Hell and Styx #16!
Sorry I haven’t posted one of these in a while, I’ve been busy reading and enjoying summer (read: doing nothing).
This story continues (sort of resolves) the plot begun in H+S #9-#15 (skipping #10). These stories span Heaven’s appearance, his arguments with Hell, and the flashbacks detailing his past with Lilith. Links to those stories can be found on the Hell and Styx page, which also has a description of what this series of stories is all about.
I’m experimenting with adding pictures. None of them are mine, just random ones I found online. Some of them should be pinned to my Hell and Styx Pinterest board. Don’t think of the pictures as exact images of what is happening, more abstract, to add to the aesthetic fo the story. Feel free to tell me what you think in the comments.
Enjoy! 🙂 Likes and comments are always open.
Hell and Styx #16: Far From Normal:
Heaven returned three days later.
His white shirt was coffee stained and he smelled like smoke and grease.
“What happened to you?” Hell asked.
“I tried to escape,” he said, a secret smirk pulling at his lips, but Hell didn’t get the reference.
Hell stood there, at the door to his room, staring at him, trying to decide whether she wanted to smile, because she had been right, and continue the argument, or ask why he had run away, and show sympathy she hadn’t intended to feel.
He beat her to it. “You were right.”
Hell didn’t smile. “About what?”
“I was…torturing myself. And I did love something—someone—in that world. But I think I’m ready for a break.”
Hell bit her tongue, not trusting herself to speak after that news.
“Can we—get out of here? I want to…show you the human world.”
Hell’s fists clenched, but she forced herself to think about the offer. Heaven had come back. He had come back to admit he was wrong, and to show her something.
“Why?” Hell asked.
“Because I want to.” Heaven said the words like they tasted bitter in his mouth, but Hell believed them.
Hell closed her eyes and felt below her, feeling for how many of her souls were in purgatory. A good number, not impossible if she started now. On a normal day, she never would have considered taking a break. She had only allowed herself a minute to check Heaven’s room.
But today wasn’t a normal day, because Heaven’s room hadn’t been empty.
* * *
“Just, imagine being there. Your body will drift apart and then back together in the human world.” Heaven bit his lip, conflicted. “Here, hold my hand. I don’t want us separated. Geography can be a bit confusing, especially in the beginning.”
Hell suppressed a glare and took the hand he offered her. Then she closed her eyes, and tried to imagine being in the human world, where she had grown up.
A feeling of detachment washed over Hell and she felt weightless, like she was separating into random pieces. Then, as if gravity were compressing her back together, she reformed, solid again.
She opened her eyes. She was standing on a fire escape. She’d never been to this city before—it was all honking cars and flashing lights, tall buildings and bustling foot traffic.
“You wanted to show me this?”
“Not really. I just wanted you to…experience this.”
Heaven lead her over to the stairs, and they started descending. Hell stopped on the next landing and crossed her arms. “Why are we walking?”
“We aren’t corporal, right? We can’t get hurt. We could just…jump.”
Heaven genuinely looked like the thought had never crossed his mind. “Uh…sure.” He lead her over to the railing, taking a few test swipes, running his hand through the metal. He quickly scanned the crowd below, though Hell couldn’t fathom what he was looking for. “Yeah, let’s try it.”
Hell smiled, enjoying herself for the first time. “Ladies first.” And then she calmly stepped off the platform.
It was a bizarre experience, falling without a real form. Gravity still worked. Ground was ground. But any other object was as bothersome as air, and Hell crashed through an awning and a restaurant table, before calmly landing on the ground. A rush of adrenaline hit her, leaving her gasping as Heaven appeared next to her, equally exhilarated.
“That was awesome.”
Hell nodded, catching her breath.
“Dinner?” Heaven asked, grandly gesturing to an open table in front of the restaurant they had just fallen into.
“Can we eat?”
“Just like in purgatory. Think and it shall appear.”
Sitting in chairs was difficult. They couldn’t pull them out, but once they actually sat in them, the universe recognized them as another surface to be made solid. Hell ended up with the corner of the table stuck painlessly into her chest, unable to back up her chair. Heaven had a potted fern drooping through his head.
“What will you be having tonight?” Heaven asked.
Hell closed her eyes and “ordered.” A second later, she was eating a gourmet fish stew in front of a simple, faded-paint cafe.
Heaven created a filet mignon, served with a mushroom risotto and caramelized onions.
They both got two bites into the meal before they burst out laughing at how ridiculous they were being.
“This is wonderful,” Hell said.
Heaven sliced his steak. “A step up from burgers and pizza, definitely.”
Pizza. Hell remembered a previous argument. “You know Styx and I aren’t involved or anything…right?”
Heaven grinned. “Any particular reason you thought I should be clear on that?”
Hell willed the blood rushing to her face to stop. “Just thought I’d finish that argument.”
“Nice to know anyway,” Heaven said with a wink.
Hell ate in silence, cursing her stupidity, barley tasting the tomato broth, which was the exact shade of her flaming cheeks.
“What’s your story?” Heaven asked.
Hell looked up sharply. “What do you mean?”
“What made you Hell?”
“My dad named me.”
“Not what I meant.”
Hell knew exactly what he meant, but she didn’t feel like talking about it. But she knew a bargaining chip when she saw one. “I’ll tell you mine if you tell me about that someone.”
Heaven glared, but agreed. “Fine.”
“I started hearing voices when I was five. The souls in hell, you know. Screaming. Trying to get my attention. When I was six Styx found me at school, asked me to come with him. I vanished and I’ve never been back.”
“Mom was out of the picture long before this. Dad had no idea what to do with me, so he did nothing. He’s still alive, I guess, probably wallowing away into nothingness. Probably over me being gone. He’s one of Styx’s, for sure, if you know what I mean.”
Heaven nodded. Styx sorted the souls that had done nothing good or bad with their lives, those who simply wandered through life toward an inevitable death.
“And then you just started sorting souls?”
“What else was I going to do?”
“They’re horrible—and you were six.”
“It’s funny that you think I haven’t realized any of this yet,” Hell snapped, her good mood souring.
“I’m sorry,” Heaven said, his eyes grabbing hers. “For everything.”
Hell nodded, accepting his apology. Heaven wasn’t jealous of Hell’s cosmic duty anymore.
Heaven blinked, then stared at the ceiling. “Her name was Lilith. We met by accident. She was—different. So damn tired of being normal, you know? It’s horrible. Everything we want, she despised. School. Jobs. Homework. Normal friendships.”
“She could see you?” Hell asked.
Heaven nodded, but it was clear he didn’t want to talk about it. “She knew I wasn’t normal. She wasn’t an idiot. But she liked it. I was exactly what she needed, she thought. She called me Risk.”
Heaven exhaled sharply, like he had cut himself on his words.
He shook his head. “I’m fine.” He flexed and clenched his fists a few times. “I just wanted to be normal for once…you know? She was perfect. She could see me. We just walked around her town, and talked. Every night, for two weeks. Made inside jokes. Laughed. She told me secrets.”
Heaven’s speech got jerky, full of pauses, as if he was piecing together the most basic of details, cutting out huge swaths of emotion. “I didn’t know how bad it was getting. I knew she was trying to escape her life but I didn’t know that I was no longer enough. I learned later that she’d started taking risks. Jumping off of roofs. Running across train tracks. Anything that would get her a thrill.
“That’s what killed her. She tried to jump from just a bit too high. Didn’t land properly. Paramedics got to her too late.”
“And she went to purgatory?”
“Right. She was one of mine. She was calm, just leaning against the wall. She’d known it was coming…you know? So I kissed her…and let the wall take her.”
Hell stared at Heaven, chewing on her lip, unable to find the words to express what she was feeling. She finally tried, “I’m sorry,” but she knew it wasn’t enough.
Heaven laughed cruelly. “You know, I’ve been reliving those two weeks for a year and a half. You were right—I’m obsessed. But I’m so freaking tired of this shit. It’s over. It’s my fault, and her fault, and that stupid, boring town’s fault. It’s gravity’s fault. I just need it to be…over.”
Hell understood what tonight was, or at least what it needed to be: as far from normal as possible.
“You want dessert?” She made a massive slice of carrot cake appear in front of her, then raised her eyebrow at him that clearly said, “Your move.”
Heaven swept his hand across his face and forced a grin. A bowl of ice cream appeared on the table.
“That the best you can do?” Hell snapped her fingers and chocolate sauce drizzled itself over the ice cream. Whipped cream swirled itself atop the dish until you couldn’t see the ice cream below it. One cherry landed with a plunk on the top.
Heaven waved his hand and two milkshakes appeared, one Oreo, one strawberry.
Hell took a sip of the pink shake and created a strawberry shortcake that was a foot tall.
Heaven countered with a cheesecake the size of a deep-dish pizza, that balanced precariously halfway off the small table.
Hell conjured up a chocolate cake, then karate chopped it with a knife, revealing an oozing center of molten chocolate.
Heaven clapped and a massive scoop of vanilla ice cream dropped onto the steaming cake. A confetti of colorful sprinkles followed, covering everything on the table.
“I want to eat,” Hell said, allowing Heaven the minor victory.
“This is ridiculous,” Heaven said, mouth full of three different types of cake, ten minutes later. “We can’t eat all of this.”
“Admitting defeat?” Hell taunted.
Heaven smiled and glared, cutting himself another slice of cheesecake.
It took them an hour to polish off the desserts. Both of them were nauseas, but refusing to admit it to the other.
“Ooh, let’s be obnoxious!” Hell dragged Heaven through the table and into the crush of people on the sidewalk. She started jumping up and down in front of people, pulling grotesque faces. When they—of course—ignored her, she walked next to them, making rude speeches about human dignity. She was half a block away before Heaven joined in.
It was fun, being incorporeal. Heaven walked half a block overlaid on top of a grumpy fat man, while Hell walked beside his wife, saying random, suggestive words extremely loudly. Hell danced a jig in front of a liquor store. Heaven tapped random passersby on the shoulder, pretending to be an obnoxious pollster, asking questions such as, “How long have you been growing that nose hair? It’s impressive!” and “Did you know that your child has been screaming bloody murder for the past ten minutes?”
At one point, Hell create a water balloon and lobbed it at Heaven, who was busy harassing a old lady about her hair dresser.
And then it was war. Up and down fire escapes, through restaurants, at one point, even into a private bathroom, the two chased each other, hurling water balloons at each other. By the time they found themselves on the roof of a towering apartment building, they were both soaking.
They both stood on opposite ends of the roof, armed with balloons, arms cocked, ready.
“Truce?” Heaven called, taking a step forward, lowering his arm.
Hell shrugged, walking toward him. When they were ten feet apart, Hell threw her water balloon at his face. “K. Truce.”
Heaven dropped his off the side of the building. Smiling, Hell joined him on the edge. “This has been fun.”
“I’m glad you came.”
“I’m glad you came back.”
“Were you waiting up for me?”
“Of course not. I knew you were going to come back eventually.”
“Didn’t think I could stay away?”
“Knew you couldn’t.”
“Did you want me to?”
“Stay away or come back?”
Hell didn’t know when the two of them had gotten so close together, or the sun had set. But she knew what she wanted to do.
“Guess,” she said.
It wasn’t that she kissed him, or he kissed her. They kissed each other, each caught up in a rush of emotion that they’d never felt before.
Hell grinned. “Are we doing this?”
Heaven stared at this crazy redhead, who had convinced him to jump off a fire escape, eat a mountain of dessert, and then chased him all the way across the city with water balloons. She was the opposite of Lilith, but that didn’t even occur to him, because it was like Lilith had never existed, she was so far from his thoughts. “Yep.”
And the second time they kissed, they let themselves fall over the edge.