Hell is within my head. It is not your Hell, though I sympathize if you can boast a personal Hell. Given my relatively privileged life, I cannot imagine experiencing three of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse - War, Famine, Pestilence - but my depression and anxiety cycling faster is the closest I come to knowing suffering.
Hell infrequently flares, but it is always present. When I check on it like a child with a wiggling tooth, it notices me in return. I try never to meet its gaze for then I remember its heat.
So, if I keep Hell within me, where do I find Heaven? Outside my skull, of course. When I am kept busy and distracted, when I can move in the world without checking back and overthinking, I am content in the moment because I forget the fires of Hell for a while.
Of course, I am a writer. I've grown to use hot springs to bring my work to a boil, to distill it down to a sweet medicine. You don't keep torture inside you without putting it to work, not if you don't want to go mad.
Pills are asbestos. They grant me a resistance to the worst of the fire, but only keep me from setting alight or getting too hot. The heat still cooks me where there are holes and the light spots my vision. I try not to breathe in the floating fibers for fear they might change me from the inside into something metastatic.
I don't know if Hell was always in me or is it grew from an egg, infesting me in hopes I would prove a good host and pass it along. I pray my writing, my confession, vents the worst of it and serves to inoculate my readers. They are not alone, however often Hell assures me I will be.
I write this in a government office, waiting to ask for a document. To others, this is Hell in its own right, but I am occupied with my scribbling. A large man sits two seats away from me, ignoring an abundance of empty chairs. I feel his presence, though instinct tells me not to look at him. He drapes an arm over the seat between us, where I have placed my bag to prevent anyone from sitting beside me. He reeks of cologne. When he sees me stop writing for a breath, he leans over and mumbles something.
"Can you help out a homeless man?"
I review what he has done in my periphery since entering. Aside from shouting at a woman that she needed a number, he only sat near me. He did not get a number himself, meaning he has no intention of being called for an appointment. He is here only to make people uncomfortable and have them pay him to leave them alone. Given his cologne, I would wager he has a home somewhere and just saw a mark.
"I can't help you today," I say, which annoys him. He removes his arm. If he makes a practice of pestering people for money as they wait for documents, he is having a worse day than I am.
I am called before he can try another tack to get me to open my wallet.
Behind a Plexiglas window, the specialist who speaks to me has postcards stapled to a corkboard. Directly facing me, nestled among sunny destinations of palm trees and sand is one of a street sign reading Hell, covered in ice. To this, he has added the caption "Hell has frozen. Get over it."
Oh, but the world outside my head is heavy-handed. The gods want to make sure I get the message. My Hell is still intact, but maybe it is gradually cooling. One day, maybe it too will freeze over.
Soon in Xenology: Faces.