“Deeper Than Hell” by Josh Millican
Chapter Nine (Previous Chapter | Main Page)
Drew threw open the door to my room noisily, angrily. I was already tense, pacing but this completely threw me. I usually cherished Drew’s presence, but this was his most blatant intrusion on my consciousness since he died—and things were going to get a lot more intense. I wasn’t asleep; I wasn’t unconscious or comatose and I sure as fuck wasn’t drifting through any Warm Oblivion—yet there he was, clear as day.
“Time’s up, Sonny. I thought we had at least another day, but we don’t. No more fucking around.”
The compound was rocked by a huge explosion. All power went out briefly, returning with a blaring siren and red flashing lights. There was powdered concrete in the air.
Drew wasn’t fucking around; he descended upon me with a mix of mania and rage I didn’t recognize. He pushed me against the wall and began tearing into my abdomen with his boney fingers. I was too stunned to scream or thrash or protest in any manner; I just swallowed my pain and let Drew continue his mutilations. First, he created a deep, penetrating wound; then he pulled the opening in my gut into a wide and gaping maw.
He looked like a zombie, a revenant, a fiend straight out of a horror movie; a skeleton dripping viscera as his bones shed their last bits of decaying flesh. He no longer had lips or eyelids or a nose; he was naked; he stank.
“I’m coming in,” he told me.
Drew proceeded to push his hands into my gushing torso; when both were wrist deep, but retracted my torn flesh to the maximum before sticking his head inside me. I fought back waves of terror, agony, and unconsciousness. Once his arms and head were completely burrowed in my stomach, he began a desperate struggle to bury his shoulders. It was a reverse-birth scenario, and it was even more violent and messy than a 50-pound infant’s emergence from a womb.
Impossibly, he worked his shoulders into my torso; bones (his and mine) were cracking, splintering, dripping marrow. His pelvis entered me with ease in comparison to his shoulders; he twisted around and drew his legs inside one by one. Once he was all the way in, he unfurled. I felt his legs run the length of my legs, as though he was putting me on like a pair of pants. His arm entered my arms like he was putting on a jacket; his head pushed through the narrow opening of my neck like a too-tight sweater; his head entered by head with a crash; his milky eyes merged into mine and opened. Our bodies were both crowded into my meat-suit, superimposed over my physicality; it was like being buried alive inside my own body.
My wound began to seal itself; first, the blood stopped gushing, then the flaps of distended flesh melted back together, leaving only a huge white scar where Drew had entered.
“Now” Drew said, “We’re getting the fuck out of here.”
As terrifying and violating as it was having Drew usurp my body, it was also a tremendous relief. From his position of control inside my brain, he became the driver, the speaker, and the decider. For the first time since Drew dragged me underground, I could just sit back and watch the misadventures unfurl without being forced to choose my actions. He was parasitic fungus to my nervous system, and I became his slave. No, it wasn’t something I entered into willingly, but I was accustomed to having my freedom stolen, my body battled upon.
More explosions as Drew/I made a b-line into the chaos. Frost came running towards us: “Put this on!” he screamed, thrusting a gas mask into our hands.
“What’s happening?” Drew/I asked.
“We’re under attack! Sarg is dead! It’s the Shadow Corps! They’ve joined forces with the Reptilians!”
Someone else was squawking frantically into an intercom: “Battle stations… Heavy fire in Sector G… Scramble the drones…”
Drew/I put on the gas mask and pushed on; the corridors were crumbling and filling with smoke. I had no idea where we were going, which made Drew’s position of power a relief. He maneuvered deftly through thickening, toxic smoke. When we came under fire from an unseen intruder, Drew dodge bullets with supernatural swiftness. We came to an elevator and got inside, but after the doors closed, another explosion rocked us, and the lift went black.
Even without light, Drew’s dead eyes had powers of perception; like a mix of infra-red and computer animation, Drew/I examined our prison and quickly located and escape hatch in the ceiling. With the speed and dexterity or a puma, Drew/I exited the cramped lift and climbed down the quacking shaft on a steel ladder. Once at the bottom, Drew/I used some inhuman strength to pry the elevator doors open before sprinting out into the endless expanse of Outpost 10. The men had taken position a series of turrets and were firing red pulses in every direction, creating a cacophony of chaos; others were climbing into the cockpits of the F-16, getting ready to engage unseen attackers in the distant gloom.
“What are you doing?” someone in a gas mask screamed at us. “Captain, we need you in the control room! You’re too important to be in this shit!”
“Carry on men,” Drew/I commanded. “Don’t let those bastards through! Our entire future is in your hands!”
“Sir, yes Sir!” he replied.
“What an idiot!” Drew told me via mental telepathy.
“I don’t understand Drew?”
“They’ve all gone mad, Sonny! We’re not under attack; they’ve lost their minds. We’ve got to get out of here before the initiate Sequence 74: Automatic Self Destruct. If we’re not at least a mile away before they blow, you’re dead.”
Drew/I hopped into one of the Jeeps parked in a row against the east partition; we didn’t even need to hotwire the engine, because the keys had been left in the ignition. Drew/I turned it over and the vehicle roared noisily to life. A moment later, we were speeding off into the infinite expanse, the sound and fury of Outpost 10 beginning to fade. Drew kept our foot on the gas and blasted us forward. Headlights illuminated the nothingness ahead of us until we turned down an intersecting corridor and began a steep descent. Soon, we were in a tube that looked both natural and constructed; the walls were coated in some sort of crystalline material that sparkled under the headlights, creating beams of red and green and purple that refracted all around us.
The explosion was tremendous. Everything shock with the intensity of a 9.9 on the Richter Scale. The Jeep lurched and rumbled as the corridor behind us began collapsing. A wave of intense, flesh singing heat was at our back, enveloping us. Suddenly, we shot out into a void; the ground beneath us disappeared and we flew into emptiness. Drew braced out body between the seat and the steering wheel as the Jeep hit freezing water; the violent collision threw Drew/me from the vehicle and into a swirling bath of saltwater and bioluminescent algae. I had never learned to swim, but Drew had been an athlete and was still in complete control. After what felt like an hours-long struggle against an oppressive undertow, Drew/I finally pulled ourselves from the frigid muck.
“This is as good a time as any for you to pass out, Sonny. I’ll take it from here, for a while.”
I awoke in a chilly, domed chamber; it was like being inside a stone igloo. Drew had separated us into individuals again—a process I was happy to have slept through. He had collected heaps of dried moss, which he’d heaped over my body in order to stave off hypothermia. There wasn’t any fire (nothing to burn) but there was still illumination—a kind of dim iridescence I couldn’t explain, as nothing seemed to be overtly glowing or shining. The craziest thing, though, was the red door.
I mean, it looked like we were inhabiting a lava bubble that human eyes had never seen before, but there it was: A wooden door. The red paint looked fresh and lacquered and the knob was brilliant brass without a hint of rust or oxidation. I wondered what was behind it with a mix enchantment and gut-churning dread.
“Where are we?” I asked my ghost buddy when my voice returned.
“We’re not in Wonderland anymore—thank God!”
“I told you Sonny: They all went crazy. They blew themselves up.”
“What is this place?” I inquired, looking sheepishly at the door.
“Just a stopover. We’re close Sonny—really close. But there’s something you have to do first.”
Drew smiled: “You get to snort some Alien Dust—and then you get to talk to Eve.”
“I don’t understand anything you just said to me,” was my reply, but Drew had nothing left to say; he just pointed at the door implying I had to see for myself.
The knob turned with a click and the door swung opened, as if pulled by a sudden change in pressure. It was pitch black for a moment, black and harrowing, but Drew wouldn’t allow me to retreat. He pushed me inside and the red door swung shut again with a heavy, resonating slam.
It took some time for my eyes to adjust to the darkness, but when they did, I was utterly stunned. I expected to find myself in immediate peril, possibly surrounded by unknown reptiles and insects. It wouldn’t have surprised me to discover the room full of bones and decay and dreck—but nothing was farther from the truth.
It was some kind of waiting room or lobby, like something you’d expect in an expensive hunting lodge. There were couches and armchairs; the walls were made of expensive oak paneling and 19th Century oil paintings adorned the walls. In the center of the room, a comfortable chair was set up in front of a 1980s era television set; there was a small end table beside the chair with several objects on it. A disembodies hiss seemed to beckon me to “sit”. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d felt so comfortable; an ottoman slid out from under the chair, allowing me to kick my legs up like a king.
The end table to my right had a remote for the TV on it; it was one of those ancient monstrosities the size of a small book with 4 huge buttons that required a bit of effort to depress. Beside the remote was a mirror; on top of the mirror was a straw 4 lines of pristine white powder. My heart began racing at the mere sight. Hands trembling, I took the straw and the mirror and greedily inhaled my first line.
I was immediately on a path towards the Warm Oblivion, a state of existence I’d practically given up on ever experiencing again. No, the powder was not Heroin; it was what Drew had previously referred to as Alien Dust, a compound created in the laboratory of some MK Ultra facility. Experimentations had revealed the compound affected internal human vibration, allowing those under its influence to contact beings in other dimensions. The first line put me into a state of excited anticipation but the second line put me in a state of superb bliss. It had all the hallmarks of The Warm Oblivion, but none of the oppressive fog. If anything, two lines of Alien Dust made me feel focused, like years of cobwebs had been instantaneously swept from my brain, allowing a level of clarity I didn’t know existed.
When I hit line number three I thought I’d found Nirvana; colors jumped and flickered as my brain fired neurons that had been dormant all my life, causing complex and euphoric epiphanies. I was also overcome by a powerful sensation of pure, unadulterated love. Nothing bothered me: Not Hauptnadle’s molestations or Dante’s manipulations; the Bantar venom was a distant memory, as was Thaddaeus. I insufflated the fourth and final line with triumph, leaning back into the velvet chair I sat in as my cells spun in a previously unknown echelon of pleasure.
The TV turned on all by itself as I sat transfixed. At first, there was nothing but familiar static, a black and white snowstorm within witch patterns emerged and drowned. Eventually, the static cleared, and I found myself looking into the sparkling blue eyes of a female entity. Entity? Something about her immediately struck me as alien, specifically her lack of hair and a nose. Her skin was as pale as a piece of paper.
Her name was Eve, and she was an ambassador to another state of existence. The impending Conjunction threatened to obliterate the walls between dimensions, meaning the potential existed for our lives to become intertwined. Eve told me that Drew and I needed to hurry if we intended to make it to Xanadu in time. She promised to give me the keys we needed; she also said she’d answer one of my most burning questions. But first, I had to do something for her.
“What happened to the girl in the desert?” she inquired, though the tone of her voice made it clear she already knew. It wasn’t about me convening information she wasn’t aware of—it was time for me to own up, to unlock the vault I’d buried my memories inside of. Merely hesitating illustrated the dangerous conundrum I was in: If I didn’t admit to everything, my journey would end immediately—Drew’s too. Not only would Eve kill me if I didn’t abide, Drew would kill me again after I was dead. I’d do it for him, then…
I opened the vault.
“I came to Las Vegas for a bachelor party; Jeremy was marrying my sister, Gina. Before we flew out, she pulled me aside and made me promise that, if Jeremy did anything unbecoming of a future groom, I’d tell her. She was afraid he was going to fuck a stripper or something; even though it would be totally out of character, she never trusted Jeremy’s brothers, Falcon and Mick—and she was right not to. On our first night in Vegas, they hired two strippers to come up to the suite to entertain the bachelor and his guests. These two tweaked out teenagers were naked within five minutes of arriving, and the whole room was hooting and hollering. Then, they pulled all of Jeremy’s clothes off and—they just started fucking him—right there on the sofa, in front of everybody.
“As I got up to leave, Falcon pushed me up against a wall and was like, ‘Look, I know he’s marrying your sister and it’s important for you to be the protective “big brother”, but if you breathe a word of this to Gina, I’ll cut your fucking balls off. Don’t be a fucking pussy. Let Jeremy have his fun and keep your fucking mouth shut.’
“The thought of going home again, of looking into Gina’s eyes and either breaking her heart or lying to her face, was more than I could handle. So, I didn’t… I didn’t go home again. I emptied my bank account, pawned my watch and electronics, and went on my bender. Of course, I was already familiar with drugs, you know, but this time, it was anything goes and the more the merrier. But when I finally met Heroin, it was like, everything in my life made sense—like every misstep I’d taken in my pathetic life had brought me to her Queendom, and I was desperately in love.
“I’d met Melissa downtown one night when we were both desperate to find Thaddeus; after we scored, we holed up in a cheap motel and shot for days. We became inseparable… partners in crime and in Oblivion. I never learned what circumstances had brought her to Las Vegas because I didn’t ask; it didn’t matter. It was as though neither of us had a life before we became junkies, and nothing mattered beyond our immediate need to get as high as possible. It’s not that I didn’t love her; it’s just that I didn’t love her nearly as much as I loved Heroin.
“We killed a John; he tried to fuck her in the ass, so she sliced him with her switchblade. When he started strangling her, I busted out of the closet where I’d been hiding and we each stabbed him dozens of times. When he was dead, we took all the money from his wallet and took the rental car he’d left in the motel parking lot. We’d never made such a big score on a single day, and we felt like royalty. We couldn’t go back to the motel, because we were certain the cleaning crew had already discovered the body in the bathtub. We were afraid the cops would be looking for us, or that there was an alert out for the rental car.
“We decided to buy a sleeping bag and head out into the desert; we imagined finding a quiet mesa or an oasis; someplace where we could spend hours at peace in the Warm Oblivion. We didn’t have any plans for what would come next because—I think because we knew this was the end. We usually rationed our Heroin to keep from running out too quickly, but there was no need this time; our wad was the size of a golf ball! She shot me first and it was absolute bliss. Then she was like, ‘My turn’.”
I hesitated. A high-pitched whining began to permeate the room. “Continue,” Eve commanded.
“I gave her the biggest shot of her life… I watched her face light up and she busted into a huge smile. She looked me right in the eyes and slowly exhaled for the last time. She never closed her eyes, never broke her smile.”
“It was an accident?” Eve pressed.
I considered lying, but somehow knew it would be impossible. It was time to think the thoughts I’d buried under years of subsequent drug use; it was time for me to say the words for the very first time.
“I did it on purpose,” I confessed. “I killed her so I could have all the Heroin for myself.”
After the most beautiful sunset I’d ever seen, I wrapped Melissa’s body in the sleeping bag and put her in the back of the stolen rental car. I ignited the gas tank and managed to sprint for about three hundred yards before it blew up. I hitched a ride back to Las Vegas the next morning and moved into the tunnels. The rest, you already know.
Eve seemed neither impressed no upset at my reveal; she offered neither reassurances or condemnation. She merely processed the information. Then, it was my turn to sit and listen. I didn’t even have to ask my question; she knew what I wanted—and she knew it would devastate me.
“There are such mysteries on your world simply waiting to be discovered,” Eve pontificated. “Universal truths staring you all in the face. Those who merely scratch the surface are often condemned as madmen. They’re labeled as traitors and heretics. Repeating toxic cycles, imploding in on yourselves. Such convoluted self-obsession—and at the cost of unimaginable treasures. Equating yourselves with Gods while lacking the reasoning capabilities of most insects. A race of wasted potential, a self-consuming cancer that eats itself while attacking. Like a newborn unable to crawl from his own afterbirth—abandoned. Waiting to be saved while embracing… oblivion.”
The ritual completed, I was banished from Eve’s presence and returned to the stone antechamber on the other side of the red door. Drew was waiting impatiently.
“You know what we have to do,” he said. It wasn’t a question, rather a statement of fact.
“Yes,” I replied.
“You have the key?”
Out tickets to Xanadu came in the form of a leap of faith; Eve had revealed the location of an abyss, something the likes of which we couldn’t fathom. Drew hardly allowed for a moment of contemplation; he grabbed me around the waist and pushed us both tumbling over the precipice.
If you’ve never been skydiving, there are things about long-distant falling you may not be aware of. Once the body reaches maximum velocity, it no longer feels like falling; the pressure of the air surrounding you becomes a semi-solid, one that allows you to pivot and maneuver. Of course, Drew and I were falling through pitch blackness with only the rush of air to indicate which end was up. Falling became a sensation of weightlessness—an oblivion in and of itself. Eventually, all sound disappeared, and it was like floating through an endless void.
It could have been minutes or hours or days; as the seemingly endless descent commenced, my body began collecting sicky bits of floating debris—like thick spider webs and patches of dried skin; everything had a strange, pungent odor that was reminiscent of honey. Before long I was completely coated, and then, wrapped. I subconsciously pulled into a fetal position as the ethereal muck continued to collect around me. Fibers and semi-liquids encased me, until I imagined I was a small glob of life inside an immense egg. Had I been able to see, I’d have known that this mummification was actually slowing my descent, acting as a diffuser and eventually, a parachute.
Still, the landing must have knocked me unconscious. I awoke beneath the jumble of ectoplasm and confusion. Still encased in biological layers, I struggled intensely before concluding there was no way I could disentangle myself. I suspected it was time to die.
But before I could welcome a never-ending slumber, I heard noises and voices. I felt movements and vibrations.
I wasn’t able to break free, but it sounded like people had surrounded me. They were breaking the egg opened. They were coming for me.