|The Divine Comedy Prologue: A Friend Called Fire
Author: Guede Mazaka
John would have shivered if he hadn’t been hurting so much. He huddled farther into the dark corner and wrapped his arms around himself, squeezing his eyes tightly shut. The quick glimpse he’d gotten through the ambulance window had sent him leaping off the stretcher and right into a bunch of IV bags, and to hell with the paramedics. He’d seen a lot of shit in his life, but this took the cake. This was bad. This was really, really—
“Bad? Johnny, I do wonder about the state of your education. It’s important, you know. Very important.” The voice was oily, and by that John meant that he could practically feel it touching him. It slithered against his blistered back and it squirmed revoltingly against his eyelids.
He’d had a chant when he was very, very young and had still trusted what his parents had said about his “weird things.” Now it kept running through his head like a record that hadn’t only been stuck, but had also gotten warmed up so the voice went high and grating and awful. He wanted to shove his fists against his ears, but then he’d have to stop pressing the underside of his wrists against his knees, and for some reason he thought that that was a bad idea.
“You’d be dead right about that.” The laugh was worse. It was contemptuous and amused and sounded like it was licking its chops.
And it was better, because it pissed him off. He opened his eyes and got ready to snarl, but a blast of burning wind caught him right in the face. It was more than painful—it took off his skin and swelled his eyes in his head till he could see nothing but orange and red with a splotch of shining white in the middle.
He didn’t go for it. Whoever the hell was standing in front of him laughed again. “Ah, Johnny, nice to see you’ve got your balls back, seeing as they’ve only recently dropped. Shame Bea’s never going to get that again, but I’m sure she’s having fun comforting herself with Angelo.”
“Who the fuck are you?” John hissed. He shook his head, trying to clear his vision, and something smashed into the side of his head. When he threw up his arms to block, one of his hands flopped oddly and warm, thickish wetness splashed onto his forehead. His stomach heaved.
A mule kicked through his chest, and the world briefly spun colder, dimmer. Less hellish. He gasped and scrabbled for it, desperate to pull himself out of the hole into which he’d put himself, but no matter how hard he tried, he just kept slipping back. He clawed and dug in till he’d ripped the nails from his fingers, till he could see bone wearing through his bloody flesh, but he couldn’t stop the slide.
--oh god oh god it hurts so much more than i thought they’re talking who’s talking why do i always have to hear them i don’t want to
“clear! come on, damn you. don’t give up now.”
And then he was slamming back down on the searing floor, smelling his own body cook in the heat. The ambulance had no drivers and no other people in it except for him and the guy in front of him, who was smiling, smiling, smiling. The sky outside looked like the inside of a pus-filled sore.
“Oh, I think it’s more fun for you to figure it out,” said the—said—
“No.” No. No way in—no. It wasn’t real, this wasn’t real, it was all in his head. It had to be there, because if it wasn’t—
“If it wasn’t, then you’re out of luck.” The man kindly brushed back the hair from John’s face. The man had claws.
John flinched away and gritted his teeth, shaking his head. No, that wasn’t it. If it was real…then he’d been right. He’d been right and all those fucking doctors and priests had been wrong, and his parents had been fucking morons.
“Small comfort that is now, though. Should’ve thought of that before you offed yourself.” The guy patted John on the shoulder, and it felt like he was crunching the bones. “Now, do you remember enough Sunday School to figure out the rest, or do you want me to give you the short ‘n sweet version?”
“No, I get it.” Did John get it. He’d just let his whole life get fucked and fucked over, and all for what? For no really good reason at all, and no one had truly tried to help or had even listened. All they’d done was try to make him into something that didn’t complain anymore, the bastards.
He’d been scared for a long time, but anger was new. Anger was good; it shouldered aside the pain and focused all the suspicions and half-realizations that had been floating in his head for so long into cold, hard comprehension. Anger was something John snatched at, got hold of and kept hold of—it didn’t dump him in the lurch and say it’d pray for him. Instead it gave him ideas.
“Good. I do hate wasting—”
John pushed himself up on one elbow and stared at Lucifer. He spoke fast and loud so he wouldn’t have time to think about it and mess it up. “I get it plenty. Except for one part. Why you? I’d like to think I’m special, but nobody’s ever thought so before except for how much they could wreak me, and I’d think you’re a lot fucking smarter than my doctors.”
Lucifer had kept on talking for a little bit, but he’d trailed off when he had seen that John wasn’t about to get cut off. His hand twitched and his lips thinned, like he was about to hit John, but then he cocked his head. Smiled with his lips shut and his eyes solid black so they looked like empty holes.
“It’s damn nice to be pleasantly surprised by one of you lot. For once,” Lucifer drawled. Then his arm blurred and suddenly John was choking, struggling futilely against the wall like a pinned fly. “But don’t you think flattery’s going to get you anywhere, Johnny. Who do you think came up with that trick in the first place?”
“Not—flattery—just—just—quest—” The sudden release of pressure sent John crashing limply to the ground. He couldn’t even lift his hands to his neck to rub it, but instead had to stare at them and at the blood constantly trickling from his wrist. Bile rose in his throat and he began to gag.
Rocking back on his heels, Lucifer didn’t attempt to help. He stared narrowly down at John, then slid his hands into his pockets. “Today’s your lucky day, kid, because I’m going to give you an answer. You’re not going to die—yet. But rest assured that when you do, you’re coming right back to me.” A long black tongue wormed out of Lucifer’s mouth and ran over his lips. “Now, I just thought you’d like to make your eventual welcome a little warmer. As for me, I’m thinking you might do me some good before you get around to kicking it.”
“Are you offering me a job?” John incredulously rasped.
Lucifer grinned and nodded.
The first word in John’s mouth was no and following it was no fucking way, but he was still coughing. He tried to clear his throat, but that only seemed to make it worse, for then the tightness started to spread into his chest. It felt like someone had cracked open his ribs and—and Lucifer was telling the truth. For once, somebody had upped and given John a clue.
He ran with it. “Sure—”
crash screaming god you fucking bastard you all fucking bastards you’re going to regret this.
“he’s going. he’s…hey, kid. welcome back—jesus! ungrateful little—did you see that? he gave me the finger! like it’s our fault he came back. it’s our goddamn job.”
oh, fuck. he’d—
--need to get working, figure this out, get things fixed right now that he knew was wrong. but fuck, it hurt so much so much so much…