The Desert Outside the Real

            You wake baking on strange, hot sands, borne into a place you have never been. Where the light never abates. Where men never die. You are alone, but for the gently whispering wind and stinging loneliness. This ache, this vast chasm within you screams that you have been lost for an eternity, but you can't remember anything past this waking. Not where you were yesterday, or who you were, nor who you are now. All you know for certain is you are alone.

            You start walking, numb to the sands that burn your feet. Baked by an omnipresent light. Looking up into the sky, you spy no suns, only red bubbling flames hanging overhead. Like you world is contained within a volcano, within another world. Hours pass, perhaps days, the darkness' absence robs you of all sense of time. You stumble through this flat, sanded plain, sinking deeper into fire, climbing further into despair. Why you? Why this fate? What sins do you atone for that you cannot remember? What God must you plead to for absolution?

            Perhaps, you realize, there is no redemption to be had. Perhaps your sins were too great, and this world you find yourself bound by… perhaps this is hell.

            "I know the way out."

            You jump at the voice, and seek its source, but none is forthcoming. Mere madness, you suppose, tricks of the whistling, gusty wind.

            "I am not your imagination," I know the way out. The last words speak directly into your mind and at last you see it. A figure drapes in black, covered except for its white, pupil-less eyes that stare straight through you.

            It approaches you, appearing not to walk but glide over the sand. As it approaches, the wind howls louder, enraged by its trespass. Waves of sand envelope you both, blocking you from the fire, leaving you cold and in shadow. It whispers now, urgently, as it nears.

            "The only way out is up, and through. The only way out is past those who would keep us here forever."

            "Where are we?" You demand, with a voice so hoarse you suspect it has never been used.

            "The Desert," It replies, and grips your hand. Its grip a vice, there is no escape.

            Your feet leave the ground, and together you hover into air. Up above the sands, up towards the skies and flame.

            "Wait! Through there? We can't. We'll die."

            All you must do is believe. All you must do is realize. It whispers again in its mindspeak.

Then speaks aloud, and though you cannot see its face, you suspect that it smiles. You imagine it ghoulish, filled within black gums and rotten teeth. A fetid, wriggling tongue lashing out beneath its cowl.

"You see, fire cannot hurt those who are already dead."

            And with that, the two of you ascend back to the real and life.