To start Nightmares of Hell at the beginning, click here.
Author’s Note—Sometimes, in books, there’s a lot more happening than you realize. You think you’re in a set piece, with a man and a man-child and a dog and a fistful of fire all in a room with the lights off. You think you’re in a dark room. You think that, while the darkness has made the hair on your arms stand on end, that darkness has limits, like you could find a light, or like the sun could come up, or even like, worst case scenario, you have recourse in death and could just sink into the darkness and disappear. You think that the nightmare is manageable.
Well, readers, Nightmares of Hell is sorry to shatter your terrible misconceptions. Welcome to a world where the darkness never ends, where you’re not allowed to die. Where under the darkness is more darkness, where heaven got stubbed out like a smoked cigarette, where human life folded like a bad hand of poker. Where babies are bald. Where nobody puts down their dogs and their dogs get too old and look weird and lug themselves around on broken legs, their hindquarters perilously close to the ground.
The seaman stood on the edge of his boat. He was thinking about human sacrifice. He wanted to catch some fish but he couldn’t see, because it was too dark out. He tried to remember the old days when he’d come by fish quite a bit more easily. The ocean, once, had been mightier. It had heaved, a bosom, a teat, and the seaman had weaned.
No longer. He was thinking about who would notice if he toppled over the edge. He was thinking he would keep his eyes open while he sank. He was thinking about his own human sacrifice.
Notes for Readers—Does escaping the nightmare of hell, even by way of human self-sacrifice, restore life? Is that the gamble? In a world where anything’s possible, could that be possible? If so, would it be a worthy thing to do? Would the seaman, in reclaiming life at the bottom of a very dark ocean, reclaim a respectable life? Like, imagine the seaman, having escaped the nightmare of hell, years later, having been restored to mortality, having regained the privilege to die the old fashioned way, was on his deathbed, surrounded by his 600 children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, who were all waiting to hear his last words. They’re all waiting, they want to know the most true thing he’s ever known, but, it’s taking him a long time to die, so they get antsy and they start to ask him questions. “Do you have any regrets?” they ask, sort of selfishly hoping he’ll dish some kind of secret none of them knew, give them some kind of neat and tidy takeaway. And the seaman mulls it over. He doesn’t know the answer. Now mind you, he’s going to die soon, so he can’t mull it over forever. But he mulls for a while, a very long while, and his 600 progeny breathe their hot, anxious breaths over his withered skin. It’s an uncomfortable way to die.
The fourth chapter of Nightmares of Hell is available here.
Tom Dibblee is Trop’s editor. His fiction has appeared in Glimmer Train and his nonfiction has appeared in Pacific Standard, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and the Point. He lives in Los Angeles.