Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Great Persecution

The first installment of a story I wrote from a dream. Tell me what you think!

           There was a man in the cell. He sat hunched over, cheek resting against the damp iron wall. His eyes were closed, but he was not asleep, as was evidenced by his shaking hands and the muscle of his jaw, which twitched every other second. He pretended to sleep because it was only then that the demons let him alone. Usually, they harassed him mercilessly, worming into his thoughts and dreams until he felt like tearing his skin apart to escape them. He snuck one eye open, and the guard outside his cell hissed.
            The guard was a small, slimy demon of the lowest echelon. It hovered low to the ground on humming wings, its bald white frame dangling like a rotten fruit. It watched the man with beady eyes and hissed again, menacingly. A single caterwaul would bring half of Hell to the cell door. 
            The man-Dante, for that was his name-let his eyelid flutter close to a slit. The world was bleary now, obscured further by the lack of light. His shaking hand went to his belt, and caressed the small doll that was the only memento he had of his old world. He recalled Sophe, and her beaming face as she held the ragged doll up to him. He remembered her high voice, chirping: "For you, Daddy!" He remembered, and with the memories came a swelling of affection, of longing. From outside, the sentry squeaked, a pathetic attempt at a howl, and fell to the ground, stunned by loving emotion.
            Dante stood up, wearily, and fished the keys from the guard's slimy wrinkles through the bars. He unlocked the door and let himself out. The hall was empty. The management felt secure in Dante's faked insanity. He broke into a run, through the jagged black tunnels, past oozings of acidic orange lava. He stuck to the walls, hiding in pools of shadow when the chatter of demonic voices neared him. After about ten minutes, from behind him there rose a desolate howl-the guard's caterwaul. There was no point in hiding now.
            He started sprinting, running as if the hounds of hell were after him—which indeed, they were. The gate neared him, a spiked monstrosity of iron and marble. Beyond it, there lurked a faint light, where the demons could not trespass. Freedom was two hundred yards away-one hundred-fifty yards...
            Behind him, a slavering mob of demons rounded the corner. His guard led the mob, shrieking, "After him!" "Faster!" In the language of his echelon. Swarms of flying demons filled the air above the mob, closing in rapidly. Dante flung himself onto a vast pillar and climbed it clumsily. His strength was waning now, his muscles weakened from the long incarceration. Demon hounds were scaling the pillar, jaws gaping, claws scratching the marble. Dante doubled over on a ledge, gasping. There was no way up, and the hounds were drooling below. He gazed desperately at the fiery vista of Hell, sure to be his last sight. Was there no way out? No way of all? Would he never see Sophe and his wife, Marlen again? He couldn’t perish so near the exit. He had come too far, suffered too much. HHHe stood up, scanned with dignity the mass of demons waiting for him at the base of the pillar, and spoke. "I propose a bargain..." And that was how he escaped.

The Dropping of the Rope

            Dante regarded Socrates over the table. He held up the wineglass. "Not hemlock, I trust?" Socrates chuckled.
            "My execution is due in a month. You have no need to fear poison yet."
            "What was it for again--poisoning the minds of Athenian youth?"
            "Only on paper. The politicians, Eucil in particular, are afraid I will enlighten them to the rampant corruption of our so-called democracy."
            "And would you?"
            "I may be a man of morals, but I am not stupid."
            "Forgive me if I offend, but you seem remarkably unafraid."
            "I am a philosopher. I have finished my most important business here on Earth, and am curious to know what I may accomplish in the next life. What is death, after all, but the next great adventure?"
            Dante gazed into the distance, past the gently sloping hills verdant with grapevines. He was remembering nights spent in a damp iron cell, and the craggy walls and sweeping ramparts of a black palace. He said no more, and Socrates tactfully did not ask his thoughts. 

            It was midnight, and the stars shone myriad in the blue-black sky. Dante thrashed on his pallet on the balcony, caught in the throes of a nightmare. In his dream, he saw Sophe and Marlen disappearing into pitch-black bowels of Hell. They did not scream, but watched him with wide, pleading eyes. Then the eyes changed, became accusing slits. The two forms morphed into one and became a squat demon with skin that dripped like wax, and narrowed, garnet-like eyes.
            Dante awoke. "Beezlebub." The name dropped like a stone from his lips. The demon from his dream stepped from the dark, and bowed mockingly. "The dream was your doing, I suppose?"
            "Just reminding you of the consequences, should you fail." The demon's voice came out in a sibilant hiss. 
        "I am well aware of the consequences. There was no need to check in on me. My progress with Socrates is coming along well. I've introduced him to strong drink, and he’s a budding gambler. He will be headed for Hell by the end of the month."
        Beezlebub stared icily at him. For a moment, Dante was afraid the demon had seen through his lie. Could demons sense falsehoods? But then Beezelbub nodded, and began to vanish, still pinning him with sunken scarlet eyes. Wormlike shadows ate at his body, pulling it into Hell. His scarlet eyes were the last things to disappear. Released from his gaze, Dante shuddered. He was not impressed by Beezlebub’s usual drama, but shivering from the temperature of the night, which had turned positively glacial.