The Harrowing

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Chapter 6: The Ridge

As soon as he could manage, Hal struggled upright, casting an unsteady glance over the cliff. There was no sign of Amun. Nor of Amelia or the doctor. “Do you think they went all the way to the bottom?”

Father Donahue lifted himself onto one elbow with a grimace. “Who knows? Benjamin and Amelia, likely so, but Amun? Amun has the full strength of two people in him now, and likely some of yours as well. It wouldn’t surprise me if he managed to catch himself before falling too far. We should hurry.”

Hal looked over at him, brows drawing down. “Hurry where? I just tackled our guide off the edge of a cliff.”

Father Donahue shook his head though, cupping a meaningful hand to his ear. “Those voices clearly don’t belong here, and I seriously doubt Amun would have risked draining his tickets home unless he was very close to his goal. He mentioned, when we first became acquainted with him, something about beings being trapped, singing for eternity. I say we head toward that singing.”

Without waiting for Hal to object, the priest stood, zeroed in on the sound, and walked away through the swirls of heat and smoke.

The voices kept increasing in volume as they walked, hunching against the driving wind. Soon, they came to a narrow stretch, only about a foot of rocky lip edging a sheer cliff face, but it was clear the haunting song was coming from right around the precipitous bend. It was becoming shriller the closer they got, like a church choir comprised largely of eighty-year-old women with emphysema. But still, it called to them.

Hal and Father Donahue inched their way along the narrow lip, following the crags around to a wide opening to find…

“Is that a church?”

Father Donahue blinked as well, making a motion toward his nose that suggested the man was used to wearing glasses and felt a sudden need to adjust them. “I—I think so…”

“A church in Hell.” Hal shook his head at the irony of it, but clearly the rough structure, erected from fallen rock and carved stone, could only be a church—steeple and all.

Father Donahue licked his cracked lips. “Amun said this place came into existence during the Harrowing of Hell, and that Hell cannot exist where Christ has stepped foot. It would stand to reason…”

Hal didn’t really know how to reply as he studied the blatant incongruity before him. Was that a moat surrounding it? “There—there’s a bridge. We can cross over.”

The singing was nearly deafening by the time they reached the stone bridge, though why there even was a bridge in Hell, Hal could only guess. It wasn’t like water could last long amid this fire. But even as Hal thought this, and then thought to look down into the swirling moat, he immediately backpedaled, taking several hasty steps away from the bridge.

He stumbled, bumping into Father Donahue in his hurry to get away. Throat bobbing in a dry swallow, he glanced over his shoulder to find a questioning expression on the priest’s face. Clearly, he hadn’t looked yet.

“Well,” Hal rasped, clearing his throat before he continued. “Now we know where the singing’s coming from.”

The creases deepened between the priest’s brows, and he inched forward, craning his neck to see over the lip of the moat, Hal close beside him.

Below, swirling in a river of murky shapes, flowed a current of human bodies, mouths gaping, tongues flopping, jaws hanging so wide that—no… Hal looked closer. They had no jaws… just gaping throats and flailing tongues, all singing in discordant harmony an eternal hymn of adulation while their bodies eroded away from their endless, habitual yearning.

“We can’t stay here,” Father Donahue called over the wailing cries of praise. We have to cross.”

Hal nodded, not being able to tear his eyes away from the horrific sight below him. A sharp tug at his shoulder brought his mind back and he nodded, turning to chance the bridge.

The fires ceased the moment they stepped foot on the other side. It was like a sudden deadening to his senses. Hal could still vaguely hear the whistling bluster swirling around the ridge, but it no longer touched them. He could still see the fiery bursts issuing from the surrounding cliffs, but his skin no longer burned. The relief was ecstasy—a cessation of pain, a balm against the searing flame.

And where the light of the Kingdom exists, the fires of Hell, cannot.—

Hal felt the tears well and fall from his eyes like summer rain.

He choked back a rising sob, motioning to the priest without looking over at him. “Come on. Let’s get out of this place.” And as one, they stepped through the open stone doorway of the church.

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