‘Well, hello there,’ a deep voice said slowly, calculative from the dark recess of the room as soon as Mona opened her eyes. She could feel the cold wet slab of concrete beneath her shoulders, the sound of moisture dripping incessantly somewhere to her left. Her eyes barely adjusted to the ill lit room. At least she thought it was a room. That was till she pushed herself up in a sitting position. She looked out to where the voice seemed to have come from. She peered at it. Slowly, the room started taking shape; a large bricked dome covered with moss and wetness. The air was cold and she could hear the distant rushing of water. They were somewhere in the underground.
‘Where am I?’ Her voice croaked out as if she hadn’t spoke in days, barely audible. In fact, her last memory was of Monday night, late after work and she had been the only other passenger awaiting a train in the subway. It was 11:38PM to be precise, because she had looked at her watch. ‘Where am I?’ She asked again, bolder.
She couldn’t remember anything beyond having looked at her watch. Had she blacked out? Did someone bring her here? Kidnap her perhaps? And that’s when panic suddenly gripped her. She hadn’t been nervous earlier, but now, she could barely breathe.
‘Just breathe.’ The voice floated calmly to her again from the darkness. And so she did. One deep breathe. Two deep breathe. Three.
‘Who are you?’ She asked shakily. Not knowing that in a second, she was going to regret having ever asked that question in the first place. What stepped out from the shadows arrested the exhaling breath in her throat, and she suddenly coughed violently. Holy Mother of God!
The thing smiled. Yes the thing, for Mona had no words to describe the creature that looked like a man, but nothing like a human. His skin was scaly, his eyes red as blood, his hair had a hint of horns to them, and his canines sharp as a knife.
His smile widened as he took another step closer. ‘I don’t know about Gods, but you may call me Lucifer.’
Mona could feel the burning in her chest from lack of breathing. How did he know what she was thinking?
‘Mona, Mona, Mona.’ He clicked his tongue and stepped closer still. ‘I know a lot more than that.’ He leaned in closer, stooping to her eye level. ‘Just breathe.’
Mona pulled in a sharp breath and stared, feeling tears sting her eyes. She was going to die, wasn’t she?
He stood back up and simply smiled.
Mona looked around, wanting to find a escape somehow, somewhere, but where? She glanced fearfully at the retrieving back of Lucifer. The name sent chills down her spine.
‘Why do they call you that?’ She called out as he disappeared into the darkness. ‘Lucifer.’
‘Because that’s my name!’ His voice suddenly split behind her. She jumped up from the slab and screamed. His face loomed behind her. He stared, emerging from the darkness. Mona could hear the squeak of rusty wheels, and soon enough, the trolley he was pushing came into view. It was covered in satin cloth of gold. What was under there? Scalpels and pincers maybe? Her throat dried. Her heart pounded in her ears. She was going to be skinned alive. The thought almost made her feel feint.
‘Sit down.’ He pushed the trolley closer to her. ‘You’re more dramatic than I thought you’d be.’
Mona barely nodded and sat back down on the cold slab. The trolley was pushed right in front of her. Then he removed the satin cloth, revealing a spotless closh.
‘Eat.’ He growled, and went to turn around.
‘Wait.’ She cried out desperately. ‘Won’t you tell me where I am? And why I’m here?’
The beast turned with narrowed eyes. ‘Why aren’t you asking why I brought you here?’ She shook her head. She wasn’t sure she had the guts to ask him that. ‘You’ll know soon enough. Just eat you dinner and get ready.’
She nodded. Barely. And as he turned, she swore she could she his eyes glow red like fire. Hell fire. She glanced at the closed closh again, and thought better of it, even though she was starved.
‘Eat!’ Came the growl, harsh and very, very effective. Before Mona knew it, she was lifting the closh out of volition. What the?! Inside, was a delicious roast chicken and three veggies, with a tall glass of chilled juice, and a bowl of strawberries in yoghurt. She sniffed at the food wondering if it was poisoned. Then she picked up the fork and knife and dug in. Better die from poison than to be shredded to pieces in what awaited her beyond the darkness. And what did he mean by get ready? She assumed this was literally her last meal. She was famished and so she licked her plate clean and jumped on the tangy fruit.
Mona stared from her bowl of fruit unsure. Had she seen it correctly? Had there always been a dress bag next to her on the slab, or had the beastly thing brought it while she’s been too distracted by the food?
She put down the dish on the trolley and slowly rose, moving cautiously towards the bag. What could be inside other than a dress, right? She reached her hand to the zip and slowly pulled it down. Inside lay a crimson red, floor length dress with beautiful sequined emerald green bustier. And it seemed to look her size. How had he known? That thought suddenly led her to wonder how long she’d been held captive already.
She pulled the dress out and admired it. Was she some sacrificial goat? She knew some cultures back in dark ages used to adorn their sacrificial offerings to some invisible God they prayed to. Was she that?
‘Gods don’t descend down here,’ the unmistakable low growl of Lucifer lurked once more behind her. She turned almost jumping out of her skin. If he was making a habit out of creeping up behind her, she pretty much deduced that that was how she was going to go out. Not flayed, not burned, no, no torture at all, but a simple matter of a heart attack.
Her mouth slowly opened in what she could only say was shock. Lucifer stood there in what looked like an intricately made royal attire of the 1800s. Velvet, gold ornaments and black trouser that were all regal.
‘I trust you were happy with your meal?’
Mona nodded. She couldn’t process the image fast enough. ‘Are we going somewhere?’ She mumbled in astonishment.
He smiled, a smile that was almost human. ‘A ball, my lady.’
Mona felt herself frown at him. This was all about some silly ball? Was he in a costume?
‘Jared, is that you?’ She asked almost laughing. ‘Is this some kind of a candid camera thing? Who put you up to this? Leanne?’
Lucifer stood there quietly. ‘Jared is the one you fancy, it is not?’
Mona’s jaw dropped and her candor vanished as quickly as it had raised it’s head. ‘You’re not Jared?’
He shook his head and stood at attention. ‘People call me Lucifer, among many other names. You may call me whatever you please.’
Mona couldn’t think of any reason why she’d need to call him by any other name, or a name at all. ‘A ball?’ He nodded.
‘I’ll be back in 10 minutes to fetch you.’ He turned, wheeling the trolley away, vanishing once more into the ever present darkness.
Was there a door there just beyond her eyesight? Mona curiously stepped towards it, and as the darkness moved back and what little light in the room followed her, she happened upon another slab very similar to her own. And she couldn’t help but scream. A scream that echoed and echoed beyond the darkness that kept at bay.
There upon the slab was something she’d never thought she’d see. Her own body, lifeless. Mona screamed once more before she felt the rush of air pass her ears, the darkness move in, and the floor slip from under her feet. She wasn’t going to die today. No.
She was already dead!
When Mona came to the second time, she was no longer surrounded by darkness, not entirely. This time, she had been placed carefully on the slab covered in cloth. The dome was lit better, and she could see a trail of flame torches leading away into a dark tunnel or corridor. She sat up, unable to shake off the creepiness that had spilled over her. Was it still the same room? Was there really another slab with her body atop it?
She went to slid down to the ground when suddenly her feet snagged on garment. She looked down to her feet, hidden behind crimson skirt of the dress she had seen earlier. Upon careful inspection, she was in fact wearing the dress, and yes, it was a perfect fit, as if it was custom made for her. Had she dressed herself? Her last memory was of her cold, blue body still in her cafe work clothes.
She tipped toed around the room and found it quite small. It was still a dome shaped room, but there seemed to be only one exit. No windows, no doors. Just the flame lit long corridor she had noticed. She etched closer to it, careful not to trip over on the hem of the skirt. What was going on?
‘Lucifer?’ She whispered curiously. She didn’t know what awaited her down the corridor, but so far, the beastly thing had only been fairly kind to her. ‘Lucifer? Are you there?’ She called again, but no reply came. She looked back into the room and didn’t see his looming face from the darkness. Besides, there was only one way in or out it seemed.
Despite her heart pounding away and her mind telling her to stay put, Mona started slowly down the corridor. What was the worst that could happen now? She was already dead, right? So she pressed on, walking down the longer than expected corridor, till she heard music floating in faintly from the walls.
Eventually, emerging from the end, was a massive ornate wooden door with giant poison ivy brass handles. She reached for it, terrified still of what could be on the other side of it. She put all her might into pushing the door open, only to find that the door would swing open very easily, that Mona would have fallen into the room if she hadn’t been holding the handle so tightly.
What she saw made her jaw drop in awe. Absolute awe. Was this really what hell was like?
Mona had stepped into a large regal ballroom, with tall decorated ceiling that featured stained glass. The floor floated in front of her and the many candelabra dotted around the hall flickered invitingly. There were larger than possible fireplace on either end of the hall, roaring with fire. The hall echoed with music bouncing off its walls and Mona spied the small stage towards the centre of the length of wall opposite her, and upon it sat a grand piano, a harp, a cello, flutes and symbols, and many more instruments she recognized and some she didn’t. Astoundingly enough, the instruments responsible for the classical music in that moment were all hanging from invisible hands in the air. Floating. And not a soul in sight.
Mona stared back at the dim corridor she’d come from, and to her surprise, the doorway now was sealed with a brick wall. She had no other option than to go further into the hall and let the heavy wooden doors shut behind her.
‘Hello? Anybody here?’ She asked of no one in particular because lets face it, there was no one there for her to speak to. What was really going on?
‘Would you care to dance?’ And again, Mona got the fright of her life. Behind her, Lucifer had appeared again. From where, she didn’t know. The door through which she had come from had vanished, and nothing but the wall of the ballroom remained.
He was holding out his hand to her. What was she to do? Dance with the beast? ‘It’s quite all right if you don’t wish to. Many don’t.’
He retrieved his hand and held them both behind him, and turned. ‘You are in my home, dear Mona.’
‘Why?’ she let out in shock. His home? The devil had a home?
He turned around and glared at her. Anger flashing in his eyes and she remembered, he most probably could read her mind.
‘Yes, I can.’ His voice sounded somewhat hurt. He turned away from her again and approached the other end of the hall. As he approached, a door just like the one before became visible and Mona gasped. ‘You are free to go to your room, if that is what you wish, before my guests start arriving. The company might somewhat shock you.’ Then, through that very door, he disappeared once more.
Mona swore she had somehow hurt his feelings by rejecting the dance. Suddenly the music stopped and all the instruments floated down to the floor of the stage. It was an eerie space to stand in alone, so she followed his exit. After all that was the only door out, and who knew how long it would stay open for.
Her heels clipped on the parquet floor as she ran for the door. And what had he meant by she was free to go to her room? That dark, dank mossy dome where she had woken in the first place? The thought made her shiver. She did not fancy seeing her body again.
As she crossed the threshold of the door, it suddenly and fiercely slammed shut behind her. The force of it pushing her away from the door. She was standing in a grandeur foyer, with a large ornate wooden staircase spiraling up and into the darkness. Here, once more, the light was meek. Though it looked like a foyer, there was no front door she could see as far as the light revealed. She walked around the space only to find it circular again, and again, with no other exit than the stairs that waited to swallow her up.
She took a deep breath and started up the stairs. Alice had gone down a rabbit hole into a strange land, but here she was, going up, who knew where. Stranger land perhaps.
The stairs went on and on till Mona felt she couldn’t stand her muscles burning any longer. She wasn’t the fittest of person after all. Suddenly, the stairs fell as if collapsing right in front of her eyes and transformed into a long corridor with doors upon mahogany doors lined up like an old dorm wing of colleges dating back.
She stepped gingerly towards the corridor, remembering something about going to her room. And then it struck her, Lucifer had never said go back to her room, but simply go to her room. From the way the ‘house’ of devil was working so far, Mona figured it only showed where she was allowed to go, or supposed to go. What awaited her in the room was anyone’s guess really, but somehow it felt like the only thing she could do. Thus, she began trying out handle after handle on the doors of many a room that she eventually lost count. Then suddenly, as was habit of the place, one door swung open at the mere touch.
Mona peered in, scared. Only to find that it was a very cozy room with a large four post bed that seemed definitely larger than king size. It was laid out with fresh red linen. The left wall of the room featured a fireplace almost as tall as her, and inside was a kindling just beginning to catch on. The opposite side from the fireplace was a smallish door in comparison, ajar. No windows, Mona noticed. Of course not. They were underground beneath tons and tons of dirt.
The old high backed fabric chair in front of the fireplace had something she recognized. Her satchel. The one she had been carrying the night in the tunnel. She ran to it to confirm that it was hers. Inside were her wallet, mobile phone, and other bits and bobs like bottle of hand sanitizer and she found some comfort in them. No sooner had Mona sat down on the edge of the bed, clutching her bag that she felt drowsy. Her eyelids got heavy and she soon found herself curling up in bed. Asleep.
When she woke the next morning, at least she assumed it was the morning, there was a small breakfast trolley with a bountiful of food waiting. On the bed, just near her feet was a gorgeous teal dress laid out with a note on it. She reached for it and read.
‘For the lady.’
Nothing more, nothing less. Just three little words in the most elegant handwriting she’d ever seen.
Mona had no other choice but to wear the teal dress. After all, it’s not like she had had time to pack her own clothes. Not that clothes meant anything in hell. For all she knew, everyone could be simply walking around in their birthday suit. Mona couldn’t do that, no. Hence the dress. Her only option besides the red gown she’d been wearing last night. Unfortunately for her, her cafe uniform was still back in the slab room. She would have happily gotten back into those if she could.
She was famished, so she finished the breakfast too. What the hell? It’s not like she could really escape the place. At that moment, the room had no other doors but the one to the attached bathroom. Almost as if reading her mind, a tall, ornate door appeared as if a mirage right in front of her eyes. Mona leapt to her feet. Was she meant to leave the room, or had it just read her mind and given her something she’d hoped for? Curious, she tiptoed to it. Her hand shakily reaching for the handle when she suddenly stopped. She could hear whispers of people talking outside in the hallway. There were others! Other people like her maybe. Maybe other passengers waiting in the subway. Perhaps a train had derailed and they’d all died. Perhaps, the reason nothing made sense was cause she was in a coma in a hospital somewhere, and she was unfortunately having very lucid dreams. Perhaps.
Mona slowly pushed the handle down and pulled the door slightly open. She could hear a group of voices. At least three different individuals she figured. Two male, one female. She dared pull the door open wider and poke her head out, hoping to catch a glimpse of the people and determine if they were friendly or otherwise. As soon as Mona spied the corridor, the voices stopped. Mona looked both left and right of the corridor. To her surprise, the corridor was no longer a mile long, but held only a handful of doors. There was nothing in the corridor but for two lamps hanging either side of the wall near her door, and a maintenance broom leaning against the wall opposite her door. Nothing there that had a voice, let alone speak. Unless…
The thought send a shiver down her spine. Unless there were ‘ghosts’ Mona finished her thought in a shaky voice. Just like her. Another lost soul in Lucifer’s beautiful but crafty home.
‘Hello?’ She inched her head further out into the corridor. ‘Anybody there?’
She swore she caught the broom right in her line of sight give a short shake. So there were ghosts, Mona concluded. Ghosts that could make brooms shake and the lamps swing ever so slightly on their chains.
Mona swallowed and locked herself back up again in her room. She needed a plan. A way of getting out of wherever it was that she’d suddenly ended up.
Mona paced and paced the length of the room so much so that she knew it took her exactly 35 steps from the fireplace to the bathroom. She had continued hearing the voices for about an hour after having locked herself back in the room. But since then and now, hours had passed, and she was beginning to loose patience.
‘What is this place?’ She mumbled, her hands balling into fists. ‘And why am I here?’
‘Its my home,’ suddenly, Lucifer was standing right in front of her that she had so little time to stop her marching. She bumped into him with enough force for her to be pushed back a step. He smiled. Not a smug smile, but a warm one. Not that Mona could keep looking at him. In this room, with it’s plenty light, Mona was terrified from the sheer size of him. ‘And you are here because someone traded their own life for yours, Mona Belle.’
Mona’s jaw dropped. ‘How do you know my name?’
‘I told you earlier. I know much more than that.’
‘And where is here?’
Lucifer stared at her a while. ‘Why aren’t you asking who traded your life instead?’
Mona swallowed. She hadn’t really had a peachy life and knew bad luck tended to follow her where she went. ‘Because, it’s not like I can do anything about it here and now.’
Lucifer considered her. ‘You’re not scared?’
Mona shook her head defiantly but couldn’t look him in the eye to make it convincing. ‘You haven’t harmed me yet.’
‘I don’t intend to.’
Mona suddenly looked up. What did he mean? She wanted to ask him, but she couldn’t form those words. Besides, he’s probably already read her thought. At this, the beast smiled. ‘Why do you sneak up? Why not use the doors like a normal per…’
‘Person,’ he finished her word. ‘I’m not really a person. At least not now.’ He took a step back. ‘But if it bothers you, then I shall use a door from now on.’ He waved his hand and the door to the corridor appeared once more. He walked over, opened the door and stepped out. ‘This house will do what you ask of it.’
‘Will it let me out?’ she couldn’t help herself.
He turned and bowed his head ever so slightly. ‘I’ll be gone for a few days, so make yourself comfortable.’
Mona took that as a no. A moment later, the door was closed, and Lucifer gone. But so was hope.