‘What are you doing?’
The sound of the sweet little voice made Joe’s heart jump in his chest. He flung his hand up to his pounding heart and ended up dropping the branch in the mud.
‘What the?! Don’t make me jump like that!’ he screeched spinning around to see Hel standing there as sweet as anything. Where had she appeared from? She was like an annoying little sister he couldn’t get rid of.
‘I’m trying to help this man. He’s trapped -‘
‘Hello!’ said the man in the bog, ‘I’m still here…and I’m sinking!’
‘You don’t want to do that,’ she said, arms folded behind her back as she swayed from side to side.
‘What do you mean? The guy’s going to die -‘
‘No, he’s not.’
‘Hel,’ said Joe, flinging his hand in the air in exasperation, ‘he’s sinking in the mud.’
‘So, I can’t just leave him to die, can I?’
‘Why not? He’ll be back again tomorrow.’
‘Of course, I can’t…what do you mean he’ll be back again tomorrow?’
‘Oh that’s Lord Valdis and you’ve no need to worry, he’s already dead.’
‘What?!’ spluttered Joe. ‘What do you mean he’s dead?’
‘Do you want to tell him?’ Hel asked the man. ‘Or shall I?’
The man mumbled something but Joe couldn’t quite make out what he said.
‘I guess I’ll tell him then,’ shrugged Hel. ‘Where are we, Joe?’
Joe looked confused and didn’t answer.
‘What you need to remember is that not everyone is like you. People are usually dead here.’ She shrugged. ‘This is the Forest of Suffering. Lord Valdis is suffering. That’s what’s supposed to happen.’
‘Ohhh…’ said Joe, pretending that he understood perfectly, when, in fact, he didn’t.’
‘Lord Valdis hoarded all the food in his castle when his people starved. He ate and drank and became fat when his people died of malnutrition. He deserves to be stuck in the mud like the pig he was.’
Well, when she put it like that, Joe thought she had a very convincing argument.
‘So, what is this place then? Is it like purgatory then?’
‘Oh no,’ said Hel, ‘purgatory is for temporary punishment. The punishments here go on forever!’ She smiled as she said these last words.
‘Is there any other kind?’
Joe thought about it for a second then gave up. His brain hurt too much.
‘Come on then, she said, spinning around, ‘that’s if you want to get where you’re going.’
‘And what about me?’ asked the fat man.
‘What about you?’ replied Hel.