I was human once, mortal. I don't remember the name that I answered to then. It is of no importance now. I lived a drab, uneventful life. And yet I was content, happy even. I lost my dimly remembered parents in an accident when I was very young . Most of my childhood was spent being apathetically passed between foster homes. I had very few friends. Yet none of that bothered me. I was entirely appeased by my few meagre endowments. I lived alone for many years in a sub-standard apartment. I was in most respects a naive, idealistic fool; deluded by the vitality of youth and still enamoured by the sensations of new experience. Forgive my baroque tongue. It is simply the verbose style favoured by most of my consorts in the afterlife. Without intending to, I at some point adopted it as my own.
I was nineteen when I met her. Her name was Lilith. We were at the public library. I remember the musty scent of old literature: of tattered pages and inked thoughts. The fluorescent lights gave a pale hue to her skin and their imposing brilliance proved a mild irritation to my vision. Our eyes met across the room. At once I was entranced. Though I tried I could not seem to look away. She returned my stare for sometime; occasionally diverting her gaze with a flush of red, yet always raising it again.
Eventually I found the courage to approach her. With every agonizing step my tongue tangled. Practiced words dried upon my lips and left my mouth a cold, dead wind. She remained quietly by herself at a reading table near the library's entrance. The small expanse of beige carpet that stood between us seemed an impassable gauntlet. Yet I persisted. When I finally reached her, I stood in awkward silence like a mute idiot. My heart pounded upon my rib cage manically. Cold sweat trickled down my brow and palms. I turned to make a shameful retreat. She raised her head and smiled.
"Hi, I'm Lilith" she said musically and extended her hand. I took it with a little too much enthusiasm. I still remember the soft skin of her faultless palm and the way it contrasted with the coarse imperfection of my own. The following months were a blur of mirthful days bleeding through the barriers that divided us. We spent every free hour enwrapped in each other's company. We talked about everything. And I, like a fool, feel deeply and irrevocably in love with her.
Everything about Lilith enthralled me to the point of soft delirium. I found myself needing her company . Not a moment passed without thoughts of her invading my mind. I closed my eyes and saw only the reflection of her face against my eye lids. I was hopelessly afflicted with the brand of intense, obsessive love that I have come to understand many mortals experience in their lifetime.
When we were apart I felt a desolate loneliness: a dull pain that washed over me in waves and drowned me beneath the murky water. The solitude I once favoured became caustic and tiresome. The possibility of seeing her again sent an electric current of excitement surging through me. I began to hope and dream of a promising future: of red roses, white dresses and gleaming rings: of us entwined and entangled. Dull renditions of romantic songs that I once hated played incessantly through my head.
Until one night, no longer able to contain these feelings that assailed me, I resolved to tell her. I remember that night vividly. It is forever etched into my vision like the imprint of a sun that long ago shunned me. We sat together on the hood of my battered car in a small deserted park. Our eyes traced unnamed constellations across the star-lit sky. The scent of freshly cut grass and wet tarmac filled the air. A breeze softly stung our exposed skin like a wave of cupid's arrows. It lifted the tips of her dark hair to form a subtle halo. With my heart pounding fiercely I turned to her and spoke
"Yeah" she replied with a smile.
"I… I'm in love with you. Desperately and hopelessly in love with you"
The arrangement of lines on her face; the gaze of her eyes; the shape of her mouth, together they formed an unmistakable expression. It was horror and revulsion. I felt myself implode. The world around me disintegrated into a frenzy of aggravated ash. The grass seemed to wither into a sickly yellow blanket. The trees seemed to wilt and retract to the char of blackened limbs.
"Sorry. I'm sorry. I think you should take me home now" she said. Submissively I complied. The drive home was filled with an awful silence that thickened the air with tension.
I called her six times the next day, the phone seemingly fixed to my needy grip. Unable to ignore my annoying persistence , she eventually answered.
"Lilith! We need to talk"
"No we don't"
"Please, just give me a few minutes of your time," a few slow seconds of silence disrupted only by mild static passed. I waited impatiently.
"Fine, but make it quick"
"Okay, listen. I'm really sorry about what happened last night. It was a mistake. I know that now and I understand that you don't feel the same way. Do you think we could just forget it ever happened and continue to be friends?" another painfully quiet moment stretched between us. I held my breath on the other end of the receiver. I waited for the sound of her disembodied voice. The clock on my apartment wall seemed to tick with unprecedented volume. It taunted me with suspense. Eventually she spoke
"Look, I'm sorry, I am. But now I know how you feel about me I just… There just isn't a place for you in my life anymore. Please don't call me again," she said and left me with the cruel repetition of a dial tone.
I cannot describe to you the misery I felt; it was insufferable. It was like a thousand living blades writhing through my torso, cutting though organ, bone and sinew as they slowly tore me apart from the inside out. Everything that I valued: everything that I wanted and desired, had been stripped away. Nothing left in the world retained even the slightest semblance of meaning.
I wallowed in this wretched state for six days, dangling by a single thread of sanity. Until I could no longer endure the pain. I did the only thing I could do: I used the only reasonable method for alleviating my torment: I sold my soul. I cut the devil's number into my flesh with a kitchen knife and screamed his name.
"I'll make you a deal." I shouted "I will give you my soul if in exchange you release me from this suffering." I felt the warmth of breath against my ear.
"Done," a voice whispered. There was no elegantly penned contract to sign in blood, no kiss with a demon to seal my pact, no archaic ritual at a cross road. Just a whisper.
It rushed over me. It jolted up my spine and pricked every inch of my flesh. And then I was empty: delightfully numb. There was no misery, or pain, or regret, or doubt, or conscience, or feeling; just an endless expanse of vacant space. I felt at peace, like an infant cradled in the warm arms of his devoted mother.
That's when my apartment began to tremor. The light suspended from my ceiling swayed violently until the globe blew and descended in a rain of shattered glass. The room was left bathed in purple shadow and dim light from the window. I looked down. A crack spider-webbed across the linoleum. Only one appeared at first, and then another and another. Soon the floor took on the many lines and indents of an elderly man's face. For an instant I would have sworn I saw one of the larger rifts form the outline of a sadistic smile, filled with gleaming dentures. The floor then fell away piece by piece: inch by inch. Like a gaping mouth the abyss opened up to swallow me. I fell… I fell into hell.
For me it took on the appearance of a dilapidated hospital in a perpetual state of depravation and decay. The smell was of bile and death; of rotting meat and shit. The air was filled with a suffocating heat more potent than the inside of an industrial incinerator. The scorched beige walls were forever pealing like the petals on a wilting flower. The hospital was sparsely lit by the widely spaced flames of medieval torches. Their flickering cast a ballet of frightening shadows across the dirt floor. The desolate halls seemed to stretch on forever and were filled only with the echo of piercing screams. This sickly hospital hosted an endless series of rooms; each home to some horrific torture, the details of which even I hesitate to divulge.
Unlike most of those damned to the underworld I did not scream, or plead, or cry. Not a single tear ever graced my cheek or single complaint pass through my lips. This was much to the displeasure of the haunting eyes that burnt their impression into the contours of my back. There was simply nothing left to take from me.
I spent decades, perhaps centuries, in hell. Or so it seemed when there was no way of measuring time. I was horrendously tortured and I tortured others. I inflicted an equal, if not greater, amount of suffering as that which I endured. After an inordinate baptism of spilt blood I was allocated the status of "demon". This accursed rite was formerly exclusive only to fallen angels; I was the first of my kind. I was filled only with hate; pure and incorruptible. It did not distort my vision like human animosity. Instead it granted me perfect clarity and lifted the veil of love that once blinded me. I attained a measure of faultless sight that few will ever know. But, truth be told, this hatred was the only quality left for me to hold onto. It was the only trait pulling me through the chaos.
I became infamous in hell. My unholy name graced the jealous lips of every demon and the fearful cries of every damned soul. Upon my allocated lot of perdition I brought an impressive reign of terror and enmity. One day Lucifer looked upon me in awe. He appeared soon after, materialising from a haze of smoke and a flash of bright light. I was not the least bit impressed by his clever theatrics. I did not kneel in reverence, respect or fear as demons were expected to do in the presence of their dark father. He took my hand in his ghastly grip before speaking.
"My beloved son, you make a father very proud. The darkness in you is exceeded only by my own. I have a special task for you: an honour given only to my most valued acolytes. You will ascend from my infernal kingdom and re-enter the mortal world. You will be my instrument on earth: my right hand. You will cut a swath through the plague that is humanity and they will know suffering the like of which they can sparsely imagine. Do you agree to this task?"
At this point my former life had been exiled to the realm of distant memory. The fragile coil of my humanity had been stripped away and I had been remade into a terrifying monstrosity. I was the fearsome ghoul of horror stories that lurks in every lurid alley, behind every closet door and beneath every child's bed. I was the reason you fear the dark. I was the haste in your step, the tremble up your spine and the glance over your shoulder. I was hell embodied. Perhaps I was made into this by others, or perhaps by myself. It is of no importance now. In response to the devil's proposal I simply smiled and nodded.
Lucifer's cindered wings briefly fluttered. He looked upon me with the affectionate grin of angel's teeth. He waved his arm towards the roof and, like a magician's wand, it opened a window: a blurred portal to the world above. Its surface rippled like a pool of disturbed water. I looked through and gazed upon the earth. I saw humanity in all its horrifying glory: the war, the famine, the oppression, the hate, the intolerance, the corruption: all of its innumerable flaws. The world presented like a rotting apple: deceptively red on the surface but degraded and wrought with atrophy beneath. I was to be the worm that devoured it. I saw it for the sickly thing it was.
Yet in spite of this and what I was, some final undying spark suddenly shone upon me with blinding brilliance. I…
…Loved the world.
And I wanted, more than anything else, to save it.