This one is quite heavy on the horror, gore and general nastiness side. It was inspired by the ‘fantastic’ series of works by the Polish artist Zdzislaw Beksinski (1929-2005) – which are also very graphic and shown at the end of this post. It’s also quite a long one coming in at 2,222 words (hehe). See if you can guess which pieces of Art relate to which character/place in the story.
“Tell me about the Badland again Grandma!”
“Okay my sweet, but if you get nightmares it isn’t my fault.”
On top of the white cliffs of Dover is an old stone archway. There is nothing around it, beyond it, or on it. If you pass through it, follow its path over the cliffside, down the white walls, through the foaming of the crashing waves, and across the vast ocean, you will find a gate. On top of this gate sits a creature with an impossible number of fingers, playing an instrument that sounds something like a flute. Its impossible fingers, connected to its chest and shoulders and arms form a stretch of flesh one might call its impossible hands. Its fingers move at once too fast, and eerily slow, like your eyes can only catch glimpses of how it is actually moving. Its sound burrows into your mind as termites burrow into their mounds. It creates incessant clacking and the tickering of tiny feet will plague your skull. This is your ticket to enter, your way of entering the Badland.
The Badland is a place that death herself dare not go, my child. It is the home of Death’s neglected sister, Suffering. It lives in the minds of children, in the void between universes, created and built upon in moments of extreme agony. Those who suffered right up to their dying breaths find Death watching over their body, and leaving their soul to fall through the cracks in existence itself into the Badland. I can only imagine what those people in the holocaust could have felt, watching Death herself turn her back on them as they were sucked down into the Badlands in a desperate loneliness.
Through the gates, there is a great dry swamp of bones. Should you be lucky to have a ferryman who knows the way, you may eventually reach the other side. If all you have is an oar and a boat, then you will quickly find yourself joining the piles of bones all around. Gas rises from the bodies all around, a taste of almonds and the stench of rotten eggs. In the distance, there is a great chattering of teeth, slowly rising in volume to match the clacking of pincers and chattering of feet gifted so graciously to you by the one with the flute. As the you get closer, the chattering becomes unbearable. A flood of pain that causes your ears to go numb. You pray for deafness, for the drums to burst, but The Badlands grants no release from anything. Everything is perpetual, from time, to the cycles, to the pain.
You look up as the ferryman stops, for even he will not travel further, no matter what you may offer him. He leaves you on its shores, knowing he will not have to come back for you. The chattering is still pounding on your temples, begging to crawl inside, but the termites and ants and roaches already have their place, ironically protecting you from their flattened teeth. You look up, and see the eyeless. Heads, soldered on to a mass of flesh forming a canyon with one path. They snap their mouths at the sky, no other discernible features on their heads except for an opening and teeth. No lips, no tongues. A few have managed to dig out their arms, crushed flat, of course, by the sheer weight of the flesh around them. They waggle it around in the air, hoping to grab something, to feel anything other than crushing weight; the agony is always too much to bear, as they lower their broken arms – closer to a paste than anything skeletal – back into the mound of flesh.
You walk through the canyon. It gets smaller and smaller as you move forward, pushing in from all sides. You run, hoping to make it to the other side before you join the wall of flesh, but there is nn end in sight, no light at the end of the tunnel. The canyon becomes a tunnel, as the gnashing eyeless above crash into one another with great moans that vibrate all of the sticky flesh around you. You reach the end, a solid wall, and the light from behind is crushed out of existence. Your breath gets caught on the molten flesh dripping from the ceiling, and then, it is clean.
You are in a metal box, with a light hanging gently from the ceiling. There is a couple of chairs, one of which is the form of a female human. Their legs hang over either side of the seat, their genitals unceremoniously mutilated. The torso melds into the chair, bent forward unnaturally, the red stump where their head should be forming the centre of the backrest. You look away, but see there are chairs everywhere, some made of bones, some with bones still sitting on them, never-ending screams leaving their empty jaws.
There is a normal chair. It is dusty, ugly – disturbing and yet you do not know how. You approach it but see sitting on the side is a tiny red humanoid creature. It turns to you, its cloak fluttering slightly, and smiles a smile that is three times as big as its tiny head, ripping at the skin and tearing the muscles from their sockets to form what can only be described as a nightmare. You sit in the chair, it disappears, the room goes dark.
Why are you here? Surely there is no reason conceivable that is worth powering through this place? Are you dead? Were your memories stolen? How long have you been here?
Light filters through a rectangle in front of you. Not a window, a door frame. You rise from the chair with great effort, your muscles have atrophied, your hair is long. How long were you in there for? Though the light pains your eyes, you journey into the outside. You step on a body; it groans in pain. You see before you an ocean of bodies, hugging the ground, praising it as the only real thing they can feel. The ground is soaked in blood as the sufferers literally melt in the sun You can see a few gyrating their hips, humping the ground, but finding no pleasure in it. You move across their raw backs, your bony feet sticking to a few as you move. You can see a multitude of little red creatures taking pleasure in jumping on the suffering’s backs until they break, moving on to another’s to allow the broken to heal in constant agony.
You can see a great shadow clawing at the earth, wriggling towards the suffers with promise of release from the burning crimson sun, but that release is replaced with dread, the suffers begin to wiggle like worms in the rain, waiting for the icy cold to take over for another few hours. Behind the great shadow is a mirror image of the Notre Dame – but it is wrong. Its walls are made of sticky flesh, ambiguous goo drips down the sides like a great candle melting in the sun.
You anxiously make your way to the great ruby doors of the citadel, outstretch your skeletal arms and place your calloused hands. With a tremendous effort, you push the doors open, to reveal a pristine church nave.
Ah, your objective. The reason you’re here is finally within your grasp. In all of the pews sit people, clutching different areas of their bodies, howling in pain. Some were missing ribs, another a femur, one his wrist joint. He stared wide-eyed at the hole in his wrist, his hand flopping lazily at the end of his arm.
“Have you come to give, child?” Suffering asks from her place at the altar. The end of her cloak hovers a few inches above her ankles, giving you a fear of her mangled feet. Her hands are thinner than you would believe possible, like the bones themselves have shrunk as the skin grew tighter, but like the flutist, the number of hands seems impossibly large for the three or four arms you can see. One hand grasps, weakly, onto a pendant that swings in front of her.
Behind her is a cross of bones. It towers into the ceiling of the nave, an eternal shrine to pain and agony.
“I wish to see my Grandmother.”
“Oooh, and what makes you think I would allow that child? You’re in my domain now, pain is my language, but you do not seem to be speaking it. Give, and perhaps I will provide.”
“I do not believe you.” You say, in defiance. Why should you? What reason does Suffering have to be reasonable?
“Hmmm. Well, since you have made it this far, and will not, I assure you, be leaving, perhaps I can grant one small gift. But know that once you have seen her, I will subject you to the worst this land has to offer. Understood? Gooooood. Follow me.” Good was a weird word to use in such a land. You doubt Suffering even knew what the word really meant. You can feel some strength returning to you as you trek behind the altar, and down an infinite twirling staircase.
As you make your way down, you can see different levels of the Badland. Not rooms, but entire planes of existence. Hundreds of moaning corpses trek across deserts, so far from on another, led by abominations at their backs. You look closer. The corpses are those of children, their eyes stricken from their face and given to their jockeys. The Jockeys mouths are hanging open on slack jaws, a pipe feeding gas from a box on their chest into their empty hearts. The Jockeys keep leading them in circles, whispering in their ears that they’re almost there, they can almost rest, but they never actually get any closer.
You carry on following Suffering, who stopped to watch your face scrunch in misery at the sight of those children. An impossible hand scratches her head, wrapped entirely from front to back in a thin black cloak. You can almost make out facial features, almost. Her head shape seems wrong, like a disfigured vegetable, pulled from the ground too late or too early. You can see where her hunchback comes from, her shoulders are positioned far too high over her head.
You continue on your journey into the depths of the Badland. There is nothing for what seems like hours of walking further and further down.
“We’re here.” You look back at the stair way and see the entrance, only a single flight up, you shake your head, understanding the psychological trickery the land is trying on you.
Suffering produces a key from her impossible hands, unlocks the thick iron door, and pushes it open with minimal effort.
“In. There.” Her voice quivers and wobbles in all the wrong places.
You know that once you move past that door you will never escape, but that was never the plan anyway.
You are in a theatre. On the stage is a dancer, strangely normally proportioned. Its face is shown shut, skin overlapping where the nose, eyes, ears and mouth should be. It is bald. Its chest is sown shut too, along with its stomach, naval, all the way under its yellow pants. Its skirt looks like fly’s wings, thin and membranous.
You see the audience, gagged, their hands tied to machines that pump in and out, forcing them to clap until their muscles wither away under the pain. They are all crying, waiting for the next act, desperate for the intermission that will never come.
You move to the front. There she is. Grandma, crying like all the rest.
“You have seen her, now give to me what I want.”
You smile a little, the first smile anyone has ever seen in the Badland. It physically wounds Suffering, as she falls forward over the first row of seats.
Knowing you have mere moments, you reach into the waistband of your trousers, ripped and hanging off of your hip. You produce a small blade, and slash at your third and fourth fingers. They hang open, like they are hinged to your palm.
“NO.” She shrieks, realising what you have done, what you are really here for.
The blade that Death herself gave you works, and a great blizzard covers the theatre in a wonderful blue hue. Your Grandma looks at you with a twinkle in her eye, as Death, the Reaper, an angel, looms over your shoulders.
Her icy fingers slide over your shoulders, her cloak wraps around you and your Grandmother.
Suffering falls onto all of her infinite hands, and scuttles toward you like a spider toward a fly, but she is too late. Death devours you, drags you down into the underworld, an escape from the world worse than the icy caverns of hell itself.
“Thank you.” You say, huddling yourself in Death’s cold embrace.
“The deal is done. You helped me get revenge on my sister, I helped you save your Grandma. The rules still stand, you are truly dead.”
“That’s okay.” You say, accepting anything so long as its far, far away from the Badland. “I would never have known to save her if I hadn’t heard her stories.”