Haphazard Explorations & Experiments In Fiction
That’s the first thing that comes to me, the smell of a cigarette, and opening my eyes reveals a cloud of it around me. Me, up against a wall, sitting in a street, a gutter, and… wondering how I got here. Not the big “where am I?” either, because I know I’m in hell, but the last clear memory is, at first, being kicked out of the hovel of some hard ass. Because of the rain… the fiery rain.
Looking up, I see the source of that smoke: a lanky old man, covered in a patchwork of grimy clothes. What used to be blue jeans are torn, unraveling, and discolored. Probably by all the filth. His shirt is the same, and his coat is black. Dirty or not, it’s just black. “You been out a few weeks, boy.”
He says it casually, as if it shouldn’t shock me.
“A few weeks?” I ask, “what the hell happened to me?”
Taking another drag before answering, he says, “you didn’t mind them molten shit heels and they burned you right down to the bone. Takes a while for that much flesh to grow back.”
“Molten… wait, what?…” I start to say, but then it all comes rushing back to me. The rain had more in store for me than the droplets I’d been hit with. After it stopped and I walked out of mister no-names piece of shit little home, I looked down at the ground in front of me. The drops had begun to pool, which is what rain does I guess, but then it started to move as if it had a will of its own. As if it was alive.
Struggling to take shape, the molten rock that had pelted the area was coming together to form red hot creatures. As they coalesced the shape they took started, vaguely, to look like the shape of large men. Large, gooey, infernal men made of magma. As if that wasn’t worrying enough, the one I’d been staring at moved closer to me, first crawling and then walking. Before I could react it grabbed me in a painful bear hug. The burning, the smell of barbecued meat, was horrible and…
…and that was all.
“They’re demons, ya idiot,” the smoking man said, sitting next to me.
‘Well, yeah no shit,’ I thought to myself.
“Okay, fine, but what the hell happened?” I asked out loud. “I remember the rain, I remember these things sort of, I don’t know, pulling themselves together, and I remember one of them grabbed me. But…”
“It’s not hard to figure out son,” he said, “one of them bastards grabbed you and you was toast. Simple as that. You recovered because down here we don’t die, which you mighta suspected already anyways. But that kinda damage? Fella, you’re lucky it didn’t take longer. The bones don’t burn down here, and if ya break em, they’ll eventually pull ’emselves together just the same way them molten bastards come together. It’s the way ‘o the world son.” At that, I just sat for a moment, letting the implications sink in.
He took the opportunity to finish off his smoke, and looked at me questioningly after putting it out.
“So who are you friend?” I asked, a little suspicious. After all, it’s not like anyone seems inclined to go out of their way for other people in these parts of the universe, and I wasn’t feeling to great yet. It felt as though I could pass out again at any moment.
“A bum,” he answered. “At least that’s what everyone in this little stretch thinks. I haven’t felt like correcting any of ’em. No point, unless I wanna attract a lot of grandstanding pricks. If people know you, and if you’ve got a reputation like I got, there’s a never ending supply of assholes lookin’ to say they took you on and came out on top.” Pausing to light another cigarette, he looks back over to me and says, “you can call me Dan if ya want a name to call me by.”
“Alright Dan,” I say, “what’s your angle then?”
“Angle? Ain’t got no angle son, but you’re smart to be lookin’ fer one.”
‘For my sake, I hope he’s telling the truth,’ I thought, as everything started to fade.
As the black nothing of unconsciousness began to swallow me up again, all I could see was the smoke, and as I closed my eyes I had time enough to wonder if it would be there to greet me next time I awoke. I dared to hope…
‘If it is I can ask m… learn mor… informa…’ and then there were no more thoughts.
Just the quiet darkness.
And, for now at least, the smoking man stood watch over his new friend.
III. Rain of Fire