Tad Williams and his wife, Deborah Beale, live in the San Francisco Bay Area with their children and far more cats, dogs, turtles, pet ants and banana slugs than they can count. Find him online at http://www.tadwilliams.com/.
This exclusive extract is the first glimpse of the sequel to The Dirty Streets of Heaven (entitled Happy Hour in Hell) until Spring 2013. As Deborah Beale explains, “OK – this as follows is lifted from the authentic mss delivered to DAW Books. It may even be unedited. So it’s as close as you can get to what’s coming off of Tad’s computer.
And it’s Bobby Dollar crossing into Hell via the Neronian Bridge which was, yes, built specially for Nero…”
I had been walking for across the bridge for what must have been hours when I noticed the screams wafting up from below seemed to be growing a little louder. I hoped that meant I was finally over the center — that the sounds of torment were now coming straight up from below instead of bouncing around the impossibly vast cavern. I looked down, steadying myself against a dizziness that wasn’t just physical but existential. Perspective turned the flames issuing from cracks in the pit walls into shrinking, tightening rings of concentric fire that blended together into a burning bullseye that might have been a mile beneath me or a thousand…or a thousand times that.
Here’s another thing that was going through my mind. Orpheus went to Hell for his beloved, although they called it Hades then, and supposedly convinced the Lord of Death to give him back his wife Eurydice. (It didn’t turn out well, but, hey, big surprise.) I was sneaking into the infernal depths, not to bargain with a disinterested death-god, but to steal my woman (well, she-devil) back from my very, very worst enemy, the archdemon Eligor. And the last time I saw her, she told me that I was imagining the whole love thing anyway. I was going to hell for a woman who said she didn’t want me, although a few of the things she’d done made it seem a bit less straightforward than that. But really, how many ways can a guy be stupid? Had I missed a single one?
Something with leathery wings flapped past my face, startling me badly, and I realized how close to the edge I was standing. I moved back into the middle of the bridge and began walking again, still in the wrong direction by any sane standard. The thing fluttered past me again, a wing almost brushing my hair, but the light was too faint to make out what it was. I don’t think it was a bat because it was crying.
I had been walking for what felt like several more hours and the smoldering bullseye was still more or less right beneath me. When you’re crossing a hell-moat that could be as wide as South Dakota I guess the idea of “near the middle” is fairly relative, but it sure was depressing. Also, I was beginning to realize that I wasn’t completely alone on that bridge. I wasn’t sharing it with any other pedestrians as far as I had seen, but there were definitely…presences in the stinking air around me, things that flitted through the shadows or clung to the distant sides of the cavern, making themselves known only by the occasional grotesque shadow crossing one of the fiery vents, or the strange cries that echoed across to me, noises that seemed to have words in them. Some of them seemed to be screeching at me in anger, others in warning, and some were as solitary and impersonal as a loon calling on a deserted lake. Whatever made them, and whatever their purpose, the cries were far and faint, and after a while it was hard to tell them from the voices in my own head.
Have you ever had a dream that you knew was going to turn bad but you couldn’t make yourself wake up? Have you ever felt so alone that you knew God Himself had forgotten your name? Then you might have taken the first step onto the Neronian Bridge. And I was damn near halfway across.