When Worlds Collide -- REALLY Collide
The Timeless Dimension of Hell
I have to get out of here.
Jack Merridew Brown hugged himself, glancing around at the jagged landscape. He had no idea how long he’d been in this retched place – time had no meaning here. All he knew is that he had to escape, and soon. Before Drip came back.
Drip. Despite his best efforts, that name still made him quake with fear. He hadn’t been sure what to expect when the Reaper had first taken him here. Drip had seemed harmless, if gruesome – what damage could a giant blue-furred rat do to him?
Then Drip had taken him the first time. The pain had been unrelenting, and by the end, Jack had been reduced to a sobbing wreck. He knew that Drip didn’t get anything out of the sex – it was part of his punishment, apparently – but that was barely any comfort. Not to mention his fellow company around here wasn’t any better – a naked girl who kept screeching about being a Druid, a collection of various humanoid animals, and – well, Jack was reasonably certain the mound of flesh outside was actually a bunch of people fused together. None of them were capable of decent conversation, though. Rose had seemed a possibility at first, but. . . .
They’re all worms, just pathetic little worms, he thought, sitting against one of the rocky outgrowths. They deserve all they get at Drip’s hands. Me – I’m different. I was perfection incarnate on earth. How dare they mock me by throwing me in with this trash! How dare they insinuate that I am not worthy of Heaven? His hands clenched into fists, fingernails digging into the skin. And how DARE they try and tell me my worthless brother and his little sex toy are.
This was all Emmett and Martin’s fault. If not for them, he wouldn’t be suffering at this imbecile’s hands. If not for them, he wouldn’t even be dead! Once I get out of here, I’ll track them down and make them pay! They’ll be wishing they were with Drip by the time I get through with them!
Of course, this was all moot until he found a way out. And right now, that didn’t seem likely. One of those weird angel beings that kept coming down here had told him the only way out was to recognize his sins and ask for forgiveness, but Jack didn’t believe her. For one thing, what had he done that would require forgiveness? Indulging in his pleasures wasn’t really a sin, was it? For another, the Reaper himself was apparently one of the denizens of Hell, and he could get out at will. It probably had something to do with his job, granted, but it gave Jack some hope. All he had to do was figure out the secret, and he’d be free. The problem was, figuring out that secret was taking an awfully long time. At least I’m not stuck in the wall, like some of the others, he thought, sighing deeply. Then I’d really be fucked – did I just think that? I’ve spent far too long down here.
He suddenly heard voices on the other side of his seat. Automatically he hunkered down, trying to hide. Then his brain kicked into gear again, and he realized neither of the voices was coming from Drip. He sat back up and started eavesdropping on the conversation. “Leave me alone, bitch! We’ll find something to eat soon! We all know there’s enough damned down here to keep us fed for all eternity!”
“Yeah, yeah. Why don’t you let me have control of the body – I could scrounge up some good food for us quick with the wings! You crawl along way too slow.”
“Oh, fuck you.”
“You only wish.”
Jack scowled. It wasn’t Drip, but it was someone almost just as bad – Bob and Lisa, otherwise known as Gluttony. Jack had had a few pieces of himself eaten by them before – it hurt like anything. Though watching the missing limbs grow back had been kind of interesting. . . . He didn’t care to repeat the experience, though. He kept himself well-hidden behind the rock, hoping that neither of the two lizard people would be able to smell him out.
“Wonder if Jack’s brought anyone new down today. I want some new flavors.”
“Eh, probably just the same old shit. I don’t think the girl’s angry enough at anyone else at the moment.”
“Hmph. I like the alternate universes. Not all of them taste completely like sulfur.” There was a soft grumbling sound. “Damn it, why can’t the portals let anyone through?”
Jack’s ears pricked up. Portals?
“Oh, don’t pretend like you don’t know. She doesn’t want her precious boys getting hurt. Only Jack’s allowed through at all, since he’s the goody-two-shoes. Pain in the ass. I’d love visiting – what is it – Kevin and Kell? Talk about being born in the wrong universe.”
“Holy fuck, we actually agree on something again. There’s gotta be a way to trick the portals. . . .”
“First let’s get something to eat – I’m starving!”
“Well, so am I, bitch! It’s not my fault we wandered into--”
There was a sudden loud tearing sound. “Oh, FUCK you!”
“Like I said, you only wish. I’m finding us something halfway decent today.”
There was a sound of leathery wings beating hard against the air. Jack quickly hunkered down as not to be seen. Thank – God, I guess – that they have such poor senses of smell. Otherwise I’d be on the wrong side of a spit, he thought, sneaking a look upwards as Bob and Lisa flew overhead, searching for damned souls. Though, really, ending up as one of their meals would have been worth it today! I could kiss them for the information they’ve given me! Portals to alternate universes. Portals to home! A distinctly cruel grin formed on Jack’s face. Portals to Emmett and Martin and days of fun. . . .
Seeing the Sin was gone, he sat up straight and started making his plans. First off, he had to find where the portals were located. Probably some place heavily guarded. Or not – Lisa had said that no one but the Reaper could get through them. That was problem number two – tricking the portals into letting him through. Was it something like a code word or a special gesture? Perhaps a hand print or eye scanner, like they used in science fiction? Or was it something completely different? Hell was tricky like that.
Well, it certainly wasn’t like he didn’t have time to think about it. Making sure there were no other Sins in the area – especially Drip – he got up and started walking towards Sir Eric’s Fog. Why wander Hell, hoping to stumble upon what you wanted by accident, when you could talk to someone who was a living map? Besides – he did so love being able to inflict torture on someone else. Even if it was just ground. If only he bled as well. . . .
Jack carefully snuck past Sir Eric, clutching a sharp rock he’d picked up. The solider wasn’t picky about who entered his domain, but he did have a nasty habit of cutting up the people he didn’t want there. Jack didn’t want to join the piles of corpses that made up the earth around Sir Eric, even temporarily. Not when he was on the cusp of winning. Just a little farther. . . .
Finally, he reached the thick, rotting tree stump that served as the communication point for the Sin Sloth. Jack knocked on it, smiling. “Sloth? Wake up, we need to talk.”
There was a low groan from the tree. “Mrrrph. . .go away. . . .”
“I’m afraid that’s not an option. You have information I want, I believe.”
“You’re too loud. . .I want to rest. . . .”
Jack grinned. “Oh, so we do it the hard way? Fine with me.” He took his sharp rock and plunged it hard into the ground.
The tree screamed. “Arrrgh! Stop! Take it out!”
“Not until you tell me what I want to know,” Jack said calmly, carving patterns into the ground at the tree’s foot.
“I’ll tell you anything! Just stop!”
Jack paused, though he didn’t take the rock out. “You have a connection to every part of Hell, yes?”
“What kind of stupid question is that? I’m the ground! Of course I have a connection to every part of Hell!”
“Even the parts hidden to the normal damned?”
“What do you want?”
Jack wiggled the rock deeper into the ground. “I’ve recently heard there’s a way out of here. Portals back to the regular world. I would assume one of them leads back to the world I was taken from. I want to know where they are.”
The tree stump laughed. “Oh, those? They’re in the Devil’s cave. Good luck getting in there. He only takes people by appointment.”
“So I’ve heard,” Jack said, frowning. Sneaking into the Devil’s cave was a risky proposition. The Devil was known to be – playful. Not that Jack thought that was necessarily a bad thing – he just didn’t like being on the receiving end. At all. But it would be worth it if he could get out of here. “You wouldn’t happen to know how to get through the portals, would you? Apparently only the Reaper is allowed through.” He batted his eyes mockingly. “Please tell me it has to do with his name, it would make things so much easier. . . .”
“I told you where they were. Now let me rest or--”
Jack jerked his rock. The tree stump cried out again. “I don’t know the specifics! I think it has something to do with his cloak!”
Jack blinked. “His cloak?”
“Yes! His cloak! Now get the fuck out of here and leave me alone!”
“Fine, fine. Thanks for all the help,” Jack said sarcastically, giving the rock one final jerk before pulling it out and heading back the way he came. “His cloak,” he muttered, rubbing his chin. “Is it keyed to only let anyone wearing that fabric through? Or is it more complicated than that?”
Well, however it worked, it made his job a bit harder. How was he going to steal a piece of the cloak belonging to the Grim Reaper? The cloak seemed to be a living part of the Reaper’s body most of the time. Cutting a piece off – it was bound to get his attention.
But he couldn’t stay here. Not with Drip using him as a plaything. Not with an eternity of pain and torture and humiliation staring him in the face. No matter how dangerous the chance for escape was, he had to take it. “And once I’m free – they’ll pay,” he whispered, gripping his rock tightly. “Everyone will pay. No one defeats Jack Merridew Brown.”
There he was. Talking with that little fox boy again. He was distracted, not noticing anything around him. But was he distracted enough?
Jack hovered behind the Reaper, sharp rock in hand, feeling unusually indecisive. Generally, when he wanted something, he simply went and got it. No mess, no fuss – well, that wasn’t true, there usually was a mess and a fuss, but Jack enjoyed that bit. But he almost never hesitated. Hesitating was for the weak.
But this wasn’t your usual situation. He was about to chop off a bit of the cloak of the Grim Reaper himself, in a desperate bid to escape Hell. Given the situation, Jack decided it really wasn’t weak of him to pause and think things over a bit. I have to be quick, and I have to be smooth. Just slice, grab, and run like – well, like hell. At least I don’t have to worry about dying here. If he kills me, I’ll just wait a bit, then try again. It’s not like I have anything else to do. He winced at a sudden pain in his butt. Check that – anything else I want to do.
The fox boy and the Reaper seemed to be wrapping up their chat. It was now or never time. Jack took a deep breath (not that it did much – damn the lack of air), grabbed a hunk of the Reaper’s cloak, and sliced.
The cloth cut surprisingly easily, leaving Jack with a large swatch of material. He promptly turned and ran, wrapping the cloak around him. All right, here’s where it comes down to luck. Let’s hope this thing doesn’t try and eat me before I get away.
He ran for at least twenty minutes by normal time, finally stopping and hiding by some rocks. Looking around, he was relieved to see that there was no pursuit – perhaps the Reaper hadn’t noticed him cutting off a bit of the cloak. Alternately, he hadn’t cared, but Jack didn’t consider that likely. The cloak itself seemed to be inert when separated from its “host,” acting just like regular brown cloth. Jack didn’t know if this would be a problem, but he decided to keep going with his plan anyway. Nothing to lose, everything to gain. That’s how he had to keep looking at it. Just remember, once you get out of here, Emmett and Martin are yours.
He remained hidden for a bit, just to make sure there really was no one looking for him. Then, keeping the piece of cloak wrapped tightly around his body, he started looking for a way to head downward. The Devil’s cave was in the very heart of Hell, buried deeper than most were able to go. Jack idly wondered how deep Hell was. The place obviously didn’t conform to most physical laws, but were there depth and height considerations? Was there some sort of limit? 666 miles, perhaps?
To get out here, I’d descend 666,666,666 miles, he thought, keeping an eye out for chasms and rowdy residents. Though hopefully there’s some sort of trick for getting in easily. Maybe something that will let me bypass the Devil. He crossed his fingers. I’ve been lucky so far – don’t let it run out now.
He came across a dark, deep pit set into the landscape. Peering in, Jack could see nothing but black. He frowned. Bottomless, or only a few feet deep? It was hard to tell.
But it was a prospect. Jack fashioned his scrap of cloak into a crude parachute. “Down the rabbit hole we go,” he quipped, jumping in.
It quickly became apparent that the former option was more likely, as darkness enveloped him. It also quickly became apparent that his parachute wasn’t going to have any effect on his landing – he’d forgotten for a moment that no air to breathe meant no air for it to catch. He rocketed downward, the lack of an atmosphere allowing his fall to be faster than any on earth. Jack pulled the cloak to himself, nervous about possibly losing it. Who knew how wide this hole was, and how far to the bottom? If it even had a bottom. That would be fun, falling for all eternity, he thought sarcastically.
However, that was not his fate. After what seemed to be days of falling, Jack finally hit something that felt like ground. He yelped as pain shot through his legs. Fuck! Nothing had better be broken. . . .
Nothing appeared to be – his right ankle hurt a bit, but that was it. Jack breathed a sigh of relief and settled himself onto the piece of ground, making sure he still had a tight grip on the cloak. Now what?
He felt around his landing spot, the darkness making sight not an option. It felt like normal Hell earth – a bit sandy, with a rock-hard underlayer. His fingers found air a short distance from where he was setting – apparently the hole got wider further down, and he’d landed on a ledge of some sort. Hmmm, interesting. Shall I jump off and keep going, or sit here and consider my options a bit more? He laughed. Oh, for – what options? I suppose I could climb back up, but what would be the use of that? I want to head down. And there’s only one way of accomplishing that. He took a moment to tie the cloak to his wrist, just to be on the safe side, then wriggled to the edge of the ledge and dropped down again.
He hit two more ledges before he started getting frustrated. How deep is this thing? And how wide can it get? And how come I keep hitting ledges? I should be falling down the middle by now, not the sides!
“I find it amusing, that’s why.”
Jack started, automatically hugging the cloak close to him. Was someone down here with him? The voice bore a resemblance to the Sins’ voices, but he didn’t recognize it. “Who goes there?” he called.
“Who goes there? What, did you drop in from the 1800s?”
Jack scowled. “Fine, who the hell are you?”
There was the sound of laughter. “How appropriate. I’m just the guy you’re coming to see.”
Oh great. He’d gotten the Devil’s attention. “How do you know I’m coming to see you?” Jack asked, wincing as he hit yet another ledge.
“I’m the Devil, Jack Merridew Brown. I know basically everything. Except for possibly the Big Guy Upstairs. Or the Big Girl.” There was a chuckle. “How about we cut through all this red tape and shit and just meet up, face to face?”
“Fine with me,” Jack said, rubbing his butt. Although he hadn’t want to meet the Devil at all, it was better than falling and smashing into these ledges all the damn time. And it did bring him closer to –
He quickly stopped that thought as the world shifted. If the Devil really did know everything, there was a good chance he knew why Jack was trying to reach his cave. Oh boy. I’m really going to have to tread carefully now. . . .
Finally, the world straightened itself out again. Jack was now sitting in front of the gaping mouth of a very large, dark cave. Candlelight flickered from inside, providing faint, almost nonexistent illumination. “Nice atmosphere,” Jack muttered, getting up (wincing a little as his right ankle throbbed). Tucking the cloak into what remained of his shirt, he headed inside.
For a short while, he stumbled through the dark, searching for his “host.” Then, suddenly, the cave widened, and lit up. Jack blinked a few times as his eyes adjusted. In front of him was jagged grey stone, lined with cracks and fissures –
And a handsome little wooden door. Above it was a numberplate reading “666,” below it, a shaggy welcome mat. To the left was a surprisingly cute devil-themed smiley face picture. Jack stared for a moment. “What the hell?” he finally said.
The door suddenly opened, as if by an unseen hand. “It’s not much, but it’s home,” a voice said from inside. “Come on in, Jack.” The voice suddenly chuckled. “Oh, that feels weird, saying that and not having it be Wrath.”
Jack shook off his surprise and cautiously entered through the open door. The inside was rather plain – the same grey, jagged stone walls, and a sandy floor. Pushed into one of the outcroppings was a cartoonist’s desk, covered with papers. A robed figure was sitting at it, scratching away with a pen. Jack frowned. “Are you--”
“Not a clerk – the Devil himself,” the figure said, not pausing in his – what Jack assumed was – drawing. “I’ll be with you in just a moment. I have some business to finish with Todd.”
Jack didn’t know who Todd was, but he immediately decided he liked the fellow. With the Devil distracted, he could try and find the portals. He nodded at the Devil’s back, discreetly looking around in hopes of finding some sort of clue as to where they were.
He thought he noticed some sort of faint, purplish glow coming from a corridor to the left. He casually started inching that way, keeping a close eye on the Devil. The Lord of All Evil seemed consumed with his work, snickering to himself as he drew. “Yeah, Todd, just try and run. Your daughters will catch up with you eventually. What do you think, Jack, should I have him run into a wall or fall down a pit?”
“Fall down a pit,” Jack said, still inching to the left. “I can attest that it’s very annoying, at the least.”
“Good, good. Always nice to get feedback. Incidentally, how are you enjoying your time with Drip?”
Jack stopped and glared. “How do you think?” he growled, feeling a pulse of rage. He was tempted to go up there and smash the asshole’s face into his desk. It would be the ultimate victory – getting one over on the Devil himself! But he knew he’d pay for it a million times over. And it would be the absolute end of all his escape plans. So he held himself back, though he could feel his hands twitching in protest.
The Devil laughed hard. “Ahhh, Mr. Sarcastic. You deserve all you’re getting, you know. The Big Gal told me exactly what you’d done.” The Devil glanced back at him. “Drip could take lessons from you.”
Was that a compliment? Jack really couldn’t tell. “All I did was assert my superiority. Have some fun. It wasn’t worth--”
“Oh, but it was! She didn’t conceive of you being that evil, you know.” The Devil grinned. “She told me a secret – want to know what it is?”
“No, not particularly,” Jack admitted. He had no interest in hearing what slander God was spreading about him. No, the ultimate victory wouldn’t be getting one over the Devil – it would be getting one over God.
“But it’s very interesting. You’d be completely fucked over once you heard it.”
“Not interested,” Jack said, taking another tentative step toward the glow. Please go back to torturing Todd. . . .
The Devil turned fully around, smirking. Jack noted that, like most of the residents of this dimension, he was a large anthromorphic animal – in this case, a skunk with a spiky hairdo. His pure black eyes seemed filled with malicious mirth. “You know, Jack, you really ought to loosen up,” he said, getting up. “This whole ‘I’m better than you’ crap really gets old after a while.”
Jack felt his anger start to rise again. “I didn’t deserve this! I am–”
“An evil piece of shit whom the angels can stop trying to redeem,” the Devil cut him off. “Because there’s really nothing there to redeem.” He grinned, teeth sharp. “You’re a husk, Jack. A mere shadow of what could have been.”
“Is that your secret?” Jack shot back, rolling his eyes. “It’s rather stupid, don’t you think?”
“I haven’t told you the whole thing yet.” The Devil walked up to him, still grinning in that creepy way he had. “What do you know about alternate universes, Jack?”
“Very little,” Jack replied, going tense. Did the Devil somehow know what he planned to do? “I really only found out about them when the Reaper took me here.”
“Good. Means this secret will really blow – your. . . .”
The Devil suddenly frowned, looking at Jack’s shirt. “Okay, I know you couldn’t have put on weight – people here get thinner if anything, not fatter. What the fuck are you hiding?” He grabbed at it before Jack could stop him. “What – a cloak?”
“Just some cloth,” Jack bluffed, eyeing the corridor. He was so close. . . .
“Doesn’t look like just some cloth to me. Looks like a bit of Wrath’s cloak.” The Devil looked Jack in the face, one eyebrow raised, seeming both angry and amused at the same time. “What are you trying to pull, my alternate reality friend?”
Jack decided to go for it. “This,” he said –
And punched the Devil as hard as he could in the face.
The Devil stumbled backwards, looking more shocked than in pain. Jack quickly turned and ran down the corridor, keeping a tight grip on the cloak. “How DARE YOU!” the Devil roared behind him. “DO YOU THINK DRIP IS THE WORST I COULD DISH OUT TO YOU?”
Jack picked up the pace, feeling an unwelcome stab of fear. Now he’d gone and done it. The satisfaction of being able to punch the Lord of All Evil kind of faded when you realized you were still at his mercy. All he could hope for now was to reach the portals before either the Devil caught up with him, or the world shifted.
The corridor was a short one, luckily. Jack raced into a huge room, lit by purple light. The light was coming from a vast array of circular voids, swirling black and purple. Jack stared at them for a moment, fascinated. They were beautiful in a weird, twisted way.
A creeping darkness invading through the doorway reminded Jack that he didn’t have much time. Throwing the cloak over himself, he looked up to see nameplates saying where each portal went. He skimmed them rapidly – JACK, Kevin and Kell, Dan and Mab’s, Rose Potter (that bint had her own universe?), Girl Genius, Back To The Future Trilogy –
That last one! Jack remembered his last adventure in his mortal life, where he’d passed through a portal in the clock tower. Into a world where he and his entire hometown only existed as something out of a movie. The movie had been called Back To The Future! Jack grinned – that was the one!
The darkness grew larger, forming a shadow creature of some sort. Without a second thought, Jack threw himself at the portal. There was an odd tingling sensation as his body passed through the energy – a cold tentacle wrapped around his right ankle, but he managed to kick it off – a moment of brilliant whiteness –
Then Jack fell out onto bright green grass.
He lay there for a moment, a little too stunned to do much of anything. Then he slowly looked up. He was laying in a forest, near a lake. He recognized it – Lake Canton, a favorite spot for campers and teenage couples, just about a half-mile from Hill Valley’s city limits. He took a deep breath, and noticed that he could, that air filled his lungs – cool, sweet-smelling air. The grass was soft under his hands and feet, and the sky was a healthy shade of blue. Jack took it all in. I – I made it. I’m back on Earth. I’m back home.
Then the coldest smile ever to grace a human face appeared on him. “Time to pay a visit to Emmett and Martin,” he said, getting to his feet. “Won’t they be surprised.”
And with that, he started the walk to Hill Valley, laughing the entire way.