This thing before me had no arms, but has two mouths slavering with fangs and a tongue that appears to be spiked with thorns.
This things before me has no eyes. It has no ears. It has no nose. It is legs and mouths, fangs and tongues and claws.
It is finding its way, disgustingly enough, by licking the ground, licking the wall, licking the very air. Finding its way to me.
Like it, you know me.
Unlike it, you fear me.
I am Temporary Anne.
I am afraid.
It has been many years since that missive I wrote, many years since I tried to tell you, all of you, what I am and why I am, many years since I tried to convince you either to be so evil that you would distract the minions from me, or so good that when the minions were near me, and I near you, that I could then take sustenance, and escape from you.
The years have not been kind.
I remember my skin, and I remember the last time I had skin of any sort, really. I used to at least have skin, drawn tight and patchy and there were holes in it here and there, skin like the canvas of an old sail on a ship, skin that barely served its purpose. But I had skin.
Now, I am mostly bone and sinew. The few ragged flaps of skin that cling to me do so out of a spite, a malice, that is perhaps greater than my own, or that fuels my own. It should be no surprise to me that the parts of my own body, at last, exist to torment me the way I torment the world and the way the minions torment me. But there it is: my body taunts me with flecks and scrapes and pieces of skin, clinging here and there to me the way I cling to this life.
This is not a life.
It has not been a life for a long time.
I have not eaten in a long time, either.
Because I was forbidden to eat, forbidden to eat by Mephistopheles.
I was told to call It Mephistopheles. I am reasonably sure that the Being I refer to as Mephistopheles chose that name because of the era in which my first life, the life I had before nearly going to Hell, occurred. I am also reasonably sure that Mephistopheles is The Devil, is the Ruler of Hell. But I cannot be certain that Mephistopheles is not merely a minion who is using me for his own purposes. As I had conjectured, Hell is a place of chaos. The torments of hell are not merely physical but also emotional and psychic -- what you would call psychological-- as well, and the randomness and entropy and chaotic nature of Hell is a constant source of psychic pain to someone such as me.
Mephistopheles' minions caught up with me many years ago; many years after I penned my epistle to you, but many years before this moment now, in this alley where the bony ends of my fingers, which still grow fingernails but no longer have skin, where the bony ends of my fingers chip themselves scrabbling for purchase on the brick walls as the two-mouthed, seven-legged thing moves towards me, tasting the slime and filth and stone and air and smiling.
It is smiling as it moves towards me and I see its smile and I see the thorny protusions on its tongues.
Why does it have no eyes? Hell and Hell's minions flaunt all rules. They are ugly for ugliness' sake, and ugly for torture's sake. It is not enough to strip the skin of the damned, to eat the livers of small babies while the babies cry, to pluck eyeballs from widowers, to scorch their lungs with sulfur, to break their bodies on rocks, to rape and torture them for all eternity; that must be done in a sea of terrible, awful visions so that no refuge can be found for the damned souls that live in Hell, no spot of beauty, no purchase for their vision that is not repulsive can be found.
Mephistopheles, too, was smiling, when he came up to me where his minions had cornered me, in, of all places, a lovely flower garden. I had fled there, after decades more on the run, because I am not originally of Hell and knew that I had little time left, and wanted to see something of beauty once more before I finally was captured. It had been years since I had seen true beauty, and it had been a century or more since I had last gazed on the loveliest sight I could imagine, my own naked body in a mirror.
So I had crawled to that flower garden. I had crawled there on hands and knees because it was night and it was deserted and although I was feeding more frequently then -- feeding, I call it, feeding because I am so evil that the act of eating raw human flesh while the human, the man or woman or my favorite, the child, while the person is still alive and screaming and writhing, that act can be reduced in my mind, after so many occasions, to simply another meal, so I call it feeding even though it is torture and it is awful to behold, except for me. I revel in it and I reveled in it then and I regret that I will not feed again, I expect, because Two Tongues is going to get me soon. I have chipped off the end of my index finger and it does not have ears to hear the bones fall but the bone fragments are a few feet in front of it and soon its tongues will touch them and it will confirm, if it does not already know, that I am in this alley and I am cornered.
I am distracted.
I had crawled there, to that flower garden, weak even though I had fed not hours before; it was not a good meal. My appearance, for so long covered by the fact that people cannot see evil and would look past my obvious ragged condition, would overlook the gaping eyeballs where eyelids had rotted away, would overlook the ribs that jutted out and the few pocked teeth that clung to my jaw, would simply not see that, my appearance had gotten so much worse that people were beginning to notice me for what I am, and flee screaming. I suppose that was inevitable, when I had lost an eyeball and all that was remained in my left eye socket was a pus-filled, messy hole.
So I was reduced to feeding on those who were incapable of fleeing: the elderly, the children when I could get them, the insane and the drunkards and the addicted. My meal before the flower garden, the last meal I ate, was someone I had seen muttering to himself at a bus stop. He was not waiting for a bus, but merely standing near the bus stop chattering his teeth and swaying back and forth, brushing occasionally his unkempt hair out of his eyes.
I hid nearby, behind a rubbish bin, and watched. He did not move as the night fell. Buses stopped coming by, and he still stood there. In the cold of the night, he hugged himself to keep warm and muttered to himself. I crept closer and closer, on hands and knees, looking carefully to see if anyone were watching. But that part of the city, the city I cannot even recall these decades later, was not a part of a city that anyone would be outside watching in, and they certainly would not be watching an insane loon hug himself to keep warm and cry to himself and mutter.
As I came closer, I heard what he was saying:
... hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come...
He was praying to God.
If God was listening, He did not intervene because I had enough strength to pull at the man's leg and pull him over. He fell and cried out, and I sat on his chest and leaned down and with my teeth, I had a few more then, ripped at his neck and pulled flesh off. I chewed on the skin and swallowed the blood and felt strength and madness pour into me as I took on his nature and took on his appearance and took on his strength and vitality but also his thoughts.
He was not dead yet; I sat on his chest and felt my mind whirl with his fears and hopes, I felt the derangement that made him think that chairs talked to him and that the sky was too close. I felt the sadness he felt that he could remember his mother but not her name. I felt the anger he felt, deep inside, that part of him that was locked away inside his mind and recognized his insanity but could not fight it off.
I felt myself and himself and I felt almost alive and I felt strong. I leaned over and looked into his eyes.
"Pray to the Devil instead," I said, testing him.
He shook his head and cried.
"Pray to me, then" I said.
He would not. He tried to make the sign of the cross but I took his hand and pulled the fingers off, one by one, and ate them as he watched. Then I dragged him into the alley and devoured every inch of him, my mind melding with his as his thoughts became mine and I became mad and watched myself become mad and take on the appearance of this man who others might pity or revile but who to me was, as everyone was, a tool for my use. I ate all his bone and all his skin and even ate his hair and watched as his spirit fled his body. I could see the spirits then, and can see them now.
The last thing I did was take his left hand and make the sign of the cross over myself with it.
Then, in his guise, I walked boldly through the city to the flower garden where Mephistopheles would finally meet me. I grew weaker and weaker as I went, and the appearance of the insane man dropped away, because it was harder and harder for me to exist in this world any longer and I needed more and more fuel, more and more sustenance, to do so.
I crawled, no longer insane and in my own form again, a wretched almost-skeleton, into the garden and was so tired that I at first did not realize how many minions were in that garden.
I soon learned , though, that the minions were there. I learned that because I rested, at the base of a small tree that had already started dropping its leaves. I rested and tried to lick scraps of blood and flesh off of what few teeth remained, off of the jawbones with two or three teeth and stretched-thin gums that made my mouth then.
My mouth is more frightening now.
As I did that, as I pondered the stiff and nonfunctioning muscle that even my tongue was becoming (how my past lovers might mourn that, if I had ever bothered to think of their pleasure, instead of my own), I realized I was not alone.
Not alone, indeed.
All around me were minions. All around me were the spawn of Hell closing in, languorously, moving slowly and creeping along in their venomous manner. I counted fifteen immediately, and thought there were more off in the dark beyond the reach of my rheumy eyes.
Fifteen! Fifteen horrendous visions of pus-filled malice boiling with the steam of an eternity of torture!
My mind could not comprehend so many at once. They made the very reality around me shimmer. Hell, I have surmised, is right here, not up, not down, not over there. It is all around us but exists in some alternate reality that we can only comprehend and partake in when our mortal bodies die and all we have is the spirit, which then enters Hell or, for those lucky few who are not me and who have not met me, Heaven.
When near to a being of Hell, the borders between us and them get looser, more watery. When they are near, Hell itself is near. And so many of them so near to me meant that Hell overlapped our world. As I sat beneath the tree and felt the drying leaves and still-green grass pressing against my thighs, pressing into the decayed holes where I had no skin anymore and hitting muscle or ligament or bone, as I sat and felt that, I felt also... Hell. I felt the heat. I felt the acid burning that cut through skin and bone and hair and nails and mind and spirit, acid that burns the soul. I felt the electric tension of the cells in my body being pulled apart, being dissociated from each other as my spirit drifted towards Hell while my body sat beneath that tree.
There was nobody near. There was nobody whose face I could chew off and eat and thereby trick the minions as I had done so many times before. This time, they would get my spirit for sure and my time on Earth was done.
I sat and comprehended them and wondered which would get me first. Would it be the one that looked like a beetle, but a bug whose carapace was flecked with human skin and which had handlike claws growing out of his back while walking on what looked like teeth?
Or would it be the one that seemed simply to be a ball of flame, each lick of fire shaped like someone's face, terribly distorted and howling soundlessly?
Or maybe the one to my left, the one with a lovely young woman's body, nude and supple and sensual, with long legs and petite feet, but with no head, and on the end of its arms instead of hands, its arms became spider claws?
They moved in. They walked slowly and disjointedly and like nothing in our world and I felt the temperature rise around me and I felt the ground beneath me grow more and more distant and more and more gelatinous and infirm as their very presence brought me closer to Hell or Hell closer to me.
They were only a few feet away when a new thing happened.
The ground was glowing reddish-orange by then, and cracking open, my old reality falling away and the new Hell, my eternal damnation and torture, revealing itself, and in front of me, a hole opened that was so bright it made my eyes hurt. They could not tear up, because I long ago stopped crying, but they were blinded. The light was brilliant and beautiful and I could not look away although it hurt to look at it. The light flared up and up and up into the sky, a solid brilliant beam of light that was no color and all colors at once, and it began to take on form, instead of being one beam of light it began to seem to be two, then four, then hundreds, multiplying and jostling around. In the light, my eyes nearly torn in two by it, I could see shapes. They were not any shapes I could identify and they flickered and tore and spread like a kaleidoscope on a merry-go-round. It was from them that all the colors came, so quickly that they registered only in memory.
I cried out. I flung my arms up but could not bear to look away from this thing, so beautiful and so terrible -- beautiful because the light was so pure and so clean compared to the ugliness around me, the horrors of hell and the real world combined -- and terrible because it was so bright, so beautiful, so wondrous that I could not look away although the more I looked the more it hurt. The worst torture in life would not be as bad as not being able to look upon this light, no matter the pain it caused.
it said again.
I did not know where it spoke from. I felt it speak, or sensed it. I never saw a mouth, in this column of light.
it said one more time.
The minions had paused.
I am Mephistopheles,
I did not cower.
I did not bow before it.
I did not cry or scream or yell nooooooooo or do any of those things that someone might when confronted with the essence of evil.
For one, I did not, because I was too amazed at its appearance. It is still, these decades later, hard for me to describe how Mephistopheles appeared. That beam of light held a form, a not-human form. It was not like an angel or like any creature, living or dead. At the moment when I first beheld Mephistopheles, I realized how wrong all along people had been to think that angels or demons would ever look even remotely like men and women. The minions, I knew, looked like nothing we could picture, and that was their horror.
Mephistopheles, too, looked like nothing we could picture and nothing we can describe. It was when I saw it, too, that I realized the ultimate punishment and the ultimate horror of Hell, the purest form of evil destroying the will and spirit of the living, and that was this:
Mephistopheles was beautiful in a realm of infinite ugliness. The one dear, neat, clean, perfect thing in all of Hell would be, for all eternity... the Devil. A damned soul would never see anything but death and torture and disease and rot, and would eventually long for a glimpse of the Prince of Darkness. How perfectly horrifying that was to me, when I realized it, how terrible it was later when I mulled that over: spending an eternity praying to catch one more glimpse of the Devil.
But there was more to it, as there always is in Hell. The second layer of horror is that a soul knows, as I do, as all believe, that God himself is more perfect, more beautiful, more splendid to gaze upon, and upon seeing Mephistopheles, one is aware, as I was then, that the soul will never see God, and that for all the splendor the devil presents, it pales in comparison to what you could have had, had you only been good.
I was then aware of that and while I did not quail before Mephistopheles, I felt my spirit shudder when I realized how far I had sunk and knew that from this day forward, my life-- my life, as though I could call it a life, gnawing the bones of drunkards in an alley -- would be infinitely worse.
You are mine now,
Mephistopheles told me, from inside that light that I wanted to look and also to never have seen.
You always were mine but you have been crafty and eluded me
Mephistopheles went on, and a portion of the light moved towards me, or the light expanded, so that it came near my face, my crooked broken tattered face that was little more than a skull with scraps of meat clinging to it, with threadbare hair where my luxurious locks had been a century or more before that day.
The light touched me and then I screamed. I shrieked so loudly and so long that when the light withdrew, my scream echoed around the city for minutes. I do not exaggerate.
When the light touched me, it felt like my spirit was dragged through a sieve made of razors. It felt like my lungs were filled with burning oil. My vision exploded into horrible phenomena, sights I cannot now describe without retching. My ears, hollow husks that they were, recorded the howls of Hell in them, and my fingertips touched slime. Every sense I had, and my spirit, too, was befouled and in pain and torn, briefly, from me.
In that one second of Hell, I realized I had only dimly, before that, had any concept how bad my Afterlife would be.
The light stopped touching me, the torture stopped, and while my own screams echoed off buildings back to me, I tried to push back so fiercely that the bones of my spine rubbed up against the tree bark as the skin on my back peeled off.
I think Mephistopheles laughed.
And yet I could not look away.
I will use you now
it told me.
You have been better than my and it used a word that I could not understand but the minions all around me writhed in agonizing glee and I gathered it was talking about the minions and I will use you.
You will go forth into the world, as you have been.
You will gather souls.
You will bring them to me in Hell.
Much as I had been doing, I realized.
You will bring me the bodies, whole, with the souls in them. You will gather a body to me, good bodies good souls good people, and when you have them you will drop into Hell and if you leave the body, if the body and the soul are good enough, you will be suffered to leave Hell again.
You will not feed.
I stared at him. I could not look away.
You will not take a morsel from these bodies. They are Mine.
I just sat, mutely, contemplating this new way.
For so long as you do this, you will not be brought to Hell. Each body you provide me will be longer that you avoid me yourself.
It reached out the light again.
Break this pact and I will bring you back Myself.
Then I was alone.
Mephistopheles was gone. The minions were gone.
The garden, previously green at the end of summer and lush with leaves and grass and bushes and shrubs and trees, was bare and sparse. There was no grass. There were no leaves. The trees were stripped bare and dark. The flowers gone. It was not as if there had been a fire; it was if the ground could not support living things and yet someone had tried to plant things there.
In my life, when I was a young girl, people looked at the moon and wondered what lived there. Later, as a woman, caught up in my own trespasses against others, I never gave it much thought, but learned men discussed the moon being airless and lifeless. The garden looked as though it was planted on the sort of moon these men had discussed, in the times when they would discuss things; those times were always before they met me.
After they met me, they spent much of their time wishing they had not and bemoaning their fate. My evil knew no bounds. The simple evils, yes: treachery and adultery and theft and torture. But there were psychic evils that I inflicted on them: belittling their manhood. Making them do things that would keep them awake at night questioning their own morality. Feeding them food that animals would refuse to eat, and then telling them what I had done. My spirit has always been a slow-acting poison directed a humankind.
I left the blighted garden. I was not enthused about my mission. But I knew that I had been given yet another reprieve from Hell. A glimpse of the tortures that awaited me, that await all who are even a fraction as evil as I am, was enough to make me Mephistopheles' slave for all eternity if it meant never suffering those depravities.
If only I had known what all eternity meant.
And how hungry I would get.
Hunger that would end up with me in this alley, watching the minion come towards me, as it is now, and I know it knows I am here and I know that it knows I cannot escape.
I wonder, will it take me to Mephisotopheles? Or will that foul being come for me personally again?
I doubt I am to have the luxury of seeing its gorgeously unholy presence again.
Why, some may ask, did I not at some point turn my eyes to Heaven, beg for reprieve and repent and try to do good, and have holy men pray for my soul and ask the Saints to intercede for me with God?
That, as it turns out, was what was asked me by the first person I chose to send to Mephistopheles. He was himself a holy man, although not a priest or reverend. He was the lector at a church near the blighted garden. I knew of him and had seen him and decided that I would not waste further time showing Mephistopheles that I could be trusted. I never slept much anymore -- another aspect of life, lost to me as my energy roamed on through the years, pushing my decrepit and decaying body on further as it fell apart around me.
How could I sleep? I only had one eyelid by then. It is hard to sleep when one cannot close one's eyes. Harder to sleep when one's sleep is filled with visions of the Hell that awaits rather than the comforting images of the afflictions one has caused others. I used to calm myself to sleep by imagining the acts of cruelty I had done and would do. Now, when I slowed or tried to rest, all I could see was what would be done to me.
I had no intention to fail, then. I had every intention of never ending up here, in this alley, awaiting my own final trip to the Pits of Fire. I set out with what passed, in my corpse-like existence, for vigor and headed for the lector's house, where I knew I would find him, sitting in his study, going over Bible verses.
He was there. All the lights in his little house were darkened but for the desk lamp, which glowed with the haze I have learned is created by "electricity." I could see the top of his head, a bald patch growing there. I could see his head nodding a little; he was dozing, sitting up.
I let myself through the gate into his yard.
I walked right up the path. It was late; it was nearly . No neighbors would see me and I did not care if they did. What could they do to me, now? Mephistopheles himself had his eye on me, if he had eyes. A neighbor with a gun, or the police, would not scare me.
I moved over off the path and stood in front of the large window that fronted the study.
He was still nodding off. His Bible was opened to a page marked by a ribbon, and he was making notes on a pad of paper next to it.
I wondered what to do next. The window was low to the ground and there were only screens preventing me from entering. The door was surely locked. I reached up my hand, pausing only to look a moment at it in shock: two fingers, the ring finger and index finger, no longer had skin at all. They had only ligaments holding the bones together. The skin on the rest looked frosted and crisp. My thumb had no nail.
I pushed at the screen and it bulged a little and I prised it off and had an entrance. I lifted my leg, using my hands to do so, and awkwardly got into the room.
The lector did not stir.
I stood in the room and looked at the pictures on the wall: pictures of his family mixed with pictures of saints and holy men and framed Bible verses. The walls lined with books the titles of which I could not read in the dim light.
I turned back to face the lector.
I did not touch him yet. Instead, I said "Wake up."
I did not like to hear my own voice, then or now, anymore. Decades, maybe centuries ago, I had what would have been a lovely voice but for its coldness. Now, my voice was harsh and rasping and airless. It wheezed out of me like the hiss of a snake that has been stepped on by a horse's hoof.
"Wake up. You are going to Hell," I told the lector and he snapped alert and spun around and saw me and began moving his lips, making the sign of the cross.
His efforts at calling God in, if that is what he was doing -- or of blocking me through something holy -- failed.
I leaped at him. I tensed my legs, which were mostly bone by then, and I splayed my horrible hands and I leaped at him and crashed onto him.
I did not even knock him over. I weighed almost nothing when alive, or during my life before the first time I almost went to Hell. I was tall but slender and lithe. After that time, as I slowly grew more and more... stretched, and taut, and near-death, I weighed less and less. One must have flesh to have weight, and I had precious little of that.
A few strands of my hair that were still long, but entirely colorless, fell on his forehead, and I had my bony claw-like hands at his throat and my face was open and I leaned in and looked into his eyes. I was so close... so close to biting him, to plucking out his eyeballs and eating them, and I needed the strength.
I stopped, though. I did not need to eat him. I did not need to knock him over or wrestle him into submission or kill him.
I needed only to touch him, and it was the realization of that which stopped me, not any other impulse. It was not that I was going to disobey Mephistopheles by eating him; it was that I was merely caught up in the many many times I had done this over the years and years and years. I was acting on instinct; I was by that time a machine of sorts, powered by malice and fear, operating on willpower and terror, a machine designed to eat people and turn them to my own uses, and I was going to do what I usually did when I leaped on him.
I paused, though, because just before I did that, just before I bit into his head and gnawed through the bone, the walls quavered around me. The world shifted. Hell came into focus.
We were in Hell.
Hell is not somewhere up or down or over there. Hell is around us but not perceptible, or Hell is in another dimension, I suppose, one that can be perceived only by a certain few, those who have died, or those who are about to die.
Or those who, like me and like the lector, were brought there alive.
Maybe Heaven is as near as Hell. I will never know. As I lie here in the alley, the thought that in moments I will be in Hell, again, this time for the last time, it does not comfort me to think that Heaven is so near, also, it torments me. So near -- but a lifetime, several lifetimes of evil away -- and it was never in my grasp because it was never in my nature to want to go to Heaven.
The lector and I went to Hell and I realized that I still had a grasp of him.
His soul was not leaving.
I had seen, in the past, many many people sent off to Hell in my place. I had seen them, starting with the fisherman who tried to save my life, only to give his own, and to take my place in Hell. I had since then seen them over and over, the young and the old, the infirm, the unwary, the secluded or shut-in, those who I preyed on, those who I would surprise and eat, those who would give me a portion of their life-force to exist on a little longer, to confuse the minions into leaving me alone temporarily, those who took my place and went to Hell with the minions that had been sent for me. I had seen them all, and each of them that I had seen had died the same way, had gone the same way -- each of them had died, and their souls had started out on a journey, had started separating from their body, and the minions had grabbed it and they were taken to Hell.
I had never actually entered Hell, though I had been close that first time.
Now, I did.
Now, I was in Hell.
With the lector, whose body suddenly went taut beneath me and I looked down at him, my hands still on his neck.
Each cell in his body seemed to vibrate. I could feel a ... charge...coursing through him. I could feel the heat and the cold, extremes of each, coursing through him like the tide. His body went hot, so hot it burnt even my hands and I almost let go but then I could not because his body went cold and my hands with it, frozen to his neck and his eyes frosting over but he was still alive beneath the ice that formed. His hair began dropping out and his body warmed again and he gasped and shrieked, a pathetic response that barely wheezed into existence before it died out again.
One-half of his body started melting then, slowly drooping, while the other half became more solid.
I continued standing on his legs, crouching, hands around his neck, amazed.
Around us, I could feel Hell; I have said before that Hell is not a place as we are taught; it is not a barren landscape or pits of fire or mountains or acid lakes or oceans and rocky crevasses, as some have depicted it.
Hell is, to me, a solid state; being in Hell is like being inside a burning building and underwater at the same time; it is like being smothered and having the air knocked out of you. It is every unpleasant or horrible physical sensation multiplied many many times until you cannot bear it.
That was what I felt then, though I did not categorize it because I was watching the lector.
He had stopped melting. His body was expanding, then contracting. He would blow up and then shrivel, extend and then distort. Through it all he tried to wince and scream and holler and move, and he could not. Through it all, I kept my hands around his neck. Through it all, he stared at me through wild eyes. His body was being twisted and distorted and ravaged just by being in Hell.
Minions appeared at the edges of my vision. One, one I had not seen before, one that was shaped like a hyena if a hyena had six dimensions and too many legs and be composed of a gelatinous substance that looked like solidified human blood, reached out a talon. I flung myself back, letting go of the lector's neck, and Hell faded away from me as I saw him carried by his foot, dangling upside down, still trying to scream.
I had given Mephistopheles the first living body.
I lay in a heap on the floor of the lector's study, pondering what it would be like to suffer the torments of the soul and of the body.
Then I held up my own hand, held it up before the desk lamp that still shown on the Bible the lector had been reading. I could see through my skin and could touch my own bones.
I knew a little of what the lector would experience.
But it could be worse.
I knew it could be worse. And I knew that I would gladly keep giving people to Mephistopheles if it meant I would not have to go through worse.
I lay there in a heap on the lector's study floor, and reflected on that.
I also realized I was hungry.
It went on like that for I don't know how long. I traveled, ever more slowly, and found people, people who reeked of good and people who were probably bound for Heaven, before they met me... and people who I then leapt upon, or grasped, or simply touched, and they were transported, with me, to Hell.
I watched as a little girl, barely six years old, jumped rope outside her house early one morning while her mother gardened in the backyard. I walked up to her, boldly up the path, the bones of my heels making grinding noises on the concrete of the walk she jumped on. I stepped through her hopscotch board and she looked up and saw me, and she screamed, but I was too quick, even in my weakness and hunger, and I grabbed her by her long, straight, honey-blonde hair and almost instantly we were in hell: I, holding her by her hair, she, still screaming and shrieking and starting to cry and holding her jump rope in her hands. She wailed louder as the heat and acid-feeling and torments of Hell began already, and she wailed loudest of all when tiny minions, tiny creatures that looked like inside-out bugs, landed on her and began digging out bits of her flesh, and I left her there.
I climbed up a flight of stairs to an apartment in the poor part of a city I had wandered to. The door was not locked and I let myself in to where an elderly man lay on his bed, with pneumonia. I had followed him from the doctors and then up the stairs. He wheezed and lay there, clutching a rosary and praying. He looked up at me and his eyes quailed; I wondered what he saw because in the reflection in the mirror near his bed I saw mostly tattered rags and bones held together by strips of flesh. He held up the rosary, and I took it from him and flung it out the window.
"No," he gasped, and I heard the rattle in his lungs. He would have died in moments, died while saying the rosary and gone to Heaven. I poked my fingers into his eyes and as he howled Hell formed around us. 10 minions awaited us. I will not describe them all because my attention was focused on the one that was an amorphous, gelatinous mass that burbled and shifted and enveloped him so that the suffocation he had only glimpsed as a sick, elderly man became his first experience in Hell.
The years dragged on and on and I grew more and more tired. I lost track of how many people I brought to Hell with me. I lost track of the minions I saw there, waiting to take my prizes away. I never again saw Mephistopheles, no matter how much I desired to... or how much I feared to.
I was more than hungry.
I was famished.
Mephistopheles' torment for me was too perfect. I could not eat. I could not feed. I no longer needed to avoid him -- but I still needed energy and I still needed sustenance and I still missed the glorious feeling of hot blood in my throat, the chewy stringiness of muscle and tendon, the way an eyeball pops when I bite into it. I missed gnawing the bones of the ribs, pulling a warm heart out and sucking the blood from it before crushing it in my hands.
I was existing solely on malice and fear, and I was starving.
I laughed with glee when I heard these tidings. I inherited Rory’s money and holdings. I buried the midwife beneath the boards of the basement of Rory’s house, and then rented the house for years before burning it down to the ground. With the tenants in it.
I gave no further thought to my daughter after that, until the day I found this new person.
I was outside of a house, in what are called now “suburbs.” Mile upon mile of houses that look the same and smell the same and feel the same, inhabited by people who fear nothing and who are naïve and who leave windows open and doors unlocked and who, if not for their dogs, would be entirely unprotected and unwarned of evil and trouble, but who largely somehow exist without the molestation of evil. Until I came there. I had spent a few days there, lurking, trying to find someone to bring to Mephistopheles because it had been a week or more and I could feel my body crackling with the feel of Hell. Mephistopheles had put, it seems, a time limit on me because the longer I went without bringing him someone, the more I could feel Hell myself. Mephistopheles was not going to suffer me simply to roam the world, starving.
I had focused on a house that drew my attention for some reason, a reason I could not fathom at first. I just could not look away, and I got closer and closer as night drew nearer.
I saw they had a dog in the backyard and so I waited until it was dark, until the windows of the house were glowing orange with warm light and the sense of family and coziness and safety, and I crawled across the backyard towards the dog, which barked once, then growled once.
“Be quiet, animal,” I said.
The dog whimpered and cowered back against its little house. I approached it and it whined more and ducked down. I stood up and stepped on its neck. It tried to fight, then, but I simply ground my bony, bare foot down until I heard a snapping and it was paralyzed. Not dead; it lay there and stared at me and tried to make sounds but could not move.
I turned towards the house. I saw in the light of a back window the view of a kitchen. I saw a woman preparing a dinner, stirring something. If my nose had been more than a flap of skin on my face, I could likely have smelt what she was cooking; I was glad I could not because I could feel my stomach knotted from hunger and my mouth clenched from the need to chew something.
I looked at the dog and wondered if I could eat that, but I was torn away from that thought by the woman moving in the kitchen. She turned around, then back, and held then a baby.
A baby that I recognized.
A baby that was the spitting image of the one I had placed on a doorstep with a note so many decades ago.
A baby that I knew, instantly, was related to me. Was a descendant of mine through that daughter so long ago.
I moved in closer. I crept up towards the window, secure in the knowledge that the dog would not be raising any alarm, and secure in the knowledge that the mother, who I did not have any feel for, was not going to look out the window. Mothers do not look up from their babies, not for almost any reason, and they do not expect to see withered hags creeping through their backyards towards their cozy kitchen that smelt of milk and bread.
I was only a few feet from the window, and the baby lifted its head off of the mother’s shoulder. It cast its head around. It was probably six months old, able to move but not lift itself or act.
But I felt that it could sense me. I worried that it could and it would become alarmed.
I was close enough to the window to hear the mother now, softly mumbling to her daughter, patting it, reassuring it in simple words and nonsense phrases as the baby tried to turn to see out the window and fussed. The window was opened; the window was barred solely by a flimsy filmy mesh screen that had come to be used, over the years, to keep out insects and those animals that did not understand how weak a barrier was presented by the screening off of the space that would be left open in windows when I was this woman’s age.
I listened to the mother. I listened to the baby fussing more. I listened to the noises emanating from the window and I slunk below the sill and sat there, chest heaving in excitement. I do not breathe anymore; I do not think I have lungs into which breath could be drawn. But I have a heart that beats still, pumping bile around my body, perhaps; it does not pump blood because I have no blood; whatever blood used to fill my veins has long ago dried up or leaked out the many holes in my skin where tendons are visible and bones can be touched.
But my chest heaved with excitement and my heart beat.
I knew that I should wait, I knew that sooner or later the mother would put the daughter, my descendant, to bed, and would herself go to sleep, that the father, if he was around, would go to sleep as well, that the entire family would slumber and I could then act to my heart’s content. I could then undertake the course of action that was rapidly forming in my dried husk of a brain. I knew that I should wait but I was hungry and wanted release and so I did not wait.
I slowly put both hands onto the sill and gripped it tightly, the exposed bones in my fingers making dry, rasping sounds on the wood. The mother stopped making noises. I knew she had heard or sensed or felt my presence and so I moved. I pulled myself up quickly and I pressed my dessicated face against the screen and scrambled with my legs and pushed through it, hurtling myself forward onto the counter and watching as the mother, still clutching my great-great-granddaughter, backpedaled away from me and shrieked in terror that I had heard before. I was snarling and drooling, and I banged my kneecap on the faucet that stood in my way, I felt a piece of bone drop out and heard it clatter on the metal of the sink as I lunged at the mother, my spindly arms outstretched and my hands splayed, skin flapping and feet scrabbling for purchase.
She shrieked and yelled and flailed and never let go of the baby and smacked into a table behind her, nearly falling, as I fell onto the floor headlong and, not taking the time to stand up, crawled after her on my now-incomplete knees. She turned and tried to move out of the room and banged into the doorway with her shoulder, falling to the ground. From elsewhere in the house I heard a male voice, not far away, yell and footsteps. I tried to stand as the mother tried to stand, too, and I jumped forward as heavy clumping sounds came from behind me.
“What in the hell!” I heard a deep voice yell but I did not look then, I simply dove forward with my mouth open and my hands spread wide and I landed on top of the mother and the baby and enveloped them in my presence and the man’s voice faded away and Hell formed around us.
Hell was cold this time; Hell was black and icy cold and dark and still and thick, like being fathoms underwater at the North Pole but not wet. There was solidity below us and the atmosphere we stood in was dense, almost too dense to breath. I heard the woman gasping and her teeth chattering. I could only dimly feel the cold, but the fact that I could feel it told me just how cold it was. The baby started crying.
The minions here were close, and there were three of them. One appeared to be three men stuck together by their backs; it had six legs and six arms and six blank faceless heads with ears and mouths but no noses or eyes, and it spun around and walked in random-seeming circles moving closer and waving its arms, which had too many hands and the hands had too many fingers on them.
A second one was jets of fire swirling in a tornado form.
The third was translucent, like dirty glass, and moved like a bag of garbage falling down the stairs.
The mother stared at them and did not cease screaming until she ran out of breath. I heard her, then, gasping and trying to suck in the substance of Hell, but her lungs could not process it. The baby, too, was struggling to survive.
The minions were reaching for the mother and reaching for the baby. Before they could get the baby, though, I wrenched it from the mother’s grasp and stood up. The mother cried weakly, and to my amazement found the strength to pull herself up and crawl towards me. She grasped weakly at my ankle as I looked the baby in the face and was certain: this was a direct descendant of mine.
I kicked the mother away. I held the baby close to me to keep it from the minions.
“MEPHISTOPHELES!” I yelled. My voice fell flat in that airless Hell. But I knew he heard because there was a ripple in the substance and the minions paused in their efforts.
“Mephistopheles, I offer you a bargain!” I said. “Release me from my enslavement. Release me, and I shall allow you to have this baby, my only living descendant.”
The ripple again, and a shuddering of the firmament around us.
“Refuse my offer and I eat her,” I said quietly. “And I will eat her soul, as well, and you shall never have that.”
That is how I came here, you know.
You know he refused the bargain. Mephistopheles does not accede to deals proferred by the damned.
But I do not bluff.
When the entire substance around me rippled again, then fused, became more solid than ever, when the mother began screaming and shrieking louder than ever and the air was turning to rock around us, hot rock that was excruciating and scorching but somehow not molten, hot enough to even affect me, who had so few nerves by that point, I acted.
I pulled that baby’s head off and I began drinking its blood. It filled me, it warmed me on the inside. I tore at the stump and drank and chewed.
I do not regret it.
I do not regret it as I sit here in this alleyway. Staring at the fangs each of which is as big as my arm. Still dripping with fluid and I still do not know what it is.
The minion is over me now, looming over me, taking up the whole alley. I am cowering between to trash cans, holding my hands to my chest. I do not regret my actions, but I am afraid.
It started to lower itself down, and I shook and shivered and trembled.
I am afraid for what I am about to do.
The minion’s face is right above mine. It has no breath. The fangs are on either side of me and I can feel the foul rancid stench that awaits me when it takes me to Hell.
If it takes me to Hell.
I am afraid.
And I am hungry.
That baby did not take long to eat and it did not keep me strong for long.
It gave me just the strength, just before the minion closed its mouth on me, to lunge forward, to sink my teeth into the tongue of the minion, to hope that it had blood, to begin clawing and scrabbling forward into the minion’s mouth, pulling with my hands at its flesh and knocking my bony knuckles against its teeth, feeling the saliva dissolving me as I chewed on minion flesh, as the substance of Hell itself.
I had been bluffing Mephistopheles, and he knew it.
I do not know how to eat souls.
I chewed at the minion’s flesh and dove more into it, like Jonah into the whale, I suppose, if the whale had been sent not by God to save Jonah’s soul but to carry it to Hell. I kept biting and chewing and growing stronger, feeling my appearance shimmer, my existence shimmer, my body change and alter almost in the way it did when I partook of human flesh.
I do not know how to eat souls. I expect that Mephistopheles got the baby’s soul, after all.
The minion shuddered as I grew stronger and tore at it from inside, my legs still outside. It tried to chew on them but I pushed at it, knocked it over on its side, and continued biting and chewing and eating it.
It had no blood but it was hot and it filled me with energy.
I expect that Mephistopheles got the baby’s soul, after all. But he will not get mine.
I am afraid for what will happen to me.
But I am not hungry any longer.
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