Chapter 9: An angel, out of a thousand

In which a mistake is mistaken and two wrongs make a right.

It is dark, only a reddish glow illuminates the twisting stone corridors. He cannot say where that red light comes from; it seems to seep in from cracks in the walls. It has been this way since he first came to the outer corridors of Hell, infinitely long ago. There is no day or night, only the endlessly twisting and crossing corridors, and the hunt. He has never found out whether he is the hunter or the prey; but from time to time they come, the men. They have knives, and they always try to kill him. He didn't ask for them to come, he didn't ask to come here in the first place. But they don't care. So he hides in the dark, waits for them, and ambushes them. Sometimes he breaks their necks, sometimes he strangles them, or he just bashes their head against the hard stone until they stop moving. They slash at him, and sometimes he is hurt. But in the end he always kills them; sometimes with their own knife. He always make sure they are dead: Cutting their throat, stabbing their heart, cutting them open to pull out their entrails. But after a while the corpses have disappeared; or perhaps he has just entered a new part of the labyrinth -- it is impossible to tell. The dungeons of Hell go on and on. Forever, forever.

He is waiting. The waiting is the worst. To never know from which direction they will come this time. To never know how many or when. There is no sleep, no rest. Just the interminable waiting. Waiting. Waiting.

And then he senses something. Silently he turns his head. Someone is coming. But somehow this time it is different. And then he sees it: A glow, and it is growing. He presses his back against the wall, trying to fade into the irregular stone. He has never seen light down here before. It shines ever brighter, and then the source of the light comes into view. It is a young woman, holding a stone. The stone is shining brightly, it is about as large as her fist, and she holds it in both her outstretched hands. Somehow the glow from the stone seems to spread to her, suffusing her bones as if they too were made of crystal, and a glow from within her spreads outward through her body and skin and clothes. She walks in a pool of mild yellow-white radiance, as if the crystal stone contained a small fragment of the sun. She does not stop or turn her head at the intersections, but walks straight to where he is hiding. Except he is not really hiding anymore. Hiding would be pointless in this light, and besides she carries no weapon and no aura of danger. She stops three steps away from him, and he notices that the radiance from inside her makes it impossible to make out the features of her face. Then she speaks.

"Jon S. Rye? Demon of Hell?"

He nods. "What do you want from me?" The gruff words seems to be ripped from his mouth without a choice.

"I have a message for you." There is no fear or loathing in her voice, just a pleasant satisfaction that she has found him. Then she speaks again, in a tone of voice that clearly says she is reciting a message given her by another: "I am sorry, but you are going the wrong way. Return to the light."

"I don't know the way out of here."

"Follow me" she says, this time in her own voice again. She turns around and begins to walk. He starts to follow her, but she moves faster. She is not running, it is more like she is being carried away by a strong wind or current. Faster and faster, until she dwindles to a bright speck and is gone. The sudden hollowness in his soul is an unexpected agony and his cry dissolves the world.

In his bed, Jon sat bolt upright, is heart pounding. A dream! Just another dream, yet different. It had begun like so many other, but the end was completely unexpected. Of course, as the morning light cleared his mind, he remembered the reason. It was that strange and unexpected phone call last afternoon. Throwing his rumpled and twisted bed clothes aside, Jon got to his feet, the wooden floor cold against his soles. Looking through the wall of his bedroom he could see his home office, the computer and the phone. Gathering his mind, he lost himself to the familiar swirl of motion. Then he was there, beside his empty chair, looking down at the digits he had jotted down. It was a mobile phone number, so it could be from anywhere; private or business, he didn't know. He would never know, unless he called; and what would he say? If she had wanted him to know who called, she would have told him. But why did she first ask for him, then say she had called the wrong number? That made no sense... unless she expected him to recognize her voice. Even then it barely made sense, but clearly she had expected him to react in some different way.

He shook his head, bewildered. She must be someone he had known in this timeline, but he had no idea who she was or what kind of relationship they had. Business for sure; he would never form a personal relationship, not when his very touch put their soul in danger, and not when he had so much to hide from everyone. And she had ask for him by profession. And yet... it still made no sense. Perhaps he should just give up. But even in his dreams, she had followed him, her sweet gentle voice calling out to him through this nightmares. That did not sound like business to him.

He suddenly became aware of the freezing cold. The spring nights were still chilly, and his naked body was slick with sweat from the nightmare. Time for a shower, breakfast and the rest of an ordinary day.