Read an Excerpt
By Edward Lee
Copyright © 2004
All right reserved.
The metropolis sprawls. The moon is black and the sky is the
color of de-oxygenated blood. Screams rip down streets and
through alleys, carried by malodorous winds. The people of
this place trudge the sidewalks back and forth, to home, to
work, to stores, etc., just as they do in any city. There's
only one dissimilarity.
In this city, the people are all dead.
* * *
What is this place? Cinny wondered. She lay in a stinking
alley, flat on her back as if dropped there. Cut-off jeans and
a holey t-shirt that read MOTORHEAD. A tiny tattoo on her
ankle affirmed NOWHERE LEFT TO GO BUT DOWN.
What am I doing here? she thought, but the thought speared her
mind like an ice-pick. She tried to think back, couldn't
remember. All she knew was this:
I'm in a city ...
It was too big for St. Pete, she knew. She turned tricks there
all the time, when Harley Mack was either in jail or too
strung out to deal ice. Cinny would do anything for Harley
Mack-and she had, literally, anything-because she knew the
only thing keeping them together was their mutual addiction to
crystal methamphetamine. Her eyes opened wider, and then she
shrieked when something chittered alongside. A rat-a big one.
She saw its shadow slip away into a pile of garbage. The
animal looked the size of apuppy.
Cinny tried to get up but couldn't yet. Her heart was beating
funny-it did that a lot lately, when she smoked too much
crystal at once-and her mind continued to reel, not just from
the toll the drug was taking on her but from her confusion.
Some john must've knocked her out; it happened all the time, a
hazard of her profession and one she'd long since learned to
live with. They were too cheap to fork over the twenty-five
bucks, so they'd just hit her in the head with a blackjack or
something, then dump her somewhere later. That must've been
what happened. Some trick jacked me out and dumped me here.
Where, exactly, was here?
She peered harder out the mouth of the alley, leaning up now
on her hands. No, she wasn't in St. Petersburg and she knew as
well that this couldn't be downtown Clearwater. This city was
too big for either of those. Tampa, she realized. Right now
Cinny was looking at some big buildings, and there were plenty
of those in Tampa. It just seemed a whole lot of trouble,
though. Why would a psycho john drive her all the way from St.
Pete to Tampa just to hurt her?
She thought back harder, her heart still beating funny,
beating slow. Then some memories began to emerge,
recollections that dashed her previous suspicions: Wait a
minute ... I wasn't turning tricks tonight. I was with Harley
Mack. We were breaking into that place it was a pharmacy or
clinic or something ... The memories continued to jell. Harley
Mack had gotten wind of a local medical clinic that had a lot
of Dilaudid and other synthetic smack stored in its pharmacy
vault. That kind of stuff went for big money on the street
these days, so he and Cinny had broken into the place ...
But that's all she could remember.
Gotta get up, gotta get out of here, she told herself. She'd
remember the rest in time; the actual events that had led to
her being in this stinky, rat-infested alley weren't important
right now. She had to find Harley Mack. She had to get up and
get going, and hitch a ride back home.
Get up, get up, get up! she was yelling at herself now, but
she was still so dizzy and racked out, any movement sent her
senses reeling. She sighed and lay back down against the slimy
pavement, tried to settle down and catch her breath.
Then she heard the sound.
A vigorous, wet smacking.
The sound emanated from her left side; she quickly turned her
"Who are you!" she shrieked when she saw the man sitting
He sat against the alley's wall, dressed in rags that reeked.
A homeless bum. He was loudly eating food and looking right at
her at the same time. Eventually he said, "My name is Edward
Teller." His yellowed eyes went briefly wide in some secret
enthusiasm. "Have you heard of me?"
Cinny squinted. God, he stinks! "No," she replied.
"You're not very well educated, are you?"
Cinny chose not to answer the ridiculous question. So what if
she actually had dropped out of school in the seventh grade?
Who was he to insult her? At least I'm not a stinky bum!
"I built the Fat Man with Oppenheimer," he said.
"Huh?" Cinny said.
"Then I invented the hydrogen bomb."
You're crazy, Cinny thought. She saw street people like this
all the time; they were all nuts, they were schizos.
Then he said, "Excuse me, my foot itches," and he pulled off a
corroded tennis shoe. The stench that wafted up was the worst
odor Cinny had ever encountered in her life. Her sinuses
seemed to swell shut. Clumps of something fell to the pavement
when he peeled off a sock; it took Cinny a moment to realize
what the chunks were: pieces of dead flesh, white as paraffin.
In fact most of the flesh on the bottom of his foot had peeled
off with the sock. Toenails yellow as a YIELD sign stuck out
inches long, out from under which grew parasitic green mold.
Cinny was reeling at the stench. "Put your shoe back on!"
"Oh, of course. You're new here. You're not acclimated to such
What did that mean? The smell was so awful it made her teary
eyed, like tear gas. "What city is this?" she tried to get
through to him. "Is this Tampa? I don't know where I am."
"It's not Tampa. It's the Mephistopolis."
Cinny peered at him again. "It's ... what?"
The bum shrugged. "You're dead. You died and went to hell."
Jeeze! she thought now. This guy really was crazy. But even
beyond the impossible abstraction, Cinny knew she wasn't a bad
person. She'd done things in her life that were bad but they
weren't her fault. The meth made her do those things.
Her mind trailed back. Sure, she'd helped Harley Mack set up
her first husband, Barny, but Barny had beaten her, he'd
nearly killed her a few times, so Cinny had slipped Harley
Mack the key to the trailer one night and he'd killed Barny
with a hub-cap mallet and made it look like a burglary. He'd
also killed the dog and Barny's mother, who'd happened to be
visiting; then there was the neighbor who'd seen him go into
the trailer-old Mrs. Hollis, who was, like, ninety or
something. Harley Mack had had to beat her head in too because
she was a potential witness.
But Cinny hadn't done those things, Harley Mack had, so why
would Cinny go to hell for his crimes? Turning thousands of
tricks wouldn't condemn her to hell, would it? There were
prostitutes in the Bible, at least that's what she'd heard.
And then there were her two babies. She'd sold them both for
meth money to an "adoption broker." He'd promised her that the
babies would go to good, wealthy parents who'd give them a
better life than Cinny could. It wasn't Cinny's fault that the
broker was lying and that he'd actually sold them to some
underground research lab where they did experiments with
infant brain tissue. The broker would go to hell, not me! she
It didn't matter anyway. She wasn't in hell, she was in Tampa,
and she had to find someplace to hitch a ride back home. She
could care less what this nutty old bum was saying.
This time Cinny made a concerted effort to get up. She tried
to put her feet down against the pavement-
Then she started screaming. By now her eyes had acclimated to
the alley's darkness and she could see why she couldn't stand
Both of her legs were gone from the knees down.
"Sorry," the bum said. "I couldn't help it."
He continued to eat, lips smacking. He was gnawing ravenously
on her left calf, like a big turkey leg. Her right calf and
most of the foot connected to it had been consumed to the
bone. It lay glistening beside the bum.
Cinny screamed so hard she saw stars, but in between the stars
two figures approached. They seemed hulking but quick, as if
homing in on her horror. Were their eyes alight through lids
like chisel-slits? She could make out no details, only the
most vague fragments of features. Heads like silhouettes of
anvils, with protrusions, like horns. Hooks for hands. Grins
akin to black holes full of nails. That was all she could see,
and all she needed to.
But it must be a nightmare: there were no people like this,
not really. It was all those years of meth that made her see
these things. They weren't monsters, they were just men, and
her mind was making her see the rest.
WOULD SOMEBODY PLEASE CALL THE POLICE!"
The chuckling rose. The bum remained where he sat, having just
finished the last morsels of his meal, and he calmly informed
her: "I hate to tell you this, but those two men are the
* * *
Hell is a city.
It stretches, literally, without end-a labyrinth of smoke and
waking nightmare. Just as endlessly, sewer grates belch flame
from the sulphur fires that have raged beneath the streets for
millennia. Clock towers spire in every district, by public
law, but their faces have no hands; time is not measured here
in seconds or hours but in atrocity and despair. In the center
of this morass of stone and smoke and butchery and horror
stands the 666-floor Mephisto Building, where Gargoyles prowl
the wind-blown ledges and from whose highest garrets the
innocent are hung from gibbets and left to rot for eons. The
lone occupant of the very top floor looks down upon his
dominion and smiles a smile that is brighter than a thousand
suns. Here, yes, everyone is dead yet everyone lives forever.
Welcome to the Mephistopolis.
Welcome to the city of Hell.
Excerpted from Infernal Angel
by Edward Lee
Copyright © 2004 by Edward Lee.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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