Michi stood as the world around her blurred into view. There was pain, there was suffering, and then there was this.
The stones beneath her skinned feet were burning to the touch, but she ignored this due to sheer agony and confusion. She stood upon a narrow path of charred rock and ashen stone, a lake of fire all around her, the flames searing in spurts from the boiling water that bubbled and spat for as far as the eye could see.
The path she was on led out of this boiling hell toward a bare plain of red rock and broken stone spires, a crimson wasteland that wandered away towards who-knew-where.
She was naked, of course, if you could call it that. She had no skin, just muscle and tendons, as if someone had yanked off her protective outer layer or, perhaps, been very careful with an extremely sharp knife.
She staggered forward down the path, ignoring the pain as best she could. This place was hot, so hot that even if she’d had skin, she would have boiled in her own sweat.
The screams around her were deafening, a screaming that bubbled up from the lake of fire that was split by this stone path, and she could see shapes in that lake, vaguely-human forms that reached and struggled for the surface.
She noticed the shape of something massive overhead, a shadow that clipped the orange-black sky, and she looked up for a brief second to see a shape, an enormous ebon thing that lurked far in the distance, but if it had seen her, it did not show it.
There were no words to say in her head. Michi knew where she was, and she knew why she was here, but she was not about to stay here. There had to be a way out, and she was going to find that way out, one way or another, that play on words now forming in her mind, the first cohesive thought she’d had since waking up.
“Oooout…” she spat.
Her voice was graveled over, her mouth dry as if stuffed with sand, but she could still form words, and that was good. It was an assessment of sorts, an understanding of what she had left to work with. She had no skin, no hair, no clothing of any sort, but she still had two arms and two legs, two hands and two feet, and that was good enough…for now.
She traveled down the path set within the endless, burning lake, and she traveled that path until she reached the red rock and crimson stone of the wasteland that had previously been on the horizon.
Traveling that path had taken an eternity, so long that she could not remember its start, but she had kept her eyes ahead, always ahead, never taking her eyes off of that horizon, her rage and her fury the engine that kept her skinned legs moving, kept her skinned feet stepping forward. She knew what she had done in order to be thrown down here, but she would do whatever it took to get out.
How she had reached the red wasteland beyond the lake, however, she did not know, as that horizon had never seemed to pull any closer, but now that she had reached it, she would journey forth, looking for a way out. It felt like hundreds of years had passed, or maybe it had only been a few minutes, but it mattered little in the end, because she was here now, and from here she would travel onward, looking for a way out, always looking for a way out.
She decided to start with one of the twisted stone spires of crimson rock near her. She would search every single one until she found what she was looking for, something, anything to guide her out of this place. She was, if anything, methodical.
She did not make it far before a group of others came into view. These things were not like her…They were hunched over, grey and gnarled, a group of vaguely-humanoid creatures with black eyes and wide mouths full of sharp fangs. They bounded on all fours, bounding toward her with no good intent, and their leader, one slightly larger than the rest, swung a long rusty chain with a sharp hook attached to the end of it.
The big one, the leader of these ghouls, threw the chain as soon as he was within a few meters of her.
“He” was a misnomer, as “it” was a more appropriate term for these things, because upon viewing them up close, Michi could tell that they had no discerning characteristics of male or female; they were withered husks of mottled grey, snarling beasts launching forward on spindly limbs and clawed, oversized feet and hands.
Michi caught the hook of the leader’s chain with her right hand, or rather, the hook pierced through the muscle of her right hand, but still…she had caught it.
She raced toward the beast to gain ground, putting slack in the chain as the creature bounded forward, but it had not expected her to attack, probably because she was a woman, something still obvious and visible despite her lack of skin.
Michi grabbed a short length of chain with her left hand and garroted the leader of the pack as it tried to leap upon her. That rusty chain wrapped around its gnarled and spindly neck as it hit the red earth beneath them both, and then she pulled up as she booted it to the ground, shoving her skinned right foot into the small of its twisted back.
She pulled up hard as she choked out a malicious laugh, because there was nothing in her but pain and rage, but that combination was more than enough to hear the satisfying “CRACK!” of the creature’s neck as its spine snapped.
She did not stop there. Michi reached around with her pierced right hand and hooked the ghoul by its upper jaw, pulling up once more, her fury only increasing, fueled by the madness around her. The top half of its mottled-grey head peeled off a second later, a tearing of sandpaper to the audible ear, and then she suddenly had the chain all to herself, a weapon all her own.
The other ghouls, no less than ten of them, looked upon her with visible fear, because there was something different about their would-be-victim, something not like the others they had feasted upon, or tortured, or whatever it was they had planned to do.
Michi ripped the half-a-ghoul’s head from the hook in her right hand, and then she yanked out that hook, that sudden pain a reminder that she was still in control of her fate, that she was still in need of a way out, and that she was going to find that way out no matter what.
The hole in her hand sealed as a layer of new, pale, peach-brushed skin formed around her right hand.
“Yeeesss…” she hissed out in a dry, sibilant whisper.
She wrapped the long end of the chain around her skinned waist and swung her new weapon in a circular arc, a spin in preparation for throwing, her skinned feet marching steadily forward toward the nearest ghoul.
These creatures backed away at her toothy grin, unsure and unsteady in their countenance, but this proved to be a mistake, as Michi now understood a new rule for this place, but she needed to test this rule just to be sure. She was, if anything, methodical.
She rushed the closest ghoul and swung down hard with her chain as soon as she was within striking range. The rusty hook of her weapon slammed down into the back of this thing, and she pulled upwards and backwards as she laughed, embracing the power of her fury and insanity, insanity the last remaining weapon in her arsenal, true, but a powerful weapon at that.
The spine of this creature tore upwards and outwards, ripping through its paper-thin skin, and the skull of this mishappen beast came with it, no blood to speak of, just a puff of dust as the rest of the thing fell to the ground like a partially deflated balloon.
Michi laughed again as her left hand spread over with new skin, new nails upon her narrow fingers.
This methodical research in killing was proving to be more beneficial than just self-defense.
She swung her chain’s hook in an arc, and the spine and skull attached to it shattered as they impacted upon the temple of yet another one of these ghouls. The mottled thing went down to the scorched earth beneath her skinned feet, but new skin coated over her right foot as she beat this thing with the chain until its own skull caved inward and its spindly bones broke in visible sections.
The others ran. These creatures, these grey ghouls of twisted limbs and malformed faces, ran in a scattered, panicked burst in all directions, pawing the ground as they beat a hasty retreat.
“Ruuuun…” hissed Michi.
She would find them later if necessary, but they were too fast for her to catch on foot. Even so, they had done her a favor in more ways than one, and that was good. She had a plan now, at least one that formed around deliberate action and her new weapon, and that was good.
She continued her journey towards the closest spire of red rock. She was nearly upon it when twin bursts of flame erupted from the sky, two pillars of bright-orange fire that scorched the earth from some sort of blast from above.
Two shapes appeared from out of the flames as the fires died away, those flames gone as quickly as they had come.
Michi stared at the naked couple, one male, one female, as they both pushed off from the red earth beneath their skinned hands. They were like her, but they were also unlike her. Both of these people screamed in agony, and even with a lack of skin upon their rent faces, Michi could tell that they did not have the semblance of mind or the singular purpose she possessed. No, there was nothing but terror and horror and pain on those faces of muscle and tendon, two screaming masses of agony and despair etched upon living human portraits.
She knew what to do, though, so she started with the male. The male was the more immediate threat, after all.
Michi stepped forward and wrapped the chain around his neck, pulling hard with the fury that drove her so, stepping upon his skinned back until he was forced down upon his bare, skinned chest. She snapped his neck as easily as a twig, and then she beat upon his head with the hook until his skull caved in, a splattering of brains and blood that flew everywhere, a fitting action satisfying to her own newfound lust for carnage.
She pulled away the chain, stepping away as his body burst into flames, his body burning away to nothing but ash.
Michi cried out in strange ecstasy as a pleasurable pain ran over her arms and legs, new skin growing over the exposed muscle that tortured her so. It was like the ripping off of a scab but in reverse, a sensation so strange that she had no words to describe it. Both arms and both legs were now coated over with the pale peach-white that she had been so used to in life, and this was good, but there was still more to repair.
The female of the former couple screamed and screamed as Michi walked towards her. This woman was more than likely in shock, understandable for the situation, but this only helped Michi. It made things easier for her, because the female would not fight back while in this state.
Michi whirled her chain and swung the rusty weapon in a low, pitched arc, and the hook of the chain buried itself in the unknown woman’s jaw, right above her neck. This snapped the female’s mouth shut with a chattering of ivory teeth, a spurt of blood erupting from between those trapped ivory pegs.
“Ssshhhh…” said Michi.
She pulled on the chain, pulling her victim forward on skinned breasts and belly, and then Michi stepped around to the back of this poor woman, pulling up on the chain as she planted her left foot into the small of the woman’s skinned back.
“I need you…” grunted Michi as she strained hard, pulling upwards with all the might of an untold amount of rage burning from within.
Her victim folded in half as the woman’s spine snapped, this female’s neck tearing open in the front to gush out blood in an arc, the attack tearing off most of the head from the neck due to sheer viciousness.
“Yes…” whispered Michi.
The woman beneath her bare foot burst into flame, and Michi backed away as the body turned to ash and then blew away in a nonexistent wind.
Michi moaned as her eyes fluttered from the strange, enjoyable pain that washed over her. Her lower half up to just beneath her sternum coated over with fresh skin, and this felt good, addictive, like a powerful drug, but that sensation was just a pleasant byproduct of what she really needed, to be whole again. She sensed she needed to be whole again in order to find a way out, and she was already halfway there.
“More…” she said to herself.
She understood now. The two she had preyed upon were not dead, no. They had gone elsewhere, to the lake of fire, and they would suffer in there before they were taken out and tortured elsewhere. That was how things worked down here.
She needed more, though. There was a way out, and she knew this for a fact now, but she needed more, because there was indeed a way out. She had a metaphorical path to follow in order to get there, and she would follow it, because she was, if anything, methodical.
Michi looked back towards the lake. Lightning crashed across the orange-black sky above, a crackling of raw, purple electricity that briefly lit up the immeasurable surroundings of this terrible plane.
There, in that raw light, was the king of this place, a shape so large and so dark that it was indescribable in measured thought, and in its huge, ebon and clawed right hand was a steel cup, an enormous drinking mug that it dipped into the burning lake, that endless lake of fire it effortlessly waded through.
This creature of vast and evil power flipped the contents of its cup upwards, and streams of fire burst out from the huge container to rain down far in the distance, raining down somewhere on the other side of the lake.
Those were lake dwellers raining down, and she needed them to get more, but Michi could not go that way. She could not afford to have eyes that large upon her. Still, she needed more, and she would get more…somehow.
She headed back toward the spire of stone she had originally targeted. This was really the only path she had so far, so she would take it. She had some skin now, about half, but she knew the key to escaping this place was finding the other half, or earning it, rather, and she would do that…one victim at a time.
It took her some time to reach the spire of twisted red stone, but she had no other encounters along that uneventful journey. This was disappointing in a way, but her investigation had only just begun, so her disappointment was merely a tantrum, something she could easily ignore.
The spire of red stone held no features at first, but then she spied an opening in the rock at the base, a cliffside part in the crimson stone that rent the broadside several meters up, a tear in the edifice that could only be seen once up close.
Michi walked up to the opening and peered into the darkness.
A globe of red light split this opening, and behind it was a little face, that of a child, a small boy of four or five, that boy with skin and ragged clothes and a smudged face. The small globe of red light hovered within the palms of his dirty hands, lighting the darkness just enough to see the bare earth of a swept red path that led inwards and downwards.
Their eyes met, and the boy ran, running down that dark path into further darkness, the orb lighting his way in a crimson sheathe around his small, pale figure.
Michi followed the boy. There was nothing else to do anyway, and she needed to know why he was here, why he still had his skin and clothes, or perhaps, how he had attained them.
She journeyed down into the darkness, down along cut stone steps into ever-reaching black, following the bobbing orb of red light in the distance.
She stepped into an open space, inherently sensing the change in area around her.
The orb stopped in place, the little boy standing in one spot, and Michi could tell that this open area beneath the spire led upwards through its interior, like the hollowed-out insides of a twisted eggshell.
“Little boy…” grunted Michi.
She walked towards him until she was within a few meters of his small, shadowy shape.
The grand hall before her lit up with crimson light as the red orb flew upwards into the darkness above. The boy ran off to his own left, her right, but that was not what held Michi’s attention. It was the huge and fat form of grotesque flesh that grabbed her vision, that blob of disgusting evil menacing an aura of pure malice within the interior of the spire.
The demon before was indeed huge, not so large as the titanic form of the king over the lake of fire, but this thing was a giant, nonetheless. It was all stomach, two large, fat arms at the shoulders above that huge, burnt-orange belly, and its face was a round ball with a maw several meters across, giant fangs in that maw, its fearsome countenance topped by huge black horns spanning from its grotesque, bald head.
This, of course, had been a trap, and she had walked right into it.
Hands and chests and open, screaming mouths attached to terrified faces pushed and strained against the flesh of the spire-demon’s belly, those lost souls struggling in vain to escape the engorged stomach of this thing.
The spire demon reached forth with one massive, clawed hand, that clawed hand reaching down towards Michi, an attempt to pick her up and swallow her, no doubt, but it overreached, clearly expecting her to run, a bad habit it had picked up by swallowing its many victims in the past, a bad and fatal habit that Michi capitalized upon.
She rushed it, clutching the rusty but sharp hook of her chain in her right hand. If she could see the faces and hands of its victims in its flesh, then that wall was thinner than it ever needed to be, and considering her rage, her fury, it was far too thin for its own good.
The giant hand came down to grasp nothing but darkness, because Michi was already at the base of its gluttonous belly. She buried the hook into the flesh directly above her head, felt that sharp tip poke through to the other side, and then used her weight and fury to rip downwards, pulling with both hands on the chain to tear open a huge hole that spilled skinned, slowly digesting souls out in a wave of trampling feet, this stampede followed by a sea of green digestive fluid that gushed out onto the red stone of the spire’s grand hall.
The massive creature roared out as it shuddered in a death throe, collapsing in on itself, its own weight its greatest enemy, and many, many skinned people, some of them melted down to near skeletons, ran past Michi, running toward the exit that led back out into the wasteland above.
Michi was not concerned with them. She had quickly skipped to her own right, the direction the little boy had fled, dancing to the right to avoid the inevitable explosion of souls and fluid that had gushed forth mere seconds before.
A new regeneration struck her all at once, and she shuddered as more skin coated over her back, her chest, her breasts, and her neck, that strange concoction of pleasure and pain holding her in place for just a few seconds, but she recovered from this masochistic sensation, and now?…Now there was only her head and her face left to fix, and she knew just how to do that, knowing exactly who and what she had to destroy in order to do so.
She caught him cowering off to her right, cowering against the wall as she walked up to him, and she swung her chain in lazy, menacing circles as she did.
“Stop!” yelled the little boy in his tiny voice. “Don’t hurt me! I’m just a child!”
“Liar…” hissed Michi. “There are no children in Hell, demon.”
The little boy stared up into her still-skinned face, his brown eyes two pools of pleading innocence.
“Please!” he begged. “I am a child! You can’t kill a child!”
Michi smiled, a toothy grin unhindered by lips or mercy.
“Don’t you know why I’m here?” she asked. “I killed my children, little one.”
“What!” asked the boy, his brown eyes widening.
Those brown eyes changed to twin pools of infinite black, his teeth sharp fangs for just a split second, and he spit forth one last hiss, that hiss a resounding cry of defiance, but that hiss ended with the swift and sudden impact of a sharp and rusty hook.
She made short work of him.
The ones who resided here, the ones that tormented those who were forced down here…Their bodies did not burn to ash. No, they just rotted, a fitting end to what they were and had been.
Michi gave a wide grin as her face restored itself, her beautiful face growing new skin over exposed muscle and tendons, black hair growing in all the places it needed to be, and she was whole again, whole once more, ready to continue on.
She knew what to do now, the last bit of understanding open to her. Killing the gluttonous demon and its servant had opened something up, opened up pages in a dark book that she now read in her mind.
She clutched the darkness over the body of the boy and pulled outwards with both hands. A rift of light appeared as the darkness tore open, and Michi struggled to keep the rift open, to make it wider, to make it wide enough to squeeze through.
She cried out as she used the remainder of her unholy strength to push through the rift, pushing through it into the light, pushing through the opening as if being born again, a painful process that was neither pleasurable nor wanted, but it could not be helped. It was rage, fury, and will that had taken her this far, and they would take her further yet.
She forced herself into the light. She had found the way out at last.
Michi’s eyes fluttered open to fluorescent lights and the beeping of a hospital monitor.
She was stiff from inactivity, but how long she had been here, she did not know.
She winced as she sat up and breathed in and out for a few seconds, her memories coming back to her as her mind crashed in on itself with a strange, otherworldly understanding.
She could remember standing over the little bodies of her two children, blood everywhere upon the hardwood floor, her fingers wrapped around the knife. She remembered charging Giichi as he flung open the bedroom door. She remembered her husband wrestling the knife away from her, and she remembered the pain of the knife sinking into her own stomach and chest as he stabbed her, no breath, her lungs punctured, sinking into black as darkness closed in on her vision.
She lifted the hem of her hospital gown and gazed upon the scars across her belly, but this only angered her further; it only heightened her inner fury.
She was going to deal with Giichi, and this time she would deal with him, because things were different now. She had learned something dark while down below.
She dropped the hem of her hospital gown, shone a cold smile, raised her right hand, and snapped her fingers.
The lights above her popped all at once as the bulbs shattered in unison, cracking the plastic covers that contained them. The monitor beside her bed sparked and crackled with a brief arc of violet electric light before dying as well.
She reached into her hospital bed after that, plunging her right hand through the sheets and mattress as if they were made of water, the material rippling as she punched through the reality of the bed itself, and then she pulled forth a long and rusty chain from that hole, that chain topped by a sharp and rusty hook.
Yes, she would deal with Giichi, but first she would hunt down and kill his entire family, parents, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews…There could be no stone left unturned, no one left to enact revenge.
She was, if anything, methodical.
Hell Hath No Fury Copyright © 2022 Matthew L. Marlott