Finishing just before the deadline (though it’s posting a bit late) is my own entry for my Turn-a-trope Tuesday challenge, Unwanted Revival. 1000 words on the nose!
Hell was not what James thought it would be. There was no lake of burning fire. No devils with forks to torment him, no endless hills and great boulders to push up them. Hell was simply…empty. The only thing there was the lack of everything. No feeling of anything, save for the feeling of longing. It was like hungering but never being able to sate it. Thirsting, but no water able to quench it. Absolute fatigue, with no sleep abating it. Longing with no possible relief. He could not imagine anything worse, because even that was robbed of him; he could literally not imagine. Hell was not some describable torture. Hell was primal, eternal boredom.
When the first tug came, when he actually felt something calling to him, he lunged for it, unable to resist. Oh, the sensation of it! He felt himself moving, felt it! Faster, pulling away from that infernal darkness. A wind that existed only in his mind kissed his form, and he reveled in its caress, Needed it! Reached for it, and felt his own movements!
Images, oh God, colors! Light coming together, slowly at first and then quickening. Shapes formed in the darkness, filled with color, grew into forms that he started to recognize. Pillows. Candles. Flames, flickering back and forth. Even so dull a light as theirs was near blinding to his sight-hungry eyes, but at least they were blinding! He could feel the pain, the delightful pain of their light within his eyes!
Smells, glorious, powerful smells! Burning sage, the hint of something warm and coppery. Sweet perfumes, so foreign already to his smell-starved mind, and yet somehow familiar. Heavy, earthen scents, like freshly dug soil. The smell of burning wax, of sulfur. God, how had he never noticed how good sulfur could smell? How could he ever have gagged at such a thing?
It was all real. A desperate need for air filled him, and he breathed in deep, harsh, gasping breaths. Pure, cool air filled his lungs, and he felt every wonderful bit of it. He became aware, finally, of sound. The crackle of flames overshadowed by a soft, low chant. Voices! His mind registered voices, softly whispering some language he didn’t know, but voices nonetheless.
He tried to sit up, aware that he was laying down. Something stopped him, and a strange, metallic clanking registered in his ears. Clanking? He looked towards his wrists, found them bound in heavy iron manacles.
“Wha…” his voice croaked, his brain remembering how to process speech, but a figure stepped forward from the chanters and laid a finger across his lips, silencing him. He looked up, confused, but comprehending, as the figure slipped back the hood that covered her head and hid her face in shadows.
“Cheryl?” James asked, incredulity in his voice. His wife, Cheryl, smiled, her glossy red lips parting to show her perfect teeth. The smile never reached her eyes.
“Yes, James. It’s me, Cheryl. Do you remember what happened to you James?”
He blinked several times, confused, but a moment later, memory began to flood back to him. He remembered a car, his car, driving too fast down a dark country road. He remembered the road looked wet where it had not rained. He remembered his car skidding out beneath him. He remembered the squeal of tires, the smell of burning rubber, the shock of breaking glass. Instinctually, he tried to cover his face with his hands as memory of the glass shards flooded his brain, but the manacles prevented that.
Cheryl smiled knowingly.
“It was a terrible accident, James. Poor, poor James, speeding back home. But from where, James?”
He felt his face drain of color, a numbness go over her body. Could she know? How?
“It was from my place, Cheryl,” another woman’s voice chimed in. James felt his stomach flop. No…no, it couldn’t be!
It was. Anna, his mistress. Well, one of his mistresses.
“Imagine my surprise, lover boy, when I found out you were married,” Anna said. Her voice was pleasant but there was a hint of ice to it, a chilliness that terrified him.
“Or mine,” a third voice said. Fuck, not Ellie too.
God, no. James felt himself awash with panic. How could this be? How could they all have found each other? Cheryl, Anna, Ellie, Laura, Michelle, Saundra. All of his women. All his little toys. All he had lied to for so long.
“A funeral is a funny thing,” Cheryl said. “Sometimes, it brings people together you never would guess had a connection.”
“And sometimes, with their combined heartbreak, those people can do great things, discover talents they never knew they had,” Saundra said with a bit of bitter mirth to her voice.
His vision finally fully cleared, and James stared around the room in growing horror. His body, shackled to the floor, smelled of embalming fluid and soil. Around him, drawn on the floor in blood, a pentagram. At every point, a brazier filled with burning herbs. Sage, perhaps. And gathered there in a circle, every woman he had lied to. Cheated on, cheated with. Every lover he had taken to bed in the past six years of his marriage.
“We know what hell is like,” Laura said.
“We couldn’t bear the thought of you not feeling anything,” Ellie said.
“So we brought you back,” Cheryl said, her voice like ice, “We brought you back to make you feel.”
James screamed as the knife found his thigh, and upwards to his root. He writhed in agony as Cheryl twisted the blade there, at the pure, shattering pain of it.
“P…please,” he gasped, “D…d…don’t….”
“Don’t worry? Oh, we won’t, love boy,” Anna laughed. “We can bring you back as often as we want, whole as can be, healthy, fine, full of life.”
“And we will,” Michelle added, “Until we think you’ve truly felt the pain we’ve felt.”
The knife cut. James screamed. And soon, darkness returned.