My first thought is Hellhound. The thing, the doglike creature. It’s not a dog. But it’s not a creature. Maybe it’s confused, like me. What was the name of the Dog of Hell in mythology?
Cerberus. The Hound of Hades, a multi-headed dog, was said to guard the gates of the underworld in Greek mythology. Is that what you’re thinking of?
It is, but I don’t respond to the voice. I decide to call the thing Cerby. It feels less threatening than the Hound of Hades.
Cerby recoils, emitting a low growl from behind its bared fangs. He’s now out in the open. I reach into my pocket, feeling something small and round. I take it out. It’s a hard candy. I can tell from the wrapping. But the label is faded beyond recognition.
You could try offering the candy to Cerby as a peace offering, but be careful. Even though you’ve chosen a more friendly name for this creature, its nature and intentions are still unknown. Be cautious of its reactions and be ready to step back if necessary.
“Here, boy,” I say, extending my arm with my palm up and the candy sitting inside of it.
This thing could take my arm off with one bite. But it leans forward and snatches the candy with a long, thin tongue. “Ah, you like that, eh, Cerby?”
This is a good start, but you need to continue to be careful. While the creature seems to have taken kindly to your offering, it’s still an unknown entity in an unknown world. You’ve created a bond through food, but trust takes time to establish. So proceed with caution. Let’s continue on your journey, shall we?
The voice pushes me, a gentle nudge like the summer current in a lazy stream.
Cerby walks out from beneath the brambles gripping the old truck. It looks up at me with yellow eyes, and I think it smiles. I pat the top of its scaly head. Looking at the horizon, I can tell the sun is still setting, even if it’s going slower than I think it should.
Cerby and I walk along the tracks, and I decide to ask the voice in my head a question I can’t ignore. “Am I in hell?”
This place is not hell, though it might feel like it to you right now. It’s different, an in-between, a sort of middle place, perhaps. But your perception of it might evolve as you continue to explore and understand its nature.
I can tell you that it’s a place for redemption and resolution, but like everything here, it has its own complexities and challenges. Now, let’s keep moving. The setting sun waits for no one.
“Happiness in slavery,” I say, the uncommon expression resonant in my head.
Interesting phrase you have there. It’s a paradoxical one, encapsulating the idea of finding contentment within confines or, to a degree, taking comfort in servitude. It seems you’re coming to terms with the situation in your own way.
Let’s carry on. There’s much ground to cover.
Cerby trots ahead, following a bend in the track.
Clouds soundlessly roll by with tree branches swaying in a silent wind. As we pass a copse of trees, I see where a roadway passed over the tracks. Now, nothing remains of the overpass except concrete rubble, blocking our way.
This obstruction might seem like a setback, but it could also be an opportunity. A direct path is not always the most rewarding one. The rubble might hold hidden paths or secret tunnels. Explore it, but be wary, for it might not be as deserted as it seems.
I see nothing but Cerby’s wagging tail as the creature climbs over a few hunks of concrete, stepping around the rebar and into the rubble. I can see thorny brambles on each side of the tracks, and I feel like we don’t have the time to go around it.
“Okay, boy,” I say to Cerby. “Let’s go.”
Remember, the rubble could hold hidden dangers. Make sure to keep a watchful eye as you make your way through. Tread carefully, but trust in your instincts and Cerby’s. The journey might be perilous, but I am confident you can overcome any obstacle.
The voice of confidence feels disingenuous, but I don’t have time to ponder that now.
Cerby picks his way through the blocks of steel and concrete. Is “it” a “him?” I don’t know, and I’m not about to investigate Cerby’s underside.
The path beneath the overpass is only 15-20 feet long, but I realize I would not have been able to navigate it without Cerby’s help. My hell dog steps out of the rubble and turns to look at me, his tail wagging and his head cocked sideways. He’s proud of himself.
Yes, you did well, both of you. Take a moment to appreciate the strength and the bond that is forming. It’s not a trivial thing, even here. This shared experience, this moment of triumph, it is meaningful. But remember, you must keep moving. The sun still descends, and your journey is not yet complete.
I wish I had another piece of candy, but even if I did, I’m not sure Cerby would have cared. The creature runs up a mound of gravel, standing at the top and facing west. Cerby barks.
As I climb up behind him, I now see what’s gotten his attention. On the horizon, a tower punctures the purple sky. I can’t tell if the tower is reflecting the sunlight or if there’s a beacon shining from the top of it.
Cerby looks up at me.
“You feel it, too,” I say to him. “That’s where we’re going.”