Hell, as it happened, was easily reached. No crimes need be committed, no offenses against God. Everyone, so Calvin told him, over hot cups of green tea, went to Hell.
‘But I’ve never done anything.’
‘Yes. Unfortunately, Hell is the afterlife. There is nowhere else to go.’
‘What about God and the Devil?’
‘God is a myth. The Devil… There are rumours. No one knows for sure.’
Will took all this in dumbly. He believed Calvin was telling the truth, but he was also aware that he was incapable of truly comprehending any of it. Not until he saw it for himself, and even then, maybe not. Maybe he would never come to terms with the things that happened to him. The moment the first Demon smashed through the front window Will had been thrust into some other reality. The world he’d once known no longer applied. He was a child again, and he had no parents to guide him. Only Calvin.
‘So how do we get there?’
Calvin swallowed scalding hot tea and licked his lips. ‘That’s a special talent of mine. But first we need to find a place for your body.’
‘Yes. While you’re in hell with me, your body remains here. That’s why we can’t do it here – unless you don’t mind waking up six feet underground.’
Will shuddered at the thought. How long would it take, locked in a pitch black coffin, before he suffocated? He stared into his teacup, trying to think of somewhere he could hide that the police wouldn’t think to look for him.
The answer came in the form of a brief memory. He was six years old, and his father was stomping after him, wet, ashy and angry – Will had been playing with matches and accidentally set the grass on fire in the back yard. Heart slamming in his chest, tears running down his face, Will had broken another House Rule and crawled through the dilapidated cellar door in the garage. You get back out here, now! His father roared after him. I will drag you out if I have to!
But Will was too terrified to stop. Forcing himself deeper, spiders and who knew what else scurrying across his skin and sticky webs matting his hair, he came across a tiny rotted door. It blended so well with the dust he’d never have seen it if it weren’t for the padlock, which was so rusted it simply snapped when he pulled on it.
The room beyond must have been built for a purpose, but Will had never discovered it. It was too tiny to be anything besides a kind of storage space, though at the time it was pitch black and Will wasn’t interested in finding out what might be stored there – he simply huddled just inside the door and tried to quiet his breathing. His father gave up looking after twenty minutes of stomping and swearing, and Will curled into a tight ball, shivering with terror and misery, for several long hours.
He’d never gone back, since the experience fuelled a fear of the dark that outweighed even that of his angry father, and besides Mr. Groves had never been that angry again.
Now, his fear had left him along with everything else, and he led Calvin through the cramped cellar, using his mother’s cigarette lighter to see the way, burning the spider webs as he went and sending the residents scuttling for cover.
The door was still there, though it was much smaller than Will remembered. Whoever had made it certainly wasn’t planning on spending much time down there, or else they’d been much smaller than a fourteen year old boy. Calvin crawled after him with ease, perfectly at home in the claustrophobic dark. ‘Yes, yes,’ he was muttering. ‘It’s perfect. Very good. But what is this…’
He took the lighter from Will’s hand and explored the cramped confines, illuminating a dirt floor, the rotted rafters holding up the house and at the far end, a pile of rags and sticks that Will initially thought must be discarded building materials. Then Calvin moved the lighter down and a skull emerged from the shadows, teeth cracked and lower jaw hanging as if in a final scream.
‘Interesting,’ Calvin said. ‘But then, I can’t say I’m surprised. Lightning might never strike the same place twice, but Hell often does. Once evil touches a place, it’s always bound to return at one time or another.’
Will could only stare at the empty skull, wondering what it could possibly mean. Had a murderer lived here, once? Or were these more victims of the same demons that had killed his family? Either way, Calvin didn’t seem interested. He moved back beside Will, leaving the skeletons to their peace. He reached over and pulled the door shut, the soft clank echoing in the small room.
‘At least we know you’ll be safe here, while we’re gone,’ he said. He flicked off the lighter, leaving them in total darkness. No, not total – Will could see Calvin’s eyes: not the whites but the tiny pupils, two red dots floating in space. ‘Are you ready?’
‘I don’t know. How do we do it?’ Will asked the dots.
‘Simple.’ Two icy hands closed around Will’s neck and began to apply pressure. ‘First, you have to die.’