The story will be placed in an upcoming “Heroes in Hell” anthology within the next year.
In the Shadow of Paradise
I don’t know how I ended up there on the hill, but in life I was always careful about remaining alive and making the most of any given situation. As I did in life, in death I approach each moment with an open mind and a closed fist, according to my intuition.
Once again, that approach saved me.
I carefully remained hidden from the avengers who struck from the skies of hell, attacking and reaping the souls in the city below. These avengers were terrible in their magnificence, an overpowering belleza which I had never before seen in hell. They struck from above like hunting hawks, did these Seven.
Three other beings remained above, watching the Seven as they wrought pain and suffering. Two of these three were demons, terrifying avatars of evil whose winged forms sent chills through me; the third stunned me with his unearthly beauty. A terrible sight was this, such as I wish never to see again in my damnation; yet so compelling that I could not turn away.
They made my breath catch in my throat and my bowels clench in terror. My knees went weak as they circled above the damned city of crushed dreams. Below them, the Seven, unparalleled sons of heaven and earth, wreaked their vengeance upon the doomed.
Then onward they flew, their destination unknown, leaving Hellywood in ruins; its damned to their fates; and me to my own devices. These beings were uncaring. Behind, they left the survivors of this accursed city, weeping bitterly.
I caught myself before my pity grew: this is hell. I watched the heavenly avengers go, glad that I had somehow been spared after they’d rained terror down upon Hellywood Boulevard. They would be back. I was sure they’d return.
Best not to dawdle. I took a calming breath and scanned the blood-colored horizon. Beyond the ash and pollution was Paradise, forever out of reach, offering false hope and promise. It helped a little bit, this teasing view of salvation most damned souls would never attain. The sight reminded me: Paradise never changed; hell never changed.
A half-formed suspicion gnawed my gut. Something was wrong. But what? Then I remembered: I had somehow left the Lobby too soon, before I got what I’d come for, the elusive prize I sought: escape. The Lobby, also known as Decapitol Records Forever Waiting Room, was a trap where gray dust settled on unsuspecting souls who waited there indefinitely for reasons they no longer recalled.
My prize was to have been a set of plans with a hand-drawn map which showed the way out of hell through the Mortuary. Those plans were the only reason I had gone into the Lobby. But I had come out empty-handed: I had no prize in my grasp. And most frustratingly, I couldn’t remember why not. How badly had I erred? And how? Or, worse, had I been betrayed? And if so, by whom? Like everyone else in the Lobby, while inside I had forgotten why I was there. How diabolically my torments are designed! The devil, it seems, knows my every weakness – not terribly surprising.
For such damned as I, hell is full of unanswerable questions.
“That’s the netherworld for you,” I muttered and began trekking down the hill to the devastated streets below.
My name is Juan Ponce de Leon y Figueroa, and I have sworn to escape hell.