Jackson has penned, well, one hell of an opening. Beginning with a quick, gory visit to hell, where condemned souls dissolve into a molten cauldron of the damned, a single woman—antagonist, we assume—is offered a reprieve by Satan: Go forth to Earth and retrieve souls for Hell or be committed this fate. Of course, she accepts. Enter Clara— protagonist, we surmise—is dispossessed by her family, down on love and life. she searches for answers at the edge of suicide. She seeks love, but can she love herself? A favorite line arrives near the chapter close: It was cheap and she could definitely afford cheap, but so could everyone else... This looks to be a heavy redemption theme fantasy-horror-thriller.
Stepping across hot lava and putrid, liquefied bodies; she carefully used the heads of screaming souls as stepping stones. Only the heads were visible; mouths wide open like a gaping abyss, the bodies sloshed together like a grotesque soup. The most terrifying fear and evil was felt to the core. The shrill cries and screams of millions of people was ear-splitting torture. The heat was inescapable, and it blistered the skin upon immediate contact. Soon, the skin would bubble up, and then it would begin to slough off in chunks. Moments later, it was completely melted off the skeletal frame; another soul added to the stew. She was new to Hell; every step rendered her legs useless, as they melted underneath her. Soon, she was no longer using heads as stepping stones, as her body became fully submerged underneath the lava, just like the others. A demon suddenly emerged into this section of Hell. The demon was called “Master” by the screaming souls. They would beg for him to let them out of the boiling inferno, but he would only laugh and mock them. He was very large, with wings that grew from his back. His mouth was large, and crammed with razor sharp teeth that still had remnants of torn flesh dangling from them; flesh that had been gnawed off of a body only moments before. His eyes were solid black, like two pieces of cold polished steel, deep-set in his head. His ears were large and pointed, like the ears of a bat; and two horns projected from his forehead and curled back on his head. He was a ghastly beast that invoked spine-chilling fear on all who looked upon him. However, every demon looked more horrifying than the next. Some were creatures that did not look like anything of this world; they were monsters that could shape-shift into more menacing creatures than before. Some were half- human and half-animal; still others had the appearance of ghouls or zombies, only they were not like the creatures of fiction, these were far scarier than anything created by man’s interpretation. This place in Hell was a menagerie of the most wicked and atrocious beings in existence. It was a frightening zoo, only with no bars to keep the animals at bay. Demons both large and small partook in merriments of all sorts. A demon would tear the hearts from the bodies that entered Hell; eating the hearts ravenously, as blood spurted from his mouth with each bite, and ran profusely down his chin. Imps could be seen perched atop bodies, looking back and forth with a wild look in their reptilian eyes. Their shoulders were hunched over in a protective gait, growling as they protected their spoils; the guts from men, women, and children. They would dig their claws deep inside of the body cavity, ripping and tearing the flesh, as they stuffed the entrails into their mouths greedily. Still other large demons tortured souls in Hell by wrapping their serpent-like bodies around the wailing souls, squeezing them until their internal organs burst. Blood and body fluids would fill their throats, and would gush out with a projectile vomit. All of the demons lacked remorse. There was no sympathy, no soul; only emptiness and an absolute loathing for people.
The demon known as “Master” stepped through the hot boiling hell, crushing and smothering everything underneath his clawed feet. A maniacal grin slowly peeled across his evil lips, parting them to reveal his pointed razor sharp teeth. His sinister gaze was nightmarish; it was cold and unwavering, as he said nothing. If the eyes are the windows to the soul, then his stare was an empty abysmal reflection of pure terrifying evil. He stared at the soul that joined the others in their gut-wrenching pleads for mercy. Finally he spoke; every word bore the heavy burden of a stifling stench that would make knees buckle and stomachs churn, begging for relief. His large black eyes narrowed, as he spoke to the weary soul, “If I let you out, will you bring more souls to me?” “I will do anything you want, just let me out of here,” she pleaded. “I will make you beautiful and alluring, no one will be able to resist you. You will be famous; everyone will know your name. You will cause many men to lust for you and fall to temptation. If you do not, you will be brought back here, and my foot will fully submerge you underneath this fiery cesspool for eternity.” The soul of the woman spoke, “I will go Master, and I will bring them to you.” Suddenly, the melted frame of this woman began to take form. Blood vessels slowly emerged, and began filling with blood; skin covered the frame, and this woman became a living, breathing soul again. She stood before the demon and looked around. She noticed that there were thousands of other people going through the same process. “You all have an assignment,” the demon spoke. “Go to the Earth with your positions of power. You must work to destroy the people on Earth. You must do whatever it takes. Make them fail, make them enjoy their sins, make them obey Satan, and bring them to me!” All of a sudden, Satan himself appeared. He was very large, and he stood high above everyone in the underworld. Each word that he spoke was heavily clothed, with a demented, guttural growl that shook Hell. All of the souls, demons, imps, ghosts, and creatures cowered in fear. “Our time is near; you, who have the privilege of being assigned to Earth, must not fail. If you do, you will experience inexplicable pain from excruciating torture and torment, for all of eternity!” Satan’s words spewed from his mouth like acid burning deep within the souls, inflicting terror that exceeded the torture that they were already experiencing. Master and the other head demons worked expeditiously to open up the many portals that led from the pits of Hell to the Earth. There were portals for miles and miles that opened up onto various places on Earth; portals that opened into homes, schools, churches, and jobs. There were portals that led to record companies and movie sets; and other portals that led to entertainment venues and political offices. Satan spoke again; overpowering the tormented souls with their vociferous cries of agony that roared like the sound of a rushing incinerator. “Now go, and deceive everyone! Go to every home, enter into every heart, and leave no stone unturned. No one will be immune to my power. Ha ha ha, do on Earth as it is in Hell!!”
It was one disappointment after another for Clara. She tried to kill herself once but even failed at that attempt. She was afraid to die. Would it hurt, would she really go to Hell like her grandmother use to say? “What difference does it make anyway,” she thought. Hers was a troubled past, filled with pain and disappointments, even until now as she pulled her pants up and reached for her bra. “Get out, and never come back”, were the words she heard as she picked up everything except for her self-esteem. She thought that she had found love, even if it was love for a married man. He told her that he loved her and she was so sure this time. She thought that maybe she was good for something besides sex. She was unsure of her real purpose in life. Since the age of seven, she heard how good she was, but only because it was tied to how sexually good she was. So, she figured she would do what she was good at. She never did what was good for her. By now, her heart was filled with pain and anger, and the bitterness could not be chiseled away with a pickaxe; although this was a welcome option at this point. “Oh I’ll be back, same time same place,” she said as she walked out the door without looking back. He said “get out” a lot, here lately. “I have a lot at stake,” he would whine to her, “let me get all of my business straight and then it will be just you and me,” he tried to reassure her. She walked out not wanting to hear a response, out into the crisp, night air. She pulled her overcoat tight around her small frame as she blew into her tiny balled up fist for warmth. It was a cold wet night; the streets wet and dirty, the pavement emitted the smells of urine and alcohol, every now and then, the smells of the Chinese takeout on the corner wafted by. Only the red neon lights that displayed “XXX”, flashed as a beacon in the night. Every once in a while an ambulance would wail by and continue until it was a faint sound in the distance. Diesel fuel filled the air, as the bus made its regular stop in the neighborhood. It never stopped long enough to pick up anyone, just seemed to be going through the motion. She would sometimes hear the familiar sound of faint screams on this stretch of her walk; coming from different parts of the city, so it seemed. She often thought to herself, “I wonder if someone is dying right now, at this very moment.” She didn’t want to dwell on such morbid thoughts, so she picked up the pace trying to find just a little more light to welcome her from the shadows of this dark and dreary night. She grew angrier at every step that she took as she reflected on how she had ended up at this point in her life in the first place. She was a very beautiful girl, full of promise and ambition. She had a wonderful smile that masked all of the pain hidden in her heart, and she kept it that way, not wanting to reveal the many skeletons in her closet. She didn’t want any hints of an emotional breakdown to cloud anyone’s judgment of her; she spent enough time judging herself.
Her thoughts; however, took her back to that night when she was just seven years old. That night she would become a woman. After all she was forced to do things only a woman should do; she was forced to do things a woman should not do. She squeezed her eyes tightly as she remembered the mixture of foam and blood that trickled down her tiny thighs, the smell of stale cigarettes and beer that seemed to emanate from his pores, the sweat that beaded up and dripped from his forehead into her eyes, stinging them and forcing them to stay shut through such a revolting experience. Her delicate tissues seemed to rip apart underneath dirty, jagged finger nails and his dick that was forced inside of her, even though it did not fit. With an immense amount of pain and raw emotion, screams filled the air; screams that were just among the other screams that always seemed to possess the night air. Perhaps someone walking through these streets wondered if someone was dying at that moment; and in fact there was, she was dying. The abuse went on much through her adolescent years. The pain, emotional and physical, never got easier.
There was never a real relationship during those wonder years that she remembered, just empty, meaningless sex; with jocks from the football team, guys she barely knew, even her history teacher. It made her popular, she found acceptance, although she grew to totally despise sex. It was the only thing that she felt that she was really good at. It got her jobs, money, dinners, and it even landed her a husband. Later in life, it led to rape, abuse, attempted suicide, prostitution, and now a relationship with a married man who obviously used her and would dispose of her like yesterday’s trash. What a roller coaster ride through life. The only love she had known was that of her grandmother. Clara’s mother became pregnant at a young age; she couldn’t properly care for a child. She ditched Clara on her grandmother frequently, leaving her for days at a time; no one knew where she was. Grandmother was a praying woman, and she seemed to always have a prayer in her heart for Clara’s mother. It didn’t seem that God had heard the prayers though, because Clara’s mother got worse. Days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months. When her mother did come for her, she would leave Clara in her tiny dilapidated apartment to go out to the clubs to party, and do whatever else was exciting out there in the world. Whatever it was, it was apparent that it was better than being at home with Clara; and so, she would leave Clara with Him. She didn’t want to address him by name, he would always be known to her as Him, the man that forced himself on her countless times from the age of seven to sixteen. It was at that age that her mother left her at her grandmother’s house for the last time and did not come back. She was found dead 4 months later, her throat cut; He did it. He was captured and convicted of murder. He was never convicted of rape, or molestation, or even injury to a child. He never knew how Clara had felt about him, or the impact that the abuse had on her life, or how she progressed in life after that; he probably didn’t care. All Clara knew was that he got away with what he had done to her. Clara’s mother never knew what happened either, and now she was dead. He hung himself in jail while waiting to be transported to prison-COWARD.
It wasn’t fair; no one ever told her that they were sorry, because no one ever knew or would have even cared. Clara had to live with the hurt and pain without ever being able to tell anyone; for fear that her secret would somehow be misused or not considered important. It was quite a burden to bear. It was kind of ironic that she feared what others would think about her being molested, yet she was so self destructive sexually, and this did not seem to bother her at all. Grandmother made sure she was in church every Sunday. Clara hated church and rebelled against everything that church stood for. How could God let me go through those painful experiences; this God of love, joy, and peace? The invitation to accept Christ was presented to her every Sunday, Monday night, and Wednesday during bible study; all through her teenage years, and even into adulthood. She accepted the invitation as a formality most times, she often did it just to please her grandmother and make her proud. However, her heart was broken and Clara was not interested in having it repaired. She stopped attending services altogether, after the monotony of church caused her to despise everything God. Her grandmother continued to pray just as she had for her own daughter, but it seemed she would never see her prayers fulfilled in her lifetime; she passed away a few years later. So now Clara was on her own, with no one to love, and with no one to love her back. She tried to think about any episodes of happiness that she experienced in her life to help dull the pain that she was feeling right now. “Get out, and never come back,” this rang in her ears, she tried to act like it didn’t hurt to hear those words, but it did.
Even her marriage was filled with turmoil and anguish. She was not really in love with him from the start. He asked her to marry him during one drunken wild night at a party, and she accepted for fear of being alone in the world forever. It wasn’t her best decision, but it certainly wasn’t her worst decision either. She tried to make it work. She wanted children; at least they would always be there for her and require her time, love, and attention. She was more than willing to bestow all the love that she had on a child. Her husband; however, did not want kids, he was selfish like that. He accused her of trying to trap him. “You just want my money, you gold digging whore,” he told her. He started abusing her early in the relationship. It started with a few light pushes and then it progressed to slaps. He told her she was stupid all of the time and she was never allowed to fix herself up. So, he told her that she was ugly and that no one would ever want her, and she was better off with him because at least he was paying her bills. It seemed like it happened overnight, that he was punching her and practically knocking her unconscious at times. The day she confronted him about having children he became enraged. He grabbed her by the head, and slammed her onto the floor. She panicked as she struggled to inhale her last bit of air. She gasped and grabbed at the air fighting for breath, but the breath left her body. She was so concentrated on trying to breathe , that she didn’t feel the kicks that he delivered to her abdomen until it was discovered later that he ruptured her spleen, and broke a couple of ribs. He dragged her by the hair into the bathroom to look at herself, so that he could remind her of what a whore looked like. “I don’t sleep with whores, and especially little whores that like to get pregnant and trap men, you succubus.” He pushed her head into the mirror, pieces of glass lodged into her eyes, and she felt warm sticky fluid pouring down her face and into her mouth. It was then that she realized she was tasting blood. Thank God someone heard the commotion and called the police. This would be one of many fights. During the tenure of the relationship, she suffered 10 different broken bones, 20 black eyes, and an even lower self-esteem, before she was able to free herself. She finally pressed charges and through pursuing his conviction persistently, she was able to see him led off in handcuffs to serve prison time. Thank God for the overzealous police lady that grew tired of coming to Clara’s residence, only to dispatch an ambulance to cart her off for repairs. After this, she felt as though she was incapable of obtaining a good man. She was always attracting the wrong people and inviting destructive relationships and situations in her life. She grew bitter and hateful and learned to grow a thick skin, so as not to let anyone penetrate her exterior, to get to her heart. She always talked sarcastically and expected the worst from people, she trusted no one, so it was ironic that untrustworthy people were the only people she attracted. This was only confirmation that all men were bad, and this included teachers, preachers, and even Jesus himself. She trusted no one and this suited her just fine. No, there were no happy times to remember.
She finally arrived at her apartment of ill repute, as some would have called it. It was cheap and she could definitely afford cheap, but so could everyone else, and that made up the vast array of her neighbors. There were prostitutes that never really lived there, but were always there; alcoholics down on their luck, single moms stripping, or waitressing to keep up with the depressing economy; small time drug dealers only selling enough to get by, and then there was her only friend Anthony. He was Anthony by day, and Toni with an “I” by night.