"Through me the way into the suffering city. Through me the way into the eternal pain. Through me the way through the Lost People." Prepare yourself, gentle reader, for within this book, the angel Obadiah and his reluctant demon guide travel the length and breadth of Hell's nine circles and commune with 25 souls as part of a census of the damned. Angeline Hawkes, co-author of Night Wraith, brings her prodigious talents to bear on these twisted tales of sin and depravity. Bear witness to the fate of those who indulge in violence, greed, and other deadly sins throughout history. Abandon all hope, you who enter here!
|Publisher:||Elder Signs Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.40(d)|
About the Author
A 2006 Bram Stoker Award finalist, Angeline Hawkes has seen the publication of novels, novellas, collections, fiction in 40+ anthologies, and over 100 short fiction publications. Angeline often writes collaboratively with her husband, Christopher Fulbright.
Read an Excerpt
First Circle: Lack of Faith
OBADIAH STARED GRIMLY AT his escort, the demon Azubah. The guide wore a look that clearly said he'd much rather be doing other things than leading this angel through the circles of Hell.
"I'm really sorry for this inconvenience, Azubah, but Suriel is demanding this census. You know how the Celestial Order is: cross your t's and dot your i's."
Azubah trudged on with no response, the thud thud of his walking stick beating the packed earth of the path.
Obadiah frowned, not enjoying his assignment, or the blatant cold shoulder he was receiving from the demon. "At any rate, I've got a deadline of three days, so I won't be taking too much of your time."
"Hmph. Three days?"
The demon's guttural voice startled Obadiah from his random thoughts. He hadn't expected a reply. "I protested, of course, but Suriel reminded me that in three days, Christ was crucified, died and resurrected. He said surely I could record one meager sampling from each level of Hell in that time if our Lord could do so much more." Obadiah sighed.
"I understand your frustration. We hear the three days example a lot down here too."
Obadiah nodded, knowingly.
"We're almost there. Pick your specimen, ask only what you need, and then we'll depart. Lucifer wants you in and out with as little interruption as possible."
Obadiah entered the first circle. A field stretched as far as he could see, and in the distance cattle of bizarre origin loomed. A long line of souls drifted toward a castle. Sitting on a rock, watching the procession, a young boy, not more than eight years old, stared with hollow eyes, a smug expression on his face. Obadiah was surprised to behold a child in Hell. "That one," he said, pointing to the boy.
The demon's shrunken, black wings twitched on his back as he went to the boy. The child followed Azubah to the angel holding a book and quill.
"Who are you, child?" Obadiah asked.
"Don't know that I 'ave another name."
Obadiah looked him over from head to toe and sighed. "And for what offense are you here in Hell, so far from our maker?" Obadiah scratched at the blank page with his pen.
"I'm told, I 'ave no faith," the boy said. He sounded doubtful of his charge. "I don't believe a god can exist that allows a child to be abused as much as I was in life, short as it was."
"How old at the time of mortal death?"
"Six. Give or take a year. Don't remember ever 'earing my exact age." The boy sounded old, as only death could age him.
"Cause of death?"
"Lungs filled with coal dust. Slow and painful."
"You're looking at it, mate, though I do steal out from time to time to deliver a few souls to death when I get a chance. Women are the easiest. They always want to mother me, save me from my misery."
Obadiah stopped writing and looked at the boy. "I might have to put an end to that. Would you tell me your story?"
The boy yawned, stretched himself out against a rock, and shook his head in the negative. He stared out at the wandering line of souls with the obvious intent of not fulfilling the angel's request.
Azubah boxed his ear. "Willful child! His lack of faith chains him here, and to his place of death. He has many tales to tell, but I'll give you one."
FROM THE LIPS OF A CHILD
Clara wrung her hands, twisting the handkerchief into a wet knot. The child sitting before her was delicate, with tiny, bird-like bones, fragile like an expensive china doll in a shoppe window — yet, he was filthy and rugged from life. Smudged black from head to foot, the only patches of white flesh were those rubbed clean by his soot-smeared hand. For an English child, he seemed a bit unfamiliar with the bathing process.
He was old beyond his years, eyes sunk deep in the hollows of his face: a little coal-smudged skull dressed in a blackened suit of skin.
"And then what happened, Charlie?" Clara asked, as the little boy, not more than seven, suddenly grew silent.
Charlie looked at the little cottage, and back at Clara as if suddenly confused. "Where'd that 'ouse come from then?" He pointed to the rose-covered cottage with a skeletal-thin finger.
"Why, it's always been there. That was my Grand-mum's cottage up until the time of the Great War." Clara smiled, fondly remembering tea in cracked teacups painted with tiny blue flowers.
Charlie paced, a scowl cast over his little features. His babyness faded into the stern countenance of an old man, stooped and worried by the burdens of time. "There's nothing supposed to be there but a path leading toward town."
Clara grew puzzled by the boy's strange behavior. "Charlie, where's your mum?"
The boy sighed, and sat on the tree stump once more, a look of resigned determination set on his features. "Me mum died when I was little. I don't remember 'er face. Sometimes I 'ear 'er singing in me 'ead." Charlie smiled. "She used to kiss me on me 'ead and call me Charlieboy."
"What a sad thing. What of your father? Where's he?"
Charlie shrugged. "Don't think I 'ave one."
Clara pressed no further. What was she to do with this poor child?
"Don't make me go to the work'ouse, Miss Clara! James told me what they do to boys there!"
"Workhouse? What are you talking about, child?"
"James told me the sweeps'll come get me there."
"Sweeps?" Clara shook her head. Most of the homes around here bricked their fireplaces and converted to heaters of various sorts a long time ago.
"James once told me of a boy who got stuck in a chimney and died. 'is body stank so bad they looped a rope around 'is dead ankles and pulled 'im out in pieces!"
"Charlie!" Clara gasped.
"I'd rather be the trapper I am for the rest of me life than be caught by the sweeps!"
Trapper? "Charlie, do you mean to tell me you work in a mine?"
"Course I do. 'ow else you think I got so black?" He brushed a liberal amount of coal dust from his body.
"But, the mines have been closed for more than half a century. Tapped out."
Charlie laughed, a babyish giggle that immediately made Clara want to hold him to her bosom in a motherly embrace. And, yet this child seemed so — old. Poor motherless babe!
A glint flashed in the man-child's eye, as if he was remembering a very clever thing. He smiled a thin-lipped grin, soot cracking in the lines of mirth. Charlie stretched. "You don't realize 'ow bright the sun is until you're 'ere a bit." His voice trailed away.
"Charlie, would you like to come home with me for tea?" Clara asked, then turning to look at the cottage, "Or we could have a picnic here, if you'd like. I often come here when I want to be alone."
The boy studied her face. "Naw, you'll just try to clean me up and take me to church where some fat man will tell me all about 'ow god loves the little children. 'e don't love nobody. Especially not me. I'm bad, I am. I cuss as much as the rest of the men down there in the 'ole, and I pinch food every chance I get."
Clara's mouth was agape, shock permeating her being. This mere child sounded like a world-hardened man of sixty. "Jesus does love all the little children! And our Father loves us all as well! And besides, I hardly think pinching something to eat when you're hungry is going to make God not love you. You're just a little boy."
"Naw. 'e jest loves rich folks. James told me 'ow it all works."
Clara frowned. "Just who is this James? He knows quite a bit about things."
"James and me, we work the trap in the mine. We talk, whisper really, not allowed to talk, but it's really dark and I get scart."
"Charlie, I can help you."
"Won't 'elp none. James says it's either the trap or the work'ouse for orphans like us."
Clara reached for his little hand, but he jerked away before she could make contact. "I once had a little boy, but he grew up into a fine man and was killed in the war last year. Seems every generation a new war catches us. First the Great War, and now this one–"
"What war you talking about?"
Clara shook her head. "What war? Charlie, only the worst thing that ever happened to the world. Didn't you hear the planes? The bombs?"
"See, I told you god don't love no one."
"No, you're wrong. God had a greater plan for my son. He's walking in a beautiful garden in heaven right now."
Charlie bent over, laughing. "You believe that rot?" He leapt from the stump, came closer, and poked the air with a skinny finger. A sinister look crept over his visage and he spit as he snarled his words: "There's no god, lady."
Clara was horrified. Who was this little monster?
"If there was a god, me mum would be alive. I'd 'ave a father. Mr. Weatherby wouldn't bugger me arse before he give me my bread at night, and I wouldn't be damned to 'ell."
Clara's hand flew to her mouth. "Charlie!"
"It's true. Mr. Weatherby 'e says to me every night: Charlie, me boy, every man gots to pay the piper. Nothing in this world comes free. You want this 'ere bread and my pecker gots an itch that needs to be scratched. Now bend over and drop them britches and spread yer rosy little bum wide. 'e says that most every night. Sometimes I mouth the words as 'e says them. Just like clockwork that old bastard."
"My goodness, you poor boy!"
"Naw. Me arse has gotten used to it now. Besides, when yer 'ungry, you don't much think about anything else but puttin' food in yer belly."
Clara felt tears roll over her cheek. She dug around in her pocket for her handkerchief. "I'll go to the authorities over this, mark my words! Those are horrendous crimes, Charlie!" she whispered, voice raspy and choking from her sobs.
Charlie laughed. "What? You gonna tell the coppers? They won't bother with the likes of me. Throw me in the work'ouse is what they'll do. If they don't bugger me too. You see, that's how I know there's no god. There's nobody out there that 'elps a dirty, poor boy like me. You been 'anging around those rich folks that tell fairytales. That's all this god is: a fairytale."
"Charlie, you're so wrong. Come home with me. Let me show you that there's a god and that there are people who can love you and protect you."
"You jest want to give me a bath!" Charlie turned and ran toward a thicket of trees. "Gotta catch me first!"
She watched him go, then picked up her purse and ran after him. "Charlie!" She saw him head toward a deep pit, wood barriers fallen away with age and neglect. "Charlie!" Now she screamed, urgently concerned for the child's safety.
Charlie mockingly laughed and stepped over the pit. She lunged — losing her footing on the loose soil. The little boy disappeared in mid-air. Too late for Clara: she plunged, screaming, into the black maw of the earth, knowing she'd soon see her son — a good boy.
Second Circle: Lust
DISMALLY, OBADIAH FOLLOWED AZUBAH through the field and to a barren land. A great wind blew from every direction. He wrapped his wings around him protectively, clutching the book to his chest. "What is this place?"
Azubah held onto his walking stick as a gale force wind knocked him sideways, nearly colliding with the record keeper. "Second Circle. Those punished for the sins of Lust. Pick your subject quickly. I don't like the winds here."
Obadiah's brows rose at the demon's confession. The wretched souls around him were blown like autumn leaves on the wind. It was hard to see who was who in the whirlwind of dust and debris. A disturbed man in a silken robe blew before him like a fleshy tumbleweed, colorful silk flapping in tatters. "Him!"
Azubah opened his massive arms, catching the man in an embrace, holding him with all his strength lest the winds snatch him away. "Be quick! I don't know how long I can hold him!"
Obadiah rattled off his reasons and questions and held firm to his pen as the man unfurled his story.
FLESH OF MY FLESH
Pink blossoms flew like a rain of petals, stirred by a gentle breeze from the trees, dotting the old path. Fujiwara Kazuma had wandered to this grove alone to think on his brother's death, only to discover the path leading to a beautiful garden surrounding a stately shindenzukuri. Sitting among the shedding cherry trees, was a young woman strumming a biwa of inlaid wood and mother of pearl. She sang in a voice strong and clear, moving Fujiwara to tears with its beauty.
Fujiwara ducked behind a flowering bush and peered between the branches, watching the woman sing. She was exquisite. Perfect. Her kimono was arranged neatly around her, not a hair out of place, her beautifully painted lips mouthing the words of a sorrowful song. He listened for a while, wiping his eyes at the song's sad story. The more he stared at her, the more he burned with desire for her. He focused on the well of her throat, so delicate, so pure. To touch that flesh — his own flesh rose to the occasion and he parted his shitagi and grasped his swollen manhood. Careful not to shake the bush that hid him, he imagined her naked body, supple and inviting beneath him. She stood, gathering her biwa, right as he reached his solo climax. He gasped.
The woman, startled, looked from her biwa to see Fujiwara hiding in the bush, awkwardly fumbling with his shitagi, listening. Her eyes betrayed her fear.
"Don't be afraid. Play. Sing! Your voice is beautiful and your playing divine." Fujiwara sat on a bench, pulling his shitagi into place.
She lowered her eyes demurely, sat again, and politely resumed her song. Fujiwara's heart pounded against his ribs. His palms broke into a sweat. He felt light-headed. All of these things were due to his uncontrollable want for this woman. She was perfect in every way. He slipped to his knees and crept closer to her. She watched him, but continued singing. Just as Fujiwara thought he was close enough to embrace her, she leapt from her repose, clutching her instrument, and ran into the house. Fujiwara felt foolish, but his lust was insatiable and he burned with desire for the nameless woman.
The next day, and the next, he returned to listen to her singing. Sometimes he hid in the bushes and pleasured himself. Others he greeted her, and asked to sit on the bench in the yard and listen. In the process he learned her name was Marisaki Katsyori — and that she was unmarried. Immediately, he envisioned himself as her husband, watching himself caress her unblemished flesh.
As time passed, Marisaki let him kiss her, and Fujiwara's wooing continued until it grew cold outside in the garden, and the flowers were long gone. "My family has gone to visit friends; you could come inside so we could be warm," Marisaki said, sliding the door open toadmit Fujiwara. The poor girl was impeccably groomed and to leave her guest, cold, outside was almost as bad as inviting him inside without a chaperone. As Fujiwara didn't offer to leave, he left Marisaki with little choice but to admit him and close the door against the bitter winds.
She disappeared into the house and returned with a bamboo tray and a green porcelain tea set. Hand shaking, she set two teacups onto the low table between them, and poured the golden tea. She smiled shyly and made small talk. This was the first time they had been alone within the confines of a private building. Only the garden had seen their company previously. Marisaki looked nervously about her as if hoping her family would come through the door. Her wrist shook so violently she could barely get the cup to her lips.
"I make you nervous, being alone?" Fujiwara asked.
"Yes. It's inappropriate for us to drink tea without my mother or sister here with us."
"Why did you let me in then?" He seemed aggravated at her behavior.
"How could I allow you to remain in the cold outside? You didn't offer to leave my garden. What sort of daughter would I be to my father if he knew I had turned away a guest with such rudeness?"
Fujiwara laughed and set his cup on the table. He slipped his hand around her wrist. "You are not so young."
Marisaki recoiled at his touch. "Please!"
"I've kissed you once."
"I should not have let you do that. I'm a weak woman and in my weakness, I allowed you liberties you should not have had." She lowered her eyes, looking away.
Fujiwara put a finger beneath her chin, turning her face to him. "You are so beautiful. A face like porcelain painted by a master."
"Please, Fujiwara, we must not–" She attempted to wriggle her wrist from his grasp and jerked her head away from his hand. Fujiwara grabbed her delicate jawline with his hand. His face twisted into an angry expression, which evoked immediate fear from Marisaki's eyes.
"Must not — what?" Fujiwara prompted her to finish her statement.
"You must let me go."
"Must I?" he said. He used his other hand to jerk her kimono open, revealing the shift beneath. Marisaki fought his affront, pushing at his hands, and struggling to fix her clothes.
"Stop it!" She shouted now and tried to stand, but Fujiwara jerked her by the arm, pulling her back to her seated position. She threw herself onto the bamboo matting beneath them, and covered her face. Black smudges dribbled over her cheeks, smearing the white paint as she cried tears of shame.
Excerpted from "Inferno"
Copyright © 2017 Angeline Hawkes.
Excerpted by permission of Elder Signs Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
An Important Message to the Readers,
The Assignment: Obadiah Gets a Promotion,
First Circle: Lack of Faith,
Second Circle: Lust,
Third Circle: Gluttony,
Fourth Circle: Greed,
Fifth Circle: Wrath and Sloth,
Sixth Circle: Heretics,
Seventh Circle: Violence,
Eighth Circle: Sins of Fraud,
Ninth Circle: Traitors,
Satan And Those Who Have Commited The Ultimate Sin Occupy The Center Of Hell: Treachery Against God,