The Boy in the Shadows


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8. CHapter 8: Release


 

Chapter 6

 

    It wasn't until January 19th that Jack finally reached Death Valley. It was warmer here, and much easier to navigate due to the flat and clear landscape.  The shadowy horse had gotten Jack there within an hour, which Jack couldn't figure out, but decided not to ponder. The important thing was that he was here now, and his journey was finally going to start.

Jack was resetting in the Death Valley National park., drinking a bottle of water and eating a cheeseburger a nice lady had bought for him at the concession stand. He decided the best way to catch the last light of dawn the next day was to sleep in the park.

When dawn peeked its purple eyes over the horizon, Jack awoke. He got up instantly, picking up his bag. The little shadow dog morphed into a mouse, and it hopped onto Jack’s shoulder, hopping into the hood of his jacket. Jack stretched, walking towards the cliff face to wait for the last light of dawn. It approached faster than Jack thought, and he had only been waiting for a couple hours when a shimmering black metal door glittered into existence on the cliff face. Jack’s heart raced, and he reached forward, his fingers tracing the door handle. The door seemed to vibrate, and a soft whispering seemed to tickle Jack’s ear drums, the words too quiet to make out, but just loud enough to hear the soft murmur, like a trickle of water in a silent forest.

    He took a breath, and pushed through the door.


 

And he blacked out.








 

The underworld had no light. That was Jack’s first impression. A darkness that sunk into Jack’s eyes, a darkness that was either deeper than the sea or smaller than a mouse. And there was no noise. Jack didn't feel scared, sitting there in the dark. It made him feel safe, and maybe that's how it was supposed to be, laying  here in the nice, comfortable dark. It’s coolness brushed his neck in the form of a slight breeze.

And then it spat him out.

Jack stood, astonished, on an island. A small, flat island barely the width of a dog.

    Surrounded by lava.

About 50 feet out, the lava faded to a darkness, like the room just suddenly stopped at a black wall. Jack sat down, his knees shaking. He reached back for his backpack, but it was missing. He felt his pocket; he still had his weapon. He pulled it out, flipping it, and held his long, black sword out in front of him.

“Ah, I always appreciate a fighter,” Said a voice. It was rain on a rooftop, nails on a chalkboard, and the wind that ruffled the trees. It sent ripples up Jack’s spine. It didn't seem to be coming from a certain direction, it merely emerged from the walls all around, echoing and taunting Jacks eardrums. “Welcome, Jack of Elderwood, to Lucifer’s 1st circle.” The voice said this menacingly, like it was the worst fear anyone could ever have. Jack turned, looking in all directions, but a speaker did not emerge.

“Oh, yes, sir, he will be excellent in the games. I bet that the black market will even do a sponsoring for him.” Said another voice, this one much higher pitch, like an old organ that had not been used in a long time, and mice had long since chewed the wires that made it sound good.

“Oh, yes, I am sure. Now run along and make me a sandwich.”

“No, I don't think I will.”

“Alion! You are my assistant, and will do what you’re told! Sandwich, now!” The voice snarled, losing its creepy quality behind for an annoying, whiney voice.

“This was not in my job description. The ad said I would get to reap souls and stuff!”

“This would fall into the and stuff category.”

“Fine. But only if you say please.”

“No way. The devil does not say please.”

“Do you want a sandwich or not?”

“Fine. Please,make me a sandwich now, you peasant.”

“Good boy. I will make your sandwich while you figure out what to- Lucy, did you know the microphone is still on?”

“DON'T CALL ME LUCY!” The voices cut out. Everything was so bizarre, Jack almost wanted to laugh

Almost. He sat there for an eternity (or maybe only a few minutes; It was hard to tell time in Hell). He was about to pass out from the heat of the Lava when the voice came back.

“I would like to welcome you, witches and gentle demons, to the 72896 th annual 13 room challenge! I would like to introduce you to Jack Orpheus. As you can tell from his last name, he is a descendant of Orpheus! Let’s see if the talent of escaping my grasps run in the family.” Jack whipped around, holding his sword aloft. The blackness had turned to a bright, red light on the wall behind him, and a group of spectators sat upon bleachers were the black “wall” had been. The spectators looked like humans, but their skin was red in varying shades. They each had a small pair of horns on the top of their head, and their teeth were pointed. The bleachers were red, and a platform sat at the top, lined with black tinsel, upon which stood a bizarre looking man. The man was red, like the rest of the spectators, but his face was covered in strange looking black spots. He was wearing a garish orange suit that was covered in sequence, along with a bright green scarf. He was beaming at Jack, and he held a blue microphone to his face.

“Jack!” said the Devil, his orange suit glinting in the red light. “Welcome! We are so pleased to have you. Today you will be tested; there will be 13 rooms of torture. If you get through them all, you may take your pick of one soul to bring back with you to the overworld.”

“Wait,” said Jack, recovering his voice. “I don't get to choose if I do this or not?”

“Well, of course you do! You chose to come to the underworld, didn't you?” Asked Lucifer. Jack nodded.  “Well, you can't leave until you complete the 13 rooms.”

“But-” Jack started, but Lucifer cut  him off.

“No more questions! Alison hasn't brought me my sandwich yet, so I am grumpy today, ShadowBoy,” He said, waving his hand. “I am in the mood to watch some misery,” He turned to two more demons behind him in plain black clothes with SECURITY written across the back. They ran forward, and one raised a long, slender tube to his mouth. He puffed his cheeks, and a sliver of pain pierced Jack’s side, and he passed out for the second time.






 

When Jack awoke, he couldn't see. He opened his eyes, but nothing showed up but a blank, black wall of satin. He was blindfolded.

“In a moment, witches and gentle demons, young Jack here will have his blindfold removed. Now, as before with the 13 rooms, our young hero of the overwolf will have to conquer 13 phases of torture. He will be supplied with no food or water, and only a weapon and a candle, pre-lit. If he makes it to the end alive, he will get to choose a soul to take with him back to the overworld. If he dies, he faces eternal torture in the 13th circle!” Jack could hear the sound of Lucifer clapping his hands.  “Lets begin!”

Jack’s blindfold was suddenly yanked off his face. A short little devil/human was grasping the bars of the cage that Jack was in, blindfold in hand. She (at least, he thought it was a she) cackled, and poked his nose with her long, red finger.

“Boop!” she yelled, cackling loudly and suddenly, making Jack jump. She jumped from Jack’s cage, landing on the rock below with a loud thud. She scurried on all fours to the Devil’s podium, who was eating a sandwich.

“Alion!” Lucifer barked at the little demon. She stood, hands on her hips.

“What, Lucy?” She asked, rolling her eyes.

“What is this?” He snarled, pulling a long toenail from his sandwich.

“A toenail. You know, there had to be some toenails on a toenail and chicken blood sandwich, Lucy.”

“This toenail inst cut into fourths, its in half! I won't eat this garbage! And  DON'T call me Lucy!”

While the two bickered, Jack observed the place he was in. This one, too, had the odd black walls about 500 feet from where Jack was. He was in a cage, a dark, iron one, which was hanging from the ceiling, which faded to black as well. The spectators sat in front of him, right on the border of the wall. All the spectators were dressed the same, so Jack assumed he hadn't been out very long.

Below him was a chasm that was bigger than any Jack had ever seen, even in the movies. It could have been a hundred miles deep and Jack would never had known, because he couldn't see the end. Alion’s voice brought him back to reality.

“Lucy is having a fit right now, so you will have to excuse me for stepping in at the moment.” She said, placing her hand on a lever on the control panel. “See you on the other side, Jack Orpheus of Elderwood!” She crowed, and she planted both feet on the control panel and pulled the lever back with both hands.

And he was falling. Jack’s body had slammed into the top of the cage as the wind pushed him against the top. It was agony, his arms flailing uncontrollable in the wind. His lungs seemed to compress, squeezing the air from his chest. He couldn't breath, he couldn't see, he couldn't think. In fact, the only organ in his body that seemed to be working was his stomach, and it was attempting to escape through his back.

He was falling forever, and the bottom of the chasm into which Jack was falling eluded Jack’s eye. The ever looming prospect of shattering on the ground below taunted him, and Jack began to grow exhausted after 3 hours of the torture. He tried to move, but the only thing he could move were his arms. He reached for his pocket, pulling his wolf statue out. He flipped it and when he caught it, it was a large metal shield. He held it in front of him, and he dropped to the ground of his cage.  He gulped for air, finally getting a full breath of barley enough oxygen.

Jack acted as fast as he could. He turned the bars of the cage to shadow, and mounting his shield, he jumped. The upwinds from the bottom of the chasm lifted Jack, and he flew upward.

 

And the scene changed.


 

The cliffside dissolved, each tiny molecule floating up into the sky and disappearing into the gloom. Jack blinked, and the scene changed completely.

All around his was a plain, white metal wall. He was in a simple, metal box.

And It was closing in.

The wall closed in, slowly but surely, and the space from Jack to the walls shrunk. Jack stuck out his sword, holding it aloft towards the walls. He pushed on one with his shoulder, but it did not yield. He yelled with frustration, and panic began to set in as the walls inched closer and closer towards him. He tossed his sword in the air, exchanging it for a knife. He stuck it under the shrinking wall, but it’s blade just broke. He screamed, flipping the broken handle, exchanging it for a long, thick metal rod. He stuck it between the walls, which were now close enough to touch each of his shoulders at the same time. They struggled to close over the metal rod, but it did not yield. Jack sighed in relief as the walls retreated, and suddenly, he was falling again.

His feet his solid ground after a split second of freefall. When he landed, he was in the shack he had been in when he had erased his memory. Every detail was perfect, every speck of dust in place, and the mirror was cracked in the exact same pattern.


 

And then the voices began.


 

They started quietly, so quiet Jack thought they were just the wind. Then they grew louder, the screams, and little wisps of bright red light swirled around Jack’s head. Their screams rang in his eardrums, and he could pick up some snippets of their words.

JACK!”

“YOU DID THI-”

“HOW DARE Y-”

    The angry spirits continued to taunt Jack for nearly a full day.

 

    Jack could never quite remember how he had managed to get through the next week. Every time he completed one of the 13 tortures, another came and knocked his feet out from under him, each challenge more terrible than the last. He faced searing light, drowning, being chased by terrible creatures of tar, and so many more that he couldn't keep track. He had grown tired of counting, and his hungry and thirsty brain couldn't process very fast. He just kept hoping that the next one would be last, the next one. But the last one had not come yet, and Jack wondered if it would ever come.

    And now here Jack lay, exhausted, on the floor. Surprisingly, time allowed him to rest. Even though it didn't help much (It just made him think of how hungry/thirsty he was), he felt better being rejuvenated, his sword in his hand.

    He was in his living room, but none of the furniture was there. The rest of the house was non-existent in this demonic apparition, though it hadn't stopped Jack from trying to force his way through the black mist/wall. No matter how long he walked, when he turned around he was right back in the living room. He had just given up when he heard the noise.

    Crack. Screeeeeeee Kkkkkk.

    It sounded as though someone was dragging something very heavy across a gravel path. Jack raised his sword, and all at once the lights in the living room went off.

    Usually, Jack would have felt more at ease, now that the lights were off. But this darkness felt different, more sticky. It felt thick on his skin, instead of the light, airy feeling it usually gave him. He turned, staring at the only way in or out of the room he was in; the fireplace. The noise suddenly stopped.

    





 

And a hand reached down from the chimney, wrapping its fingers around the edge.





 

The creature emerged slowly from the fireplace, taking its time. It emerged arms first, then its head. When finally it’s full body was out of the fireplace, it leaped forward with incredible speed, rolling on the ground and landing on all fours. The silence seemed to thicken as it raised its head, and its eyes latched onto Jack’s.

When they made eye contact, Jack felt as though his heart had stopped. All he wanted was to get out of there, but he was paralyzed in the face of pure terror. His insides screamed, and every nerve in his body was electric, but he couldn't move.

The creature was black. It most closely resembled a crow, though they weren't much similar. It had the form of a human, with a head and arms and legs, but its body was covered in long, dark feathers.  A long, sharp beak was it’s mouth. It’s hands were human, but long yellowed claws protruded from the ends on its fingers, and its skin looked as if it was covered in a mixture of coal and dried blood.

And it attacked.

All of Jack’s sword power was not nearly enough to evade the monster. With one flick of its feathered arm, Jack’s sword skittered off into the black mist, and his arm stung and bled where it had struck him.. The creature cocked its head at Jack, and a low gurgling sound escaped from its throat, voicing it’s longing for Jack’s flesh.

Jack collapsed to the floor, trying to crawl away from the creature, but his back was against the black mist and he knew it was no use. Lucifer would never play a fair game, never give Jack a chance to survive. Now, here he was, on the last task, and he was going to fail. He backed into the shadows, whimpering, looking longingly at his sword. And two things happened; One: the slash on his arm healed. Two: He realized that the mist on the walls wasn't mist. It was shadow-vapor.

Jack stood. The creature, though surprised, looked delighted that Jack was going to fight. But instead of engaging, Jack turned his back to the monster, and he closed his eyes. Just as he could hear the wind from the monster’s feathers as it launched towards him, he acted.

The shadow-vapor that surrounded the arena molded to his will. It created a large, shadowy hand, its fingers in a tight fist. The hand reached out, pinching the creature between its fingers, and Jack squeezed mentally. There was a loud squish, and the creature was gone.

 

Jack stood, again, on the island. The crowd cheered for him, screaming their adoration, but his expression remained stony. How could they think he would be happy ever again, now that his brain had been terrorized to the limit? The only thing that kept him going was the prospect of rescuing his sister. Just imagining her among these demonic people was enough to make his blood boil. He clenched his fist together in an iron grasp, and the devil stood up, this time wearing a lime green suit, and Alion bobbed at his heels. THe applause faded.

“Jack! Congratulations on being the second champion to complete the thirteen challenges in over 7 millenia! Just like your great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather!  If i’m not mistaken, that very weapon in your pocket once belonged to him. Orpheus, I think his name was. You bear his name.” The devil smiled. “Alion!” he barked, and Alion snapped to attention. “Take the boy to his prize!” Alion scurried over to Jack on all fours, grabbing his arm and she waved her hand, and a bridge appeared over the lava. He pulled him across, and she half ran half dragged Jack through a tunnel as all the spectators strained to touch him as he walked by. Alion pulled him into a small room, and Jack’s heart leaped with excitement as he entered. And then it plummeted.

“Here ya go. A signature Satan bobblehead.” She said, handing it to him. The room was empty, except for a huge tower of boxes, all filled with cheesy bobbleheads. He turned to her, and she beamed at him, clearly expecting him to be thrilled. Jack chucked the bobblehead at the wall, and it shattered. Alion’s smile faded.

“Sir…” She said, looking deadly furious. “You are going to have to pay for that. Those were custom made.” And she turned, grasping a red lever with her long red fingers, and pulled. ALarms wailed, and guards in red swat suis burst through the door, grabbing him by that arms. Jack screamed, kicking and flailing as they walked back through the hallways, and they dropped him back onto the island. The devil laughed,still on his podium.

“You didn't honestly think I would let you have your way, did you?” He asked, a cruel smirk upon his lips. “Haven't you ever heard the saying don't make a deal with the devil? Well, that's just a figure of speech. This time, you literally made a deal with the devil.” He tossed Jack’s backpack at him. Jack slipped it on.

“You have earned your freedom. You may leave.” ANd the devil turned, and walked away. Jack walked off the island, and the devil’s guards walked him to the door. At the exit, he turned.

“Go on, boy. Get out of this place before you become like us,” Said the guard, gesturing to his red skin. “Trust me, nothing goes with red skin except black, but it just clashed horribly with my hair.” And guards turned, walking back into the gloom.

 

But Jack had no intention of leaving quietly.

 

With as much stealth as he could muster, he crept through the halls. With ear doorway, he peeked over the threshold, looking for the lost souls, but luck did not favor him. Not, at least, until he reached the chamber.

The chamber he had walked into had cavernous, and it was so large Jack couldn't see the other side. On the ground was red grass, and the ceiling of the cave was covered in red luminous fungi. But that was nothing compared to its residents.

The whole cavern was filled with misty, glowing people. They wandered aimlessly, some just drifting, others remaining stationary. The vastess of their numbers was astonishing. How was he going to find sarah among all these  souls? Jack stepped forward, into the chamber.

And the souls parted a path.

 

They moved as one, drifting apart to create a path, at the end of which were 3 ghostly spirits.


 

His family.




 

Jack ran towards them, beaming for the first time in weeks, and he laughed. As soon as he reached them he stopped, and his mom, dad and sister all smiled at him, their pearly white auras glowing brighter.

“Mom...Dad…” Jack whispered, reaching out to touch them. His hand went through them, and their smiles lessened slightly.

“Jack… we are so proud of you, son.” Said Jack’s father. He looked just the same as Jack remembered him, with his wide, kind eyes and his scruffy black hair.

“How… why… What I mean is-”

“I know what you mean. We left for your safety… seat. I am so sorry we didn't have time to tell you.” Interrupted Jack’s mother, and she placed her glowing finger on Jack’s lips. “Listen, we don't have much time. You can't take us with you. Take your sister back home.” She said, nudging Sarah forward.

“But-”

“No, dear. The devil’s laws will abide, we will not be able to come with you. Maybe, once you two are back to the overworld, we will be able to leave. You, know, the better place, were everyone wishes to go. You are why are down here of course. Leaving your children behind without an explanation isn't really an angelic thing to do.”

Jack stared at her and his father, drinking in their presence, letting it soak him, revive him. He held up his hand, and his father pressed his hand against Jack’s. He nodded, and Jack turned, and as he left, Sarah followed. Together they made their way back through the tunnels, around the guard's office, and back to the doors of death. Looking at Sarah, jack spoke softly.

“Sarah… I’m sorry. This was all my fault. Me and you are going to go back home now.” Sarah nodded, and she smiled. SHe stepped out of the portal, and Jack followed.



 

The first breath of mortal air was like the breath of life. Jack’s lungs gasped, and they heaved happily as the clean, fresh air cleansed them. He laughed, and collapsed, and Sarah lay next to him. She was back to flesh and bone. She hadn't changed in hell, which surprised Jack. Everyone there had dull eyes, and even though they acted happy, and emptiness always seemed to linger. Sarah, however, was still happy, still laughing and smiling. Perhaps it was because she wasn't there long, or the fact that she was only five years old. SHe got up, her long, black hair hanging all the way down to her bottom. She giggled and threw a handful of dry dirt at Jack, and it covered his hair and face like thick dust.

And then they were laughing, laughing harder than they ever had in their whole lives. Their stomachs ached and they were out of breath, but they continued to laugh and laugh, a brother and a sister lying happily together in the dry, hot sun. They laughed for hours, and when they could laugh no more, the hugged and cried, and hugged again, finally free of the burden that had weighed on their hearts. When dusk greeted the sky and the sun went to sleep, they rode home upon the shadowy horse. THey were back within hours, and when dawn awoke, the siblings reunited. Emily and Calvin were crazed with joy when Jack and Sarah turned up at breakfast. . The siblings gathered as Jack recounted the tale of his hardships, and Sarah added in her bit. Jack found that she had matured very much in the place of no light, and it made him sad to see that Hell really had affected her.

Then, as dusk approached and the sky was painted by the sun, Jack felt as though the whole sky was celebrating his return, and we finally ready to accept his eternal peace.



 

For now.






 

    



 

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