“Deeper Than Hell” by Josh Millican
Chapter Eleven (Previous Chapter | Main Page)
My path to the bottom was random but deliberate; like a metal marble, reacting only to gravity, that rolls through an elaborate series of grooves and shoots, setting off handguns, snapping strings, lighting candles, and toppling dominos, before triggering a mousetrap (or making toast). Whether it was a path of deliberate design or a random convergence of circumstance akin to a cartoon fiasco is open to debate. Still, if I had veered from my descent in the slightest, changed direction by mere degrees, hesitated moments, or taken one of infinite wrong turns, I never would have made it. I’m like the survivor of a tsunami who slept through the entire ordeal to wake up floating on a calm ocean; still in bed whereas thousands of others were crushed and drowned or trampled while trying to escape. Whether or not this makes me makes me lucky or not is also opened to conjecture or personal analysis.
Of course, I hadn’t slept through anything; I’d been churned in the crushing vortex that turned Drew into chum. From the moment Thaddaeus snapped me out of the Warm Oblivion with a hail of gunfire, I’d swirled in one hellish eddy after another. Sleep was either a luxury or something enforced through chemicals or the infliction on incomprehensible pain. Sleep was paradise denied by Hauptnadle or enforced by medically-induced coma. When I wanted sleep, needed it most, wished to waste hours on a cot in Outpost Whatever-The-Number-It-Was, it was too late. How long has it been since I’d last enjoyed the slightest hint of unconsciousness? No way to tell; no way to measure hours or days until I fine-tune my senses to the gossamer pull of the Moon and Betelgeuse. No, I hadn’t slept through the inhuman tidal wave that forced me down a sinkhole deeper than Hell.
Or had I?
I remembered that time I thought I woke up—felt the Sun shining on my face, blissfully burning my retina back to life. I remembered that conversation I had with Drew, dead Drew, about Jacob’s Ladder. I remembered all those times I slammed dirty Heroin when Drew was nowhere in sight, almost daring him to find me in time. He always did; it was almost uncanny. It was almost like I couldn’t escape him, couldn’t keep a secret or even take a shit he didn’t know about. Almost like he was a projection of myself, the survival mode manifested, lurking in the shadows until needed. Always there to protect me as I slept—the man I never was with the bravery I never had; my personal Tyler Durden willing to do the dirty work when I couldn’t (or wouldn’t).
Mine was a one in a billion convergence of dumb luck and cosmic conjunctions, but my path isn’t the only one that leads to Xanadu. For starters there are the massive openings at the North and South Poles (perhaps the worst kept of the world’s most dangerous secrets), but there are dozens of others—at least. The desert around Las Vegas, obviously, but also the caves of South America and the sarcophagi of Hungry were explorers unearthed the remains of nine-foot, Aryan giants with red hair. Besides the physical, literal paths, there are the metaphysical doorways that lead to God’s antechamber. The yogis of India and the meditating Buddhist monks of China have found passage without ever moving a muscle. Those born as astral projectors as well as those trained in remote viewing have, unwittingly, seen more than they bargained, establishing a tendril that pulled them into indefinite mental stasis. There are wormholes, both naturally occurring and mechanically harness that could have made my arduous, miserable, tragic trek instantaneous. But if a million people made this place their destination, maybe 4 would actually get here. The last time someone from the surface got half this deep (and lived more than the few moments necessary for butchery) was about twelve-thousand years ago.
I’ve seen God. There is no room for misinterpretation. If you think you can’t imagine—keep doubting. I’d sooner shoot myself in the head than inflict it on anyone. It’s not my fault if you’re hearing this, reading this. I warned you—not explicitly, but I warned you. The plus side is, you aren’t damned like I am—not yet at least. I couldn’t convey this forbidden knowledge, not with every word of every language and ten thousand years at my disposal.
When the curtain fell and the door swung opened, I was instantly fractured at a metaphysical and molecular level. I was fractured between what I had assumed was the present and the infinity of temporal nuances connecting knowledge stored in the lizard brain with the new testaments of as yet unborn omniscient machinery. I was fractured between what I assumed was my personal identity and the consciousness of every other human, subhuman, and superhuman. My name is Sonny, but I’m Drew; I’m Thaddaeus, Hauptnadle, and Dante. My name is Sonny but I am the Junk Man, the Demon of Montauk, and every soul imprisoned in the SCP containment facility. My name is Sonny, but I am Dr. Sasha, the jester-king with eyeballs hanging from his headdress, the insidious Bantar dripping venom. My name is Sonny, but I am every soldier stationed at every deep underground military base, the legislators enacting the death panels, the powers that be keeping even the most free-spirited bohemian chained and oppressed. My name is Sonny, but I am Mother Horse Eyes, Jim Jones, and the Dali Lama. My name is Sonny but my name is impossible to pronounce in the continuum of microcosms and macroverses; my name is the laughter of children, the battle cry of the bloodthirsty, and the prattle of the madmen.
Looking at the face of God brings a crush of epiphanies and awakings, along with infinite death and never-ending rebirth. Looking at the face of God brings knowledge of The Elders, unlocking the secrets of primordial ooze, revealing the recipes for natural selection and cosmic enslavement; the basics of facial communication and the most advance and convoluted computer programs are all utterances of a single vocabulary. Looking at the face of God causes a collision of science and religion, creating a combustible concoction unleashing a Big Bang within the brain, allowing connections to shadow people and insect statisticians, the beings living mute and invisible behind the cloak of unabsorbed DMT. Looking into the face of God crushes fear of pain, the finality of decay, and the immense sorrow of breathing.
The breath of God is hot and caustic, poisonous and delicious, sober and intoxicating. The breath of God conjures images of the pulsating intergalactic vagina, rivers of melted flesh and fetuses, and the dizzying geometry of Ezekiel’s Wheel. The breath of God brings Pi full circle, puts Infinity into a nutshell, obliterating the supposed objectivity of physical mass and electrical voltage. The breath of God burns intense like the gases of a supernova while delivering a chill below absolute zero, indescribable joys and unfathomable dread.
When God speaks, each immaculate syllable leaves an indelible mark; he chose the voice of Drew to deliver the loving brutality, a monsoon of blisters and breakthroughs, world-building and immeasurable cataclysms.
“They’re all afraid to die, Sonny. They all want to live forever. They think immortality is a reward or a blessing. It isn’t Sonny; it’s a curse. Experience this, a mere sliver of the disembodied infinity: A googolplex of endless seconds to ponder a single flickering existence. Alone with regret and heartbreak and guilt—forever. There is no relief in life without death; no peace, no power, no hope. The Elders aren’t angry because they’ve been put to sleep—rather, they’re apoplectic upon being awoken. For the immortal, sleep is as close to freedom as one can get; sleep is the great escape; the Warm Oblivion. Cthulhu doesn’t emerge R’lyeh triumphant; the immaculate chaos isn’t by design or indicative of a cosmic consciousness. Cthulhu’s rage is the reflexive response to being denied the illusion of death and a natural manifestation of the curse of immortality; the pain of the unborn.”
My name is Sonny. I am an astronaut lost in space without hope of rescue, drifting in a fleshy protective coating–but I will never die. Driven insane by decades of isolation and back into sanity through thousands of tantric reactions, I regressed into a zygote before expanding into an ancient sage; as wise as any human can be and yet still an infant in the Horse Eyes of the Mother. Portals to infinite dimensions are no cure for the crushing loneliness of immortality; without the ultimate joy of sleep, every adventure is a struggle, every challenge is gargantuan, and every truth is a lie.
Humans fear death and dream of immortality; for the immortal, fear of death is the ultimate bliss. The idea of deep, endless sleep: Orgasmic.
God expanded and towered over me, red eyes blazing, huge toothy smile gleaming. His fingers elongated into tubes, and then further into needles. God punctured my skin with his needle fingers, pumping me full of intoxicating venom both corrosive and soothing, elevating me to the highest heights of the Warm Oblivion. God filled my mind with images of lesser deities and monsters, dimensions both familiar and alien, a complete history of history.
There was a mighty earthquake followed by a hot rain and a sudden flood; caught beneath the landslide, I was cast into the bowels of the underworld, flushed within a volcanic sludge that clung like tar. Black ooze filled my lungs and nostrils, my anus and my urethra, and (eventually) my every pore. The black ooze melted my cells, broke down my DNA, and left me a barely conscious puddle of putrescence. Like a seed struck by lightning, mitosis was initiated and accelerated until chunks of substance emerged in the grotesque soup; membranes burst forth like tendrils, pulling coagulated clots into skin, teeth, and organs. There was pressure on all sides, pushing squishy bits into clumps that became limbs and eyes and fingers. The pressure began to grow, as though my environment was shrinking, as though the gloomy wet universe was shrinking around me into a sphere the size of a grape.
And then there was a great, bloody explosion.
The Chutsee pulled me from a steaming gash of earth; two of the strongest held me upside down, each holding me up by an ankle; a third slapped my back with fibrous plank as black tar gushed from my lungs and out my throat and nostrils. I screamed like I had never screamed before, like I was screaming for the first time. Another member of the tribe removed a fleshy vine running from my navel into the gash I’d just been pulled from before the lot tossed me onto a bed of moss and animal skins. The scales fell from my eyes; I was naked, hairless, and fearless. The process had transformed me into an immortal; unborn; I was damned.
People are afraid of death; they fear the idea of an end to consciousness, an end to temporal reality; an unescapable blackness that offers neither comfort nor torment. They should be so lucky. Hell would be Nirvana by comparison to the reality of life never-ending, of joining forces with a single all-knowing consciousness; the death of the ego and beginning of rebirth everlasting.
My name is Sonny, and I am Chutsee. We exist underground at dizzying depths, surrounded by rocks both melted and crystalline; sustained by microscopic vegetation and mammoth beasts that roam the catacombs; servants of the one true God.
Our city is massive; our city is alive. This Xanadu is our savior, an extension of the Ultimate. Our city is a beetle, the size of a planetoid; an ancient protector. At intervals dictated by planetary alignments and the whims of God, our city travels, and all of us with it. Before burrowing through tungsten tectonics, swimming vast oceans, and surfing active veins of molting lava, the Chutsee are packed like cargo. Beneath the wings, within semi-porous craters, each member of the tribe is encapsulated in a milky secretion, that hardens before the City makes its maneuvers. Each member of the tribe enters a waking stasis, protected from the extremes of heat and cold, becoming one with the Great Insect’s might armor. The City moves once a generation or once a week, as cosmic forces and God’s whims dictate. Before settling in the deserts below Las Vegas the City lived miles beneath the street of Budapest; before that Siberia; before that South Africa. There are times when the City settles so deep it’s completely inaccessible except by wormhole.
The population of The City grows and wanes, as dictated by the rotation of the galaxies and the whims of God; settlements have been scattered at every stop, and now number in the thousands. It’s an entire world below the world, an atlas of counties and communities, each with their own unique cultural customs and mores; yet each united by blood and consciousness. The individualities become part of the entirety until an individual only exists as a concept, even as one draws in the mud and another explores virgin caverns. Every movement dictated by the gravitational influences of cosmic forces, tempered by the whims of God.
The City will be moving momentarily, in advance of the Greatest Conjunction and confirmed by the will of God. I’ll be led into a crevasse, encapsulated like an insect in amber, like a pill in a blister-pack, and transported to our next station. The only remnant of my surface self was a whisper, a sublet siren’s song; one that beckoned me upwards with memories of the Sun. But even if it were possible to disconnect myself from the collective, to escape the rage of betrayal, the scores of predators, worms, and diseases, could I find my way back?
And what would await me? A decimated wasteland teaming with zombies and cannibals, perhaps; or sky blackened by chemicals, patrolled by Overseers from Universe 25? Would the Moon still circle above, or will shattered remnants be the only proof that it ever existed? The possibilities were infinite, and all of them, in their own unique way, completely terrifying
Worst to contemplate: Would everything be exactly the same? The lights and bells of Vegas still creating hypnotic vibrations designed to separate lost souls from their worldly possessions? Would I still be a junkie, a criminal, a cast-off?
“Did I ever tell you the story about when my best friend and I went on a pilgrimage to the center of the world?
“No, Drew. Tell me…”
Two junkies, sharing a dirty sleeping bag, grudgingly stoking a pathetic bonfire in the storm drains of Las Vegas.
“It was worth it.”