By: Domus Vocis
Before my death, I was nothing more than an everyman you’d meet. I had a job, kept my head down, a girlfriend (or boyfriend, depending on your preference) and a house of my own. My office job was nothing special, nor was the metropolitan city I lived in. I wasn’t religious either, not until that day.
And then came pain. Unnerving pain.
“Ack!” I violently coughed as I knelt up, tasting bitter blood on my cracked lips and pebbles cut into my bleeding knees. “What the…?” Voices could be heard, but I couldn’t hear at first outside the ringing in my ears. “Hello? Is someone there?!”
My entire body felt bruised all over, my gashes and cuts stinging with each move I made. From the tips of my toes to the grainy hairs on my head, the back of my skull throbbed like a jackhammer. As I staggered and opened my eyes in disoriented blinks, I could barely make out the world around me. Screaming, shouting, and howling winds painted in a blackening red haze.
“Anyone? Can anyone hear me?” I shouted with a sore throat. Electric smoke could be tasted in the air, as well as something boiling to a crisp. “What the heck happened?!”
Suddenly, a pair of unknown hands snatched what I presumed to be my wallet from my back pocket.
“Thanks for the cash!” a voice cackled, the owner’s footsteps disappearing into the noise. “The end is nigh!”
“Hey, come back!” I begged, stretching my arms out as thunderous booms resonated from the distance. “Hey, what’s going on?! I-I can’t see! Did something happen?” My limbs limped for anything to grab onto, only to thrash my hands away from a smoldering wall. “Gah, shit! Hot, hot, hot!” My fingers felt like melted putty, and one of my pinkies looked broken and flared with white pain I could barely register.
I continuously opened and closed my eyes to desperately see what was going on, stumbling back down to the concrete ground with each step I made. Luckily, not only did I manage to catch myself and prevent my injuries from getting worse, but my vision came back after a minute of blind wandering.
What I saw though, I’d never forget. “Oh my God.”
To my left and right, giant hazy columns of metal and stone rose up towards the reddish sky, or what I presumed was the sky. I could see words on the entrances and burning billboards, but I couldn’t make out what they said. Ahead, people lay on the ground either dead or squirming as they lay in fallen debris.
My legs almost gave way, but I frantically willed myself to keep standing. “What…what’s going on?” I muttered, “Am I dead or something? Am I…am I in Hell?” To my dismay, my memories weren’t good. Vaguely, all I remembered was a bright flash, followed by darkness. Then this.
“And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the damning lake of fire and brimstone, where the Beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever!”
I came across a man wearing what looked to be a pastor’s garb, a blackened bible in his left hand while his left was raised in the air. “Father, sir!” I asked, noticing as a couple people standing around him in their own disheveled, hungered states. One woman had a bandage haphazardly wrapped around one of her eyes, and the swelling wasn’t good. “Father, what happened to me? Are we...dead?”
“We have ventured to the lake of fire, son!” he replied, nodding as the woman and what I presumed to be her son whispered ‘amen’. “You have sinned in your past life, and we all have! This is the lake of fire and brimstone! Join me, and we shall cleanse our souls for the sins we have ignored.”
I considered a moment, but staggered back as one of the followers, an elderly man, fell down and didn’t get up. “No…No thanks,” I spoke, then made a respective cross on my chest. “If this is indeed…Hell…G-God be with you.”
The preacher’s face, underneath the swelling and blank eyes, just blankly stared. “Prayers go to you then, sinner, and what has led us here to the bottomless furnace!” the preacher shouted and continued as I turned my back and walked. I tried ignoring his words as he rambled on and on through the rubble, but I did hear his last passage before the man went silent. “The cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death! Can…can I…?”
Then he fell over dead, or maybe in a different circle of the inferno. What did he do to be sent here? I asked myself. And that’s when horror hit me, and I wondered, What did I do to be sent here?
Later down the street, the top of a metal structure gave way and plummeted down as hot gusts of wind blew like a hurricane. All around me animalistic screams and shouting echoed around the thick air, and the more I limped the more my aching body rejected my motions. Second-degree burns painted my left leg beneath my shredded jeans. My tears dripped down my red-hot cheeks, and I only wanted to lie down. However, I willed myself to move forward.
If I am dead, I grimly thought, If I’m in Hell...I gotta know...how...
Hugging my arm, I limped down the road and made my bearings. The landscape resembled a city, only more hellish. I couldn’t see any demons, but I did see things that would haunt me. What I saw was the stuff of demented nightmares.
To my left as I passed an alley entrance, I caught a glimpse of a little girl begging her daddy to wake up. Inside the dusty remains of a derelict truck to my left, an overweight man sat with his innards scorching and splayed out of the windshield. The man was still alive, begging for death, until I watched him remain still in the vehicle’s darkened skeleton. A teenage boy begged another—either a friend of his, his brother or a lover—to get up as bled to death.
A woman sat in the middle of a sidewalk, hugging the charred corpses of her two toddlers while crying in agony. Looters either limping like me for their greed or for vain safety. Remains of half-deteriorated skulls littered the tarry ground, followed by flailing bodies in roaring structures and out in the open roads. I could smell the lingering flesh on their limbs, the iron blood that carried the vague scent of overcooked bacon, and I wanted to vomit through my burning throat.
One of the looming skyscrapers behind me suddenly collapsed, and the dust cloud came closing in. Frozen a first, I bolted through the pain and managed to lunge into a doorless alcove in one of the buildings. Coughing as the dust settled and the pain at the back of my head seared, I turned to discover the alcove was an abandoned coffee shop.
Desperately, I tried finding water and food, only to find the tap completely melted and the food burnt or molding. Sweat dripped down my forehead, searing the open burns like salt. I was in so much pain, and I wanted to know what the hell happened!
That’s when I heard hectic, almost inhumanly fast footsteps above me. “Hello?” I called, hoping for a familiar soul, “Is someone in here?!” As the footsteps became erratic, I grabbed a fallen broom and held it like a bat.
Part of me expected a fight or struggle, until the door opened and an elderly man fell from the door, his entire face covered in black lacerations. Before I could even swing, the man’s staggered and choked while clawing at his own boiling face. From the cook’s outfit, I guessed he had to be the owner.
"Kill me..." he pleaded, gurgling from his swollen throat, "Killlll meeeeee..."
The man collapsed onto the ground, and I backed away in horror as he tried grabbing my leg. I almost wanted to vomit at his appearance, from the cindery burns on his face to the yellow snot foaming from his lips. His hair was all but gone, like he’d been doused in gasoline and set ablaze.
Before I could process it all, instinct propelled my body to escape the back as I heard explosions above the shop. To either my dismay or relief—I couldn’t yet decide—I escaped the wreckage of the collapsing floor above and made it to an empty alley.
Through the enduring pain on my leg, I further limped in search for an entrance, leaving a trail of more blood behind me, and praying to know what kind of Hell dedicated itself to mimicking a warzone. Well...I got my answer when I found the alleyway’s exit.
As I came out of the alley, a half-burnt newspaper suddenly smacked my face. Grumbling and pulling it off, that’s when I noticed the darkened silhouettes highlighted on the concrete by my torn shoes. I was further perplexed, along with the fact every window on the buildings were melted or broken, until I looked at the newspaper’s remaining headline.
“Peace Talks End Disastrously: Incoming Nuclear War Imminent?”
To my left, I couldn’t help but marvel at the fiery shape of a mushroom cloud a mile or so away. "Well...fuck."