The crows watched in silence from the tops of the tall trees, their dark sunset fracturing the skyline and casting a hex of mutilated shadows onto the ribbon of pale stones that led up to the house.
She tilted her head, running her fingers along the edge of the curtain, ‘I wore him like a cloak, he kissed my flesh into fire and poured his sweet poison into my heart. And it was so easy, so easy just to let him take me…’
‘We all walk a fine line between light and dark, it doesn’t mean we’re bad people.’ He said the words gently because some smiles could break your heart quicker than ten thousand tears.
‘Did you know that the ground of damnation is barbed with swords, blades set into rock with no room between them to rest?’ she looked to him for understanding, ‘And they are so tired, they are all so tired.’
He sat forward, ‘Who are tired?’
‘It was so easy…’
‘Who are tired, Ella?’
‘Do you believe in hell?’ she whispered the words, but as she turned back to face the window, the gallery of crows snapped into life, and under a mirror of dark lashes her eyes rearranged the sky.
‘I believe that heaven and hell exist within our own minds, ‘he said, ‘and as such they are real places.’
‘You think that hell is a physical place?’
‘It’s a physical place alright,’ she smiled again, ‘I’ve been there.’
‘Okay, and can you tell me about it?’
‘Oh I can do better than that.’
She saw the fear catch light in his reflection. ‘A description is fine,’ he said.
‘Nothing can prepare you for the suffering,’ she held her hand out and turned it over as the first of the crows hit the window, ‘I mean the pain is bad of course, but it’s the suffering that really slaughters you.’
He jumped, glancing at the glass, ‘Pain and suffering, tell me how you think they’re different?’
‘They seem like they aren’t,’ she turned her hand back over slowly, ‘but believe me they are, they’re poles apart.’
‘Okay,’ another of the birds hit and he pulled his body tighter into the chair, ‘so you can manage the pain but not the suffering, is that what you’re saying?’
‘When he took me there I was lost, and the pain was so bad all I could do was figure out how to survive,’ she shrugged philosophically, ‘enduring an eternity of pain is all about managing your resources.’ Along the windowsill a row of solar candles stuttered in the feathered light, ‘And I would have done anything, promised anything to get out of that place. But when I saw them, when I saw their suffering, when I had to leave them there…’ she shook her head like she couldn’t believe it either, ‘I actually begged him to send me back, funny eh?’
‘You spoke about them before, who are they, Ella?’
‘They are you and me,’ she closed her eyes, ‘you and me and everyone, every bastard soul on this planet, caught up in hell.’
‘So this is an esoteric event,’ he dragged his fear ashore, trying to hide the relief from his body language, ‘you’re describing a kind of spiritual torment?’
‘You go ahead and think whatever you want,’ the glass groaned and cracked as the envoys of carrion took the last of the light. She closed her hand into a fist, ‘but that place, that place is real. And the only way out of it, the only damn way out, is when you can’t bear to leave.’