“Deeper Than Hell” by Josh Millican
Chapter Twelve : Epilogue (Previous Chapter | Main Page)
I came to Las Vegas to find my brother, alive or dead. If I can’t find him, then I’m giving up. My psychiatrist says I’ve become obsessed; I’m destroying my life, pushing everyone away, and slowly killing myself. After all these years, it’s time for me to find resolution; it’s the first step towards dealing with my depression and guilt. It’s something I need to do if I’m ever going to get healthy again; it’s something I need to do in order to quell the nightmares.
My brother Sonny never came home from my husband’s bachelor party. He didn’t want to go in the first place; he said it wasn’t his idea of a good time, and he had never really bonded with my then-fiancé. I told him it would mean the world to me if he could just try to be part of the family. I told him how important Nick was to me, and how I wanted them to feel like brothers. I also admitted that I was nervous about Nick going crazy for his last-bash, and I wanted Sonny on the ground as my eyes and ears. It was silly, I know; petty and paranoid. “I need you to make sure he doesn’t fuck any strippers,” I told him, coaxing a slight smile.
I’d do anything to take it back. I wish I’d never pressured him to go. Because he never came home.
Nick had no idea what had happened. He said that after an expensive dinner at the Bellagio, Sonny excused himself for a cigarette and never came back. They spent a couple hours searching for him, but when they couldn’t find him, they figured he’d just gone off to do his own thing. They were surprised when he missed the flight home the next afternoon.
I exploded at Nick when I heard: “Did you call the police? Did you call the hospitals? How could you abandon my brother?” Nick insisted he’d done what he thought was appropriate. It was no secret that Sonny had issues, that he was prone to debilitating bouts of melancholy; he’d disappeared before, only to resurface days later (usually filthy and dazed).
“It’s just Sonny being Sonny,” Nick responded. “He’s probably doing it for attention because he doesn’t want us to be happy.”
Yeah, like Sonny would do anything to hurt me on purpose.
I spent the next 2 weeks frantically phoning authorities in Las Vegas, the staff at The Luxor, hospitals, homeless shelters: Nothing. I filled a missing person’s report, sent out social media blasts, and even offered rewards for any information regarding Sonny’s whereabouts. I was ready to call off the wedding, but Nick wouldn’t hear of it. “We can’t let your brother’s unacceptable behavior get in the way of our happiness,” he insisted. “He’s a grown-up and he’s made his choice.”
“And what choice was that?” I responded fiercely? “What aren’t you telling me? What happened in Las Vegas?”
“Nothing!” he screamed. “I didn’t even want him there. I only took him because you demanded it.”
My wedding day was one of the saddest days of my life. I swallowed a fist-full of Xanax just so I’d be able to smile my way through it, pushing down my emotional agony. Instead of the beautiful dresses and tuxedos, the immaculate reception hall, the gathering of friends and loved ones, the gourmet dinner, all I saw was Sonny’s absence. I hated the way everyone just pretended everything was normal—even my parents. “Wherever he is, I’m sure he’s thinking about you,” mom said with a vague shimmer of a tear in her eye. “Don’t worry. He’ll come home when he’s ready. Just like he always does.”
Except he didn’t.
My honeymoon was a nightmare. 9 days in Maui and I couldn’t leave my hotel room for more than an hour before loosing my shit. I was a mess. Nick was beside himself; his frustration culminated on Day 5 when, after berating me for my failure to fuck him following our nuptials, he trashed the hotel room. We were evicted and had to spend the rest of our vacation in a cheap motel by the airport. Nick decided to spend the last few days in Maui by himself. We met at the airport when it was time to go home and flew all they way back without saying a word or even looking at each other.
Things only go worse. I just couldn’t forgive myself for sending Sonny to Las Vegas, and I couldn’t forgive Nick for losing him. I started to suspect Nick of something nefarious. I imagined him getting into an argument with Sonny and killing him. I had nightmare of Sonny being set on fire and buried in the desert. I started thinking my husband was a sociopath, a Ted Bundy type with murderous designs. It wasn’t long before I couldn’t stand looking at him, before his touch made me sick. I quit my job and feel into a deep, dark depression that felt utterly unescapable.
Nick had me committed. I wasn’t even mad at him. Compared to dealing with him on a daily basis, the asylum was like a vacation. The drugs were amazing; all of my guilt and anxiety faded into a warm oblivion. I sat through hours of group therapy along with intensive one-on-one sessions with Dr. Cunningham. Even though I was declared mentally stable after a month, I stayed for over a year. It was an escapist tactic, but it was necessary before I could reenter society with any semblance of my former self.
The first thing I did upon my release was file for divorce. The second thing I did was hire a private investigator to find Sonny.
Darren Warwick was considered an expert in his field, and had established connection with official and underground sources in Las Vegas, enabling him to navigate the complex social hierarchies of the city. He spent 2 years on the case before I ran out of money.
He didn’t find Sonny; he was able to find a trail pretty easily, but hit dead ends in the tunnels below the city. Sonny didn’t have an arrest record, but Warwick found out my brother had connections with a local heroin dealer. He was a person of interest in a shooting police believed stemmed from a drug deal gone bad. There were rumors that Sonny had been involved in a swindle, running afoul of local Cartel bosses. I didn’t sound like the Sonny I knew, but Warwick insisted his intel was solid.
Sonny was born with his umbilical cord wrapped around his neck, and his face was completely blue when he came out. There told my parents how lucky they were, that it didn’t look like there would be any permanent damage for Sonny. But you could tell that mom and dad always suspected my brother was damaged. He was sickly, dyslexic, and hyperactive as a child. He had intense mood swings as an adolescent. He went from getting straight A’s to nothing but D’s and C’s in High School. He was mildly agoraphobic. He only became more eccentric after going to Community College in Santa Cruz; he came home for Christmas with dreadlocks and covered in tattoos. When he wasn’t around, his quirks were an endless source of prattle for our parents, who regarded him with concern and consternation in equal measure. They were embarrassed of him—they always had been.
I wasn’t any better. I was a terrible big sis. It wasn’t until after his first suicide attempt that I realized how sensitive and vulnerable he really was. And even though I grew fond of him, felt extremely protective of him, I was never his advocate. I never invited him out with me and my friends when we were kids, never spoke up for him when he was humiliated or abused. I hardly even kept in touch with him after I moved out. Before he disappeared, I remember having a series of dreams about him, dreams where we were both weeping about an impending tragedy that couldn’t be avoided. I thought, I don’t know, that he was sending me vibrations—warning me that he was on the edge. This was my motivation for insisting that Nick take him along to Vegas for the bachelor party. I figured he’d be safest in group, in a crowded environment. I had no idea he’d be cast out; I didn’t realize how easily Vegas could swallow up someone like Sonny.
Every morning I’d make the rounds to all the jails, hospitals, and morgues. I looked at more John Does than anyone should have to.
After that, I’d walk around the sleaziest areas of Old Las Vegas with a picture of Sonny, asking everyone and anyone if they’d seen him. At first, I was encouraged by the number of people who claimed to have seen him, until I realized those promising to have concrete info all wanted money for it. Those who were willing to talk for free told me outlandish and often conflicting stories. I heard that Sonny was a major player in the heroin trade from some, and that he was an undercover cop who got what he had coming from others. I was told he won millions on a random spin of a roulette wheel, and that he was holed up in the Bellagio under an alias. One of the most common reports I got was that Sonny was living underground, in the sewers and storm drains that ran for miles beneath the city. I’d ask for specifics but was warned that the tunnels were no place for a pretty thing like myself.
People told me Sonny was under the protection and control of a well-known hustler named Andrew who, coincidentally, had also been missing for months.
And then I saw him.
Sonny was standing outside The Golden Nugget, smoking a cigarette and asking people for change. I almost fainted. He looked so ragged, with sunken eyes, a patchy beard, and long fingernails. I should have contained myself—I should have stayed back and watched him for a while. At the very least, I should have approached he slowly, calmly. But I screamed “Sonny!” and ran straight towards him.
He didn’t even seem to recognize me at first, but as I closed in on him, he got a look of abject terror on his face. Before I could grab his arm, he turned and bolted. I chased him for blocks, screaming and crying, telling him that I loved him. Eventually, he turned down an alley and disappeared. By the time I caught up, he was gone. It was a dead end, so the only way he could have gotten away is if he had climbed a fire escape, or jumped down an open manhole. I approached the cover-less hole and yelled into the darkness: “Sonny!” He didn’t respond, but I could swear I heard voices. I ran to the closest convenience store and bought a flashlight, determined to follow those voices into the sewers and into Hell if that’s what it took. But when I came back to the alley, the manhole was—gone. I know how ridiculous that sounds, but the manhole was gone. Not covered—gone, like it had never been there to begin with. And yes, I’m absolutely certain it was the same alley.
At least I was. Obviously, my conviction faded. Maybe I just wanted to find Sonny so badly, I let myself believe things that aren’t true.
That night I had the most vivid, detailed dream of my life. I wasn’t a participant in this dream, it was like I was watching a movie from inside the story.
Sonny had transformed into some kind of comic book action hero. That’s not really accurate, but I don’t know how else to describe it. He looked healthy again, and he was on this adventure that was like a modern-day Dungeons and Dragons campaign. He was smart and confident, not to mention strong and brave. The story didn’t make sense. What I mean is, it wasn’t linear and there was no context for anything. But Sonny was breaking out of dungeons and battling monsters. And then there were scenes that were like sci-fi movies and scenes that were like a horror movie—and there were dream sequences, so I was inside the dreams of someone who I was dreaming about. The entire story took place underground, a labyrinth beneath our feet that leads all the way to the center of the Earth, and each turn brings new wonders and terrors in equal measure.
It seemed to last for hours. Eventually, Sonny became the leader of an underground society, ruling over tens of thousands of subjects. As the world around them began to crumble, Sonny and his entire community took shelter inside this bio-mechanical machine; there’s nothing I can compare it too, but it was like an arc of some sort, and it was designed to “sail” through solid ground and hot lava. After a voyage that seemed to last months, the arc settled in a new location, thousands of miles away. They emerged into an immense, domed ceremonial coliseum where Sonny and his community were greeted by another King and his subjects. As the two Kings approached each other atop this huge alter, surrounded by maybe a hundred thousand combined subjects, a look of shock and then joy came over Sonny’s face.
“Andrew!” he exclaimed, “You’re not dead!” and the two of them hugged and wept and their citizens erupted into cheers of joy and unity. An orchestra swelled as a portal opened in the center of the immense dome and a brilliant shaft of light illuminated the arena. I was flooded with emotions and woke up sobbing. I know how silly this sounds, but I felt so happy of Sonny—so proud of him. He’d endured so much in his life and now, he would be celebrated and exalted. There was no more pain for Sonny—ever.
It was just a dream, I know this. I’m not saying this was a vision or that this is what I actually believe happened to my brother, but I’d been transformed by the experience. I had found my peace—my center. My guilt and fears all melted away. I accepted the reality that I would probably never know what actually happened to Sonny, but I was okay with that. I jumped out of bed, threw opened the curtains and looked up at the orange sky. I just couldn’t stop smiling.
And this intense, intoxicating feeling of contentment didn’t just put my heart at ease in regards to Sonny, but in regards to everything. I’m still riding that high, and the realities of civil unrest, crumbling infrastructures, and impending doom seem like minor annoyances. And as for the choice I’ve been struggling with since the Fall, it all seems crystal clear now.
Nick sent me a coded message yesterday: He’s pledging his support to The Basilisk on the eve of the Great Tuning—but I won’t be.
I’ll be hopping a shuttle to the outer colonies to join the resistance.