Summer Love Chapter Twenty: Highway to Hell

Chapter 20

Highway to Hell


Hades was cold. Everywhere. I realized later, even when I was leaping through flames, Hades was an extremely cold place. It took a few seconds to register. After all, even though I could see my own breath the minute I set foot in the infernal realm, I couldn’t see anyone else’s. Eventually, I realized this was because no one else had breath.

The two little men in the black robes stood in the hard, white light of their swords. I looked from side to side, hoping for an escape route, but I realized the gate I’d just come through was near the edge of a cliff. The approaching men were walking across the gulf on what looked like a natural stone bridge, the only way on or off the cliff edge without turning back through the gate.

As they grew closer, their eyes appraised me carefully. After several long minutes, they lowered their swords. The first one spoke to me with a voice like stone being pulverized.

“Adam Solomon,” he said.

“Who, me? No, um, my name is Charles. Really, ask Charon.”

“Adam. Solomon,” he repeated. “Age 79.”

“Okay, wait, I know I’m not exactly Mr. Universe here–”

“Age 79. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. A long period of muscle failure, followed by paralysis, then death. It is not your time. You are not a threat.”


Without another word, the two of them turned around and retreated across the bridge, leaving me with nothing but a particularly disturbed sensation, like I had just missed something pretty important. But since they didn’t appear to have any further interest in me (a fact for which I was extremely grateful), I brushed myself off, cinched my belt, and started to follow them across the bridge. It was too narrow to easily turn around without risking a plunge off the side, but in a straight line, I could walk relatively easy if I didn’t try to look down, which I of course was stupid enough to do almost immediately. The bridge took me out over a pit so deep and black that if it wasn’t actually bottomless, it may as well have been. From that perspective, though, I could see what I was dealing with: hundreds, thousands of cold stone islands, floating in nothing, connected to one another by way of a network of the stone bridges. Each one seemed to play host to a different form of eternal torment: the classic fire and ice were prevalent, of course, but on one island I watched men hunted by enormous beasts, consumed, and excreted whole to begin the hurt anew. Another island was underwater, and the people there flailed for air that didn’t seem to exist for them, drowning over and over, forever. There were a surprising number of islands that were totally empty save for a sole inhabitant, weeping in despair. And every so often, someone hurtled through the air, plunging past us all, vanishing into the black.

The Island I followed the black-robed men to was a work pit. People were being forced to break rocks, build small structures, turn wheels on giant machines, and were constantly beaten by snapping whips wielded by ugly little ghouls with blackened skin and blacker eyes. The people here were all fat, lazy-looking things, straining and agonizing at their labor, and I realized the purpose of their punishment: they were paying for a lifetime of sloth with an eternity of toil. None of them paid the slightest attention to me as I stumbled off the bridge. As I rolled off, though, I noticed that there was a definite path here, worn from the bridge I’d just left to another on the far side of the island. This one was relatively small, I could circle it in just a few minutes. Others seemed enormous – the side of continents. I wondered what determined the size and contents of each island floating through the depths.

Shivering, I stepped down from the bridge onto the path, which cut right through the slaving, hollow shells that used to be human. I stepped down between the rows, listening to the groans and grunts of people in pain. Perhaps the worst thing was that nobody was willing to put up any sort of a fight. They all looked utterly broken, shattered, like there was nothing left of their souls anywhere in the bleeding, bruised bodies they seemed to wear. The entire spectacle made me sick, it was utterly inhuman. But then again, I supposed that was the point.

I decided not to bother the little ghouls with the whips, and the two men in the black robes had returned to their sentry duties, one standing on the lips of each bridge that could take me off the island. I tried to focus on the one I was approaching as I stepped through the pits, trying to ignore the horrors on either side of me. I walked up to him, to where he stood at the lip of the bridge. I was not terribly surprised that he did not move.

“Um… excuse me… I’m sort of looking for someone.”

He didn’t move, he didn’t speak, he didn’t even seem to recognize my existence this time.

“Right… Um… You guys know your queen? Hades’ wife? I don’t suppose any of you would know where to find her?”

Again, no response. I tried to step past him, to go around to the other bridge in the hopes of finding someone more helpful, but as soon as I tried to make a move, he slashed out with that sword of his. It cut into my arm, but it seemed like the light, the glowing part did the actual damage instead of the blade. The pain was enormous, searing, like someone was leaching out part of my life. I stumbled back, falling down onto the road that cut through the pit, and looked up at him. He’d already returned to his position at the lip of the bridge, and if you hadn’t seen his flash of movement, you wouldn’t have known he had ever changed position.

“Son of a…” I moaned and rubbed the stinging area of my skin where the blade made contact. How had he moved so quickly and cut so deeply? And why was there no mark on my skin? “What are those things?” I asked.

“T… t… t…” One of the shades pushing a wheel nearby began to stutter. I looked up at him, watching the slow flicker of awareness spread through his eyes. It was the most alive any of these people had looked since my arrival.

“What?”I said, stepping up towards him. “Do you know what these things are?”

“Telos,” he said. Then, as big fat tears began to bubble from his eyes, he repeated it. “TELOS!” he screamed.

One of the little ghouls snapped the whip across his back, but that just caused him to scream more. He let go of his spoke on the enormous wheel and stumbled away, onto the path next to me. As he did so, as he howled and roared into the night, one of the little men in black began to move. My new friend screamed even louder, pointing at him.


He ran then, faster than I would have given him credit for, scrambling down the path and running away from the man in the robe – Telos? Was that his name or his job? Both, maybe? Whatever, he swished past me without making contact, then drew his sword. The rest of the people in the pit took notice then, gasping in horror. That in and of itself was a terrifying sound. With everything I had seen down here already, what could possibly inspire terror in these wretched things?

He rushed in, grabbing the man by his long, greasy hair. The sword went into his back and he screamed. Remembering the agony of my quick slice on the arm, I could sympathize. It was soon obvious that what I’d gotten was nothing, though. As he screamed, I saw his body begin to shrivel, then collapse. His meaty flesh dissolved into nothing and his robes contracted onto a skeletal frame that grew more and more prominent by the second. All the skin and flesh seemed to be sucked into the blade, vanishing upon contact. Soon, the man was nothing but a skeleton, which quickly began to decay in front of my eyes. Bleached white bones grew dingy and dead, chunks of calcium fell off to the ground. It wasn’t until the skull cracked and fell from the neck that the man’s scream finally ended.

I turned around and bolted for the bridge, hoping to get across before “Telos” could catch up to me. About halfway across, I stumbled and fell, smashing my face into the rock. I gripped the stone for dear life, desperate to not plunge over the side, but rolled anyway… and I rolled, and I kept rolling. When I opened my eyes, I realized my perspective had switched. I was beneath the bridge now, but it was still underneath me, and each of the islands had another pit of torture over what had been the underside.

“Oh God,” I moaned, gasping, feeling my heart beating like the thrumming of a motorboat. “God in Heaven…” I looked back and forth at the islands on either side, wishing for some sort of clue, something to point me in the right direction.

I sat on the bridge for a long time. Finally, only one thing occurred to me.

“I can’t do this alone,” I said.

Next: Chapter Twenty-One: I Need a Hero

Creative Commons License
Summer Love by Blake M. Petit is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at www.evertimerealms.com.

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January 2009

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