"The Eighth Ring of Hell"
A To Hell and Back Story
by John Pirillo
Swimmer, also known as Ryan Stone to his friends, and Squad Commander the Triple A squad, hunched down behind the outcropping off North 41 coming out of Vegas. It was a little traveled road, and for good reason. There was hell to pay there during the summer, because the nearest gas station was a hundred miles away, which had no water unless you bottled it in and no food unless you liked eating Little Debbie's, the only food the station carried, or probably could afford.
Swimmer had stumbled upon the station in a delirium. He had just escaped a very, very dark place, but without his support. They had fallen back to cover his escape, so he could bring the big guns back with him. It wasn't going to happen. He was stunned, dehydrated and beaten.
Oh, and by the way, there are regions...not really on our world...we call them rings...where hell resides. Each hell caters to the beliefs of those who have imagined them into existence. You see, the problem with human beings is that their thoughts are so powerful, that when they fear something enough, they actually create it at some point, in some place or another. Thus Hell. And more than one version. All nasty places, all places a smart person would rather have no part of. Not that only dumb people go to hell, they're actually more filed up with smart people than the other way around, because smart people think they can get away with anything. But they're wrong. No one gets away with anything. Ever. Not in the long run, sometimes not even in the short.
Anyway, he had survived. They had survived. The owner of the station turned out to be a little known angel...literally...named Michael, who looked after those doing the work his kind carried on for the Big One upstairs.
He had awoken on a crusty counter, devoid of anything but Little Debbie's, chocolate doughnuts. Michael was gently dabbing his mouth with a swab of cloth from bottled water he had sprung into, and poured liberally over Swimmer's body.
"Sorry. It's the best I can do. Angels thrive on Little Debbie's."
"So I hear." I told him, trying to laugh, but my face was too dried up and cracked. It hurt like hell from the sunburn I had gotten. Never march three hundred miles in the hot deserts of Vegas. It's begging to be hurting.
"Your men are safe." Michael told him with a gentle smile.
"They're safe too, but one of them will need a few weeks to recover her pride."
I gave him an odd look, but he said nothing else.
"What did you say your name was?"
I pointed upwards slowly.
"The Big One?"
He shook his head. "None of us are any bigger than the other. It's a humble thing, you know."
"Yeah." I agreed, not really knowing what to believe.
I had just escaped the Eighth Ring of Hell and had stumbled into a gas station run by an angel, whose name was Michael, and sold only gas and Little Debbie's.
"You'll be better in the morning when they find you." He told me.
"Find me? I'm already found."
He just gave me that odd smile and said no more.
I managed to get my feet under me, and dropped to the concrete flooring. Big mistake. I collapsed like a rag doll. He rushed around, though I don't remember the sound of any footsteps, even though he was wearing thick boots. He came to me and lifted me as easily as if I were no more than a bag of feathers and set me on the counter again.
"I don't want to mess up..."
He grinned. "Too late. Here."
He gave me another Little Debbie. Damn! If it didn't actually boost me as soon as I bit into it. My mind became sharp as a needle.
It had been 0800 hours. Our team had been chasing a cluster Demon. It's a rare one, but very dangerous, because it can multiply itself, and believe me, when I say multiply, I don't just mean to ten. We had followed it all the way from Vegas across Red Rock Canyon, over the Vegas Valley desert and heading towards Mohave. It was fast. We were faster. Equipped with sand sails, we used the winds, which usually gusted quite a bit through there, to propel us on our sand slays at over sixty miles an hour. The cluster demon could make just barely fifty.
We corned him in Baker, before he could reach the city proper and diverted him back towards Vegas again, thus avoiding him killing everyone in Baker, and making sure we could battle him on grounds where we held the advantage. Were we stupid!
He reached the 41 and took off like a bat of hell. We swept after him, barely able to keep him in view until he cut off the narrow paved road and began jumping in enormous leaps up a raw hillside, where aged sandstone boulders and granite spikes rose threateningly in the air.
"Blue and Red teams to the left. Green and Yellow right." I ordered and we split up.
My team caught up to him just as he triggered the Doorway. We called them doorways, because they sort of looked like them. But bigger, much bigger. Demons don't do anything in miniature. Everything's big and grandiose. This is why you don't want one rampaging in a city or town. They won't just take one soul, but all of them they can.
We plunged through the doorway, not even seconds after the cluster demon, but still too slow. He had already managed to lunge ahead along a narrow path that ran around steep black mountains next to a liquid fire ocean that slithered and sloshed at its base, casting very hot and bright flares of light upwards, so that any clothing it touched seared and threatened to catch fire.
I turned to Digger, my right hand man. "Anything?"
He shook his head. "This place is new."
Shaker, who was vibrating a mile a minute, shook his head, which was quite an event to see, as his whole body was already shaking so bad it hurt to watch. "This place is a different vibration from all seven hells, Swimmer."
I shook my head, discouraged. Another hell. God! How many were there?
Almost as if answering my question." Digger shot back with. "I told you there were probably more."
I gave him a stern look. He shrugged.
I sighed, and then we put on a burst of speed, limbering our Flingers for the upcoming battle.
We reached a hard turn that began to climb steeply, and widening as it did so. We finally crested the top, our bodies straining from the effort, sweat stains over every inch of our uniforms. The cluster demon stood on the top of the black mountain, its ravenous purple eyes fixed on us. It began to cluster.
"We're so..." Digger said.
"Screwed." Shaker finished.
"Not if I can help it." I told them, and began firing my Flinger. The whole time I held my trigger finger down, I thought of my daughter, and what would happen to her if I didn't get back home. I had lost her once. I would never do that again. "Never." I swore as I ran out of ammo and the last of the demons launched itself at me, reaching out with lobster claws to skewer my throat. Instead, I skewered it with my regulation knife.
It fell to my feet and I scrunched its head into mush, then looked up just as one of the cluster demons, that had not died put on a burst of clusters. I grabbed over my shoulder and reached for my grenade launcher. They were miniature atomic bombs, clean ones, that only blew up and killed things, didn't leave any radiation traces behind.
The cluster demon's forms continued to multiply. I blew up first one, then the other, but there were always ten more than the last time I fired. Digger and Shaker joined in and we began to catch up. My teams converged on our position and we laid down a blanket of highly volatile short range missiles that rearranged the shape of the mountain top. When the dust settled, all that was left was blood and guts. Demon blood and guts, which is just totally disgusting. Imagine living inside a slaughter house, with all the sewage of the world dumped in there for flavor, and you have just a glimmer of how awful their smell was.
We looked at the remains and the holes in the mountain top, and then made a short camp. I looked at our teams. "Okay. This place is new. Let's not wait to find out how new. Got me?"
"Yo!" They all answered.
"I signaled them with my right hand and we all hustled down the mountain, seeking the doorway we had entered through. Usually the only way out of hell was the same way in, but sometimes the devils changed things, laid traps. They were quite crafty, if somewhat ambitious. I finally was able to take in more of the details on the return hike.
The black rock we had been traveling over was not rock at all, but condensed bones of humans. Every now and then a piece of the rock would move, revealing a hand, or a mouth, or a set of eyes. All of them reaching towards us, pleading for help.
It broke my heart, but I knew we couldn't save them. Anyone down here, up here, wherever in the hell this place was...they were out of our ability to make a difference. All we could do was hope to stop more from being trapped.
We reached the doorway. It was open.
I had been sweating the possibility of it being closed, but it appeared to be just a fear, nothing more. But as soon as we approached the doorway, a burst of demons broke forth through the doorway, and shook their way free of the black rocky ground about us.
In moments we were fighting for our lives.
That was when my good people had practically shoved me through the doorway. They could hold their own, but no way could they all make it through without half of them biting it.
"Penny for your thoughts." Michael told me.
I looked up from the counter at him; he had another Little Debbie held out for me.
"This will be the last one."
I nodded and reached for it. I took it and dragged it towards my mouth to take a bite. I bit.
Then I felt a hand slap my face really, really hard.
I blinked my eyes and Mustard was squatted next to me, sucking on her hand, which I had just bitten. "What were you thinking?" She bit out to me, her eyes bloody red from anger and sun stare.
"Always thought you tasted better than you looked." I quipped.
She reached a hand up to slap me again.
Digger caught it.
"Welcome back, Commander."
Everyone gathered around me and as I rose, I could see how weary and beaten all of them were.
"Where's..." I started to say as I realized a very important member of our teams was missing.
"She's back a mile, nursing her pride." Laughed Mustard. "She got nipped in the.....uh, place where the sun don't shine."
Everyone broke into laughter. I did too.
I turned around, instinctively knowing the direction to go, because I had already spotted the direction of their footprints. I was going to have to scald them about leaving tracks for the demons to follow, but right then I was just happy to see everyone alive.
Now to get back home and give that daughter of mine a hug and kiss. My heart began to ache at that thought and worry. Because she had already been in jeopardy once by the demons. I had sworn it would never happen again. And it wouldn't. Not as long as I was alive and my Triple Kick Ass Angels.
"Yo!" They joined in when I ordered them to double time behind me.