I do not remember falling.  There was only the briefest sense of transition.  I was in Heaven, and then I was surrounded by pitch-black darkness.  There was an immense smell of ash inundating everything, but the place was cold, like a fireplace in summer.  The flames were long gone.

            The depth of darkness was tremendous, beyond black.  Most people fear true darkness, I remember a professor saying.  Being shut away from light was generally unnerving.  It was supposed to be instinct, he said, based on survival and coded into our genes:  the fear of the unknown.

            “I’m not afraid of the dark,” I told him.

            “I don’t mean just night-time, where there is still some ambient light, night-vision.  I mean like being in a coffin, sealed away.  It can make men mad,” he said.

            I proceeded to tell him how as a child I had forced myself to sit in the dark after having been afraid of a sweater I thought was a monster.  I turned on the lights, saw the room was normal, and turned them off, telling myself the room was still normal, just dark.  It got to the point that, playing hide and seek with my cousins, I would hide in cupboards and toy boxes, almost totally lightless, and fear nothing.

            “I learned early that darkness is nothing,” I said.  “It is not a thing.  All that’s there are the same things as when the lights are on.”

            He laughed and suggested trying out a sensory deprivation tank if I ever had the opportunity. 

            “Most people become claustrophobic, after they’ve been in there long enough.  I suspect you might just fall asleep,” he told me.

            Now, in the darkest of darks, I remembered his words and those of the dreamscape.  Darkness was but the space between lights.  Perhaps I had been designed to be the one person who could stand the terror of this desolate place.

            I walked forward slowly, straining to hear any sound, feeling only the chill air and smelling char.  The dark seemed endless and empty.  I began to find Hell boring, and wondered if spending too much time here was the worst kind of torture.  Monotony for eternity:  no stimulation, nothing, not even pain to break the routine.  It was crueller than physical punishment.

            I wished for light, praying to God for a break in this dreadful void.  I was startled when my sword burst to fiery life in my hand, manifested by my faith into brightness.  I marvelled, realizing I might be the only person in Hell with faith in God.

            Have you ever noticed that an empty house feels empty?  You know upon entering that there’s no one occupying the building.  It just feels flat, lifeless.  Hell felt like that in that it was devoid of the presence of God, the happy hum I had begun to feel ever since the day I was baptized.  The background murmur that told me God was watching out for me.  In Hell, that hum was suspiciously absent until my sword appeared.

            The light showed me very little.  The floor (ground?) was cold rock, and if this place had walls, they were beyond the limit of my light source.  It was unnerving, this sense that I was alone in this immense sepulchre.  I walked further into the darkness and continued like that for an unmeasured time. 

            I was weary of this ongoing pilgrimage, reflecting that the vast majority of my life had been based on trudging from one waypoint to the next, never staying in one place for very long.  I had spent all my time walking towards things for God, but never resting anywhere.  Never really living.

             As if in answer to my bored annoyance, I heard a faint sound.  This caused me to stop in my tracks, to pinpoint its source.  For a moment, I had a thought:  “Why do things start happing just as I’m wondering why nothing’s happening?”  But the moment passed as I felt the need to search for the maker of the sound.

            I turned toward the direction it had come from, and discerned the faint cries of someone moaning in fear.  Moving closer, holding my sword up like a torch, I began to make out the mutterings of a man driven mad with terror.

            “So dark, so alone, they’re out there, they’re gonna get me, can’t move, gotta hide, nowhere to run, safer to stay here, leave me alone, all alone…”  He was chattering like a monkey, an ongoing spiel about his terrors.

            I stepped closer and made out a naked form cowering on the ground, a pale troglodyte shivering against the rock.  This pathetic figure moved its head from side to side again and again, as if seeking for sights and sounds.  It seemed oblivious of my approach, or my light, though my sword should have been a rather conspicuous sign of my arrival.

            As I got closer I felt a cold shiver of fear grip me, and with such a force that the shock almost caused me to drop my sword.  I stopped in my tracks, utterly stupefied.

            The cringing, cowering thing on the ground was Jason, twisted into a dim shadow of himself by his captivity.

            I gathered my will and found the strength to move.  Kneeling, I shone my light in his eyes.  He continued to mutter, unaware of my presence, going on and on about imagined monsters in the dark.  His eyes were so wide and dilated that they seemed to be cavernous black orbs.

            “Jason, can you hear me?”  I asked.

            “It’s so dark, so lonely…” He went on, as if I didn’t exist.

            “He can’t hear you,” a voice said from the darkness, dripping with smug satisfaction and delight.

            I whirled, my sword up for defence, and beheld a dark figure melting out of the shadows.  Though visible because of my sword, somehow he seemed darker than the void from which he came.

            “Azazel.”  I said, recognizing Mara’s antagonist from the snowy plain by the mountains in the wilderness.

            He smiled.  “It is good to see you here, Ethan.  I wondered if Rage would ever lead you home.  Sloth has certainly found Jason a place in Hell.”

            Azazel took a long look at my sword, and something flashed across his features.  Some emotion that he quickly concealed.  Fear?  Loathing?  I couldn’t tell, but I knew that the sword’s presence here discomfited him.

            “What have you done to my friend?” I demanded.  “Why can’t he hear me?”

            “I have done nothing.  Jason’s imprisonment is his own doing.”  Azazel looked down on him with mock sympathy.  He even started to pet Jason’s head like a dog, though he didn’t notice.  “Poor thing, he’s so afraid of the dark he won’t venture out.  He’s too scared to even call for help, fearing that his cries might draw something menacing.”

            “But he should see me, know that I’m here to help…”

            “Alas, Jason is unable to perceive your light.  It comes from God, and were he able to accept such a gift, he never would have ended up here in the first place.  People in Hell have rejected God.”  Azazel seemed pleased by this.

            “You mean he chooses not to see?  Not to believe?”

            “They all do.”  Azazel waved his hand and we were immediately surrounded.  Innumerable naked, writhing bodies, a teeming mass of the damned stretched as far as I could see.  Each of them was blind and deaf to their neighbours, each of them so lost in their own suffering that they could not reach out to comfort those around them.

            I collapsed to my knees, screaming in sorrow and agony for these lost souls, trapped in darkness because they were unwilling to see the light.

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