The ground is shaking beneath his car but that’s not what wakes Max up. It’s hot, dry, and nearing sunset, the complete opposite of the wooded, shady park he’d parked in this morning. The shaking is getting worse. Something flashes by the backseat window. Before he can turn to look, a woman wrenches open the passenger door and flings herself into the seat. She has close-cropped blonde hair and gazes at him with wide, hazel eyes.
“Why the fuck are you staring at me? Drive!” Her high pitch jolts him into action. He starts the car and hits the accelerator just as a huge black dog crests the hill in his rearview mirror. Five more quickly join it, all of them as big as foals. The shaking increases the closer they get.
Max presses the accelerator down to the floor, glad wherever he’s ended up has no other cars or pedestrians to deal with. Block after block of decrepit skyscrapers fly by. The dogs are gaining. The car begins to rattle fatally. They start losing speed.
“What’s going on? Why can’t you go faster?”
“I don’t know! A good cab driver always takes excellent care of their car!” His boss’s motto are the only words of explanation that come to his mind. The gas reads as full and none of the dash lights are on. They’re still slowing. The woman glances behind them, reaches over, and unbuckles his seatbelt.
“We’ve got to make a run for it.”
He brakes hard enough to throw them both forward, shifts into park, and hurries out the door without turning the car off. He tears after the woman, who leads him to what looks like a park. Hot breath gusts on the back of his thighs. Staying quick when the ground is shaking this much is impossible. He falls, his teeth clacking together painfully. There’s a thick tree branch nearby; he grabs it and barely makes it to his feet before the closest dog lunges. He dodges it, swinging the stick around to keep the other dogs away. Their eyes are redder than any flame he’s ever seen, the foam at their mouths doing nothing to hide their sharp teeth. They circle him as he circles them. Their growling gets louder as the woman appears at his side, sharp finials broken from the fence in her hands. The dogs charge.
Max spins away from one, and waves the stick, trying to engage them in a demented game of fetch. He’s never been able to kill a bug. He can’t hurt any of these dogs. The guilt at the idea is enough to make him pause for a moment even though another dog is heading right for him. He dimly registers the glow that’s emanating from his hands and feet before the woman drops a finial and plunges her hand into his abdomen. He can’t believe his eyes as her nails scrape against his innards. She withdraws her hand and throws whatever strange light she’s pulled from him as hard as she can. He sees a silvery ball arc through the air before he collapses.
He comes to as the woman rolls him over onto his back. The sky is hazy with flat clouds. The ground is hard and dry beneath him. Wherever he is, it’s in desperate need of rain. She slaps his cheeks. He looks toward her, her face slowly coming into focus. Her expression relaxes from worry to mild concern.
“My name is Brandy Sikes.” Her voice is deep, an unexpected contrast to her earlier shrieking. “Welcome to Hell.”
She takes his hands and pulls him into a sitting position. Brandy leans down, hands on her knees, staring at him.
“Where are we really? I was driving in a part of town I rarely visit.” His memory is fuzzy and the words come out even fuzzier. “I stopped in a park to take a nap during my break.”
She sighs. “I had a feeling you’d take it this way. Come on. Let’s get some food. Your soul doesn’t know it doesn’t have a body anymore and you’re in no state to get the answers you want when you’re low on energy.”
She moves to hoist him up by the armpits like a child but he scrambles to his feet. He has so many questions for this woman but can’t think of the words. He can’t think of anything, except for the aching hollowness in his gut. He plods after Brandy. They exit the park, cross the dirt road and start walking through the city. The sidewalks are cracked and chipped. Though there’s no breeze, the buildings moan and slightly sway as though caught up in an invisible tempest. None of the windows are intact, either partially or wholly blown out. Some of them are covered with cloth or cardboard but anyone who wanted could still see in. Brandy leads him across the road, around a corner, and down another sprawling street.
“Where is everyone?” Max asks. He does not mind quiet normally but this lack of any sound except their footsteps is eerie.
“They’re all inside. There’s no curfew but with the Hell hounds prowling during the day and the Four Horsemen roaming whenever they feel like it, no one ever wants to stay outside much.”
“Why do they keep such a close eye on everyone?”
Brandy climbs a wide stone staircase and opens a metal door with broken glass panes. They enter a dimly lit cafeteria-type restaurant. It is musty and muggy with the scent and heat of cooking food. The tray he takes from the stack is sticky to the touch; the tines of the fork and the blade of the knife he chooses are crusted with something unidentifiable. The hands that extend from the kitchen window to give him his plate are covered in open, oozing burns. Penne, broccoli, and chicken smothered with alfredo sauce stares up at him. There’s bread and salad baskets farther down the line but judging by how brown the lettuce is and how green the bread is, neither are a good idea. He grabs a bottle of water and sits at the first open seat he finds. Brandy sits across from him, a big bowl of what looks to be vegetable soup on her tray. He licks his lips, trying to find the right words for his questions.
“Take a few bites first,” Brandy says. “You’ll feel better, I promise.” He keeps his eyes on her as he picks up his fork and puts some penne in his mouth. The pasta is just how he hates it, soaking in olive oil and far too cold. He eats one forkful then another. Though he doesn’t feel better, eating reminds him that he has some form of a body. He stops chewing as the thought crosses his mind. His body has been easy to forget, even when fighting the dogs. And he didn’t feel winded afterward and didn’t ache from where he fell. Moving and falling like that would have him aching for days, normally. What was happening to him?
Brandy slurps her soup with loud smacks of her lips that Max finds disgusting. He takes a sip from his water bottle. Even the water is uncomfortably hot here. She looks at him, tilts her head to the side, and nods.
“Before you start asking me questions, I have one for you. What’s your name?”
“Max Van Olt.”
“I probably should have asked you that sooner, Max, but manners are the first things to go here.”
“Are we really in Hell?”
“Well I wouldn’t call this Paris or New York, would you?”
“How did I get here?”
“Starting off with an original one, aren’t we? You’re here because at some point today, you died. But I can’t answer as to what you did or didn’t do to get here.”
He tries to think back but his mind has gone foggy. “Those dogs from earlier, were they Hell hounds?”
“Yep. Don’t let the bastards get near you. They’ll do more than feast on your flesh.”
“What was it you took from me that got them away?”
Brandy lets her spoon fall back into her bowl and pushes it away. “You need to keep eating while I answer.” He complies.
“Actions linger, both in the world and in a person, right?” He nods. “Well, intentions and feelings linger, too. When you feel something keenly here, anything that could be called good, you start glowing. What were you thinking?”
“I didn’t want to hurt the dogs.”
“They would have torn such feelings from you and devoured them whole. Their teeth are incredibly sharp, trust me.”
She absently touches her stomach. He wants to ask but decides not to.
“How did you pull it out of me? Can anyone rip someone’s guts out in Hell?”
That makes her laugh. “No. Glowing makes you physically vulnerable, even though our bodies are an illusion. After you’re here a while and if you do something or think something good, it won’t be so easy to get it out of you. Because those good urges will become fewer and far between. The closer you are to your own death, the more your body and your mind retain their earthly characteristics. The longer time goes on, the more of yourself you’ll lose. That’s why I keep urging you to eat and drink. Soon you’ll always be hungry and thirsty, no matter how many meals you have.”
He glances down at the food he cannot make himself take another bite of. “I can’t say it would be much of a loss.”
“So why were the Hell hounds chasing you?”
“Why did they go running after your pearl? I was in a similar situation earlier but there was no one to pull mine out to distract them.”
“That’s what I call the glow when it comes out of someone’s body. It looks like a pearl to me.”
He nods. “So what pearl were the hounds after you for?”
Instead of answering him, she mumbles “Let’s go” and stands up. She leaves her tray, bowl, and water bottle there. It takes two trips for Max to put their things in the disposal area. By the time he’s outside, she’s a darker shadow moving down the street at a fast clip. The darkness has done nothing to lower the temperature, unsurprisingly. He slips off his thin rain jacket and chases after her. Once he catches up, they walk in silence until she opens the door of a huge skyscraper apartment building. With each flight of stairs they go up, he falls farther and farther behind.
“I thought Hell was supposed to have descending levels,” he calls out, making her laugh again. She’s already taken off her boots when he arrives and is clearing a space on the floor of her tiny room. All that’s in it is a sofa atop a threadbare rug.
“Take your shoes off, please.” He steps out of his shoes and closes the door.
“There’s no lock.”
“Of course there isn’t. There’s no privacy here no matter what you do. If we’re lucky we’ll be able to get a full night’s sleep without interruption.” She is hard to see by the glow of the faraway streetlight. She brushes past him and puts two bricks against the door. “That’s about as good as we can get. Now as to your question about my pearl.” They both sit. “The rarer something is, the more valuable and wanted it becomes, right? That’s why the hell hounds were chasing me. I’ve been keeping my pearl safe for a special journey.”
“Do the hounds sense the pearls?”
His eyes have adjusted to the dark enough that he can see her shrug. “I don’t know if they can sense them all the time. I built a land sled and I was trying to hitch them up to it. But I ran out of the meat I stole to bribe them with and something happened that caused me to glow. Then they started chasing me.”
“Trying to turn Hell hounds into sled dogs. That’s gutsy.”
She snorts. “Or stupid.”
“Where were you planning on going?”
“There’s a well, way off to the east. It’s supposed to be one place a soul can get to that connects Hell with Earth. I want to get my pearl down that well and on its way to her. Before I lose it.”
“My sister, Elly.”
Before he asks anything more, she stands and puts the cushion she was sitting on down on the floor.
“The bathroom and showers are down the hall on the left. Hopefully they’re working. I’m tired and I want to go to bed.”
Her voice has become harsh. He gets up and leaves the room to give her some privacy rather than because he needs to. When he returns, she’s curled up on the sofa, her back to him. He closes the door and replaces the bricks. He spreads his rain jacket on the rug and lays his head against the couch cushion. It’s comfortable enough, though his freshly washed face is already sticky with sweat. He wishes desperately for the gym shorts he usually sleeps in. Slept in. He settles for untucking his shirt, rolling up his pant legs, and taking off his belt. He isn’t comfortable with the idea of disrobing further since Brandy is sleeping in her black skinny jeans and t-shirt. He ignores the glow that emanates from him at those thoughts and tries to think of things that won’t beckon a pack of Hell hounds.
The first thing that comes to mind is that he was going to call his mother tonight. The image of her sitting next to her phone, muting the TV every few seconds just to make sure she hears his call strikes him through the heart. He hadn’t called her in a few weeks. Between working extra shifts to save up for a vacation to Japan in the summer and dates with Ava, his girlfriend, he’d been too busy. Now that he thinks about it, he’d made sure he was too busy to speak much for a long time now. Then Ilya, his brother, crosses his mind. He’d probably have to tell her, probably for the millionth time, that Max would call soon. Did they know he was gone? Were they crying for him right now? Would he be remembered as an uncaring son, an indifferent brother? He sobs tearlessly, wishing with everything in him, which doesn’t feel like much, that he hadn’t napped in his cab during his break.
The sofa squeaks and Brandy is beside him, trying to shimmy one of her arms under his shoulders. She lays her other arm across his collarbones, creating an embrace that’s more chokehold than hug. “My first night was awful too. They don’t get better, but they don’t get worse, either. And no, you don’t ever find out why you’re here.” There is no warmth in her voice. “You’re left to rethink and live it all over again and again in your mind.”
He sobs harder. She tightens her grip.
“It doesn’t get better, but it does help to have someone else there. I’m going to try to be there for you until I can’t anymore. Close your eyes and try to focus on nothing but the sound of your breath. Savor that sound because you won’t hear it before you know it.” It strikes him that though he can feel her breathing, he can’t hear it. What she said earlier about the body working differently here takes on a new depth. Is that why tears aren’t streaming down his face?
There’s a faint glow emanating from her as she makes shushing sounds in the back of her throat. He closes his eyes, the illumination creating an afterimage of her body against his eyelids. He tries to make it take the shape of Ava or Ilya or his mother. Instead, no matter how hard he tries, it twists into the image of a Hell hound prowling, unable to be satisfied until the light is extinguished.
Max is alone when he wakes. He sits up and groans, his back and shoulders aching. His jaws feel like they’re cemented together. Brandy comes through the door, not bothering to replace the bricks.
“I don’t suppose there’s any way I can scrounge up some new clothes?” His polo shirt is grimy and his legs are already sweating.
“Unfortunately not. There’s no clothing anywhere to steal. You’re stuck with whatever you were wearing at the end. Until you’ve served enough time to be moved closer to the city’s center, that is. I’ve heard that’s where the torments are supposed to be extremely bad. Apparently things get worse and worse and hotter and hotter the farther into the city you go until you get to the exact center. Then that is the absolute worst.”
“It’s not what. It’s who.” She sits on the arm of the sofa. “Satan is just called `The Boss` here. I’ve asked others what he’s like but no one ever wants to talk about him.”
“Probably for good reasons,” Max mumbles.
“I’m just curious as to how much people have got right about him over the years. They definitely got his dwelling place wrong.” She taps her toes against his. “But they did get someone right, or rather four someones right, and that’s how we’re going to get to that well.”
It takes him a moment to understand. “You aren’t seriously going to steal one of the horses of one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, are you?”
“And you’re going to help me,” she answers with a grin that can only be described as devilish.
“Why would I do that?”
“Because I won’t vouch for you when it’s discovered that you haven’t registered with them yet. That’ll earn you at least a week in prison and if you thought prisons were bad on Earth, they are six times as bad in Hell.”
Max considers, though he doesn’t feel he has much of a choice. Or much to lose. “Okay, I’ll help you.”
“Excellent. Here are your shoes.” She tosses them to him and hurries into her boots.
“You have to register when you get here?”
“And when you move farther in. You also have to pay taxes. They keep close tabs on everyone. I’ve heard it only gets worse when you’re assigned souls to torment.”
“Sounds like a lot of paperwork.”
“It’s Hell. Of course there’s lots of paperwork.”
They leave her apartment and head into the city, making a quick stop at the restaurant they’d eaten at the previous night. Breakfast had always been Max’s favorite meal but when he smells the thick, sulfuric smell of the eggs they’ve made, he settles for a piece of stale toast and another bottle of water. Brandy grabs a bruised apple, which turns out to be rotten when she bites into it. She slides a water bottle into her pocket and heads out. Max is glad not to have to sit in that smelly room, though outside is scarcely less hot.
He’s stunned by how flat and treeless it is here. There were the dead trees in the park yesterday but he hasn’t seen any other plants. There are no birds, squirrels, or even rats around either, which makes the city seem even more desolate and unreal. Things don’t grow in Hell, he supposes, they just exist and slowly desiccate.
“So each of the Four, that’s how they’re referred to, is in charge of a different outer quadrant of the city and all their residents. They each have their own skyscraper that houses their offices. The stables for our horseman are down the street from his building.”
“Which of the Four is in charge of us?”
“Famine.” She glances around as if to make sure they’re truly alone. They round a corner and find themselves face to face with an enormous horse. It is coal black and its eyes are milk white.
“Sikes! I thought I heard your dulcet tones. I was just setting out on my patrol.” The horse’s rider has a loud, booming voice to match his large, beefy physique.
“Famine, hello. I was just bringing a newcomer to the office.” Famine looks at Max. The horseman is bald with a bristly mustache and beard that obscures his deep-set frown.
“I wasn’t aware of any new arrivals. When did he get here?”
“It was nearly sunset. The office was closed.”
“I was Topside then, doing some work for The Boss.” Max’s stomach turns at the words work and Boss. “My patrol can wait awhile. Come with me, you two.”
“Actually, sir, I’ll head out. See you later, Max.”
Brandy hasn’t gone five steps before Famine spurs his horse and it bounds forward, knocking her to the ground. “That wasn’t a request for either of you,” Famine says, glancing at Max before looking down at Brandy. “He needs to register and we need to talk about your upcoming relocation.” He spurs his horse and thunders down the street. Max helps her up.
“Am I bleeding anywhere?”
“Because I’m so far gone I can’t feel pain. My body won’t last much longer, though.” She checks herself over just to be sure and they hurry down to the building that Famine has staked his horse outside of. “If you don’t see me after you finish registering, just forget everything I said, alright? Don’t try to get to the well without me. Promise me.”
“I promise,” Max parrots, though he doesn’t know if his promises mean anything anymore or if they ever did mean anything at all.
Off his horse, Famine is enormous, at least a foot taller than Max and twice as wide. He waits for them in front of the building and the three of them enter together. Brandy follows him with a bowed head to an office behind a long countertop of dark wood. There’s a line of at least ten people leading to the counter and it looks like there is only one person working.
“Excuse me, sir!” A woman behind a desk by the door is standing, looking at him. He steps over to her, relinquishing his place in line to the five people who’ve come in since he did. “You need to fill out your paperwork before you can get in line to file it and pay your fees.”
“I don’t have any money.”
She shoves a clipboard and a thick packet at him, along with a pen. “Money is what gets people here, not what we use here. It’s best not to lie on your forms. The tellers were trained to deal with humans before they fell. They’ll know.” She waves him away. Max looks around for a waiting area but he can’t find one so he stands by the door since that seems to be the place he’ll be most out of the way.
At first, the forms ask completely basic things. Name, date and country of birth, occupation. Then things get stranger. Max has to list any religious beliefs he’s held, his family, his friends, and any civic or charitable organizations he was involved in. His dreams, his secrets, his loves, his hates, his kinks; there is nothing they don’t want to know. Finally, Max reaches the last page, which is about the fees he’ll need to pay. There’s nothing about any form of payment. They just ask about the two most favorite days of his life. He leaves the pages blank. He gives the clipboard and pen back and gets in line. He keeps an eye on Famine’s office door for any sign of Brandy but it never opens.
The fallen angel behind the desk appears human. They don’t look up as they reach for the paperwork. Max feels like he should say something but he doesn’t. So he stands there, hands in his pockets, sweating. A huge eye in the angel’s forehead opens and stares at him.
“You did not specify which days we could take.” Another, smaller eye opens near their ear. “You leave the choice up to us, then. Our current tax rate is two of your best days per month. It may or may not go up depending on The Boss’s needs. You’ll want to stay still for this. We have ways of making you cooperate if you insist on being difficult.”
And with that, the angel lifts its head. The angel fell long ago but Max is falling into its eyes now. He falls past the sight of trees alight with sunshine, his mom clutching his hand as they waited at the airport gate. Ilya had gone on a trip overseas with a special student group. He had been gone three weeks, the longest he and Max had ever been separated. Max hadn’t wanted to hold his mother’s hand but he was secretly glad for her touch. He’d had a nightmare the previous night of the plane going down. Everything in him relaxed when he saw Ilya, exhausted and weighed down by his backpack, break into a grin and start running toward them.
His mind switched to a day he usually didn’t think about unless he was feeling down. It was his first job after finishing school. Though it didn’t pay much, he and the other new hires went out for dinner and drinks at the end of their first week. He didn’t remember much about that night’s conversation but he remembered Natalie’s eyes on him. She was pretty and whenever he looked at her, she was looking at him. He’d walked her to the bus stop that night, waiting with her and asking question after question just so he could hear her voice. The bus had whisked her away and he’d gone back to his apartment, floating on the hope of things that could be. The company announced the next Monday that they had to unexpectedly downsize. Though he and Natalie kept in touch for a while, nothing happened between them.
Max sees both of these days in their totality in the span of a few seconds. He can see his glowing reflection in the angel’s eyes. The angel thrusts its hand forward and the glow vanishes. Max takes a deep breath, shivering in spite of the sweat on his skin, trying to ignore the ache in his stomach.
“You will need to return before the end of this month to pay your taxes. Today is the twenty-sixth. Those were just for your registration fees. You may go now.”
Max somehow gets his legs to work. He blinks quickly once he’s outside; the sun is punishingly bright. Famine’s horse is still there, munching its way through a nosebag. The sight is so normal yet so odd that Max fights the strange urge to laugh. He wracks his brain for what they took from him. Where something solid had once been in his mind, there’s nothing but slippery, formless shadow now. He wishes he could march in there and take those things back, whatever they had been.
The doors swish open behind him and Brandy emerges. She glances around, grabs his hand, and pulls him toward the horse. He links his hands together to boost her up and does his best to hoist himself up after her. She leans down to unbuckle the nosebag, takes the reins, and kicks the horse’s sides and they’re off at a slow trot.
“Sikes! Get back here! We’re not through!” Famine thunders as he bolts from the office and chases after them. Brandy kicks the horse harder but it doesn’t pick up its pace.
“Help me, Max!”
He slaps the horse’s rump. The horse takes off at a full gallop just before Famine’s thick fingers reach for its tail. He lets out a frustrated yell and Brandy whoops joyously. Max isn’t sure which hurts his ears worse and tries to hold on as she steers their mount east. Sirens start blaring behind them as if armies of fire and police departments are chasing them. The horse doesn’t waver and keeps running.
The buildings gradually diminish in size and soon they’re riding through empty desert. The sirens stop and Brandy sags against him.
“Good. We’re out of Famine’s quadrant. He won’t be able to track us as easily.”
“How much farther?”
“Not much if I remember correctly.” She leans forward, squinting into the horizon. “Tim and I were almost there before they caught us. He’s the one who helped me find my feet when I first got here.”
“Every Dante needs a Virgil,” Max mutters. There’s the pow of a car backfiring behind them. He tightens his grip on her waist so he can turn to look. He can’t see the cars themselves but judging by the growing dust clouds, they aren’t that far. He slaps the horse’s rump again. It gallops even faster for a few minutes before it completely stops, almost throwing both of them off.
Brandy sucks in a deep breath, scrambling out of the saddle. She takes Max’s hand to help him down and doesn’t let go as they walk toward the well. The greenest grass Max has ever seen is soft under his shoes. A cool breeze stirs his hair. The sound of flowing water is enough to make him want to weep. Brandy is already crying.
“I’m sore from the ride and my hands and feet ache from fighting the hounds yesterday. I hate that I hurt those mangy mutts.” She turns and gives him a beatific grin. “I can feel pain again and I’m so hungry. It feels so good to feel both again.”
Max’s legs hurt, too, the pain much more pronounced than before. They both approach the well. There’s no winch and bucket or anything that could allow them to retrieve the water. All they can do is listen to its distant song, feel a hint of its humidity. But it’s enough to be here, with Brandy and the quiet and the coolness.
She turns to him. “You know what to do,” she says with a smile.
“Do you want me to throw it in for you?”
“I’d like to do it, if the pearl doesn’t vanish right away. This might be for nothing because there’s hardly anything of me left.”
His hand is still in hers; he squeezes. She lets go of him and closes her eyes. A beautiful glow emanates from her. He reaches into her belly just like she did to him only yesterday. The pearl that comes out in his hand is small but incredibly lustrous. She smiles at him and takes hold of it. She starts whispering into it. He catches the phrase “I should have told you I love you so much more often” and tunes her out, offering what privacy he can. He thinks of Ilya. Of his mom, still waiting for that phone call. He recalls his mother’s sixtieth birthday party. He and Ilya surprised her with a bouquet of roses and lilies and a baked Alaska liked their dad used to make for her. That was three years ago. It had been the last time they’d taken pictures together.
Reaching into his own body was strange but the sensation of removing the pearl was much more pleasant. Less like the theft of vital organ, more like sharing a piece of his heart. Either way, the pearl is no longer his.
“I don’t know if you’ll hear me in this,” he says softly. “But I want to say I’m sorry for such an abrupt end to our story. I’ve loved every minute of it and I love you both.”
The tears he wanted to shed last night make their appearance and though his gut twists with grief, it is the best feeling. He lowers his pearl between the well’s gray stones, takes six deep breaths, then lets go. It lights the way down the well before vanishing into the deep blue water. He wonders at the physics of this place, whether they are above or below the earth, but then he decides it does not matter. Brandy lowers hers in, blowing it a kiss after she lets go. They both straighten up, wiping their eyes and sniffling.
“You did it,” Max says.
“We did,” she replies.
“How do you feel?”
“I thought I’d feel empty. But instead I feel full. Like all my edges are filled in and a part of myself is finally home and won’t ever leave. Does that make sense?.”
Max smiles. “It does. I feel the same way.”
Their pursuers have started up the sirens again and they’re deafening. But the sound doesn’t faze them.
“I guess we better savor it. This is probably the last time we’ll feel this way.”
Max nods. He takes another deep breath, relishing every sensation he can, even the bad ones.
“Do you want to know what I’d like to feel one last time?” She asks.
“What?” He turns to her and she simply holds out her arms. He smiles and steps into her embrace. She’s warm now and he can hear her breathing. She squeezes his shoulders and he tentatively strokes her hair.
“It’s been an honor to be your Virgil, Max,” she whispers.
“I’m so thankful for you. Whatever happens, wherever they take you next, whenever I’ll forget how to feel anything at all, know that in this moment, there is someone who cares about you.”
“A moment in eternity is all we really have, isn’t it?”
The cars have arrived and Famine and the fallen angel from his office are screeching at them to leave the circle of grass around the well, where apparently they can’t enter. Famine’s fuming at that fact, swearing he’ll change it. Packs of Hell hounds surround them, barking and snarling. The horse paws the ground, whinnying its own protest. Famine shrieks that The Boss is on his way here and he’s not at all happy with them. Max and Brandy cling to each other for a few more seconds then walk forward together, holding hands for as long as they can.
Elizabeth Hoyle lives in southern West Virginia. Her fiction has been featured in Eunoia Review, Sledgehammer Lit, Seaborne Magazine, and other publications. Her poetry has been featured in Versification and Neuro Logical Literary Magazine, among other places. Find her on Twitter @ERHoyle or at elizabethhoyle.com.