The monitor near his bedside hadn’t been turned off yet. Greg could hear the steady beeping of his heart rate just before he closed his eyes. It had increased to an inhuman panic just before slowing to a painful crawl. The final countdown had become an unwelcome encore as the one-note serenade turned into a comical death march.
But finally, after seconds of agony, the last breath turned into an exhalation of darkness. Too afraid to open his eyes, Greg embraced the silence and stillness that surrounded him. Is this it? Is this death? He was afraid to open his eyes since the last thing he saw was the color red. But then it occurred to him he was still having thoughts.
Please tell me I’m not still alive.
His mind wandered to his limbs and senses. Yes, he could feel his fingers move, his toes twitch, and he could smell. What is that smell? The world was silent. Not a bird, beep, or breath could be heard. He could almost hear the blackness, but still he was terrified to open his eyes. What could be hidden in the thick blackness? Greg concentrated, willing his ears to stretch beyond their physical space to hear anything that could comfort him back to consciousness. Nothing.
He opened his mouth to let out a timid, “hello,” but before he could muster the courage, in what could have been seconds or hours, the silence suddenly came crashing into a full-force of screams, tortured yells, and fire crackling. Fire?
The fingers and toes he had just carelessly moved now singed with pain. Every inch of his body was screaming. He forced his eyes open as he let out a primal scream. He looked around and saw nothing but red. More red. The flames that licked his skin rolled up and down his body. His face was surrounded by fire with no molecule spared.
Greg couldn’t focus. The pain blurred his vision, but through the smoke and flickers of dancing flame, he saw black and grey clouds. He was lying down. Gritting his teeth, he willed his arms to move. His skin bumped into a hard and jagged wall on either side of his body. The sharp edges protruding the wall dug into his sensitive skin causing him to yelp out again.
He made his body as small as he could to try and escape this small box he had been forced in. He lifted his arms again, trying desperately to avoid the sharp points of what, he did not know, rocks, nails, barbed wire? He then saw his arms. They were charred and glowed red from burning embers boring holes into his skin. He shook from the sight which only tensed his body. He let out another primal yell, but it went unheard among the other animalistic screams of the underworld.
The exerted energy left him empty, and the pain only continued to radiate through him. Slowly, his eyelids closed and opened. He was becoming light-headed. The smell of burning flesh and hair entered his nostrils making him dizzy just before he lost consciousness.
* * * * *
Music thumped in Greg’s chest. He could feel the bass under his feet as the rhythm of the room just swept everyone up in a gyrating dance. It was New Year’s Eve and it was a great night to be alive. Greg jumped up on a coffee table askew from the center of the modest living room and held a bottle of champagne high above his head. He looked around at the glitter, lights, and smoke and poured the sparkling liquid all over his body and Doug’s chest just below him. Doug opened his mouth and Greg poured the bubbles down his throat.
Doug smiled up at Greg with that wicked mouth and held his hand out to help Greg down from the table. Greg laughed as he threw his head back for a gulp of the expensive wine. When the bottle was emptied, he tossed the bottle off into the crowd. He barely registered someone yelling, “Hey!” when he took Doug’s hand and hopped down from the table.
Greg brought Doug close and kissed him gently. The room then erupted with an ear-numbing countdown. “10…9…8…” Greg whispered in Doug’s ear. “It’s about to be 1974. You got a wish?”
Doug looked at Greg. “Just you.” Greg smiled and kissed him again before turning to face the pulsating mob of people that had crowded in his apartment.
“…4…3…2…1!! Happy New Year!” Balloons bounced around the room as people batted them around, confetti canons let loose the paper rain, and more champagne corks exploded and dented the walls. All Greg could focus on was how lucky he was to be in that room, at that time, with a hundred of his closest friends.
“What are we waiting for? Blast the music! It’s 1974!” The crowd threw up their arms and someone turned up the stereo. Outside, fireworks were erupting in the black sky sounding off what sounded like gunfire and bombs.
Then one of those colorful pops crashed through the front window. Glass shattered all over the two of them and the dozens of party guests near the glass. Greg turned to see what was happening. If someone had fallen through the front window, he’d never be able to sell this place. But instead of seeing people falling out of the window, he saw bricks and rocks being thrown in.
“Everybody, take cover!” Greg jumped back on the table and waved his arms wildly. “Get out of here! Fire escape through the bedroom!”
Doug held out his hand again, and Greg grasped it. Before Greg had the chance to get down, Doug’s hand went limp and his body fell to the ground. Greg tried to catch him, but his body was too heavy bringing them both down on top a bed of glass. Doug’s face was lifeless. A small drop of blood formed at the base of a small hole square in the middle of his forehead.
Greg covered his face to protect his wound from the falling dust and debris, and that’s when he saw he was shaking. “Oh my god, oh my god.” He shook Doug. “Doug, we gotta go. Wake up. We gotta get out of here. They’re torching the place.” Doug’s lifeless body didn’t move. Another crash sounded behind Greg. He turned to see fire erupt in a liquid explosion all over his couch.
Flames licked the edges of the leather and tested the edges of the coffee table he was just dancing on. Suddenly, a pair of strong hands grasped his arms and thrust him up. “Greg, he’s gone. Let’s go.”
Later, Greg would not be able to remember who pulled him out of his burning home. But he did wish he had stayed with Doug. Greg wept silently. The heaving in his chest expanded and contracted his skin making his eyes shoot open. The fire from his distant memory now faced him in front of his eyes.
Greg moaned as a salty tear streamed down his face irritating the raw and burned skin. When Greg realized he was not in his apartment, and certainly not in his hospital room, he woke and frantically looked around hoping to get an idea of where he was. All he could tell was he was in a hole in the ground with flesh that was literally on fire.
He thought of Doug burning in his home those five years ago. This must be hell.
“I’m sorry,” he whimpered as his skin sizzled in his grave. “I’m so sorry.”
To be continued…
To read more of Dreadful Dantes, click here.
(c) Copyright 2015, Alison C. Wroblewski. All rights reserved.