Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Short Story: The Soul Chamber, Part 4

Read Parts 1, 2, 3

The hallways were long, grim, and labyrinthine, but he had no trouble making it through security. His passes were perfectly forged. To reach the Soul Chamber itself, he had to climb a long ladder and pull himself out of a heavy trap door set in a wide, railed walkway surrounding the Chamber’s cylinder. He was very high and a searing wind whipped his face. The battered, rocky ground of Tartarus spread for miles in all directions until the distant lands grew hazy with smoke. Weird light bathed everything in red and blue--red from the fires, blue from the stream of souls flowing in from above.

He stood at the heavy steel door that led into the Chamber itself. The door was high, thick, and rimmed with heavy bolts. It stretched twenty feet over Cyril’s head, a door for Doomsday. He turned to the guard and showed the fourth pass he had used that day. “Aaron Bloor, maintenance,” he said.

The guard turned to a panel to check. “Yep, you’re right here on schedule. The notice of your arrival came from Earth; did you transpose just today?”

Cyril swallowed, knowing the guard could check the records from the receiving station and find him missing. “Yes,” he answered, crossing his fingers under the heavy sleeve of the cloak.

The guard’s hand moved back to the panel and Cyril knew he was caught. But then the guard flipped the monitor onto standby. “Okay,” he said. “Go on in.”

The massive door creaked and groaned as it lifted upward. It opened to only five feet of height and he ducked to go in. Then it slammed shut behind him.

Inside was a ghostly maelstrom. The souls pouring in from above whipped around the chamber, shrieking, crying out. They were insubstantial; they could not corporeate unless they reached hell’s floor. One after another, phatasma-beams fired from the walls, locking onto souls and sucking them into receptacles lining the floor. The souls traveled down long tubes into laboratories in the compound below where their transposed bodies lay, and where scientists worked round the clock to repair their damaged tissues and induce artificial resurrection.

Cyril took his time removing the plastic explosives from under his cloak and placing them around the room. There were enough explosives to crash down the entire chamber. Its destruction would cause a large part of the complex to collapse. Many people would die, and all of them, expecting eternal life on Earth, would find themselves suddenly and irrevocably damned. He didn’t worry about the newly resurrected telling anyone what he was doing in here; insubstantial souls lacked the human intelligence they had when corporeated on hell’s floor or returned to their bodies. Cyril had all the time he wanted.

Cyril didn’t care about much, but the import of what he was doing caused a thrill of both terror and exhilaration to run like lightning through his heart. He was the judge. He was setting himself up as God. He was deciding who would enter eternal torment. He adjusted his watch to make his judgment definitive. He would set a time for himself to be out of the complex and ready to transpose to Earth--thirty minutes. Every soul now in the Chamber and every soul soon to enter its shattered shell would go to hell after that time. That was the judgment of Cyril. He sat next to the first explosive and prepared to set the timer.

“Hey, little brother.”

His spine froze. He looked up. There in the blue incandescence was the form of Tad, leering perversely.

Cyril was preparing to damn his own brother. “You died again,” he moaned.

Tad laughed. “Good guess, but wrong. You get one more try.”

Cyril frowned. Something was wrong, but what? He couldn’t put his finger on it...yes, yes he could. Insubstantial souls were incapable of communicative speech. Something clicked--the demon in the wastes, and now his brother in here....

Or the other way around.

“That’s right, little brother,” Tad’s leering blue face answered as if reading his thoughts. The face morphed into that of Cyril’s father and the voice changed. “All the souls go right where they belong, getting there through secret passages under the fire pits. And we--we who you drove out of hell--we pour back in and you give us shiny new human bodies to play with.” It laughed. “Don’t you know we can change into angels of light? We can imitate other things, too. You’re traitors, my friend, traitors like Dante warned you. The traitors, he said, drop straight into hell and then we control their bodies on earth. Now you’ve all gone and become your own traitors. You can all drop in here and we’ll take over there until you’re replaced.”

Cyril realized that the demon could corporeate and kill him. He kept his hand on the bomb. “So eventually, you’ll replace us all? Earth on Hell and Hell on Earth?”

It leered.

Then Cyril said something else. “You wouldn’t tell me this if you didn’t think it would stop me from setting this bomb.”

Its grin grew wider.

“Maybe you’re wrong,” Cyril said.

“Well, maybe I’m not.”

Cyril closed his eyes and tears squeezed out. He lowered his head. He wanted it all to go away, go away, go away...too complicated, too difficult.

“Why,” the demon asked, “did you join the True Believers when you don’t believe?”

There it was. The truth was out.

“Because,” Cyril answered.

“Yes?”

“Because they promised to make everything simpler.”

The face changed again and it became Pastor Frederick’s. The voice took on a classroom tone. “Simpler? You mean easier. Many other branches of religion, even conservative ones, even ones that believe in hell, and you chose the one that was easiest. Something to turn your brain off. Something that promised an easy road to bliss. All you have to do is believe. It never occurred to you to act on those beliefs, and if it did, you’d just tell yourself it wasn’t that important; after all, you’re already saved. No pain in that, no sacrifice, no straight and narrow path. Heaven achieved by a membership card. And on top of that, it’s something to turn on your brother and father, hold over their heads, give you a little edge over them, hmm? Ah, yes. Of course, your brother on Earth is really one of ours, as I’m sure you now realize. Eventually, your father will be too....” The face morphed a final time and became Cyril’s own. “Oh, my dear Cyril, don’t you know how much simpler, how much easier, we can make things for you? There is one, and only one, simple path.”

Cyril took his hand from the bomb.

***

Cyril climbed back through the wastes and sat next to the pit where he had seen his brother. As he expected, Tad was waiting for him.

“Does it hurt much?” Cyril asked.

“Hurts like hell,” Tad answered. “But you do kind of get used to it.”

“Is it restful?”

“‘There is no rest for the wicked,’” Tad quoted. “Actually, you know what’s ironic?”

“What?”

“It’s boring.”

Cyril laughed. “Damn.”

“Yeah,” Tad answered, laughing as well. “That’s the word for it.”

Cyril looked back behind him to the Chamber. Then he looked again at Tad. “Why did you try to pull me in?”

Tad shrugged. “Sorry, habit. You start to think kind of maliciously when you’ve been damned a while. So, what now? You gonna try and make it for heaven?”

Cyril sighed. “It’s a lot of work.”

“Yeah, so I hear. All that righteousness and perseverance and suffering.”

“Besides,” Cyril reasoned, “if heaven and hell are opposites, and hell’s boring, then heaven must be....”

“Exciting?”

“Well, that. And complicated.”

“Yeah,” Tad answered.

“Complicated getting there and still complicated once you arrive.”

“I imagine, yeah.”

“It’s too much,” Cyril said. “It’s just not, well, it’s not what I signed up for.”

Tad chuckled.

Cyril gestured to him. “Move over.”

Tad moved aside and Cyril slid into the pit. His flesh burnt away, leaving only his ragged soul behind. He eased up beside Tad as the huge worms began exploring him. They both looked at the shimmering blue above the Soul Chamber.

“I like to keep things simple,” Cyril said.

Finis
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