Authors: Cambria Hebert
The dragon turned his back.
I half drug myself through his cave toward the entrance to the Island of Hell. My left leg was going numb and I was pretty sure that wasn’t a good thing.
When I stepped out of the cave and onto the island, I squinted against the blinding bright sunlight. When you live in hell—you tend to forget how bright the sun is. I was still kind of amazed this place even existed. Life in hell… It was quite the concept.
When Heven and Sam first found this place the Devourer wouldn’t let me come… Apparently he sensed darkness within me—and yeah, maybe a dash of betrayal. I took the Treasure Map from Heven and gave it to Beelzebub. It didn’t get me anywhere—except lectured by Heven and punched by Sam. I blamed it all on the curse I drug around with me. Being born a hellhound and enslaved to do Beelzebub’s bidding wasn’t something I could really control, but it certainly controlled me for a lot of years. Or so Heven pointed out.
Little goody-two-shoes (that would be Heven) seemed to think despite the curse, I could still choose to be good. It was something to think about.
It’s one of the reasons I was living here in hell, trying to find the Soul Graveyard for Heven. That was a good deed. It would also get Beelzebub off my back so I could maybe think more about choosing to be good. It was a hard choice because being bad was so fun.
Right now it hurt like hell.
Ana’s stone cottage came into view. She had the French doors open and the white curtains billowed through the open space. As I hobbled closer, Ana came out onto the stone patio. Her face registered surprise, but then she smiled.
I liked that smile.
Couldn’t remember the last time someone smiled when they saw me.
Then her smile fell away, but she didn’t turn. She came quickly toward me. I smirked. The ladies always came quickly.
“Riley? Are you injured?” Ana said, stopping at my side, looking up at me through bright green eyes.
“Having some trouble with my back. I was hoping you might fix me up.” We made it to the patio and I leaned against the small table there.
“Come inside,” she said, wrapping her hand around my arm and drawing me away from the support and inside the doors. Funny how her light touch made me feel better.
“Here, sit down. I’ll make you some tea.”
She left me standing in front of an overstuffed couch, and I stared down wondering how bad it would hurt to sit down. Eh. Standing here didn’t feel any better. I dumped my bag on the floor and prepared to sit when Ana came rushing back in the room with a white mug with golden glitter dancing in the steam.
“Here, drink this.” She handed me the cup. “It’s very hot,” she cautioned as I took a huge gulp. It burned all the way down and my eyes started to water. Still, that pain was a preferable to the pain in my back.
I took another huge gulp, leaving only a little bit at the bottom of the cup, and I sighed. Heat hit my chest and spread out, reaching through my limbs and returning the feeling to my left leg and foot. I emptied the last of the liquid as my back healed itself, the pain ebbing away.
“I’m not sparkling like a girl, am I?” I thought of the time I’d seen Heven drink it (well, actually it was just poured down her throat because she was unconscious) and her whole body sparkled like she dumped half a bottle of body glitter on herself.
“Of course, but in a very manly way.” Ana smiled.
I grunted. Everything I did was manly.
“Are you feeling better? Should I make more?” Ana reached for the cup I held.
“I’m good. You could make a fortune off that stuff.”
“No one is supposed to know about this stuff.” Ana reminded me.
“Right.” I agreed, sitting down on the couch without so much as a twinge of pain.
“The Devourer brought you here?” Ana asked, sitting across from me.
“I bribed him with a snack.”
Ana laughed. She had a light laugh; everything about her was light. It was such a stark contrast to the dark I was used to.
“So what do you do here all day all by yourself?”
“I take care of the island, I pray, I cook, and I like to read.”
“Don’t you ever get bored?” I was bored just listening to that list.
She smiled. “No. I like it here.”
“You cooking anything now? I’m starving. Jeeves is a horrible cook.”
“Who is Jeeves?”
“He’s my—uh—butler. I’ve been living in Beelzebub’s castle.”
“You’ve been living in hell?” She seemed concerned by this.
“Yup. Figured it was the best way to keep an eye on Beelzebub and that old witch. Plus, I told Heven I’d try to find the Soul Graveyard.”
“It’s what she’s been calling the place the Princes have hidden all the stolen souls.”
“But Hell is a horrible place. You can’t live there.”
I actually didn’t think it was that bad. I had power, servants, and a castle all to myself. ‘Course I didn’t think she would understand that so I kept it to myself. “Just trying to be helpful.”
“Hmmmm.” Ana watched me and I felt like I was caught in a lie. But then she smiled. “Well, you’re in luck because I’m hungry too. I’m sure there’s something in there we can eat.”
“Can’t wait. You’re bound to be a better cook than Jeeves.”
“Oh, no,” Ana said, shaking her head. “I’m not cooking for you. You’re going to help me.”
She pulled me up off the couch and walked toward the kitchen. “I don’t cook.”
“If you eat, you cook.”
I pursed my lips and shrugged. I didn’t have anything better to do.
For a woman who lived alone, she sure was stocked with food. Every cupboard and shelf was filled with supplies. Her refrigerator was full of fresh produce and cheese and her freezer was stocked with meat.
“Where do you get all this food if you never leave? You hiding a Walmart on this island?”
“What’s a Walmart?”
“I’ll take that as a no,” I muttered. “Walmart’s a place you go to buy everything you can think of. It’s crowded, it smells, and the people there are weird.”
“Then why do you go there?” she asked, wrinkling her nose.
“Because they have everything. And it’s cheap.”
Ana nodded with a blank look on her face. “My supplies and books get delivered. I get a basket on my doorstep every Thursday.”
“I think from the angels. I never see them.”
She took some vegetables out of the fridge and began chopping them. “Because what I do here is solitary—the less people know about me and what I do here the safer the island.”
“But I’m here.” And I was far from safe. “Is that allowed?”
That observation made her grow quiet. I actually felt bad because I was afraid I upset her. I actually hadn’t meant to. It was hard to wrap my head around the fact that she’d never left this island and had barely any contact with others. I watched as she took a long loaf of bread with a golden crust out of a cupboard and handed it to me. “Slice this, please,” she said.
Eventually I found a knife and started sawing away at the bread.
After a few minutes, Ana spoke. “I guess it’s okay. I am meant to help Heven and you’re helping her so I don’t think it would be a problem for you to be here.”
She didn’t sound one hundred percent convinced, but I wasn’t going to point that out. I was hungry and didn’t want her to kick me out before I got to eat.
“What in the world are you doing to that baguette?” She gasped and snatched the knife out of my hand.
“Cutting it?” I asked. “Like you told me.”
“More like maiming it!” She laughed. “Maybe you should sit down before more innocent bystanders are harmed.”
I snatched a hunk of the mutilated bread and jumped up to sit on the counter. “Doesn’t taste mutilated.”
Ana shook her head. “We have chairs.”
“I didn’t want to rob you of my presence by going way over there.”
She laughed out loud. I wanted to hear the sound again.
A few minutes later, she handed me a full plate with buttered bread, an omelet with veggies and cheese, and a side of bacon. I shoved as much as I could into my mouth. “This is way better than Jeeves’s.”
“So if you don’t cook and this Jeeves is so bad at it, what do you eat?”
“Power bars, snack cakes, mostly junk. I do go up to Earth and get pizza and stuff sometimes.”
“I don’t know what any of that is,” Ana said. “Except for pizza. That’s pretty good.”
“All these years and you’ve never had Ho Hos?”
I set down my now empty plate and grabbed my bag. I dumped the contents onto the counter where we were eating. About a dozen snack cakes fell out along with an iPod, some ear buds, and some power bars.
“What is all this?” Ana asked, smiling.
“Treasure,” I said, pushing aside the oatmeal cream pie and the Nutty Buddies and grabbing up the package of Ho Hos. I tore open the clear wrapper and snatched Ana’s fork out of her hand and shoved one of the chocolate covered rolls under her nose. “Eat this.”
She took the snack in her fingers and smelled it.
“A bite. Take a bite,” I said.
She bit into the chocolate and then pulled it back. I could see the swirls of white cream in the center.
“I see why you live off these. It’s heavenly.”
I smiled smugly. “Coming from an angel, that’s high praise.” Then I paused. “You are an angel, aren’t you?”
“Yes,” she answered, but she wasn’t looking at me. She was peeling the chocolate coating off the cake and eating it. I watched, fascinated, as she ate all the icing and then began to unroll the chocolate cake and use her finger to eat the white cream.