Deafening screams echo through the burning landscape; the rage and misery of the damned souls drowning in the lake of fire and brimstone cling to the thick air, suffocating any who breathed it in; ensuring that they did not suffer alone. A pit, as large as heaven itself and twice as deep, growls louder the deeper it goes. Its darkness grows ever more intense and at the bottom, there is nothing. The growls and screams come to halt and even the weight of the dreaded souls lift away and are replaced with the crushing emptiness. A void, depraved of not just life, but anything at all. Save for one being. It sits on a throne seemingly made of the same void he so effortlessly sways in. His gaze is piercing, burning and lingering. Her presence is overwhelming and smothering. It is perfect.
“My child,” Its voice is harsh. It mimics that of a strict parent. Yet still it provides a sense of warmth, akin to being enveloped in a blanket. “Never forget what you are…”
“YOU FIEND!” A cacophony of unknown, untethered voices pierce through, tearing the bliss apart. “CEASE THIS FOOLISHNESS!”
“You, like me, are a perfect being.” Its voice returns, rude interruption ignored. “There is nothing you can’t do…”
“YOU CAN’T DO THIS, YOUR SOUL SHALL BE FORFEIT!”
“My child, forever shall you be--”
Diego wakes up in a cold sweat and immediately sits up on his bed, panting heavily. He pushes his hair back and wipes his face with his hand. He didn’t know whether the slick feeling he felt as he passed his hand over his face came from the sweat or the oil in his hair from the weeks of neglect. The dim, gray light of the sunrise peeks through the curtains to reveal the same room he went to sleep in.
Liv’s guitar hangs on the wall. He tries recalling the last time he had picked it up, let alone played it. It used to be red and black, with that fancy swirling water pattern he liked so much. Now it was as gray with dust as the sunlight that pours in the room, flooding each corner and rising higher by the second. It was a nice gift though —not to mention the only gift she’s ever given him— so in his long list of regrets, the guitar was spared.
Through still panting breaths, he passes his gaze past the guitar and over the shelf next to it. Everytime he looks at this shelf, he feels his heart drop. Like a black hole had formed in there and sucked it out of him. It was the only way he could look at the shelf without crying again. So many trinkets from so many hobbies abandoned. The fishing rod, the decks of cards, the old telescope, the paintbrushes. All the simple lives he could have lived. It becomes too much, he looks away.
His vision drifts to the other side of the room where in the corner lies a pile of dark clothes. Black shirts, dark red coats, deep blue jeans, clothes of all kinds in all kinds of muted and desaturated tones.
He sighs, “I told you,” His voice is groggy from having just woken up. Despite this, his words were not spoken, but regurgitated. As if each of them tasted worse than the last and he had to spit them out. “Keep your damn memories out of my dreams.”
And I told you, A deep, guttural voice bellows and echoes in his mind, I have no influence on your dreams. That just happens when I’m up while you’re sleeping.
“Why are you awake before me?” He groans as he gets off the bed and begins rummaging through the pile of clothes.
It’s your fault. Your anxiety is too fucking loud. A moment of silence as Diego lets the comment pass. As the words linger, the air turns stale and sour in their lungs. It’s today, right? The question is asked slowly and softly, as if it didn’t want to be asked. Yet asked it was, which causes Diego to twitch his eye.
More silence as the voice’s question awaits an answer never to come. Diego finishes dressing and heads to the bathroom. Looking at his reflection in the mirror as he brushes his teeth and fixes his hair, he casts an unending gaze into his malignant red eye, then his putrid yellow one, and can’t help but grimace at the sight of them against the pitch black sclera.
In his mind, this reflection has always represented the purest antithesis of all that is just and well. Every morning he wakes up and wishes to view a new sight in the mirror. A sight he could be proud to call himself. Every morning he wakes up and that wish is run through by the piercing daggers that shoot out of his miasmic eyes. Today was no different.
He grabs the doorknob to exit his room and pauses halfway through turning it, taking one deep breath to speak slowly. The air that exits his mouth is icy cold, seemingly freezing time itself so that his voice could be heard clearly in uninterrupted silence.
“From the moment we leave to the moment we get back, especially at the cemetery, I don’t want to hear a single word out of you.” He opens the door and slams it behind him.
A young boy and girl await a younger Diego outside his house. Diego runs out of the house with a zealous spring in his step and a beaming smile on his face. He wraps his arms around both their shoulders and pulls them down in a huddle.
“I have something cool to show you guys. Come, follow your leader!” Before either of his friends could respond, he grabs the girl’s hand and pulls her along as he rushes forward, shouting behind him, “Close my door, Peter!”
The boy tosses his arms in the air and grumbles under his breath as he rushes to close the door and catch up to the other two.
“Hey, D?” The girl struggles to keep her balance as Diego pulls her along. Her lungs burn as the cold air rushes in. “Diego?” She says louder. Her feet stumble on the uneven sidewalk. With her breath shallow from the wind, her arm sore from being pulled, and her blood boiling from being ignored, she pulls her hand away and stops in her tracks.
“What’s up, Jess?” Diego asks, noticing her hand slip away.
“Shouldn’t we wait for him?”
“What for? He’ll catch up. Come on, let’s go.” He reaches for Jess’ hand again, but she quickly pulls back and gives him a stern stare. “Fine,” Diego says, rolling his eyes, “We’ll wait.”
Peter shortly catches up, already beginning to breath heavily. “Sorry.” He says between breaths, “Thanks for waiting.”
“Yeah whatever.” Diego scoffs, already moving again, “Just stay close, okay? Don’t wanna have to keep waiting for you.”
Diego leads the two far away from the curbs and streets and into a nearby forest, steering off the main path. Diego looks over his shoulder to see the boy and girl trailing behind, enjoying a conversation of their own. He scowls at them and shoves a branch out of his way.
There was a feeling in his stomach. A feeling he was all too familiar with. It happens all the time when he sees them together. It starts as a small rumble. It condenses into a ball that travels up his throat and sits there; it makes it harder to breath, harder to swallow. It makes him mad. He knew it wouldn’t disappear. Not with Peter here. He wants to say something, separate them, grab Jess and run. He can’t. Not without reason. The consequences are greater than the reward. Every iota of his being burns as he resists the overwhelming urge.
“Are we allowed to be here?” The boy asks, pushing various vines aside with one hand and swatting bugs away with the other.
“I don’t know. Does it matter? Stop being so scared of everything.” Diego responds.
“Your adventures do tend to be pretty dangerous. Can’t blame him for being cautious.” The girl interjects. Diego slumps his shoulder as he sighs heavily and turns around again.
“I didn’t see any sign that said we can’t be here. So as far as we’re concerned, it should be fine.” He gives the boy a half baked smile, “Happy now?” Diego had already turned around before Peter could respond. “And you don’t have to coddle him all the time, Jess!” He shouts over his shoulder before leading the way once more. The boy and girl stare at each other and then Diego and hesitate before following him.
After a while of walking in silence, Diego stops in his tracks at the base of a hill, past the inner edge of the forest. Turning around, he rushes over to Peter and Jess with a smile on his face. “We’re here!” he grabs Jess’ hand and rushes up the hill with her, leaving Peter behind.
Peter slowly trudges up the hill, breath replaced with heaving huff and puffs, and sees Jess and Diego staring down at a mossy stone structure, about two feet off the ground; barely any gray rock can be seen through all the vines and moss. He comes up to it and stares down as well. The structure is hollow and leads to an underground chamber, too dark to see past the opening.
“What is it?” He asks.
“That’s the neat part.” Diego responds, “I don’t know yet. I wanted to discover it with you guys.”
“How are we even gonna get down there? It’s a pretty long drop.” Peter says with a slight quiver in his voice.
“There’s a ladder to the side.” Diego points without looking at Peter.
Peter looks over and sees a ladder bolted to the inside of the circle. It is black with rust, as are the bolts, which caused them to come out of the holes until the ladder was now hanging on just one. The ladder itself is peeling off layers from the slight breeze brushing past it and already missing some steps.
“Okay.” Peter says slowly. “And we’re all going down?”
“Well yeah, eventually. But you’re going first.” Diego finally tilts his head to look up at him, a large grin on his face. An eerie silence passes to allow the company to soak in the statement.
“Wait, what--” Peter starts
“Why does he have to go down first?” Jess interrupts.
“Well, you can’t go first, you’re too fragile.” Diego begins explaining.
“Which is why I’m going to go down with you to guide you and help you.” Diego turns his head to look at Peter again, “Once he maps it out and comes back to us”
“D, are you joking?” Peter motions towards the ladder, “I mean look at this thing, it’s ready to fall apart at any moment. I can’t go down there.”
“He’s right,” Jess begins, “We should get our own ladder or something, at least.”
The two continue to bounce pleas back and forth as Diego sighs and stands up. He ignores every word coming out of both their mouths and tunes them out as white noise. As he approaches Peter, each step seems heavier than the last, and his focus on Peter becomes more and more narrow; almost tangible. So much so that by the point he is in arms reach, even to Peter it seems that their surroundings had disappeared, and there now exists nothing but him and Diego in a deep, dark, heavy sea.
Diego places one hand on Peter’s shoulder and everything freezes. Peter’s body goes cold as it is invaded by a sudden surge of jitters. He swallows hard and loud, trying to avoid Diego’s unblinking gaze, feeling it burning away at his soul.
“Peter.” Diego’s voice is soft, but cold. It is devoid of patience and has filled that void past the brim with a heartlessness that burrows and lingers and echoes in Peter’s mind. Peter tries to look Diego in the eyes, but as soon as he peers over in his direction he is overwhelmed by Diego’s pressure oozing out of him; it envelopes Peter in a dark embrace. For a brief moment, however, he swore he could see something like a purple cloud swirling around Diego and wrapping itself around him like some kind of snake. “Peter.” Diego repeats. This time he had no problem staring into his eyes, in fact he felt nearly compelled to. “Go down the hole.” The command brings the world back around them. When Diego lifts his hand, fear comes flooding into Peter, and his knees buckle, nearly dropping him. He gulps and stares down the hole and with one deep breath, heads for the ladder.
An older, present day Diego stands over a tombstone, holding a handful of small blue flowers. The harsh wind had caused his hair to come undone and it was now flowing wildly across his unfazed face. The dark clouds begin to give way to small droplets that begin to trickle down on the headstone Diego was looking at with his dark eyes, themselves beginning to overflow.
“Hey Pete.” The words barely come out of his mouth. “Sorry I’m late. These things are actually pretty hard to find.” He awkwardly chuckles as he waves the flowers. “But, uh, well I got them for you.” He crouches over to place the flowers down. “Your favorite.”
Silence. A deafening silence. Diego stands as a statue as he stares at the headstone. Carrying the silence with him, he sits down in front of it. And there he sat in silence, for what seemed an eternity. His breath was shaky as he struggled to break the loud, heavy silence he found himself trapped in.
“I’m sorry.” His voice is cracked, and small. “I wish I had something to tell you. I wish I could say that I’ve been living my best life like you wanted me to. I wish I could tell you why that’s just not possible for me. The truth is, I’ve failed, Pete.” The words are barely coming out through his shallow breathing. “I’ve failed you, failed everyone.” He brings his hand up to cover his eyes as they can no longer hold themselves back from spilling. His voice comes out in whispers. “It’s like fate itself has cursed me.” A moment of silence. “You know,” He chuckles, “It’s funny.” His hand wipes the tears away and he sits upright. “I could really use your advice right now. You always were the voice of reason.” His slight grin disappears in an instant and his gaze lowers. “I just wish I had seen it sooner.” Another moment of silence. “I should get going. Hope you enjoy the flowers.” He stands up and wipes the dirt off his pants and gives a small wave to the grave. “Same time next year, yeah?”
Diego turned around and took one step before freezing. His eyes went wide as he stared at the person leaning against the tree behind him. The harsh wind barely affects her extremely short hair, its bright blonde hue still clearly visible even under the shade of the tree and clouds. Her oversized hoodie and even the scarf covering half her face can’t hide her identity from Diego.
“Hey Jess.” He says sheepishly.
Jessica stares at him with eyes that, while brown under a certain light, appear as black as night under the shade of the tree as they throw cold daggers at Diego. Without answering, she walks her way past him and stops in front of the grave and kneels down to touch it. In a moment of silence as Diego was walking away, she called out: “You got it wrong.”
“What was that?” Diego asks as he turns back around.
“The flowers.” She speaks without facing him, not moving from her crouched position. “Forget-me-nots aren’t Pete’s favorite flowers.” She takes a deep breath in and painstakingly turns her head to stare at Diego in the eyes. “They’re yours.” Spoken begrudgingly through gritted teeth, the words stuff Diego’s lungs and throat.
“I’m sorry.” Diego struggles to speak through his shallow breathing. Jessica does not respond. “I’m sorry.” He whispers once more as he pivots and rushes away from the area.
He sits on a bench after exiting the cemetery gates with his face in his hands. The rain has subsided down to a drizzle yet the wind rages on even stronger. Through the spaces between his fingers, Diego keeps his gaze directed downward, at nothing in particular. He isn’t sure if the wetness he feels on his face is from the rain or the tears. Or perhaps blood from how hard he’s gripping. Amongst the sounds of the water droplets hitting the ground around him and the cars splashing puddles of water as they pass through, Diego hears a sound that accompanied him in his solitude: The pant of a seething rage.
“I knew the flowers were wrong. We knew it. You made me believe it was right.”
“I TOLD YOU NOT TO SPEAK TO ME!” His voice shakes the incoming rainfall askew and makes the nearby puddles ripple. Even the trees and grass bent away from him.
After nature resettles, a feminine voice springs up, “I wasn’t really planning to. So…”
The voice shakes Diego out of his rage fueled trance and he snaps his head up to see Jess standing in front of him, just off the curb. Her gaze is cold and empty, and intensely powerful. He feels the familiar negative aura that surrounds her whenever she lays eyes on him. He can tell every single bit of her is telling her to run away, to get out, to flee as far as she can go. He can tell, because everytime he looks at himself in the mirror, every bit of him tells himself the same. However, this time, something differs. Same as usual, she can’t help but grimace and clench her fists at the sight of him. Yet now, to him at least, she seems ever so slightly less tense than normal.
“Don’t talk to me!” She immediately snaps at him, and Diego closes his mouth and sinks into himself a little further. Jess opens her shoulder bag and rummages around in it for a while. She pulls out an object a small bit bigger than her own hand, wrapped in heaves of paper towels and plastic wrap, and tosses it into Diego’s lap. “You’re probably still skipping meals, right? You wanna start living your best life like you were crying about? Start eating something once in a while.” Her gaze follows a trail left behind by one of his tears. “That’s all.” She turns and walks away from him.
Diego keeps his gaze on her for a while until she gets out of view, then holds the implied food firmly in his hand as he slowly gets up and, still enveloped in his silence, walks the opposite direction back home.
The route he takes back is long, and quiet. Yet still, Diego easily manages to find solace and sanctuary in it. His barrier of silence is often penetrated by the chirping of birds or water from the trees falling into the puddles below. He doesn’t mind, however. Bit by bit, the sounds of nature break the silence he was cowering under and in its grasp, he feels welcomed. In the warm embrace of the sun and gentle misty breeze of the wind and the smell of the blooming flowers, he unclenches his fist for the first time today.
Finally reaching home, Diego heads indoors and shuts the door behind him, leaning his back against the door and smiling as he gives a deep sigh. A smile that faded nigh on immediately as soon as he heard a breath that was not his.
She talks to us now. The deep voice rumbles, shaking every corner of Diego’s mind. That’s a good sign. Each word makes Diego grit his teeth and shake. We might have a chance to sway her back--
“What are you doing?” Though only a whisper, the words had enough weight to drive a wedge into the demon’s speech. “I told you not to talk.”
Yes, that you did. ‘From the moment we leave to the moment we get back’ were your exact words, I believe. It pauses to allow Diego to sink in the information given to him, and once his eyes widen, it continues. We are back, are we not?
“You slimy little shit.” His voice begins to raise in volume. “How dare you--”
Diego’s rageful shout is interrupted as he feels a force upon him. His neck and throat begin tightening, and his breath quickly escapes him. Everything begins fading, as if erased from a whiteboard, and all around him turns to an empty black. As perilous as the situation seems, however, Diego finds within himself a sense of recognition, of comfortability.
As everything fades, the owner of the voice begins emerging; birthed from the dark nothingness: A bare, scaly body similar to his own begins to walk forward. A purple hue emanates from it, acting as a singular lit beacon in this deep ocean of nothing. Its hands seem to hold a gold chain, connected to the shackle on Diego’s neck. Dark --nearly as dark as the void around them-- flesh-like, bony wings wrap around him like some coat. From the peripheral, its face is a messy and grotesque amalgamation of mouths and eyes, always turning and shifting. Once Diego looks directly at it, however, it flawlessly imitates his own in a scaly reflection. What doesn’t ever change or shift are its two red eyes; always watching, always thinking. It tugs on the chain and Diego falls to his knees. It smiles, revealing vast, unhuman rows of fangs.
“I let you have your little moment. Your illusion of freedom. I sat quiet as you sniveled for that patch of dirt.” The being squats down to eye level. The smile on its face is gone, and now a large grimace lays in its place. “Do not think you get to unleash your emotions on me.” He squeezes on the chain, causing Diego to painfully grasp the shackles as they continue to prevent any words or breath from coming through. “This place --your heart-- is my domain. And all the emotions that reside here are mine to control.” With each word, it inches its face ever closer to Diego’s. “You do not get to raise your voice, to shout at me. You need to know your place. Do you understand?” It loosened the grip on the chain, and Diego gasped for air as his throat opened up again.
As Diego listened to the words of his soul partner, he found himself in a strange sense of familiarity. After some heavy breaths, he sits himself in a comfortable position and looks down at the floor, his eyes deep and empty. “I’ve heard these words before.” He speaks quietly. “And I will hear them again and again.”
“Excuse me?” The beast asked, bringing its ear closer.
“If there’s nothing I can do, then I will do nothing.” Diego lets himself lean onto the floor and lay there in a fetal position, eyes wide open, mouth shut closed .
“What are you doing?” Its question received no answer. “What are you doing? Answer me!” It squeezed on the chain, and though Diego let out a miniscule flinch in response, it was not enough to sate the being. “ANSWER ME!” Silence. “ANSWER ME! ANSWER ME! ANSWER ME! ANSWER ME! ANSWER ME! ANSWER ME! ANSWER ME! ANSWER ME! ANSWER ME! ANSWER ME! ANSWER ME!” Each command strengthened the grip on the chain, and its voice grew deeper and darker. Yet still he found silence as his answer. “DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHO COMMANDS YOU?! I WAS BORN FROM THE UNION OF LUCIFER AND PRIDE ITSELF! YOU, A MERE MONGREL, DARES TO IGNORE ME?! THE HARBINGER OF PRIDE; THE MARQUIS OF VANITY; ZYTH, THE PRINCE OF ARROGANCE?! HAVE YOU ANY IDEA HOW HIGH I STAND ABOVE YOU?! ANSWER. ME. NOW!”
All through the night, and onto what can only be assumed as morning, did this continue. Yet somehow, Diego could not help but succumb to the alluring charms of his exhaustion.
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