In Hell, there is time to suffer for every lie you have ever told.
Adam’s lip curls into his sweetest half-smile my sister so admired.
“And who more than you, Matthew?”
I spit my blood in his face and laugh.
My cackle carries to sea on the hot wind. I am chafed back by Brad’s half-nelson, seeing the smelling piles of garbage that line the deck of The Ship. Footing lost, my boots slipping on the oil-slick planks run to ground. If it had wrecked anywhere, legends would have been told of the contents, poetry written of the loss of life; the settlers dead, the slaves destroyed. Though here, there is no story but violence, no romance but fire.
“This is for your own good,” Adam tells me so long down his nose, so sanctimoniously, so penitent.
“Someday,” I remind him, as it is my job to remind him, “You’ll realize this was always about how she loved me better.”
He unravels, and tugs the sleeves of his shirt. I forget when he started to dress like a man, but I know it was only to justify the hypocrisy of his actions. (Where a boy cannot, a man might.) He breaks open my lower jaw with his fist and I do not repent for him although I believe he would forgive me.
Brad tosses me to the planks because Adam said to (It did not have to be Adam, it could have been anyone because Brad is brainlessly compliant), and they leave me under the red sky in the cesspools of my ascendancy.
The Ship has been here forever, maybe carrying all you people to these shores to make your world; this being what you made with it. I cross the rotting body, that’s belly is a maw and exploded of its cargo along the docks. Massive, the Ship dwarfs the smeared and smoke-filled horizon under poisoned sun.
This world is one I know best. While most scurry by and keep eyes low and averted, I walk with the knowledge that all that can be taken from me has been lost once and sometimes twice before. I keep my back straight because I have been killed many times and still refuse to die.
Every window is broken in a splinter of a thought where someone once saw hope and watched it vanish again. Every window has been shattered with the fists of those who have tried to look beyond them. It is very dangerous and silly to look through the bars of your cage to see what freedoms lie beyond it.
My Family has killed me now four times, and this is where I return to. My sister once abandoned me here, in favor of the false powers of money and cock. She never understood that this war meant…
There is only surviving and not.
This is New York. This is Los Angeles. This is Des Moines. This is the place that beats in the heart of us. The streets are lined in squalor, the people are dying, the economy is your soul, the currency is everything you ever wanted to keep safe inside yourself, and the only prayers are for death.
In the center of the city, there is a stone tower that has been there for as long as the Ship. The stone steps are worn, as my feet have walked them many times. This is my home.
There is a game to be played. Do you see? There is a game to be played among us, among friends. It is your power or mine, your life or mine.
Once I stayed here for three years, watching my wife starve herself slowly to death. Shall we play again, Matthew?
Oh, yes, lets.
Once, the people I loved tossed me to Hell for crimes they committed twice over me. Shall we play again, Matthew?
Oh, yes, lets. And it happened a second time. Shall we play again, Matthew?
Center of the city,
Where all roads meet.
Waiting for you.
OH, YES, LETS. I have found the fountain of youth. Rock beats paper. I know how to grow back all you are cutting off of me. I am incapable of surrender, only suicide. I have found how to be made of your extenuous desires, your regrets, your audacious demands of me. I have found a way to fill you up with the thick honey of what you wanted from me, only to choke you with it after. I have found a way to creep within you quiet and live in silence until you finally sleep.
The only reality is someone else’s pain or yours. Someone else’s power or yours.
Hello again, Damned City. My name is Matthew Kettering, and I am your only survivor. Adam has murdered me to leave me here but has never come to understand that I am the Devil.
I am the prince of this place.
In the Tower, Eve cries in a ball on the circular floor of the single room. The open air washes her hair in yellows and reds. She is in her underwear, her legs gritty as they are covered in ash.
“Eve?” I ask her, hissing through my broken jaw and blinding pain. The sound of air sucking past my teeth terrifies her, and she cowers.
“No,” she begs me. “No, please. Stop. I want to go home.”
I see she has cut herself again, with shards of glass red-tipped by her feet. Her arms and legs are ribboned with incisions. She does not look up until I get close enough for her to feel my breath.
“It is only me,” I clench at her. “Matthew.”
“No,” she says. “No, Matthew is dead here.”
“I am not,” I tell her. “Look at me.”
She peeks at me through her fingers.
“I love you,” I tell her, and she curls toward me.
“Matthew,” she moans. “He said he didn’t love me. How could he not love me?”
I haven’t a clue who she means, but that does not matter. I tell her the truth, as I have always promised to do.
“No… one. Loves you. But me.”