#SampleSunday Special Look at Highway to Hell by Alex Laybourne

Heaven and Hell, Angels and Demons, these things were once considered opposites, but now you will see that they are neighbors, allies…. friends.

Marcus, Becky, Richard, Helen, Sammy and Graham. All complete strangers, different ages, backgrounds and even countries, but they all have one major thing in common…

They all must DIE.

Sentenced to offer their penance in the many chambers of Hell, their lives are nothing but a torturous experience. They are brought face to face with their past, their mistakes and the implications that had for others. Until one by one they are rescued and thrown together. Waking in a dying world, they are introduced to their rescuers who do anything but conform to their angelic stereotype.

Together, bonded by an unknown destiny the group is set on their quest; to find one individual buried deep within the many Hell worlds. Not only does the fate of their world rest on their shoulders, but that of existence itself.

~A Special Look Inside~

“Think of this as Purgatory – I will try to keep to your simple way of categorizing things. There are many places just like this, realms or realities that exist alongside your own, within your own, and a near infinite number which exist in the different pathways of time. This you will see for yourselves, I am sure. These worlds exist to house those who had died. To allow them time for contemplation, and to give us time to judge them. Some worlds are filled with those who led a righteous life, one worthy of a happy eternity. Others are fire realms, nothing more than holding pens for the cattle that will be marched below to where out fallen brother leads his hedonistic life. Then there are many filled with lost souls; empty, lonely places void of all feeling; ghost worlds filled with those that were forgotten, left behind when it was their time to rise… or fall. These worlds all exist separate from each other. Those who dwell or wait in one know nothing about the others. Although memory of your own world remains, given time it fades. Those in the fire realms seem to remember the longest. They are the ones who grasp onto their human memories, as if it could somehow help them find redemption. While those who are righteous are given a mere taste of what awaits them and realize that there was no point to their lives. They are a short test which will determine your place in eternity. Pass and you will be rewarded, fail and punishment is a certainty, do neither and you will be destined to carry on living your mediocre existence in a world fitting to the task; a place such as this, for instance. This community, if you would like to call it that, is long abandoned. The souls simply fell from existence. In these outer worlds the boundaries that keep them sustained are weakened, bending all the time. It is not unheard of for these dimensions to disappear along with everybody in them. This was where we needed to bring you, for it is here that the boundaries are weakest. There is a war coming, a fight that has been brewing beneath the surface of all worlds since before time, and it is here that the first tears will appear. Once they start they cannot be stopped, and given time the barriers will break and all worlds will collide. Your earth, your mortal life, the kingdom of God will come crashing down from the heavens while the fiery underbelly of Hell will rise up and Lucifer, our fallen brother, will try once more to take control. This will not happen; it must not. Do you understand me?” Raguel’s eyes seemed to focus on all of them individually, yet simultaneously. It held them captive and allowed them all to see that this angel was far from the stereotype.

The group stood in silence. The words they had just heard were heavy to digest, and their brains had been sluggish before Raguel started, and so it took a while for everything to sink in. When it finally did they all had to fight back the urge to laugh, especially Graham who, despite his age, or possibly as a result of his age, was the most skeptical and cynical of them all. Once the laughter was contained without even so much as a nose snort, they all returned their attentions to Raguel, but instead of continuing with his explanation, he simple stared at them. There was a flash of light and a loud rustle of feathers. The wind created as the angel took flight brought tears to their eyes. Raguel was gone before any of them could register anything, the wind and sound apparently coming after the fact. All five of them had been looking straight at him, or so they would swear in later conversations, but yet none of them saw him leave. Like the greatest magician in the world he was there one second and vanished like the victim of a David Copperfield illusion the next.

“Forgive Raguel; he does not deal with mortals well. He is a warrior through and through. Maintaining the balance is his purpose, keeping a watchful eye on us is his responsibility. The troubles of our father’s favorite creation are of little and no concern to him,” the angel who had been introduced as Nemamiah said. His words were noticeably more cordial than Raguel’s had been.

“Can you answer our questions?” Becky said, her words forming not a question although it certainly would look like one if written down, but rather a stern statement. It was one that Nemamiah, if not all three of them, seemed to understand with relative ease.

Helen turned and looked at her. She didn’t know who she was, but she knew what she had been, she knew that she had gotten at least one of their group killed in the past, and she didn’t trust her. Becky met her eyes, and if Helen’s were soft and naïve to the ways of the world, Becky’s were hard and cold. Those of someone who has lived through the worst and come out the other side, uncertain which side of the line they had returned on. They find themselves forever perched upon a fence as they wrestle with themselves, with what they have done and what they wish they could have done differently, yet at the same time they take on the world with the subtle, brute force of a Caterpillar running full speed on the building site. Helen held the stare that was returned to her for what felt like an age. She felt her heart race, her mouth begin to dry and her palms to moisten. When it became too much, Helen averted her gaze, dropped her head to study her feet. She could feel Becky’s eyes burning into the top of her bowed head. After making sure that her feet were all in good order, Helen raised her eyes more. Becky had returned her attention to the angels, who they all realized stood like fish out of water. Their appearance seemed more and more bizarre with each passing second.

Out of the corner of her eye Becky glanced over at Helen but said nothing. She had changed, and while buried deep down inside her was a small voice that spoke from the corners of dark streets in the early hours of the morning, a taunting, goading voice that told her to fight, to grab that beautiful blonde by the hair and throw her face first into the first wall or tree she saw but she silenced it before even realizing that the thought had truly occurred. After all, that person was the fake. Who she was trying to become was the same person she had been before that dark figure in her mind had taken control. She forgave them their thoughts and perception of her; she didn’t even like whom it was they believed her to be, and she promised herself that she would give everyone the chance to see who she really was.

God, it all feels like so long ago, she thought to herself, already finding it harder to remember her old life, both the highs and lows.

“Raguel, he’s an archangel, isn’t he?” Marcus said with a reassuring confidence. He wasn’t a big religious fan, and certainly didn’t claim to be able to regurgitate his favorite psalms or quotations when the right situation arose, but he knew enough to make his statement one based in knowledge rather than pure speculation.

“Yes, he was sent out of Heaven to oversee your… collection.” The word came after a slight pause and sounded wrong, but what better word was there for what happened to them other than those offered by a thesaurus? “But now is not the time for that discussion; we have business at hand and it is time for you to hear it to the end.” This time is was Nakir who spoke. Now that Raguel had gone, the group had expected the others to become more relaxed, but they remained in their rigid positions, standing to attention the whole time. When one spoke they did so by stepping forward, raising their eyes from the floor and looking at the group as a whole, rather than from one to the other in turn. Now that he finally spoke and had their attention, they all noticed – apart from Sammy, of course – that Nakir’s eyes were jet black. In fact, they thought there was a good chance he had no eyes at all, and all that they saw was a heavenly void, filled with flawless rounds of onyx or possibly, given his angelic persuasions, black sapphires or even diamonds. For they did seem to sparkle with a little bit of what Marcus liked to call the ‘Ali gleam’.

Nemamiah stepped forward once again. He shifted himself as if uncomfortable; his body seemed bloated and stiff, overstuffed, a balloon blown up to the point of bursting, the lettering on it claiming whichever celebration was right for the occasion stretched not to the point of complete nonsensicality but distorted enough for it to be noticeable only by those who looked close enough. When he spoke they all felt compelled to listen., Helen stood beside Marcus, her grip on him released, satisfied with the close proximity between the two and the comforting way his shadow seemed to fall over hers. Graham stood behind them; he stood alone, while off to his left stood Becky. Her arm was wrapped around Sammy’s waist; her hand, which had settled on his abdomen, was covered by his own. Their fingers were not interlocked but did more than overlap one another.

Nobody noticed that, the more Nemamiah talked, the more Sammy’s eyes bled.

“Take a look around you: this place was once a bustling halfway house for those that have passed. For those whose deaths had been noble, their lives less so, their true place in eternity not yet fully known. It wasn’t a happy place, nor was it one filled with sorrow. A piece of the grey lands, we call it. Many years ago, too many for you to be able to comprehend – for time, time moves at a faster rate in the between worlds, and faster still in the greater worlds, but then when you live in paradise time has no meaning for you anymore,” Nemamiah added as a side note. His eyes left the group and seemed to gaze listlessly for just a moment or two, his train of thought not broken but detoured before being brought back on track. “Mirantaea is lost, this shell a mere husk of landscape and empty buildings is all that remains now. The barriers here are thinner than any other worlds that I know of, and our presence here is unwise, but it is what is needed for you to understand what has happened here, and what will happen to your world. So we must allow it to begin. You must watch as a world falls out of existence, for it is the only way.”

Doing as they were instructed they all looked around at the world they were in. What they saw was powerful enough to reduce them to tears. The buildings that they thought looked like they belonged in a wild west movie, possibly a Henry Fonda classic, were much older than that: they were little more than mud huts held together by spit and crossed fingers. The wood used for the support beams were rotted through, scorched and dry. The ground which they had mistaken for sand was dust, a grey dust which had once been earth; it was cracked and open like the sores on a junkie’s arm at the end of his needle fuelled life. There was an occasional orange glow that brewed beneath the surface. It ran beneath the surface of the entire town like blood, and the more they looked the more they could see the crisscrossing pattern of orange fire veins than ran beneath it all. Far beyond the borders of the town, which was now no longer than a quarter of a mile from start to finish, buried somewhere out in the middle of the desert like barren land that surrounded them, a golden fireball heart beat and struggled to bring life to the world. With each pulse it further inched its way to the surface, where it would cease. The ground pulsed beneath their feet, and a groaning sound like a mosquito that wakes you in the middle of the night began to hum in their ears.

Get your copy on Amazon, Amazon.de, Amazon UK, and Smashwords (where 20% of the book is available for preview).

~About the Author~

Born and raised in the coastal English town of Lowestoft, it should come as no surprise (to those that have the misfortune of knowing this place) that I became a horror writer.

From an early age I was sent to schools which were at least 30 minutes drive away and so spent the most of my free time alone, as the friends I did have lived too far away for me to be able to hang out with them in the weekends or holidays. This helped me develop a thirst for both reading and creating stories.

I have been a writer as long as I can remember and have always had a vivid imagination. To this very day I find it all too easy to just drift away into my own mind and explore the world I create, where the conditions always seem to be just perfect for the cultivation of ideas, plots, scenes, characters and lines of dialogue everything basically, and when the time is right, I can simply pluck them from the allotment of my mind like carrots and serve them up on the pages of whatever work is to be their home.

I am married and have three children and my biggest dream for them is that they grown up and spend their lives doing what makes them happy, whatever that is.

Connect with Alex on his website, Twitter and Facebook.

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