A curved boat peeked through the languishing mists and pressed across a blood red sea. A harsh metal taste sullied the air, leaving a putrid after taste in the mouth of the thin man standing at the base of a red rock cliff, awaiting the ancient vessel. Despite the oppressive heat that threatened to suffocate and scorch his very breath as it left his body, the man shivered.
The boat slid to a stop at the very tip of the ledge and a gnarled, mummified hand beckoned him aboard. Jasper Keening swallowed, hard, stepped over the side and into the craft. For reasons he could not explain he did not look at the tall, cloaked ferryman, fearing his fate would be sealed if he so much as cast eyes upon a creature who could sail such seas.
As they pulled deeper into the mists, the sounds of the red water lapped eagerly at the boat, slapped and clawed against it. The crimson sea concealed thousands of unspeakable obstacles that pounded and ground against the wood beneath Jasper’s feet. hard enough that he had to cling to the thin wooden plank upon which he was seated; lest he be thrown overboard.
He would not put his hands over the edge of the boat. He did not wish to see, to feel or know what or who was impeding their progress. Then, the wailing began, horrific, gut-churning cries of suffering, of fear, of death and he started to shake.
A hand reached up to Jasper through the waves, then a head peeked through; eyes gouged from their sockets, skin puckered with boils and a scalp smoldering. It was as if they were being boiled. Boiled alive in a sea of blood.
At last they were on the other side, and he left the boat post haste, eager to be away from the maddening cries, the endless sounds of torment. The ferryman pointed one long bony finger, indicated an ancient stone stairway and so up Jasper climbed, to the throne room of his host.
The figure towered above him and settled against a throne made of rotting corpses. She was at once terrifyingly hideous and profoundly beautiful.
“A…are you a daughter of Satan?”
She laughed and it was a horrifying sound, comparable to a tremendous thunder storm, mixed with a million shrieking crows, and a hundred thousand screams of agony. “I am no daughter.”
“Not for many times…” She smiled and leaned closer to him, her breath pungent and sweet, deathly and alive. “I am the Mother. I am Beelzebub. Lucifer. Demogorgon. Mantus, I am all of one. I am the Keeper of the Gates.”
Jasper’s eyes widened. “But…He is called the Prince of Darkness.”
“Must a Prince have not a Queen who birthed him.” Again her wicked smile sent shivers through Jasper. “Was it not Eve who led your Adam astray? Was it not Helen who men went to war for?”
“Wars for many reasons. For freedom and to…to protect ourselves from enslavement and…”
“It is not for debate you are here, young Jasper.” She rose and cacophony of cries rose to a fevered pitch. Instead of feet there were claws, enormous black claws that scratched against stone steps, slick with blood, that screeched like a million nails drawn across a chalkboard as she descended.
“T…then why am I here?”
“Because you are dead. And your soul is mine.”
Jasper heard himself scream, just before her powerful jaws enveloped him.