He looked around frantically for the door but he could find no seams, no knob, no way out. He turned to peer in front of him down a long, grey-white hallway dimly illuminated with overhead fluorescent lights, its dingy white walls punctuated by closed doors. As he began to gather his wits he began noticing faint screams and yelling all around him that seemed to be coming from somewhere incredibly close yet very far away. He began cautiously moving down the hall, trying to find a way out.
As he approached the first door, about ten feet from where he entered, he peered cautiously through the tiny porthole window. An image flashed before his eyes for a split second, then a blindingly bright light seared his eyes and obliterated everything he’d seen for that split second. But a split second was already enough. He could have sworn he’d seen a man stretched on a rack-like device with a midget shoving a hot poker up his ass.
No- there is no way I saw that, he thought. This must be a nightmare - or am I hallucinating because of the stress? What the hell is this place? Some kind of underground sex torture club? He kept trying to convince himself that none of this was real and he would wake up any minute back in his bed.
“Ok it’s time to wake up, wake up, wake up!” He muttered, punching and slapping himself as he moved away from the door and down the hall again. As he passed more doors he continued seeing the most grotesque flashes of imagery, each more horrifying than the last - a woman swallowing hot coals over and over as they burned through her lower extremities; a group of the most evil looking children imaginable beating a man with barbed wire-wrapped bats as he swung helpless and shreiking, upside down like a piñata. ‘What the fuck is this place?’ He gasped aloud to himself, freaking out so much now he could barely breathe. As the adrenaline began to surge through his body he began moving down the hall, suddenly finding himself running full speed, running so fast each door’s flashing lights appeared like strobe lights at a rave. The impossible, nightmarish images kept flashing by, seeping almost subconsciously into his brain. He looked up from his feet just in time to see a door swing open, and SMACK! Out cold.
Kitty was serving her section when she realized suddenly that none of the beer order had been stocked behind the bar. She went back to the walk-in where she noticed that some boxes sat strangely out of place near an abandoned hand truck. She looked around for the delivery guy then suddenly realized that the path between the boxes led to an ominous-looking door at the very back of the cooler. “Oh shit!” She exclaimed. “This is gonna suck ass, we are all getting chewed out for this one.” She tore out of the walk in to tell the others.
“Guys, listen up!” She hissed as she ran into the bar.
“What, what’s wrong babe?” Baron asked.
Out of breath from running, Kitty explained “You know the door in the back of the walk-in?”
“Uh- yeah.” Dominick said in his usual dismissive tone.
“Yeah,” She replied sarcastically through clenched teeth, “Well, it appears the delivery guy might have found his way through it.”
Their faces grew panicked just as Rose returned from the back room carrying a tray of empty bottles.
“How the hell? Who the fuck let him in there alone!” Dominick exclaimed with barely concealed terror.
“Who let who in where?” Rose asked as they all spun around to face her.
“Excuse me miss can I get that beer?” A patron across the room pleaded with Kitty.
“FUCK OFF I’M BUSY!” She shrieked.
“No door, no door, no door…” he muttered as he lifted himself off of the floor, wishing he had anyone else to talk to. Anyone. Even his old History teacher, Miss Eldridge.
He blinked, pursing his lips in confusion. Miss Eldridge? Why had she come to mind?
Shaking his head, he tried to rid his brain of her image. He shook his head again like a dog coming out of a murky pool of water, as though she clung to his hair.
A scream from a room to his left. He jumped, looking over at the plain door. Gray.
Like Miss Eldridge’s hair.
“Oh fuck no,” he said to himself, lunging for the door. Whatever was in there was better than being —
“Well well…” the voice came from behind him.
He stopped, his hand so close to the doorknob, another scream from inside the room beyond that door beckoned him. The scream was gut-wrenching, from the very base of someone’s spine. Suffering. Throat filled with blood and phlegm.
He had never been so jealous of anyone as he was right now, turning to face Miss Eldridge.
“You deliver beer.” She stood as tall as she had when he was a child. Impossible. She couldn’t have been an inch over five foot back then, only a giant because he was so young, but even now she towered over him.
He looked down to see if he was a little boy again, but his adult body, gangly with the little pot belly he got fair and square from his last relationship with the pastry chef, and the bad taste in shoes, and the jeans he wore so low they had frayed hems all seemed in place.
“I expected as much.” Her voice was like the shards of winter that could cut up the cuffs of his coat, sneaking between his sweater and wrist. Sneaky. Colder than lies.
He felt his crotch go loose and the warm flow of urine on down his thighs.
“I wanna go home, I wanna go home…” he whimpered softly.
“I can show you something better,” She said, leaning forward, her sweet pink face going from soft powdered grandma to gaping maw of glass teeth.
Tom felt her hot breath on his face as she leaned in, ready to bite his neck. He screamed, loud, strangled, and stepped backwards, just as her glass teeth slammed together dusting his shirt with tiny ground shards. He didn’t dare inhale, the glass was so close.
Miss Eldridge opened her mouth again, the gums bleeding from where the glass had jammed in tighter, carving room for the shiny teeth. Her eyes glistened with red tears and fury.
“No,” Tom whispered, stepping back again, expecting to feel the wall but touching nothing. ”No,” He repeated, louder this time, wanting to look but scared to turn his back even for a blinking second.
“No, no,” he whimpered, now walking backwards as Miss Eldridge cranked open her jaw wide, blood running down her lips and chin, gurgling with it in the back of her throat. She swallowed without closing her mouth.
Tom screamed and turned around, prepared to run right through the fucking wall if he had to.
No wall, no door.
No wall, no door, no hallway even. Just a huge expanse of parkland, prime and bright, sunlight dappled with a few happy families feasting Leave-it-to-Beaver style along the grass.
Tom wondered if Miss Eldridge was still behind him but he wondered this while starting to run as fast as his little legs and lungs would carry him.
At first Tom ran because he knew she was right behind him, then he ran because it dried the tears he was crying, then he ran because the world around him wasn’t changing at all. Like he was in a loop of a film, passing the same three families on the left side — one with a mother, a father, two little tow-headed boys, the next with a red-haired mother whose breasts strained against her cotton shirt and a son with a truck in one hand and something living in the other, the last family again a mother and father, both brown haired, with two little girls dancing on the blanket.
He passed them for the fourth time, panting, and slowed down when he came alongside the two little girls dancing. They held hands and spun each other under, one at a time, grinning. Twin charmers.
Tom slowed more when he saw one little girl had a dead weasel in her free hand, then stopped short when he saw the writhing clear plastic bag of maggots in the other girl’s hand.
The dark-haired mother waved him over, grinning, her sweet pink lips parting to show an empty maw. Toothless and sallow, her face started to implode.
Tom started running again and felt something heavy hit his leg. He looked down to see a burst bag of maggots on his jeans cuff, the ground and his shoe crawling with them.
“Gah!” He screamed, frantically shaking his leg, spraying larvae in all directions.
A hand landed on his shoulder and he screamed, jumping up and down, trying to get rid of the maggots and get away from the hand. Turning, he came face to face with the red-haired mother, a concerned look on her face.
“You all right, honey?” She asked.
Tom shook his leg again. ”Mag- maggots. On me.”
She looked down, licking her lips, and grabbed his leg with her soft, pretty hands. As she pulled him off his feet, Tom felt the terror of knowing he was about to land on a sidewalk full of maggots but even worse, he could not avoid looking down her blouse. On one full, warm breast an eye lazily opened to look back at him.
Tom screamed as the woman started licking the maggots off his leg and shoe, her breast popping out of her shirt, winking at him.
“Shit, shit, SHIT!” Dominick screamed, worried what Lilith would do to him when she found out.
“I wonder what he’s going through right now,” Baron mused dreamily, his gaze distant, glazed over.
“Oh, probably being tortured by some childhood memory,” Kitty rejoined, never breaking the trance of her duties.
“Whatever it is, I wish I was in there wit ‘em,” came a voice from the other side of the bar. It was Ralphie. “What’re you guys so worried about, afraid of a little fun?” Ralphie approached the others, shifting his trousers around his hips in anticipation of what lie ahead. His demeanor was not unlike a man bracing himself for a night of passionate lovemaking. The others remained frantic, fearing the return of Lilith and her wrath. Dominick could not stop himself from pacing up and down the bar, periodically crouching to release a shriek of despair into a nearby bar towel.
Baron sat transfixed at the bar, in a state of fascination and wonder. The dreams of his childhood flooded his cerebral cortex and for the first time in his adult life he remembered what it felt like to be protected by his innocent ignorance of youth in a world of delusion and damnation. He remembered the first lady bug he killed, then the first firefly, then the first rodent, then the first cat. In this moment, Baron could not be distracted by even the most shrill and shrieking of voices.
Kitty continued to clean in hopes that, when Lilith returned, her hard work would be acknowledged and offset the ire sure to be caused by the present crisis. She knew this was the type of behavior that pushed her away emotionally from her co-workers but this compulsion was totally out of her control. Legend has it that Kitty was formerly a close confidant of Lilith’s - some even say, her partner in crime. Kitty and Lilith were actually childhood friends and shared a bond unlike any of their pre-pubescent peers. For them, their friendship transcended riding bikes and playing with dolls; it was a commitment more powerful and lasting than vows of marriage and faith. Their partnership only grew stronger as they grew older and they began to notice a power manifesting itself at the core of both of their beings. Unfortunately this power was never intended to be shared, for it was an envious and conniving power. It started slowly creeping into the tiniest cracks of their intracellular bond, eating away at lost memories and material fixations. As time passed, the cracks grew deeper and wider until Evil had completely transformed the fabric of Kitty and Lilith’s relationship. One day, Lilith was summoned to the Dark Lord’s council and permanently made into one of Satan’s formal alter egos. The breath of pure evil, which henceforth inflated and manipulated Lilith’s body, drove a stake through her relationship with Kitty.
“Well, I dunno’ bout you all, but I’ma itchin’ to get in there.” Ralphie pleaded.
Dominick immediately replied, “Oh yeah, and just what do think Lilith’s going to do when she finds out, huh?”
Ralphie stood motionless with a blank look on his face, while he began to hatch a plan to enter Hell’s gateway. He longed for his return and wanted to show Lilith he was ready, too. He waited until Dominick let the subject go and then shuffled over to a booth in apparent defeat.
“Alright, we have to do something. Baron, you got anything?” Dominick asked. Baron didn’t move. “Baron?” Dominick asked again. But nothing came from Baron, who was still lost within his own thoughts, fantasizing about the abject torture that innocent man must be going through. “BARON!” Dominick yelled.
“Huh, what, what time is it?” Baron struggled to speak, as if waking up from a long, intense state of hibernation.
“I don’t know,” Dominick squints at his watch, “5 o’clock. Now what do you suggest we do about our situation here?”
“Beats me - what did Ralphie say?” Baron yawned, stretched, and let out a long sigh.
“He wants to go in there himself!” Dominick shrugged and laughed it off.
“What! If anyone should get to go in there it’s me,” Baron snapped out of his funk and sat up in his stool. He began to plot against Ralphie. “Pfff, Ralphie couldn’t do it.”
“Baron- no one is going in there!” Dominick grabbed Baron’s shirt and brought him closer, “Do I make myself clear?” Fear filled Baron’s eyes, his brow collected sweat.
He remembered the day he first met Dominick. It was nearly a hundred years ago and the memory was still vividly etched in his mind. Dominick was nearing the halfway point of his 500 years of servitude when Baron had arrived, arrogant and ambitious. Baron now thought he would have to prove himself to be let back into hell and the only way he knew was to assert his dominance. Dominick didn’t appear to be much of a competitor, but only the evil on the inside counts. Dominick was far older and more experienced than Baron and knew what he had to do to maintain order.
One day Baron approached Dominick with a sly gaze. Dominick transformed the dark spirits of his rotten soul into a booming voice, audible only to Baron.
“This is my Portal!” the voice thundered, “Do not attempt what you seek!”
Baron stopped dead in his tracks at the sound and sight of Dominick, mouth open and eyes concealing the blackness of death. He felt something hold him back and couldn’t break its firm grasp.
Just then, Baron came to. “Hmm,” he squeaked. Dominick let go of his shirt and looked around the bar.
“Uhh, am I interrupting something here?”
Tom looked up from his sexual horror to see a befuddled Alibi employee. It was the same guy who had signed his delivery receipt, an event which seemed so very long ago for having happened only twenty minutes earlier. Tom could feel the mother’s hot and scaly tongue run up and down his maggot-y leg. He looked back down to find that it wasn’t a tongue at all, but the venomous copperhead snake. As a kid, Tom was nearly bitten by a copperhead, and the terrifying memory had stuck with him.
“…because I can come back later…” Ralphie said amiably, as he backed away from the delivery man and his personalized version of hell.
“Help me!” Tom screamed.
Ralphie chuckled, as he often did when imagining the misfortunes of others. His own experience of hell had included a world run by teenagers, being buried alive in a rabbit hole, everyone’s face taking on his mother’s expression, and drinking hard liquor that literally burnt holes in his stomach. Ralphie decided to take pity on the poor sap and grabbed him by the collar of his shirt.
A black light emitted a spooky purplish color in the distance. Ralphie and the still-screaming Tom edged closer toward the end of delivery guy hell.
Back at the bar, Rose grew more curious about why everyone was so worried about the missing delivery guy. She thought it perfectly logical that the man had slipped out without anyone noticing. It’s not like any of her fellow servers, Kitty especially, were any good at paying attention to their surroundings. This thought crossed her mind as Kitty again shrieked, “MIND YOUR OWN FUCKING BUSINESS!” from across the bar. Her last customer’s bill now paid, Rose decided to investigate the mystery of the missing delivery guy herself.
She approached the back room and started looking for clues. The delivery guy certainly didn’t seem to care too much about leaving his belongings behind. His hand truck stood, obviously abandoned, which did not bode well. All signs seemed to point toward the ominous-looking cooler door at the end of a row of empty beer boxes. As she made her way towards that door, she passed a blood-splattered bat with a single word carved into its wooden shaft: “Ratboy” propped against the wall on the right. Rose grabbed the bat and inched closer to the door. A singular, purplish light shone through the crack beneath. The fingers of her left hand clenched the door handle, while the fingers of her right gripped the bat. Rose drew a breath, and then another, and then one more, before opening the door.