It was literally the scoop of a lifetime, and she would never have backed away from it. She did not back away from any stories, full stop. On this occasion, it was the chance to document and see something nobody had written about for around eight hundred years. Bollocks to the reports and deadlines that flashed on her computer at home; this was a chance she would not miss.
Bus stop to the bus, bus to train station, station to the train, and finally, train station on foot to the docks. She had arrived with half an hour to spare; she would trample over anyone for a story. She would stab, figuratively, anyone in the back for an exclusive. If she thought she could have got away with it, it would probably have been literal, too. She would always be early for a story. Everything else could, if you pardon the pun, go to Hell.
The Intro — Take 2
Shit! Bugger! Arse! Writing fail, I’ve skipped a little, haven’t I? Cock it, okay. Let’s take a step back. Bad, bad writer.
Two weeks ago. Our lady was sitting at her desk at home. She jotted down ideas and rounded a few literal corners as she finished. It was nothing exciting, the usual shite. An affair with a politician, cronyism, outing somebody as gay, and finally, the one she would enjoy the most. A bit of online rabble-rousing to cause some trouble for a teacher she had once had. She was a professional. VPN, new account and printing something that could have been true but may not have been, but hey! It could have been!
Could, maybe, possibly, it is understood — the words of a professional hack.
The mouse pointer hovered over the send button like a magnet floating above another. The story she was about to send alleged that her secondary school PE teacher had abused children. The inbox flashed as a new message arrived. She ignored it and checked her spelling and typing on the note she had drafted. One last check of everything before she would click the button. She also wanted to ensure that nothing could be used against her if they used a stylometry examination. Paranoid, maybe. Staying safe, definitely. Denial is not only a river in Africa; it had also got her out of many a scrape over the years.
Ping! Inbox again. She rolled her eyes, closed the open window and clicked on the flashing inbox icon. Chuntering away to itself for what seemed an age, the inbox opened finally. She looked down the list and could see no new messages; repeatedly tapping the check mail button, she then sat and waited, and waited, and waited, and nothing. She checked the settings and the logs, expecting to see an error, but everything was as it should be. It was then that the voice behind her said, “Hello.”
There are a lot of words that could describe what she felt at that moment. We might start at the mild end and say that it surprised her. We could say that it had startled her or it had shocked her. They all feel a little calm and gentle. She jumped as only someone can when they have had someone, or something, sneak up behind them. She leapt from the chair she was sitting upon, banged her knees on the desk and almost shat herself. If she had slightly worse bowel control, that almost would have become a ‘did’. She saved herself, just. “What the fu…” was as far as she got as she turned around. She was not usually one who could keep her mouth shut. But when you see a floating fairy smoking a cigar and looking at you, you should pause and rethink things.
Thoughts raced through her mind, taking the corners at speed and crashing into barriers as another sped towards the corner. Drugs? Not recently. Drink? Not yet today. Acid flashback? Possible. “I am not a drink, drug or any other side effect,” the fairy said.
“Yeah, well, you would say that, wouldn’t you?” she replied. The fairy sauntered down, relaxing finally on the sofa below. “Okay,” it said, “how can I prove I am really here?” This was a good question.
You can’t ask it to tell you something only you would know. If this vision was drawn into the world by a broken mind, it knows everything you could ask! You can’t ask it to take you somewhere far away because if you are crazy enough to see a smoking fairy, how would you know if any location was real or not? So, she did what everyone would do in this situation, eventually. She rolled her tongue in her mouth, thought for a moment, and then completely missed the fact that she had dribbled a little. She now looked crazy and felt it. Had she been thinking quicker, and being a slow thinker was not something that anyone would have accused her of being, she would have said, “Take me to Paris.” It may have been a hallucination, but sod it; free holiday in Paris! Instead, she dribbled.
“Okay,” the fairy said; it spoke slowly, making every word stand out. It talked how you would speak to someone who had been dropped once too often on the head as a child or a holidaymaker abroad trying to order a full English. “I can see this is difficult for you.” She nodded; it was all that she could manage. “When I leave,” it continued, “do not post that message; wait until tomorrow and read the headlines first.” Nodding again with a dribble. “I shall leave this here,” an envelope appeared on the sofa. It was dark red and tied with a pink heart-shaped bow. “Read it when you feel you can.” With that, the fairy vanished. As it popped back to where it came, she passed out, banging her head on the base of her chair as she fell for good measure.
Later, the newspapers dropped through the letterbox, waking her with a start.
What a strange dream.
She promised herself she would keep away from narcotics, both legal and illegal for a while, as she stumbled up off the floor. The office chair she had head-butted rolled away as she placed her weight on it. It had been a while since she had collapsed. She made her way to the door and tried to remember what she had done or taken the evening before. Something was niggling at her, and it chipped away at her brain. Chip by chip, something flighty, she thought. Something, something. She bent over and picked up the newspapers; something smokey drifted into her mind. The first paper she looked at was the low rent, cheap, cheerful, and often scandalous red top she worked for. She saw the headline and stopped for a moment. Looked again, and then it hit her. Like being teabagged by someone with a hairy and smelly set, it smashed into her face, and once it did, she suddenly wanted to escape. To run and run as fast as she could; this cannot be happening. The newspaper headline reported they had arrested her old PE teacher on charges of sexual abuse.
Fairies, envelopes, and messages unsent, wait. She was drunk; she had to have been drunk. She didn’t send the message, did she? She rushed over to the computer and moved the mouse. The screen flicked to life. She entered her password and clicked the browser. No, thank goodness, the message was still waiting to be sent. She sighed, and then she remembered the sofa. She went over to it and saw the envelope, sat there, and studied it before deciding to open it. Is it safe? If the sender or the deliverer had wanted her harmed, they could have done it in other ways. Besides, she liked risk. What was life without risk?
She pulled on the ribbon until the heart fell away; the ribbon hung from her fingers as it dropped from the envelope; she let it flutter to the floor. Her mind was now fully occupied with the contents that lay within.
She peeled the envelope open and held her breath. It was too late now, but it was a spontaneous action. What if something deadly was trapped inside? The envelope contained a single red card, scented and with calligraphic writing.
“We invite you to come and review Lust, the second circle of Hell.”
It took her thirty seconds to decide that she would do it. Once again, she reasoned they could have done so the previous evening if they’d wanted to harm her. This was, literally, the chance of a lifetime. She flipped the card over and read the instructions on the back, and…
Where were we? That’s right, excuse the pun. See, do you get it now? Go to Hell? Oh, I give up.
She arrived half an hour early; it seemed that someone was already waiting for her. A tall man stood at the water’s edge, holding a cardboard sign with her name written on it. She need not be a graphologist to see that the handwriting was the same as the one that had sent the invite. She walked over to the man; he seemed blissfully unaware of her. He stood and picked at his nose; as he was about to eat his findings, she announced herself, “Hello.” He was in a world of his own, and she was short, so he looked right over her, having to bow his head down to see her. “Alright,” he said, wiping his hand down his trouser leg. “You are waiting for me,” she replied, pointing at the sign.
“Oh, okay,” he grunted.
He did not give her a moment to think. Quick as a flash, he had raised his hand, and he touched her forehead. Everything went bright and then pink. Very, very pink.
“Darling, I am so glad you could make it,” a voice said from beside her; a hand was placed gently upon her shoulder. “This is Lust, and we are so glad you are here. I am Lilith. You can call me L. So, what would you like to know?”
“How did I get here?” was the first of many questions that came to mind.
“Charon brings people here. He used to use a boat. It is quicker these days to zap you here.”
“Zap me?” she asked Lilith, shocked.
“I can go into the ins and outs of interdimensional travel if you’d like. It is all rather boring, but if that is what you want to know.” She didn’t. She wanted to know more about this place. As she looked around, everything seemed so friendly. She had expected cages, whips, and lashings. Dare she say, something evil? “This is not what I’d ever have expected,” she said.
“Ha, we get that a lot. I suppose you expected body parts hanging from the sky. Balls and chains, bondage, S&M and all that jazz? We’ve changed down here. The rules have changed!” Lilith said.
“The rules have changed?” she asked. “I was not aware there were rules. I thought if you were bad, then you came here.” Lilith groaned; she liked the old ways better.
“It used to be that way, sweetheart. Then it all changed. Up there, you’d do something bad. Then you ended up here in a place that suited your crime. You steal loads of money, you might end up with Greed, you rape someone, you end up here. You get the idea, but there are so many of you now!” Lilith’s voice spiked as she spoke.
“Too many of us for… Hell?” she asked.
“Well, not that. It is that we don’t have the demons. Demons are hard work; trust me, I made them. You don’t want too many. These days, you are all so,” Lilith searched for the word, “amoral, I suppose, although that is not quite right.”
Lilith took her by the hand and led her. “Come, let’s drink.” They wandered down a side street and stopped at a cafe called Big Dees. “Not very subtle, is it? It is branding, I suppose. What do you want to drink?” Lilith asked.
“Coffee, please,” she answered. They sat at a table outside and waited.
A figure appeared from the cafe. It had pins for legs. Each clicked as it walked along. Click, clickety, click, click. She took her time as she tried to work out what it was. Pins for legs, a human, well, humanish torso, with two standard human-like arms. It wore an apron with ‘Swallow it all at Big Dees’ written on it. Its head was in the shape of a butt plug, the right shape, but massively oversized. Lilith ordered two coffees, and it wandered back inside the cafe, head plug bobbled from side to side. “He was one of mine, made especially for here.”
“What changed?” she asked Lilith.
“It all went to shit years ago. As I have said, it used to be simple, but then you took liberties.” The plug demon returned and placed the two coffees on the table. “Remember, nothing will fill you up like Big Dees,” it said as it turned and walked away. “Urgh. It is so corny,” Lilith said with a whine. “I used to love being here, but now… this, this is not my Lust.” She sipped the coffee. It was still too hot for any human mouth, but the heat did not bother Lilith’s demonic tongue. “So,” Lilith continued, “you went and took liberties. At first, it was minor, and we could turn a blind eye. Then you got worse. Hindsight, I suppose, we should have had you smited. You started getting the church to absolve you. Someone goes out and does something hideous. Cries in a church, Bible-basher does his thing, and the person thinks, ‘Praise the lord, I am forgiven’. Then they do the same thing again.”
“The Church can’t forgive us?” she asked Lilith, as this was good info for her to have! “Sure, it can, but you must feel you deserve it. Be remorseful, and want forgiveness. You can’t ask for it if you do not feel it in your heart,” Lilith answered.
“We abused the system? Cheated it?” This was something she needed to know. She had not been evil but had done many things that others would consider immoral.
Lilith took another sip of her coffee before answering. “Pretty much. It became that we were overflowing. I am not creating more demons. Look how miserable my babies are!” She looked at the demons going about their tasks, and a sadness formed in her eyes. Just a flash of demonity that she quickly wiped away. “They used to be so happy, but that is what life is for us now.”
“Can I ask…” she paused momentarily and looked over her hostess. Lilith had visibly lost some of her shine. She had gone from bubbly and radiant to quite a sad figure. The talk of her ‘babies’ and the lives they now lead had drained her. “Sure, fire away,” Lilith said, and circled her hand in the air. A moment had passed, and she seemed to have lost interest in their conversation. “Why me? Why invite me down here?”
“Well, it is still Hell, duh. When you lot went all loopholey, we had to do something. What we decided was that you had to come here of your own free will. You used the rules to find loopholes; we thought we’d turn the free will stuff against you. Somewhat poetic, I thought.” Lilith grinned at the thought; some of her light had returned, along with the grin. She took a sip of her coffee as Lilith beamed again. It was good. Just the right temperature now. No, it was not good; it was damn good. That early morning, hungover coffee feeling filled her belly; it tasted exquisite. “But it is still Hell…” Lillith continued. “You may think it’s all dildos and dongs, fleshlights and thongs, but Lust takes lots of different forms. People lust for power and lust for money. In your case, you lust for the story. We invite you down here, and we give you what you want. Then we feed on you when you sleep, when you relax and have had everything you had ever wanted, we feed. Then, when you are empty, we discard you like the rubbish that you are.”
“But,” she hesitated, should she ask? “But why me?” she finally blurted out.
“Dear, we need you to run the PR side. Why do you think?” Lilith said; she laughed and smiled. “What if I refuse?” she asked, unnerved by the smile that had formed on Lilith’s face.
Lilith smiled as she looked at her, a genuine, demonic smile that stretched from ear to ear. “Darling, what made you think you have a choice?”
I think we shall leave them there. Sitting drinking coffee. Lilith has had her fun; she enjoys making them come willingly. They soon lose the lust that they once had. The only thing left to see is this.
We can look back at the apartment and see the newspapers thrown to one side. The only thing that seems different is the headline on the paper. It is not about a PE teacher; it is about a missing reporter, the star reporter of that newspaper. It seems she has been missing, and nobody knows where she is…