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A man forced to enter mankind's most feared territory … a child dragged into the underworld! When Charlie Ward's beloved niece is kidnapped by an atrocious demon he has to find the secret gateway into the one place every human wants to stay away from: Hell! Armed only with courage and determination Charlie has to survive in a forbidding place filled with despair and anguish. He must face challenges no mortal should ever have to undergo that threaten to destroy his very soul.
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How far would you go to rescue a loved one?
A man forced to enter mankind’s most feared territory … a child dragged into the underworld!
When Charlie Ward’s beloved niece is kidnapped by an atrocious demon he has to find the secret gateway into the one place every human wants to stay away from: Hell!
Armed only with courage and determination Charlie has to survive in a forbidding place filled with despair and anguish. He must face challenges no mortal should ever have to undergo that threaten to destroy his very soul.
Nic Parker was born in 1971. Her love for the horror genre flourished in early childhood. She enjoyed the opulence of genre productions in the eighties, chasing after forbidden video nasties with friends, and reading mainly Clive Barker and Stephen King.
Since her twenties she’s had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing many household names from the horror genre in her role as a journalist for Moviestar magazine.
She is an avid book collector, passionate about art and likes to try out new recipes from her many cookbooks.
Parker lives in rural Germany with her husband and six cats.
'Descent to Hell' is the first part in the Hell trilogy, with main character, Charlie Ward.
ISBN 9783946413-56-1Copyright © 2016 by mainbookAll rights reserved.
The moral right of the author has been asserted. All characters and events in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.All Rights Reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the author.
This is for everyone carrying the torch for the horror genre.For the creative heads contributing to art, books, comics,movies and television.And for the horror fans who are simply the best.Keep the torch shining for evermore.
About the book
About the author
Charles Ward was going to Hell. Literally. At least he hoped he was.
He would do as he had been told and descend down the 666 steps on the sixth day of the month and the secret door to Hell whould become visible and open to him at exactly 6:06 and six seconds in the early morning hours.
Charlie sighed heavily. He had never been a believer his whole life, neither in God nor anything remotely new age or metaphysical. He had lived his life without having the urge to take on any belief however old-fashioned or extravagant. Now it would be vital for him to accept the fact he had to descent to Hell to rescue his niece Susie.
Taking up this challenge was better than to just sit at home anticipating another visit from Detective Inspector Clark only to be told the police had not come any closer to finding Susie. Charlie had been under close scrutiny since the abduction. Charlie, Susie’s unmarried uncle, in his late thirties with no girlfriend and a bit of a loner, whose job was creating action figures, had been deemed a likely suspect by the coppers. His alibi - working from home while watching a scary movie on Sky the night Susie had vanished, had not been airtight and had sounded like an obvious lie to the police.
The cops had not made any progress. Not after days, not after weeks. They had subjected Charlie to quite a few interrogations to see if he would contradict himself, which he had never done - much to their frustration.
Seeing the pain and fear of not knowing what had happened to her child every day in his sister’s eyes, Charlie had decided he’d have to do something - no matter how strange or unorthodox. He had started to ask around about people dealing with inexplicable phenomena, exploring options the police had not thought of.
Charlie had encountered his fair share of idiots, con artists and wannabe diviners before an old chap in his favourite pub had sidled up to him.
‘Jonathan Black,’ he’d whispered then added an address in London. The man had been out of the door and vanished before Charlie had had a chance to talk to him properly.
Black’s study had been crammed with countless old volumes and strange artefacts and objects. The man’s whole flat looked like someone had got the film sets of Downton Abbey and Harry Potter mixed up. Charlie’s head was brimming with all the information, advice and warnings Black had given him.
‘You must have your determination etched into your soul before you dare enter the gates of Hell,’ Black had urged him with his low and raspy voice. Charlie was still unsure if Black had tried to imitate Batman or if that was his natural voice. Black’s eyes had bored into him. ‘Hell is a strange place unlike any other and impossible to fathom - it has a million ways of luring a man from his purpose. Do not ever trust anyone in Hell. It is essential you believe Hell exists, otherwise the secret gateway will never reveal itself to you and you will fail.’
Charlie had wondered if that man was a crook or a lunatic. It had all sounded like some version of Alice in Wonderland for grownups to him, if not like utter crap. He tried to quieten the snide voice inside his mind constantly telling him he had totally lost his marbles. He was so desperate he would have jumped through a burning hoop from thirty feet into a tiny inflatable kid’s paddling pool – if it would only help him find Susie.
So now Charlie would be trying to…no, he would be entering Hell to bring back his beloved niece.
He wasn’t supposed to doubt. Black had drummed it into him he had to be determined about his venture at all times.
‘The 666 steps might sound like Hollywood idiocy or total shite but it’s one of Hell’s security mechanisms to keep the doubters and easily misled away.’ As he recalled their meeting, Charlie imagined Black wearing a Batman costume while he was talking to him and he almost laughed out loud. He wondered if listening to that man had been his first step of descending into madness rather than into Hell.
Charlie focused his mind on what he was about to do. Enter Hell and find Susie - that was his plan so far.
He was unsure what to do once he had entered Hell. He didn’t know what to expect and Black hadn’t provided him with further instructions. Charlie had only received a fraction of information about what truly awaited him. He wasn’t sure if Black had deliberately kept him in the dark about the things to come. Maybe there were restrictions on what Black could tell him?
Charlie wondered if Hell was close to what artists like Bosch had painted or whether it was more like its depictions in some movies? Maybe it’d be a fun way to spend the afterlife, a huge nightclub where decadence and sex ruled - a bit like Las Vegas. He was about to find out.
Charlie was prepared to trade his life and soul for Susie. He was convinced that, once he had entered Hell, he’d find a way to track her down and bring her back home to her mother. He tried to stop doubting there was an entrance to Hell at all.
Charlie had loitered until the last tube at Tower Hill had left well after midnight. Nobody was left on the platform except him. He had no idea if the London underground personnel would check before they closed the station for the night. He worried about CCTV cameras watching what he was about to do. After one last glance to make sure there was no one else around, he sneaked over the low gate to the left side of the platform and went straight into the tunnel.
His heart pounded frantically. He walked a few steps on wobbly legs. He expected to hear somebody shouting after him any second now. He turned his head. No one followed him. He wiped perspiration from his brow. The few light bulbs on the dark walls of the tunnel seemed ancient and provided only basic illumination. At least he could see where he was going. He could not afford to twist an ankle now.
Charlie moved his left hand over the rough and grimy surface of the wall. It reassured him he was not dreaming but really doing this. He had walked for about five minutes when he stopped. Exactly where Black had said, there was a zigzag-shaped crack in the wall, like thunder had struck the concrete. This was Charlie’s rabbit hole.
Charlie leaned against the rough wall and took out his wallet. He looked at the small photograph in the transparent pocket. Susie was sitting on his shoulder. Both their faces showed slight tans and huge contented grins. The picture had been taken two years ago. Memories flooded his mind: warm sand underneath his feet, Susie’s sparkly laughter, the two of them looking for seashells. It had been a perfect day with too much sun, fish and chips and ice-cream.
Charlie and his sister Pam had raised Susie together. Susie was like his daughter. He had collected her from pre-school when Pam had been working. On Susie’s first day at school, he had been there, grinning with pride like the other fathers, his eyes moist and his heart almost bursting with love for that quirky, bright girl. For years, Charlie had taken the place of father though he was only her uncle. He had often wondered if that was wrong.
He felt guilty because there was a part of him that was happy his sister had not found another man since Susie’s father had died. Maybe his being so close to Susie had also prevented Pam from actively looking for another man. Charlie feared that if Pam fell in love again, he’d get to spend less time together with his beloved niece. With his medical condition, it had been a blessing for him to be able to experience the ups and downs of bringing up a kid with Susie.
Susie had grown into a responsible young girl who was often scarily wise beyond her years. Once, she had returned home from school with a bloody nose, having defended a younger schoolmate from a bully older than both of them. Pam had been worried but all Charlie saw was an incredibly strong girl with a big heart. Susie always stood up for the weak, human or animal. In contrast to most of her female schoolmates, she either wanted to become an astronaut or prime mistress when she grew up.
His eyes became moist thinking about how much he missed her. Charlie looked slightly dishevelled on the outside but no one could see the emotional agony he had been in since Susie had been taken.
Charlie saw it as his responsibility to do everything in his power to prevent Susie from any harm and this now included descending to Hell to find her. I am going to bring you back, Susie. He wiped his eyes before tucking his wallet back into his leather jacket.
The crevice in the wall was barely wide enough for a grown man to fit through. Charlie wasn’t tall and his lean frame let him squeeze through albeit with some effort. A tearing sound told him his beloved leather jacket had suffered some major damage.
Visibility on the other side was scarce. Charlie took out his small flashlight. It was one of the few pieces of equipment he had taken with him along with a pocketknife and the little figure of a fox Susie had once given him as a lucky charm. The beautiful ancient coin Black had called Charlie’s ‘Oyster Card for Hell’, securely stowed away in his inner jacket pocket, started radiating warmth - or was he just imagining that?
He shone the torch around but the light could not properly penetrate the darkness. Charlie couldn’t make out any walls or doors. A sudden crack from behind startled him. Worried someone had followed him he swivelled around and stepped back. He lost his footing and realised he had stepped into a gap or hole. A surprised gasp escaped his mouth. He dropped the pocket lamp as he instinctively threw his arms forward, his hands frantically searching for something to hold on to, to stop himself from dropping into an unknown depth below.
This is it then. He would fall and break all of his bones and maybe crush his skull too. Charlie realised he had been led to certain death by Black. His fingers scraped over the dusty concrete surface looking for any fissure to dig his fingers into. There was a bolt sticking out of the floor and he grabbed it with his left hand. His fall was slowed but the weight of his body pulled him down further. The metal of the bolt cut into his flesh but Charlie gritted his teeth and didn’t let go. His left arm hurt like it was slowly being ripped out of his shoulder socket. He knew he couldn’t hold on for long. A desperate moan escaped him. His right hand clumsily fumbled around the ledge finding some cables that were strong enough to hold on to. Charlie puffed with effort but he wasn’t ready to give up. He wanted to find Susie.
His legs dangled in the air desperately seeking footing. Then came the wheezing sound. He froze, not daring to breathe. There it was again. It was the wet sound of someone or something laboriously drawing breath.
His torch came rolling back across the floor. The cone of light briefly showed him his bleeding hand before coming to a halt close to him, trying its best to illuminate the chasm underneath Charlie.
The heavy breathing started again, this time louder. The sound was unnatural, like metal scraping metal or a robot with whooping cough. A shiver ran over Charlie’s body, cold sweat coating his spine like a thin layer of ice. His eyes were wide open but there was only darkness.
Charlie’s body became heavier with each second. He thoroughly regretted not joining his mate Kevin for those cross training courses in the gym. He tried pulling himself up using the muscles in his arms when something tugged at the hem of his jeans. He cried out in surprise then realised the fabric might have been caught on a nail.
The panting was closer than ever this time. Charlie couldn’t help it. He turned his head. The light beam showed Charlie there was nothing, the sound only a figment of his imagination caused by his panic. Just as he was about to look away, a claw surfaced from the abyss underneath him, created out of steel and cable with pointy fingers looking incredibly sharp. A part of the arm emerged from the dark as well, rusty sinews and muscles galvanised with black mould.
Dread invaded his every fibre. Charlie cursed Jonathan Black. Why had he not warned him about the bottomless pit right at the beginning of his supposed journey to Hell?
Charlie made another desperate effort to haul himself up when something deeply penetrated the flesh of his lower right leg, making him scream in pain.
Since her daughter had vanished Pamela Green had felt like being controlled by an unknown puppet master. To the world she was still functioning, if only barely. On the inside she was hollow, wondering each day why she even bothered to get up.
The scent of fresh coffee always had an invigorating effect on her but since Susie had vanished Pamela only existed behind a veil of sadness, which could not be lifted. The pills she had been given didn’t work either.
Since the police had treated her brother Charlie as a possible suspect, Pamela had lost faith in them. She was convinced they would not find her daughter. And now Charlie, who had done everything to support her, was gone too.
Pam wiped her tired eyes thinking about her younger brother. Since the death of her husband Tim they had become even closer. They both trusted each other unconditionally.
Charlie had gone off to find Susie on his own. He had been very clandestine about how he would try to accomplish that and for how long he would be away. Susie had already become a case number for the police after not having been found in the first forty-eight hours following her initial disappearance. Charlie would never give up looking for his niece. Those two shared a special bond.
Pam was about to pour the coffee when she realised she had accidentally taken out two mugs from the cupboard. Charlie often had breakfast at her house, as he lived right next door. She wanted to sit and cry but she conjured up the faith she had always had in her little brother. Charlie would find Susie. Her brother had an admirable determination when he set his mind on something. Maybe soon she would be reunited with both of them. This was the silver lining she held on to. To consider any different outcome would have crushed her soul.
She exhaled and poured the coffee, her hand shaking slightly. She was putting the mug to her lips when she heard a knock at the front door. She wasn’t dressed for visitors yet. She had not even washed her face, just tied her long dark hair in a ponytail and put on some old jeans and a T-shirt. She put the mug down and went through the living room to the front door.
Detective Inspector James Clark stood on her porch. Seeing him set Pamela’s heart rate into the stratosphere for a moment. His neutral face told her he brought neither good nor bad news. She exhaled. She was not expecting him. Why had he bothered coming here when there weren’t any new developments? Clark’s clothes were crumpled. He looked tired and weary, like sleep had evaded him for weeks. The detective was forty-three, like Pam, but right now he looked ten years older. His witty brown eyes were always on alert, registering every tiny detail but his greyish skin made him look slightly unwell. He smiled friendly.
‘Good morning, Mrs. Green, may I…?’
‘Good morning, Inspector Clark.’ She invited him in, not exactly happy to see him if he didn’t have good news.
Clark followed Pamela Green but waited sheepishly at the doorframe of the kitchen. ‘Mrs. Green, I actually came here to talk to your brother but he’s not home. I thought he might be here.’
Pam wiped her tired brow. ‘Inspector Clark, I haven’t even had a coffee yet!’ It had come out harsher then she’d intended to. ‘I’m sorry.’ She filled the second mug, handing it to Clark who thanked her. Clark took the invitation for coffee as a peace offering.
‘This tastes divine.’ They sat down at the kitchen table, the silence between them awkward, until Clark cleared his throat. ‘Mrs. Green, I’d like to talk to your brother.’
She sighed. ‘So you already said but Charlie isn’t here.’
‘He hasn’t answered my calls.’
Pam gave him a piercing look. What good would it do if she lied? He’d find out sooner or later anyway.
‘Charlie has gone.’ Clark raised an eyebrow and Pam continued. ‘He hasn’t run away. He has gone to do your job - to find Susie.’ What else was she supposed to tell him when she didn’t know what Charlie was up to?
Clark put his cup down, clearly surprised, his voice expressing concern. ‘What is he planning and where exactly has he gone?’
Pam shrugged. ‘He just told me there might be a new angle to Susie’s abduction and that he wouldn’t give up until he had found her.’
Clark wiped his brow. ‘Mrs. Green, you do realise this could make your brother look more suspicious to the authorities?’ He had chosen the best diplomacy he was capable of.
Pam snorted slightly. ‘More suspicious? Some of your colleagues already treated Charlie like a paedophile!’ Clark made to answer but Pam pre-empted him with a tired voice. ‘Please, don’t repeat the bloody statistics again. You’ve told me several times in great detail how, in most cases, it’s someone close to home!’ Her voice had become louder than she had intended. ‘Charlie loves Susie! I told you, he’s raised her like she was his own since my husband died!’
Pam got up to refill her cup. She shoved the glass jug back into the coffee machine so brusquely she was afraid it’d splinter. She exhaled when it stayed in one piece. She turned around. ‘He never said anything to you but Charlie has suffered greatly thanks to your harassment.’
Clark held her stare. ‘I am very sorry, Mrs. Green.’ He sighed. ‘I can relate to your situation.’ Clark massaged the bridge of his nose. ‘I know you believe the best about your brother but I always have to consider all aspects.’
Pam sighed. ‘You’ve never found any evidence to incriminate Charlie but I guess he made the best suspect.’ She sat down again. She knew Clark had only done his bloody job and she wasn’t envious of his line of profession. She was utterly frustrated the investigation had not found Susie. She looked through the window into the small back garden. Pam remembered Susie playing in a pink plastic seashell sandpit as a small child. Susie had loved flying high on the swing Charlie had built. Now, both the sandpit and the swing were gone, as Susie had decided she was too old for them. Susie had grown up so fast and was mature beyond her years.
Pam turned to Clark who held a handkerchief out for her. She was surprised at the gesture until she realised she was crying. She took the tissue and dabbed her eyes dry. ‘I am sorry. Sometimes the memories just overwhelm me.’
Clark softly put a hand on her lower arm. ‘That’s perfectly understandable in your situation. I assure you I haven’t given up on Susie nor has anyone else working on the case. Did your brother at least say where he went or when he’ll return?’
Pam shrugged. ‘Charlie didn’t say a lot, just that he might have found a way to bring Susie back. I have complete faith in him and he is determined not to give up before finding his niece.’
Clark looked down at the surface of the table. He had understood the criticism in her words. He was aware he should have been the one to find her daughter, to solve the case he had been assigned to. Being an experienced cop didn’t prevent him from growing frustration levels if he failed to deliver results.
Charlie barely managed to hold on to the ledge above the bottomless pit, gritting his teeth hard as the pain in his leg shot all the way up to his thigh. That thing would pull him into the eternal darkness any moment now. The wheezing surrounded him yet he did not dare to turn his head again.
His mind feverishly tried to come up with an idea to escape the situation. He didn’t have the strength to pull his heft up and he had nothing to step on to enable him to clamber up. The horrid creature clawing at him looked like welded together from metal scraps by a mad artist, like Hell’s idea of a robot. The heavy breathing was loud despite the escalating pounding of his heartbeat and the blood rushing through his veins like a deafening red waterfall. He was afraid he’d have a heart attack any second now.
Charlie felt a tug at his right leg again. Instinct took over. He shook his limb free and searched for the creature’s head or shoulder to step onto with his left foot. There was something hard underneath his right shoe. Despite the pain in his leg he brought his other foot directly beside it, jumping up. He hoped he had also managed to kick the mouldy metal monstrosity down.
The momentum lifted his body upwards as planned. He simultaneously pulled with his arms and got his upper body over the verge. He dropped his chest forward, crawling along the floor like a seal. When he heard the wheeze again, Charlie scrambled further away until he reached a wall. He turned around, sitting on his bum and pulling his knees up. He watched the edge of the void, holding his breath. He expected the creature to come after him. He waited for the laborious breathing. Sweat from his forehead ran into his right eye and he wiped it away with the back of his hand.
After what seemed like hours to him Charlie dared to exhale again. His left hand and right lower leg throbbed in unison. Charlie stretched his right arm out, reaching for the torch. He grabbed it and quickly moved back against the wall. He had not heard the gasping again. Charlie’s throat clicked as he dry-swallowed while shining the cone of light towards the pit. There was only pitch-black darkness. It was about time for him to accept things he had not believed really existed, like the thing he had just barely escaped from.
Charlie’s wounds bore witness to how close he’d come to death and he examined them in the light. His left hand showed a bleeding gash in the middle. Charlie took out his handkerchief and pressed it on the wound. He would have preferred some antiseptic to clean it and he was so thirsty he could have downed a bottle of water. He had considered bringing a small backpack but had decided to travel light instead.
Charlie carefully rolled up the hem of his jeans. He saw four holes in his skin on one side and one hole on the other. He felt queasy thinking about the mouldy metal claws digging into his flesh. It looked bad but the wounds weren’t too deep. Charlie realised how lucky he had been and how barely he had escaped a terrible fate.
He glanced at his watch and his heart skipped a beat. He blinked yet the time stayed the same. It was already 3:30. Impossible. He had left the platform shortly after one o’clock and there was no way it had taken him over two hours to walk the short distance and get himself out of that pit! He had to get up and move on, as he didn’t know how long it’d take him to reach the entrance to Hell.
He checked his hand again. The bleeding had mostly subsided. The wounds on his calf seeped red fluid and he tied the handkerchief around them, hoping it’d stem the blood flow soon. He pushed the thought of infection and septic shock to the furthest recess of his mind. He stood up, gritting his teeth when a stinging pain spread from his lower right leg up to his thigh. His journey had not started on the best conditions.
Determination. Charlie reminded himself it was vital. He also recalled something else and panicked as he checked the inner pocket of his leather jacket. He was relieved when his fingers found the strange coin still safely located there.
He carefully moved around the side of the hole while frequently searching for a passage or door. His hand found a door handle protruding from the wall. Charlie pushed it down but the door didn’t give. He put the end of the flashlight into his mouth and was about to try again with both hands when he thought better of it. If the door suddenly gave way and he pulled it towards his own face he could lose some teeth or suffocate on the torch if he accidentally shoved it down his throat. He didn’t want to make the top ten of the Darwin Awards.
Charlie left the light on but stashed it back into his jacket pocket. He pulled the door again with both hands but it didn’t give an inch. He tried pushing and stumbled into the dark as the door suddenly and silently swung inward as if its hinges had just been oiled seconds ago.
Charlie remembered the huge pit and stopped dead in his tracks before he made another step. He took out the torch, making sure there was no abyss gaping in front of him.
Charlie paused. There wasn’t another room or pathway behind the door. He was standing on the small platform of a spiral staircase. The walls were so close that if he stretched out both arms he could have simultaneously touched them with his fingertips.
He carefully advanced one step without noticing the door closing behind him. When he turned there wasn’t a door anymore. No handle, not even the outlines of a door.
He sighed. Fine. He was going nowhere but down anyway.
Here were the 666 steps he was supposed to descend. Charlie glanced at his watch. It showed five fifteen. Either his watch was broken or…or time simply worked differently around here. Charlie’s heartbeat went up a gear. He was still going to make it. His injured leg would hold him back but he was fit enough and he wouldn’t let pain get in his way of finding Susie.
The spiral staircase looked ancient and was entirely cast out of iron. It was beyond him how anyone could have fitted the finished staircase inside here. He brought the torchlight closer to the banister. It showed detailed artwork of human figures, naked and often malformed, all somehow intertwined. Not exactly Charlie’s idea of cheerful art.
The construction looked solid and trustworthy. He hesitated as he remembered the terrifying scene from The Haunting he had seen as a kid.
Don’t be afraid. You haven’t much time left. Just move.
Charlie swallowed hard, stopped thinking and started to descend. When he put his injured hand on the metal handrail, a sigh echoed in the dark, like a lover moaning, and his skin crawled. Nonsense. There was no one there at all. His mind was playing tricks on him.
Charlie moved on quickly but also carefully, so he wouldn’t trip and break his neck. His leg ached with every step but he ignored it, as long as he had sure footing and could walk it didn’t matter.
He kept his hand on the rail, the light aimed at the stairs in front of him. Something brushed through his hair. He was not very fond of spiders and wildly shook his head, running his fingers through his hair to shake the creepy crawly out. He shone the torch over his head but couldn’t discern any cobwebs. All-consuming darkness surrounded him. He wondered if the stairs further up still existed or if they had dissolved like the door had before.
He shook his head. It was just nerves. The forces of Hell were trying to distract him from his purpose and wanted him to miss the opening of the hidden gateway.
Charlie advanced and he couldn’t shake the distinct feeling someone or something was following him. He halted and heard footsteps but he wasn’t sure if they came from in front or from behind him.
The impenetrable gloom affected him more than he would have liked. His brain conjured up images of gruesome creatures, like the ones depicted on the balustrade, like the metal monstrosity that had grabbed him, waiting in the darkness to jump out on him. Most surely the footsteps he heard were only echoes of his own.
Get the fuck going! You are running out of time! You’re only scaring yourself!
Charlie inhaled, shining the torch downward again and, for a second, the beam caught long clawed fingers made of shadows brushing over his shoes and ankles. He blinked and they were gone.
Charlie thought about Susie again and how no one but him would come to save her. He moved on. He ignored the echo of the footsteps and the occasional whatever it was that touched his hair. Down he had to go.
Charlie wasn’t sure how much further the spiral staircase continued. Maybe he was only dreaming and he was stuck in a dream within a dream. He must not doubt. He fumbled in his jacket pocket, wrapping his fingers around the little fox figurine.
He had to make the deadline of 6:06 and six seconds, otherwise he’d have to wait another month to try. And he had not come this far to give up. Somehow, Charlie was aware that even if he made it up the spiral staircase again with his wounded leg, the door would not be there anymore.
Determination. Black had told him that over and over again. Keep your mind focused. Charlie started going faster and took another turn on the staircase. The steps had suddenly ended and he almost fell down. He managed to stay standing though the world was swaying around him. He was drowsy from constantly going round and round. He crouched and touched the floor. He had made it! He had descended the 666 steps. Charlie allowed himself the luxury of waiting a moment to steady his breath. The time on his watch showed 6:04. When he stood up the vertigo had subsided.
Where exactly would the door be? Would he even find it? Just go further, a voice in his mind told him. He was sure the gateway would appear at exactly 6:06 and six seconds. He advanced carefully. Another glance at his watch showed him it was 6:06. His heart stopped for an instant. Where is the bloody door? He shone the light around, searching frantically. The door would reveal itself any second now. At that very moment, Charlie bumped his forehead and realised there was a wall directly in front of him. Not a wall but a door. He could see a handle. He didn’t hesitate. He grabbed it with his left hand. When Charlie’s nerve endings registered the handle was lava-hot, he cried out. Don’t let go! Black had told him the door would only be there for mere seconds. Charlie ignored the excruciating pain, pushed the handle down and the door opened just wide enough to let him slip through – into Hell.
Detective Inspector James Clark felt guilty, not to mention angry, that he had not solved the mystery regarding the disappearance of Susie Green. A child had vanished from the face of the earth amidst her circle of friends.
He hated this particular case. It made him deeply uncomfortable. He didn’t like the occasional flare-ups of long-repressed memories, scratching at the back of his mind. He took another sip of the remaining coffee. It had cooled considerably in the ceramic mug, like his relationship with Pam Green. He could tell her trust in him as the senior investigating police officer had faded, even more so since Charles Ward had been considered a suspect.
He was still puzzled about the nonsensical statements from Cindy and Chelsea, two of the girls who had been with Susie Green when she had disappeared. Their story about how a demon had appeared while they had meddled with an old Ouija board they had found in the attic was clearly made up. The fourth friend that had been present, Amanda, a once-chatty girl, had become mute and a shiver ran down his spine. Maybe it had been a similar event to… no, he didn’t want to go there.
‘Have you ever…I mean…have you ever considered what the girls, Chelsea and Cindy, have said?’
Clark blinked a few times before looking straight into Pam Green’s stunning blue eyes, the hereditary grace of the Ward family. It was as if she had read his mind while he pondered the case. Clark had thought about this so many times yet had never ended up with a satisfying answer. He shrugged and tried a smile.
‘I still don’t know what to make of it all. The child psychiatrist thought it possible they could have made it all up to cover up what they had…’
‘Done?’ Pam Green ended his sentence and Clark nodded.
He wiped his forehead.
Green turned the mug around in her hands. She looked up again. ‘As we’re alone, and no other official party is present, I’d like to know for once what you think, Inspector. This time, though, I’d appreciate your own opinion of what could have occurred.’
Clark sighed heavily. ‘You mean if I ever considered the girls could have hurt Susie, even if accidentally?’
‘No, I don’t. The time between the parents hearing the girls scream and them arriving upstairs was so brief the kids wouldn’t have had any time to… well, if anything had happened in the room that had caused Susie’s accidental death, it would have been impossible for three little girls to hide or get rid of the body.’
Clark saw tears fall from Pam Green’s eyes again and she dabbed her cheeks with the handkerchief he had handed her. She cleared her throat. ‘Please, continue.’
‘The cadaver dogs never found a trace of scent from a dead body. It really seems as if Susie vanished from the room like the girls said.’ He wished he had bitten his tongue before speaking that last sentence out loud.
Green kneaded the handkerchief between her fingers as if it helped her concentrating. ‘I can’t stop asking myself why the girls would make up a tale about a demon abducting Susie. It’s so ridiculous and yet they have given the same statement, over and over.’
Clark didn’t like where this was leading. The two girls still capable of talking had described the ‘demon’ vividly, as if they had really seen it. The child psychiatrist’s conclusion had been that even if they had made up a gruesome figure, at least one of them should have got something wrong or mixed up. Eight-year-old girls just wouldn’t be able to remember all the details they had initially agreed on. Clark pinched the bridge of his nose. He didn’t want to go down that path. He had dreamed about that hideous creature, probably by staring too long at the sketch that hung on the whiteboard depicting the ‘demon’ the girls had seen. There had not been a single night those last few weeks during which he had not woken from a nightmare. There had been a similar incident to the vanishing of Susie Green, back when he had still been a boy, but he didn’t want to remember.
There had to be a reasonable explanation for all this. Heaven and Hell. Angels and demons. It was just crap Catholics drummed into their kids to scare them. Clark only believed in facts and hard evidence, things that were tangible. There was no place in his job - or private life - for Bigfoot, Freddy Krueger or demons. He cleared his throat. ‘I think the girls are turning an ordinary man into a monstrous creature, it’s like their minds can’t grasp what’s really happened.’ He tried to add a benevolent smile but knew he had failed miserably.
To his horror, Clark realised he had convinced neither Pam Green nor himself. He shuddered. The temperature inside the room had risen considerably. He put two fingers into his shirt collar trying to loosen it.
Pam Green staring at him inquisitively only fuelled his doubts. She sounded uneasy when she phrased her next question. ‘So you think it’s absolutely impossible that a demon abducted Susie?’
Clark wished she hadn’t asked. Fragments of memories from his childhood tried to claw their wicked way to the surface of his consciousness but he wouldn’t let them. Clark inhaled deeply and tried to regain his inner balance. He put on the fake smile of a plastic doll. ‘ It’s nonsense, Mrs. Green and you know it.’ He couldn’t look at her while saying it. He drank the bitter remains of his coffee and stood up. She looked at him, confused and embarrassed.
She rose. ‘I’m sorry if my question sounded like I am mad as a hatter but sometimes I can’t stop wondering why…’ She was interrupted by the ring of the doorbell. Clark visibly relaxed. It was a welcome cue to leave. He didn’t want to talk about monsters hiding in the dark, demons not of this earth. His chest had tightened. He needed to clear his head. Pam Green accompanied him to the front door.
‘I am sorry I don’t have any better news regarding Susie, Mrs. Green. Please let me know when you hear from your brother.’ He saw she was about to protest so he added, ‘For his own good. You know I never condemned him. And I promise I will personally look over the case files again, maybe I will find a clue that has eluded me so far.’
His confirmation awarded him a genuine smile from her. ‘Thank you, Inspector.’
The lie had passed his lips easily. He knew there could be no sudden new evidence, he had treated this case meticulously. They had reached the front of the house and she opened the door.
Clark witnessed Pam’s surprise when she saw the man standing there: tall, sporty physique, short, unkempt dark-blond hair. ‘Yes?’
Clark was afraid the stranger could be from the press. On second thought, Clark was sure he had seen this man before but couldn’t exactly put a name to the face.
‘Good morning. Mrs. Green?’ Pam Green nodded and the man continued. ‘I’m a friend of your brother, Charles. I had hoped to catch him…’ He left that last bit of the sentence trailing, as if he had not decided if it should have been a question or a statement.
Clark knew there was something off. The man had clearly avoided introducing himself by name. Had he only done that because he had recognised Clark as police? Clark faced Pam Green, his expression silently asking her if she needed his help.
‘Thank you for your visit, Inspector Clark. Please let me know when there’s any news.’
Clark would have liked nothing more than to ask for the man’s name and to see his ID but maybe that would have caused Ward’s friend to leave instantly. He knew he would remember the man’s name eventually then he’d get back to Pam Green and enquire about her visitor.
Pam Green put her arms around her upper body to show she was getting cold standing on the porch and she wanted to close the door. Clark took the hint and said goodbye but didn’t leave before giving the man a look saying ‘I’m watching you!’ Pam Green let her unexpected visitor enter and then the door closed.
Pam Green took in the man she had never seen before. His aura was peculiar and sombre yet she sensed he wasn’t here to harm her. He could be someone Charlie had sought out to ask for help in finding Susie.
‘I know one thing: you are not a friend of my brother, none of his friends have ever called him Charles.’
The man grinned sheepishly while rubbing his neck. ‘Ah, you caught me. Well, actually I know your brother isn’t here but I wanted to visit you to let you know…’ He paused.
Pam wasn’t sure what to expect and for a moment she dreaded getting notice of Charlie’s death. Her expression must have given her away and he raised his hands in front of his body. ‘No, I’m not here with any bad news.’
Pam Green put a hand on her chest and exhaled, repressing tears of relief. She managed a smile. ‘Would you like to sit down and have a coffee while you tell me what you know about Charlie’s whereabouts, Mr…?’
He nodded. ‘Black. My name is Jonathan Black. Call me John.’
Behind the heavy steel door there was nothing.
Above Charlie there was just grey, probably exactly the same shade of grey as the dusty ground he stood upon. He couldn’t see much of anything. Fog surrounded him as if he were wrapped in the thinnest of grey veils. He felt like the only human figure existing in an otherwise unfinished canvas of dreadful grey.
What had he expected upon entering Hell? A welcome committee along with an infernal parade while being greeted by Lucifer himself?
Charlie heard whispers and wind rose up, brushing through his hair, though he didn’t feel the breeze on his face. He tried not to pay too much attention to his burnt hand. He wasn’t sure how badly it had been scalded and how much skin he had left sticking on the handle. His palm throbbed badly and the pain in his leg shot up to his hip with each step he took. He had already used his handkerchief on his calf and had nothing left to dress the wound on his palm. If things continued like this he might have to shred his T-shirt soon enough to use as bandages.
Charlie halted for a moment before realising he had made it. He had overcome the first obstacle and entered Hell.
As if on cue, wisps of mist appeared, reaching out for him like ghostly fingers, touching him to see if he were real. They were taking shape but before he could distinguish what they tried to form, they dissolved again. The mist got lighter and Charlie carefully advanced for a lack of knowing what better to do. He had come this far, hadn’t he? He turned his head searching for any landmark that might have told him which way to go. An arrow shaped sign saying ‘Abducted niece this way, 5 miles’ would have been very helpful.
Charlie blinked and when his eyes opened he found himself in a crowd of men and women of all ages and races. Discrimination wasn’t an issue in Hell, obviously. Charlie kept his head lowered, sneaking looks at the others when he thought they weren’t watching. They seemed like normal people, albeit sick ones. Their faces expressed a great deal of stress and their skin was ashen, their eyes void. He compared the skin colour of the woman to his right with his own. He was not the type that tanned easily but around here, he was the only one looking healthy. Charlie put his hands into the pockets of his leather jacket. The others paid no attention to him and he exhaled. He slowly moved on with them. It was eerily quiet, the usual sounds of a group amiss like someone clearing their throat, a cough, a sneeze, a sigh or shuffling. The only noises were his own breathing and the beating of his heart. If the others had not come through the secret door it meant they were dead. Could they hear him breathe? Could they tell he was different?
The movement of the group slowed and Charlie saw someone lying down on the dusty ground further on. The others acted oblivious of the figure, some kicking the limbs or even stepping on the person. Charlie reached the figure and saw it was a young man who was shielding his head with his arms. Charlie crouched, almost crying out loud when an angry spike of pain shot up from his wounded calf. He gritted his teeth and softly spoke to the man.
‘Come on, I’ll help you.’ The guy looked up. Despite the dust and grit on his face, Charlie saw the man had handsome features. Charlie thought he might be the singer in a teen-band, he was sure he had seen him before. There was an absent look in the man’s eyes.
‘I can’t do this. I don’t belong here.’ His voice was barely a whisper and came close to faltering. Charlie was intrigued.
‘Did you pass through the secret gate, too?’ Charlie knew by seeing the young man’s furrowed brow he didn’t know what Charlie was talking about. The hope of finding someone else who had taken on the task of descending to Hell vaporised. ‘Come on, you can’t stay down here.’ Charlie pulled the man to his feet while the others bumped into them. No one else gave a damn if someone was down or needed help. The irony of the people here acting similar to the passengers on the Tube was not lost on Charlie.
Once they were both standing, the young man stared at Charlie with the saddest look upon his face, breathing a ‘thank you’ before his eyes turned glassy. Next, he moved on with the group as if nothing had ever happened.
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