Thursday, March 20, 2014


For my novel Salvation Day, I had to come up with a decent amount of background that I knew wouldn't make it into the novel.  In time, I turned part of that into a short story.  This bit is about one of the main characters and her descent into Hell.  I hope you like it.

            Karen pressed the razor blade into the skin and pulled it across her wrist.  The ice had done a good job of numbing things up - although she was vaguely aware of the blood flowing into the sink, there was no pain associated with it.
            She felt lightheaded and staggered backwards against the bathroom wall.  Her vision went hazy, and although there were red splatters dripping onto the floor, she didn't care.  That would be someone else's mess to clean.
            Sliding down the wall, Karen felt peaceful.  The pain of recent months would soon end.  Her daughter gone and her husband distant, she knew life to be not a blessing to be enjoyed, but a curse to be endured.  As her energy fled, she fell to the ground and closed her eyes.
            All at once, Karen felt more aware than she ever had.  She may have fallen, but the floor didn't break that fall.  She looked up and saw her body rapidly receding above her, a black cloud of thick smoke enveloping it.  Struggling against this image, her spirit fell through the emptiness.
            The blackness soon faded into a bright orange haze.  Wisps of yellow and grey smoke rose from some unseen well below, and the wind that rushed past was like a hair dryer in the face.  Karen's mind jumped from panicked thought to panicked thought, but she couldn't figure out what was happening.
            Smoke racing past her parted to reveal a vast cavern.  Jagged black rocks rose from the surface, along with a mottled pile of something she couldn't make out.  That was when she realized she wasn't alone.
            There were others falling beside her, people of both genders and all races.  The steady shower of bodies poured from the sky, those caught in the maelstrom struggling against the same unseen force that wrapped itself around Karen.  Some toppled end over end while others fell like a stone through a pond.
            She tried to scream, but no sound escaped her lips.  The only sound was an awful ringing of bells washing over her.  The vibration pulsed through her, shaking her from her feet to her heart and back again.  As the gong penetrated, it drew in a vast feeling of despair and loneliness that extinguished every happy thought she'd ever had.  Although she tried to recall something that might give her comfort - Samantha's first smile or the day Mike proposed - nothing would register.  Instead, all she felt was a sinking sensation that went beyond her fall.
            Her arms and legs refused to respond to her.  She could do little but flail, jerking her shoulders and torso to get some kind of motion.  The ground rushed towards her, and through the rain of bodies, she saw a puddle of bodies below.  Karen wanted to brace herself for the impact, but unable to move, she could do little but watch it approach.
            Faster it came, the writhing mass of bodies giving life to the cavern floor.  Would they grab her?  Would she sink through them?  Again she tried to scream, and again with equally futile results.
            She hit the pile and bounced, rolling like a log off of the naked bodies.  Her back shrieked in agony, but that was nothing next to the revulsion she felt sliding off of the others who lay there.  There was a thin film of green slime everywhere, and traction would've been impossible even if she could've moved.  Once she finally slid to a stop, she found herself face down and staring into someone's armpit.
            Twisting and turning with every ounce of energy she had, Karen finally managed to turn around, although she wondered who was now staring at her backside.  That quickly became the least of her worries.
            The rain of bodies continued, each one striking the pile with the sound of wood hitting concrete.  There was no sky, only a bright orange light occasionally penetrated by sharp black stalactites.  Bursts of yellow lightning split the air and the rushing wind brought an intermittent scream.
            And the bells!  The bells, the bells, the merciless bells.  They shook the air and poured over her like a wave, each gong taking hope and replacing it with misery.
            Where am I? she thought.  Am I dreaming?  Yes, that's got to be it.
            Her rationalizing stopped when she managed to turn her head and saw...something.  It was bearing down on her and was 50 feet tall, with sagging brown and purple skin, curling brown horns, and an enormous pair of yellow fangs that shot from a protruding jaw.  It wore a pair of green overalls and carried what looked like a snow shovel.
            "To and fro, feel the flow, everyone sent where meant to go," it sang.
            As Karen tried to make sense of the creature's ramblings, it tore into the pile with its shovel, flinging a stack of bodies over its shoulder.  She couldn't make out where the people on the shovel disappeared to, but she doubted it was anywhere pleasant.
            She desperately wanted to stand up and run, even if that meant stepping on those beneath her, but her body refused to obey.  At that point, the creature pushed its shovel into her pile and scooped up another mass of bodies, including her.
            Most made it onto the tool with no problem, but Karen saw several body parts fall from the end of the shovel.  Whatever picked her up chuckled.
            "Separate or together, each one finds his place."
            Quickly, Karen was airborne as the creature tossed her over its shoulder.  She managed to twist just enough to see and giant black funnel.  She spun around, others pressed against her as she shot through the dark tunnel.  Karen squeezed her eyes shut until there was...
            Silence.  No sound.  No bells.  Just a ringing silence.
            Karen stood, realizing she now had full control of her limbs.  She was no longer naked, but rather wearing an old pair of jeans and a pink t-shirt she'd always loved.  The despair the bells let in was still present, but she felt she had more control.
            The world gradually came into focus.  The room, which moments before was dark, now brightened to show a formal parlor.  There were rigid chairs and tables with glossy finish.  The walls were an off-white and the windows were adorned with gold curtains.  All in all, it reminded Karen of her grandmother's house.
            Several people began to appear as well.  Hums of conversation were solemn.  Some held drinks, and all of them wore clothes one might put on if going to church.
            "Excuse me," she said to one of them.  "What's going  on here?"
            The figure ignored her and sipped his drink.  As the haziness faded further, she recognized the man.
            "Uncle Herbie!" she exclaimed.  "What's happening?"
            However, Uncle Herbie continued to ignore her.  Karen waved a hand in front of his face with similar lack of results, so she shook her head and kept walking.  That was when she noticed something against the far wall.
            A coffin.
            Karen didn't want to go up and look, but she felt compelled to, even though she already knew who was in it.  The sleek brown box had brass handles along the side, and the lid was open.  A few people peered inside, made a face that Karen could only associate with disgust, and walked away.  She shuffled towards the coffin.
            Sure enough, her body was in there, but not as she remembered.  The corpse's face was bloated and covered with worms.  Her hair was limp and colorless, and an open sore split her left cheek.  She could tell she was naked but had no desire to see what the rest of her body looked like.
            “Oh dear God, someone please wake me up,” she cried.
            Her next door neighbor Terry and an old work acquaintance of her husband's named Pat walked by.  Both held drinks, and Terry spoke.
            "What a dumb bitch."
            Pat sipped his drink – scotch by the smell of it – and nodded.  “Yeah.  I thought she’d do something stupid.”  He grabbed the Karen-corpse by the hair.  The head wobbled.  “I mean, could anyone have ever kissed this thing?"
            “I dunno,” replied Terry.  “Hey, Mike!”
            Karen turned and saw her husband walking over.  Mike wore a blue suit and sharp red tie.  He also had his arm around a dizzying blond in a black miniskirt.
            “Yeah?” Mike replied.
            “You ever kiss this nasty looking whore?” asked Terry.
            Her husband made a sour face.  Little as I had to.  I got her when I was lonely and she was an easy piece of ass.  After that, I couldn’t leave like I wanted or she’d have taken me to the cleaners.  But now that she’s gone, I can be me again.”  He pinched the blond on the ass and she giggled.
            “But still,” said Pat in a disgusted voice, “how could you have kissed this?  Look at it.”
            Mike looked at Karen’s corpse and shook his head.  “I know.  She used to be good looking, but that was years ago.  Then she got pregnant and let it all go to shit.  Too bad, ‘cause that was the only thing she ever had going for her.  Kinda stupid, and a personality that would make your skin crawl.  I used to stay at work so much so I wouldn’t have to talk to her.”
            “Mike, don’t say that,” sobbed Karen.
            “I know what you mean,” said Terry.  “She couldn’t even keep her own kid alive.  What kind of a mom can’t keep her kid from dying?”
            “Yeah, that’s the other thing,” said Mike.  “It was her fault that Samantha died.  If she’d taken better care of her, my daughter would be alive.  Probably a good thing, though.  I would’ve never forgiven myself if she’d gotten Karen’s looks or attitude.  One of her was enough.”
            Tears streamed down Karen’s face.  She stormed over to Mike and tried slapping him, but her hands went through his cheek.  He didn't even react. 
            “LOOK AT ME!” she screamed.  Her arms flailed at Mike in an attempt to do something, anything, but nothing happened.
            Donna, Terry's wife, came over to the casket.  “What did she think she was doing?”
            “Who cares?” Mike said.  “Probably thought we’d get all weepy over her, but she didn’t know us that well.  I already had – it’s Candy, right? – on the side before Karen did this, but at least now I don’t have to sneak around.”  He snickered.  “Good thing she never knew about us going at it on the couch while she was at the hospital with Samantha.”
            Karen broke down again, face in her hands.
            “You mind if we see what she did?” asked Pat.
            “Nah,” said Duplicate Mike.  “I’m only here to make sure she’s good and gone.  Wasn’t for etiquette, I'd leave.”  He turned back to Candy and brushed his hand over her right breast.
            Pat and Terry flipped the coffin over.  The corpse rolled out, bloated.  Her skin was ashen gray, and she looked like she hadn’t bathed in a year.  On each wrist was a large gash with encrusted blood. 
            Terry grabbed one of the hands, shaking it vigorously.  “Nope, no more blood to come out of this useless cunt.”  He started laughing, as if sharing an inside joke.  “How are you Karen?  Still dead, I see.”
            It was Donna’s turn.  She opened the corpse’s mouth and looked inside.  “Hello?  Anybody in there?  I heard you were gone, but you always looked a little vacant, so it's hard to tell.”  She looked at Mike.  “Kind of a dead lay, wasn’t she?”
            Mike shrugged.  “Yeah, just something to pass time.  Probably would’ve been better off with a knothole in the fence.”
            Karen fell to the floor and started sobbing uncontrollably.  Everyone she knew was acting like her death was little more than an inconvenience.
            She looked up to see the blond squeeze Mike's arm.  With that, her husband said, “I’ve got better things to do here than pretend to cry over this worthless bitch.  Come on baby – let’s go find some quiet time in Karen’s hearse.”
            Mike winked at his friends, slipped his arm around his date’s waist, and walked off.  Karen could do little but weep.  The others who were left began to defile the corpse.  She turned and tried to walk from the room but was met by a man in a dark suit with a red carnation on the lapel.
            “Mrs. Faulkner, the viewing is not yet complete.  You really must stay.”
            “Why?” she cried, oblivious to the fact that this was the first person that acknowledged her.  “They don’t love me.  They all h-hated me.”
            “That may be true,” said the man.  “But it would be impolite to leave early.”  He put his hand on the small of her back and tried to lead her back into the room.
            She turned back just in time to see Terry rubbing the corpse’s face in his crotch.
            That was all it took.  She broke from the man’s hand and ran down the hallway towards the entrance.  Bursting through the doors, she screamed the whole time.
            She hadn't been sure what to expect when she came through the other side, but a nursery wasn't it.  All around were mothers holding children, cuddling and caressing them.  The cribs were in neat rows, each with a mobile hanging above.  The children were wrapped in soft white blankets.  Music from a lullaby crooned from somewhere unseen.
            Karen was the only woman without a baby in her arms.  She began to look around, queasiness rising in her gut.
            “Samantha?” she called.  “Samantha?”
            She walked, then ran, up and down the aisles of cribs, occasionally stopping to look inside one.  At the end of a row, she’d skid and turn the corner before running down the next aisle.
            “Samantha!  Where are you?”
            Karen accidentally brushed against one of the mothers holding a child.  The woman had straight blond hair and wore a white sweater.  The amount of white was beginning to overwhelm her.
            “Watch where you’re going!” yelled the woman, shattering the room's serenity.
            “I’m sorry,” said Karen.  “I’m looking for my daughter.”
            She’s not here,” sneered the woman.  “Who’d even sleep with you so you could have a child?  What’d you do, ride some poor drunk after he passed out?”
            Karen backed away, eyes widening.  The other mothers began to shoot her dirty looks, as if her mere presence was offensive.
            “Samantha!  It’s mom!  Where are you?”
            A woman with curly black hair and a very white shirt leaned over the crib next to Karen, a softly cooing baby in her arms.  “You’re not supposed to be in here if you don’t have a child.  You should leave.”
            Karen stared at her for a second and then continued yelling.
            “Samantha!  Samantha!”
            Finally, she heard gentle cry from not far away.  Karen rushed over, but she didn’t find what she was expecting.
            Karen picked up a limp and clearly dead baby.  It looked like Samantha did the day she died – limp, mouth and eyes holding a stiff position, and yellow.  The color of her jaundice stood in sharp contrast to the room's white.
            “Samantha, wake up.  Oh Jesus, please honey, wake up!” cried Karen, taking the kid into her chest.  She pulled her away and tried to shake her without being violent.  “SAMANTHA!”
            The curly haired woman walked over, still holding her baby.  “You shouldn’t be in here unless you have a baby.”
            “This is my baby,” she sobbed.
            No, that kid is dead.  You shouldn’t be in here.”
            “Samantha!” Karen sobbed.  Suddenly, Samantha was gone and Karen was hugging a gravestone that read, “Samantha Faulkner.”  She screamed again and threw the gravestone down, shattering it as it struck the ground.  An orderly in an immaculate white uniform walked over.
            “You’re disturbing the other mothers,” he said.  “If you don’t have a baby, you need to leave.”
            “But my daughter was right here,” she said, pointing to the crib.
            “There’s your kid,” said the orderly, also pointing at the crib.  The thing Karen had picked up earlier was back, looking as lifeless as ever.  “Doesn’t look so good, though.  What did you do?”
            Karen could barely speak between the sobs.  “I d-didn’t d-do any, anything.  I l-loved her.”
            “Not enough, I guess,” said the orderly, who began to walk back down the aisles.
            Karen reached back down into the crib and took Samantha, but when she came back up, it wasn’t Samantha she had, but a large piece of liver.
            She shrieked, the liver oozing through her hands.  Before she could drop it, the organ dissolved into a yellow paste that ran down Karen’s arms.  She tried to wipe off her hands on the sheets of the now empty crib, but she was unable to reach them, so she wiped them on her jeans.  The yellow spread across her legs as well as her arms. 
            “What’s happening to me?” she cried.
            “Nothing is happening to you,” said a small, childlike voice.  “Because that’s exactly what you did for me – nothing.”
            Karen looked down to find a baby Samantha upright and walking towards her.  Samantha was still very yellow, only accented further by the yellow nightie she wore.  However, this wasn’t the sweet little girl she remembered – this one had a glare in her eyes, accusing her mother of some unknown crime.
            When Karen didn’t speak, Samantha did.  “You let this happen to me.  I came from you and you couldn’t protect me.  What kind of a terrible person can’t take care of their child?”
            “B-but I did every-everything I could for you.  I took care of you when you w-were sick and stayed with you until the end.  I love you and miss you s-s-so much.”  The lack of reality didn’t even register, and the only thing that mattered was getting Samantha’s forgiveness.
            The baby made a contorted expression that Karen would have never believed came from a child so small.  “No.  If you really loved me, you would have fixed me.  That’s what mommy’s do.  I died wondering why God would give me a useless thing like you for a mother.”
            Karen tried to reach for Samantha, but the child backed away and shrieked, “GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME, BITCH!”
            As Karen froze, a very large woman in a white tank top and white slacks walked towards them.  She quickly realized that it was Anne, Mike's mother.  The woman bent down and picked up Samantha, who seemed to happily accept the affection.
            “There, there, I can take care of you.  Better than she can, at any rate,” she said, jerking her head towards Karen.
            “I wish you were my mommy,” said Samantha.
            “I know,” Anne said.  “I did a good job for my son, but I couldn’t convince him not to marry her.  Maybe you’d be alive if he'd picked better.  That’s okay – he’s moving on and finding others who will be better for his future children.”  She turned around, refusing to further acknowledge Karen, and walked away.
            “Don’t you ever come here again,” Samantha called as she faded down the aisle of cribs.  “We don’t want you here.”  A lot of the mothers still holding their own children nodded.
            The orderly in white walked over to Karen and put his hand on her arm.  “You need to leave.  You don’t have a child, so you can’t be here.”
            “B-but that’s my daughter,” she said, pointing in Samantha’s direction.  Samantha, for her part, didn’t appear to even know who Karen was, being intent on cuddling with Mike’s mom.
            “No it’s not,” said the orderly.  “That child is alive.  Yours is dead.  It’s time for you to go.”
            Karen put her hand over her mouth and walked towards the door to the nursery.  The double doors were gray, standing out against the white like a stain.  As she walked, the other mothers shouted at her.
            “Don’t come back!”
            “Only good mom’s come in here.”
            “Try to take care of a dog next time.  Good practice…until you kill it too.”
            She burst through the doors, crying as she did so.  The tears in her eyes made the bright light she encountered even more brilliant.  Placing a hand up to shield her face, she put her other hand against the wall.  It was cold and wet.  She slipped in something and slid to the floor, her strength fading.
            "Karen!"  Mike screamed.  "Karen!"
            She struggled to make sense of what was going on.  Warm blood flowed from her wrists and spilled onto the floor, forming a puddle at her feet.  She tried to wipe the tears from her eyes but succeeded only in smearing her face with blood.
            "Hang on, honey," Mike said.  "The ambulance is on the way.  Dear God, Karen, why did you do this?"
            She slipped in and out of consciousness.  The paramedics wrapped her wrists and loaded her into the ambulance.  She heard them as if through a door tell her that they'd stopped the bleeding but she needed an infusion soon or she'd die.  It was all very confusing - hadn't she already died?
            When she came to, Karen was lying in a hospital bed, bandages wrapped tight around her wrists, and an IV allowed fresh blood to flow into her body.  She looked around and saw Mike sitting in a chair beside her bed.  He looked exhausted but smiled when she opened her eyes.
            "Nice to have you back," he said.
            "What happened?"
            "You cut your wrists," Mike replied.  "I thought we lost you.  After what happened with Samantha, I don't think I could've taken losing you too."
            "That's not what I mean."  She slumped back against her pillow.  "I died.  I know I did."
            "No.  I came home just as you were bleeding all over the place.  I did what I could to stop it and called 911.  Then I just tried to keep you awake so you wouldn't slip away."
            "No, no, no," she breathed.  Exhaustion threatened to overpower her.  "I died.  I'm sure of it.  And..."
            After a second, Mike prompted, "And what?"
            She bit her lip.  "I went to Hell."
            "Honey, you had a nightmare, that's all.  I thought you were gone, but I'm glad we could save you.  Why would you do that to yourself?"
            All of her pain came rushing back.  Through choking sobs, she said, "I couldn't take the p-pain.  My little g-g-girl is gone, and I couldn't do it anymore."
            Mike took her hand.  "You have me.  I don't want you to ever check out on me."
            "But you weren't around like I needed.  You let me sit in that house all alone.  There was no other way for the pain to go away."
            "Please, let me be here for you.  I'm sorry you were in so much pain, and I wish I could go back and take it away, but all I can do is try to help you, us, move forward.  It'll be hard, but we'll do it together."
            She looked into the eyes of the man she loved and squeezed his hand.  "Thank you.  I'm so sorry.  Please don't ever leave me again."
            "I won't" Mike choked out.  After taking a deep breath, he said, "Let's get past this.  There are other things we need to deal with now."
            "Like what?" Karen asked.
            "Well, there's this."  He reached into a bag at his feet and pulled something out.  Karen couldn't see what it was until he laid it on top of her stomach.
            Samantha, jaundiced and dead.
            Her hair stood on end and instantly turned white.  When she looked back at Mike, his eyes were red and he smiled at her through razor sharp teeth.
            "You made the choice," he growled.  "Your actions broke with the natural order and opened you up to us.  Now we'll have a long time to work things out."
           Karen wondered if she'd ever stop screaming.

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