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March 7, 2012

Four Dudes Go to Hell (6)



Hunt 6: Red Heat

Luckily, they weren’t his actual last words.  The same went for Luke, Dante, and RJ; all four of the boys had survived, though not without a little humiliation.

One by one they pulled their faces out of the dirt, dusting them off and wiping grounded rock from their tongues.  “Okay, that could have gone better,” said Luke, the first to recover (since he’d started spitting like a camel).  He massaged his back.  It stung, but he figured he was lucky he hadn’t shattered his spine in the fall.

But as he started to look around, he felt himself wishing otherwise.  “Oh…this is not good.”

Dante raised his eyebrows.  “That’s all you’re gonna say?”

“Well, what should I say?”

Wade raised a hand.  “How about…’oh, hell.’”



No less than four volcanoes stood in the distance; all of them spewed lava across its jagged slopes and onto the ground, almost as if to form glowing orange roads.  Columns of billowing brown smoke -- with lightning and ash mixed within -- reached higher than any skyscraper the boys had ever seen.  The lava spewing from the big tops helped to dye the sky red -- the sky, of course, being a cave roof with singed stalactites.  All four of the volcanoes rumbled regularly, and more importantly made the area hot to the point of suffocation.  Even if they’d started venturing, it wouldn’t help; they spotted more volcanoes, many of them even larger than the nearest four, on the horizon.

But that wasn’t the most worrisome part.  Because between those volcanoes, near and far, lay valleys.  And within those valleys lay several structures -- buildings, in the loosest sense of the word.  They looked as if they’d been hit in a dozen bombing runs, with brown, decaying walls and massive chunks practically bitten from their edges.  Some of them were tilted; others were toppled over; no matter what their alignment, steel spikes erupted from whatever edge they could and pointed skyward.  The streets -- if they could call that cracking, uneven asphalt a street -- bent around each crumbling block, with its sidewalks lined with fiery streaks.  As smoke spewed from the streets’ molten cracks, a few iron skulls drifted through the sky; they diffused the smoke and left orange trails in their wake.

Luke, Dante, RJ, and Wade all stood on a small mesa, giving them a view of the city ahead.  And not just the city; though they couldn’t make out everything through the smoldering haze, they could still see that this place -- this place with certain, negative biblical connotations -- extended for miles in every direction. 

And they’d fallen from the sky.  A sky that they couldn’t hope to reach without a space shuttle.

Once he picked up his shovel and slid it back into his bag’s slots, Wade rubbed the back of his neck.  “You know, I’m starting to think that joke of mine was too obvious.  I mean, I should’ve put a little more thought into it and said --”

“Wade?  Now’s not a very good time,” said Dante, showing his big buddy his backhand.

Luke put his bat and flashlight back in, and then nodded jerkily.  “So this place -- we’re all pretty much in agreement that this place is…is…”

Dante nodded as well.  “Well…shit.  Looks like we’re in deep boys.  Better start digging in our heels.”
Wade peered up at the sky; as he did, Luke and Dante noticed the beads of sweat beginning to form on his face -- and by extension, theirs as well.  “Is this really Hell?”

“Looks like it,” said Luke, trying to stifle a shiver.

“But don’t we have to be dead to go to Hell?  You know, paying for our sins and all that?  I thought that was how it worked -- like Hell is one big time-out corner.”

“Ah -- well, I guess, but…”  Luke pursed his lips.  They DID fall from an insane height, and there was a gap in his memory -- that fall into the pit -- that he couldn’t account for.  He patted a hand against his stomach; he certainly didn’t feel dead.  He could make out the beating of his heart, and the motions of his lungs.  A ghost wouldn’t have to worry about that…at least, he hoped so.  “RJ, you’re the smart one,” he said, wiping his brow.  “What do you think about all this?”

RJ didn’t answer.

“Uh, are you there RJ?  We kind of need you.”  He turned around to face him.  Of course RJ hadn’t tried to run (it didn’t work last time, after all); he just stood his ground, his body paled and chilling, and his face turning a shade of blue that Luke thought only existed in cartoons.  And all the while, RJ kept his hands glued to his mouth, convulsing rhythmically, and his throat quivering.

“Oh man, I know that look,” said Wade, pointing at RJ like a monkey in a zoo.  “That’s the look I get whenever I’m about to spew chunks all over the place.  You guys might wanna move; this could get messy.”

Dante crossed his arms.  “RJ, now’s not the time for you to be a coward.  Show some dignity for once, will you?”

RJ shook his head.  He kept his mouth covered, but that didn’t stop a crunching noise from leaking out.
“He’s goin’ critical,” Wade warned.  “Seriously, this is way bigger than anything I could ever do; we’re talking a real gourmet meltdown here.”  He placed his hands on RJ’s shoulders and started pivoting him around.  “Only question is, which way’s he gonna spew?”

“Not on me, I hope,” said Dante. 

“Well, whatever way he fires, we should just let him do it.  It’ll be good for him to get it out of his system.”

“Why?  So he can just puke all over again?  This is RJ we’re talking about; a leaf falling on his shoulder is enough to get his heart thumping.”  Dante stroked his chin.  “With nerves as bad as his, I think he’ll be lucky to see thirty.”

“That’s enough joking around, you two,” Luke said at last.  He stepped toward RJ -- whose cheeks had started puffing up with…well, something probably unsavory -- and offered a soothing smile.  “Come on.  I know things look bad right now, but we can get through this together.  You know that, right?”

RJ shook his head, and Luke heard the…unfortunate liquid sloshing within.

“We’ll find a way out.  But we need your help.  You’re the smart one.  Just like Wade’s the big guy and Dante’s the cool one.  The four of us working together can do anything.  You’ve just gotta believe, okay?”  He tapped RJ’s shoulder and nodded, his smile brightening.  “Have a little courage.  So how about you swallow all that negativity and think positive?  Who knows?  You might even surprise Dante.”

“Emphasis on might,” Dante added, “but it’s the best you can hope for.”

Luke shrugged him off.  “So what do you say?  Ready to go on an adventure?  For science?”

RJ stared wide-eyed at Luke for a moment -- a full minute, before giving a rigid nod.  As he did, he swallowed every bit of juice; when his cheeks compressed, he started coughing and choking.  “Ohhhh man…that is a lot of stomach acid to be shuffling around,” he sputtered.

“Hey, look on the bright side.  At least you don’t look like a hamster anymore.”  Luke wrapped a hand around RJ’s shoulder and moved him forward, then gestured for his friends to follow with a wave.  “Okay, now that that’s settled, I think we’d better get moving.  No sense in hanging around here, right?”

“So what’s the plan, then?” Wade asked.  “Stumble around down here for a while?  That doesn’t seem too helpful.”

“Getting a move-on is the first step,” said Dante, moving to the head of the pack.  “Something made it possible for us to get down here.  So something -- or maybe someone -- should be able to get us back up.”

Wade looked around, scratching his head.  Outside of the occasional flying skull, the four boys were alone.  “We’re gonna find someone, right?”

“Dude.  It’s Hell.”

“So what, five, ten people maybe?”

Dante looked pleadingly over his shoulder to Luke.  “There’s no telling what we’ll find,” Luke said, trying to reassure both his friends and himself as they trekked across the mesa.  “But whatever happens, I’m sure we’ll be --”

Unfortunately, Luke had to cut his pep talk short.  He and his pals had a guest to entertain: a meteor hurtling towards them at a thousand miles per hour.

“Hit the deck!” Dante yelled.  Not that he needed to; all four boys ran a few paces, and flung themselves onto the ground with heads covered.  It didn’t do much to stop the meteor, but it did keep them from having their faces burned off.

THWOOOOM!

A tsunami of rock and flames splashed just a foot above the boys, and the chaos diffused in an array of red and orange hues.  Garnet sparks singed their heels; they could only lay there and hope that no rogue sparks set their butts aflame.

The roar quieted a bit, and the rumble that had nearly thrown them across the city finally died down.  One by one, Luke, Dante, Wade and RJ rolled over, peering at the rock.

Except it wasn’t a rock.  It was a man -- one that stood at a solid eight feet, with a body exploding with slate-hued muscle.  No shirt, no shoes; just a tattered, zebra-patterned skirt over black shorts, and fists that could crush fire hydrants wrapped in frayed ropes.  He drew himself up to his full height, exposing the X-shaped scar across a chest so cut it could slice a diamond.  His beard, bristled and bushy, shook in tandem with his black mane.  And all the while, he stared at the sky, taking in one slow breath at a time.

The four boys stood up and stared at him.  “Whoa.  That’s big,” said Wade with eyebrows raised.

“What’s this guy want with us?” Dante asked, tensing up.  “If he’s looking for trouble, he’s come to the right place.”

But Luke shook his head and stumbled forward.  “H-hold on you guys.  Maybe this guy is just what we need to get out of here.”  He took a deep breath and walked toward the gray giant.  “H-h-hi there,” he called out with a wave and a nervous laugh.  “I’m Luke.  I’m…well, I’m kind of new here.  Do you think you can help us out a bit?”  He shoved a hand into his pocket and wriggled his fingers about.  “I don’t have a lot of money, but I can pay you a little bit.”

RJ leaned forward, fists clenched.  “Luke, don’t!” he wailed.

“What?  This is as good a chance as any to get our bearings straight.”

“No, not that!”  He pointed a quivering finger at Luke’s pocket.  “Keep your money to yourself!  How will you be able to afford anything if you throw your money around like some kind of…of spendthrift!”

“Spendthrift?  That’s the word you’re going with, huh?” Dante muttered.

Luke glanced over his shoulder and offered a calming smile.  “It’s fine.  This guy’s not so bad, I think; it’s only natural that I show my tha-”

“GET DOWN!  GOOD MORNING!  FUCK YOUR LOVE AND DIE!”

The boys stared at him, mere seconds away from having their jaws fall from their faces.

“Uh…nice…song?” Luke asked.

Wade raised a hand.  “I’m sure it doesn’t mean anything, but I think I heard something in there about dying.  Where I come from, that’s not a good sign.”

“Come on, he couldn’t possibly mean --”

The gray giant leaned forward, exposing a pair of glowing red eyes -- and more importantly, fangs that could tear through an elephant.  “LUKE!  GOOD BOY!  FIGHT OR GET EATEN!  AND GET YOUR JOLLIES ON THE READY LINE!”

“Uh, that doesn’t sound too good, sir.”
               
The gray giant pulled back a fist.  Luke leapt back a few feet -- just far enough to avoid his attack.  Just far enough to avoid an explosion of flame and rubble.
               
“Okay, THAT doesn’t look too good,” said Luke, flung onto his back and now staring at the crater before him.  “Maybe we should run.”
               
But RJ would do no such thing.  His legs crumpled, and he fell to the ground in a heap, his eyes rolled into the back of his head.
               
“At least he didn’t throw up,” said Wade.

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