crackled and I felt my hair stand on end as it streaked near me and I narrowly avoided it. Next time, I wasn’t so lucky. The lightning hit me in my core and I spasmed, feeling the electricity surge with anguish through every fiber of my being and burn as it made its course back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.
Still, I continued falling. I flipped and faced upwards, hearing some people scream as they too were struck by lightning. I fell out of the dark storm clouds and thought the worst was over, but judging from the way the other damned souls’ screams increased in frequency and volume, I could safely assume it had just begun. I flipped myself over again and saw I was heading straight for a hurricane.
Suddenly and roughly, I was jerked to the right, slowing my rapid descent, and knew I had reached it. I was spun around and around, unable to catch my breath and repeatedly soaked through by water. Debris flew around me, bashing and impaling me several times, giving me wounds that shouldn’t be possible to stay conscious through. Slowly, we were still descending. I was whipped around and briefly faced below once again, expecting to find the ocean, but was greeted by a circular black hole water was falling into. It was total darkness, opposite from what I was introduced to immediately after my death, and looked completely terrifying.
I passed through the veil of darkness, automatically not being able to see the hurricane, and was accompanied by only my screams and the other souls’. In the darkness, I fell and fell.
What is this? Is this Hell?
Solid red appeared below me, coming up fast, and then I hit something hard and my vision was in darkness once again.
I was no longer falling when I regained consciousness, but it took me awhile before I could move. I felt my fingers twitch, my bones crack, and my eyelids open as I pushed myself up, finding myself covered in dust. I had been breathing it in for awhile and it now coated the inside of my lungs. I coughed violently, throwing myself onto all fours, my body’s natural reaction as it tried to expel what was in my lungs that shouldn’t be. As I wretched, I heard people around me doing the same, along with loud groans of pain that echoed several times. My body was sore, but I think the wounds I acquired during the fall had healed somehow. Voices and laughing could also be heard, somewhat far off. I sat back and wiped my eyes, trying to breathe and looking around to survey my surroundings. Along with the rest of the sinners, I was in a dimly lit cave-like room, complete with stalagmites and stalactites. It appeared to be a natural formation, everything made of rough, uneven red stone and only one exit, towards the far end of the cavern. Someone that was foolishly attempting to walk tripped and stumbled into me, falling onto the ground by my side.
“Watch where you’re walking.” I coughed, my voice extremely hoarse. It was rude, but Hell wasn’t a place known for its residents being polite. It was mainly a way to disguise my confusion and terror.
I was in Hell, damned to an eternity of torture and things just as bad. I racked my brain for every piece of information I had been told about it, which was ultimately just brief imaginings of hideous demons, horrifying torture techniques, and eternal flames. So far, nothing was quite like that, but I was still on edge. It was quite warm in here, but I didn’t know if it was the environment or because so many people were packed into a cave.
The young woman, who looked about my age, squinted at me, pulling herself up. “Hey, you’re that crazy bitch who attacked the judges, aren’t you?”
“So what if I am?”
“That was stupid reckless.” She shook her head.
“What were they gonna do? Kill me? Damn me in Hell for longer than an eternity?” I spat out more dust, the grit was awful. “I just wanted to get away.”
“Not sure where you planned on heading. Fugitive in Heaven? Can’t go back to life.” The young woman threw back her head and laughed. “I guess you’re right, Persephone, wasn’t it?”
“Most ironic name to be placed in Hell, second only to Lucifer, I’m sure.”
“I suppose I was always going to go to the Underworld one way or another.” I cracked a wry grin. “I guess I wanted to enjoy the part of living prior to damnation.”
She chuckled. “I think we all did. I’m Fia, which means flickering fire, also slightly ironic.”
I chuckled in return. She held out her hand and I eyeballed it before gingerly shaking it back. Suddenly, everyone in this cavern was starting to stand, so both Fia and I followed suit. Five individuals, two females and three males, that stood with an air of importance and dressed in nice clothes entered and looked at all of us while we stared at them. All of them were incredibly attractive.
“Ah, fresh souls. Their terror is intoxicating.” A male commented. “Small bunch today, huh?”
It didn’t look like a small to group to me. There were, at least, two hundred people.
A second male replied. “The judges must have been feeling lenient lately.”
One of the women, the one closest to our group, suddenly had a flickering board in her hand and her eyes flicked back and forth, appearing to be reading, but paused to call out. “We’re going to sort you into sectors now!”
Someone in my group yelled, “Where are we?”
The second woman rolled her eyes. “Hell, Hades, the Underworld, Helheim, Avici, Bardo, Naraka, whatever the kids are calling it these days.”
Another person joined in yelling questions. “What are sectors?”
Another. “Who are you?”
“Shut the fuck up and we’ll get to that.” She smiled kindly. “I am Lucielle, Lady of Sector Pride. All of us,” she motioned to the four other people who had joined her, “are the Lords and Ladies of Hell. Each of us rules our own portion of Hell, which we call sectors, that are dedicated to a particular major sin. Once you’re sorted, your leader will explain the other dynamics of Hell to you. Now, may I get on or do I have to punish the both of you?” She paused and glanced down at her board. “Tyler Sherwin and George Hamilton? I’m sure you’d just love being punished here…”
They didn’t say anything.
“If anyone else speaks out of turn and interrupts Lady Lucielle, I’ll handle them.” The last male grinned in a terrifying manner, cracking his knuckles.
“As if I’d need your help, Luca.” She did not appear amused. She was incredibly intimidating, though in less obvious ways than bulging muscle, but had an air of maturity and regality about her. She had excellent posture and wore a pristine black pantsuit, how she didn’t get any dust on it, I had no idea, but maybe it was sheer force of will. Her red hair was pinned up in an elegant and tight up-do. Control freak? Probably. “Shall I sort the two trouble-makers first? Tyler Sherwin, your top sin had been determined as gluttony, so you’ll be joining Lord Lennox of Sector Gluttony. George Hamilton, your top sin has been determined as greed. You’ll be joining Lord Vincent of Sector Greed.”
Lucielle droned on, calling out names until it seemed like it would never end, but just listening made me wiser. I figured there were only five different sections of Hell, and each were pretty explanatory. I just worried about what would happen to me once I was sorted. I was anxious and terrified. What was my greatest sin?
“My, my, my, Luca. You’ve gained quite a few new psychopaths to add to your collection, even a couple serial killers. How exciting.” Lucielle showed her clipboard to Lord Luca, who raised an eyebrow as he read over whatever was on it. From what I gathered, it had profiles for all of our lives, including our sins.
“Anything that we haven’t seen before or is it the usual torture stuff?” Lord Vincent asked, apparently trying to not get his hopes up. Dressed in a pinstripe suit, he looked like an old-time mobster boss. I watched him pull out a cigar from his pocket and light it.
“The usual,” Luca replied. “They lack creativity.”
“I just get the sociopaths. Boring, but I’d rather have the psychopaths in your sector than mine.” Vincent inspected the cigar in his hands idly.
“When will the torture start?” Fia leaned in and whispered to me, grinning.
“I think it’s the waiting,” I grinned back.
“Fia Clarke!” Lucielle called out suddenly and we snapped to attention, terrified that we had been heard. “Your greatest sin has been determined as lust, and you’ll be joining Lady Callista of Sector Lust.”
She bit her lip and nodded, as Callista leaned on one leg, resting her manicured hand on one well-curved hip, to see her new soul. Eyebrows raised, she smiled as she slowly looked Fia up and down thoroughly. She was a petite woman with short, natural hair and flawlessly smooth dark skin. She was just as attractive as the rest of Hell’s royals but scantily clad in a short, tight dress complete with fishnet stockings. It was clear that she was the Lady of Lust.
I raised an accusatory eyebrow at Fia.
She shrugged and grinned mischievously. “What? I love sex. Sex is great. I may or may not have cheated on partners as well.”
Fia rubbed my shoulder, knowing I was nervous. We all were, really.
“Your greatest sin has been determined as…” Lucielle paused to look up from her reading and her eyes scanned the crowd. “Well, well, well, this is interesting. Come forward, please.”
I shot Fia a panicked look and she just pushed me forward, saying, “you have to.”
I cautiously walked to the front, feeling everyone’s eyes on me. What was going on?
Lucielle eyed me up and down, as well as the other lady and lords. She grinned and shook her head, laughing to herself. I somehow managed to blush even if the blood had already drained from my face.
“What’s the big deal, Lucielle?” Lord Lennox asked lazily but came to glance at her board over her shoulder. He wore casual blue jeans and a white t-shirt, his dust-colored hair disheveled, like he hadn’t bothered to comb it after getting out in bed. His entire look appeared like he did, in fact, just wake up. He was a paradox, clearly a powerful man though he certainly didn’t look like one.
“It seems like she doesn’t have a specific sin or a sector. The judges didn’t know whether to put her in Greed or Pride. She was a borderline case, actually, just missed Heaven, but at the last minute, literally, they ordered us to put her in Violence.” She laughed again and shook her head, while Luca looked up at me sharply, disbelieving. “She doesn’t look like much, but, pray tell, what caused that sudden shift?”
“And what’s under your nails?” Luca asked, eyes narrowing as he came forward. He probably just wanted to inspect his new soul.
I glanced down and looked at my hands. A glowing substance was embedded under my nails.
“What did you do, Persephone?” Lucielle asked again, harsher.
“I, uh, may have attacked the judges…” I said quietly, looking down.
“Well, did you or didn’t you?”
“She did! Went batshit crazy, tried to run away, latched onto one of them, tooth and nail, and wouldn’t let go!” Fia yelled from the crowd. I stuck my tongue out slightly to check if my mouth was glowing, and it was. What was this stuff? Remnants of the judges? Blood of some kind?
The Lords and Ladies looked at each other for a moment and laughed, completely losing their composure for several moments, except for Luca who almost grinned. I could tell he was serious, he meant business, and he was dangerous, simply from his expression, body language, and the aura of power that circled around him.
Lucielle sobered up the fastest. “We haven’t heard of that one before. And actually touching them? That’s quite a feat. Well, since we don’t care to follow orders given to us by the judges, she’s up for grabs. Greed, Pride, or Violence, who wants her?”
“I want her.” Vincent played with the cigar hanging out of his mouth, giving it a few puffs as he scrutinized me, but stepped forward and lifted his hat as a way to greet me and smooth back his dark hair at the same time. It was graying at the temples, but he appeared young. “She looks like she’d clean up nicely.”
I didn’t like the vibe that I was getting from Vincent. I could tell he was a slimy bastard just by looking at him, and the way he grinned at me and licked his lips… I shuddered.
“I suppose she would, and in that case, I would want her.” Callista pouted, much to Lucielle’s amusement. “What? If Vincent wants her just because she’s hot, I can naturally lay claim to that. I bet she’d taste positively delicious.” Her expression seemed like she was simply waiting for me to choose her sector as if that was the only option.
“I want her. I can tell there’s a fire. She’d be well suited for Sector Violence. Can’t have the judges too pissed at us, either.” Luca grimaced at his fellow lord and lady’s excuses for wanting me.
“I want her as well. It makes sense for her to still be put in Pride.” Lucielle tapped her finger on the board, deliberating. “This brings me to another first.” She sighed. “Well, Persephone, where would you like to go?”
“What does Sector Pride entail?” I asked meekly, not wanting to sound dumb.
“My sector includes a little of everything. It’s really where the extras like you are supposed to go. Everyone is prideful.”
“There hasn’t ever been an extra like her,” Luca muttered, almost as if for my benefit. It made me glance up sharply to look at him despite me unconsciously avoiding eye contact this entire time. He was extremely attractive to me and I almost couldn’t look at him. His light gray eyes were so intense, contrasted by dark hair, and a scowling facial expression to match. He was intimidating, even dressed casually in dark denim and a black leather jacket. Apparent that he was comfortable in his own skin and formidable, it was clear that he was the Lord of Violence. The way he was watching me, my movement, accessing… He was trying to make judgments about me and it was unnerving.
“Choose fast, Persephone, we don’t have all day.” Pride didn’t seem all too bad as far as what Lucielle just told me, and she didn’t seem like she had any extracurricular activities planned for me, like the others. I really had no idea what I was getting myself into.
“We have an eternity,” I said under my breath, but I think Luca heard me. He raised an eyebrow, somehow managing to look pissed off and amused at the same time.
I deliberated quickly, gnawing on my bottom lip from nerves, and chose what I thought was the lesser of the three evils. “Pride. I choose Pride.”
Lucielle raised her eyebrows for a second, but that was the only acknowledgment I got from her. Luca continued to scowl but both Vincent and Callista seemed disappointed.
“We could have had a lot of fun.” Callista pouted.
“Alright, that’s everyone! Follow your leaders to your sector! Disobey and see what happens.” Lucielle directed and the people started moving.
Fia paused beside me. “You should’ve picked Lust, that’s where I’m at.”
“Didn’t think of it honestly.”
“Well, I have to go. I don’t know what’s going to happen but maybe I’ll see you again if they give us breaks between torture sessions?” Fia winked and left with her group. I believe I had just made a friend, in Hell of all places, but it’s not like it mattered at all.
This is positively cruel, sorting us into sectors for what I guessed were different ranges of punishment, yet, Hell had been different from what I expected it to be. So far, I did not smell sulfur or ash, hadn’t seen any fires, and it wasn’t as hot as I thought it would be, a heat that was pleasant.
I stayed beside Lucielle, but Luca passed me, pausing just long enough so the heat of him radiated against my skin, and my nose was invaded by his sinful scent that made my mouth water. What the hell is wrong with me? I’d never had a reaction to anyone like this before. He even rested his hand on the small of my back, and I relaxed into his touch immediately, wanting to feel more of him, which is the exact opposite of what I should have done. He lowered his head and whispered into my ear. “Welcome to the Underworld, Persephone. I hope you enjoy your stay. You should’ve picked my sector. It’s where all the fun happens. Alas, it’s open to you always.” Then, he was gone.
What even was that?
“Persephone, let’s go,” Lucielle called out, already leading my group towards the exit.
Everyone filed out slowly, and I followed the crowd, finding myself on a platform with an incredible view.
Hell was… a metropolis? We were at a high angle, people filing down a wide staircase, so I could see that the massive city made of skyscrapers was divided into five separate sections, positioned together like a star; one was filled with casinos, the next with various clubs where you’d either get drunk and dance, or get drunk and pay naked people to dance, another with high-end restaurants and banquets that boasted never-ending alcohol on pulsing signs, then one with many intimidating bars and brick buildings covered in graffiti, and finally one that looked like it had everything. Pride, maybe? A red sky with dark clouds hung over our heads, and lightning flashed occasionally. It was dim, but the neon lights of the city flashed all colors and made it look as bright as the sun. In the middle of the five pointed star was an intricate building, an architectural marvel, that towered high above the rest of the buildings, and I figured that’s where the sector leaders might stay.
In a way, Hell was actually beautiful to me. Was I going crazy?
“Take it in, sinners. This is Hell. Not exactly what the Bible makes it out to be, yeah?” Lucielle grinned at our group, gauging our reactions.
“So no torture?” I asked, wondering if they were just messing around with us as a type of mental torture.
“None, unless you consider all the fun you want as torture. Endless parties, endless booze, endless drugs, endless food, endless sex, endless violence, endless money… God, I’m glad God made this place.”
I raised my eyebrows, still confused.
“You see, Persephone, pretty much anything that human beings like, is a sin. Heaven isn’t what it’s cracked up to be, and I’m guessing it’s pretty boring. Hell isn’t a punishment for sinners. We love this stuff, it’s in our nature. Hell is a hell of a lot of fun.” Lucielle finished with a wink.