Gardening In Hell
By the time I stepped outside, the leaves were on fire. "Ugh, I overslept again," I muttered to myself, walking along the winding, uneven path that led from my house towards the flower beds I maintained in my free time. The fires only started at half-past noon, never a moment later. If it wasn't for these trees' punctual and practical design, nobody would ever know what time it was in the Aboveworld. Though, to be fair, I couldn't fathom why anybody would need that particular information. I raised my eyes to the skies, just in time to see a gout of flame streak across, leaving a cloud of sulfurous smoke, filled with porous, ashy particles that slowly dusted down over my front yard. How wonderful, I thought, that's going to leave me sneezing for hours. There was no sun, for the sky was enveloped by a constant inferno, blazing ceaselessly, making it very difficult to sleep for the first few weeks. If you aren't used to it by then, you might as well just throw yourself into the Pit.
Sharp shards of volcanic glass, one of the few paving materials the oh-so-glorious Lord of Abhorreign would consider using, dug into my calloused, withered feet. I could feel the razor-like points scraping against my bones. At one time, that might have hurt, but I'd long since inured myself to the pain. Raxci hates that, I know.
It wasn't a long walk to my gardens, but I had to hurry, given what time I'd aroused from my slumber.
When I finally reached the red-brick beds, the soles of my feet could easily have been mistaken for torecupines, the vicious, black-iron spiked vermin that occasionally took an interest in my work.
I knelt in the soft volcanic ash that served as dirt in this fiery realm. The thick, dusty substance covered me to my knees, leaving its black stains everywhere it touched. I hope Raxci doesn't expect me to be clean today, because I'm not walking back home just to dip myself in boiling water.
With one hand, I slowly pulled slivers of obsidian out of my feet, while with the other, I tended to my plants. By the estimation of most people, the life-forms I cared for could barely be called flowers, but I'd learned long ago that it wasn't worth the extra punishments asking for most Aboveworld flowers. Although the volcanic soil was chock-full of various nutrients, the relentless heat and lack of nighttime had a deleterious effect on the life cycles of most plants. Orchids, snapdragons, daisies, I'd tried them all, every variety that I could think of. Even chrysanthemums stood no chance. I glanced at one fruit-bearing species to the west-side of the garden. I'd asked for that particular type on a whim, based on stories I'd heard, and lo-and-behold. I now had a bright green tree with blood-red orbs hanging off of it: pomegranates—you tactless son of a screamer, Oh Gracious and Terrible One—Lord of all that Burns, and Collector of Various Pain-Wracked Souls. It came from an old wonder tale, where the Sanguine King had stolen a beautiful girl from the Aboveworld, planning to make her his queen. Most of the pages had been lost to rot and fire, so nobody knew quite how it was supposed to end, but there was always a big emphasis on the pomegranates. "Such a romantic tale, don't you think?" I asked nobody in particular. "Unfortunately, it rarely ends up like the wonder tales say. For one, the man, er, devil who stole me isn't even king, just his bastard son. And it didn't take him long to grow bored of me. Apparently, I didn't squirm enough."
Turning my head so that I couldn't see the pomegranate tree, I returned to work on my garden. Deadly and wild as all of these plants were, they had a queer charm to them. Take Succorvein, for example. The deep purple whorls bloomed beautifully when the leaves were filled with their deadly poisons, which assassins on the Aboveworld often used when they wanted to perform a dramatic killing. Or Smeltvine, which reached its strong roots deep down into the ashy soil and drew up hot magma. Sometimes, when I worked at night, I used the eerie orange and red luminescence as a lantern of sorts. Admittedly, it made the plant notoriously hard to prune, and it couldn't be placed next to any of the water-drinking plants, but the challenge excited me.
A few moles and other rodents had found themselves entangled in my Sangbillet, the largest bush in my garden. I endured the lashes of its stinging vines as I disentangled the drained corpses. A couple of them were still whole enough to stuff and set them up as a new decoration for my lodge.
I crossed the field to an iron-bound barrel and opened it up, cursing loudly and creatively as my fingers contacted the metal handle. Curses, I'm almost out of water. I sighed. That meant my afternoon would likely be spent taking the long walk to the river Thenelarthe and then going about the excruciating process of filling up the barrel without letting a single drop spill onto my clothes or skin. The Thenelarthe had mind-addling properties. Sometimes, you would forget why you came, others you would be captivated by a glint in the water and nearly drown yourself trying to catch it. Either way, whether you washed up on a distant bend or were fished out by the Doomguides, it was a horrible waste of time. Considering the burning leaves' blue-white hotness, I reached down to the leather skin on my belt and drizzled the cool liquid within on some of the more delicate plants. What does it matter? It's not like I can die of thirst anyway.
Raxci will probably be here soon to take me to my afternoon torture. I was hoping I could plant some of the desert blooms I'd requested today. Maybe I can buy some extra time. I entertained the thought for a few moments. This was Raxci's last stop of the day, and I could only hope he might be willing to take a break. His lord, the he-devil that had captured and subsequently abandoned me, was a ruthless taskmaster. I would take any delay I could get from his ministrations. It was easy enough to ignore the obsidian shards, but Raxci's creativity was far more than I could stomach.
As if on cue, my tummy gave a prodigious rumble, and I realized I'd forgotten to feed myself upon waking this morning. I cast my gaze around the garden, searching for something I could use to stave off the hunger, and a devilish idea came to me when my eyes locked onto the bulbous, crimson fruit on the only green plant in my garden. Raxci can't torture somebody who's already dead for the day! I briskly strode over to the tree and plucked one ripe fruit, feeling it pulse in my hand, as no pomegranate had done before.
Shrugging, I cut it open with the sharp side of my shears, revealing the thick, black flesh within. The little seeds were the same deep red as blood and palpitated like hearts, sending vibrations through the fruit. I licked my lips and dug in voraciously, splattering my cheeks with sweet juice that burned like acid. Almost immediately, I could feel the fruit working it's necrotic magic, burning away at my insides. Though my heart pounded in my ears, I still managed to hear the sound like a puffing volcanic vent, that signaled Raxci's arrival. I turned around and waved at him. Like a decorative tribal mask, his ferocious face snarled. While he gave his customary greeting, I felt my body lurch, and my knees buckled underneath me. His face transformed a moment later in a paroxysm of rage and surprise as I collapsed to the ashy dirt. Faintly, I saw his taloned feet stomp across the ground, leaving craters in the soil, but everything went black before he reached me.
I awoke in my moderately uncomfortable bed and crossed to the window. Raising the blinds, I could see that the leaves on the skeletal trees were on fire again. I allowed myself a smile. I could spend another day gardening in Hell.