J o h n C o n s t a n t i n e
"What Hath Night To Do With Sleep?"
"A dungeon horrible, on all sides round,
As one great furnace flamed, yet from those flames
No light, but darkness visible
Served only to discover sights of woe,
Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace
And rest can never dwell, hope never comes
That comes to all; but torture without end
Still urges, and a fiery deluge, fed
With ever-burning sulphur unconsumed:
Such place Eternal Justice had prepared"It's not always like it is in the books."
For those rebellious, here their prison ordained
In utter darkness, and their portion set
As far removed from God and light of Heav'n
As from the centre thrice to th' utmost pole."
- John Milton, Paradise Lost.
- John Constantine
Fire. Oh god, fire. Licking flames marred the horizon like the ridges of mountains, burning nothing and everything. It seemed to absorb light rather than emanate it, exuding a thick blackness that, nonetheless, still illuminated the twisted landscape in a way that made John feel nauseous. Far below him, pinpricks of agony went on in their suffering, skewered and crushed and lashed, their torture brazen and subtle and unending. Stronger souls put on airs of resistance, stifling their own screams, while in the distance the more wretched spirits simply writhed in dirt and scum, the pain and torment of this place etched into their very being by the eons. Others had been twisted into obscene parodies of Man, a mocking affront to God through the perversion of His most beloved creation. All was curated by devils, convicts of this prison who had made their cells their kingdoms, and overseen by their demonic generals. John conjured their names to mind, each flitting in and out of his consciousness like nymphs through the glen, their eagerness to be known and dreaded imprinted behind his eyes: Mammon, King of Worms and Wealth, eyes searching ever downwards for gold; Belial, the Impure Lord, destroying all that lies before and behind; Moloch, the False Idol, who feasts upon children; Mulciber, Mockery of the Creator, great architect of sorrows and sin; and Beelzebub, Lord of Flies, devourer of carcasses and mouthpiece of Satan. Ah, Satan, the Most Unclean, the Son of Perdition, the Father of Lies, the Dragon, the Beast, the Adversary; Lucifer, King of the Bottomless Pit. A story old as anything, and John had done his research in Ravenscar. He was here - he was always here - but John would escape his gaze for now.
Somewhere, off in the distance, a light blinked into life among the flames, a burning point of pure white that outshone the oozing darkness of the fire surrounding, piercing through all of Hell's great disgust to focus John's attention completely. He felt himself moving, no longer transfixed by the cavern's horror, and stumbled forwards, legs battling against the mire of dark, sickly discharge that seemed to ebb from the ground itself and coat the earth. His feet were drenched, and as he advanced - somehow passing over the void of agony that lay beneath him, apparently existing on a separate plane - the mire clung to him ever more tightly, climbing past his ankles to lap at his shins, then his knees, each step requiring twice the effort of the one preceding, until John was dragged onto his hands, crawling and dragging his body toward the white light that beckoned him, his journey taking him millenia, but the light never moving, never getting closer, but always reaching out to him, as if to say keep going, John. Keep crawling. Come for me. Just a little bit further...
He slumped into the mire, the mud overtaking him as exhaustion took hold. The ground enveloped him, swallowed John whole, and he could feel himself suffocating, drowning in the viscous, foul liquid for centuries before he was spat out below, the pinpricks he had looked upon so long ago growing larger and larger as he fell to join them. He craned his neck upwards, hoping for any sign of that light, the beautiful, pure shining star that had goaded him forth.
There was nothing but inky blackness.
Not even the flames.
But still, the voice echoed around him. Save me, John. Come for me. Save me. You put me here, John Constantine. You put me here. Save me, John.
Save me, John.
Save me, John.
Save me, John.
"S A V E M E J O H N . A N D S A V E Y O U R S E L F .""
He yelled back, startling himself awake with the forcefulness of his reply. There was a bubble of silence, and then John drew the first ragged, stale breath of the day, and it was broken; the sounds of traffic and the city filtered in through his window, and he could hear the creaking of floorboards above him, the faint sounds of strong, angry words floating down through his ceiling. The sun shone harshly outside, spilling onto his bed, and John threw off his covers, propping himself up as he wiped his face of sweat, his heart pounding in his chest. This was the fourth night of the same dream, and it had always played out the same way. Failure, accusation, and tortured pleading. John sat up, swinging his legs over the edge of the bed as shaky hands fumbled around in the drawer of his bedside table to find the lighter and the nearly-empty pack of Silk Cut cigarettes that dwelled within, a fag quickly finding its way to his mouth in one hand as the other flipped the lighter open and lit the wick. He held the flame to the end of the cigarette and drew deeply as it caught alight, drawing the toxic smoke into his lungs and pushing it out in one motion. His heart began to calm itself, though his mind still raced. These were not mere nightmares, imagined illusions of horror born of external stress. These were deeper, more vivid - John would say premonitions were he not a cynic. But a cynic he was, and he was quite content to endure these dreams for as long as they would persist, a subconscious desire to be punished eager to inflict such lucid terror when John's waking mind was not there to suppress his inner demons."I am in his kingdom, John."
John flinched, ducking sharply as he reacted to the vicious whisper that came from just behind his shoulder. He stood from his bed, cold air stinging his naked torso as the duvet fell from around his shoulders. Smoke from the lit cigarette drifted lazily upwards, ash falling to the ground and pooling around John's feet. The room was empty save for him, but the voice had been so clear and direct that even the deepest cynicism John could muster failed to dispell the belief that something - someone
- had just spoken to him."Find the house of Nergal, John.""Fuck off."
John said loudly, and then he heard a stomp on his ceiling as the 88-year-old lady above disapproved of his vulgarity. The room was still again, and John poised himself for a third intrusion, carefully sucking on his cigarette as he moved across the bedroom to his closet, fishing out a shirt and a pair of slacks, pulling the trousers over his legs and buttoning his collar as the keen silence of his apartment remained steadfastly un
broken. He didn't want to think about who was talking to him, delivering ominous, cryptic messages and pleading commands. Instead, he pushed his tie up to the top of his collar and walked out of the bedroom, leaving his dreams and spectral visitor behind him. In the kitchen, he stubbed his cigarette out on an ashtray that sat in the center of the small round table and snatched his coat from where it hung on the door, slinging it over his form while his free hand snatched the flask from the inside pocket, feverishly pulling and twisting at the cap before he swung it to his mouth, taking a large gulp. He stowed the flask again, and held a hand out, parallel to the ground. It twitched slightly, and Constantine drew it into a fist until his knuckles were white and his fingers ached with the pressure. Smoke rose from the cracks between his fingers and he opened them, fire bursting from his palm and smoldering painlessly. He watched the flames dance across his skin, lashing at his wrinkles and hopping the callouses at the base of each finger. The voice from his dream echoed in his head as the flames span round and round. The house of Nergal...
John's cigarette burnt to its last end in the ashtray as the door to his apartment slammed shut behind him, another already lit and hanging from his lips as he took the stairs two at a time down towards the building's lobby.