Greg wept for what felt like decades. The tears irritated the open wounds on his cheeks, but once his sobs subsided, and was left with only heaving and shallow pants, his eyes would close and fuse with his melting and charred skin. The first time it happened, the blackness terrified him and he screamed. It was only for a few seconds, but those seconds turned into hours of trying to reopen his tender eyelids.
Once he was able to tear his eyes open, he only saw the evil and suffocating sky, but he celebrated with heaving sobs letting his tears flow like a lubricant against the radiant heat. Every sob, gasping breath, and exhalation was like inhaling liquid fire. His body bumped against the walls of his tomb singeing his skin against the raw material and his back was firmly planted on the hot iron floor. Greg could not turn his head to see what surrounded him because his scalp was fused to his box.
This is because I let Doug burn, isn’t it? He let out another quiet sob, and then he stopped immediately. Doug. This is because I was with Doug. He forced his eyes open and blinked repeatedly as he realized why he was down in this hell.
Furious, he balled his fists and pushed them into the hard earth below him. He felt his atrophied muscles activate for the first time in months, even above ground, as he forced every fiber up. The skin on his back pulled away from the bottom of his grave and ripped away tissue leaving gaping wounds open for the fire to lick.
The pain was unreal, and he collapsed forcing his body to reengage with the hot surface. The impact left his body in shambles. Furious now at his failure and even more because he now knew the reason for his position, he balled his fists again and pressed his white knuckles into the earth. His back finally let go leaving strings of flesh dangling. In an arch, all he had to do was lift his head.
Terrified to drop his back to the surface again, he clenched his teeth tightly together and closed his eyes, letting the tears flow freely. He opened his mouth, and out came a scream like he had never heard. He could have sworn he felt his grave shake. He broke free. The only things still touching the ground were his legs, but that was the least of his worries.
Now able to move his head side to side and look above the shallow hole he had been tossed in, a new terror filled his senses. What in God’s name?
He stared in shock, not realizing his hands sizzled on the scorched ground. Before him, the earth was black with spots of burning embers buried just beneath the surface. It pulsed like breathing lava. The twinkling red rocks were at eye level making him feel small and worthless.
To his right, there were graves lined in rows with mathematical precision. Dots of interrupted ground went as far as his blurred and wet vision would allow. He could hear screams from each hole and see the occasional limb waving desperately in the toxic air above. There were thousands…millions maybe.
To his left, there was what looked like a pathway. It seemed to be the only thing not burning but rather preserved and protected. He looked behind him where the pathway led and saw a towering wall, reach high into the black sky. This was no Great Wall of China. This was a barrier unlike he had ever seen, but because he was still firmly held in place, he could not see the edge. Was he being kept in? Or was something being kept out?
The pathway looked within reach. If he could manage to get there, maybe he could crawl his way out. Greg looked around. The tombs to his right were full of screams but no faces. Directly in front of him, he saw posts dotted across the land, but he couldn’t see what was on the posts, if anything at all.
He tried to lift one of his legs. The pain radiated again through his skin. He touched his back and felt the open wounds starting to heal. Heal? The wounds were closing, which gave him hope that he could get out of this hell with only temporary pain.
Using both of his hands, he grabbed his thigh and pulled with all his might. He barely got his knee off the ground when a towering, black shadow covered him.
* * * * *
“Is this seat taken?”
Greg quietly read in a corner coffee shop, hoping to not be disturbed. But today, he would have no such luck. The man’s shadow covered his book giving him no choice but to look up. He was stunned.
“Of course. I mean, no, it’s not taken.” Greg closed his book, not bothering to remember the place. “I’m Greg.” He thrust his hand forward.
“Doug. Thanks. It’s a bit crowded today.” Doug shook Greg’s hand as he plopped his coffee cup on the table. His bag fell to the floor in a chaotic mess.
Greg looked around. There was no one in the shop except him and one other couple. Greg smiled. “Yeah, cozy.” Doug smiled as he sipped his coffee.
* * * * *
Greg dropped his leg back to the hot iron surface. Electricity and heat radiated through his nerves. He looked up at the man before him. He was dressed in a long cloak carrying a staff that stood firmly at his feet. He looked like something out of medieval times. “Greg Abbott?”
The figure didn’t move. His voice was deep and carried a thick accent of which Greg could not place. “Why do you think you’re here?”
Greg was taken aback. His terror had replaced his tears, but being out of his hotbox, he could blink freely. What a relief. Greg didn’t want to cry in front of this…this what? Man? Ghost? Devil?
“Who are you?” Greg could barely hear his own voice over the primal screams that surrounded him.
“My name is Virgil.” He stomped his cane, and Greg felt the ground shake. “Now, why do you think you’re here?”
Greg looked defiantly at Virgil with anger creeping through his veins. “I know why I’m here, and it’s bullshit.”
Virgil picked up his staff and pointed it at Greg’s chest. Once it touched his skin, he felt it through to the bone with radiating heat. This man was pushing Greg back into his box. Greg screamed as he fought the pressure. He could feel the heat and fire already licking at his skin as he moved lower into his tomb, inch by inch.
“You’re not here for the reason you believe, Greg Abbott.”
Greg fought the pressure from the staff, but looked blankly at the man. “What do you mean? I’m not here because I’m gay?”
Virgil lifted the staff and placed it firmly at his side. Greg looked at the burn mark on his chest. It had a vague impression of an upside down cross. “No, you’re here because you don’t believe in the word of God.”
To be continued…
To read more of Dreadful Dantes, click here.
(c) Copyright 2015, Alison C. Wroblewski. All rights reserved.