|The Lowest Hell
© Gemma L. Holliday
I still find it hard to believe what happened that night; it's also hard to believe that it was almost ten years ago. Tempus fugit indeed. My love is standing over my shoulder reading as I write and informing me that I'm not starting this very well, as always, she's dead right. Well, let me try this again… My name is Tanith, I am normal, or so I always thought. Nothing special, no outstanding features, no wildly exciting life story. That is until All Hallow's Eve, ten years ago.
As always, the day started off normally enough, the air was cold and brusque. There was a heavy mist, which was slightly unusual for October, but I've always enjoyed walking through the swirling mists, so I paid it no attention as I strolled along the river with Cleo, my dog. It sounds so mundane, and it was, I did the same thing every day of the year, the only thing that separated this day from the rest was the feeling of being followed. I'm not a nervous person by nature; it's hard to be scared when you're over six and a half feet tall, built like a barn, and fully trained in the martial arts, yet there was something about the feeling that made me distinctly nervous that day. I was continuously turning my head, trying to catch a glimpse of who was following me, but all I ever saw was a fleeting image of a small black cat. Animals weren't something that scared me, and I wondered why this little cat was giving me the creeps. The feeling of being followed persisted until I returned to my front door, then was suddenly gone, and surprisingly, I felt like a chasm had been opened in my soul. As I turned slowly in a circle, searching for that silly cat, I felt an emptiness I had never experienced before. She was nowhere to be seen. Eventually, I managed to shrug the feeling off and carried on with my day. It was normal, boring, and really nothing to shout about. I worked as a software designer for a local, small company and I was good at it, but it wasn't until I had finished for the day that events really began to get interesting.
As I left work and headed for home the stars glittered in their rich, velvety bed and the clear autumnal sky was illuminated by the first, truly full moon I had seen in many a year. I was therefore surprised to see a dark cloud flitter across the moon, obscuring the vision. A sudden chill settled over my heart. I tried to shrug it off as the laughing children, who were out trick-or-treating with their swinging pumpkin lights prancing around me, jostling and knocking me in the process, but it was all in good spirits. On the whole, they were good kids so I didn't begrudge them their fun on this one night they were probably safest on the streets. The ghosts and beasties do indeed walk the night on All Hallow's Eve, but contrary to popular belief, they actually like children, and no, not to eat, for without the belief of children, they struggle to exist. My love reminds me that I'm digressing again.
All of a sudden, I felt a loneliness, which was completely alien to me. An ache so deep, I could feel tears falling from my eyes. Suddenly, and with absolute clarity I knew there was something wrong with my life, something missing that I needed. I stopped in the middle of the street, and just stared up at the uncaring sky, fighting the deep primal urge to scream out against my lot. Slowly, I crumpled to my knees, as deep soul wrenching sobs racked my soul.
I don't know how long I wept, but I was awakened from my stupor by a gentle hand on my shoulder. "Wherefore weepest thou?" The question was gently asked, yet the voice was harsh and the incongruity was not lost on me, even in my present state.
I shook my head softly, "I miss something vital to me." I didn't know why I answered the question as I did, and without even looking at the owner of the harsh voice, but it felt right to answer. Slowly I turned to look at the kindly fellow, and got the first real shock of the evening. He was as the foulest looking being I had ever seen. His skin was a sickly green colour, and so gnarled I wondered whether the costume was uncomfortable to wear, but then I noticed it undulate with his rippling muscles. It took a few minutes for the truth to sink in; the kindly fellow wasn't human at all. He was a goblin. I almost flew into a blind panic, and I think the goblin recognised this, for he quickly spoke again, keeping the same kindly intonations in his gravelly voice. "My Mistress wouldst speak with thee. Pri’thee, follow thou me?"
I fought back the panic with difficulty, reasoning that if the fellow had intended me harm, he would most certainly have done so before now. Slowly I nodded, not yet trusting my voice to speech. The little fellow seemed to dance on the spot with joy. I suspect he thought I would take more convincing. Perhaps if I hadn't been in shock I might have. It never ceases to amaze me how amenable one’s brain becomes, when it is preoccupied with its own questions, but I digress again.
I couldn’t remember ever being so frightened as I followed that little goblin through the deserted streets of the town, where I had spent most of my adult life. My guide was almost cute, he wasn't as repulsive as I'd been led to believe his kind would be by the Hollywood film industry. He had an odd bobbing gait; his head snaked from side to side as he sort of hopped along, looking curiously double-jointed. I fought to suppress the smile I felt threatening to escape for it was almost fond, and I had only just met the little guy.
I couldn't believe how quiet the streets were all of a sudden; the pavement glistened from an earlier rainfall and the mist that had shrouded the building all day. Our footfalls echoed loudly as we traversed the road littered with the debris of autumn, the multicoloured leaves scattered over the ground like a child's carelessly abandoned toys, the bright moon watching me like an unblinking eye, and the loamy smell stirring distant memories that were fighting to surface. Memories I was previously unaware even existed.
As we walked my fear slowly turned to calm, and the gentle breeze eddying around me soothed my nerves as it stirred the mist into a languid dance. The stillness of the night was beautiful, as the moon glinted tantalisingly through the mist. It was then I realised there was something different about where we were. The noise of modern living had been left far behind; I could no longer hear the distant blare of horns, the steady rumble of traffic or the throb of hundreds of bass stereo units. All I could hear was nature, the quiet rustle of the insects and nesting birds, the occasional soft hoot of a hunting owl, and the silent passing of the bats. It was also then I noticed the clarity of the night had fled before the shroud of mist. For the first time in years, I felt as if I had come home.
"Aye, Lady, thou hast returned." My guide's voice seemed softer somehow through the mist, and I knew for certain he was no threat. I still had no inkling as to who his mysterious mistress was, but I only had to follow him to find out.
"Lead on, my friend." I spoke in a hushed voice, unwilling to disturb the calm of the night.
"No need, Lady, thy destination awaits thee. There, through the gnarled oaks." He pointed out two ancient trees that had grown together at some point in their past and continued to intertwine, forming a natural archway, beyond which lay a beautiful little cottage. It looked like something out of old England, with its thatched roof and gently curving windows. I smiled softly as I gazed upon it; I'd always wanted to live in something exactly like it. Slowly, I walked up the path leading to the wooden front door. I was surprised to find the door swing sedately open at my touch, and homely warmth flooded out along with the softly flickering firelight.
"Tanith?" Her voice was as smooth as velvet and flowed out from within the house, enfolding me in its rich warmth, yet it was tinged with uncertainty.
"Aye" I was surprised to find my own voice confident and strong. I felt as though this was where I was meant to be, that I had always belonged there. I was confused and a little frightened, yet, I felt safe as I slowly stepped across the threshold.
She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen, and a curious mix between stranger and old friend. I was surprised to see tears standing in her eyes as she stood to greet me. I was even more surprised to feel tears coursing down my own face. "Do you not remember me?" she sounded heartbroken as she spoke. Numbly I shook my head and my heart broke as I watched her slowly crumple to the floor. In a heartbeat I was beside her. It all felt so familiar, yet I just couldn't penetrate the dense fog clouding my memory. Carefully, I pulled her into my arms. It felt so right, yet I could not remember. I don't know how long I held her in my arms, but slowly I felt her sobs ease and she raised her tear stained face towards me. "You don't remember any of it do you, my love?"
Slowly I found my voice. "No, I remember having no memories, feeling empty, feeling lost and hurt. I don't remember you, but I do know you."
"You don't know what or who you are?" Her voice cracked slightly as she asked me the question, desperation clearly expressed within her voice.
"We were cursed. You were granted freedom by virtue of our bond, a witch tried to summon you and became offended when you refused..." again, her voice broke and fresh tears cascaded down her pale cheeks. "She cursed us."
Gently, I enfolded the beauty beside me in a comforting embrace, yet I knew instinctively that it was not enough. Carefully I lifted her face towards me and gazed down into the most striking cerulean eyes I had ever seen. A soft smile settled over my face as I gazed upon the woman before me. I traced every line of that gorgeous face with my eyes before I gently leaned in to capture her lips in a soft kiss. I still don't remember which of us deepened that kiss first, but it soon escalated from soft into a stomach tingling intensity, which felt so right and honest. The only way I can describe what happened next is that I was suddenly engulfed in a searing white light, and my memories returned with blinding clarity. The next thing I consciously remember is waking up in her arms in her bed.
I remember it all now; it had been Hallowe'en almost fifty years ago that I had felt my summoning spell. I was one of the most powerful demons around, and was often called upon by people who didn't want to do anything for themselves. Most of them I ignored for they were simply not strong enough to hold me to their summons. Then I met the love of my existence, Freya. She had once been a human sorceress and when she passed over, she had taken up guardianship of the afterlife. I had been charged with aiding her for a while, and at some point in my duties, we had fallen deeply in love.
Freya then begged for my freedom, begged for me to be given the true choice as to whether I answered a summons or not, the chance to love her freely. And my masters granted me that boon, surrendering their rights over my soul. Thus I became a free being. I am a rarity, a completely free demon. I still did the odd task for my old masters, but I was no longer beholden to them. Then a witch summoned me, and I refused. She was furious, believing that I was compelled to comply, so she gave me an ultimatum. Serve her, or lose everything I held dear. Foolishly, I didn't believe her, and so found myself without memory or powers on the human plain of existence. Lost, alone, and hurt beyond endurance. I survived by living from day to day, until my love found me, and we beat the curse. I think we had some help though, truth be told. For my old masters don't like their omnipotence to be challenged, and the human witch had the temerity to do so, even going so far as to overturn one of their rulings.
My love stands behind me with a triumphantly wicked smirk playing on her lips as she thinks of the punishment meted out by my old masters. I must admit, I agree with her, the Lowest Hell is somewhat fitting. Yet, we have found one another again, and we have stronger wards cast upon us. So now all is well in our world once more. Slowly I lean backwards towards where I know my love is standing and tip my head backwards to taste her wonderfully soft lips once again. At last I am home.