A. Holy Mother of God!

Holy mother of god,” Brigitte whispered hoarsely and I sat up, naked again, and looked around and I would have started to cry but I was so scared instantly that I couldn’t even think straight.

Every other time that I’d appeared in Hell I’d been relatively safe – relatively being the key word, because, you know, it’s Hell, but this time was different.

There was a giant demon standing right in front of us. His back was to us, which maybe helped him not immediately hear Brigitte’s whisper, which was not repeated because Samson clapped a hand over her mouth.

The demon stood at least 100 feet tall and if that doesn’t seem tall to you, well, then, you’ve never seen something that’s a hundred feet tall with three legs and a spiked tail and four arms and horns and really sharp scales all over it and breathing fire and fangs that are as big as you. It seemed plenty big to me and plenty scary and its tail was waving around just over our heads as we sat in a little group there.

It was a bigger group than I’d expected because also there were the cops who had surrounded us and they were still pointing ray guns at us. There were ten of them, or so, and they were in a circle around us but most had dropped their guns in surprise and were staring, too, so while they formed a circle around my group, they weren’t capturing us.

Some were staring at the demon that loomed above us and which had not yet, it seemed, noticed us. Some were staring at the giant cauldron that the demon was stirring with his pitchfork, a cauldron that was easily forty feet tall and sat on a giant fire and which appeared made of rock or some metal that had started its life as rock, and although we could not see into the cauldron, we could hear screams, human screams, coming from it, as the demon poked his pitchfork in and stirred it and leered and barked and made sounds that really can’t be described other than to say that they were demon sounds and they made me want to retch and peel my skin off at the same time.

Also, there were two other demons, I saw now, all three-legged and four-armed, standing around the cauldron. Two of them had just the one head but one had three heads, three small heads but three nonetheless.

None of us moved. Brigitte grabbed my hand and the naked girl stood motionless in front of me, backing up a little, and Samson stood off to my right. Doc hovered over my shoulder. He wasn’t whirring or clicking at all right now.

The demons continued stirring and the cops slowly backed away, towards us, none of them talking. They backed up until they were right by us. Periodically, the demon’s tail would swish over us and the stench of hell would be carried along with it; plus the tail was giving off an awful lot of heat, making Hell even hotter.

We all looked at each other and then I realized that Brigitte and Samson were looking at me. The naked girl was staring just straight ahead, pressed against me. Because Brigitte and Samson were staring at me, eventually the cops did, too.

I couldn’t tell them not to look at me, not without risking the demons hearing. It was only a matter of time until one of the five heads 100 feet above us turned and saw us and we were pitched into the cauldron, too. I wondered what that would feel like and if when my body woke up in real life, I would be pulled out of it. I wondered who was watching my body while it was in real life, and whether the others’ bodies were there, too. They all had clothes; I did not. The naked girl had started naked and stayed naked. She looked at me, now, too.

I looked around. We were in mountains, giant rocky outcrops of mountains that pushed up through the earth and jutted into the sky; they looked like cones of rock that been pushed up through the ground by something underneath. There were no foothills or rising-gradually-slopes, just these great granite cones surrounding us.

They had nooks and crannies in them and one was only a hundred yards or so away. I pointed at it. The others looked and a cop nodded. We started walking quietly over there, spreading out a little.

Doc floated near me, and his glow was dim. I couldn’t ask him what was going on, but I held I out my hand and he landed on it. I carried him. He felt cool and smooth and pleasant in the toxic malted air of Hell.

We all walked carefully and slowly, trying not to stumble or trip and peering through the smoky mucky haze that surrounded us, trying to ignore the screams that were growing louder and now also trying to ignore the hissing steaming bubbles that were frothing over the edge of the cauldron as the mixture of dead souls boiled over.

We were about 10 yards from the nearest crevice when the first demon saw us. I heard a roar that was half-intelligible. It sounded like someone talking backwards, like I should know the words, maybe but they were coming in a weird order and with an accent that interfered with me understanding them.

We didn’t have to understand them, though, to know that things were going wrong. There was that roaring call, and then two more and then the tail swished lower and scooped behind us. I heard it rumbling along the rock behind us and looked over my shouder and saw the tail, knife-like scales and all, scraping along the ground and curling over, off to my left, ready to sweep us up towards the demon, which was turning itself and howling and watching us as the others moved, too.

It slammed into all of us; I heard it hit some of the cops who were behind me and heard them grunt and then it hit me, too, and it kept sweeping. I was pushed off of my feet and fell and was tumbled along the ground, head over heels and sideways and up and down, the rocks pushing into me and scraping and bruising and ouching, and people were tumbling over me, too. I kept a tight grip on Doc and I lost my grip on Brigitte which made me try to call out but I got a mouthful of hot dirt when I did and that tail kept sweeping until it scooped us forward, along the rock, the scales cutting into us, and stopped and we were dropped at the feet of the demon that we’d appeared under, and it was squatting down and staring at us as the three-headed demon came around, too, so we were between two demons, each a hundred feet tall. Their tales interlocked to form a 10-foot-tall wall around us; it was scramble over that or into the fire or through their legs, and one of the cops tried the through-the-legs route and ran.

The three-headed one’s arm shot down, only two claws on its hand, a finger and a thumb each with a sharp talon-like claw on it. The hand came down and the claws, pincer-like, sliced right through the cop, who did not stop running. He was sliced in half and his legs kept going and he kept screaming, his head intact on one half of his body. We all just stared and I heard Brigitte gasp a little.

The hand that had sliced him in half then picked up half and dropped it into the cauldron and the other hand picked up the other half and then I looked to my right because the demon that was closer to us had just leaned down and picked up Naked Girl, who was struggling. The demon we were by had full hands – really full, they each had something like 13 fingers with no claws on them but the hands themselves were covered with spiky-thorn-like growths, and it closed around her, causing Naked Girl to scream and shake and begin to struggle. On my left the demon’s other hand came shooting down and grabbed one of the cops and lifted them both up. The cop, too, was shouting bloody murder.

We’ve got to get out of here, I thought, but how? The three-head demon had leaned down again and with its two-claw hand it sliced up two more cops and then began scooping up their parts. There was some thundering shuddering and the third demon began moving around.

The first demon had thrown the cop into the cauldron, but Naked Girl had not let go of his hand when he’d opened it up; we could see her, way up there, clinging to the hand and still yelling but not wanting to get dumped into the water. The demon began trying to brush her off and the three-head demon was still scooping up halves of cops.

“Doc,” I whispered, opening up my hands, “what can we do?” But he was almost not glowing at all, and his tentacles wavered weakly. He didn’t say anything.

“Come on,” Samson murmured and grabbed my arm. I grabbed Brigitte’s and we started moving towards the demon’s foot nearest us. He waved the ray gun and shot it towards two cops, who dropped down and out of the way. We did not run, and the three-head demon scooped up the cops he’d shot instead of coming after us, which seemed to me to be wrong of us to do, but I didn’t think of it much then.

We reached the foot and kept going, off to the left, and by then we’d broken into a full run. Brigitte was ahead of me and was holding back, a little, I could tell, but she wasn’t letting go of me again. Her clothes were all shredded from the tail-sweeping and the rocks and I worried that she was hurt.

I looked back and saw Naked Girl still hanging onto the demon’s hand, nearer the wrist now, and hoped that she would escape, but I couldn’t worry much about it. The third demon, the one on the far side of the cauldron, stretched out its leg and slammed a foot down in front of us. That caused us to veer, right, again, and the first demon’s tail was now sweeping back. It was trying to grab Naked Girl off while sweeping its tail around, and was standing between us and Three-Head. We were running and running as fast as we could towards one of the rock-cone-mountains and were about a couple hundred yards from it when the third demon slammed its pitchfork down and speared Samson, who was in front of us by about ten yards. Just speared him straight through with the middle prong, which was honed to a fine point. I saw it go through his head and down into his body, cleaving it right in half.

Brigitte and I and the cops that had followed us stopped, and Brigitte let out a little No and I thought for only a moment before I pulled her and we began running again, straight in the same direction, as the demon lifted up his pitchfork, which meant that we ran right towards where Samson was, and then right in between the severed halves of his body, which I saw, grossly, were still moving, his hands waving and legs trying to move and his head watching us.

“I’ll catch up,” he said, and I almost stopped when he said that and two of the cops did stop, but one of them simply collapsed; I think he’d had it and his mind had given out, because he just sat there on his knees staring straight ahead. I watched him over my shoulder as I pulled Brigitte along. Her eyes were closed and I felt terrible for her that she had to see this.

But she didn’t see the pitchfork come down and slice the cop in half, so I guess I’m grateful for that. I’m sure she was, too.

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