Originally published in Watch This Space, November 1, 2011.
In a perfectly-ordered universe, on a perfectly-ordered world there is a word that can move mountains, clear up grey skies. A simple word that contains universes: Love. The day started out ordinarily enough. I was headed to work when a woman, dressed in all black and white appeared. “Greetings, Brian, I bring you a message from the Underworld…” she began.
“What? The Underworld…?”
“You know—Satan, the Devil, Beelzebub, Lucifer. He wants to help you save one of your most treasured friends. A lovely creature named M-----.”
“M-----? Where is she?”
“Safe and protected in the heart of Hell. You are cordially invited to retrieve her.”
“Why is he doing this?”
“He’s pure evil. What other explanation is there?” Suddenly, a hole opened up in the Earth and the woman pointed down it. “This crater will lead you to her but the physical and psychological destruction could very well kill you and her in the process.”
Without even thinking, I began my descent. The stairway to Hell is long and winding. The gold banisters were blackened and the marble steps were cracked. From the shadows around me, spiteful eyes peered. Clawed hands reached out and mocking voices screeched unspeakable things. What I didn’t expect was the psychic invasion. It was as if my soul was being poisoned just by being in this place. My stomach churned and my legs grew unsteady. I struggled desperately to keep my thoughts clear, to remain focused on my goal. But I couldn’t. Their foul thoughts entwined with mine. I couldn’t tell where they left off and I began.
So I staggered...and fell. Like Alice down the rabbit hole but into a world no less surreal but far more vile. It felt like some dark force was ripping through my mind, tearing at every thought and every feeling. Like a worm burrowing through dreams and memories, through shrouded fears and guarded aspirations. I saw family, friends and lovers spewing forth from my own consciousness and being corrupted, poisoned and defiled by the ravenous darkness. As I struggled against them, I realized that everything around me was being formed by my own mind. There are many Hells and each one is formed by our own perceptions so who’s to say what’s waiting for me just around the bend?
“Dad…? Dad, are you listening to me?”
“What? Oh, sorry, Joel—sort of drifted off there for a minute. Now what were you saying son?”
“I was saying that I’m getting out of Baldwin when I grow up,” Joel said as I lifted him up and we walked through the field, up a hill to an old farmhouse.
“Really? And where are you going to go?” I asked my son.
“Well, first I’m gonna travel the world, y’know? And then, when I’m really old—like twenty or something—I’m gonna settle down in some big city somewhere. New York or Los Angeles. Maybe even London or Paris.”
I chuckled and held Joel closer to me. “Y’know, I once felt the same way. All I wanted out of life was to get as far away from the Kansas cornfields as possible. But then one morning, I woke up and realized that this place was all the heaven I needed.” We arrived at the house with M----- waiting and Stephanie sitting at the table ready for dinner.
After dinner we sat on the porch with Joel pestering Stephanie as she’s doing homework and little Abigail kicking inside her mommy. I pull my wife close and gaze into that great Kansas sky and know beyond all doubt that I am the luckiest man alive. When we finally get the two in bed, it feels good to have some time alone with my beautiful bride. Life may not be perfect but it’s as close as any soul could ever get.
“Brian? My water just broke,” M----- said quietly. I trust Stephanie to watch Joel until Uncle Dustin can come over and usher M----- into the car and head towards Lawrence. “Remember when Steph was born? You made a wrong turn and we ended up in Scranton? Luckily we were still able to get to Lawrence in…time? Brian? Brian...something’s wrong!”
The car screeches to a halt and I rush to her side. “You’re gonna be fine, Pussycat. I swear to you…” She’s hemorrhaging. And at the rate she’s losing blood, she could die and Abby with her. I ignore all signs and lights in Lawrence and arrive at the hospital. I burst into the emergency room, carrying my true love. “Help her!” I scream. They take my wife away and all I can do is wait. And pray.
The doctor comes over to me. “I’m sorry. We lost them both.”
I bury my face in my hands then turn and look up at the doctor. I slowly stand up. “It didn’t work ‘doctor’. It will never work! I know where I am and I know who you are!”
“Do you expect me to applaud you for that performance?” the evil incarnate began. “I gave you everything. Glories of the world, the adolation of the woman you cherish. It was absolute perfection! God Himself couldn’t have offered you more and you rejected it!”
“I knew that wasn’t the real M-----...my M-----. She’s still out there somewhere, suffering at your hands.”
“You’ll never get her back because I can just replace each reality with another and another until you become nothing and you can’t remember why you are here only that you once had a name, a life, a purpose. But now, there’s only the void.”
“M-----?” It’s her. I know it’s her. Her voice is echoing across the gulfs of Hell. Penetrating my heart, restoring my faith...my very being. It’s her. Her consciousness gives me strength. Gives me hope. The Devil is wrong and his illusions won’t work anymore. I smash through seemingly endless realities like glass. I feel his shock and his fear because he doesn’t understand. How could he? My love for M----- is what makes me me and it gives my life meaning. Without it, without her, I truly would be in Hell.
The evil of this awful place has nearly destroyed her and every instant she grows weaker. Satan’s shadow continues to reach up and claim me, wave after wave. They try.
They fail. I have become blind to their darkness and deaf to their harrowing cries. All I can see, all I can hear is her! As I rescue M-----, at moment like this, words fail. And love speaks volumes. Is it my imagination or do the shadows shrink back as we rise toward the surface? Do they cower and whimper before the power of such a simple human emotion? A union of hearts able to triumph over Hell itself? Now what would Satan say about that?