Hell. Damnation. These were things that Lucas had never truly believed in. He’d never believed the holy books, the hymns, the sermons, he’d never believed in any of it. It was difficult to grapple when you hadn’t believed, the existence of a realm of eternal torture, of demons, of burning brimstone.
But now, the fiery air burned at his skin and the sulfuric fumes bit at his lungs. If anything, the tales of hell failed to truly capture the horror encapsulated here. Only Dante had scratched the truth of the inferno, yet even his illustration did it no justice.
When he had first arrived here in hell, Lucas had stood before Minos. Half serpent, half Cretan king, the twisted serpent had curled his gold-scaled tail around Lucas, tightening upon him until he nearly lost consciousness. With the asphyxiation came delirium before his eyes he saws his life, his sins. The adulterous affairs, the ceaseless deceptions, all for what? To satisfy some carnal lust? He saw his wife, her tear-filled gaze bore into him now just as it had the night she had confronted him, the night his crimes had been laid bare.
“Lucas Aspen” spoke Minos, his serpentine whisper piercing through the hallucinations. “In life, you let your lust and desire control you. Your deceits towards your wife, and towards your children, are unforgivable. As such, the pain you have wrought shall be returned unto you for eternity.”
As the serpent king spoke the last word, he released Lucas, sending him tumbling down into darkness. The fall felt endless, it could have been days, but eventually, he crashed down into a shallow pool of sticky black. The pain of the crash was intense. For the living, the fall would have certainly ended his life, but seeing as he was already dead it merely knocked the wind out of him. He laid in the murky black liquid, staring up at the cavern ceiling. Menacing stalactites of putrid yellow blanketed the ceiling, and strangely he could find no hole through which he could have fallen.
“Are you okay?” a voice asked, a man’s face wandering into his sight. The man was battered severely, his left eye nearly swollen shut and a nasty gash traveled across his bottom lip. He had rich brown hair, although it was steeped in mud, and his eyes were a deep green. He extended his hand to Lucas, “here, my name is Seth”
Lucas took his hand, and Seth pulled him up to his feet. He looked around, he was surrounded by hundreds of shambling figures, it took him a moment to realize they were people, all dressed in ragged clothing with a litany of scars, bruises, and welts. Hovering overhead were scores of demonic monsters, beings with jagged, scaly skin, giant bat-like, and wielding an assortment of tools, from whips to cat-o-nine-tails to spears.
“Welcome to hell,” said Seth. “Here is where they torture those of us deemed lustful. Forced to endlessly stagger back and forth without purpose as the demons beat and torture us.”
Lucas stared for a moment at Seth, trying to take in what was happening. As he tried to interpret what was happening he felt a sharp sting across his back and heard an enormous crack. “Move sinner!” cried a purple demon with twisted horns. With that, he and Seth began to move with the crowd.
For what felt like the first month, although Lucas was uncertain how long exactly, he felt as though he could escape, as though there was some secret that he could unlock and free himself from his torture. But every attempt was met with failure, and with every failure came Seth to mock him for it. “You’ll never win, do you honestly think you’ll beat hell?”
Eventually, he resigned himself to his fate, accepting that he was stuck here forever and that he must learn to endure it. He’d hoped that his body would grow accustomed to the pain, that eventually his nerves would tune out the ceaseless violence. Unfortunately, that never happened. The whippings always hurt, the beatings always hurt, everything always hurt.
The only comfort he found was Seth. Seth vaguely reminded Lucas of someone from his life, someone who he had loved dearly, but he could never quite place it. Without Seth, he would have undoubtedly gone mad and lost himself, like the millions of other, lifeless souls forced to endure their torture.
The two would share stories of their lives. Seth had been an artist in life, a sculptor who traveled the world with his work. He spoke of the beauties of the world, and his adventures made brightened the darkness and provided Lucas something to hold onto. Lucas told Seth of his life, about his children and their accomplishments.
After a while, Lucas confided in Seth his secrets. He told him of the sins that had led him here. About how he loved his wife, yet could not find comfort with her. The desires he had filled with affairs elsewhere. The hundreds of men and women who had shared his bed without his wife’s knowledge. About how he’d never wanted them to know, for this secret to die with him. And finally, of the diagnosis which ruined him. The plague that his wife had caught from him, the disease which crippled them, leaving them vulnerable and weak. It was his fault, his carelessness that led her to an early grave, he had killed his children’s mother and for what?
After Lucas told Seth, he braced for the reaction, for the same scorn and hatred that had faced him in life, but it did not come. Instead, Seth embraced him, holding him close. “It is alright now”
From then on they only grew closer. The eternal torture felt surmountable with Seth, so long as they had one another they could survive this, they could maintain their humanity. The pain of the whippings dulled, the beatings left fewer bruises, and the hurt faded. They were together, and Lucas felt happiness. Weeks became months, months became years, and it felt as though they had been together for their entire lives.
One day, the whippings subsided, the demons dropped their tools and the sea of bodies forced Lucas and Seth apart. They tried in vain to keep together, but the tide of flesh ripped at them pulling them from each other. It took all Lucas’ effort to keep himself upright, the force of the mob washing over him, threatening to trample him. It carried him for what felt like miles, eventually dumping him onto the cold hard stone.
Lucas pulled himself to his feet and surveyed his surroundings. He stood before a hallway of stone, razor-sharp stalagmites jutting towards the high ceiling. Behind him, the pool had vanished, in its place, a wall with several skeletons hung with rusted chains. A whispering voice called to him, beckoning him further into the tunnel. He cautiously called out, “Seth?” but the voice paid him no mind.
As he moved further, the tunnel grew tighter, constricting in on him. He felt his breathing strain, and eventually, he was forced onto his hands and knees ducking and weaving to narrowly avoid the sharp rocks. Then all at once, it opened up, now a thin spine of rock over a bottomless chasm. He tentatively rose to his feet, the rock shifting beneath him. He could feel his heart in his throat as he fought to maintain his balance. After a few minutes of terror, he found his footing and looked forward. To his surprise, Seth was standing a few paces away, staring into the depth.
He cautiously rushed to Seth, embracing him tightly. He felt his anxieties vanish as he felt Seth’s warmth. He tried to speak, his voice breaking as tears flooded his eyes, “Oh God Seth, what’s happening”
Seth remained motionless for a while, silently staring down into the void.
“What is happening?” said Lucas again, forcefully turning Seth to face him. His emerald eyes bore through him.
“I am sorry Lucas,” said Seth, his voice seemed different, almost alien. “But if it’s any consolation, it’s been fun.”
“What do you mean?” said Lucas, shouting, searching Seth’s face for answers. His expression remained vacant, dead.
“This has all been part of your punishment,” Seth said, his voice had deepened and echoed. Lucas recoiled in horror as his skin transformed, cracking into deep blue scales. Large ram-like horns sprouted from his face and grotesque wings sprang from his back. Seth, or rather the demon that had been Seth grabbed him by the neck and pulled him close. His breath stank of sulfur as he spoke, “I never loved you”
And with that, he tossed Lucas into the darkness. He tumbled for eons, the dark consuming him. Lucas was truly alone.