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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/1651379-The-Painting
by n dru
Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Dark · #1651379
Short story about one man's struggle through Hell. Cliche, i know, but meh.
The Painting, by Andrew Williams

July 17th, 1910, England.

For the past 200 years, the area above the fireplace in the library at Waterston Manor has been inhabited by an old and terrifying force, a painting; The Eternal Night. The painting is of unknown origin, created by some nameless artist. In the centuries it has spent here, an accumulation of more than just household dust has found its way within the Eternal Night’s burnt-black frame.

James Kutuzov was standing in the entrance hall of Waterston Manor, staring up into the high wooden ceiling. It was night outside, and the full-moon was shining brightly through the huge tinted windows which illuminated the uppermost reaches of the Waterston household, giving the whole entrance hall a faint bluish-grey colour. A door creaked open about twenty feet ahead of him, causing his gaze to fall immediately over it. Flashlight held high, he approached the doorway keen-eyed and alert. The warped wooden door had been carved out from a lump of ancient driftwood, James wondered how it managed to still hold its form. Some unreadable text had been scrawled all over it, the same series of characters repeated hundreds of times. James recognised it to be early Norwegian - for he had studied ancient Norse poetry in university many years beforehand - but could not for the life of him translate it. The door was only ajar, yet the vacuous blackness of the room behind it sliced through the meagre opening and seemed to pull him towards it, challenging him to enter. A sudden noise behind him caused him to glance backwards towards the entrance door, it had slammed shut. ‘It has me now, I’m at its mercy.’ He thought, whilst shuddering in fear.

Putting all his weight on his left foot, James kicked the door open with his right, shining the flashlight inside as he did so. Dust from the top of the door’s frame drifted down and disturbed his vision for a second. Once the dust had cleared, James' eyes darted around the room, following the flashlight’s beam over rugged and broken terrain. Mound upon mound of old newspapers littered the floor. There was nothing else in the room, or at least that was how it appeared from his current perspective. Unsure of whether to step inside or not, he leaned through the doorway and looked left, shining the flashlight along the floor and wall as he did so. ‘Nothing but more papers…’ He turned to the right and repeated the same procedure.

A shiver shot straight from the top of his neck, right down his spine and ended up at the back of his legs, turning them to jelly. First, he noticed the fireplace: resembling something pulled straight out of the dark ages, a heavy scorched lump of black, poorly-cut marble. It was so low and wide that it could easily have been mistaken for an altar; had it been in the centre of the room rather than against the wall. Smoke billowed out of it, as if the chimney were blocked off causing the grey clouds to backfire into the room. However the fire wasn’t lit and he failed to smell anything burning, the only scents were that of mould and decay. The room was pitch-black aside from James' flashlight, so no matter how hard he tried, he could not find any logical explanation for the smoke’s pattern. It continued rising, as if it were being sucked into a vent or fan on the ceiling.

James stood for what seemed like millennia staring up into the bleak painting, trying to work out what he should do next. ‘No.’ His mind corrected him; ‘You know what to do, you’re just too afraid to do it.’ He bit down hard on his bottom lip until he tasted blood, then forced himself into the room. He walked cautiously to its centre, one step at a time, shining his flashlight at the floor as he did so and paying close attention so as not to trip or fall. He came to a stop in the centre of the room, the painting began to swing and sway in its chains; reaching for him. It hung directly above him now and he could feel its pull growing stronger and stronger, still with each fleeting moment.

‘I want my wife, I want Jess back.’ James spoke, and it shocked him. He was confused at the sound of his own voice and was embarrassed with realisation of how foolish he must look; standing on newspapers, talking to a painting. Moments passed and nothing changed, he began to grow restless and even considered leaving.

His flashlight grew hot and burned his hand - reflex made him throw it to the floor. It smashed and the light was extinguished, he was buried under blankets of darkness. James grinned as the door he used to enter the room was slammed shut. ‘Please Jess, forgive me.’ he prayed.

‘Greetings, James.’ The voice was cold and upon hearing it James lost all confidence he had retained - it felt like his spine had turned to ice. This was so far beyond goose-bumps. It had came from above him, from the painting.

‘Who goes there?’ James asked, through a broken voice.

‘My name is Legion: for we are many.’ It replied.

James' arms and legs were on fire, it seemed, for he burned whenever Legion spoke.

‘I came for my wife, I’ll do anything to have her back.’ James announced, biting his lips, awaiting the burn which was sure to accompany Legion’s reply to his statement. Moments passed, he almost thought it would not come. But then it did.

‘Those who fall unwillingly but retain a virtuous soul will ascend up into Heaven. Those who choose to fall - suicide cases such as your wife - are not caught by He-Who-Rules and enter Hell. You dare taint this holy place with your snivelling, filthy carcass, then go as far as to ask me to simply hand over what is mine by right?’

The burning sensation returned, coursing through his veins causing him to fall to his knees, wreathed in pain. Once the pain subsided he spoke, anxious to get this over with. ‘Please, I can’t leave her there. We have three children together, they need their mother more than anything. I’ll do whatever you wish’ he pleaded, getting up off his knees.

Then Legion’s tone changed, he really did have this man where he wanted him.

‘Would you murder to have her back?’

James’ response was cold and took almost no deliberation.

‘I’d slit King George’s throat while he prayed at Westminster Abbey, if need be.’

‘Well then, we offer you the chance to save your wife.’

Although it pained him still, his excitement and joy could not keep his tongue chained much longer: ‘Thank you so much, what must I do to see this happen?’

‘The painting is a doorway to my kingdom. Use it, wait for Archon, he will be expecting you. Bow to his every will, follow his orders exactly as he gives them. Do not deviate from or object to any command he issues to you, for if you do; I will take your children.’

James' face was whitewashed. Could he really put his children’s lives up as collateral against the Devil himself?

‘I need time…sorry, I’m just not sure if I’m ready to decide yet, it’s a hard decision to make. I love my children with all my heart, I couldn’t possibly….’

‘You wholly misapprehend the position you are in.’ The Devil barked, interrupting James mid-sentence. ‘We are Legion. Your wife is broken, your children and yourself could just as easily join her in the pit. You’re lucky I haven’t taken everything that is yours and cast you down for your wife to feast on for all of eternity. What are you failing to grasp about this?’

‘Sorry, my apologies.’ James began to bow, but stopped half-way as something triggered a thought in his head. ‘Wait, sorry, that’s ridiculous. No matter what you could have done to her, she would never even dream of such an abhorrent thing!’

‘We told you, We broke her. The damned will do anything if it means being spared for even a single day the torments inflicted upon them. See for yourself.’

Darkness still wrapped around him, but James instinctively knew to raise his hand. It was clutched by a cold, skeletal claw and he was pulled upwards into the deep, voided canvas of the painting. It was an incredible sensation, similar to diving underwater, but instead into a strange new substance. It felt as though he were rising through quicksand and would soon reach the surface, but the surface never came. It was cold here, cold and dead. He could hardly breathe at all, the air was so scarce. It felt old, as if it had been here since the beginning of time passing through the lungs of the uncountable damned. They came to a halt.

Despite the severity of the situation, James couldn’t help thinking of the children’s tale Alice in Wonderland. ‘I wonder how far down this rabbit hole goes…’ Legion relinquished his hold on James' arm, this shocked him, he had grown used to Legion’s grip and now, realising it was lighter than before, decided he would turn and observe the Devil’s appearance. James was shocked, this man looked normal and, in every way average. He wore a brown jacket with grey jeans and a white shirt. His hair was long though and, rugged. He said nothing at first, but pointed at a wardrobe-sized metallic box, a few hundred feet in front of them.

‘Once you have seen her, Archon will find and talk with you. Remember my words.’ Legion turned to face James, his eyes were voids. Jet black, they drew smoke into them like the painting did in Waterston Manor. James couldn’t take it anymore, his gaze faltered first and Legion departed. He then turned and ran towards the casket. Running was hard, all movement here was. It seemed as if he were heavier, as if gravity itself were stronger. This, coupled with the scarce supply of oxygen; made him regret the sudden burst of speed and his childlike excitement once he reached the casket; and collapsed unconscious over it.

Minutes later he regained consciousness, rubbing his eyes and standing over the metal box which encased his wife like a children’s doll in its packaging. The casket was thick and made of shredded iron. There were slashes all over it, random holes here-and-there and its entire left-side was covered in rust. Carefully, he ran his fingers around the handle of his wife’s tomb and opened it with caution. As light from outside filled the metal prison, it rested on his wife’s features.

His mind raced; ‘Jess! It’s her! It’s finally her.’ A smile seemed to ambush him as he saw her and it now controlled the entire width of his face. For the first time in over two months he was happy…But his smile soon departed as he noticed the first signs of torture. She lay motionless inside the metal coffin, scrunched up in a ball, hands covering her face. Cowering, expecting it to be someone wishing to cause her harm, it hurt him deeply to see her this way. Her clothes were much less than rags, they had been ripped and torn at so much she was practically naked. Her hair, once James' favourite of her features, was now mostly ruined and missing random patches, as if it had been torn out by a savage beast. She was thin now, too. Not only thin, but starved to a point were she should have died days ago. He could see bone. It was a wonder she could move at all, James suspected a sewer rat would have more meat on it than she currently did. There were scars, too; scattered all over her body - deep and black they were, James envisioned demons ripping her apart with their claws and then using dark magic to rebuild her body from the pieces. You can’t die to escape the pain of Hell, you’re trapped here to endure it day in, day out. There is no escape.

Being unable to just stand and stare at her in this shape for much longer, he stood over her, placing his hand on her head and began to whisper as softly as he could, while ordering his tears to not show his sadness to her: ‘Jess, it’s me, you’re safe now. Don’t worry, it’s James. You’re safe, I’m going to get you out of here. I love you.’

She came alive when she heard his voice and, slowly, lowered her hands from her face. James dropped to his knees and wrapped his arms around her, burying his head in her chest. He just couldn’t hold it any longer - he burst into tears when he saw that they had taken her eyes.

‘Jess, what have they…I don’t…I don’t know what to do.’ He managed to say through an onslaught of his own treacherous tears. She made a faint groaning noise, causing him to pick his head up off her chest and he wiped his eyes. Looking up again, he noticed that she was smiling, and it was a cruel, toothless smile which tore through him like a tank-shell through a cobweb.

‘I missss-seh-seh-seh-d yuh-yuh-you.’ Jess said, through broken speech. James' jaw dropped even further, her tongue had been sliced into shreds, it was now over five ripped pieces of flesh. He couldn’t cope. ‘Duh-duh-don’t leh dem…’ she began having a panic attack and couldn’t finish what she was trying to say. Her breathing became furiously fast-paced and she cupped her head in her hands again, and began rocking back and forth uncontrollably against the outside of the casket, groaning as she did so.

‘Jessie, you’re safe now. I’m here, you’re safe with me, I won’t hurt you. I’ll protect you. You’re safe now. I’ll get you out of here; I promise…What in blazes did they do this for? Jessie I am so sorry. I’ll get you out of here, don’t worry. Everything will be better soon, you’re safe now - you’re safe.’ James continued whispering soothing words into what little remained of her only surviving ear, with his arms wrapped around her, rubbing her lower back to help drive the sense of safety home.

Moments passed and Jess fell into a deep, relaxed sleep. However James decided to stay awake and remained holding her close; rubbing her twisted and broken back, his fingers felt the abnormal lumps and scars littered around her body whilst still whispering. Shock was still washing over him like a tidal wave, he truly didn’t know what to do. He hoped he hadn’t spoken a promise to her which he couldn’t keep. But he had her in his arms and that was good enough for now.

Hours passed and Hell grew a darker shade of rust-brown. James’ eyes grew heavy and he began to wonder whether Archon would show up at all. He had been commanded by Legion to talk to Jess and await Archon for further instructions; yet he wondered if he would have enough time for a few minutes rest before…

James awoke several hours later to the sound of drums on the horizon and a distant roar from a Hellish monster, growing nearer and nearer with each passing beat of the unholy percussion. The noise from the unseen creature disturbed Jess’ sleep. She awoke and sat up instantly when she realised what it was. Noticing that James’ arm was still around her she smiled, then shook her head and managed to mutter; ‘No good’ before leaning back into his chest and covering her one remaining ear with her free hand, so as to isolate herself from the oncoming scene.

Ten to fifteen minutes passed and the drums grew louder as the unholy cavalcade grew closer. James could now make out the shape of a wicked looking beast and its rider, leading a column of chained humans - the damned, and escorted by 40 or 50 armed soldiers of Hell. The beast looked like something straight out of a nightmare, a Hell-horse of monstrous build. Dark black was its colour, heavily armoured from head to tail with chain-mail forged from voided-steel. The horse itself was huge, comparable to an elephant in both size and shear muscle, but better formed, more stream-lined. Just as a champion horse ought to be. An odd sensation struck James as he watched the monster approaching. There was fear, obviously he was threatened by its ferocious appearance; but also, escape from the guilty feeling of admiration for such a unique creature seemed impossible, it was simply breathtakingly impressive. His emotions were weighing scales, with curiosity and excitement for the beast lifted high in the air by the heavy weight of fear. He couldn’t wait to get a closer look at the unholy beast…But not so much its rider, who was now within ten paces of the cowering forms of Jessie and himself.

The man atop the great horse held a long, metal staff with a banner attached to its sharp point. The banner was blood-red with a white, upside-down crucifix at its centre. The exact opposite of the ancient Templar Knights emblem used during the crusades in the middle-ages. He wore a red robe, with the same inverted white cross embroidered exquisitely on its reverse. He wore his robe hooded to conceal his facial features, James thought he preferred it this way, some things were better left unseen. Although now his imagination was free to run wild and he wasn’t sure if he liked where it was taking him. He thought up rotten flesh beneath the hood, tusks and bloodthirsty teeth, maggot-filled-crevices, a treacherous, snake-like tongue and the cold dead eyes of a man who had spent the past eon torturing and breaking people. He did not wish for their lifeless gaze to fall upon him, such an arduous burden would those icy spheres bring to his already laden shoulders.

‘Listen, mortal,’ The rider began with an air of command to his voice. ‘My name is Archon. Your wife is ruined, but she can be mended back to full health and returned to the surface-world with you, if you do as I say. If, however, you do not follow my commands as swiftly as possible, your children will be taken and mutilated far more abhorrently than your wife has had to suffer so far.’

James took a deep breath and looked down at Jessie, who was still covering her ear and burying her head in his chest. He had no other choice now, he would have to agree to Archon’s request. ‘What would you have me do?’ he gulped, expecting the worst, unable to do anything but wait for the storm to hit.

Archon lowered his hood and smiled. James was taken aback, the face he saw grinning in front of him was nothing similar to what he had imagined. The governor of Hell had deep blue eyes, short, stylish dark hair, perfect teeth and a charismatic smile - capable, he imagined, of charming the most heated of opponents into submission. He looked to be in his mid-twenties, but James knew this to be naught but a mendacious ploy. ‘Nothing in life is free,’ Archon began in a cooling, very precise voice. ‘So, in return for your wife you will deliver for us two souls. Simply burn the bodies alive in the fireplace at Waterston Manor. If you kill them first, their souls will go to purgatory. So they must be alive when you burn them to stop this from happening. The fireplace…no, the altar, will act as a gateway - transporting their souls to Hell. ’ Archon stopped speaking, awaiting James' response.

James looked at Jessie’s crippled form clinging onto his chest and sighed. He then looked to Archon and enquired ‘What if I refuse?’ Archon barked out a rough, insane laugh. ‘Then we’ll take your three children, James. We’ll have their souls instead.’ Knowing there was no other choice, he reluctantly accepted the deal with the Devil named Archon and bid his wife farewell. ‘I’ll see you soon, Jessie. I’ll be back for you before long, don’t worry. I’m coming back. I promise I won’t leave you here for much longer.’ Jessie grabbed his hand and began to groan woefully, in her distress.

‘I’m ready now, Archon. I’ll do what you want.’ James said, still holding Jessie. He embraced her tight and, kissed her forehead. ‘Got to go now, Jess. I’ll be back soon though, hang in there. I love you’

‘D-d-don’t leave me!’ She cried out, but James had already disappeared. Leaving only a cloud of smoke where he had been standing. In a few moments, maybe ten or twenty seconds, he would be spat out of The Eternal Night painting and land in an undignified lump on the newspaper-covered floor of Waterston Manor.

The transition from Hellish to Earthly oxygen was like a splash of water to James’ filthy face, it revitalised him. For a few moments he sat solemnly on the floor in Waterston Manor; embracing the fresh life that the air provided to his exhausted lungs. His thoughts were hectic and blurred, they crashed and collided within his mind like rocks in a meteor storm until he couldn’t take it any more, he had to act now. There was no time for deliberation of whether or not he’d have it in him to do the dreaded deed, his family depended on him to save them from eternal anguish and torment, he would not let them down.

The cold running down his spine and the shiver of his blood gushing through his veins gave away his fear, yet he was determined to fight the daunting urge to flee and decided he would persevere. Rising to his feet, James began the long walk out of Waterston Manor. As he approached the ancient library door, it creaked open of its own accord, as if some grim invisible man-servant was holding it for his master. He walked through it, smiling. ‘As you were, Jeeves,’ James’ face grew dull and lifeless, ‘I‘ll be seeing you soon’ he concluded, then continued walking and as predicted the library door closed shut behind him.

Overhead, outside of Waterston Manor, he could hear a storm raging; its monstrous fists of wind and rain pummelled the building’s ancient structure in an unstoppable onslaught of Mother Nature’s prominent power. From time to time there would be a crack of thunder or a bright flash of lightning. As he opened the main door and stood under its protective frame, James glared dismally into the foreboding night stretching out ahead of him. As he stepped out into the heavy downfall, there was a tremendous crack as heavy slate tiles fell from the rooftop and came crashing down at his feet. Deciding it was unsafe here, James began to sprint through the puddles and out into the bleak darkness of the night, heading for the quiet streets of Bridgestone village.

That’s when it hit him, the warm, un-earthly glow of the pub on the corner of South Waterston Street, the busiest public house in Bridgestone - The Rocky Hearth. It was inside this bar more than thirteen years ago, that he had first set eyes on Jessica. She was so bright and full of life back then, at the tender age of 22 her heart was whole; not yet had she been tainted by the cruelty of the universe and its wicked, godless inhabitants. Deciding he needed a drink to calm his nerves, James marched with waterlogged boots into the Rocky Hearth and gazed around the room. A dog raised its head and snapped its jaws, growling as he entered.

‘Shut that ruddy door, you’re letting the heat out.’ Some gruff voice aimed at James called out from across the room, the source of it was buried deep amongst a sea of men in tweed hats, waterproof trousers, warm fleeces and heavy overcoats. The thirty or so farmers in the pub all appeared to be in their late 40’s and all wore the same style of clothing. Several of them were drenched and dripping wet, warming themselves by the fire in the far corner of the room. Though most were sat around the bar in deep conversation with one-another or the barman.

‘Come on in, lad. Lets get something strong down your neck to warm you up some.’ With an out-stretched arm, the rosy-cheeked barman beckoned James towards him. He was only too keen to comply. As he made his way forward, the crowd of men moved aside to let him pass. His hat and heavy leather jacket had helped to keep the rain at bay and, thankfully - with the exception of his hands and legs - he could barely feel any wetness at all.

‘Thanks for the warm welcome, friend. It makes a nice change in these most dreary of days.’ James said, adjusting his jacket and taking a seat at the bar.

‘Aye, the weather is terrible,’ the barman nodded toward the large window next to the front door and James grunted in agreement. ‘But something tells me that it’s more than this cursed rain dampening your spirits.’

‘You’re right, friend. But please, just get me a bottle of vodka and I’ll be on my way.’ James glared almost pleadingly at the barman, for a while the pair just stared at one another. The barman, unsure of whether he would regret it, solemnly reached behind the bar and pulled out a bottle of Farmer’s Vodka and, blowing the dust off from it, stood it up on the bar.

‘That’ll be two shillings, sir.’ The barman presented his open hand in front of James, awaiting payment.

‘But the bottle says five’ Protested James, feeling somewhat ashamed that he was being treated as a charity case.

‘I know it does, friend. But it looks like you need this more right now than I need those extra three’ With a gruff laugh the barman smiled as James handed him the two coins and slapped him on the back heartily. ‘I’ll be seeing you here more often hopefully, take care of yourself mate.’

‘Aye friend, you have shown me much kindness, yet you don’t even know me. Such a rare occurrence in today’s turbulent times.’ James rose off his chair and placed the bottle in his inside jacket pocket. ‘For your generosity I thank you, take care.’ The two men shook hands and James made his way through the crowded room and out into the unrelenting storm that continued to reign outside.

Downing one third of the bottle, he fastened the top and put it back firmly into his jacket. ‘Come on, come on.’ he spoke out loud through grinding teeth, looking towards the night sky as nature continued beating down on him with tireless fists of water and wind. He walked around the muddy village for around five minutes until he reached a dark street he had strolled through as a child once, there were less lamps here, about twenty yards ahead of him, James could see the dark black outline of a man leaning against one of the lampposts with his hood up over his head.

As James drew closer to the lamppost, the hooded man noticed his presence and walked out to cut him off and deny him passage. James noted this movement and brought the bottle out of his pocket and began to swig the rest of it off. As he drank, the hooded figure had made his way to him and now stood a few steps in front of James and soon began to speak. ‘Hey mate, you got the time?’ James pulled a solid-silver watch out of his front pocket, ‘Yeah, hold on,’ James struggled in his drunken state and blurry vision to read the time, but eventually continued. ‘It’s twelve-fifty…’ but was soon cut off as the hooded figure sent a fist flying his way. James took it to the chin, he was expecting conflict to occur but in his drunken state his reaction time had severely depleted; thankfully however, the opposite had occurred to his pain threshold and the blow seemed to be as that of a child.

Retaliating haphazardly, James sent two drunken fists sprawling into his attacker, sending him crashing to the floor, landing in a muddy pool of water which had amassed in the deserted road. Swigging the rest of the bottle of vodka, James smashed it against the wall and lunged at the man, holding it menacingly against his shivering neck. ‘Right you horrible parasite, you’re coming with me, alright?’ The man looked like he still had some fight left in him, so James applied more pressure on the bottle and forced it harder into the man’s neck, just slight enough to draw blood. ‘I’m not going anywhere mate, you’ll kill me no matter what I do!’ the man wailed and spat blood aimed at James. Picking up a loose cobblestone from the ground near his left hand, James shook his head, ‘Wrong answer, mate.’ he said with disappointment as he sent the fist-sized stone hard into the man’s temple, causing him to slip into unconsciousness. James then proceeded to bash the man’s arms and legs until he heard them crack and buckle as they broke.

‘God forgive me’ he muttered as he lifted the unmoving and broken wreck over his shoulders. Then James began the long walk back to Waterston Manor. His journey back to the painting was, not including the four or five times he had lost his grip and sent the man splashing to the floor, thankfully without incident. The rain had softened now and only a slight drizzle diluted the air, though the night still retained its skeletal, Legion-like grip on England.

The manor struck a daunting sight; perched atop a hill with a full-moon shining eerily overhead, silhouetting the building’s highest black spire, like a ring of ice levitating above the Antichrist’s horned head. Heaving the almost lifeless body of the un-named man up the muddy path and through the open hallway, James approached the library door and stopped momentarily outside to recoup his energy and think through his unholy deal.

Moments passed, and finally the man regained consciousness. ‘Ahhhhhhh!’ He screamed out while writhing on the floor in agony. ‘What have you done to me!?’ James wasn’t going to reply at first, but the pleading and hurt look in the man’s eyes triggered the last drops of conscience remaining in him, and so he told him of the painting, his wife and of the deal he had made with the governor of Hell. ‘Ironic really, you attempted to attack and steal from me,’ James kicked him lightly with his foot, ‘I guess just this one time, somebody else got the drop on you.’

‘You’re insane, let me leave!’ begged the man. James only shook his head in reply, and then picked the man up over his shoulders and kicked open the library room door. The Eternal Night glowed with a somewhat pseudo-holy light. When he previously saw it, the painting was as black as the space between stars, but now it shone an eerie white light into the room, illuminating it slightly, but just enough to allow James to meander his way through the piles of newspapers and assorted junk, and make his way toward the painting.

When James reached the centre of the room, he dropped the man in a heap on the floor. As would be expected, the man never complained, he just stared open-mouthed at the painting hanging above him.

‘Legion! I’m back with my side of the deal.’ James called out toward the painting. Moments passed, then that same icy voice he had first heard what seemed like a lifetime ago, replied.

‘The deal was for two.’

Legion’s voice hurt the man, it was obvious, for he screamed out and wriggled about on the floor. However, for some unknown reason, it no longer had any effect on James. He could not feel its icy-burn surging through his body, this bolstered his confidence and gave him the courage to press on, he was so close to saving Jessica from that wicked place, excitement and eagerness would make him a fool here. He had to remember who he was dealing with, and that any false words or movements would blow the whole unholy agreement.

‘Take this man now, I will present you with the other when Jess is safely back on Earth and in full health.’ He said with a cool and concise tone, hoping that he had not made a bad move.

‘As you wish.’ Replied Legion, again his voice not even tickling James but devastating the wounded man. Then, Legion’s black skeletal arm reached down from the painting, it was longer than James had remembered, almost seven foot in length, and it managed to reach right the way to the floor. As it gripped the man offered to it, he screamed out ‘No, please! I’ll do anything!’

‘Silence.’ Whispered Legion as he tossed the screaming man to James’ feet. ‘I’m sorry’ whispered James to the man as he dragged him roughly towards the fireplace and held him in place. The man’s voice broke as his body was engulfed by the flames and he managed to scream out, cursing James with his last breath before being taken, along with Legion, into the void. James waited.

It was two hours later when finally something happened, the sun was rising outside and the room was filled with a soothing, orange ambient glow. James had grown drowsy, and it was hard for him to stay awake. Just as he closed his eyes for a few moments, a massive thunder-crack followed by a light thud awoke him out of his sleep-like state and he was fully revitalised. Standing in front of him, with the warm glow of the morning sun behind her, was the angelic-figure of his wife, Jessica.

Tears filled his eyes and James could no longer hold back, nor did he want to. He ran straight towards her, arms outstretched, and fell into her. Wrapping his eager arms around her he hugged her tight as tears from his eyes stained her exquisitely white gown. For ten minutes the lovers embraced each other and kissed, and all the while words and sound failed both of them.

Then Legion’s skeletal hand swooped down out of the painting and wrapped itself around Jessica, lifting her into the air.

‘Our deal.’ Legion spoke, and James fell to the floor in agony. These two words had cut through him like a lance and left him pinned to the floor.

‘What deal?’ Questioned Jess in a distraught tone.

James burst into tears. ‘I’m sorry Jessica, I wont ever see you again…the children are with your mother. I love you.’ He then looked upwards into The Eternal Night and bellowed out his last words before stepping into the fire; resembling a mythical warrior, fighting to the death against certain defeat, ‘Legion, my soul is yours and our deal is complete. Release her.’

The End

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