At Death's Door

Submitted into Contest #206 in response to: Set your story in an eerie, surreal setting.... view prompt


Fantasy Horror Fiction

This story contains themes or mentions of suicide or self harm.

Chapter 1

He stood on the edge of the green bridge looking down at the black water, watching the river rush past, a living thing. He wondered if anyone would miss him. The darkness would just wash him away. No more pain, no more sadness, just no more. His grip on the railing was loosening and he thought maybe it was for the best. No more people to disappoint. His ex-wife, kids, and his parents had either stopped talking to him or were headed that way. The cheating, drinking, drugging, and lying hadn't helped him maintain healthy relationships. They would see the news or get a call in the dark of night confirming what they knew was coming. 

“I'm doing them a favor”, he said to no one in particular. 

Just speaking out to the night, the universe. Cars whizzed past in various colors, a kaleidoscope of noise and pigment. Out the window of one, he heard a man yell, “Do it!” See, even they agree.  His fingertips numb from the frigid spring night, couldn't be more than fifteen degrees Fahrenheit. Snow lightly swirled against the frosted globes of the newly installed luminaires. The muscles in his legs started to cramp.  

Just let go, he thought. Just end your miserable sad little existence on this pale blue dot. The world will keep on turning, with or without you, Thomas.

Thomas Parker Hamilton, Tom to his friends, Thomas to his parents, deadbeat loser to his kids and ex-wife. The six beers and five shots gave him the liquid courage to get here.  So why? Why couldn't he just man up and make the world a better place? Well for one dumbass, nobody gets your life insurance if you kill yourself, two, no I was wrong only one reason.  

Tough to be honest, but it was true. Tommy Hamilton never met a sin he wasn't acquainted with, well not murder, but most of the rest were like old drinking buddies. Lying, he was pretty sure he inherited from his philandering father, oh and I guess cheating too. Don't tell your mother was a Hamilton family motto. 

He thought of his kids who were already done with his garbage. He was always the "fun" dad but couldn't show up for the day-to-day stuff. The basketball game, the recital, the science fair. "I just can't do this anymore", he said. "I'm broken. I'm never going to change." A lone tear ran down his right cheek nestling at the corner of his mouth. He wiped it away with the back of his hand.

Jenny with her dark chestnut hair down to her shoulders. His smart, sassy seven-year-old, a regular chatterbox like her mom. She had just lost her first tooth.

Peter, ten years old. His shy little bookworm. Quiet, socially awkward, introspective. He internalized everything.

He won't even talk to me anymore. I'm such a colossal loser. Why bother? They are better off without me.

Swallowing the lump in his throat he closed his eyes, wiping a second tear from his eye he let go of the railing and fell forward into the darkness. 

Ten seconds is all it will take; he had done the math. Five more, he figured as the wind rushed past him and the water approached at warp speed. He opened his eyes. 

Why, why would you open your eyes? Idiot, God damn idiot!

Ten maybe twelve feet, this is going to hurt. His body coiled in response.

What have I done?

For an instant, the world stood still. His imminent demise on pause. With neck snapping force, Thomas was yanked skyward. His eyes watering from the force of the frigid wind.

Bungee jumping was his thought. He was ripped through the air straight up twice as fast as he had fallen. No, no bungee. He jumped and some thing had him in its grasp. He felt knives digging into his back, heard wings fluttering above his head. 

Knives, no not knives. Claws? Talons? A bird of some sort? Big enough to carry my fat behind like I was nothing, a feather, a piece of fluff. This thing is going to eat me! 

Out of the frying pan, into the fire. Now he understood the old saying his dad used back in the day. Ten seconds ago, he wanted to die. Now, he was trying with all his might to survive whatever nightmarish crow from hell was carrying him away. He tried to catch a glimpse of the beast that had saved him, he questioned in his mind. Saved, preyed upon, he wasn’t sure yet. It all was happening way too fast, a hundred feet in the air, going rapidly higher, the only thing his senses could pick up was a smell. It wasn’t a good one. Roadkill, some poor raccoon or possum on the side of the road. Days old, bloated, writhing with maggots, guts strewn all over the pavement, reeking of death, this was the smell. He could feel the vomit in his throat, pushing it back with great difficulty. The only bird who may be able to carry his six feet, two-hundred-and-twenty-pound frame was an eagle, maybe. Yet, he didn’t believe it was an eagle. 

Which means what TommyUnidentified flying objectNew speciesCrow from hell?  

Vertigo set in; his head was spinning. The combination of his thoughts, the alcohol, stress, and the rapid ascent unleashed his stomach contents.  Look out below, was his first thought as the retching began. His body heaved and convulsed as the chili corn dog, waffle fries, and myriad libations of the alcoholic variety swiftly exited. His vision got fuzzy, in and out, blurry, dizzy….shit I’m gonna pass ou-.  


Black, pitch black, his eyes tried to focus as he came to. 

Where am I? 

His mouth was dry and caked with vomit. His head felt like a tiny person was sledgehammering his brain. He tried to move, pain seared through his back, fresh excruciating pain ripping his mind awake. A tacky semi-congealed substance clung to his hand. Strawberry syrup?  No, it had a heavy odor of iron. Blood, my blood! A tug, a pull on his back, more tugs, skittering sounds, rats, too many to count, feasting on him! 

Move Tommy, get up now!

He groaned in pain but managed to roll his body forward. It didn’t stop the vermin from their gnawing and biting, not letting their prey get away so easily.  Their curved claws punctured into his skin, holding on to their prey with great tenacity.

“Geh off!”  he screamed.  Sounding drunk, but his head was relatively clear, blood loss?  Tommy was letting a heap of rats take him out of this world!  He rose with all his might, the horde of opportunistic rodents still clinging to his back and legs. He clutched one by its skinny pink tail, flinging it against a wall with a loud thwack, watching its brains splatter. It looked like cottage cheese was leaking out of its skull, except for the grayish hue. He ripped off his shirt with three beady eyed vermin still attached and smashed them against the same wall. Two more scavengers kept ripping into his left pant leg, blood gushing down to his calf, sharp teeth gnashing into flesh. He grabbed one, flung it to the ground, and stomped on its head creating a loud cracking and squishing sound that echoed off the walls. Feeling the skull crunching under the leather sole of his shoe.  

He quickly tried to remove his pants as the last rodent was moving upward towards his manhood. Nothing elicits a rapid heartbeat and panic as much as a city rat advancing on your twig and berries. Tommy got them off in time to snatch it midriff, heaving it like a two-seam fastball, neck snapping as it hit something hard, a fridge, really a God damn Maytag!  

Where was he? Old fridge clearly not in use, rats everywhere, dark as night, wait no, not quite, he saw a sliver of light as his eyes adjusted. Scurrying behind him, more damn rats. The light shone on a rectangular shape to his left, a two by four, possibly. He reached for it and in a complete one-eighty swung with all his might. His old home run swing met a hand, he thought, or more accurately the skeletal remains of one. Tommy let go of the makeshift bat and promptly pissed himself, a warm flow of urine soaking his underwear making him very aware of his near nakedness.  

“Mmmm, mmmm, wwwhaa, what are you?” Tommy stammered.

The ebony figure towered over him by a good two feet, it wore a hooded cloak that seemed to be moving, even though there was no breeze, no wind. The hand that had halted his rat killing dinger pointed a bony digit at him. The cloaked figure removed its hood revealing a skull, but not a human one. Before him, stood an enormous raven, a messenger of death. Chunks of rotting flesh hung from its face, worms and maggots squirming in and out of the beast’s mouth, nasal cavity, and eye sockets. Hanging on by a thread were two raggedy decaying eyes staring directly into his soul, glowing ruby red. The air got cold, his breath puffing out in clouds. The temperature dropped twenty degrees or more in a matter of seconds. Round two, the bile and whatever was left in his stomach expelled in one long power vomit. This can’t be real! I’m dead...this is some kind of hallucination the remnant of my brain is having. That is when he heard it...a rasping low whisper from the cavity that should have housed vocal cords, an almost indecipherable word…


His gut tried for a trifecta but he just dry heaved while sucking in gulps of air.  Don’t pass out, don’t pass out...or wake up or die already, Thomas Parker Hamilton was having an extraordinarily awful day. Fight or flight was what popped instantly into his head, breaking eye contact with the abomination, Tommy ran for his life towards the sliver of light he assumed was a doorway out of this nightmare! He got about ten feet churning his legs like his old track coach had taught him. 


 In a blink of an eye, the birdman, woman, thing descended in front of him upon twenty-foot wings made of bone and decrepit cadaverous skin, a pterodactyl of the underworld. Again, his name in the horrible whisper escaped the birdman from hell’s mouth.

 T..H..O..M..A..Sssss, ending with a hiss reminiscent of a snake.

  He broke, fell to the ground, Tommy had no more fight in him. Tears streamed down his face as he openly wept.

 “Ok, you win”, he was able to squeeze out in between sobs, shaking half naked on the ground.  

This is it, he thought, this is hell. 

 Little did he know how wrong he was. Tommy Hamilton looked up with puffy red eyes to see the Hell crow wrapping its wings around him losing consciousness for the second time.


A sharp blinding light, scalding heat boiling his skin, intermittent screaming and moaning, the sensation of being high in the air, flying, he was flying!  

What was that smell? 

 Ten million matchsticks burning all at once, sulfur if he remembered correctly. Thick pale-yellow clouds hung in the stratosphere of this alien world.  

How am I flying?  


  He narrowly avoided a great rocky spire, feeling the cold stone scraping his skin. The visibility was ten percent at best, like trying to drive through a fog bank but at fifty miles per hour. Yet, he knew the path he was traveling, sensed the obstacles, well most of them. Even the sulfurous clouds were not causing him to gasp or choke, he could breathe. The heat got more extreme, the inside of an oven on high extreme, yet his skin, no, not skin, his wing wasn’t boiling off his bones. Skin, no, bone and pieces of skin mixed with….

Oh, God! 

The horde of creepy crawlies wriggling around, twisting, and writhing, one with him somehow! 

 I’m looking through the eyes, what’s left of them, of this thing, how is this possible?

Devil Crow still had Tommy enveloped in its wings. It was sharing some kind of mental telepathy with him. Allowing Tommy to see through its eyes, or mind, I guess would be more accurate. More screaming sounds, no, wailing was more accurate, closer now, much closer. A glowing ember grasped in the talons of his psychic partner caught his attention. The object seemed to be made of vapor, wispy in texture, and translucent. It was about the size of a peach. Not any peach he had ever seen, but maybe it was some tropical fruit, a papaya or a dragon fruit.  

Random thought Tommy, super random.

All those nature shows he watched as a kid were good for something, I guess. They didn’t glow or let light through them though. It was glowing. Actually glowing! Tommy’s mind was ablaze taking in all of this information. His body lay in a state of torpor encircled by a demonic avian.  

If this was a being from the depths of the underworld, whatever your religion called it; then he was soaring in some depth of that world and carrying a …. soul.  

How his head hadn’t exploded off his shoulders at this realization was beyond his understanding. The toxic cloud bank dissipated to reveal a massive expanse of water greater than any sea or ocean he had ever laid eyes upon. The water roiled and bubbled as if a giant burner was boiling the liquid. He doubted it was actually water, if this is HELL, then it is acid. Visions of bleached skeletons erupted into his mind. It was dark, deep, and seemed to be devoid of any life. Acid Ocean was surrounded by humongous pillars of rock, hundreds, possibly thousands of them. 

Is this just one level?  

Are there more? 

He couldn’t see the tops of these towering behemoths as the clouds disguised their height. They could have gone on infinitely for all he knew. He/They flew over Acid Ocean and the pillars came into focus better. They seemed to be some type of natural rock outcroppings, not man-made.  A stalagmite, thousands of them in various girths. Yet, all scraping the sky, miles and miles into the stratosphere and aglow.  


Phosphorescent bacteria? 

Then it clicked. 

Those were souls, millions of souls placed in pockets or shelves on the outside of these jagged steeples of stone.  

Zipping around, in and out of the shelves were hundreds of devil crows dropping off new arrivals. The sky turned dusky, almost funereal in feeling. Suddenly, as if hit with a shockwave, the wailing reached deafening levels. He reflexively reached to cover his ears forgetting he was in a dream state. It was inside his head, a sound of sheer despair and pain, grinding his being down lower and lower. Like a wave, the despair pushed down and kept coming. Drowning in this sorrow, Tommy instinctively gasped for air. Each of the peach-sized orbs radiated not only light but their own frequency of torment. Quite literally, a personalized hell for every soul.  

July 08, 2023 01:48

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Bruce Callahan
17:01 Jul 16, 2023

Thanks Zara, glad you liked it. It is part of a larger story I've been working on for a bit.


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Zara Ali
16:12 Jul 16, 2023

Really suspenseful and great description.


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