Challenge: Hell Inside

This one is based on a dream I had a long time ago. Honestly, some would call it a nightmare but I think I was too fascinated by everything I saw to be afraid, and in it, I found a valuable lesson. 

Here is...
Hell Inside

 
Elsie was thinking about hell again – not that she thought of it frequently. It was strictly an over-the-past-few-days kind of thing. No matter, all the thoughts eventually led back to the same place.
The people in Hell were the people stupid enough to fall into it.

She thought about all this while taking a smoke break out back. The kitchen was busy that night because it had been raining all day. Rainy days were tricky. Sometimes it kept people in, other times it drove them out. Either way, it meant extra work for her because the dim sum restaurant delivered.

The crisp, post-rain air was nice. She re-did her pony tail so the heavy dark locks were off her neck, and laid a dry piece of cardboard down so she could sit on the top of the concrete steps without getting wet.

Every time her thoughts looped around, she started to wonder whether or not she was in hell.
_________________
  
The rain picked up when she finished her shift near midnight. She thought it was going to tear holes straight through the umbrella – for all the good it was doing being hole-less. Within the first few steps, her pant legs were soaked through.  Normally, she’d take the main street home, but after a bus and a speeding car sent a tidal wave of dirty gutter water at her, she thought it would be a better idea to take the ally. It was a short cut anyway. She only avoided it because it was a terrifying, otherworldly place that never felt right.

She jogged fast as the wind and rain would let her. Just ahead, she thought she glimpsed a shadowed figure sweep into the alley. She hesitated, but only for a moment before running between the buildings. On the outside looking in, they alley was the same as any narrow space. There was a fire escape, small windows that no one bothered to open, a dumpster half way down where a wooden fence split the alley in half. It was easy enough to climb over thanks to the dumpster. Then again, everything looked ordinary from the outside looking in.

Once between the buildings, that ordinary appearance shifted. It was nothing she could pin down. Maybe the walls loomed in too much. Or, maybe, the shadows weren’t quite where they should have been. Sometimes there would be an odd reflection in one of the windows that made it look like someone was behind her or someone from inside was peering out but there was never anyone there.

It had the feeling of stepping through a door with a curtain over it. The rain fell lightly on the other side, most likely because of the closeness of the buildings, and the wind all but stopped. She was able to loosen the hold on her umbrella and lift it enough to assess the area. There was no one in the alley with her, but she could have sworn someone ran in before her.

She wanted to sprint for the fence but she forced herself to take one normal step at a time. Nothing good came out of giving in to fear. If something were watching her and she ran, it would only goad them into chasing.

She dropped the umbrella over the fence first. It was short enough where she could see to the other side if she stood on her toes. She climbed the dumpster and dropped.

There were times when she’d watch a movie and blink at just the right moment to miss a critical second which, without seeing, made the events happening a pile of confused gibberish. That’s how she felt when she landed. What was supposed to be the droopy mirror side of the alley, was instead the grand foyer of a rotting mansion. At the same time, all the sound stopped. No more car tires on wet streets. No more howling wind between buildings. No more rain pummeling the pavement.
She turned around but the wood fence was gone. Instead, it was a door – locked up tight. Her umbrella, at least, was where it should be; on the floor beside her rain boots.

After trying and failing to open the door, she turned back to the room.

A chandelier hung from a beam that was so warped and bent it might crack the second the wind blew. The carpet was decomposing. There was a place where stairs used to climb up to the second floor, but all that was left was the banister. Moonlight came in through the holes in the ceiling but there was something strange about it. It was too bright and at the same time, the intense light didn’t touch the inside of the mansion. The room was lined with nine closed doors on either side and the absolute silence persisted.

Strangest of all, she wasn’t afraid. In fact, an odd sort of comfort enveloped her despite the mildew on the walls and the give of the boards under her feet.

Despite that she should have been in the alley.

She walked down the long room trying door after door. All of them were locked. She was on the fifth one when, behind her, came a quiet sound. A cloaked figure stood under the chandelier. Cloaked wasn’t entirely true, but it was the closest she could come to describing the shape of the dark mist shaped there. It watched her. She knew this despite the figure having no face. She also knew it was the figure she watched run into the alley before her.

That urge to run came back, but it was sucked out of her like a strong wind passed through her and stole it.

The figure was making the sound. It was a rustling – the same rustling the wind would make through the tree next to her bedroom in the childhood home. It took her a while to realize the figure was making words out of that sound.

“—are – you – here?” More rustling she couldn’t understand. “—afraid. Doors – Watch – out – for –”

She stepped toward it, and the figure burst into mist and faded into air.

Empty again, and the quiet moved in like darkness did when a light was put out.

The figures words stayed in her head, but none of them made sense. What door? What was she supposed to watch out for? Having no answers – the fear that should be there still absent – she headed for the doors on the far side.

There was one that reminded her of her old bedroom. She tried the handle, and it turned. She pushed on it, and it opened.

A gust of decayed air was sucked into the small opening. A child was singing inside. Anyone who ever watched a horror movie in their life would turn around and run, but in the absence of fear was a
hungry sort of curiosity – an urgent need to find out how far she could go until it came back. So, she pushed the door wide. Only when it stopped moving did a dusty glass lamp flicker on in the back of the room.

Old fashioned was an understatement. Everything down to the desk was right out of the twenties. Despite the old d├ęcor, the photographs were of the early sixties. One of them was of a woman who looked vaguely like her mother. Elsie put it back on the desk when there was a loud thump from the large dressing chest beside her.

Like everything else, it was locked, but a quick sweep of the desk produced the key. Her mother had a similar chest in the attic at home. It was filled with clothes reeking like mothballs, tons of old photo albums, records, and strings of beads – possibly fake pearls. She expected the same, but what she got instead was a long drop similar to an empty well. When she leaned over she could smell the damp cold of the bottom and hear the emptiness echo.

 “Please, don’t make me go back in there,” said a small voice next to her.

Elsie almost jumped out of her skin. The little girl had straight black hair pushed back by a white headband and, in contrast to the old room, wore plain blue jeans and pink sandals with yellow flowers on them.

“You mean,” she pointed at the chest. Her heart still pounded.

The little girl nodded.

“I won’t make you go in there.”

Something in her eyes darkened and, in that small voice, she said, “Yes you will.”

The air in the chest started to whistle, growing louder and louder. The little girl started to scream, but when Elsie reached for her, she turned to dust and vanished into the trunk. It banged shut – locked.

Everything went silent again

Numb again.

She left the room, shutting the door behind her.

All the doors were unlocked. One by one she opened them up to behold the nightmares inside. There was a shriveled old lady in a room the size of a closet. Swords jutted out of the floors, the ceiling, and the walls. She was naked and impaled and still alive.

Elsie stepped inside, letting the door close slowly behind her.

“Hello?”

The old woman moaned and rocked her head, the only part of her unhindered by the swords. Her lips moved. No, no, they seemed to be saying. Despite the room being dark, a door was opened and through it spilled blinding light. She could hear the birds outside.

 “Do you need help?”

The old woman went on moaning, her lips forming the single no over and over. She could have taken herself from the swords and easily walked outside, but she wouldn’t. Maybe she couldn’t even see the door right under her nose.

Maybe Elsie was little more than a phantom to the old woman.

She left.

The door locked behind her.

A child sat in the middle of an empty room behind another door, numb, legs folded under him, engulfed in fire, shadowed figures shouting down on him.

Behind another, the walls were speakers where every imaginable noise and sound spilled through them in an endless torrent. The person there covered their ears, screaming and screaming without making a sound.

There was a ballerina on a turning stage in the shape on an old music box. The mechanism cranked and turned, the music began, and the ballerina raised to dance. Her body was fluid and serene, but her face – there was strain around her sunken eyes. There were no strings keeping her there, no chains on her dainty ankles, and yet over and over she raised and she danced the same dance to the same song whenever the mechanism cranked and turned no matter how badly she wanted to stop.

Every time she tried to explain to them how easy it was to leave.
Every time they wouldn’t hear her.
And, every time she shut the door behind her, it locked.
Ah, Elsie thought. This must be hell.

It wasn’t until she opened every door, witnessed every torture that, little by little, something began to fray inside her and it itched. Itched to thrash, scream, and sob. She stood in the middle of the room under the chandelier, her body relaxed, but the fraying happened faster and faster until, finally, her lips ticked, she brought her fists to her head, and screamed a scream buried in the depths of her being.

She screamed and screamed and screamed into the empty, rotting mansion, and didn’t stop until her breath ran out. Even after, the piercing sound of it rang in her ears.

“What is this place?” She turned round and round. No one was there. No one answered.
“I want to get out. I want to go home.”

She whirled, and there was the little girl in front of the open door, blinding light spilling around her.
Escape was simple as an open door. Before she could take a step, there was a loud cracking sound above and the chandelier crashed down. There was a flash of light, the rustling leaves, and everything went dark.
 ________________

Her jacket was soaked through, and the rain had tapered to a drizzle. The sun was coming up over the buildings, and her entire body ached. Elsie looked down at the puddle formed in her open umbrella, picked it up, and started walking home.

In every face she passed she saw the ballerina, the impaled old woman, the boy on fire, and much, much more.

Escaping was simple as walking through the door.
If only it were that easy to see.   

There you have it. This one took me a while to write (obviously) and to be honest, I'm still not satisfied, but here it is. For those of you interested in more of my work, you can check me out on Wattpad, and Booksie. I also have a twitter account @Elixssamrose.

Thank you for reading everyone. Until next time.

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