"I thought I heard something back in the tunnel. Who'd a thought there'd b_eird sounds in Hell?"
"Is the river ahead?" asked Shrike. Spyder heard the rustling of the thick,
rubbery sheets as she unfolded the map. "We have to cross it to get t_andemonium."
"That won't be a problem. The crossing part, I mean."
"Lay it out for us, Lulu," said Spyder. He had his back to a stone outcroppin_ust beyond the tunnel. Around them were dozens of voices, people screamin_nd talking, people on crying jags. From above came a metallic hummin_unctuated by momentary squeals, the wail of rusted wheels and rotten gears.
Spyder didn't like the idea of machines that he couldn't see hanging over hi_ead.
"I don't know where to start. We're in a Hieronymous Bosch painting," Lul_aid. "Hear all those people? They're standing around waiting to get acros_he river. I bet you don't smell roses anymore, do you? There's pipes al_round dumping what looks a lot like shit, blood, carcasses and lord know_hat other puke into the river. Jesus fuck!"
"What is it?" Shrike asked, her sword half-raised.
"Something, like a big, white worm just popped out of the water, latched on t_ne of those people and dragged 'em under."
"No, but I bet that thing can chew on 'em for a good long time."
"What else do you see? Can you tell how we get to the other side?" aske_hrike.
"Yeah. There's these metal cars, like the sky cars at an old amusement park,
slung on wires over the water. Shit. I don't know if I want to ride on one o_hose with those hungry worms waiting for us to drop."
"We have to," said Spyder. "Listen, the thing that grabbed that guy, it wasn'_andom. Souls are sorted all over Hell, starting right here. This is the Bon_ea. The ones who end up in it are so foul that even Hell doesn't want them.
The ones wandering around this shore and on the other side, they're mayb_orse off. Completely lost. They can't get into Heaven and they won't go int_ell. They'll spend eternity right here by this river of shit. We don't hav_hat option. If we don't move, Shrike's going to die."
The voices of the wandering souls grew quiet, then came back louder than ever.
Lulu said, "Remember how I used to tease you about it being all ironic wit_ou named Spyder, that you're so afraid of spiders?"
"We worked that over once or twice."
"Be glad you're blind right now. I shit you not, there's a twelve foot tal_pider strolling down the shoreline kicking people out of his way like he'_onald fucking Trump."
Spyder reflexively pressed his back into the outcropping and went very col_nside. He wanted desperately to find the tunnel and go back up they way the_ad come, but Shrike grabbed him and held on.
"We have to go on," said Shrike. "Trust me. I'll take care of you."
"Weird," said Lulu. "That spider looks sort of mechanical. Like someone too_bout ten junked cars, some old TVs and prosthetic limbs, wired them togethe_nd taught them to walk. And it gets better. The thing's got a human head."
Feedback knifed through Spyder's head, bringing back memories of a hundre_weaty clubs on a thousand drunken nights. A voice crackled and boomed,
broken, imperious and mad.
"Move along, you desperate scum, you noxious void of the earth's bowels, mov_long! Your fate lies across the Bone Sea, not on my shore! Across the rive_s the eternity you courted your whole corrupt and sorrowful lives. It is th_ternity you shall receive. No one remains on my shore. Move along, you los_ambs, food for the wolf. Lolly-gag and your suffering will begin all th_ooner!"
"Shrike, get your sword up," said Lulu. "Daddy longlegs is headed this way,
twelve o'clock high."
A rhythmic clanking filled the air, along with the smell of burning oil,
decaying flesh and overheated circuit boards. Spyder sensed some enormou_resence looming over them.
"My god. You're alive," came the voice. It was low and human. The madness wa_one. "Forgive me for that scene a moment ago. They make me say and do thos_errible things. The beasts who run the machines. I'm attached, you see."
"Who are you?" asked Shrike.
"Cornelius… something, I think," said the spider machine. "I was once one o_hese poor souls. Lost and terrified. I don't belong here. I don't deserv_ell. I refused to cross the Bone Sea. Demons came with nets and rounded us u_ike wild animals. When I awoke I was the foul thing you see before you."
"You must've gotten on someone's bad side, then super-sized it," said Lulu.
"I can't remember," Cornelius said. "Kind souls, will you kill me and free m_rom this endless torment?"
"I don't think we can kill you, Cornelius," said Shrike. "You're alread_ead."
"Am I? It's been such a long time. I don't remember."
"Cornelius, we need to get to Pandemonium. Can you help us?"
"I would if I could, dear lady. I've never been there or even seen the place,
but I hear it's glorious. I've never been anywhere but this shore." Madnes_as edging back into his voice.
"That's not true. You were a man," said Spyder. "Don't ever forget that."
"A man. Was I? How nice. Yes, I remember. I was a boy and we lived by the sea.
In Brighton. There were trains and gulls. It was lovely… " Circuits fried. Th_pider machine lurched and Spyder felt the ground shake.
The demented, amplified voice was back. "Move along, you wandering excrement,
god's pitiful blunders. Move along and despair!" Cornelius moved back in th_irection of the shore, hunting wandering souls. His voice faded as he went,
but its echo filled whatever space enclosed them.
"I think it's time to go," said Lulu. She led Spyder and Shrike to the edge o_he stinking, clotted water and helped them into one of the coal cars. Soul_ell back as they went. Spyder felt their hands caress him, as if looking fo_armth. The car lurched into the air and carried them over the Bone Sea.
"I seriously wonder if we're gonna make it out of here," said Lulu. No on_eplied.