My heart pounded inside my chest as I smashed through the thickets of thorns and branches that ripped at my flesh, while unrelenting fear coiled in the pit of my stomach. Blood that wasn't mine tugged at my skin while the hot foul breath of the Demon pursuing me flashed at my back. His long, bony fingers reached out and wrapped themselves around my throat. Helplessly, I struggled against him as he threw me to the damp, hard ground and grasped my skull with his icy hands, crushing me. His claws slashed at my neck and face. He smiled, boring into my chest with his other hand, ripping apart bone and muscle to wrench my heart from its fortress. The dull gray of death covered my eyes, and at last I died.
I awoke, naked and shaking, in a huddled ball, dripping with sweat. The nightmare again abated, but it would not be the last time. In a dreamy stupor my eyes drifted across the floor to an empty bottle of Scotch lying on its side. Beside it was the photo of a woman I knew. I dragged my twisted arm from under my body, wriggled a finger atop the picture, and slowly, carefully, drew it towards me. "Manda," I groaned.
"She's abandoned you," The Demon taunted me. "Like all the others." Then, the Demon let out a hideous laugh. "But why, Nick? You seem genuinely surprised. How pathetic you are! How wretched! You poor, poor bastard. I do pity you. Do you want me to end your suffering? Shall I make it all go away? I can you know. I will. All you need do is submit and our original deal will stand. Just agree, Nickolaus, and all will be as it was before. Surrender now, and I'll be gracious and return the life of your befuddled and deluded friend, Tobias Alger." The Demon reached down his hand to me. "Go on, Nicky, take it...it's the only way."
I looked at his hand now no longer something cold and inhuman, but of flesh and blood...warm. The hand of a friend. Without conscious effort my hand inched toward his before I drew it back. "Go back to Hell, and leave me alone," I gasped
The Demon's eyes narrowed. He was disappointed, yet strangely pleased. With a wave of his hand the horde of demons that flanked us swarmed about me, thrashing and clawing at me as they finished the job of ripping me apart. When it was over, my body was a mere heap of flesh pulsing with blood and pus. The Demon laved my lips and face with his tongue and smiled. His jaws gleaming with hundreds of stained and jagged teeth, he bit into my breast, then slowly and deliberately consumed me with patient pleasure.
Hell is not what most people imagine it to be. It's not the cesspool of burning sulfur, draped in dense suffocating smoke, hidden away in some dark unearthly realm. Hell is more like a parasite. Once it's found you, it burrows deep inside your soul and makes it sick with rememberances of lost chances and missed opportunities. It tortures by reminding you things could have been different if you'd gone right instead of left, forgiven instead of punished. My Hell is to forever hear Alger's pleas for help and never arrive in time to save him. To see his brains splattered across the ground again and again. To relive the horror of what I did next, and know I'll never possess the capacity to aspire to anything greater than that. My Hell begins every time I close my eyes, and ends with a gasp not even death can comfort.