6. Witnessing a Death.

It wasn’t a footstep with shoes on, like Reverend Tommy’s. It wasn’t him. It was a bare footstep, the sound of skin slapping on rock. Just the one, and then it stopped.

I looked back over my shoulder, perched up there on the rock. I peered down into the misty gloom of Hell and wondered what I was about to run into.

It was a girl. I’d say she wasn’t yet a woman, but wasn’t very young, either, she was about my age, maybe. I didn’t have much experience judging people’s ages. I never got that close to anyone in Hell, where I’d spent the majority of my existence, and in the real world I’d only been alive, or whatever, about a week.

She was standing there, naked, looking around. She looked surprised. She looked bewildered, I suppose, too. She looked scared, also. I laid there and looked at her.

Bob hadn’t said how far away the others like me were. Is it possible that I’d just stumbled across them by heading in the same direction that I’d thought we were heading? Sure. Sure it was; after all, almost everything in my life happened by sheer chance, didn’t it? Except for walking south; I’d done that because Doc told me to do that. But then I’d happened into Brigitte’s town and happened to meet her and all the rest, and everything just seemed to happen to me by chance.

“Hey,” I said, quietly. I always spoke quietly, if I could, in Hell.

She didn’t react to me right away.

“Hey,” I said more loudly. She looked up. “Who are you?” I asked.

She just stared at me.

“How’d you get here?” I asked. Still nothing.

“Can you talk?” I asked her.

Just that staring. But she wasn’t trying to get away. She looked around now and then but wasn’t running. Her mouth still hung open. I climbed back down the rock and went up to her, stood right in front of her. Her face still went through various emotions – now blank, now scared, now confused, now blank, and her eyes were still wide. Up close, a foot or so away from her, I could see that she was a little older than I’d thought from up on the rock; her breasts sagged, just a little bit, like they’d been around a while. Her hips, while sexy, were also kind of wide and a little droopy. Her face was lined.

Also, up close, I could see that she sort of glowed a little. I wondered about that. Her eyes kept looking around, and the pupils were very small. I could hardly see them. I stood in front of her.

“Hey,” I said. The glow brightened, and then dimmed. “Hello?” I asked. I stepped a little closer to her and waved my hand.

“Can you see me?” Nothing. “Are you here?” I asked her, finally. I didn’t know what else to ask. She just kept looking around, standing in one spot. She hadn’t moved again. I put my hand up towards her. “Hello? Look, I’m not a bad person.” I don’t know why I said that, except that this was Hell and it seemed natural she’d assume just the opposite, that whoever she met here was bad. She didn’t react.

I thought about it for a second, watching her. Her face cycled through those expressions again: blank surprised blank scared surprised blank without any kind of pattern.

Then her eyes got very wide. She crossed her arms over her chest and her mouth opened up. The glow around her brightened. I saw her tongue moving in her mouth, her eyes looking left and right and then back center and she began backpedaling, moving away, only she was doing it motionlessly. I could see her feet scrambling but they didn’t touch the ground. I reached up my hands.

“It’s okay,” I said, but I didn’t know that for sure, since I had no idea what she was or what was going on. But I tried to reassure her. “It’s okay, I’m here to help,” and I reached up for her just as her mouth opened wider and wider and then I tried to grab her shoulders, but my hands went right through her. They passed through her like a ghost. I waved my hands around in her, right through her breasts and stomach and face. She was still screaming, soundlessly, still backpedaling with her feet while her legs remained motionless; I could see them working but it was like they were tied.

I stepped back a little and surveyed the situation. The glow was even brighter now, illuminating the ground underneath her. Her eyes were tightly shut and she was writhing, in place, squirming around and throwing her arms around and her head back, whipping her head from side to side.

I heard another footstep, then, and looked off to my left where the sound came from but I was quickly re-transfixed by the spectacle before me. The girl was glowing and wriggling and I couldn’t look away.

Then, there was a sound like a ripping or tearing, like something giving way, and suddenly the glow stopped and she went rigid, and then she fell to the ground, flopping into a heap. I mean fell, too – she materialized right here in Hell, flopping to the ground and laying there, like she was dead.

Which, I realized, she was. I realized that I’d just seen her die. I’d watched her soul struggling in the same way her physical body was struggling, and then just as she died, her soul was flung down here into Hell and had landed here.

Was that what I’d gone through? Was that how I had ended up in the crevasse? Had I been killed, or died or something, and ended up here, in Hell, the way she had? I knelt down beside her and rolled her over, carefully.

Her eyes were closed. Her hair was messed up but her body appeared intact. She wasn’t breathing. I worried about that for a second, wondering what I should do, but then I remembered, she was dead. I wasn’t breathing, either, really. I sat there for a second and watched myself to make sure, but I was right: I don’t breath in Hell, so I guessed that she didn’t need to. I straightened out her arms and legs, being respectful of her naked body, and sat down next to her. After a few moments, I took her hand.

I don’t know why I did that; I mean, she was dead and had been flung to Hell, so I should have supposed, I guess, that she was evil, but as I sat there, the more I sat looking at her and picturing what I’d just seen, the more I couldn’t help but think that must have been exactly what happened to me that landed me in Hell, and I was a good person, wasn’t I? So good people could end up in Hell and maybe she was a good person, too. Whatever kind of person she was, after all, her death had been terrifying and confusing; I’d seen that on her face. And she was going to wake up, maybe, soon, and having gone through that terrifying, confusing experience, she’d be in Hell and I thought, I don’t know, that maybe she should have someone there to help her when she did. I certainly would have liked it.

I wondered if anyone was going to come for her, if she was supposed to be in Hell and if so whether a demon or something would come get her. I’d spent so much time in Hell away from all the torments and damned souls and demons that I’d almost stopped thinking of it as Hell, but a lot of that time was with Bob and he was good at avoiding those things.

So I thought maybe, without Bob, that someone might come and as I thought about that, I decided I’d better get some shelter for us, so I took the girl by the armpits and I pulled her over by the rock, underneath a ledge, and sat there, with her head in my lap. I rubbed her face and looked at her and thought that if she did wake up in Hell, at least she’d see a friendly face when she did.

I heard another footstep then, and looked around. It was the third one I’ve heard, the third bare-foot-on-rock sound since I’d gotten away from Reverend Tommy, and I finally had the time to focus on it.

There’s no night in Hell; it goes through phases, depending on where you are, of easier- and harder-to-see, but there’s no night that comes and goes, no sunrise, no sunset. There’s probably parts of it that are eternally dark, if that’s the torment your soul gets for all eternity, but I don’t know for sure because I’ve never seen them. But Hell is dim, in every part I’ve ever been in. It’s like looking through red fog, or like when you wake up in the morning and your eyes aren’t all the way awake and everything is hard to focus on. Hell makes your eyes water trying to see things clearly. I was looking around the rocks and trying to figure out where the footsteps came from, and my eyes were hurting from peering through this miasma and blur.

“Hello?” I finally said, quietly. I wasn’t sure I should, but if it was something evil it would find me anyway, wouldn’t it? And maybe I could get it to move and then figure out where it was and run. Only how was I going to run with this girl? And I couldn’t leave her there. But what if whatever it was was coming to collect the girl’s soul? Shouldn’t I leave her there?

“Who are you?” A voice said.

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