That night I went to bed, figuring everything was going back to normal. But once I fell asleep, I woke up in Hell again.
I sat up on the floor of the cell again, my body was dripping with sweat again, my nose was filled with the smell of burning flesh again, and my wrists and ankles were in chains again.
What was this?
I sniffed and smelled a new smell near me—like a dinosaur had died or something. And when I looked, I saw the carcass of the demon I’d killed the last time I’d been in here. It was already rotting and giant beetle-looking flies the size of birds were eating through its rib cage. I wanted to vomit.
This was so gross.
I stood and walked to the gate to look outside. From what I could see, my cell was one of many other cells in a circle of cells and we were in some sort of arena. I could hear the other prisoners from where I was. Some were talking, some were screaming, and others were singing off-key. People were either getting entertained or tortured.
I figured I could either sit here and wait everything out or try to figure out what in the world was going on here. But the way these monster beetles were chowing through this dead demon gave me the heebie-jeebies and I didn’t wanna be around for when they finished their buffet and moved on to me. So I picked up my sword and started sawing away at the cell bars. It took a good half an hour to saw through three of them, but I eventually did and broke my way out. And when I did, I was immediately greeted by a demon who had apparently been keeping watch a few cells down.
“Get back in your cell,” he commanded me.
I was so confused for so many reasons. “So you guys can talk.”
“Get back in your cell,” he repeated.
Why was there a demon guarding the cells when there had been a demon inside mine? Were there ranks of demons? Had I just killed some low-life loser demon and this guy was a big-cheese on campus demon? Would I get a bigger boost of XP for killing this one?
“I’ve got some kind of, uh…” I looked back inside my cell. “…infestation. Can I get another cell or something?”
The demon pulled out his sword—a long, jagged, black blade—and walked up to me, swinging it at his side. I guessed there was no humor in Hell. But I also guessed that this was a dream so I figured I’d let him kill me so I’d wake up back on Earth.
I didn’t move and let him slash me across my chest. He was surprised that I let him attack me. And I was surprised by how much this freaking hurt. I dropped down to my knee and grabbed my chest, feeling the blood pour onto my fingers.
That really hurt. Like, seriously hurt. What if this wasn’t a dream? What if I let him kill me here and I ended up dying on Earth?
The demon got over his surprise and lifted his sword for another slash. But I lifted mine and blocked his before he could land his attack.
Well, I was glad that my powers were back again. We clashed swords and dueled all around the arena. And I had to say, he was a really good fighter. He wasn’t as big as the first demon, but he was a lot quicker and his slashes were a lot smoother. He managed to cut up my left leg real good and landed a few stabs in my right side. But I fought through the pain and managed to slip in a lot of good slices of my own.
We locked swords at one point and he growled into my face. “No one escapes the Great Divorce.”
“That was an awkward choice of words,” I said back. “Either you’re a serious C.S. Lewis fan or you’re a serious stalker.”
He broke the hold off and my sword went flying out of my hands. Now I was in trouble. Was I strong enough to take him in a fist fight? He came at me with rapid slashes, but I managed to dodge them, grabbed his wrist, and landed lightning quick jabs into his face.
Apparently, I was.
The other prisoners watched from their cells and started cheering me on. And eventually, even with the heat tearing my skin up, the smell burning my nose, and the chains weighing me down, I was able to grab my sword back up, pin him against a cell, and stab him through the heart.
A few prisoners cheered, but other ones went silent, like I’d just done something really wrong. But I didn’t care. I was just happy to be alive. I pulled my sword out of the demon’s chest and dropped down on my butt, breathing heavily. Then I flopped onto my side and before I knew it, I was falling asleep.
I woke up the next morning in my room again and confused again.
I checked my phone and saw that it was still 6:40 a.m. At least I wasn’t late for school this time. I rolled out of bed, rubbed the sleep out of my eyes, then headed towards the bathroom. But on my way there, I walked past my mirror and something caught my eyes.
I flicked the lights on and walked back to my reflection and my jaw dropped. Instead of a skinny kid in pajamas, there was a grown man in a ripped tunic with veins popping out of his biceps and wearing a dirty pair of ripped pants. His body was spotted with ash and dirt, he was dripping with sweat, his pecs were the size of half basketballs, his abs were chiseled like a sculpture, and he was holding a sword at his side. It was the same sword I had in Hell.
But that didn’t make sense.
I looked down at my hands and saw my regular, tiny, swordless hands I’d had my whole life. And I saw my black and white striped pajama pants and Amazing Spider-Man t-shirt covering my definitely-not-ripped-abless-body.
I looked back at the mirror and the demon-slayer Daniel looked back at me.
I grinned at him. So this was real.
And now that my reflection had crossed over, maybe my powers had crossed over too.
Photo cred: Chozley