Hell? If this was hell, it was cold. Chilly. After days on that cart, traversing a rocky wilderness, exposed every minute of the day to the savage rays of an remorseless sun …. Maciste had landed up shivering in the bowels of the earth.
If this was hell, it was silent. And dark. And bone-dry. Hard to tell in the darkness but it had to be an old well, dried-up. Events had all been happening so infinitely slowly. Lowered deep into the earth. Head-first. Not knowing what awaited.
Passing from the heat of the day into a smothering chilly blackness. Eaten alive by the bowels of the earth. Superstition already flooding his being. Was it just that name? Hellgate. He was exhausted, his being struggling to keep up some kind of fight.
Serpents. Monsters. Assailed by thoughts of what might await him down below. At least, a nest of vipers. A hole alive with rats. It was tiredness, he knew, working on his nerves. But it would take all he had left to cope with any unexpected shocks attacking him down below. In this pitch-black.
Lowered slowly, the ropes digging into his ankles. Not daring to brace his neck and look down into the abyss .. fearing he might lose the bread clamped into his mouth. Pain from that thrashing flooded a body already weakened and tortured. For a long time Maciste could do no more than hang as he was lowered .. dangling off the ankles ropes .. it seemed to take forever as he was swallowed alive by the horrors of this pit.
Rocks scraped against his torso. His head reeling. Heaving for breath. His blood racing. His face bashed against the rock-wall. But he didn’t dare move .. fearing he’d lose the bread. Or the water bottle would smash to the floor.
He kept reassuring himself. Telling himself, the Parthians did not want him dead. Their emperor wanted him alive. He’d been sent here to be crushed. But still demons of the darkness assailed his nerves.
He was shattered. His body, his head, his being …. he was failing to cope. This was not the entrance to hell, he assured himself. A well .. they’d lowered him down into a well. A dried-out well. Taking some time to reach the bottom. Hung off the ropes biting into his ankles .. dropping into a menacing blackness. Expecting any moment a serpent from hell to take a bite out of his neck. Madness. Stupid. But seeing nothing, his exhaustion had given in to fears. Childhood terrors about demons had rushed into his exhausted head. Dreams of falling into the abyss. Cast into the pits of hell.
That was his exhaustion doing this to him, he realised. But it was hard to shake off such childhood terrors in the weakened state he was. But only the bottom of a dried-out well, that was all. This was not some hellish damnation. A safe place to keep him locked in. A narrow well, his arms touched the sides. Not brought here to be buried alive. He’d been brought to this place of hell for another purpose, Hellgate wanted something else from him, he told himself. Pain. Torture. To be broken. From the way those guards had treated him .. if they meant him to die, it would not be like this. Not buried alive, not starving to death. Not that easy, they’d have more fun.
From being fried alive over a grill to shivering deep in this pit. He was cold, freezing. A blanket of chilly rock was wrapped around his body. He shivered. It was hunger, he told himself. He needed to food to refuel his body. To put strength back in his nerves.
Freezing cold, shivering. He clawed at the bread he’d been given. It was old, stale. But he hadn’t eaten in days. Even stale bread could give his body something to fight with. Greedily he slugged back the water in the sack.
Dimly his aching brain remembered what had happened since he’d arrived. Thrown off the cart, landing hard on the earth. Aching all over from muscles stiffened and slow. Yet still the warrior in him had burst into life. There was fight in him still.
Thrashed. His backside had taken a lashing. It burned, it ached. He might have expected worse .. his weakness could have invited a protracted beating. But just that severe thrashing. No complaints. He was stuck down deep in the bowels of the earth. No way out. Cold, shivering. But nothing would stop him from sleep. He needed rest!
A hole in the ground, a well. He’d woken up. Groggy from not enough sleep. Woken up shivering. Suffering. Was it day or night? Did it matter? Chilled to the bone. Part of him was wishing himself out of there. Knowing there was only one way out. Hauled up to the surface by the thugs above. Back up to those fiendish guards. Back up to what they called the gates of hell.
He didn’t know how long he had been down here. How much sleep he had managed to get. Ironically Maciste was already craving warmth, to feel the sun on his body again. But being greeted by that heat would mean a return to those guards. And their hellish designs on him.
Food. Drink. Sleep. What he needed to face the torments that awaited him when next he felt the sun on his skin.