smoke, and then a male head. The demon appeared in human form, perfect in its imitation save for two large horns protruding from his head.
“I cannot grant that what you wish. For you wish to become one of the Chosen. But I will grant you the power of Astaroth for a time." The demon raised his arms, outstretched to the sides and Bartholomew felt himself being drawn forward. Not simply drawn, but torn towards the demon. His spirit was taken from his body and pulled into the body of Astaroth, possessing him and becoming one with the demon. He could see through Astaroth’s eyes and feel the power, and the awareness of all things. He watched his own body fall limp to the ground, lifeless.
It was too much for Bartholomew.
His mind reeled. He could not comprehend the being of the demon. His mental state broke and he was insane within an instant, but would not be released from the demon’s control. He could remember nothing of who he was or how he came to his current state. He remembered nothing about his parents or childhood, or the groundskeeper at St. Pancras Church, or the Church of St. Samuel. He had no knowledge of murdering the woman in the alley and draining her blood. He lost all spatial sense and mental ability. He forgot how to think and reason. He almost forgot how to breathe when the demon released him from his body.
“You dare to command one of us? Fool," the demon spoke. Bartholomew was not returned to his body, but was a floating, formless consciousness. His forgotten knowledge came flooding back in time for the demon to continue. “You speak not to Astaroth, but Belial. You wish to be one of us. Join us then in Hell."
Bartholomew’s vision flashed and he was again pulled, but not to the demon this time. He was pulled in all directions, his senses tormented and bombarded with pain and sensation. He next was in a land of fire and rock, a sea of flames surrounding everything. He was returned to his mortal body with all of its weakness. The unending heat of Hell boiled his skin, leaving it bubbled and blistered, oozing fluid. As it melted away, it was replaced by a fresh pink layer that began the process all over again with no lessening of the pain.
This continued for hundreds of years, though to Bartholomew time had no meaning. His moments were broken up only by the demonic legions that watched his torment in joy, differentiated only by the separate indignities and depravities they set upon him as he burned. He was forced to burn while Leraje whipped him with a barbed link; forced to burn while Agares castrated him endlessly; forced to burn while Naberius defecated on him. Each demon took on a different form: some animal, some human and some an unnatural melding of both.
After this penance, Bartholomew was hanged by his feet over a pit of fire. He was cut around his ankles and had his skin removed like a stocking from a leg. When the work was completed, the skin was reformed only to have it all start anew. When every demon in Hell had his turn--thousands of them--Bartholomew was released and made to fall in the pit without end for another hundred years.
When he was permitted to reach the bottom of the pit, Bartholomew was returned to the shores of the lake of fire. Belial returned to him in the form of the groundskeeper from St. Pancras.
“I’ve ’ad my fun with you now, boy. I release you from your torment." Belial smiled. “Go now, and do not attempt to call on me again."
In a flash of light, Bartholomew was back in his human body. The searing heat was gone and he could remember nothing about his time before his eternity in Hell. He was being led by the hands by two men down an indoor hallway that looked like nothing he had ever seen before. It was immaculate in its cleanliness and the lighting was bright, but artificial. It hurt his eyes to not squint. It was only now that he noticed he was blathering incoherently about all that he had experienced at the hands of the demons. His words were failing him as he attempted to recount his endless torments and humiliations. One of the men leading him gave him a sympathetic look, and said something that Bartholomew couldn’t understand.
The three of them stopped at a room on the right side of the hallway. The two others led Bartholomew inside and set him down on a bed with a metal frame, then attached belts to his wrists to keep him there. Bartholomew did not put up a struggle. He was still trying to understand where he was and what was happening. The two men in white suits turned and left the room, the sympathetic one taking one more pitying look at him as he left. The door shut behind them with a click, and a small opening at eye-level was slid shut.
Algernon Bartholomew only lived for eight more days in the West Park Mental Hospital. He had refused to eat unless force-fed and soiled himself daily. The hospital staff tried without any luck to communicate with the man, but they never discovered anything about his identity or past. They found him dead one morning, not unexpectedly, with a look of calm on his face that he had lacked through his stay at the hospital. He was burned in the hospital’s crematorium the next day after an autopsy. The official cause of death on the man’s death certificate was dehydration. It was the only field on the certificate that was filled in with any certainty aside from the date of the death: March 18th, 2003.