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When the first domino fell, all the others came clattering down, and they did not stop until my life was in shambles.
It was Friday afternoon. My wife and the kids had all piled into the car hours ago. Barbara had driven halfway across the state, taking the kids to visit their grandparents for the weekend. She had called to tell me that they had arrived safely, were tired, and that she would call me the following evening.
I was humming; I had the whole house to myself, as I sat on the couch reading a magazine article in absolute peace. Meanwhile the television played quietly in the background. I finished my article just in time to catch the evening news, so I got up to go change the channel.
I had only walked a few steps when the sharp pains stopped me in my tracks. It felt as if I had taken a lightning bolt strike to the center of my chest. I instinctively clutched at my breast with my arm and a claw of a hand. Then I felt my knees give way, and my body went slack, and I fell to the floor. My head struck the surface with such a jolting collision, that it knocked me senseless.
After the fall, my mind merely registered blackness. As my brain labored to think thick thoughts, my mind soon succumbed to fatigue, and my awareness dwindled. I descended deeper and deeper into the darkness of my mind, finally slipping beneath the surface of a pool of nothingness.
After a long period of torpor, my mind flickered with activity, and I began to dream. In my dream, an utter absence of light produced an oppressive blackness that swallowed up everything for as far as I could see.
I found myself lost in what seemed to be a huge, stony valley. I wandered about like a blind man, staggering aimlessly across the rocky basin, in a cold sweat, my mind ruminating, wondering if I was walking in circles. I pushed myself onward, persevering for three grueling days.
My legs became so heavy that I stopped and I put my hands on my knees. I panted trying to catch my breath. I thought how nice it would be, just to stop wandering in doubt. I would rest, if only for a moment, and then press on.
I sat down on the rough rock bottom of the desolate valley. But I could not calm my restless thoughts. I was trembling, so I drew my knees into my chest and I wrapped my arms around them. In my ruminations, I was rocking myself back and forth.
I decided that I was not going to get up and walk anymore. I bit my lower lip, as shook my head; a single tear rolled down my cheek. I did not wipe it off.
I spoke to myself saying, “You can do this, the worst part is being afraid. Everything else will take care of itself; you just try not to be so afraid.”
I rocked back and forth, and took some peace in the rhythm. I still had an uneasy pang in my gut but not as much as before. I tried not to think while I rocked, knowing that I would be alone when I died in the darkness. Inside I hung heavy and felt empty.
Then I saw it out of the corner of my eye, and my heart leapt with joy—it was the soft glow of a single candle burning. It rested in an antiquated candleholder, the kind with a ring for the finger. I noticed that the holder lay precariously, sitting askew atop the small rocks that lay scattered all about. I stared into the yellow flame. It was the only point of light in an infinite sea of ebony.
I anxiously watched yellow tongue quiver, and when the gentle breeze blew, it pushed the spitting flame all the way over on its side, where it hung tremulously, clinging to the wick.
I realized that the candle was a dream symbol. It was the candle of my life force, and that delicate flame represented my mortal existence, a thing so vulnerable, and so easily snuffed out forever. At this realization, I became terrified that something would blow out the flame, and I would die. I mentally anguished as I stirred in my dream.
Quite startled, my body jerked, and I gasped coming out of the nightmare. I soon realized that it was all just a terrible dream, and as I lay there with my eyes closed, the tightness in my chest faded as my heartbeat slowed down to a regular rhytm.
My thoughts were finally clearing up. I was fully aware that I had suffered a massive heart attack. I still remembered falling and hitting my head on the living room floor. When I opened my eyes, I could not see anything. In fact, I could not even detect light. I concluded that when I fell, that I had received a head trauma. I was suddenly alarmed, but I calmed down when recalled reading that a severe concussion can result in a temporary, but complete loss of vision. It was a minor injury and the sight usually returned completely.
But then my mind dredged up the two worst words for a worrisome person, “what if…” My immediate thought was “what if it was not a simple concussion?”
After all, I had suffered a major cardiovascular accident, what if I also suffered a stroke.
What if the blow to the head caused massive bleeding in the brain, and resulted in partial brain damage? Suddenly a sense of panic completely overcame me, and I feared that I might well be permanently blind.
With no one at home when I fell, I wondered how long I had been lying on the living room floor unconscious.
Then I realized that I was not actually lying on the living room floor any longer. Having suffered a heart attack, my first thought was that the house cleaner had come in Saturday morning, found me lying unconscious on the living room carpet and called 911.
I naturally assumed that I was in the hospital. I yelled out, “Nurse! For God’s sake, help!” There was no response. I wondered what kind of a hospital this was. Then I began to think I might not even be in a hospital. My suspicions quickly grew. If I was in a hospital, why was it that I smelled none of the distinctive disinfectants or the odor sickness, urine, and disease? I felt no IVs in my arms. I heard no speaker pages for doctors or nurses. In fact, I heard nothing at all. There was a profound silence about.
I was lying on my back on a very hard surface. I swept an arm aside in my world of darkness, and scattered away bits of rubble with a clattering. I inhaled the air deeply; it was as cold as the air from a freezer. Except for the fact that the air smelled appallingly musty, stale, and like years of dust hung within it.
I had no I idea where I was. It seemed like I lay on a cement floor of a building under construction. But the floor was not smooth concrete like in construction, it was hard stone, and its surface was very rough. Also, the flooring lay littered with what felt like small, porous rocks.
That was when I had a crazy recollection. I remembered enrolling in spelunking, or cave exploring, thirty years ago in college, to blow off the physical education requirement. I had been in a few caves, and as ridiculous as it seemed, I had very serious thoughts that I was laying on my back inside the depths of a pitch-black black cave, as opposed to something civilized
I sat up, I found my footing, and I stood up on the rough rock floor. I walked about carefully, using my hands to feel about the dark, and stepped cautiously among the scattered stones that rolled and crunched under my feet. I was very curious to ascertain the physical nature of my mysterious environment.
It was darker than any lack of light I had ever experienced. I immediately assumed I was in a colossal cave, one immeasurably far beneath the surface of the earth, which would explain the cutting cold that burned my ears and bit at my nostrils.
However, after surveying with my hands, I felt no walls of any kind in the cavernous void. I felt no stalactites hanging either. Most importantly, unlike any other cave, this place had no evidence of harboring any life. There was no proof of bat guano on the flooring, nor did I smell its distinctive odor. I found no moss, lichens, or slime on the floor. I felt no insects moving among the loose stones. I heard no dripping or trickle of water. And despite the bitter cold, I touched no ice anywhere. Lastly, a deafening silence hung in the air. There was no life in this dark, cavernous realm.
I concluded this desolate rock expanse was not any one of the many different known types of caves. I was certain of this conclusion because the air had such ancientness about it, as if no pair of lungs had ever breathed it before. All caves have at least one or more entrances and exits—air can enter into a cave from the outside. It is drawn and moved within caves by natural forces of pressure.
But the air in this black abyss did not smell like any cave. I had no idea how it came to be inside this place. I was positive it did not contain any air that had once existed externally. This stony hollow was undeniably self-contained; it existed as an isolated, vast hollow space— bordered by airtight granite on every side. There was simply no way into this strange realm. And consequently, there was no way out. That was the only possible explanation as to why this place harbored no life.
But with no way in and no way out, how did I wind up inside of here?
This damned place reminded me of a poem I read long ago. I could only remember one line of its prose.
…Oh, frightful black void, in this realm of plucked out eyes, what bone-chilling cold, like unseen frost cuts at my face. Oh baleful circumstances, why do you conspire against me and engulf me like a tomb…
Recalling that verse to mind, my hands began to tremble. The poem brought on a superstitious dread of my surroundings. The longer that I had been in the dark, the more wary I had become of this dark abode.
Soon an eerie unrest coursed through my veins. In my mind arose a nagging feeling—something was different…some change had occurred. One unsaid word lay silent on my tongue, “caution.” I blew warm breaths into my cold, cupped hands, trying to draw the numbness out of my fingers. Suddenly I stopped, my breath was silent, and I felt my heart pump harder, like a fist clenching inside my chest.
I could never explain or make reason of my sixth sense, but when I focused deeply, I could detect and feel the presence of things that I could not see with my eyes; dangers, which came lurking within close physical proximity to me.
As the moments passed, I strained, intensely, concentrating on the open space about me. I listened for any sounds within the silence; I strained to “feel” for any movement within the black curtains of dread that hung everywhere.
I felt my sixth sense arise with a tingling that always produced a state of heightened vigilance. Someone was in the dark lair with me. My concentration radiated outwards like invisible concentric circles of energy. Then my mental awareness quickly wrapped around him like an invisible net. I sensed his form for a split second—arms, legs, upright, tall.
Who is this, is he lost in the blackness here as I am? Perhaps I should call out to him.
I heard the quiet crunching of slow steps on the floor. Surely, he had to take careful steps, so as not to fall, wandering blind in this darkness such as I did.
But my gut reaction was not to call out. I did not wish to alert him as to my awareness, so I did not make a sound. He was carefully stepping towards me from behind. I did not turn back towards him, as my feet would have made sounds if I twisted.
He drew in close upon me, and then suddenly halted directly behind me. He stood as still and as silent as a statue. I did not move. I did not even breathe.
We were obviously both aware of each other’s presence, as we remained frozen in the blackness. The silence between us was deafening. I wondered what his intentions were. If he had wanted to seize me, he surely would have by done so by now. Perhaps he sensed that I was a danger to him. I thought it best quietly to speak to him, in calm, reassuring voice,
But before I did, I felt an intense, unyielding stare on the back of my neck.
He does see in the black!
His abnormal ability to see me struck me as so disconcerting that it sent a shudder through me.
If he could see me and yet did not call out to me, then I had to consider him hostile in nature. Yet he stood like a stone right behind me. Another moment passed us in silence.
Then I felt something like a weak electric field tingle past my ear. I sensed what seemed like a huge hand as it reached around my neck and face from behind. The hand was much too big to be dark that of a man. It was that of a great beast. I wondered how a beast came to be inside this closed bubble within a sea of granite. Did some force transport him here as it had done to me.
This was perhaps the only thing here which possessed life But in this dead place, the only living creature? What would he eat to survive?
I felt the creature holding its bestial palm just shy of my mouth. Whatever this thing was, it was taking great care not to touch me.
Maybe the creature was planning to suffocate me. Or more perversely, maybe this beast was studying me, and amusing itself with the power it had over me. I could not deny my senses. I became convinced this thing was curiously measuring me up and nettling me, much like a child would do with an insect.
Tingling sensations crept about my face and cheeks. I perceived that the creature had extended a long bony finger and was lustfully tracing along the contours of my face.
It was almost a form of torture; the beast was eliciting feelings in me, heightening my fright, keeping my mind unclear of what the beast wanted of me—all this accomplished simply by not touching me.
But why was a brute stalking me in this isolated hollow lair? Was it just to toy with me as a creature insignificant in his eyes? Unless this creature… this beast so near to me in the bowels of this abyss… of course it must be…
The hand withdrew and disappeared behind my back. It had satisfied its curiosity; it decided that for the time being that I was not a hazard. It easily could have killed me. Hopefully he would leave, having grown bored with me
I immediately jerked, coming out of my thoughts. I felt something! It was a cold sensation… I felt it again. In the numbness of terror, I realized the monster had extended one of its bony fingers and tapped me on the nape of my neck two times. That odious appendage, having been chilly upon my neck, made we want to wretch!
Suddenly, the beast roared behind me furiously, I jumped in my tracks, terrified. The bestial snarl came accompanied with a rattling knock that reverberated like a tiger in the jungle.
Panic overtook my mind. I suddenly knew what it ate to stay alive. How could I have been so stupid?
Every man’s mortal life is a debt he must pay back when it is time. Yet no one wants to die. I did not want to die either. I stumbled ahead in the dark, stones rolling beneath my feet as I tried not to fall. The beads of sweat on my face were as cold as my panic.
Yet the brute knew I was vulnerable, and he followed my every step, cruelly, by waiting to slay me. He followed me patiently as I grew weary. I supposed he enjoyed seeing the panic in me. I knew that that he would follow, relentlessly, and when I was to weary too continue, only then he would finally seize and devour me.
My mortal life’s tenacity, and the instinct to live, forced me to press onward blindly. My legs grew heavy and I was losing my footing as I tried to flee. How much longer could I stave this monster off, in my blindness, and in my state of weakness? I was surely doomed.
But then suddenly, there in the infinite black—I saw a small spot of glorious light, it was just ahead of me. I ran towards the source.
Much to my astonishment, I recognized that I was looking at my candle of life…the symbol from my dream, and it was resting in its iron holder sitting on the stony floor just as I had dreamt it. The fluttering flame of my mortal existence was still burning. I was still alive!
But then my heart sank as I heard the monster swiftly coming up from behind me. He inhaled, and the sound of rattling, strings of mucous knocked as his lungs pulled in the icy air. My foe held his foul breath and prepared to spew it from his cracked lips, in order to snuff out my candle. It blew the stream of cold black air from his lungs forcefully. The repulsive breath hit my back and deflected around me.
Looking down before my feet, my flame of life still burned! The beast growled behind me with a primeval rage. Looking past my candle on the floor, I saw even more light. A few steps ahead of me, I detected a brilliant rising vertical line of radiant light. The line of light surged brighter.
The beast immediately took several steps back as if scared of this light. Then he turned and walked away. The crunching of the stones beneath his feet got quieter and quieter until he was so far away that I could not hear his footsteps.
Feeling safe and intensely curious I approached the line of illumination and found that it was actually the crack at the opening between two massive metal doors. I pushed at the doors with all of my might, and as they slowly opened, the dark cold lair was breached with divine, life-giving light. This light was as warm, blessed, and as alluring as the sun.
I walked forward into the vast glowing chamber of safety. Never again would I suffer in darkness. Never again would I shiver in the cold.
I turned back one last time to look into the shadows of the dark abyss. That was the one and only time I saw the monster with my own eyes—the beast was Death himself. What an atrocity to the senses he was. Utterly vile and repugnant, he stared at me with cold black eyes and curved venomous fangs.
The infamous reaper of mortal life was standing just shy of the light. My fear of Death faded as I saw that he would not approach the light from the shadows. The brute seemed petrified of the lighted chamber.
Death did not appear angry, and instead of roaring at me, he coolly regarded me. For a moment, he was silent. And then he looked me and seemed to laugh aloud, in deep shudders of a croaking, then he turned away and slowly walked back into his dark abode.
I gasped in fear. I realized I had walked through the metal doors into the hall of light, and foolishly left my burning candle behind in Death’s lair, unprotected. Death slowly moved toward it, he inhaled, and then blew out a stream of air. I watched helplessly as trembling tongue of fire began to ripple and flutter. Then the flame of my mortal existence disappeared into the blackness, snuffed out forever.
I immediately panicked, and in a surreal numbness, my stomach sunk in a twinge of hopeless disbelief. Ten seconds of sheer fright consumed me. And unexpectedly I realized that I was unharmed. I was still alive. The sacred glowing light inside the chamber saved my life. I realized I had beaten Death. I said nothing and in the shadows Death turned his head back to look at me. But I could not help myself, and I laughed out loud at him.
That was the only time that he approached the light. Grimacing into it, he approached the light. He grabbed the metal doors, pulled hard at them, and they crashed shut between the two of us. Safely inside the chamber, I had no more worries about Death. There was a universe of living light about me; the chamber produced much more light and life than all the souls on earth would ever need. I walked further into the illumination and it began to pulse as it surged brighter. As I basked in the light, it grew exponentially in its intensity. The brilliant radiance grew warm.
That is when I heard a countless number high clamors start to sound. The many tones seemed as if a great chorus was warming up to play. Soon there was a massive increase in volume. There came a high vibrant range, a myriad of tenors—a sound like ten thousand trumpets.
Next, joining in, the din of thousands of piano wires all pulled too tight, then plucked, in dissonance. Then a tremulous cacophony—like countless fingernails screeching across a massive chalkboard. The squealing of the nails was sickening. The sum of the complete series of unsettling sounds unified and became recognizable. It was an unendurable symphony; the paramount agony of millions of hideous, screams, cries, and blood curdling shrieks.
Then I understood the chamber for what it really was.
The golden brilliance inside the grand chamber burst into a raging inferno of conflagrations, and rolling flames rose up in the air. All around me within the flames were a perilous number of molten pits; they boiled, and vomited up liquid stone and the stink of burning sulfur gasses.
A fissure cracked open in the floor beneath my feet and a volatile blaze came from within. Flames wrapped around my form like serpents and a burning cocoon of flames consumed me.
All I could think of was running, dropping to roll on the floor, and snuff out the unbearable flames. However, I dared not move near the pits of fire. For in all the burning sulfur pools, I saw flailing skeletons hopelessly more doomed than I was.
Those were the poorest wretches, those souls who ran in fear, and fell into the hellish sinkholes. They had become nothing but blazing frameworks of animated bones. The screaming skeletons wailed inconsolably. Their outcries were beyond what a scream should contain. Their skulls bobbed at the surface of the magma, tilting their cervical vertebrae backwards, and their jowls yawned cavernously, gasping for breaths of air.
Occasionally, a few carcasses managed to grasp the sides of the spewing sulfur pits. Skeletal hands arose, reached out to the edge, and the poor devils pulled themselves up to rest on the bones of their forearms.
Imploringly the skeletons held their arms out to me, begging me to pull them out of the flaming pools. The bony hands of panicking ones grasped wildly for my legs. I knew I must not move. I knew I must never run, no matter how afraid I was. I would surely be in one of the pits if I ran. The best things to do were to stand still and simply endure the searing flames as they consumed me.
Some of the damned were not in the pits and these skeletons bumped me as they clambered past. These ones ran wildly in a panic, wailing aloud as their bones burned until they became dry and cracked with a pop; others were seized when blazes exploded, taking them into the air with the rising inferno.
The longer I stood there in flames, burning, the more I began to escalate into a wild panic. As I burned, languishing in agony, I smelled my flesh burning, and it began sloughing off of my bones like sheets of melting wax. In all the fear, I went mad. I could not help myself. And I began to run.
I am one of the countless runners in Hell now. We all shriek wretchedly to no avail. All we live for is to run away from the inescapable fires and try to jump over the molten pits. Some of us run and dodge the exploding flames, like soldiers running into mortar fire, and others fall and drown in the boiling hellholes. So hideous is all the howling that it commits an offence against the mind. All here have abandoned hope. For us there is only panic, screaming, and torment beyond bearing.
Yet for all the fire that consumed me, I would not die. Never spared the agony, I felt everything. But this made no sense as Death snuffed my candle of life. I should be dead. And then I realized that I was eternally dead and that I was going to burn here infinitely.
I cried out to God, praying for mercy and forgiveness. I said he was a merciful God, and I plead, begging him to spare me this burden, an existence that I could not possibly bear. In sheer terror, I waited for an answer to my prayer of genuine remorse and shame.
And God was stony silent.
The last thing that I remember was getting up off the couch to change the channel on the television set. When I stood up it was as if an excruciating bolt of thunder pierced me through the center of the breastplate. I became light headed. Confusion overtook my mind and I lost lucid consciousness, which dwindled away leaving me in a vague trance-like state.
I was aware of being in physical peril, but only in the sense as being a third party observing myself from the outside. I saw my arm clutch at the sharp chest pains grabbing my breast with claw of a hand. Then I saw my body crumple and collapse and fall hard towards the living room floor. I was surprised not to see myself lying on the floor unconscious.
Instead, the inexplicable began to unfold. I was back inside of my body now, but I continued to fall, my body unstopped by any hard surface. I watched as my form crashed through the living room floor and dropped beneath it. I continued to tumble, my body shattering the concrete as I fell through the foundation of the house, and I still I continued to drop away. I fell beneath the crust of the earth plummeting downward into the blackness. I fell like a stone, unimpeded. I continued to tumble for what seemed like hours on end.
During the entire event, my mind became weary and I dropped off into a deep sleep. I suddenly was aware that I was dreaming. However, the entry into the dream was inhospitable. It was a nightmare of sorts.
I dreamed that I saw a single white burning candle; this candle was in an old-fashioned metal candleholder with a ring for the finger—the kind people used to carry around by hand to see in the darkness before days of electricity and incandescent light bulbs.
I dreamt I saw this candle in the carrier sitting precariously on a rock-covered floor. I watched the candle anxiously, as the tiny yellow tongue of fire fluttered, tremulously clinging to the wick. I realized that this was a symbol. It was the burning candle of my life force and that fragile flame was my existence, so delicate and vulnerable, and so easily extinguished forever without warning. At the end of the dream, I was terrified that something would blow the flame out and that I would die.
At that point, I awoke. And I found myself lying here on the stony floor in this icy, black abysmal place.
Oh, frightful black void, in this dark realm of plucked out eyes, what is this bone-chilling cold that bites at my face bitterly, like unseen frost? Oh baleful circumstances, why do you conspire against me to engulf me like a tomb.
There would appear that nothing is here save the black hanging demise in the biting chill. Nevertheless, I had an overwhelming superstitious mindfulness that something was indeed there in the inky black with me. Yet I could not seem to feel it or hear it. I found my footing among the stones and then I stood up.
I turned round about looking wildly for any sign of light…but alas, darkness was all I saw.
May God, give me just a small crack of light to pursue, let him extend to me one thread of hope that I might find flight from this wretched place. All I need is a solitary pinpoint of light to gaze at for the briefest moment. I need to know. Tell me do I have eyes or am I blind! It is driving me mad…
But despite my plea, I see nothing. I find myself abandoned to the poison of sightlessness. In fear, I began to walk about the dark cavern aimlessly.
Soon an eerie emotion coursed through my veins. I suddenly sensed that some sort of beast was following very close behind me, biding its time before attacking me. A rush of panic washed over me, like a bucket of icy water. In this terror, I could swear a long skeletal hand reached from behind me. I sensed its palm cupped just shy of my mouth, perhaps to mute my screams, perhaps to silently suffocate me, or perversely, just to amuse itself with the great power it had over me.
I had an unshakable notion that its gaunt hand extended a long bony finger, and without touching me, lustfully traced along the contours of my face in the dark. I knew all this was happening even though I could not provide evidence of it.
But then I smelled a plague-ridden, putrid stench. And I knew then that something was indeed with me in the blackness and cold.
I quickly thought back in time to remember how I got here. I finally realized that I must have suffered a heart attack back in my living room, and that was the beginning of all this horror. Then I wondered if I, in truth was actually lying unconscious on the living room floor. Lack of blood to my brain could have caused me to hallucinate all of this nightmarish emotional chaos.
But I feel the stones rough under my feet on this floor and when I inhale, I experience the cold biting at my nostrils. I am here, wherever this place is. This does not seem like a dream. This seems very real. And something dangerous is here with me.
I did seem to have a heart attack. I felt the stabling chest pains. If I did, I am fighting for my life. But why am I in this dark cavernous place of danger.
Unless this creature, of course…it can be no other than he…I realize that this beast so near me in the bowels of this black abyss is Death. Death is following me and he will try to claim me if he can. I must fight to live; I must get back to the living room. But how long can I escape Death down here trapped in his dark lair?
I immediately jerk with a shudder coming out of my thoughts. I felt something. It was a cold sensation…There it is again. It is he. Death touched me!
In the numbness of terror, Death extended one bony finger touched me on the nape of my neck. That odious fetid appendage, having been chilly upon my neck, makes me want to wretch!
My body jerks, startled and alarmed as I hear the beast roar furiously. Its low base snarl is a rattling knock that echoes like a tiger in the jungle.
How many souls has this executioner liberated from their living bodies? Mortal life is a debt everyone must pay to the reaper in time. Yet everyone evades the beast when he or she can, it is our nature. No one wants to die. I do not want to die.
Yet Death is following my every step. The beast is forbidding. He is methodic, relentless, and most cruel of all, infinitely patient.
My mortal life’s tenacity, never wanting to yield, forces me to press onward blindly, wandering in the black cavern. My legs are weary and heavy and I am losing my footing as I try to flee. How can I stave off Death? I can see nothing here and know not any way out of this black cavernous throat of stone, a realm that Death knows better than I know the back of my own hand. I am surely doomed.
But then then suddenly there is hope. What is this that I see? Right before I stumble from fatigue and Death can overtake me, a miracle occurs. There in the infinite black void just ahead—I see a light!
Oh wonderful, glorious, life giving light, It is just ahead of me.
I approach the illumination running as I head for the source.
This miraculous light in the lair of Death… it is my candle of life…the candle from my dream, resting in its iron holder sitting on the stony floor just as I dreamt it. The fluttering flame of my mortal existence is still burning.
But then my heart sinks as I hear Death coming up from behind me and he sucks loud, rattling, strings of mucous inside his lungs as they pull in the icy air. My foe holds the foul breath in his lungs, that when blown from its cracked lips, will threaten to snuff out my candle. But now that I am standing before the flame, maybe I can try to guard my fire of life from the creature that wants to extinguish it.
I feel and smell Death behind me and then I feel him blow the stream of breath from his lungs forcefully. The repulsive breath hits my back and deflects around me.
My flame of life still burns! Death cannot hurt me now. Indeed, he cannot snuff out my candle as long as I stand here.
The beast growls behind me with a primeval fury. However, for all of his ferocity, the beast roars in impotent rage. Death is singular in its insignificance now.
Looking past my candle on the floor, I see a brilliant rising line of radiant light on the far wall. I walk nearer to find that the vertical line of illumination is actually the crack at the opening between two immense metal doors. Peering through the crack, I see a vast chamber. It has no end. And inside it is a source of infinite life sustaining light.
I push at the doors and as they slowly open, the dark cold lair of death is breached with divine light. This light is a radiance as warm, blessed, and as dazzling as the sun.
I leave my candle burning on the floor of Death’s dark lair and walk forward into the vast glowing chamber of safety. Never again will I suffer in darkness. Never more shall I shiver in the cold. I shall live in this glorious warm realm of hope.
I turn back one last time to look into the shadows of the den of Death. Then I see Death himself standing just shy of the light. What an atrocity to the senses. The creature is utterly vile and repugnant as it stares at me with cold black eyes and curved venomous fangs. Nevertheless, I stand bold, as it will not approach from the shadows. The beast seems petrified of the living light.
Death snarls at me in anger and the ground shakes.
Then I realize that I am in peril. I am suddenly alarmed as I left my candle behind. On the floor in the shadows, I see its flame burning with no protection. Death inhales and blows against the yellow trembling tongue of fire and it flutters. Then suddenly the flame of my life is snuffed out forever.
I instantly panic, but in time, I realize that I am unharmed. I am still alive because of this sacred brilliant glow. I realize with joy that I have beaten death. I laugh at death, mocking him.
In a rage of defeat, my foe pulls hard at the metal doors and they crash shut between the two of us. I turn around and face the light. I immerse myself in its warmth. Light is everywhere, there is a world of life in here.
Suddenly I realize where I am. I am in Heaven.
I stand in the illumination of God omnipotent in fantastic joy. Then I wait for the holy sounds. I always wanted to hear the angels in Heaven sing like sirens.
I long for the angel’s mellifluous chorus. Yet, the music does not come. However, I hear something even greater. It is louder than ten thousand trumpets.
I hear what I never imagined I would hear in Heaven. I hear billions of blood-curdling screams come from within the sun like glow.
Then it hits me and I know where I really am.
I am in Hell.
The intense light grows with an escalating heat until it is so hot that my flesh begins to sting. I see this endless chamber for what it really is. It is a place of raging fire, conflagrations, and a realm of infernos. There are explosions like geysers that send rolling flames rocketing upwards. All around me are a perilous number of lava pits; they bubble, boil, and vomit liquid stone and burning sulfur.
I dare not walk.
The floor at my feet cracks open and a volatile blaze consumes my body. It wraps around my form, like a serpent. I am in a burning cocoon of flames.
I want to run wildly, to roll on the floor, and snuff out the unbearable flames that overtake me. However, I dare not move near the pits of molten fire. For in all the burning sulfur pools, I see flailing skeletons hopelessly more doomed than I am.
They are the ones who ran in fear and fell into the hellish sinkholes. Now they are nothing but flaming frameworks of animated bones, thrashing, screaming, and trying to tread in the red-hot liquid. They scream, trying merely to keep their skulls above the surface. I see them grasp at the sides of the spewing sulfur pits. Skeletal hands arise from the molten lava, reach out to the edge, and rest themselves upon the bones of their forearms. Skeletal digits grasp wildly for my legs as the condemned attempt to pull themselves out of the depths of despair. I step back away from the languishers lest they pull me into the molten prison with them.
I stand still. I know I cannot run. I must not run as the others did. The best things I can do are stand still and suffer the fire.
Some of the damned in Hell are not in the pits and I see these skeletons clamber past me. These ones run wildly in a panic, wailing aloud as their bones burn until they become dry and crack with a pop. They suffer hopelessly as they fly up off the ground when a flare of the devils flaming tongue explodes upwards, taking them up into the air with the rising inferno.
I am escalating into a wild panic. I am on fire and my flesh is charred and falling off my body like melting wax. In all the fear, I went mad. I could not help myself. And I began to run.
I am one of the countless runners in Hell now. We scream wretchedly to no avail. All we live for is to run away from the inescapable fires and try to jump over the molten pits. Some of us run and dodge the exploding flames, like soldiers running into mortar fire, and others fall and drown in the boiling molten depths of despair. So hideous is all the howling that it commits an offence against the mind. All here have abandoned hope. For us there is only panic, screaming, and torment beyond bearing.
I ran for a far-reaching distance but then I lost my footing, I stumbled, and I fell into a molten sinkhole. Dipping under the pool of spitting and belching lava, I tread in magma to brink my skull above the surface. Gasping for my breath, I draw burning sulfur fumes into my lungs. I cough up lava and fire as I suffer in unspeakable torture. Yet for all the fire consuming me, I do not die. I feel everything. But this makes no sense as my candle of life, was snuffed out by death. So I should be dead.
To my horror, I now realize that I am indeed dead and that I will burn here in Hell for eternity.
I am truly repentant for how I lived my life in sin. I was wrong and I know this. But God is forgiving. I cry out to God praying for mercy and forgiveness. I plead that God spare me this burden, an existence that I cannot possibly bear. I wait for an answer to my prayer of genuine remorse and shame.
And God is stony silent.
It was awfully hot outside, and Tom, was dressed in a suit and tie. He was moving his feet fast to make it down the sidewalk and get to work on time. He almost tripped over his scuffling shoes, barely avoiding a fall, as many cars whisked past him on the street.
He saw the cross walk just ahead. Impatient to cross that street he took, long, quick strides to get there. But he just missed the signal. And the pedestrian walking sign now burned in red “Don’t Walk, Don’t Walk.” He stood there on the edge of the sidewalk seething; he was on the very edge, almost standing in the road.
Tom had just stopped smoking. When he noticed that he was unconsciously rubbing his thumb and forefinger together, he immediately stopped himself. He recalled earlier that day, when the therapist said he would do things like that when he went through the nicotine withdrawal. He would have twitchy fingers, anxiety, and even superstitious behavior if stressed.
A honking car speeding by within mere inches of him brought him out of his reverie, Tom edged back away from the street. Speeding cars were swooshing past him, obscuring his view of the pedestrian walk signal. He looked at his watch impatiently, His watch read3:00–lucky number.
Then a taxi whizzed past and blew the hot street’s contents up from the asphalt, and he grimaced at the grit thrown up into his face, covering him. It all smelled of hot tar. His forehead squeezed out drops of sweat that rolled down into his eyes, stinging them. He wiped his eyes, grimacing. And then he looked back up.
The cars kept swishing by but he got a glimpse of the crosswalk signal. “Don’t walk, Don’t Walk,” it glowed portentously through a speeding bus’ windows. Then he could not see the crosswalk light again for the cars passing.
He waited a long time to see the light again. When he did the pedestrian signal still flashed “Don’t Walk, Don’t Walk.” It seemed hours had passed since he looked at his watch. He looked at his wristwatch, 3:07 lucky number again.
Then he was quite angry as he realized that he had never pressed the pedestrian “walk” button on the crosswalk pole. His fingers twitched and in the heat, his nerves screamed in anxiety. He saw a broken compact mirror in the street. Bad luck—cannot cross here—No! this is the superstition the counselor talked about…I’m just hot and anxious—this is only nicotine withdrawal, superstition, twitchy fingers—and there is no such thing as bad luck.
He looked up and the crosswalk signal flashed, “Walk, Walk,” but Tom hesitated due to fear from the broken mirror, catch the next one, he thought. No…That is just superstition; it is the nicotine withdrawal nothing else. Walk now Tom, Go, Go, Go!
So he tried to make up lost time, and scurry across the street, but the crosswalk signal was already blinking red, “Don’t Walk, Don’t Walk.” Tom was standing in the middle of the busy street. The traffic light for the cars turned green. A car screeched to a murderous halt on hot tires. Then another car screeched to a halt, then another.
Tom touched the hood of one car; he was hot, and confused. From under the hood came a honk and Tom jumped. The cars with a green light could not move for Tom blocking them. They honked in a furious, disharmonious symphony. He finally came to his senses and scurried back towards from whence he came.
Damn it, never again, he vowed; it is the nicotine withdrawal and nothing else. Now you will probably be late for work at the bank at 3:20 p.m. He remembered the warning. “Tom if you are late just one more time,” the bank manager, had said, “I’ll have no choice but to let you go.”
Tom made it back to the side of the sidewalk from which he had started and he pressed the crosswalk button on the pole six times rapidly, anxiously. Sweat was now running off his brow and stinging his eyes again. He wiped his eyes so he could see. Sweat stuck to the starch of the neck of his dress shirt. He hated that. God, this is unbearably hot, and now, my damn job… I really wish I had just one god damned cigarette…”He looked up at the crosswalk sign. This was taking much too long,”
“Don’t walk,” “Don’t walk,” “Don’t walk,”… come on damn you, change to “Walk.” He had to make the next signal or it was his job. He anxiously looked down at his watch, and then his stomach sank in dread, his watch read “3:13,” bad luck, really bad luck. something ominous.
He looked up and the crosswalk signal flashed, “Walk, Walk” I do not know, maybe I should wait… I cannot go now—No stop it Tom! this is nothing but superstition again. Do not be a fool you have to get to work. “Walk now Tom, Go, Go, Go! Tom leaped into the street.
Instantly everything faded to dark. Suddenly something disconnected Tom’s brain from reality.
When Tom came back into conscious awareness, a dim light seemed to be falling around him. Where am I? Am I dead?
No, I am alive because I can feel my arms and legs moving. My mind works. I know who I am. I can think so I must exist.
Did a car hit me in the crosswalk? My arms and legs are fine.. But yes, that must be what happened, a car in the crosswalk hit me, but still I am alive. I am probably in a hospital bed right now, and unconscious. I will just have to wait in this place until my body awakens, then I shall reenter my body. Then there will be light all around me. Then I shall return to my body and be whole again.
Tom looked at his wristwatch. It was precisely midnight. A chill ran through him.
He found himself walking down an abandoned street of a vacant district. A dusty house of cards in the middle of nowhere made just for him. Why is this realm so dark? I can barely see. He did not know where he was, or where he was going. The shops unlit, the buildings sterile, everything smelled of yellowed paper, mildew and dust. He walked a long way in isolation. He checked his watch again; it was exactly midnight. That cannot be, it was midnight half an hour ago. I must wind my watch. Tom began to wind his wristwatch. Fully wound? How can my watch be fully wound? Something strange is happening here. I see no people. No dogs, not even sewer rats not even insects. This place is desolate. It is like being on the moon.
He instinctively knew that no one worked, or lived in this town because the streets were covered in a heavy dust and there were no track of cars or pedestrians in the dust. As he squinted, trying to see as he made his way down the alleys. He strained to see in the shadows. As he walked and the streets were so quiet, he could hear his own heart beating. Then through a cloud, a sick, pale moonlight shone down on a town he mistrusted. Smoke-like fog rose up from the ground in whorls and covered the streets. Tom looked at his watch again, exactly midnight. What is wrong with this watch? He shook his forearm and wrist vigorously. Then he looked carefully at his watch. The second hand is not moving and this watch stopped exactly at midnight.
A chill ran down Tom’s spine, he folded his arms over his chest. Tom noticed that he was soaked with sweat but cold.
He started walking along the vacant streets to keep his mind occupied. His shoes stepped in dust, which had the consistency of powder. It was as if Tom was walking on the moon. He looked behind him and saw the deep imprints from his footsteps. He kicked at the dust, curiously, and a cloud of powder filled the air. He coughed violently. He looked at his shoe; a layer of dust coated it. He tried to wipe his shoe clean by rubbing it on the back of the left leg of his slacks. He was irritated with himself. He was also beginning to be afraid because there seemed to be no life in this place.
Tom walked around the corner into an alley. Tom squinted in disbelief, as he was certain that he saw a person standing in the distance. Tom smiled and waved. The person waved back at him.
Tom ran, encumbered by the dust, towards the person. When he was close, he realized it was not a man. He saw it was a beautiful woman standing there. She was in a short dress standing in the shadows of the dark street. Tom thought; she is smiling at me and I feel greatly relieved and aroused… It is almost as if she has been waiting there for me to arrive.
Even in the pale moonlight, I could see her dress was bright red—and…her lips they were red as well.
As I walked to her in the night, her eyes were fluid in dark swirling colors, of red wine, Arabian coffee, and Indian ink.
“Your lips are stained crimson,” I said to her.
It must be from a drop of her pricked blood. She surely smeared the blood on her lips.
My curiosity aroused, I leaned in towards her and I said, “I imagine that you rubbed that foul crimson tint in between your thumb and forefinger and colored your lips with you finger didn’t you?”
She did not reply but smiled again in a most becoming way. She then licked her lips. Then she smiled at Tom. Her smile was amazingly seductive.
She wants me, and I want her passionately. I want to make love to her.
Then she spoke to Tom. She leaned into Tom’s body space and whispered, “I would adore it very much if I could kiss you. I only want my lips to touch your lips—so gently that it makes us both ache, our lips—like a butterfly’s wings gently closing, and scarcely touching,” then she exhaled into Tom’s face. Her breath smelt divine, like roses and lavender soap.
I must taste her lips so I will know if it is her blood.
As if she read his mind she cooed. “I want you to taste my lips. And when we pull our lips apart, I want to them to cling to one another, reluctant to part—like new lovers.” She smiled cunningly with those red lips against teeth so white that they shined, even in the pale moonlight.
And then Tom leaned in to kiss her. It was a long, deep, sensuous kiss. It is her blood on her lips; it tastes like a mild percentage of both salt, and copper. I liked that. But more importantly, how did she ever learn to kiss like that? Who taught her—that is the best kiss I have ever had. He smiled and pulled back away to look at her again.
That was when he saw it; he shivered in horror.
“What the hell is this—what did I just do? I did not kiss a beautiful woman I kissed a monster. As I look before me I do not see a beautiful woman in a red dress, I see a being with elephantine skin, large cracked lips, and thick mucus dripping off them.”
The monster wore a dark hooded shroud. When he put his hood back on, his face was no longer visible. He was a hood and cloak of darkness standing there facing Tom.
Before Tom could gasp in horror, Death had its cold bony handover his mouth. Death then exhaled a deep, foul, breath, emptying his lungs.
And before Tom could beg or say that one last prayer for forgiveness Death put its dry cracked lips on Tom’s mouth. Then Death sucked in from Tom’s body and snuffed the fluttering candle flame of existence, sucking his life out of his very soul. Death took Tom’s life into his foul lungs and walked off.
Tom had no more thoughts or cognizance. Tome left behind only a corpse lying in a hospital bed but was not aware of it. Tom was gone—forever.
Right now, I am afraid and I am alone in my panic room.
My heart beats wild with the startling jaggedness of colliding pins in a bowling alley.
There is nothing in my stark room except a clock on the wall.
And the sound of the second hand worries me because it seems to take longer in between ticks.
My stomach is wet, queasy, and tied in awkward knots like a circus balloon.
I can feel a pair of teeth eating its way out of my stomach from the inside.
My gaze looks inwards and everything appears so ambiguously exigent in there.
The trembling cold heart inside of my chest gnashes its teeth silently so no one sees.