“Are these vines or strands of hair,” he asked himself as he climbed. His muscles and his hands burned with exhaustion, but he could not go back down. He would not go back down. He climbed upward in the near darkness. The ambient light allowed him to see just enough to discern shapes but little else. There really was not much to see except the unforgiving surface in front of him and the rough vine strands that he held on to. The light – at least that is what it seemed liked – gave no source of direction. It was just there. There was no real sense of time and all he could do is move upward. His clothing was not helping either. It was heavy, rough and sticking to his sweating skin. He had not thought about throwing it off when he started as all he wanted was to get away. He paused and looked around again.
There was nothing but that “almost darkness” below him.
He wondered if They could climb?
The thought took the form of a cold chill that ran down his spine. It urgently persuaded his body to continue onward. The hysterical panic had long passed as he found himself pushing his body to climb. He could feel the hoarse sensation in his throat as he took a steady lungful of the hot air. Had he been screaming? He stopped himself from remembering and pushed the thoughts of what was below him far from his conscious mind. He forced himself to focus on the pattern: one, one and two. Like a mantra he repeated the pattern again and again – one hand over one hand, then two feet. He continued the mantra quietly as if coaching his body to continue. Climbing was soothing in its own right, at least he thought so. Climbing was not foreign to him. He had enjoyed scaling the side of a bleak surface with only himself to depend upon. He had seen the world in ways that very few had with their naked eyes. For a moment he saw the blue skies of a seemingly foreign world.
A gurgling scream echoed below him.
He paused mid grip. The trance of previous climbs had faded as did his calm. He was climbing for survival.
Looking upward, the light seemed brighter. The more he climbed the more he noticed the light moving. It wasn’t natural light – yet it was still light and it illuminated the ledge above him. Careful to not overly excite himself, he continued the calm steady pace. He did not want to lack the strength to pull himself up.
With fingers on the edge, he slowly wrapped the vine around his leg and carefully pulled himself up. If the ledge gave a way, there was a chance that the vine would still hold. If not, the fall would kill him and there would be no more worries.
With one last push, he threw himself above and laid on the earth breathing heavily. This should have been a moment of triumph and victory, but it was replaced by his chest retching. The air was thick with the smell of freshly laid asphalt. He needed to get out of his clothing. The garment was form fitting and sweat had all but sealed him in. He panicked and strained at his cloth prison. Yet it wasn’t a cloth he could tear and it heavier than it should have been. They were like burlap robes, but not. Yet he climbed with it on. Where did he get it from? It wasn’t his – yet he was wearing something that was obviously made for him. It felt wrong.
He felt wrong.
He would take care of the clothing soon enough, but he need to get out of there. Sitting up, he looked to his surroundings and the light dance slowly above him. Turning around he saw that it was going from a few yards away where the ground rose up. Cautiously, he crawled up the small slope towards the light. The smell of asphalt grew stronger and made his eyes water. Covering his mouth with his sleeve, he peered over the top.
Several yards below him was an immense black sea of oily water that bubbled with a noxious smell. It was almost like a sea made up of crude oil and the heat coming off of it renewed the sweat on his brow. Along the shore of the lake were several large pyres that gave off the only light. The pyres were placed along the shoreline a few hundred feet apart. The pyres seemed to trail off into the dark horizon. Looking closer at the black water, the light revealed a grisly surprise. Bobbing up and down in the oily blackness, he could see the heads of men and women with their noses just above the “waterline”. There were too many to count in the bubbling water.
Suddenly there was movement near the edge of the sea. A figure bolted as fast as their legs could take them. The light gave the figure a shape. It was a woman. Her naked body was covered in that sticky black fluid. It did little imped her desperate run as she raced toward an upper slope. Her flight was interrupted by something in the air that made a whizzing sound. It struck the runner in the leg. She screamed, but it was soon lost to the sound of laughter resonating all around. A crude and evil-looking hooked spear had gone through her upper thigh. The spear had a chain connected to it.
Following the chain with his eyes, he saw the owner.
To call it a demonic creature was an understatement because it was a demon. It was an actual demon. The sagging skin looked slick and wet in the fire light. It looked like a bloated fisherman with horns that jutted out of its forehead and yellowed eyes and teeth that smiled unnervingly. Soon other demons came out from the shadows and made a beeline for the screaming woman. With blackened claws they jabbed at her body, leaving red punctures among the sticky black oil that coated her body. It seemed to go on for eternity as the jabbed and poked her, laughing all the while.
He wanted to do something. He wanted to stop them but his body froze in the horror of it all. Her screams echoed in his head much like his own had earlier. He could not move. He would not move. He would just lay there and watch her suffer.
With a grunt, the owner of the “fishing line” yanked the chain and her body flew into the air. As it landed, it made a sickening flop as she hit the lake. Her body sunk down below the black oily waters. With another grunt, the demon pulled his chain again and the black and bloody spear returned to his hand. It was soon followed by a scream as the woman bobbed back up in a frenzied panic, but it was cut short as demon with a long oar slapped the top of her head and back down below she went. The demons laughed in such a way that it made his skin crawl. With the oar still at the ready, the demon holding it watched the water with a content smile. Still unable to move, he watched the woman’s head slowly rise to the surface again. This time she made no sound. Her nose was just above the waterline like everyone else there.
Then there was silence.
He wanted to cry and scream. The sense of hope that brought him over the ledge was gone and he felt hollow.
Where the hell was he?
What the hell was going on?