Read Fireproof Online

Authors: Gerard Brennan

Fireproof

FIREPROOF
 

by

Gerard Brennan

Published by Blasted Heath, 2012

copyright 2012 © Gerard Brennan

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without permission of the author.

Gerard Brennan has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.

All the characters in this book are fictitious and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Cover design by JT Lindroos

Cover photo: Mark Rain

Visit Gerard Brennan at:

www.blastedheath.com

ISBN (ePub): 978-1-908688-27-9

Version 2-1-3

Chapter 1
 

The naked man, known in his former life as Mike, regarded the wormlike monstrosity before him without interest. The swollen, slimy, needle-toothed demon wrapped itself around his torso and its head hovered in front of his face. Its segmented, grey body pulsed and heaved against his bare skin as it squeezed at his ribs with boa constrictor strength. Its breath smelled of rotted fish and coffee-scented piss.

"Hi, Roomy," Mike said.

"Tremble in fear," the demon said.

"Um, no, I don't think I will."

The demon's head darted to his right shoulder. It opened its needled orifice, tore off Mike's arm and swallowed it whole. Mike didn't flinch.

"This is getting old, Wiggly Worm. We just can't go on like this."

"My name is Astheriziachial."

"And that's a lovely name and all. It's just that I have trouble pronouncing it. Can I have my arm back, please?"

The demon regurgitated Mike's arm and it hit the shattered-glass strewn floor with a crunch. It uncoiled itself from Mike's torso and slithered to a corner of the tiny room. The broken glass carpet furrowed in its wake, scrunching and tinkling.

"Oh, don't sulk."

The demon didn't respond. Mike picked up his chewed arm and shook off as much of the fragmented glass as he could. Wiggly Worm knew how much time it took Mike to sew with his left hand, the bastard.

"You know, I should just beat you around the head with this thing," Mike said.

"Shut up."

"Ah, progress." Mike laughed. "At least you're not going to persist with the silent treatment. That's always so awkward. Right, what do you want to do now? You ready to force yourself down my throat and eat your way out of my stomach? That's always been one of your favourites."

"Leave me alone."

Mike held his tongue. While his torturer took a little moment to itself, he thought about his stay in Hell. It was impossible to tell how long it had been since he was first committed to the bowels of the afterlife. It was certainly long enough for him to become apathetic about the whole experience.

Wiggly Worm, or Astheriziachial as he preferred to be addressed, had been his roommate since his arrival. At first, Mike had figured that he'd gotten off lightly with his painless punishment. But it got very repetitive. He was bored of sewing as well. It was his own responsibility to put himself back together again. He once shirked this duty for as long as he could bear it, but lying about the little room in pieces was a real downer. He had given up and stitched himself together in the end.

"You're going to get me in trouble, you know?" Wiggly Worm said after a time.

"Hard cheese, buddy. I've got my own problems. I can't be worried about the feelings of some worm with dental problems and halitosis."

"I'm a demon, you bastard!"

"Calm down. I didn't mean to insult you. You're very scary; it's just that I'm not easily disturbed these days."

"Yeah, sure."

"Look, it'd be easier for both of us if you went to see your boss about a transfer or something. Obviously I'll volunteer to move. You shouldn't have to leave your cosy room."

"Would you put in a good word for me as well?" the demon asked.

"Of course I will. You've been highly professional throughout our entire relationship. I have nothing but respect for you. We're just not right for each other."

"You really mean that, Mike?"

"Yes I do, and you know, you'll always be my first."

Hell or not, a little charm went a long way. The demon affected what could have been a smile and nodded.

"Okay Mike, I'll see what I can do for you."

The demon burrowed into the floor and was gone. Mike knelt at the lip of the tunnel. It swirled closed as he tried to put his hand inside it. He was alone in the little room for the first time. There wasn't much to do, so he pulled some thread out of the sewing kit he had been supplied with, and began the difficult task of getting it through the eye of the needle, with only his mouth and his left hand to work with. At least it would keep him occupied until somebody got back to him.

***

Before he died, Michael Peter Rocks did not believe in God. Logically, if God didn't exist then neither did the Devil. This idea, in turn, negated the theory of the existence of Heaven and Hell. Without one there was simply no need for the other.

But it turned out he'd been very much mistaken. There
was
a God and Mike was not his favourite lamb. No pearly gates for him. He was due south.

Mike found himself in a cell too low to stand up straight in, and lacking enough floor space to lie flat on. And so he had to make a home of this tiny cell with very little furniture, but some very pointy wall fixtures, a carpet of broken beer bottles and a most unfortunate colour scheme. Mostly reds and browns with some splashes of luminous green.

The living quarters also came with a roommate, Astheriziachial. Together, they made quite the odd couple. They had been through a lot of imaginative and intimate times together, though the demon got more out of it than Mike did. Maybe now that the demon had finally thrown the head up things would change for the better. Or worse. He didn't mind which. Anything was better than… nothing.

Mike pulled tight the final stitch in his shoulder and his surroundings wavered. The walls closed in a little and then changed their mind. The room grew to the size of a football pitch with nauseating speed. Lights sprouted organically from the heightened ceiling and stuttered in strobe-like flashes. Discordant, overdrive-ridden guitar riffs filled Mike's head. He yelled out in surprise before immediately composing himself. This was the closest thing to entertainment he had experienced since his death. He didn't want to miss a thing.

And then it all stopped. The lights steadied to an interrogation lamp glare and the unmelodic guitars cut out so suddenly that silence seemed to crash into the room. It was quite unsettling.

"Hi, Mike." The booming voice was the definition of bass.

Mike realised he was in the company of Lucifer. But he couldn't pinpoint exactly when the Devil had appeared. The hulking juggernaut filled space like sausage meat filled its skin. Mike had to step back a few paces to get Lucifer's entire face into view.

"Hi, um…"

"Call me Master," Lucifer said.

"Okay. Hi, Master."

"Walk with me, Mike. I'd like to show you around."

Mike felt a little like the ‘Stute fish swimming beside the Whale as he walked with Lucifer. They headed in one direction and the scenery shifted around them. Mike did not consciously turn corners. He walked straight and the corners got out of the way. It was a neat experience.

"So, I believe you have upset your designated demon," the Devil said. "Was that really necessary?"

"What? That's not how I see it. We'd simply agreed to go our separate ways. We'd reached a mutual understanding."

"If you say so."

"So, what are you going to do to me?"

Lucifer stopped and smiled.

"Brace yourself, Mike."

Lucifer clicked his fingers. For one endless moment every memory of pain, hurt and fear crowded in on Mike's soul, magnified to the nth degree. Nothing but torment existed. Lucifer snapped his fingers again and Mike's taste of real punishment ended. The relief washed over him like a tidal wave and caused Mike to fall face first onto the uneven floor. After he wiped the tears from his eyes and the blood and snot from his nose, Mike stood up. He faced Lucifer with his chin raised.

"Is that all you got?"

A cacophony of grunts and screams filled the huge, hellish chamber. Lucifer was laughing. A tear rolled from one of his huge black eyes and hit the ground next to Mike. It left a crater.

"Is that all you got?" Lucifer mimicked Mike with perfection. "Priceless."

Mike didn't rise to the mockery. "What was the point of that, then?"

"Astheriziachial told me he tried everything he could think of and couldn't get so much as a flinch from you. I didn't want that going to your head.
I'm
the epitome of evil. Bureaucratic error or not."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

They restarted their stroll through the corridors of Hell. Mike waited for Lucifer to break the silence. He had time. The shock he'd suffered, from Lucifer's taster, had subsided as soon as he'd stood up. He started to enjoy the sensation of staying in one piece and the walk made a nice change to being cooped and stooped in his little cell. He was even getting a kick out of the fact that each word from Lucifer's mouth sent a shockwave through his body that rattled every bone in his frame.

"You shouldn't be here, Mike. Somebody dropped the ball."

"Of course I should be here. I'm a murderer."

"You committed
one
murder. Don't be so dramatic." Lucifer sighed. "It shouldn't have happened anyway. You were meant to die before that… incident."

"Incident? It was a bloody blood bath!"

"Bloody blood bath? Yes, I suppose that's as good a description as any, but that's not the point. You're one of the good souls. That's why Astheriziachial couldn't do his job. You're not meant for here."

"A good soul? What, like, always destined to do the right thing? What about free will?"

"Hah! Free will? Good one, Mike. No, that's just good PR. It doesn't really work like that. Your time comes when your time comes. You make the decisions you're
supposed
to make. Well… most of you do. Once in a while, an angel looks the wrong way at the wrong time, and one of
His
players wanders off the path. And who gets left with the damage control? Muggins here, that's who."

"Damage control?"

"Do you think word about the man who can't be tortured can be kept under lock and key? You're in Hell, Mike. Amongst the sneaky snitches and the garrulous gossips of the afterlife. Sooner or later word will be out about you and I can't have my workforce thought of as incompetent. Every member of my team is a reflection of my power. I'll never let
that
fall under scrutiny." Lucifer paused to take a deep breath. His chest rose and fell. Plate tectonics in motion. "Anyway, it's pointless you being here if you can't be tortured by one of my demons, and I'm certainly not willing to waste
my
time on you for eternity."

"So are you going to send me to Heaven?"

Lucifer snorted. "Mike, your soul has been tainted by this mess. You wouldn't be let in."

"That's not fair!"

"Dry your eyes, Mike. You
killed
a man, remember?"

"But I wasn't supposed to! You said so yourself. I'm meant to be up there on a cloud playing one of those ridiculous harp thingies."

"You've fairly changed your tune."

Mike tutted. "This is ridiculous."

"Why, Mike? Because none of the religions got it a hundred percent right? That really surprises you?"

"No. Yes. A little." Mike sighed. "So what happens now then?"

"I'd like to offer you a job."

"A job? Pfft, do I get many benefits?"

"No need for sarcasm. You will be given a mortal body to stroll about in back up there and you'll be provided with shelter, food and a generous budget."

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