Chapter 47 from the Ama audiobook
The light from outside didn’t penetrate the cave for more than a few feet, and it didn’t fade into the darkness either, but ended in an abrupt line, as if banishment forbade it from entering any further. With skittish hands Jason fumbled and groped at the jagged unseen walls. He tried to relax his eyes as they stretched wide, hungry for any morsel of light but finding none. All the while the caretaker’s roar and the man’s screams of torment continued their loop of deafening horror.
Every time his nerve faltered he remembered what Lilith had told him. “Go to that mountain, find the cave, and then follow it. If you do that, you’ll win the game.” This became his mantra within the dark.
He tripped over the uneven ground as he fell from one side of the cave to the other. This already claustrophobic tunnel became narrower the further he ventured in, and he had to duck down to avoid the decreasing height of the rock above. He raised his hands to gain some sense of impending collision. The sound of pain had stopped and restarted six times when he saw a pinprick of light up ahead.
The horrific sounds are to instil fear, he told himself. Just another element of Lilith’s cruel game; an attempt to stop me reaching the end.
He stumbled as he quickened his pace. His gait became a lurching run as he stamped on the pain proclaiming its continued existence in his leg. His head slammed into a low-hanging rock and he fell. Getting to his feet, he felt sharp rock slice into his hands but gave it little regard. He was running again. The spot of light grew.
“Thank Christ,” he yelled. “I’m going to get out of this.” Just a little further. He sprinted towards the light and exploded from the cave.
The sudden transition from dark to blinding light caused him to lose his footing and go crashing to the ground of a cavernous chamber within the mountain. He scurried back against the chamber wall the instant his eyes focused on the caretaker. It was holding a man within the flames of a raging inferno at the centre of the chamber. The man’s black blistering body thrashed about as the fire consumed him. The smell of his burning flesh was nauseating.
The man was burnt beyond recognition and his screams filled the chamber. Even when reduced to no more than a skeleton and with his bones cracked and crumbled within the heat, the sound of his pain could be heard resounding from the rock walls. Only when he became ash did his cries cease, plunging the chamber into a moment of reverent silence.
“Now you see the flames,” Lilith said as she appeared next to Jason. “It’s not your body that will burn, but your soul. And it sings such a beautiful song.”
“But… I’ve played your game and won… I’ve won,” he pleaded.
“This mountain… This cave… Damn your lies. What more is there?”
His question hung in the still air as a man materialised in the far corner of the chamber. In an instant the caretaker was upon him. It dragged the struggling, petrified man over to Jason and Lilith and held him off the ground with one hand around his throat. It offered the man towards them.
“Now, the game is over,” Lilith said with obvious delight.
Jason looked at the man’s trembling chalk-white naked body and withdrew in fearful confusion. The man shook as his anguish radiated from his straining face. The sound of his suffering soul filled the chamber once more. Jason tried to scream too, but no sound passed his lips. He looked at the man and saw his own eyes staring back.
“Now, go and enjoy your life,” Lilith said. “This will all be waiting for your return.”
“He’s me? How can he be… me? I don’t understand.”
“Do you doubt your own eyes?” She dismissed the caretaker.
The creature took the man back to the fire and held him in the flames.
“If I live a good life,” Jason said as he watched the man’s skin bubble and burst, “can I avoid this?”
“You will live a good life, but it’s a life you’ve already lived. Well, a life another you lived—a replay of sorts. You’ll just be along for the ride. It’ll be a good life because you can’t change it in any way.”
Jason held his head in his trembling hands. “I don’t understand. I made a mistake, but I can make it better, put things right…”
“Each soul gets one life of choices, Jason. You had your go, chose your path, and in the end you messed it up. You can take a ride again, but as nothing more than a passenger, and when your body dies again, this time at the ripe old age of ninety-one, hell will be waiting for you.”
He shook his head and tried to assemble his thoughts, and then asked, “Will I know?”
“That hell is waiting for you to return?”
“Yes, dammit!” he yelled, slamming his palms against the sides of his head.
“No. You’ll be blissful in your ignorance, just like everyone else. Do you remember people referring to fate, a sense that things happen to them regardless of their intentions?”
“Yes! Yes, but…”
“Well, that’s because they’re also living a life that has played out once already, while on their journey back here. Déjà vu is another one. It’s funny how you creatures try to make sense of it all.”
“A long life from your perspective, and better than the forty-two you had, but nothing of note for this wonderful universe. I’ll see you soon, Jason. We can play a new game when you return.”
“This isn’t punishment, this is just pointless cruelty,” Jason whimpered, as he thought about Lucia and the man in the church. “People are here who haven’t killed anyone through a deliberate act. It makes no sense to punish us this way.”
“Punish you!” Lilith erupted into a rage. “This isn’t punishment for you.” She reached out and slashed his face with her black nails, and then became a flickering luminous entity without definite form. In an instant the demoness was everywhere at once and nowhere for more than a glimpse. The walls glowed and became lava beneath her touch. She grabbed the man from the caretaker’s hand and ripped his body into pieces within the flames. When the man’s screams died away once more, she swiped her clawed hand at the caretaker and knocked the creature against the glowing liquid walls of the chamber. The caretaker transformed into a vaporous figure and sank into the rock as a ghost, but, before it could make its escape, Lilith pounced and reached into the rock. She pulled the thrashing apparition back and mauled it without mercy. The caretaker lost its frightening presence under her vicious blows. It screeched and growled, but soon its struggle came to an ineffective end. Lilith stood and looked down at her work for a moment, and then she raised her head and glared at Jason. “This isn’t your punishment, you bag of poisonous pus.”
Jason scrambled for the cave tunnel and dove into the blackness once more. As he moved, Lilith’s voice followed him.
“I’ll be waiting for you, Jason.”