They say Hell is one of the most commonly used words in the English language. It’s a verb, an adjective, a noun. It’s slithered its way into a plethora of phrases: ‘go to hell’, ‘the hell of it all’, ‘bloody hell.’
We describe our jobs as hellish or make caviller remarks that we’ve had the day from hell. We use it so much that it lost is depth, its horror. It rolls off our tongues barren and hallow, completely void of its former meaning; and that’s because we don’t believe in it anymore. It’s now just a word, right? It’s just a word until you’re living it. Breathing it. Stuck in it.
They say life is Hell. We rack up hundreds of hours trapped in a call centre, our eyes being burnt out by the same computer screen we’re forced to glare at day in, day out. It’s customer service, the relentless repetition of answering the same stupid fucking questions all damn day and by the end of the week your conscience is in a coma.
It’s working hard just to pay your bills, but still not feeling as though you’re living.
It’s a wrenched heart, a spilled coffee on a crisp white shirt, it’s a fishhook that we all dangle on helplessly.
Its days spent sucked into our phone screens whilst our ability to communicate wilts silently, becoming more and more mute.
It’s possessing talents and skills we once thought would take us somewhere, but now they sit collecting dust on the shelf of our life.
It’s a massive cat and it swallows you whole like a tiny bird.
For me, each day feels like an endless clockwork spin of self-doubt. Seconds bleed into hours spent hating every fibre of my being. Every second of every day, until another twenty-four hours have ticked by and still I feel as though I’m watching myself buckle under this cycle of misery.
We are describing events, people, single days and jobs as Hell, but still you don’t believe in it? You’re already in it.
They say the Devil works hard, but let tell you this we work harder. We’re making our planet into a fresh Hell, a living one.
The real Hell, Hades, Underworld, whatever you want to call it, has been spilling out for centuries, subtlety flooding its way into this world like an insidious and unseen influence. It seeps into our plane of existence and rots our brains.
That’s the biggest irony, we’re creating our own Hell.
Nuclear bombs, idiots being elected to power. Hate, homophobia, transphobia, sexism, racism. Cancer, incurable diseases, rape, mental-illness, social injustice. Millionaires zoom across cities with seven cars in their garage while a homeless child slowly dies of thirst.
I guess, still, Hell is a relative term.
My Hell is different than yours, it glows in gloom. My Hell isn’t figurative; it isn’t a pretentious metaphor. It’s my life, it’s been my life since I was eight. I’ve never known a tender hand; love and friendship have never been an umbrella to shade and protect me. Every waking moment is a mirror of unresolved aspects of myself. That’s because of these monsters, the ‘Kankarmen.’ Beasts that slicked out of Hell, crept into my room and dug their claws in; snatched me from a glittering childish dream, punctured it and I crashed face-down into the dirt. One of these monsters even laid down roots, made a place inside my life and now reaps havoc.
They say I’m mentally ill, but that’s just the crafty disguise these hellish monsters use. They feed on me, they feed on all of us. I know this now; as I sit and write, I know this.
I’m looking from left to right as if someone might be coming, might be reading this unseen from over my shoulder. Even now, in this sanctuary, I’m still fearful. I’m currently hidden from my Hell, but I’ve not escaped it. It’ll come back, they’ll be back, he’ll come back. Only this time I’ll be ready. I’m torn open, tortured, so what more hell can he put me through?
Hell is very much a real place, but it’s also a state of mind.
Up all night, got demons to fight.
Under the Jackal Sky
Frankie scrambled over and hurriedly placed one hand over the boys oozing wound, her whole-body quaking with a mixture of panic and anger. Using the cuff of her sleeve she wiped his brow, soaking up the droplets of a poison-induced sweat that were collecting neatly in the centre of his forehead. Blood seeped out from the wound and it slid like rivers of snakes from between her fingers. It’s texture oilier than it should be, as though it was laced with something thicker.
She glanced around the room to make sure their exit was still open. Frankie knew she needed to stick to the plan, but the severity of the current situation didn’t allow for forward planning.
The boy lay there, cradled in his sister’s arms, blinking up at her with lazy eyes. The moon snarled, and shot a bark of light through the window behind them, illuminating the infectious wound underneath the boy’s ribcage, almost as though it was mocking Frankie and her brother.
There was no doubt about it, Frankie was frightened. No matter how hard she scrutinized his wound she couldn’t think of a remedy, but her brother’s injury wasn’t all Franke had to contend with right now. As the boy’s temperature rose, so did her panic levels; both climbing steadily in sync with each moment that tip-toed by. The injury shouldn’t have been deadly, most certainly not fatal, but the instrument used to create it was an evil not of this world.
The boy flickered in and out of consciousness, desperately grabbing hold of whatever moon light that came into view. He clenched the snippets of light tightly in his weakened fists, as though using it to map out the dimly lit room the pair were in. He held onto the light, determined to keep it, dying not to let it go. The dark blurred out of focus every few seconds, but he fought hard to try and keep himself anchored to this world.
The poison coursed through his entire body; coiling itself around every vein, artery and bone. It felt as though someone was dragging sticks of fire over his insides, each stroke a more searing pain than the last. He started to twitch and shake – Frankie feared he may be having a seizure.
‘Alex? Alex! Please hold on, you aren’t quitting on me!’
Frankie wasn’t sure if she was making a statement or asking her brother a question. Repeatedly she gently slapped the bleeding boy across the face, trying to keep him awake; worried that if she couldn’t he would wander away from her to a place that she wasn’t able to follow.
‘I mean it, Alex! Stay awake. This is nothing, come on!’
Frankie noticed shoots of black veins begin to crawl over Alex’s body, rooted from the open wound under the left of his ribcage, then stretching out across his body like poisonous tentacles. He began to lose coherence; his ability to accommodate reality slid away. He mumbled some words to Frankie, little more than fractured vowel movements, but she knew all to well what he was trying to say.
‘If you think I’m leaving you to die here, you’re being an idiot!’
As Frankie spat her sentence out, something caught the corner of her eye. She chased the shadowed figure around the room the best she could, squinting her eyes until they adjusted to the dark. Eventually the thing stopped in the deep of a corner shadow, before sliding in to full view in front of her. It was Him. The catalyst to her suffering, the creature that had stalked her for years.
Suddenly Frankie’s fear burst into a pulsing inferno of fiery rage. She rose to her feet to face this monster. She snapped her head around and saw it, him, smirking, almost proud, towering above her from the other side of the room.
Even in his human form there was something insidiously evil about him. His shadow stretched out in front of him; his features and limbs exaggerated by tricks of light. His silhouette leeched out across the floor and cast itself like a black blanket across Frankie’s face. Again, she stepped forward to face the him, to face the creature.
It only took Frankie a couple of steps to remove the creature from the haven of its shadowy dark. Now she could see him, a monster disguised as a doctor. She recoiled as shards of moonlight highlighted him, and despite his smart attire, there was still an irrefutable repugnance about the man. As though Frankie could see the monster that lay just beneath the surface.
He white lab coat fitted perfectly over his smart attire. An emerald cashmere jumper draped elegant over the shoulders of a crisp-cotton shirt. A perfect prelude to the slim, tailored trousers that fitted almost too well. His ensemble painted the perfect picture of a doctor, of a gentleman – and that he was. A doctor by profession, but a demon by trade.
He smirked and in that insidious smile Frankie saw everything she hated. Her fist clenched.
‘You’re a feeling a little antsy about your prospects, dear?’ The doctor’s smirk grew wider as he spoke. Slowly he started to approach the siblings and as he did a grin split across his face, a slinging, sick smugness that Frankie wanted to wipe off.
‘You’re in over your head, I told you to just give in. Accept your fate. But you didn’t listen, and now poor little Alex has suffered the fallout.’
As the doctor finished his sentence Alex let out a string of coughs, with the words ‘Fuck you’ appearing at the tail end. The doctor laughed so hard it almost sounded exaggerated, forced, and it seemed to bounce off every wall in the entire building.
Frankie inhaled as she looked down at the inured boy. This was a hospital, one of the few places that promised safety to all, a place where, had circumstances been different, she’d have taken Alex to treat him. For a moment she tried to let the last week of her life catch up with her, from the moment she was checked in to the perilous situation she was in now.
From the outside, the stuccoed hospital building showcased an almost unparalleled extravagance, almost as if the bricks used to construct it came from another world. It’s enchanting soft stone carvings were both profane and devotional. Armies of gargoyles guarded the various wings and towers. Heavenly hand-carved statues delicately decorated the rest. It’s demeanour and wide windows gave it a feeling of warmth and light. Frankie guessed this was part of his plan, part of their plan – the monsters that is. It would be easier to lure victims into a building that presented itself in a welcoming manner. Even Frankie had to admit that its grandeur was enchanting, she’d never seen anything like it.
Despite the buildings splendour Franke was now all to aware of the evil nature it housed within its serpentine walls. Inside the winding halls twisted into a labyrinth of misery. All the corridors promised only one destination: to wind up lost in horror, a stony tomb that promised no remorse. Yet Frankie now knew there was something far worse on offer here.
The hospital was run by monsters, a legion of them. The savage puppeteers Frankie now knew as the Kankarmen. The very same beasts that had haunted her since she was eight. The very creatures that did this to her brother who now lay bleeding out on the floor. The same monsters Frankie would have to fight in order for her and Alex to survive.
Her eyes darted around the room. With uninterrupted calculations, she weighed up the odds of her and the wounded boy making it to the exit without a confrontation: the results are in, and the odds are slim.
The doctor continued to taunt and smirk as Alex, who was still withering in pain, edged closer and closer to the veil of nothingness. Frankie knew that no matter what she did, she needed to do it fast.
She glanced down at Alex and another patch of terror snatched her breath; his condition was worsening. The black veins had now begun to slink their way up past his chest and had slowly started coiling themselves around his throat like the bony fingers of Death. The doctor regarded the boy with disdain, he was of no interest right now; it was Frankie he wanted, it had always been Frankie he craved.
Slowly the doctor started an arrogant walk toward her. Frankie pushed fear aside and stepped into a guarded stance in front of Alex, swallowing the thoughts of self-doubt that had plagued her for as long as she could remember. She was prepared to fight.
‘You think yourself a heroine, do you?’
The doctor’s tone bled from mocking into utter contempt. Frankie noticed that his hand was no longer wrapped in its fleshy human disguise; it had unravelled into its true form a beastly claw. Around the doctor’s feet were pounds of dead flesh, shed like a snake does its skin, a cunning disguise for this murderous weapon.
The monster’s rotted fingers hung like lifeless knives; handles to the razor-sharp claws that secreted the same poison that was now pumping through Alex’s dying body. This beast had been responsible for Alex’s condition.
The claws menaced Frankie, the tips of their nails catching fragments of moonlight and playing with them. These were the same instruments used to torture Frankie for years of her life; that had fed on her and her gift; the same gifts her brother possessed. Their light, their essence. The thing that made them more than human.
Fighting the sharp blows delivered by fear and flashbacks, Frankie steadied herself. She wasn’t weak anymore, the mystery surrounding her condition had been lifted. Frankie knew what these creatures were, and she knew she could stop them – if only fear would loosen its tyrannical grip.
The doctor struck his claws through the air, almost as though warming them up. These were the very tools he had used to feed on Frankie since she was a child, that had driven her to attempt suicide. If only Frankie had known how special she was back then, none of this might have happened. She could have fought back, ended this nightmare before it even started. But hindsight is always 20/20 and indulging a scenario of ‘what if’ wouldn’t aid her or Alex right now.With each step the doctor took toward the siblings the more the fire inside of her raged.
‘To think you two are the greatest threat to my kind.’
The doctor laughed almost like a cartoon villain, and Frankie tried to keep from rolling her eyes. This guy wasn’t just evil, he was also a total twat.
The doctor was now inches from Frankie, and her heart raced no longer out of fear, but with a yearning desire to finish this monster once and for all.
Years of torment, years of this monster feasting on her life, her light, her soul; all this had now aged her youthful quiet into something almost like courage. Frankie knew that she wasn’t the heroine in this scenario, nor had she temerity to label herself one; but she knew that the abilities she possessed were all that was standing between Alex’s death, and her freedom.
So much of the young wounded girl Frankie had been just days ago appeared to have vanished. That person seemed foreign to her. Frankie was now, in this moment, alive with a light she hadn’t ever felt before. No longer was it veiled by the darkness of monsters, particularly the one that stood inches from her just now; it had blossomed and now elegantly flowed through her.
The doctor raised his glistening clawed hand, preparing to strike it across Frankie’s face.
‘Give me your best, dear. Then when I’m finished with you I’m make you watch as a crush that pathetic boy’s skull!’
‘You never even get a little bit tired of hearing your own voice, do you?’ Frankie’s mouth filled venom as she spat her retort in the doctor’s face.
‘It’ll be a shame to wreck such a pretty face, but perhaps it’ll teach you some manners.’ The doctor snarled and then lunged.
With that the monstrous hand hurled through the air, it’s ancient, putrid coloured claws promising to tear flesh from bone upon impact. Frankie raised her hand as though to catch them mid-flight. Suddenly the air in front of her filled with a stiffness and the creature’s hand slammed to a halt, merely a fraction of an inch from Frankie’s face. With her other hand, Frankie let her wrist descend into a gentle curve, as though she were drawing an s-shape with an invisible pen. The doctor’s clawed hand snapped back, his disbelief and shock accompanied by a chorus of cracked bones as his clawed hand was flung backward behind him.
These gifts Frankie possessed had come and gone intermittently throughout her life. She didn’t know how to control them yet, but in times of great emotion they came to her aid. These very gifts tied the monster to her, and they would now be used to sever that tie and, Frankie imagined, the monster’s head. They were all that was standing between her, Alex, him and death.
Frankie nodded from her waist, then pushed her hand forward palm first. Suddenly the doctor was dragged back as though attached to invisible ropes that were now being yanked by an army from the other side of the room. His crumbled frame folded over, then shot back four or five meters, bursting into a medical cabinet and ploughing through sheets of glass panels, shattering shelves full of pills and potions upon impact.
‘I think that went pretty well, Doc. Don’t you?’ Cockiness suited Frankie.
The monster’s limp body hung in the air like a marionette being dangled by a puppeteer. Frankie began to step forward, keeping her hand out-stretched as she carefully walked toward the monster, stepping over the shards of broken glass than now lay spread across the floor.
As she approached him his body tumbled to the ground, cracking against debris and splinters of wood. The doctor tried to inch forward onto his knees, but before any movement could be made Frankie curled her hand into a stone-like-ball and sunk her sights on the grounded monster.
She heard a shattering funnel out from inside him, as though an unseen sledge hammer was cracking at his ribs, breaking them in half one-by-one. Frankie could feel the creatures heart beating in her clenched fist, she felt it pulsing through her locked fingers and pounding up her arm. She squeezed tighter.
She looked at the creature that hard tortured her for years in equal measure both beneficent and ferocious. Now he was the one withering in a venomous pain. Frankie’s hand raised to the level of the monster’s stern blank eyes, their visions now caught, padlocked together. She wanted to take this moment in. Frankie crushed her fingers into her palm with all the force she could muster; her nails dug deep into her flesh leaving bloodied crescent moon shapes. She watched as the monster shrieked and shook in anguish, and she felt the warm spit of blood trying to slip out from between her gritted fingers. She had the monster’s fractured heart and its wounded beat in the palm of her hands. She gripped tighter.
Just as she was about to deliver the finishing crush, she was pulled back from vengeance and into reality by the sound of her dying brother’s voice. ‘Frankie, help.’ Alex managed to whisper.
Thrust back into the moment, she quickly realised that Alex was still in mortal danger. Frankie spun around and darted across the room as fast as she could, falling to her knees the moment she was by Alex’s side.
‘We need to get you out of here, now!’
She wrapped her arms around the boy’s neck and hoisted him to his feet; her tiny frame bearing all his weight. He was shorter than her, separated in height only by age difference. A year or so and he would be taller than she was now. But his body was limp, increasingly lifeless, and this dead weight slowed them down.
With injured Alex’s arm slung over her shoulders, and her arm tightly wrapped around his waist, they turned to head toward the fire exit at the back of the room. Once again Frankie flicked her hand toward the locked door and it burst off its hinges. The pair of them waddled though to freedom, or so they thought.
As they stumbled through the doorway, Frankie flipped her head around to see if her foe was still incapacitated, but to her horror he had vanished. She knew in that moment letting him live was a mistake, but the severity of the current situation needed all her attention.
She and Alex made their way down a darkened stairwell, along a blackened corridor until they reached a point of safety, if such a place existed. This had been her plan, her escape strategy; she just needed to get outside these horrific walls and away from these monsters. It didn’t matter where they went, as long as it was anywhere but here.
As they plunged themselves onward deeper, the winding tunnels started to feel more like catacombs. Still they marched on – as if they had a choice.
Further and further down they went, through one door, that lead to another length of hall, then through another door, and another.
‘Something isn’t right, there should be an exit here.’ Frankie sighed.
‘I think we’re going in circles.’
Alex let out a howl, and Frankie saw that the black veins now ran up his face.
‘I need to rest, just for a minute.’ The wounded boy pleaded. Frankie obliged and lent Alex against the wall.
‘Frankie…ugh…it’s happening again. We’re heading there…’
‘We’re not, Alex. Just stay calm, control your powers!’
The boy started to pant, and he looked as if he was fighting the urge to vomit. Alex looked at her with weepy eyes, she knew he needed out of this hospital, and real medical attention.
‘Come on, Alex, we have to keep moving.’
The two of them stumbled forward, but each stairwell they ventured down inched them further and further into darkness.
Eventually the reached a wooden door, it was the colour of old blood, and it was ancient, older than anything either of the teens had ever seen. Again, Frankie held up her hand but the door barely creaked open, carrying Alex was draining her. She nudged the door with her shoulder with all the gusto she could manage, and it now sat slightly ajar, just enough for the two of them to snake their way through. Finally, they were outside.
After staggering a few steps Frankie and Alex both knew something was wrong. They turned around, glancing up at the building that they just left, and both their hearts skipped a beat. It took their eyes a moment to adjust to the dark, but both knew this was not the same hospital they were stuck in. They were in that place again. The In-Between.
In terms of height and architecture the building was identical, but the fine stonework and polished finished were replaced with fractured statues and broken windows. Sinister vines snaked their way around the building’s entire foundation, a strange flesh-like substance rotted across most of the walls. The sky above them was foreboding, almost ash in colour, lit slightly only by a snarling jackal moon. The air was thick and dense, it felt like breathing in dust and death.
‘We need to keep moving, come on!’
The duo limped forward, Frankie still supporting Alex like a human crutch. They trampled across the barren soil and noticed the land around them was grossly unpopulated, but they knew there was occupants, other demons and beasts hidden just out sight. The wretched souls of those denied paradise stalked these lands, and they watched the brother and sister like the pray they were.
They reached the edge of the nearby woods, but before proceeding Alex again asked to rest. The duo sat there; Frankie trying to develop a plan and Alex desperate to stay alive. Frankie glanced up at the sky and she felt as though it were closing in on her, like a jackal circling its prey. Its watchful eye was the moon, half-closed but still winking at them viciously. Every inch of the place, this In-Between as they called it, was brutal and unloving.
The jackal sky continued to be still, comfortable in its anonymity. Its moonlit eye would glare at them before hiding itself behind a mask of clouds, only to emerge moments later again. The sky jackal, another patient predator in a land inhospitable for prey.
Alex fell against a tree, sliding down it until he landed on the ground. Frankie turned around and looked at the massed fortress they’d just escaped, it was decrepit and ruined, a concrete hell. It looked inhospitable but somehow breath-taking. Suddenly in the distance she spotted three men, no, they weren’t men, they were monster’s. Natives of this land, servants to the doctor, the other Kankarmen. All secretly disguised as so many of the hospital’s ‘staff’ were. It didn’t take them long to spot Alex and Frankie, and it took even less them for them to start bounding toward them.
‘Alex, that’s enough rest. I need you to get us back, to get us out of this place. Can you do that?’
She knew immediately the answer was a resounding no. The boy could barely stand let alone use his gifts. Settling for a rapidly formed plan b Frankie decided they would need to take shelter in the woods. She picked her brother up, ‘let’s go’ she urged.
As Frankie turned to drag Alex toward the woods, she noticed his skin glimmering almost lifelessly under the moonlight, paler than his usual pale. Underneath the shadow of scrappy trees, the boy’s face was half painted in dirt, the other half partially glazed with ice, covered in a highway of black veins. Just then he crumbled to the ground, his face smashing against a nearby rock as he landed. Panicking she shook him violently.
‘WAKE UP!’ Yet the boy didn’t move.
The three monstrous men were a few minutes away, maybe even less. Frankie knew there was no way Alex was waking up, and she couldn’t carry him, not anymore, not if they wanted to outrun their pursuers. She was faced with an impossible choice: Protect her little brother, or leave him to the mercy of the wolves.
She knew they’d keep him alive for a time, to use as bait to lure her back, if not to only kill him in front of her later. Frankie had to stay and fight, or hope that Alex would be kept alive long enough for her to regroup and save him later.
She took a step into the woods, and immediately felt the glare of all manner of otherworldly beast feast their sights upon her. Yellowish eyes stretched out across a landscape of black, like a cluster of screeching stars daring her to step forward. There was no choice; if the men didn’t kill Alex, the monsters in the forest would, and without prejudice.
The sound of footsteps grew daringly louder as they edged nearer, closer and closer, until they were upon them. Frankie locked eyes with the monsters and saw the same hollowness in them that rotted inside the doctor – their leader. They weren’t men, of course they weren’t men. She’d learned the hard way that all men were beasts, and in this case this phrase had quite a literal meaning.
Frankie pivoted around and stood in front of her brother’s unconscious body. The minutes beyond this moment started to blur, but the threat in front of her was all too clear. The men stopped a few feet in front of the siblings, the remaining pounds of flesh sliding off their hands and revealing their claws. They looked at Frankie like she was a succulent piece of meat and it disgusted her. She took a breath, steadying herself. She raised her hand, balanced her footing, and prepared to fight. Again.
One Week Earlier
‘I don’t think you want to do this anymore.’
It’s another conversation between me and an unidentified voice. To outsiders it must sound like a verbal argument between a couple in an abusive relationship, but if only they’d look closer, listen harder, they’d see. They’d see it’s an internal fight between me and an evil entity.
It’s a devil, perhaps thee devil. He’s trying to convince me with words that flow with the smooth rhythm of poetry. He’s offering me love, but I know all he gives is broken.
I’m trying to pick apart his lies, I’m trying expose him for what he really is, but nobody will listen. I’m sick, I’ve always been sick – that’s what they say.‘I am your atrium.’
He keeps saying that to me.
‘I am your shelter.’
No, no, no. No you’re not! Get out of my head!
‘I am your home!’
Escaping this world would be so beautiful, I know. I’ve hurt so much my whole life. The little I’ve had I’ve lost. All I know is hurt and torment. I don’t feel human, I’m not human.
‘It’s okay, Frankie. Just hit quit. It’ll be breath taking. Beautiful.’
everything that looks beautiful is truly good. It isn’t shivering gold, but I don’t know if I can hold my head up in this dark anymore.
‘Then open your wrists. Accept there’s no love for you here.’
I can’t, I won’t. I want to believe what I heard a long time ago that, that love is pure and good, it’s free and kind. You’re a monster, but you’re trying to act all wise and humble.
‘All I am giving you is love. Pure love.’
Love? What you call love is destroying my life! It’s destroying my soul!
‘If you ever had one…’
Stop it, please stop it!
‘I don’t think you’ve ever known what it means to love or be loved.’
I know love isn’t meant to hurt like this; it isn’t meant to be abuse.
‘Frankie. Love is gritty, gory and gorgeous. It’s like chocolate wrapped in sandpaper. I only hurt you, I only feed off you cause it’s what you deserve. You don’t belong here. See, that is true love.’
You’re destroying my life!
‘Your life is nothing.’
The strength of his words, they all seems so enticing and new. It’s been this way since I was child, he’s haunted me. Unseen, unbelieved. I’m not depressed, this isn’t in my head. He says he has the Midas touch but I know he doesn’t, his touch is a curse.
Everything you’ve said is brimming with imagery and yours words are so enticing like you’re some kind of Messiah. One that lived and died for me.