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Dear Readers, I have a Halloween treat for you.  An original short story that I’d like to share with you on this spookiest of holidays.  Feedback is appreciated. Happy Haunting!

PS: This is copyrighted work – do not even think of sharing or reposting without permission. JC

The Sounds of Hell

Halloween always made her anxious. It had since she was little. While her friends were running door to door yelling ‘trick or treat’, she was following along, glancing over her shoulder and dodging shadows.  It wasn’t that she spooked easily – she had never been one to fall for pranks or avoid scary movies. Well unless those movies involved demons. Ghosts, witches, vampires, monsters…all imaginative and harmless as far as she was concerned. But demons…they creeped her out right to her very DNA. Even now as an adult, she still paled when anyone spoke of demons and still kept from the shadows as much as possible.  A few of her friends thought her odd for her reactions, and while she couldn’t fully explain them, she also knew she truly didn’t want to –ignorance was bliss as far as the subject was concerned.

“Happy Halloween Houston!” the DJ called cheerfully, spooky music playing in the background. She sighed and focused on traffic as he prattled on about the weather forecast for the trick-or-treaters and local haunted houses. 

“Coming up at eight oclock I’ve got a special Halloween treat for you. I’ve got a rare recording of the sounds of Hell. An actual live audio recording of what the Nether World sounds like. Stay tuned.”

She shivered suddenly, then brushed it off. Obviously it was a prank – likely some joke where a fake Mormon choir was singing Halloween songs Evangelical style. Or possibly someone’s mother yelling at them to stop taking candy from strangers. There were many things that could constitute Hell and get a station ratings.  More music followed, local news, commercials, more music, more promises from the DJ that he was about to present the scariest thing ever heard by human ears. She doubted that and kept driving.

She was pulling into the parking garage: 7:58. The current song ended as she eased into a parking spot near the stairwell. The DJ came on and she decided she could spare a few minutes out of sheer curiosity.

“Ok folks, the moment you’ve been waiting for. I haven’t played this in the last few years because it traumatized some people last time out.” She noticed his usually friendly voice had taken a more serious tone. “This was recorded in the early 70’s, when a group of Russian engineers went into Siberia to experiment with some new mining technology and decided to try for a world record in drilling. They wanted to go past the seven mile mark – that’s seven miles into the Earth’s crust. So they started the drilling project, taking core samples as they went, and this took months! Finally they celebrated their milestone when they passed seven miles and they decided to keep going and to see how far the drill could actually get. Eight miles went by – more celebrating – these guys were drilling deeper into the Earth than anyone ever thought possible! Then they hit the nine mile mark and things got weird. The drill started caveating like it had hit an air pocket so they pulled it back a bit and when they did, a blast of hot sulfurous air came racing up the shaft. These guys were freaked out, thinking they must have tapped some magma vent near the core. But when there was no sign of lava or anything they decided to investigate this weird pocket they’d hit – remember this is nine miles below them.” He took a breath like he was getting ready to deliver really bad news and she found herself clutching the steering wheel with white-knuckled intensity – this was not the story she had expected him to deliver.

 “Now you have to realize these guys are engineers, pretty smart guys, pretty stable, and scientifically curious about this geological discovery they are making.  So to check for signs of geological activity they lowered a microphone down the shaft. Because of the depth and the searing heat, the microphone only recorded thirty seconds of audio. What these guys picked up sent rational, educated men fleeing for their lives, and I have to warn you, this recording has traumatized some of my listeners in the past.”

She tried to shake off the feeling of impending dread – the man worked in radio so obviously he could spin a good story – there had to be a prank coming – there just had to be….

“Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the thirty second recording of Hell.” He noted gravely.  Clicks and white noise came over the speakers but then it intensified, like a microphone was in fact being lowered into a much larger opening. Suddenly wails and screams burst forth, torturous cries like thousands of souls crying for mercy. She squeezed her eyes shut and clapped her hands over her ears – still the horror dug into her. Flashes of memory jolted her with intensely painful clarity. 

The sounds stopped, the DJ’s voice coming back on to break the spell. “Wow! I’ve heard some scary stuff in my day but people that always, ALWAYS, makes me shiver. I mean….”

The man prattled on but she was too shaken to notice. She had seen what the sounds reflected. How was that possible? She trembled at the disturbing notion. How could she possibly know that?

“Ok folks, some of you are messaging in that you think it’s a hoax, so I want you to listen again. Listen to the background and the screams. This was recorded by some very smart, very sensible people and…”

No! She pulled out her keys and hurried from the car, exiting like it was tainted by the evil she had just heard. She leaned against the neighboring truck, taking a deeper breath and getting her bearings, looking around the normalcy of the space, realizing she was now a few minutes late getting into the office. It was just a Halloween prank – just some sound editor’s practice reel off some low budget horror flick. Yeah, she would keep telling herself that. The DJ was a master of sound and effects, of course he could spin a good tale and scare the willies out of his listeners – that’s what he got paid for – audio believability.  It was the same thing they had done in the original War of the Worlds broadcast that had caused so much panic. She took another breath and clung to the strand of logic like it was a lifeline. She straightened, picked up her purse, checked that she had her badge then headed for the stairwell with a tentative grip on her sanity.

She had been preoccupied, still chasing away the mental creepers, and failed to realize she had descended more sets of stairs than there should have been. She stopped, swallowing hard against the panic welling inside, looking around the stairwell that appeared perfectly normal – concrete steps, chipped paint on the handrail, piping running up the walls. She turned around and headed back up, but as she rounded to the next level she let little yelp of fear – the top steps ended in a cinderblock wall.  Shaking fingers reached into her bag to pull out her phone – it slipped from her trembling grip when she read NO SIGNAL. 

Her body trembled so hard she lowered herself to the steps, knowing she had to sit down before she fell down, sliding to keep her back to the wall for both physical support and so she could see what was coming.

What was coming? The faint scraping sounds reached her ears more clearly now.  Something was coming up the stairs below her.  Tears slipped freely down her cheeks, her heart pounding like it would come out of her chest. Pure unequivocal terror choked the sound from her as shadows darkened the walls, dimming the area to near darkness as the nightmare’s steps closed in. She wanted to close her eyes and scream in madness as it materialized; all she could do was weep in silently transfixed horror.

It towered before her, nearly scraping the nine foot ceiling with its hairless head. The large, stooped form blocked out the surrounding stairwell and what little light remained in the space. The dark skin was crusted in places, looking like it had been seared and burned over and over again, scraps of metal and cloth randomly imbedded into its hide and scarred over with blackened welts. This was her nightmare; this was the reason she feared the shadows and ran from demon-lore.  She looked up to the face of the creature, taking in the double mouths, each with rows of broken and serrated teeth, then finally fixated on the milky eyes. She gasped as the opaque film shifted and whirled, remembering that the beast saw through the captured souls of the enslaved. 

“You remember now.” The mouths hissed in grating unison, the sound echoing off the walls.

A sob broke from her but she shook her head fiercely, remembering some but refusing to remember it all.

It looked at her, eyes swirling violently, one mouth hissing in contempt as the other answered. “You escaped. No one escapes. You lived mortal again. No one escapes.”

Escape! The hole! A painful cry rang out as it all came flooding back. Eons of agony, of subservience to creatures like this over one condemning action committed a millennia ago in her original life. But then the outside world had come in, piercing the veil of the netherworld, offering a chance at freedom. She and several others had taken it, fleeing the demons before they could close the portal.  As spirit she had reentered the human world and sought the first safe place she could find – the body of a sickly baby whose weakened soul had already departed. She was a miraculous recovery and had lived a life quietly hidden among humans, doing nothing that would jeopardize this life and send her back to the darkness.

But the legends of the Other World veil lifting on Halloween were based in fact, and while she couldn’t see them in her human form, her hiding spirit had always felt the demons watching, waiting for the opportunity to reclaim her. It had come with that flash of memory, that weakening of her hold on the current reality, that painful glimpse of the world she was forever bound to.

“Yessss. You remember.” The dark mouths whispered almost greedily. “You are the last. No one escapes.”

When the disfigured hand reached out, she screamed and fought in frantic hysteria. The beast was unaffected as its talons latched onto her, turning to descend the stairs, dragging her along despite her efforts to resist.  She screamed continually, tortured and fearful cries for the pain inflicted as the nightmare pulled her along.  The steps finally gave way to a jagged rocky slope that cut into her flesh almost as much as the demon did.  More screams – more fear – more pain. Her heart burst – she coughed and choked – still the demon dragged her further down. Searing pain engulfed her as she struggled to scream past her own death – finally the terrified noise broke free as her soul was ripped from the stolen body. She caught a glimpse of her mangled corpse collapsing on the rocky path behind them before the demon refocused her attentions. Holding her struggling spirit in its vice-like grip the demon stopped on a ledge, looking out over the charred landscape and molten pits that made up the dark realm.  It swung her out over a chasm that teemed and churned with the tortured souls of the condemned, lips curling back from both mouths like it was savoring the moment.

“No one escapes.” The graveled hiss reminded her. The claws opened and she plummeted. Her screams were quickly lost amid the countless other agonizing cries that made up the sounds of Hell.