"How'd you get into this line of work, Kit?"

"Same as any of the rest of us - cold, hard cash. You?"

"Fuck that. I lost my legs in a car accident about six years back, heard a rumor. Good as new, huh?"

"Huh. Sure."

"Blow yourself."

"And what about Xun over there?"

"Her? Yeah, she's never told me - but I think her grandfather's grandfather used to crash, way back before Pol Pot was even a glimmer in his daddy's eye. 'Course, they called it 'Ghostwalking', or something. One rumor I heard was that her family was trying to build a machine out of parts taken from all five Walls of Hell – something like a Hungry Ghost Engine that could send armies into Hell and back. Like that one Prussian thing, but it didn't work."

"So it's in her blood. Great. Me, I got hired on with a crew to boost the final chapter of some series of fuck-stories by this big fat online beastio-pedophile who dropped dead in his rotten, wobbly trailer out in Cali."

"You lay hands on it?"

"The Cheney had a real asshole of an informant. We got the damn thing, still dripping chunks of gore from the wounds he used to smear it out, but we took heavy losses coming through the Wood of Suicides - not the best route to take, by the way - and then the Cheney didn't want to pay up."

"Buyer's remorse?"

"Said it got 'too sick' or something. How a guy who regularly beats off to lovingly detailed scenes of preschoolers on leashes getting ass-fucked by dobermans can suddenly think that his pet author has gotten 'too sick', I'll never understand."

"Yeah. White people are crazy. Xun says that there is no 'Wood of Suicides', by the way."

"Really? Whatever, man - there were woods, there were bodies, there were crows and a bunch of hypodermic needles everywhere. Knox called it the 'Wood of Suicides', but what the fuck does he know?"

"What the fuck, indeed. Look alive, mate - we got company."

Jonestown turned his head towards the door of the quiet diner, "And there is just the mother-fucker I've been hoping to see."

Peeling his eyes away from his half-congealed coffee, Kit glanced across the poorly-lit room. A well-dressed, dark-haired man was weaving between tables toward them, dodging between the still forms of half-asleep long-haul truckers, heavy creases in his doubtlessly several-thousand dollar suit. Without a word, the man in black dropped heavily into the booth and put his head down on the Formica.

"Ethan Essex - my nigga."

Head still on the table, "Good morning, Jonestown. You know how uncomfortable I am with that turn of phrase."

"Yes, I am, Ethan. Yes, I am. Ethan Essex, meet Kit. Kit comes highly recommended by a man called Knox."

"Fuck Knox."

"Knox was stealing money from his Crew. Kit walked – and he ended up here."

Ethan raised his forehead from the table-top and took in the young man across from him.

"Good morning, Kit. My name is Ethan. 'Kit' - short for 'Christopher' or 'Christian', I presume?"

"Yeah, it's-"

"Very well. You may call me either Ethan or Mr. Essex. Tell me, Kit, do you take any medications for allergies, asthma, or pre-existing medical conditions of any kind?"

"No, I-"

"Fine. Can you handle a firearm, Kit?"


"Do you own a firearm of any kind, Kit?"


"One will be provided. Can you drive a stick shift?


"Thank god. And you can be counted to take orders?"


"Good enough. One final question, Kit: have you ever, due to inebriation or your own incompetence, dropped a lit cigarette directly onto your own penis?"

In the moment of confused silence, Jonestown began to crack up.

"Uh? No, sir."

"You're hired."

"Fuck, Ethan, you got that shit off of Francisco."

"And if I had asked Francisco that exact question, I could have prevented us having to deal with his dumb, drunken ass for the last few months. Kit here seems like a good, responsible young man with a decent head on his shoulders and bright future."

"Ah, hell no. He a CRAZY mother-fucker. Look at him. He's just playing nice because he thinks you're a Smithers or something."

"Is that it, Kit? Do you think I'm a Smithers?"



"Mr. Essex here is our Face-Man - he deals with the Cheney, secures the job, gets us our thirty pieces, and gets the planning underway."

Kit frowned, "Thirty pieces?"

"Jonestown is referring to the crasher superstition that retrieving the Dearly Departed from the Nether is some sort of violation of spiritual law - a betrayal of Christ, so to speak. Thus, our employer's payment is sometimes termed 'thirty pieces of silver'."

"Shit, some guys won't even take a payment if the price tag is divisible by 30 - I've seen a crew talk their way down a full tax-bracket, trying to avoid that bad mojo. Me, I could give two fucks - bring on the payoff, man."

"Which is one of the reasons that Jonestown and I get along so very well."

"Fuck it, we're professionals. I see no reason to argue with a man who wants to pay me $300,000 - a little ominous background music be damned."

"I agree. Now where are Dufrene and Xun?"

"Sleeping, man - we've been at this god-forsaken 24-hour truck-plaza for the better part of four days, you asshole."

"Would you believe that the gentleman who picked me up at the hotel flew me to a private airstrip in British Columbia, confiscated my cellphone at gunpoint, blindfolded me and then drove me six hours into the Canadian wilderness?"

"White people."

"Rich people. And fucking tell me about it - the Negotiator he brought in was into some ridiculous theatrics, drinking goat-blood, doing Tibetan chanting and generally hamming it up for the home crowd, who loved every minute of it."

"Sorry – what's a Negotiator?"

"Polite word for 'demon-summoner', Kit."


"Yes. And the room service was terrible."

"Fuck your room service. You've been jerking around while we've been sitting here with our thumbs up our collective asses, you mother-fucker, waiting for your damn call, which is why Xun and Dufrene are sleeping now. So we have a job?"

"I'm just saying that I've been through a lot, recently."

"And I'm saying that I don't care if you had to lick Mr. Cheney's wrinkled old asshole, that is your goddamn job-description. Did you get us a damn job, you mother-fucker?"

Ethan slapped a white envelope on the table, "A smash-and-grab, fifty-thou up front, twice that more on delivery, for one baby-raper, female, currently residing in a Boutique called 'Laughing Solitude' - find your own entrance."

"Not a pornstar?"

"Not a pornstar."

Kit squinted, "Pornstar?"

"It's always best to check - the majority of pulls from the Nether are for females because the majority of Cheneys are male; the majority of people that they want to rescue are, thereby, female. If the pull is female, I need to determine if the Departed is a pornstar before I can accept the deal."

"Why? So they don't make a comeback tour or something?"

"There is that. But more importantly for my own crew, we don't take pornstar jobs.

"We don't?"

"No, mother-fucker. We don't."

"One of Jonestown's first crashes was being hired to yank a Departed who had starred in a few skin-flicks - her Benefactor was presumably a fan, but he could have been her murderer, her father, or both, for all they knew."

"Mother-fucker set us up. That was the nastiest shit I've ever fucking seen."

"By definition, the Nether is only as bad as your very worst nightmares - a number of women in the adult performance industry have a long and tragic history of abuse, and some of their torments are notoriously … vivid. Another example of 'blame the victim', I suppose. Still, there's no one having a good time in Hell, no matter if your job was hospice worker or 'Naughty Enema Nurse number 5'."

"Never again. Never. Fucking. Again."

"Well, no worries. She's apparently a former lover of some sort, as per usual, but she never did any professional film work."

"Fine. First step?"

"Baltimore. We need a good map; moreover, I'd like some insight. Perhaps I'm being paranoid, but something seemed amiss - either the Negotiator or the Informant was withholding information, and that will get someone killed."

Kit stared, "What's in Baltimore?"

"The Three-Eyed Man."

"He's a contact of ours, something of a regular go-to guy for a number of crews - has a set of three spheres made of Nether-Stone that he can trade out to his left eye-socket, they let him view various … places of interest."

"In Hell or Above. People in the know say he sold his soul for them."

"People say that he's a part-time Hatchetman, too. Doesn't make it true. And he's been as good as his word thus far. Grab your things - we've a long road ahead."

Going to Hell

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