From the Blog of Ben Friday: That One Time… in Hell!
Part One: Ben's Inferno
October 1st 2012
Growing up, my mother used to worry that the games I was playing would inspire me to worship the Devil. That one night, me and my buddies would be sitting around the table in my basement and one of us would say "Hey guys, did you read that passage in the Dungeon Master's Guide about how to serve the Devil through human sacrifice?" and that would be it- our souls condemned forever. We'd be in Hell before the Cheeto dust had time to settle on our adolescent fingers. As it turns out, she wasn't far off.
No, Dungeons and Dragons did not lead me to worship the Devil. I don't actually worship anything, which was just as bad in the eyes of my Roman Catholic mother. Still, if I'm being honest, it was probably the fantasy games and novels that I used to obsess over that sparked my interest in magic, and magic would eventually lead me to Hell. Just not in the way my mother expected.
It was 2012. I was twenty-three years old, mom was dead, and I was living on my own for the first time in her run-down house on North Mulberry Street in the dilapidated town of Muncie, Indiana. I wasn't working, I was in a punk band, and magic was paying the bills. If you're reading this sometime in the future and don't know what "punk" was, it was a type of music that went out of style shortly before I was born. Not that it had ever been in style; that would have defeated the point... Wait. Was there a point?
Anyway, I was still very much an amateur then. I had only started taking the Arts seriously a few years earlier, mostly to impress a girl. At the time, I was experimenting with teleportation. No one calls it that by the way. No traditional Occult Magicians, your Aleister Crowley's and August Santana's- you know, the ones who take themselves seriously- they always come up with shit like translocation or matter displacement. But it's teleportation. You start in one place and end up somewhere else by traveling through space but not time. It's fucking Star Trek, baby.
In my case, I was trying to find a way to travel from point to point on this plane by moving through another. I got the idea from Dreams in the Witch House by Howard Philip Lovecraft. Yeah, I know. I'm well-read as shit. In the book, our protagonist believes that through a combination of arcane knowledge and higher mathematics it might be possible to step out of our world and into another, then with another step, return to our world at a point of our choosing. For me, this point was Las Vegas (where I was planning to use the gift of clairvoyance to cheat at cards).
I won't bore you with the details of how I came to solve this metaphysical puzzle because for the most part the details were just that- boring. Most magic is boring, at least when you're first trying to figure it out. You decide what you want to do, or rather what you want magic to do for you via rewriting the laws that govern the universe. Then, it's a lot of equations, a lot of poring over musty old tomes, a lot of ordering components off of the Internet and then looking for a way off of the government watch list you inevitably wind up on. It's a good thing I did eventually master teleportation because I'm never going to be allowed on another plane for as long as I live.
The day of my big experiment, I found myself back in the basement where my friends and I used to spend our Saturday nights before we learned how to talk to girls. I moved the old table to one side of the room, folded up the metal chairs we'd stolen from Sunday school, and started to open my mind to the universe. No wards to protect me from what might be out there, no groundings to hold me to this plane, I let my sigils and equations do their work. They ran through my subconscious the way a program might run in the background on your computer. The spell began loosening my grip on the world, cutting my ties with reality.
I closed my eyes and I saw it- a spark, a flicker of light in the darkness, like a match being struck out in space. It was the light of another dimension, one parallel with my own. All I needed to do was walk towards it and I would leave this place behind.
The most disturbing thing about magic is when it actually works. Most of the time it doesn't, but when it does- when you successfully throw back the curtain- it almost always leaves you feeling a little smaller. You think you'd feel bigger, more powerful, having just made reality your bitch, but you don't. Instead, you're simply reminded of how much you don't know about the universe. How much you'll never understand.
Take teleportation for example. I was twenty-three when I successfully moved from one world into another. That means that for the first twenty-three years of my life I didn't know you could do that. For seventeen of those years, I didn't even believe that other dimensions existed; not really. On that cold, autumn day in the basement of the house where I grew up, my universe got a little bit bigger. Turns out old H.P. was right.
I moved towards the light. With one step, I left Muncie, Indiana behind and with another I was in Hell.
Seriously, it was the actual Hell.
Like I said, I'm not religious but I had been raised Catholic. I know what Hell is supposed to look like.
Presently, I was standing on a precipice overlooking a lake of fire. Not lava mind you, just fire. Rolling orange flames were dancing across the surface of the pit as men and women writhed in agony amongst its waves.
Oh yeah, there were people too… In the lake of fire.
At first, all I could do was stare. There was something wrong with this picture. I mean, aside from the fact that I was watching people burning in a lake of fire. No, not burning. That was the problem. They were in a state of perpetual agony, but otherwise, they looked fine. Their skin wasn't blackening or boiling or peeling off. That's what sold it for me that this was Hell- the fire that burned but did not consume.
Ok, so I was in Hell. Not what I expected, but also not a problem. My spell had worked. One more step and I'd be back on Earth, on the Las Vegas Strip. Probably drinking heavily. I closed my eyes, let my mind drift back into "the zone". I looked for the light of my own world, I took a step. Nothing. I was still in Hell.
I didn't have to open my eyes to know my spell had failed. I could tell from the heat and the smell. God, the smell! The rotten egg smell I had expected; that's just brimstone. What got me was the smell of rot- that pungent, wet decay that permeated the place and something else too, like piss and wet animal hair.
Imagine you're going to visit your uncle, whom you haven't seen or heard from in months. Now, imagine you walked into his trailer to find that he had died. Next, imagine that his body had been eaten by his twelve or so cats, all of which lived with him in his small trailer with only one litter box. Finally, imagine that in the weeks that followed, the cats had also died. Oh, and the trailer is on fire. That's what Hell smells like.
I opened my eyes. "Shit." I closed them again, took another step, opened my eyes. "Shit!" Closed my eyes, stepped, and opened them. "Shit! Shit! Shit!" I was still in Hell! This was bad, like really bad. As far as I knew, this was the worst and last fuck up of my life. I was wrong on both accounts.
Still, it had half worked. I was probably the first living human to have ever set foot here. I took solace in that thought even though I was pretty sure I was going to be the first to die here as well. Where would I go? I mean, Hell exists and I dabbled in the dark arts so… I may have bet on the wrong horse.
I started to look around, trying to take in my surroundings. If I was going to get out of this mess, I would have to start by getting my bearings and coming up with a plan. Or, failing that, I'd have to pull something out of my ass.
I was still standing on the edge of Lake Friday. Yeah, I named a lake after myself. I'm a pio-fucking-neer. I could just make out the other side- a barren, rocky coast led to a dark wall of obsidian that surrounded the perfectly round lake. Beyond the wall I couldn't see anything, just empty space on the horizon. That's when I made the mistake of looking up.
Just beyond the horizon there was another land mass. It was huge and just kind of floating there in space- a massive ring of black Earth so big I couldn't make out all of it. I had the feeling it was at least twice the size of where I was now. Beyond it, I could just make out the edge of another floating mass. It was like all of Hell was one big funnel in space made up of multiple rings… No, not rings- circles. Like I said, I couldn't make out all of it, but I had a feeling there were nine of them. Nine circles, and I was at the bottom. Bens fucking inferno.
So, Hell was real and made up of roughly the same if not the same geography described by the poet Dante. The bottom wasn't frozen after all. That was fucked up, but what was worse was that I could see the ceiling. Yeah, instead of black space or stars or whatever I saw a rocky ceiling, like the roof of a cave where stalagmites hung down like fangs in the mouth of the beast. Hell, maybe they were.
What did it mean? Was Hell in a cave? Was I actually under the Earth? If I dug straight up would I be in Jerusalem like in Inferno? No, that couldn't be right. My spell had half worked; I had separated myself from the material plane. This was another dimension, and aside from the books I had read and the stuff I was told in Sunday school, I really had no frame of reference from which to try and understand the place. No way to wrap my head around another world where none of the rules of my own applied.
I needed to get out of the open. I turned and surveyed my immediate surroundings. Behind me was about a hundred feet of rocky coastline that ended at an obsidian wall that wrapped around the circle. Set into the wall was an archway, beyond which I could see only blackness.
I approached the archway. I had no idea what was on the other side, but I also had nowhere else to go. Even after I was right in front of it, I couldn't see inside. It was just too damn dark. I reached out a hand to make sure it wasn't just part of the wall. Sure enough, my hand moved into open space.
As much as I needed to get out of the open, I wasn't willing to stumble blindly into the mouth of the beast. I dug in my pocket for my keys. On my key chain was a red plastic light saber I had pulled out of a cereal box. I took the saber off of the keychain and snapped off the blade; underneath was a tiny light bulb. I pressed the button on the side and a pencil-thin beam of light shot from the end of the toy. Not much of a torch, but it would have to do.
I aimed the beam through the archway. The light struck the darkness and vanished. It didn't even begin to illuminate that space; in fact, I'm pretty sure it got darker. It was like the light was just being swallowed up by shadow.
"Fuck that," I said a little louder then I should have. There was no force on Earth or heaven that would get me into that… Hell cave.
I turned back towards the lake, not really sure where to go next. That was when I saw my first demon. It was big- like really big, fucking humongous. It had a broad, muscular body covered in red scales, goat-like legs, and a bull's head with massive horns and shaggy black hair. It was flying over the lake on a set of massive, membranous wings.
I stood there dumbfounded; too scared to run, too fascinated to look away. I watched as the demon swooped over Lake Friday, scanning the writhing masses. There was something familiar about it. A moment later it was joined by two more bull-faced bat-fuckers who swooped down from the circle above.
The first dropped into the fire and came up holding a human woman in his claws. She was shrieking as he tossed her into the air over the lake where she was caught by one of the new arrivals. It held her by one arm, allowing her to dangle over the pit. She screamed and squirmed as he held her there for the others in the fire to see.
I suddenly realized that these creatures weren't just tormenting this one human; they were using her to instill fear in the others. It wasn't enough that they were burning forever, they also had to know that things could still get worse. They had to have that constant anxiety hanging over their heads. Fear- it was like the icing on the Devil's birthday cake. Finally, the other newcomer swooped in and grabbed the woman by the other arm.
I knew what was coming and I didn't want to see it. I squeezed my eyes shut, but I could still hear it. There was a scream, then a pop, followed by a wet, sloshing sound like a water balloon to the ear. When I opened my eyes, the woman was gone and two of the demons where flying back towards the other circle. The third was staring down at me.
I turned and ran for the archway. I said there was no force on Earth or heaven that could get me into that cave; turns out there are a few forces in Hell that could. I barreled headlong into the blackness and…
"What the fuck? "
I found myself standing in what I could only describe as… a break room. Like, a really shitty break room. The floors were made from rusted metal grates, the walls were stained and moldy but otherwise it was a break room. There were plastic-topped tables surrounded by metal folding chairs, a couple of vending machines and a counter with a sink and a coffee maker.
I looked down. I was standing on a glowing, white tile marked with a pentagram. I had seen this before. Not in dreams or visions, not in the pages of some unholy grimoire, or during a dark rite, but in Doom. The video game. I swear to God, it was one of the teleporters from Doom! I must have played that game a million times. Speaking of games, I suddenly realized why I recognized that demon. It was Pit Fiend- Lord of Devils and Servant of Asmodeus from Dungeons and Dragons. Holy shit, it looked like it had been pulled right from the pages of the Monster Manual. What the literal Hell was going on here?
No sooner had I stepped off of the teleporter than the door to my left (the door marked with a little picture of a horned demon with the word 'men's room' written under it) opened and another demon stepped out. It was massive, with green scaly legs and a muscular body covered in thick brown hair. Its arms ended in two sets of writhing tentacles and most disturbing of all were its two baboon-like heads.
"Demogorgon!?" I asked aloud before I could stop myself. The bi-cranial ape turned to face me.
"What? Wait…Who the earth are you?"
I turned to run back to the teleport only to be stopped dead in my tracks. Pit Fiend had followed me, and was now standing on the pad staring down at me and wearing a dumbfounded expression on its face.
"Yo, Phil," called Demogorgon. "You seeing this shit?"
"I… I think so," replied the unholy terror apparently called Phil. "Is that… a human? Like, a live one?"
"I… I think it is… Oh God, how did it even get in here?"
"I don't know. I saw It near the Stygian Pit. At first,I thought one of the dammed had managed to claw their way out but It was wearing clothes and It has a heartbeat. Oh God! What are we going to do!?"
Phil took a couple of nervous steps back. Away from me. Like he was scared.
"Calm down, Phil! It's ok… It's going to be ok. I'm going to try and talk to It." Said demigorgon his twin heads speaking in turn.
He then turned his attention back to me. He swallowed hard, cleared his throat.
"Uh, Hello… human. I am Trevor the Tormenter. I'm uh… Assistant Manager of General Torment here on the eighth circle. Oh, and this is Phil. He's on the Disembowelment Board. Say Hello, Phil."
They were afraid, and once more, it seemed I was the thing they were afraid of. The demons… were afraid of me. What was it they called me? Not just human, but living human. Was it possible that these horrors only had power over the dead? I decided that maybe it was time I took control of the situation.
"Hey, guys. I'm Ben Friday. Nice to meet you."
"Uh… yeah," said Trevor, seeming to relax a little. "Nice to meet you, too. Always nice to meet a… living human."
"You seem a little nervous there, Trevor. you ok?"
"What? Nervous? No… No, I'm not… I'm cool, man. I'm good."
"I'm not!" Exclaimed Phil, who was actually shaking. "I'm fucking terrified! How… how did you get here? What do you want? What are you going to do to us?"
"Shut up, Phil!" Trevor shouted with some urgency.
"Do to you? Phil, come on. You're a big, scary demon. What could a little human like me possibly do to you?"
"Don't… Don't give me that." Phil stammered. "I work with the dammed souls of humans every day. I've read your files; I know the shit you people get up to when you're alive."
Suddenly it all made sense. These guys spend their entire lives managing the worst of the worst that humanity has to offer. Guys like Hitler, Dahmer and Manson. If they thought we were all just like those guys, then of course the last thing they would want is to see one of us running loose in their home.
"Just today," Phil continued, "I was tormenting the soul of Queen Mary."
"You mean Bloody Mary?" Trevor cut in. "Man, that chick burned more people at the stake than I have."
"Tell me about it."
"Ok, but you guys do torture people." I insisted.
The demons were silent for several moments. Finally, Trevor spoke up.
"Well… yeah. I suppose we do."
"You suppose you torture people?"
"Ok, yes, we do. But at least when we torment the souls of the dammed, we do it because it's our job!"
"Well yeah," started Phil, getting back into the conversation. "I mean, it's not like we enjoy this sort of thing. Not the way you humans do. It's just our job, it's why we were created."
"Why, I even find the whole business rather dull and tedious most of the time. Real nine-to-five slog, you know? Especially after you've been at it for a few thousand years."
"You humans though, the things you do to each other, usually just because you can… It makes my skin crawl."
"You have got to be kidding me. I just watched you pluck a woman out of a fire and dismember her."
"Yeah, I did do that; it's part of my routine. But you guys, what you do to each other can be way worse than anything we could think up."
"Ok. Ok." I said, putting up my hands. The two demons took a hesitant step back as though they expected me to start biting. "What we have here is a classic example of what we Earthlings call a sampling error."
"A what, now?"
"A sampling error. Look, it's like how on my world, in my country, a lot of people are afraid of immigrants right now. They turn on their TVs, and they see Fox News talking about all these different cases of immigrants committing violent crimes. Suddenly, they start thinking that all immigrants are violent criminals."
"Yeah, except it's all bullshit meant to push an agenda. People think immigrants are criminals because they aren't seeing all the immigrants that aren't criminals. In fact, immigrants are less likely to commit violent crimes than the people who are born in the country, but you'd never know that by watching the news. Because "immigrants are coming to steal our jobs and rape our women" makes for a better headline than "some people just suck"."
"So, you're saying that humans aren't so bad. That we only think they are because we only see the really bad ones."
"Exactly. See, Phil gets it."
"Yeah, ok, hu… I mean Ben," said Trevor. "Maybe not all humans are as bad as the ones we have here. Honestly, I wouldn't know. All I know about the souls I manage is what I read off of their rap sheets. Could be the rest of you are all saints, but that's not what I'm worried about right now. I'm worried about you. Who you are, why you're here, and what you plan to do."
"Well, guys, that's kind of a long story. Basically, I'm here by accident. I'm kind of a magician, you see. I cast a spell that was supposed to take me to Las Vegas and I wound up here instead. Now I'm just trying to get back home."
"Oh," said Trevor, letting out a sigh of relief. "That's not so bad. I thought maybe this was some sort of invasion or coup." The big demon chuckled. "But you say you didn't even mean to be here?"
"No, and I'd kind of like to get back so… There a way out of here?"
"None that I know of. We're more about keeping things in than letting things out. No, we'll have to take you to see Lu. He'll know how to handle this."
"Yeah, he's kind of the boss."
"Ok, so is he like the General Manager of Torment? "
"Oh no. That's Larry; this is way above his pay grade. No, we're taking you to the big boss, Lucifer Morningstar. He kind of runs the show down here."
Just like that, just when I felt like I had a handle on things, my blood ran cold. "The Devil. You're taking me to meet the Devil."
"The one and only." Phil winked.
Trevor made a show of ushering me toward the door. "Right this way…Human."