TOPIC OF THIS CONTEST WAS:
Everybody else was driving south. Miles and miles of thousands of vehicles crawling, bumper to bumper, with many pulled over to the side. She grieved for the freezing people but she could not stop to help. She was the only person heading north on the freeway. Her chest tightened as she glanced at the small box she clenched in her hand. Miles and miles of empty lanes yet the snow kept getting heavier. Even with her snow tires, she didn’t know if she’d make in time for…
(Stories need only touch on this topic in some way to qualify.)
It was a sick joke.
It’ll happen when hell freezes over. Ha-ha!
The phrase repeated itself over and over in Salem’s mind. She couldn’t believe the audacity of the universe to allow such an idiotic prank to be played.
Hell was literally beginning to freeze over, and she had to fix it.
If God was truly sitting among the clouds way above, He had a wicked sense of humor.
Outside her window, as her truck moved further towards the craggly edge of hell’s immense outer cavern, the pillars of once scorching red rock looked paradoxically chilly as their flames were extinguished by piles of white snow. One of her hands massaged her temple, fingers pressing against the gnarled skin where her left horn protruded from her skull. Her other hand rested limply on the steering wheel.
“This damned highway goes on forever…” Salem glowered a bit more intensely, embers flying off her crimson skin as she stared boredly past her windshield.
Across the barrier, thousands of rusted demonic vehicles were rushing south, and even past the howling winter winds, she could hear the piercing sound of tortured souls being frozen alive as they tried to migrate to warmer regions. She spared the masses a glance of pity and stomped on the gas harder. Her job was to figure out where this freezing draft was coming from and seal it with magma. Simple enough. Once that was done, those souls could stop suffering from frostbite, and return to suffering from blazing whips. Then she could return to another magma construction job. Then another, and another for eternity.
She sighed, shook that dread away, and drove deeper into the hellish snowstorm.
The hole in hell’s cave walls was large enough to walk through, but it was hidden behind billowing snow and pillars of rock. Salem carefully crawled up the rocky pathways, carrying a small box labeled “Mephistopheles’ Infinite Magma! For Patching Hellish Holes”.
At the mouth of the hole, Salem only saw white. Snow was flying through a tunnel that led to the overworld and she…
The overworld. Earth. Life.
It wouldn’t be that simple. She’d be punished. She couldn’t return to the living world… She’d…
She looked back down the tunnel to the land of red rock cast in white, then sprinted for the overworld.
It had been decades since she’d felt such clear air, but as much as she wanted to celebrate, the bitter cold was not something her demonic body could take for long. It ripped at her skin, and she pulled her thin cloak closer to her as she walked out of the cave and into a snowstorm.
Every step she took, her body roared in pain. The winds screeched as well, as if providing a harmony. If she wanted to enjoy even an hour of the overworld, she’d have to find a fire, as her own infernal one was dimming.
The landscape around her was covered in white, except for an azure frozen lake where she saw a small figure flailing at its edge. Past him, Salem saw smoke in the distance, probably a village. If she could just sprint in that direction maybeó The child screamed. He needed help. Salem glanced between the smoke and the lake, then after a few fiery swears, she staggered towards the lake.
The boy stared agape at her monstrous horned body, but continued beckoning towards his dog, a small spitz struggling under the ice.
Quickly, her sharp claws raked through the ice and water, eliciting hoarse hisses from Salem. She grabbed the squirming spitz by its collar, and tossed it over towards the boy.
“Kiitos,” he whispered, in a language Salem did not recognize. Hugging the trembling dog in his arms, he scurried towards the smoke in the distance, just as Salem stumbled to her knees, burrowing deep into the snow.
The gnawing cold was unlike any pain she’d felt. Her body shuddered, and she had no strength to even gasp as she watched her skin beginning to crack and crumble into the air.
Demons were not meant to traverse beyond the sweltering conditions of the underworld.
A faultline along her thigh deepened, and a chunk of her legs broke off and disintegrated. Then cracks moved up along her torso, chips of her stomach fluttering off, joining the storm.
The life and un-life she lived flashed through her thoughts, a sprawling mosaic that was more painful than nostalgic. Visions of her childhood, her sinful adulthood, her meaningless demise, the smell of sulphur as she awoke submerged in lava, and the decades she spent crawling out of the gutters just to be turned into harsh labor for an undead society. The memories spiraled around her like icy flurries in the wind, as she felt her consciousness slipping.
Her breaths were ragged, but a murmur of the Our Father crawled out of her throat. It burned to say, and she’d forgotten half the words.
She didn’t think it had any use. Salem doubted any God or Devil would accept her in their afterlife after the things she had done, but she had to have gotten at least a couple brownie points with the cherubim for saving that damn dog. If she had any energy left, she’d have laughed at her own naivete.
She waited for death patiently, staring at glimpses of navy skies as gray clouds began to part.
As Salem finally died a second time, she hoped that wherever she went, it would at least be better than hell.