“You little bitch! Come back here, I’m not finished with you!”
I ran screaming to the bathroom, the only room in the house with a lock. Beaten and bloody, I threw my weight against the door and slammed the bolt home, even though I knew it could only protect me for so long. I was alone in the house with him, and at 9 years old, was too young to have a mobile phone. I had run out of options. My breaths tore in and out of my chest, my lungs burning as I struggled to think of even one way to save myself. I bought a little more time by ripping down the shower curtain and its supporting pole, and forcing the two parts of the shining metal rod between the cheerfully painted walls that formed the narrow corridor at the entrance to the bathroom. Shouts of abuse and threats from my father leaked through the small gaps at the edges of the door.
“Open this door, Olivia. Come out now or I’ll break down this door and beat you twice as hard. You can’t hide from me you stupid little slut!”
Tears stinging at my eyes, lungs heaving, mind reeling, I backed away from the door until my back hit the sink. I turned quickly, and saw my reflection in the green framed mirror that sat on the windowsill above the sink. I raised a hand to my bruised and swollen face, a chill expanding like gas to wrap my insides in a frozen grip. One side of my face was obscured with blood and swelling, rendering it unrecognisable. From outside the door, footsteps faded away to the final threat.
“This isn’t over, you insolent bitch. Now you’ve REALLY pissed me off. Daddy’s gonna get some tools, and then teach you all about what happens to ungrateful disobedient little girls.”
In the brief respite from the torrent of abuse, I tried to take stock of my situation. I hurriedly snatched a white flannel from the stack that my mother had so neatly folded, ran it under water from the tap, and tentatively held it to the searing pain in my face. I sank down to the floor, wincing against the pain in my stomach, and shoving a towel between my legs to absorb the slowly spreading red stain. In truth I don’t know why I bothered to attempt to treat myself. There was really no hope. I couldn’t escape. No one was coming to save me, and soon enough he’d break through that door and my worst nightmares would become visceral. I was desperate. To my childish mind, prayer seemed like the very last chance I had to save myself. If there really were omnipotent, benevolent creatures in the world, maybe one would be pity me enough to get me out. I knelt on the floor, hearing my father root around in his tool cupboard in the kitchen below me, and sent out one last desperate cry for help.
Nothing happened. I begged, I pleaded, I screamed. Still nothing. I came to the conclusion that either I wasn’t worth saving, or no one was listening. It suddenly seemed so childish and stupid to have thought that a divine being would come to my rescue, and in their goodness defeat the evil stain upon the earth that was the man in the room downstairs. How stupid of me. If I had learnt anything in my short life it was that pure love and untainted goodness didn’t exist, and the world was based on cruelty and sin. I gasped. Maybe that was it. If I couldn’t summon something better, divine and pure to triumph over the evil in my life, maybe, just maybe, I could summon something worse than him. It was the only recourse left to me, I knew these last few minutes may be all I had left.
I opened the floodgates of my mind, and welcomed in all the chaos and pain, all the nightmares and tears, the blood and the fear, and focused them like a ball of hate within myself. Using all the power of this pain, I reached out to the darkness and sent out an open invitation for anything that could defeat my monster, and save me. I squeezed my eyes shut, pouring everything I had into this final desperate plan.
And when I opened my eyes, there he was. I had hoped for something monstrous and fearsome, frightening enough that its power would surpass the evil of my father, and was surprised to see sitting on the edge of the bath, a man. There were no horns, or rows of sharp teeth, no claws or wings, no poisonous tail, not even a weapon. Instead there sat the most handsome man I had ever seen, elegantly attired in a smart charcoal coloured suit.
“I believe we can help each other” he said simply and matter-of-factly, his calm, cool demeanour looking so out of place in my waking nightmare. I sat on the floor, immobile and suddenly very conscious of my swollen face, torn clothes, scarred skin, and bloodstained limbs in the presence of this impeccably clean, smart man. The urgency of the situation soon superseded my shame however, my mind swimming in pain and desperation, I took a small step towards the man, and asked him hoarsely and hurriedly, “Can you get me out?”
A flicker of something passed the man’s eyes before his business like demeanour returned and he smiled coyly at me and said smoothly in a slightly nasal, teasing voice, “I can give you anything you want, if you’re willing to pay the right price.”
“I don’t have any money,” I replied dejectedly “but if you get me out, I will give you all the money I ever earn, I will do anything, but please help me.” I was startled out of my surreal bartering with the man by the bone chilling sound of heavy footsteps on the stairs. He was coming back, I was out of time. “If you can help me, please do it now, I can’t stay here!” I begged, my voice rising in pitch with desperation.
As calmly as if we had been discussing the school curriculum, the man began, “I can help you, but first there’s the matter of assured repayment in full at a later date, the terms and conditions of the arrangement, non-disclosure to specified parties, obligations and commitments which must be upheld for the duration of the…”
He was interrupted by the sound of a hammer striking the door, followed by repeated, heavier blows that began to cause fractures in the wood of the door.
“I don’t have time for any of this, I don’t care what you want, I’ll do whatever it takes, I’ll agree to anything, just help me NOW!” I screamed, rising suddenly to my feet, and staring the man in the face. As my legs shook, and my vision began to swim from blood loss, I thought I saw the man’s eyes fill as if with red smoke, and the last words I heard from him as the door splintered off of its frame, and my father crashed into the room, were “As you wish.”
I’m not sure what happened next, there has always been a gap in my memory, but the next thing I knew I was in the back seat of my mums car, speeding down the road away from my house. From then my life resumed some semblance of normality. I went back to school, and though I never healed from the damage to my mind, my bruises faded, and my life went on. Until today. But before I come to that, let me help you understand.
What happened to me caused changes in my brain that I wasn’t prepared for. After a while the anxiety and shame blossomed into a full blown psychotic depression. I alienated all the friends I’d ever had, lost control of my behaviour and started acting out. I couldn’t maintain a relationship because of my emotional scarring, and screaming at hallucinated monsters burned any bridges I’d built. I couldn’t escape my childhood, no matter how far I ran, and after one too many failed suicide attempts, I was placed into permanent psychiatric care at 15. But no matter how many therapeutic interventions, medications and coping strategies I was provided, I didn’t get better. I got worse.
A little less than a year into my hospitalisation, a team of doctors and nurses agreed with my mother that I was unfit to act in my own best interests, and under section 3 of the Mental Health Act, I was legally detained for six months. The most major change that followed this was that, due to my lack of mental capacity, it was no longer necessary for me to agree to my treatment. This meant restraints, physical intervention, and being medicated against my will.
Whenever I got too out of control and became violent towards myself or others, I was given 7.5mg of intramuscular lorazepam, which put me into a deep sleep. During my inpatient stay I became increasingly obsessed with the devil, sin, evil and hell. I guess you could say that some part of me knew what was coming. That May marked 7 years to the day since I’d sat broken and bleeding on the bathroom floor and begged for rescue.
In the week leading up to the anniversary of that day, I became more disturbed than I had ever been. What had been small, shaming voices in my head became a cacophony of screams. I used to have all the usual persecutory voices for a psychotic patient, telling me I was worthless and stupid and that I deserved all of this pain and more, but the voices I heard screaming now I no longer identified with. These horrid shrieks had nothing to do with me or my pain, but were more like being constantly tuned into a radio that was broadcasting hundreds of live tortures at once. I tried to explain this to the nursing staff, but once you have been sectioned all credibility is gone. The staff no longer had to listen to or believe anything I said, even when the growling started.
The day of the anniversary, the tortured screams were louder than ever, and I felt like someone was poking around inside my brain. I couldn’t sit still, what I saw wasn’t what was really in front of me, I couldn’t hear anyone in the room with me, and I felt as if a horrific storm was brewing just under the surface of my skin, with all the physical potential of an explosion. Then out of nowhere, I began to hear snarling and growling, like several large dogs held on a tight leash, pulling to get away. I felt a wet nose brush my ear as invisible snouts began to sniff at my clothes and hair. There was no escaping them. Inside my padded room, with a locked door, and no credibility to my name, there was nothing I could do or say to get out. I cried and shrieked, bashing my skull with my hands, throwing myself at the walls until suddenly, with a sound like the crack of a whip, the restrained growling of the hounds became barking that vibrated my bones. More desperate than I had been in years, I threw myself at the door, screaming for help. At first the nurse outside ignored me, but after several minutes screaming and thrashing with increasing animosity, a doctor was summoned.
I felt immeasurable relief as I saw the doctor approach the small window in the door, brandishing keys. I forced myself to pretend to follow the normal procedure for the unlocking of the door, retreating to the far corner of my cushioned cell and placing my hands on the wall, but there was no way I was staying in this room. I had to run. The barking and snarling grew closer every second and I knew that once those hounds reached me I was dead. As soon as the doctor had crossed the threshold into my room, I ducked low past his arm, and burst through the doorway, ready to sprint the fuck away from those dogs. In reality I never made it that far. Outside of the doorway were waiting several nurses, including three rather large and muscular men, who caught me as I attempted to barrel past, and carried me back into the room whilst restraining my arms and legs. I knew what was coming. How could I not. I’d learnt long ago in my institutionalisation that unmanageable patients were sedated in times of great distress to reduce risk of injury to the patient, and more importantly, the staff.
“NO!” I screamed, “You don’t understand, you can’t do this to me right now, you have to let me out, PLEASE! They’re coming for me and they will tear me apart if they find me!”
With the snarling drawing closer from several directions I began to feel like a fox or rabbit, hunted and pursued by dangerous creatures liable to eat me, under the control of a cruel master. As I later learnt, I wasn’t all that wrong.
“Please DON’T!” I hollered, “They’ll kill me! They’re almost here, you have to hide me! For fucks sake, I’ll be torn apart, listen to me!”
Pinned face down on the floor, I felt a hand wrench my trousers and underwear down a couple of inches, setting off alarm bells in the oldest, deepest parts of my psyche, “No, STOP! PLEASE! You have to…”
I heard my voice trail off as I felt the sting of the needle in my arse cheek, and a numbing cold spread across me, just as I felt the hounds reach me, saliva hitting my face and neck as the hounds barked, snarled, and opened their jaws, and at that moment I lost consciousness.
The next time I awoke, I was in what appeared to be an office, probably of someone significant, or at least significantly rich. I sat reclined on a leather armchair, my feet elevated. There was thick, heavy carpeting on the floor, and walls consisting of stone in some places, and wood panels in others. I felt as if I was in a historical castle or palace, the décor was both lavish and dated in places. The room smelt heavily of leather, wood, fire, and liquor. As I sat upright, a high backed chair behind a huge ornate wooden desk revolved slowly, revealing to me the man I had met and dealt with all those years ago, although he hadn’t aged a day. Trying to place my surroundings, I crossed gingerly to the nearest window, while the man in the chair regarded me with quiet interest.
Through the window I saw the most horrific landscape that I could ever have imagined, far worse than any I had seen created for film or television. What appeared to be a post-apocalyptic wasteland stretched to the horizon in front of me. Some ruins of old buildings remained, but for the most part the grounds main features were rocks and stones of a wide variety of sizes, from the size of an insect to the size of a house. Interspersed between craters and mounds of these stones were small ponds and rivulets of what appeared to be a flaming liquid, more volatile than fire or lava. I felt as if the bottom of my stomach dropped out. I didn’t understand. I didn’t know of anywhere on earth that looked like this, let alone how I could have possibly gotten here. We must be so far away from civilisation that we had to have driven or flown. Surveying the wasteland below me showed no roads or dirt tracks, nowhere even with level enough ground to drive. Having eliminated that option, I turned my face to the sky. Or rather, where the sky should have been. Rather than opening to the sky however, the walls and columns rose to a cave-like ceiling of rock and stalactites. And the light that I had ignorantly assumed came from the sun was revealed to be coming from the liquid fire, which not only pockmarked the ground, but the cavernous ceiling too. For the most part this fire ignored gravity and did as it pleased, but in places across the endless wasteland, pools of fire dripped steadily off of the roof, or formed waterfalls of such flaming fury that should have destroyed the ground.
Horrified, I turned to face my host, who was just as beautiful as I had remembered him, with only two minor changes. His eyes which had been a piercing green were now filled with the same liquid fire that pierced the landscape, and both his teeth and nails were sharpened to points. I failed to repress a shudder, and used my remaining courage to meet his blazing stare.
“What is this place? Who are you? Why am I here? Is this earth? What happened?” All of my questions came tumbling out as one when I opened my mouth, and after I forced it closed the man continued to meet my eyes with such a penetrating stare I though the fire in his eyes would set my soul alight.
“Isn’t it quite obvious? I did try to explain to you seven years ago, but you just skipped to the end of the agreement without hearing my terms. Quite your own fault I would say.” He said slyly and somewhat exasperatedly. “Every damn time you people fast forward to what you want and ignore what the repayment will cost you.”
I was terrified, frustrated and more than a little hurt. “I have no idea what happened when you came to me, I was a stupid desperate child, and I would have agreed to anything just to escape.”
“And that you did” He replied smugly. “Now you can’t be so surprised that I have followed our deal explicitly. I gave you what you wanted, as well as seven years to the day, nay, to the second, before I sent the hellhounds to reap you! And now you must repay me. There is no point arguing or resisting,” He said somewhat detachedly, “You will do as I command. You have no choice. As of…” he checked his watch, “5 minutes and 37 seconds ago, I own you. Welcome to Hell.”
Rejection filled my mind, this couldn’t be happening. This wasn’t real, it couldn’t be. But even as I struggled to reason it all away, the truth of it all settled uneasily in my gut. I knew delusions and insanity. This was so horrific it could only be the truth. My paranoid delusional obsessions with hell, the devil and sin had finally payed off. It wasn’t as if life had been very kind to me, and I had long since dreamt of dying and moving on, possibly to hell. It was an idle fantasy I entertained but never expected to live. When I had no way out, and I was hurt and desperate, begging and pleading, it wasn’t an almighty God or his angels that came for me. I’d realised if I couldn’t fight my father with something more good and kind than himself, and I had chosen to open my heart to the darkness.
And it saved me. After all, wasn’t this at least better than what I’d had? No nurses followed me, I moved freely, my mind unobstructed by medication for the first time in years. No abusive father waited in my room, and no doctor came to analyse me. I felt more alive than I ever had, free, and filled with a dark ominous power. After a period of silence while I sorted and reoriented my thoughts, I met the eyes of the devil sitting behind the mahogany desk.
“What do you want me to do?” The voice that came from me now was deeper, and more controlled. I felt the hellfire leave the devil’s eyes and form a burning igneous stream into my own as he told me, “Go back into the world. Seek out those who are as broken, hurt and despairing as you were when you called me, find them in their darkest hour, and make a deal.”
He broke our gaze, and cut off the link between our eyes. I closed my lids as I felt the fire spread through me, igniting my soul. I took a deep breath, opened my eyes and again met his fiery stare, and said “As you wish.”
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