He puts the gun against my head, I close my eyes, and bang I’m dead.
“Wren”, my best friend Rose whispers in my ear, “Wrennie it’s time, you have to wake up now.” Her voice finds me in my world of sleep and pulls me back to surface. She stares down at me, her wavy, red hair falling in her face and her green eyes watching me with a mix of worry and curiosity.
“Rose? What are you doing here? You’re-” Dead.My eyes fly shut. This can’t be happening. Rose killed herself five years ago, when we were just fourteen. This isn’t real. I tell myself that I’ll count down from five and when I open my eyes this will all disappear. Five, I take a deep breath in. Four, I hold my breath for as long as I can. Three, I let it out slowly. Two, I ball my hands into fists at my sides. One, I open my eyes. Rose is still there. “Wren-” She starts, grabbing my arm lightly. I jerk out of her grasp.
“No. No no no. This isn’t real. What the hell is going on!” I say angrily at Rose, only to be met with her laughter. “What’s so funny?” I ask, annoyed that she could laugh at my confusion. Then again, Rose can always find something to laugh at.
“I’m sorry Wrennie-” She starts only to be interrupted by her own laughter, “It’s just you have no idea how ironic that question is considering where we are.” She lets her laugh escape her lips and then looks to me, her face turning serious and says, “We’re in hell Wren.” She reaches her hand out to me. “Come on, we have to get going now, might as well get this journey started.” I grab her hand and follow her as she starts to walk towards what seems to be a huge gate. I could guess why I was in hell, but why was Rose in hell? None of this was making any sense, but I followed Rose anyway because that’s what I had always done.
When we reach the gates, we both stop to read the inscription above. “Through me you enter the city of woes, through me you enter into eternal pain, through me you enter the population of loss. Abandon all hope, you who enter here.”
“Well, this sounds fun,” I say, running my hands through my curly black hair and growing increasingly nervous. I look to Rose for support.
Always the optimist, Rose smiles at me and says “It’s ok Wren, it’s going to be ok,” as she walks through the gate. I count down from five and step through the gate after her. What greets me on the other side makes me regret my decision to ever pass through.
The screams and moans were so loud I could barely hear myself think. I stand there, covering my ears with my hands, and try to take in the sight before me. Thousands of people are gathered on the edge of a river, waiting to be taken across on a ferry.
“The ferryman’s name is Charon,” Rose explains, “He will ferry us across the river Acheron into hell proper.”
“But where are we going? And why are you in hell Rose? Why am I?” She seems to be debating with herself about whether or not to respond, but when she finally does tears threaten to spill from her eyes.
“I’m not in hell Wren, well not eternally anyway. I’m in heaven. I was just sent down to help guide you through the circles of hell until we reach the one where you will spend the rest of eternity. When we reach the second circle Minos will judge you and determine what circle you’re going to.” When she’s done talking she doesn’t met my eyes. Why would she? I’m in hell and she isn’t. She went up to heaven and I went down to hell.
“But Rose, why would I go to hell?” I ask, even though I think I already know the answer.
“Because of Xander. You let your love for him stop blind you, Wren. You ignored your voice of reason and refused to see what he really was and because of that he became your downfall.”
“So I’m in hell because my boyfriend shot me and I didn’t see it coming? He killed me Rose, why should I pay the price for that?”
Rose lets out an exasperated sigh, “I already told you Wren. Because you let your love for Xander stop you from seeing what he was becoming, you ignored all the signs. You could have saved yourself Wrennie. Instead you let yourself pretend everything was fine when it was really far from it.”
It takes a moment for me to process what she was saying. The memories come back at full force and all I can think about is my last moments alive. Five, he pulls me close. I have nowhere to go. His arms that once made me feel safe are now my prison. Four, he whispers “I love you Wren.” into my hair as he begins to cry. Three, he puts the gun against my head. Two, I close my eyes. One, the gun goes off and bang, I’m dead.
“He was saving me,” I whisper, “He did it all to spare me from the awful things that come with living. He loved me Rose, in his mind he was saving me. He did it because he loved me.”
Rose stares at me, her eyes sad. “Do you hear yourself? He was a drunk, he just sunk deeper and deeper into the depths of his mind until he too lost all reason. Maybe in his twisted mind he thought he was saving you, but that doesn't change the fact that he killed you Wren.”
I move forward towards the ferry, unwilling to look at Rose. Because if I look at her I will have to face the truth and that’s something I’m just not prepared to do. We board the ferry and cross the river, not speaking until we reach the shore.
“Where are we?” I ask, trying to keep my voice void of the emotions that threaten to tear me apart.
“This is the first circle of hell. It’s home to those who were never satisfied in life and always wanting for more. Now they are forced to suffer eternal hunger and thirst. No matter how much they eat they can never be full and no matter how much water they drink they will always be suffering from dehydration.”
We are virtually surrounded by people who all look on the brink of death, their faces filled with suffering. Funny how someone who is already dead can be on the brink of death.
“Come on Wren, we’re almost to circle two.” Rose’s voice brings me back to the task at hand and I realize I have fallen several steps behind her. I take this opportunity to fully examine Rose. She has remained in her fourteen year old body and looks just as she had when she was alive, fire-red hair blazing down her back, green eyes sparkling. I realize how lost I had been without her, how I was so desperate for someone to fill the hole that she had left behind. That’s why it was so easy for me to fall for Xander. He came at a time when I needed him most and was willing to pick up all my pieces and put me back together again. Little did I know he would only end up breaking me again, only this time I couldn’t be fixed.
I can see Rose growing impatient, so I hurry to meet her. “Now”, she says grabbing my hand, “Into the second circle we go.” When we enter the second circle of hell all I can focus on is the line of people that seems to stretch for miles.
“They are all waiting for Minos to judge them and tell them what circle they will reside in. We better get in line, it’s going to be a while.” She flashes me a smile and joins the end of the line. It’s easy to tell that she isn’t belong here, that she isn’t waiting for her fate to be decided. We stand in silence, not quite sure what to say. Finally I just decide to go ahead and tell her everything I’ve wanted her to know since she died.
“Rose…” I start, not quite sure, where to start, “I’m sorry, I’m so so sorry.”
“Wren you have nothing to be sorry about,” she says, her voice calm. She must have known this would come up at some point. “You didn’t know, I didn’t want you to know, didn’t want you to be worried about me.”
“But that’s the thing Rose, I should have known. Don’t you see? I was the one who was supposed to see through the act, who was supposed to be able to tear down the wall. But instead you had me fooled, just like everyone else.” My voice is starting to crack and the last thing I want to do is cry so I just shut up instead.
She gives me a sad smile then, her green eyes never leaving my face as she speaks. “I didn’t want you to know, Wren. I didn’t want you to worry about me. I never meant to hurt you though and for that I am truly sorry. I was doing what was...best for me, not anyone else.” She stops to gather her thoughts, twirling her flaming hair between her fingers as she thinks. “I could have saved you if I didn’t do it, I could have told you to get away. You needed me more than ever then, but I had abandoned you. If one of us is going to feel sorry it’s me, Wren. Even though there is no point to apologizing since we’re both dead, I just wish that I could have saved you from hell. You don’t deserve it Wren, you should be in heaven with me.”
“I guess it’s too late for that isn’t it? We always knew I’d end up in hell anyway.” I attempt a smile, but I don’t think Rose is fooled by it. She hugs me and doesn’t let me go until we get close to Minos. Because that’s when it hits me. The reality of my situation and I fall to the ground sobbing, I can’t think straight. This isn’t how it was supposed to go, I’d always been a good girl, always protected myself from anything I thought might harm me. Until Xander. He was able to tear down my wall, and little did I know he would take me down with it. I never saw it coming, I was too blinded by my love for him to see how he was spiraling. I pretended I didn’t notice when he started drinking whenever we were together, how he always felt the need to control me. I told myself he was being sweet, that he just wanted to be able to protect me. I acted as though his mood swings didn’t bother me, I treated his fits of rage as things that would always come to pass. If he ever hurt me he was always so gentle and apologetic after that it was easy to pretend it never happened. Only now, only after he has done his worst am able to see the monster of a man he had become. I can remember the first incident well, now that I’m not lying to myself anymore. Five, he reaches out for me. Four, I can smell the booze on his breath. Three, I try to push him off of me. Two, to my surprise he pushes me back, straight into the table. Glass shatters and cuts my skin as I fall to the ground. One, I lay there, tears streaming down my face, not fully able to process what just happened. Xander had hurt me, and something inside me told me it wouldn’t be the last time he did. I should have left him after that, should have used my reason to protect myself, but I didn’t and for that I paid the ultimate price.
There are only five people between us and Minos. I cling to Rose, terrified to let her go, afraid to be alone. I just got Rose back, I am in no way ready to let her go so soon.
We don’t speak for fear of crying. Instead she just holds me close until we reach Minos. I walk towards him in silence, already guessing where I’m headed. His tail wraps around me twice. It would seem I am staying in the second circle. Rose and I step aside to let the others pass.
“Alright Wrennie, this is where I leave you.” She starts crying then and that’s when I cross the line into hysteria.
“Please Rose, don’t let him take me away from you. Please don’t leave me, not here. I’m scared Rose, so scared. I don’t want to face hell alone, please take me with you! Don't let me spend eternity in hell!” I look up at her then and to my horror she seems to be fading. I reach out to touch her and my hand passes straight through her arm.
“I’m sorry Wrennie, so very sorry. I don't want to leave you, but I have no choice. Please forgive me Wren, for everything.” She is sobbing now and I have trouble making out her words. She’s fading quickly and I can’t handle it.
“ROSE!” I scream at the top of my lungs, “Rose please! Don’t leave me Rose! Please!”
Five, she keeps repeating “I’m sorry” over and over again as she continues to fade away, back to heaven. Four, I scream “I love you Rose!” between the hysterical sobs that pour out of me. Three, “I love you too, Wrennie! So much,” she says, her voice filled with despair. Two, always the optimist, she smiles at me one last time. Then she is gone completely. One, my body shaking with sobs and my face wet with tears, I scream and scream until I pass out, letting the darkness wash over me.
I open my eyes and am not happy with what I see. I am on what seems to be a cliff and am surrounded by birds. Whether they are crows or ravens I can’t be sure, but they scare the s*** out of me. I am terrified of birds, who know hell was so personalized.“Birds?” I ask, my voice filled with fear. “What do they do to you?”
As if they knew I was talking about them, the birds rise off the ground and charge towards me. I scream and run as fast as I can in the opposite direction. I look around, but can’t see Juliet anywhere. She must be facing her own flock. Five birds descend on me, their black beaks pecking at my eyes and talons scratching at my face and arms as I try to hold them off. Then more join in, all going for my eyes, but tearing apart any exposed skin as they go. Blood covers everything and unable to stand the pain, I run. Off the edge of the cliff.
As I fall I realize the meaning of my punishment. In life, I was unable to see what was happening to Xander and so the birds go straight for my eyes, to literally blind me. I fell for Xander and so I fall off the cliff. I fell in love with him and I fell to my death because of him. I was so blinded by my love for him that I didn’t see what it would lead to, just as how when I am blinded by the birds I do not see the edge of the cliff. I hit the bottom at full speed and feel my bones crack beneath me. I howl at the pain and wish for nothing more than to die. But that can never happen, death will never come. I only exist to repeat this over and over again. Xander thought he was saving me when he pulled the trigger, but this place he has doomed me to is a far cry from mercy. Five, I scream and scream. Four, I feel my shattered body being pieced together. Three, the blood clears from my eyes and I find myself on the cliff again. Two, I wait for the inevitable to begin. One, the birds come at me, I run, I fall, I am regenerated. The cycle just keeps repeating itself for eternity. There is no escape, no end to this hell.
*Elements of this story are based on "Murder Song (5,4,3,2,1)" by Aurora