Chapter 1:

Welcome to Hell

Welcome to Hell

Alex led me through a bunch of different hallways, past a couple of rooms. Some of the rooms were open, so I saw many different creatures — such as those stereotypical aliens that conspiracy theorists love with their big black eyes and slim bodies, or other demons of various colors and forms. In reality, there weren't a lot of humans here. We were like one race out of tens if not hundreds in whatever this place was. I hoped that this labyrinthine corridor would end already — eventually, we made it to an elevator. Alex pulled out a card and waved it over a digital panel, which then made it display... three wheels of numbers? She vertically swiped them and set each one to 1, 0 and 0 respectively, then tapped a Go button below it. The elevator doors closed, and felt absolutely no rumble or jolt.

Leaning against the wall opposite to the panel, I asked her while she still had her back to me, "So, uhhh... are you guys for real?"

"What do you mean by that?" She turned around, an eyebrow raised.

"I mean, is this really... Hell?"

Alex chuckled. "You still don't believe it, right?"


"Sometimes I can't believe it after staying here for over a century, April. But you'll see it with your own eyes in just a few minutes."

I was staring at her in confusion. "Over a century?"

"Yeah, I died in 1922."

"How?" We were in 2036. If I didn't screw up my math, she was 114 years... on top of her age from when she died. Yet she looked unbelievably young.

"I know it's a lot for you to take in, but one piece of advice is to just accept the impossible. Oh, and please don't die."

I was even more confused. "Die? Again? For real this time?"

Alex laughed very briefly. "No, you will never die for real. You will just, how do I put it..." She paused, "yes, you will respawn in a hospital. Gremory's social services will pay for some deaths but not others. Either way, you lose time, money, and you get to feel some excruciating pain."

Finally as the elevator doors opened, a cacophony immediately invaded my ears — specifically crowd and megaphone sounds. It looked to be a huge hall outside with large windows, like that of an airport entrance.

"One more thing. Take your ID card," she handed me a red card she pulled from one of her pants' pockets. It had "Gremory Multi-Purpose ID Card" at the top, a portrait shot of me on the left, and my name on the right. The back side had nothing except something similar to a QR code but rectangular and wider. "You'll have Mr. Charles introducing you to the Gremory District. Again, another social service."

"Oh, Mr. Charles? How do I find him?"

Pointing somewhere outside the elevator, she answered. "You just stand outside the checkpoint line here, and wait. He won't make you wait for more than a minute."

I walked outside. "Whenever someone says something like that, I have to wait for an hour."

"Not this time. Good luck!" She fiddled with the buttons again, the elevator door closed, and then she disappeared.

Plenty of people and other beings were around. Way more than I could have imagined. Even some bipedal creatures, or slimy worm-like things. It was like watching Star Wars or Star Trek, except with demons.

The megaphones came from above and there were also a couple ticker screens displaying text in various languages. I was able to recognize Chinese, Arabic, maybe Russian, and something I didn't even believe was man-made. And then, English. The English ticker simply said "Welcome to Hell! Please refer to your guide for further instructions", before switching to another language.

The checkpoint line was basically a bunch of one-way mechanical exits, guarded by large, inky black looking demons on both sides. This time they had horns and claws, their teeth perfectly suited for human consumption. Surprisingly, they looked like someone had added ink to flour dough mixed with the physical embodiment of sin and cut them out with a demon-shaped cookie cutter, what with how utterly unable I was to tell them apart. When I approached them as the line snaked forward, the demon guard closest to me held another one of those gun-shaped machines and aimed from the top of my head all the way down to my feet, before signaling me to cross through the metal detector.

On the other side, a middle aged man seemed to walk straight toward me as opposed to any other direction. He was wearing a red T-shirt and white pants. "Are you Ms. April, perchance?" He addressed me — with a British accent, I might add.

"Uhh, are you Mr. Charles?" I held up my card to him.

"Indeed I am, young lady. Welcome to Hell. Please keep your card and follow me outside."

Turning around, he motioned for me to follow him, so I walked with him. Eventually, we passed the front door, which again had a checkpoint and metal detectors. After being subject to the same checks as with the guard demons before, I was finally outside.

Right in front of me was a paved street. The black asphalt street had pavement markings, and was filled to the brim with floating cars and bikes. The vehicles were all on the same elevation and didn't have wheels, but they seemed to have extra padding on all their sides; otherwise they were almost identical to the vehicles I was familiar with. They were lifting off and powering down all around me, all of them with bright blue gas shining brilliantly toward the ground like mini rocket trails, their whining sounds filling up my ears. Needless to say, I was already amazed.

Beyond that street was a large sea of lava, extending far away before ending in an abrupt bright red wall. The wall itself had an elevated area from which a grand "waterfall" of lava fell into the sea. In the middle of the lava before me was a small island made of some black stone, and there were boats scattered across the surface. Above us, there was a brown rock ceiling with a few stalactites here and there, some of which had a darker shade of red mineral than the walls. The air itself wasn’t just in various shades of crimson, but it was also a heat haze subtly warping the light like a mirage in the desert. The light was intense and practically everywhere.

At the same time that the scene amazed me, it also made me sweat buckets. The air was completely and unbearably hot. It also smelled of rotten eggs.

"What you see over there was how most of Hell started out. Lava, fire, and a few islands of brimstone. However, very recently, as the population grew exponentially, this state of affairs was no longer feasible. Something had to change." He approached one of the floating cars, and looked at the mirror as if he was scanning his iris or something. In addition to the car's engine making a whirring sound I never heard before, all the doors unlocked, with his door popping open. "Come on in."

Reluctantly, I got around the car and entered the passenger seat right next to him. He pressed an up button on the dashboard, which slowly lifted the vehicle upwards after closing and locking the doors, then he moved some digital slider on the dashboard which made the car's engine hum slightly louder and move forward at a steady pace. He also tapped a button which activated the car's air conditioning.

He turned the wheel left. "Prepare yourself for the real sights of Gremory District."

As the car turned, the scene changed from the harsh landscape of Hell... a sprawling metropolis of dark blue skyscrapers that penetrated both the lava sea and the ceiling.

The skyscrapers had nearly all windows lit up in a clash of several colors, most prominently dark blue, with shades of white and red. Some of them had special colorings, either glowing, flickering or painted in. At several heights, there were what seemed to be several walking bridges, small asphalt roads with scooters and other land-based vehicles, and in some cases, aerial trams and high speed train tunnels. On top of this all, an unimaginable number of cars were flying around the buildings and the bridges. There were one too many billboards at various heights, from small neon ones highlighting supermarkets and liquor stores, to huge semi-transparent advertisements for so-called body mods, "death insurance", electronics, work, banks, and more.

Of fucking course there had to be advertisements for Hatsune Miku concerts in Hell, too.

Charles raised the speed slider up to almost 75% or so. "By the way, you might want to take a look down there."

Running between nearly all of the buildings was a network of lava rivers, which was surprisingly lively. Small boats, yachts and even entire ships were afloat, although the bigger ones seemed to be mostly medical vessels with cross signs and flags. It kind of reminded me of Venice, except that Venice didn't have magma and the buildings weren't huge. There were also some creatures walking or swimming through the lava. "There's even more below the surface, but you would require a special and quite expensive vehicle for that."

I turned to Charles, surprise still on my face. "You've got to be kidding me. Just how big is this place?"

"Gremory is actually one of the smaller districts horizontally speaking, so don't be surprised if you run into the same people often. That said, It's the vertical area that makes it devilishly large."

"Seriously, back on Earth, we didn't even have a quarter of the tech you guys got. We were too busy fighting off climate change!"

I heard him briefly chuckle. "Even if you didn't have climate change to deal with, you don't have the highly skilled demon workforce, or the brightest minds that are still cherished on Earth to this day. And of course, the leadership of Lord Gremory."

Our car soon was flying between the buildings, and even giving me a closer look on all the finer details of Hell. It was far more noisy between the skyscrapers. This time there were a lot more humans than a few minutes ago, walking around, riding bikes… Some were running on the walkways or using scooters on the roads, others wearing suits and walking leisurely. That was strange. "Umm, isn't the air hot around here? Why do some people wear suits?"

"Oh, in many areas it's quite cool. We have the only outdoors central air conditioning system in all of Hell. It's the best thing the Gremory government has done for the human taxpayer." He smiled.

"Wait, did you just say taxpayer?"

"Why, yes! Our currency is the luci. In fact, all of Hell uses luci. That's one of the things your red card is good for. Double tap anywhere on it for a quick review of what you got."

I took the card out of my pocket, and did as he asked. A hologram popped up.

TUE 05:36AM 4/8/2036 - 50,000 LUCI

I figured the weird code after my name must be my unique identifier, so I squinted at the line after Female Human, unsure what to make of it. "What the hell is 198 Semaimachi?"

"That would be your address, and Semaimachi is basically a marketplace zone for all sorts of goods. It's also got the tightest gaps between buildings here."

Well, that wasn't good. "Umm, I'm used to the wide roads in suburban Chicago." Then again, I guess this was better than disappearing into a black void.

"You'll get used to it, young lady. Remember, you're in Hell, not in Heaven."

Here we go with getting used to it again. "I suppose you're taking me there?"

"Eventually, I'll take you to your residence, yes. I'm here to get you used to Hell, don't worry."

"Ah, that's good. Say, can I open the window?" Come to think of it, I turned my head towards the door and couldn't find anything to open the window with. Not a crank, not a button, nothing.

"Yes, my dear." He tapped a... I should've known it was yet another button on that dashboard. How many things do Hell dashboards do!? Either way, the window unrolled, and I could feel the heat outside overtake the air conditioner by a little bit, but it wasn't too hot. I slightly popped my head outside, and took in the smell, heat, sounds, and sights of Gremory.

Even though there had to be like about one mile between us and the sea, I could still smell the scent of rotten eggs from earlier. It actually felt like I was a few yards away from a fire, except without dealing with the smoke. The sounds and sights felt mostly like... CAPITALISM HO!

"Want to look like your favorite lamia celebrity? Start by buying the LamiaHair InstaLong shampoo for 100,000 luci today and see the results instantly," one ad blasted off through the megaphones, ending with some crowd going "woah!"

"Lost?" A billboard featured this word as its only word on what seemed to be a map. The billboard quickly changed to "The Sire MapPanel is your friend" as the map zoomed out, showing a screen seemingly embedded in a human arm with a map displayed on it. "1,000,000 luci only" was written somewhere below it in a smaller font.

"Kawaii, kawaii!" A predictably cute anime girl wearing a magical girl's dress with a mix of pink and white colors kept jumping up and down inside a billboard's space, audibly repeating this phrase over and over, with "Don't miss the anime. 2036's greatest hits now." written at the bottom and "AnimeNow" as the logo on top. I had no idea if these so-called hits were produced in Hell, or somehow imported from Japan — or dare I suggest, from Earth.

I could also hear some particularly loud conversations, when the ads weren't blaring at full volume. Almost every single interaction with a human involved that I overheard was done with English. Demons, aliens, and other races spoke with other languages amongst themselves. They took place across bikes, or on the concrete bridges — which thankfully had guard rails.

Despite the unbearable heat, the unpleasant smell, and the completely intimidating city design, I... liked the fresh breath of air compared to Earth. Nothing like giving the middle finger to gravity, or riding flying cars, or the thrill of flying over deadly lava.

So far, Hell was better than I expected. If I hadn't committed murder, maybe Heaven would've been even better, but thug life was already bad enough and my jealousy sealed the lid of my coffin.

Seeing the variety of bystanders, I figured there was a slight chance that this would be a new start. Very few of them seemed troubled by anything. Just the usual stresses of life — or rather the afterlife.

Unfortunately, my weak hopes and dreams were extinguished the moment I saw a bunch of suspiciously familiar people to me. A bunch of men who looked slightly cyborg-looking this time, but nevertheless they were men I knew.

They were minding their own business, but not soon after, they looked at the traffic. Lady Luck with all her spite and malice, had them look directly at me.

Andy Enriquez, Eugene Connery, and Henry Osborne knew I was here. Oh fuck.

I brought my head back inside, with Charles immediately closing the window without me asking him to. "Is something the matter, April? You seemed to really enjoy it for a moment."

"Nah, it's nothing." Even if I never paid back my debts when they were alive, they were in United States Dollars. Not Hell Luci. I had no idea why I was overreacting, considering my tendency to blow things out of proportion was exactly how I got here. If I hadn't felt extremely burned by David cheating on me, I could've ended up in Purgatory instead, or so I thought.

A few minutes later, someone was honking at us. I didn't think much of it — the place was pretty busy as it was, but something about the honking felt persistently strange. When I looked at the side mirror, I wished I hadn't. These three guys were honking at us all at once with their bikes. Meanwhile, Charles was driving like he was on a godforsaken leisure cruise or something.

Tapping him on the shoulder, the words were quickly blurted out of my mouth. "Uhh, Mr. Charles? Can you like, go at max speed?"

"No, that's absolutely dangerous!" He exclaimed.

"We have three guys on our tails who could kill us."

"Could? Come on, they look like scoundre—"

With all my might, I threw my whole body onto him, wrestling control of the entire dashboard. I had no fucking idea if that was a good idea, but the worst idea was being around these three guys.

Speed slider? Up to 125%, surprisingly! The car immediately jolted before breaking into high speed, its engine whirring so loud it made my hearing buzz. Everything outside the windows and windshield blurred.

"April, what are you doing?" He didn't even bother to wrestle the steering wheel back from me thankfully, as that always ended so, so well back on Earth.

"These guys are bad news. Just shut the hell up and let me shake them off." With a car about a hundred yards ahead of us, I quickly tapped the down button, the only directional button that was glowing. Another jolt and in less than a second, we were down a lane! "How bad are accidents here?"

"Can we not die, please?" He held his door with both hands, an expression of sheer terror on his face.

Trying the steering wheel, I found that nudging it slightly worked almost the same as it was on Earth except the steering feedback felt a little floaty. Regardless, I was weaving through traffic like in all those cheesy big dumb summer action movies, with the guys still on my tail.

There was plenty of space on most lanes to madly swerve left and right without getting stuck in a traffic jam or dying horribly. The gaps between buildings were also really wide, and it helped that a lot more buildings were circular than rectangular, although seeing nothing but skyscrapers messed with my sense of direction.

Yet, even though I slithered left and right through the buildings at breakneck speed, even though I went up and down by several levels, these fuckers were still on the rearview mirror. How? And one of them had a gun!

To make matters even worse, the road ahead of me was blocked by a billboard with a woman in bikini holding — or rather, advertising — fucking juice in her left hand. And we were smack dab in the middle of it! Frantically, my index finger tried to lower the speed slider but I was too panicked to properly slide it down.

"It's a hologram, April! Fly through it!"

Charles was right, a car just phased through it in the opposing direction, which made me realize it wasn't solid. But it was too late, since the speed was successfully down to 40% and could've been 0% if he didn't say anything. This made us slow down severely just before "touching" it.

I couldn't hear any gunshots, but I could very well hear and feel a clunk sound in the rear of the car.

"Warning, battery disconnected." A robotic voice played through the speakers loudly. "Engine shutting down, please handle emergency landing."

"Jesus Christ not the battery again, we're going to crash! Let me handle that!" He pushed me away, quickly forcing the wheel left and going straight towards a platform wedged in an unusually small gap between two buildings that looked a little less futuristic than all the others. This time, we lost nearly all our speed, and the car was quickly but steadily going down as the engine cut out to sudden silence.

There was a huge white sign of leather above the platform with three Chinese characters and "Semaimachi" written below them in a smaller font. And somehow, we went straight through it, ripping it in the process. A piece of the leather obscured the windshield for a second too long, but then when it finally flew off, I saw another hint that my life was still going to be pretty shit. People of all races, ages, colors and sexes, but mostly humans, were running away in several directions — from our crashing car. Several people just up and left behind their stands and booths in the way, and everyone standing outside shops literally toppled over the goods just to stay inside.

A moment later, we hit the ground with a rough landing that tossed both of us up. The car kept scraping the ground with intense sparks, as it took out several booths and a creature who just wasn't fast enough to escape, all before we came to a sudden, metallic screeching stop.

To make matters worse, those three idiots showed up, their vehicles descending very gracefully behind us, almost as if mocking us.

Henry yanked my door, immediately grabbing me by the arm before I could escape, and pulled me out. "Thought we'd forget ye forever, eh April?" He held both of my arms behind my back. Looking into his face, he still had that scar going from his thin eyebrow, across his black eyes and down to somewhere just above the lips. He wore a black sleeveless shirt and pants with small rips in the fabric this time around.

"I thought I'd just go to the void, Henry. What is it this time?" Clenching my fists, I held back the urge to punch him in the face.

"Don't tell us you forgot that too, lady." Eugene held that stupid gun in one hand and ruffled his messy yellow hair with the other. He still wore that 59 red T-shirt and blue pants he did on Earth, somehow. The biggest difference was his left arm was metallic silver for some reason. "You ran off with $5,000. We want it back."

I really couldn't hold back my laughter. "Maybe in Chigaco, but we're in Hell, boys."

While Eugene walked around me while staring at my pockets, Andy stood beside me, once again not looking much different than he did on Earth, with his dark skin, wide shoulders, and long black hair. This time, he wore a yellow T-shirt and black pants, except the right side of his pants had a wide cut exposing a metallic area with a dark gap inside. "Wow, look at that smartass. It's an easy concept, Aprilita."

"Stop calling me that." This name pissed me off so much, I'd have punched him if I wasn't already in a terrible situation.

"Whatever, lady. $5,000 is 10 million luci." Heh. Deep down, I was hoping there was no currency conversion for USD and luci, yet here we are. "You don't believe me, go to any bank and ask about the exchange rates. No one uses dollars here, it's all just to settle debts. Or you can ignore us and go buy another smartphone or one of the more expensive stuff, but—"

"She has nothing except her ID card, looks brand new. Heh, you got a lot of work to do, lady." Eugene showed off my card to his other friends.

"Oi, that means she's good for nothing. It'll be a while 'till she makes anything." Henry strengthened his grip on my arms for literally no reason. I wasn't even resisting!

...huh. I wasn't resisting. This simple realization made me catch on to something. I wasn't as afraid of them now as I was on Earth, but just like with Gilligan earlier, they surrounded me and I couldn't do anything about it. The biggest difference was that Gilligan was nice, he didn't force me to be in a bad position unlike with these guys. But either way, I wasn't as scared. What if I attempted to bargain with them? Reach some compromise?

My mouth just opened on its own, with some strange confidence I had no idea where the fuck I got from. "I've got an idea."

"What is it, April? I hope it's a good one." Eugene smirked.

"If you want money, the least you could do is let me work for you." Eugene and Andy opened their mouths widely in surprise. I had no idea what Henry's face looked like, but I assume he felt the same surprise.

"Weren't you the same person who ran away from us, April?" Andy using my name properly was a sign he was taking me seriously to some extent.

"That was four years ago, and back in life. We're all dead now, lots of things have changed."

"Lady, ye ain't even been in Hell for longer than a day." Henry twisted my arms a bit more.

"Yes, you fuck, which is why I want to do this. You guys know how this place works, right?"

Silence befell all three of them. This quietness helped me notice all the bystanders surrounding us, some watching our little exchange at a distance, others completely ignoring us.

Taking the initiative, I set the terms before they could think about it. "I've got two conditions. One, I quit as soon as I pay my debt. Two, the debt is 10 million luci and no more. Ask me for one more luci and I'll quit on the spot. Is that too much?"

Andy chuckled. "You've got some nerve, April. I like that. Let me think." He just looked at the ground.

I had no idea how long I'd spend working my ass off for 10 million luci, but it's got to be a lot of time. Then again, that was the entire point of Hell, wasn't it?

Andy finally raised his head with a smile. "Okay, I'm game, with an extra condition. You don't pay your debt, we'll use all means necessary to make you pay."

Nice devil in the details trick they got there. "Sure, but only if I don't quit on my terms."

"Fine, yeah, whatever." I sighed in relief when Andy uttered those words.

"Wouldn't it be nice if I wasn't held like some hostage or something, too?" Turning my head to the right, I sent the hint to Henry. He figured it out and let me go.

"We'll be at your address in like half a day." Eugene tossed my card at me, which I picked up. "Then we'll give you some odd jobs with our gang."

The three of them walked towards their bikes which they got on and started all up. "See ye later, punk." Henry spat off.

Fucking imbeciles. And I got dragged into yet another gang!

Also, shit. Our gracious landing not only ruined the Semaimachi sign, but Charles's car as well. I turned around and found him leaning on the side of the now downed and smoking car. Looking at me, he was... angry.

He crossed his arms. "April, I'm in a lot of trouble now. Not that I can blame you, but I don't appreciate it."

"I'm... I'm sorr—"

"How can you be sorry? My car's busted again and we just ripped that sign off." He turned to the car, sighing in frustration.

I had no idea what I was saying. "Well, to be fair, it was you who ripped the sign but... if I'm at fault, what can I do?"

He looked at me for a few moments, all without saying anything. I didn't really know to what extent having Charles around me would help, but I wasn't losing him on something as petty as that. He already dealt with his engine at least once, and it's just a stupid sign.

"I don't know, April. You're right. I guess I'm a little harsh on you."

"You can fix it again, Mr. Charles." I gave him a thumbs up, whilst he shook his head in a confused way.

"What do you mean, again?"

Putting on a smirk, I repeated his words with emphasis. "Jesus Christ, not the battery again!"

All he could manage was facepalm.

Other Slater
Taylor Victoria