by Void
3rd Place Winner 2005 Fireside Stories

“So thought you, one of the eldest years but of the youngest mind, that once life failed you would be sent here or to the heavens. How ignorant you were of your position. The second coming hath occurred long before you would comprehend, believer of thine ancestry. You hate me, however I am not the deceiver. Twas not my tongue but that of your fathers who lied your reality into being. Now, only through my memory may you know the truth, though whether you choose to accept it is another issue entirely.”

Here was an old man, decrepit, worn by memory unwanted and demons unknown. He was adorned with a baggy buttoned shirt with vertical red and white stripes, and a pair of denim jeans that were far too large in his age-shrunken form. Exactly what he had worn when his heart had failed, an event that had happened what felt like a year before.

Before him was a man clothed in robes, who’s hue was a black deep as night. His essence was apparent in his face, which was though human, radiant of the most malevolent light. His eyes leaked corruption, his voice wreaked of condescending hatred. Before the old casually-clad man was the snake himself, Lucifer. There were no great wings, no fire, no horns. He seemed only a man, save that about him hung a heavy, almost tangible shadow of collective corruption evident in the air though it couldn’t be seen, smelt, or in any other form detected. The feel of the robed man was all that was awry. He was corporeal, but his form was comprised of more than a man’s, perhaps something made it outside of him that would normally stay inside mortal men....

“Save your speeches....” stuttered the man in an attempt at bravery in the face of the oldest and most diabolical evil ever to exist in accordance to his teaching. “I have failed in my life, and for that I have come here. I need not your lies, for being away from all those I loved who were by far more obedient to the wishes of God is punishment enough.” and he could say no more.

The angel smiled, a knowingness of the utmost intimacy filling his eyes.

“All that you once had is lost,” he reasoned, “you hold the wounds of your life, yet all that the experience gained you has been lost. Your identity, your passions, your achievements. You are little more than a husk now, a casket for your life’s failures. Let the truth fill the hole left in your being.”

The old man reflected on this, and realized that what was said was true. He remembered nothing of himself, save his memory of who he had wronged, where he’d failed. This truly is hell, he thought, Where nothing is left to me but my misdeeds. His eyes rose to the entity before him.

“Your truth.....” he stuttered, “Has never helped anyone before.....perhaps I do fail to recall my passions, my identity, but I do remember what I learned on Earth. You doomed man to his life out of the garden, it was you who led me and everyone else to their life of sin, wh...why should I trust you when you have wronged so many?”

The robed man’s smile faltered. “It was not I who damned man to his life of sin. It was in him all along. However, deception is not a thing which I abide by. Your flaws were already present, I simply sent the message to God and his followers that they would manifest themselves at the first given chance. Why have men live in a pretend world where they find themselves the obedient children of God? Had I not intervened, the disappointment would only have been greater when both man and his creator realized that their system of perfect life among mortals could never be. I am not the bringer of evil, but instead the bringer of truth. I however, have never judged truth as either a thing of good or evil. Truth, like all else, works both ways. My mission in this eternity is not to destroy man as your people taught themselves to believe, but instead to destroy the veil of deception with which they have blinded themselves.” With this, Lucifer’s eyes darkened, and he turned and began to stride off, leaving the old man with any of his misgivings.

“Wait!” cried the old figure, who began to follow as swiftly as his aged legs could carry him.

The angel stopped, and again turned, this time to face the old man, who’s age-born exhaustion set in more quickly than before his heart failure.

“Please, please, slow down. I must know, what did you mean by ‘the second coming occurred’. Was I simply a body in a grave and my soul came here upon Jesus’s return, or did you mean something else?”

A grin flickered briefly at his lips. “Your people have warped the lord’s true message, you believe what they wanted you to believe in their grief. When Jesus first walked upon the earth, it was your kind who slew him, proving that you were selfish sinners. For you see, it is true that I morally attacked God, and in thus doing became the second greatest sinner in history. You see in me, as you can in all angels, my state. I am miserable, my soul forsaken by God, and eternally scorned by my kind. Two thirds of the angels hate me for my betrayal of their lord. The other third for dragging them into a game who’s magnitude they did not understand until it was too late.” Lucifer cast off his robes, and as the cloth slid off his shoulders, he became engulfed in fire.

The man fell back, but kept his eyes open to see something occur which had not for thousands of years. Before him, from the flame, erupted a gargantuan monster. It was a miserable figure, even in its astounding height. Its arms were by far too thin, starved and blue with what seemed to be a circulatory system in ill-function, whereas its stomach was bloated and gorged, fed to the point of hideousness. Upon its two scrawny shoulders were seven weeping serpents which served as its heads. Upon each were seven crowns hung their by ten protruding horns. But for all its crowns, it ruled nothing, its deranged and ornamented form perhaps representative of its useless pride, its pointless rule over those it had damned, or its skewered soul. Its tears were red, for they were of flame. Its own blood mixed into the monstrous globules of liquid, for floating in the liquid flame were bits of shattered glass.....

Its voice erupted, a sickening stench filling the air as its terrible voice echoed through the bowels of hell. “You may find my form twisted, deranged, foul, but it is nothing compared to the form of the truly greatest sinner born to this eternity.”

The man visibly shrank back in fear. He froze and swallowed for a few instants before gathering his strength and beginning to speak in a barely audible tone, “Wh...who is the sinner of whom you speak? Surely,” he gathered his bravery to its fullest extent, “Surely there are none greater than you!”

The monster shook the earth with a mighty roar. The old man silenced immediately and shielded his face with his arms. Cruel, bleeding, hate-filled eyes drilled the man down the long snouts of seven heads, their ever streaming tears no longer instigated by sadness.

“The greatest sinner of this eternity is that of the collective soul of man. The second coming of Christ came the day he rose from his grave. During his rising, he took with him his faithful and worthy. When those who were faithful and worthy rose to the house of God from the Earth their perfection could not be duplicated, thus dooming your kind to the existence you suffer today. Though many of those left behind have proven faithful to the religion presented to them, none are worthy, for all those who could show them the way are extracted from the Earth. All of you have committed at the least, one of the ten great sins, and therefore must pay your penance in all of the eight spheres of hell.”

The pathetic figure of the man still sat back staring through one eye at the monster as his arms were kept in their defensive position. He lowered his arms, and then again spoke.

“Then I have a long way to go....but this hell is only the first, and already I wish it would all end, for I feel nothing but hatred for myself, and can see nothing good that has come of man. How do others survive your prison Lucifer?” with the recent revelations made for him, the man was nearly beyond fear, for if this creature decided to kill him due to his disrespectful tone, then it would be better than the pit of despair he lived in now.

The creature was suddenly no longer the reptile, but now was again the robed figure. His old smile was back, sending chills down the old man’s spine despite his new found indifference.

“You are further along than you think. Each sphere of hell carries its own punishment. You have lived out your life in the first. Your earth serves as a perfect hell, with the punishment of toil, and the freedom to make mistakes which you can be hated by others and yourself for later, and the all too necessary absence of God. Your first period of penance is complete. Welcome to your new life in the second hell. Here despair and self-hatred reign supreme. Here is where you receive true realization of the mistakes you made throughout your first life, and true sight of your own sinning nature. When you have lived out your life here, you will move on to the third. Suicide is a common alternative for many to a life such as the one you will live out here. However, if you choose to take this course of action, it will result in a second cycle through the hells once your original penance is complete. Remember that life is the most precious thing that God has given you. Your soul lives through every existence in every hell, so know that not even death can serve as your excuse.”

The man put his hands in the pockets of his denim jeans, and let out a depressed sigh. The angel turned once more, and began to stride off, before he remembered something said earlier.

“Oh yes,” he said, only partially turning back to face his guest, “and please understand that I do not run this prison. It is a prison for my soul as well, for the revelations I have given you this day are the same ones I have given to every mortal to have ever died after the rising of their lord. I will never ascend unto heaven, for my penance spans an eternity. Feel lucky for your chance to make up for the sins done by your ancestors. They will never be free of the hells either, for they have reached the eighth, but the gates are closed for them to go further, or to go back.”

The old man nodded, and watched as the once-angel strode away, finally giving in to an ensuing storm of emotions that was all-too human, and becoming the great beast once more, unfurling his shadow wings, and casting off with a scream of contempt and despair into the desolate, grey sky.....