This is a preview to the chapter Two from the book Hellbound by Tim Hawken.
Please note this text is copyright protected.
Looking down below and around at the world outside, I barely registered what I saw. To the left a few miles away, a mountain jutted directly out from the otherwise flat surroundings. It was a twisted black crag of rock covered in gnarled, burnt trees which arched toward the boiling sky. A gigantic mansion perched on its peak, no roads going up or around the base.
“The only way up there is by chopper or dragon,” Satan said. “It’s my palace, Casa Diablo, atop of Mount Bilial. Let me give you a tip: it makes Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Mansion look like a monastery!” He pointed to the far distance. “Straight ahead is the sulphur lake you’ve no doubt heard so much about in the classics. It’s bordered to one side by a lake of fire and the other side is a lake of liquid ash. Together, they make the three eyes of Satan.”
He sounded like a chirpy tour guide describing the pyramids of Egypt.
“We go fishing sometimes in the sulphur lake for giant crab-goblins. Very tasty eating.”
He licked his lips with a forked tongue as I turned to look at the three lakes. They did indeed look like three eyes; one red, one black and the last, crystal blue. A thin smokey haze hung above them, blending the colors together to form a twisted kaleidoscopic cloud. I started to get a headache staring at the swirling colors in the sky. Blinking, I looked away and over to the right to see beyond the city. Bare plains stretched out into the distance.
“That is the ‘desert of the doomed’,” Satan said solemnly, “where lost souls who have given up any hope of salvation go to roam aimlessly for all eternity.” He quickly turned me away from the ghostly spectacle, sweeping his hand theatrically in front of us. “And here is the pride of Hell City. A den of diabolical debauchery, fetish and fun. A cross between Las Vegas, Amsterdam and Bangkok. The delicious suburb of Smoking Gun.”
It looked as if it were straight out of a bizarre comic book. Themed casinos with flashing lights and neon signs made up the centre. They ranged from the grand to the grotesque. There was obviously no consideration taken about offending anyone, with one casino brashly named Cleopatra’s Clitoris. It was a shining building in the shape of a naked Cleopatra, spreading her legs and pinching her left nipple.
“The nipple is the penthouse suite,” Satan laughed.
Another building to the side of it, obviously a brothel, was called Magdalene’s Mansion. There was a billboard posted on the side of the building advertising Bibles for sale! The list of stupefying establishments went on: glitz and glamor to be had at Castle Dracula, rare meats at Hannibal’s Steakhouse and gay abandon in Liberace’s Drinking Palace.
“It’s like Disneyland for adults. Dead, sinning adults,” The Devil said. “You can dine on all seven of the great sins, Lust, Greed, Gluttony, Pride, Sloth, Wrath and even Envy. There’s gambling, sex, killing and torture. Everyone has fun in Smoking Gun. That’s the suburb’s credo.”
“This isn’t what I expected Hell to be like,” I stammered, as I looked at the gaudy streets of Smoking Gun.
“What did you expect?” Satan asked raising a black eyebrow that framed an even blacker eye.
“Well,” I replied, “Hell: suffering, unbearable heat, demons, the flames of damnation. A place where people come to pay for their sins.”
“Ah ha!” Satan boomed. “Now we’re back to it. The purpose of Hell! Most people, like you,” he said, poking me playfully in the chest, “have it all twisted about. They think my job is to make people pay for their wrong-doing on Earth, to punish the evil for their sins. As I was saying before, Hell is more like a jail. Hell was designed by God to help the tainted souls of Earth become cleansed, so they can go on to Heaven. Unfortunately, just like a jail, some of the souls here become institutionalized and don’t want to leave. Instead of expelling their demons, they become them. As for the heat,” he said with a wry smile, “you’re standing in an air conditioned building. It’s a whole lot hotter once you walk outside.”
I stepped back and looked at him, truly realizing for the first time this might not just be a nightmare. It was as if his talk of something as mundane as air-conditioning helped me connect everything he’d been saying with normal existence.
“Finally!” he laughed. “You’re starting to accept this is actually happening. I must admit, it normally takes people a bit longer.”
“So when you say that people become their sins, you mean that a human can turn into a demon?” I asked.
“They can and they do,” he replied, nodding and smiling like it was the most normal thing in the world. “If a person is so insatiable that they will never have enough money or power, then they eventually turn into a Greed Demon, forever bound to Hell to tempt others into a life of voracity. Their skin slowly turns yellow and their eyes green. Ten fingers sprout from their heads, and their noses grow into a pig’s snout. There are demons for every possible sin you can imagine. The idea is that other souls in Hell will see how deformed these demons have become in pursuit of their chosen pleasure, so they will no longer want to commit that particular sin.”
“So, this isn’t the end of the road then? There is hope?” I asked.
“There’s hope for all,” The Devil smiled, “but still there is not salvation for all. As I said, some cannot or will not be cleansed. Some become demons of their vice. While demons are meant to serve as a warning to those who would go down the same path, sometimes they can be very persuasive, and actually talk others into believing that murder or lust will give them the meaning they’ve been searching for. They recruit souls to become fellow demons of their sin, but I do my best stop that. You know, some of the demons aren’t all that bad. Many even work for me. However, some are the purest evil and extremely powerful.”
“So, some souls don’t ever leave?” I asked.
A sneer ran across his draconian features. “Well, why would you want to leave here?” he snapped. “Aside from the smell of sulphur and the oppressive heat and darkness, this place is actually a lot of fun! You get to do whatever you want, however you want, to whomever you want, for as long as you want!”
“What’s the catch then? Why would you leave at all?” I asked.
The Devil paused. His face clouded over momentarily, like he was recalling a traumatic memory. “Well, there are a few drawbacks,” he admitted slowly. “One is that there is no law here, except jungle law. If you’re weak, you are easy prey for the torturers, thieves and worse. We stop no-one from doing what they want to do, so Hell is governed by the powerful and the ruthless. People do suffer, but at the hands of others, not by my hand.”
I was horrified. “So there is no punishment for the wicked after all. It’s just like in life, where the mean spirited and selfish get what they want.”
“Now wait a second,” The Devil said. “I haven’t finished just yet. There is serious punishment for those who think they can continue their evil ways without judgment. There is the guilt.”
“Guilt?” I scoffed. “Demons and the damned don’t feel guilt! All they feel is hate and anger. They don’t care about what they do, as long as they get what they want.”
The Devil started to really laugh. I was furious. This was no laughing matter. My belief in goodness was being shattered before my eyes, and he was laughing like a boy who’d just seen an enemy stub his toe.
Satan’s laughter cut short. He looked me deep in the eyes with his flaming stare.
“You should know this,” he said in an apocalyptic tone. “You should take heed, Michael. Never underestimate what I say. Never sell me short. You forget who you’re talking to. I am Satan. The guilt that you will feel down here is like nothing you’ve ever felt before. It is the guilt of the condemned, the guilt of those deformed by desire and greed. You will feel it more acutely than you could ever imagine, and you will feel it thrust upon you six times each day. When the sky burns from horizon to horizon and black smoke swells out of the gutters.” Satan’s voice grew louder and louder as he spoke, fire dancing in his eyes as he ranted like a deranged priest in the pulpit. “When Hell’s fire shatters the minds of every soul in Damnation, you will know where you are and why you are here. When the weight of every misdeed and sin is thrust down upon you like a crushing burden of menacing responsibility, you will know what you have done. You will feel the guilt. You will feel the haunting. It is enough to drive the most evil soul insane. It is unrelenting and it is absolute. Don’t underestimate the power of a guilty mind. Never underestimate self-shame and self-destruction.”
The Devil raised his clawed finger and pointed to the horizon. It began to flare and burst into a bloody vortex of flame, before blasting over the heavens of Hell. I collapsed as sharp agony shattered through my skull.