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       Hellwalkers, p.1

           Alexander Gordon Smith

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  About the Author

  Copyright Page

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  To Beki, my awesome wife.

  If I had to walk through hell with anyone, it would be you.

  Not that I’m saying our marriage is like hell or anything—it’s amazing, and I love you and our girls so much.

  Honestly, it’s not like hell at all, that’s just the name of the book,

  I was trying to be clever.

  Can I start over?




  Open your eyes.

  The easiest thing in the world, and the hardest.

  Hardest because Marlow knew he wasn’t in the world anymore. He was somewhere else, somewhere far worse.

  Open your eyes.

  He didn’t even feel like he had eyes to open. He couldn’t sense anything, not the beating of his heart, not the weight of his flesh, not the pressure of his eyelids. There was literally nothing left of him, just a lost soul adrift in the ash that had once been his body.

  Open your eyes.

  He didn’t want to, because if he opened them then he would know for sure where he was. There would be no going back. He would be able to see exactly where this journey had led him. With his eyes closed, though, there was no hiding from where it had all begun.

  He could see himself now, just a kid back on Staten Island, a kid with no memories of childhood, kicked out of school for being an asshole, for burning all his bridges. Yeah, Marlow Green: big, bad hellraiser.

  He saw the day he’d left school, stumbling into an underground parking lot, stumbling into a war. Hell had come to Staten Island that day, and somehow—despite his cowardice, despite the fact he’d always put himself first—he’d done his part to send it back.

  Open your eyes.

  That first battle had opened his eyes—opened them to a world that he never could have imagined, a world where demons were real, where hell was real. He’d been recruited into one of the armies fighting this war, the Fist. He’d become a soldier—a true Hellraiser—alongside Herc, Truck, Night, and the enigmatic leader, Sheppel Ostheim. Not to mention Pan, a Hellraiser for four years, ever since Herc had rescued her from juvie for killing a guy who’d attacked her. Through them he’d learned about a weapon, something ancient and something evil.

  The Devil’s Engine.

  Make a deal with the Engine and you could have anything you wanted—money, fame, and power beyond your wildest dreams. The Fist had been using this machine to turn its army into superheroes, giving them powers like invisibility, strength, speed, even invulnerability. And all it asked in return was your soul. Because once your contract was up, the demons came for you.

  They came to drag you to hell.

  Marlow had thought the risk was worth it, because it wasn’t like your contract couldn’t be cracked. The lawyers for the Fist—quantum mathematicians armed with the world’s best technology—could undo the Hellraisers’ deals with the Engine, they could free you up to fight another day. And the cost of not fighting the war … That was unthinkable. Because on the other side of this battle was a group called the Circle, armed with an Engine of their own, and all they wanted was to open the gates of hell and flood the streets with blood.

  Not good.

  Open your eyes.

  He hadn’t opened his eyes, though. He’d been blind to the truth. The Fist had destroyed half of New York trying to get hold of the Circle’s Engine, trying to end the war once and for all. But at the last minute they’d been betrayed—betrayed by the person Marlow had trusted most, his best friend, Charlie. Charlie had been working for the Circle all along, for their commander in chief, Mammon. He’d found a way inside the Fist’s Engine, and he’d opened the door to their enemies. Mammon had obliterated most of the Fist in one blood-soaked swoop, and he had control of both Engines. As far as Marlow had known, as far as any of them had known, it was only a matter of time before Mammon united the Engines and opened the gateway to hell.

  There had still been hope, though. One last chance to find the Engines, to win the war. And they did it. Together, he and Herc and Pan and the others had found the physical location of the Engine—inside the world’s largest graveyard, beneath the streets of Paris. They’d found it, they’d entered it, and they’d been about to destroy it.

  Except Mammon was already there, Mammon and Charlie and their army.

  And they were already destroying it.

  Open your eyes.

  It had been too late to open them, too late to see what was really going on. Ostheim had always said that they were fighting to save the world, that Mammon was the bad guy. But Ostheim had been lying. He was the true force of evil, and they’d been doing his bidding. He’d followed them to the Engine, finally revealing his true form—a demonic creature of immense power. And right there, Ostheim had killed Mammon and taken control of the Engine.

  And now the barrier between this world and the realm of the demons was about to crumble.

  Open your eyes.

  There had been no time to think, no time to see. They’d been so desperate to fix their mistakes, to undo the harm they’d caused, that they’d done exactly what Ostheim had wanted them to do. Mammon’s dying gift to them had been a name: Meridiana, his sister. They’d fled the Engine and found her in Venice, a crazy woman stuck in a loop of time who had managed to build an Engine of her own. She’d offered to make them one final contract for powers to use in the fight against Ostheim—an unbreakable contract for a single soul—but Marlow and Pan had fallen into the Engine together, and made a deal side by side.

  Armed with the ability to travel through space and time, they had found their way back to the Engine, to an instant in time where Mammon couldn’t find them—an instant in time where they could pull the bastard machine to pieces. Meridiana had told them to find the heart of the Engine and destroy it. But their contract was corrupted, it was already unraveling, the demons were on their way.

  It was over.

  * * *

  Open your eyes.

  Why, though? Why would he do that? Why would he want to see? The demons had taken Pan first, had pulled her to pieces and dragged her soul into the molten earth. Then they’d come for him.

  They’d shredded him.

  Devoured him.

  His soul had been ripped out of his body, pulled through the void, up and up and up and into the darkness.

  Into this darkness. Endless, unfathomable.

  This was hell, he knew—an eternity of nothing.

  And he couldn’t even scream.


  The word was a whisper, right into his ear. He tried to turn his head, reached out for it with arms he didn’t have. He wanted to laugh, wanted to cry, wanted to speak, but he could do nothing but listen, willing the voice to speak again. An eternity seemed to pass before it did.


  Not a whisper this time but a voice, Pan’s voice.

  And she sounded pissed.<
br />
  “Marlow,” she said again. “You idiot.”

  Pan? he tried to say.

  “Marlow, just open your eyes,” said Pan. “You’re not going to believe this.”

  Open your eyes.

  The easiest thing in the world, the hardest thing in the world.

  Just open your eyes, Marlow, he told himself.

  And he did.


  This being hell, Marlow expected to see fire.

  But when he opened his eyes, there was only snow.

  It fell all around him, a blizzard of white against the dark, so furious that he had to screw his eyes shut again. He tried to lift a hand to his face but there was still that gaping absence where his body had once been.

  “Open your eyes,” said Pan, her voice grainy, like an old gramophone recording.

  He did as she said and saw the snow again—only it wasn’t snow, it was something else, something almost like static.

  What’s going on? he wanted to ask, but his lips were numb. Everything was numb. Pan? I’m scared.

  He was scared. Not the adrenaline bomb of combat, not the cold-sweat shakes of a nightmare. This fear was so much older, and so much worse.

  “Can you see me?” said Pan.

  The snow was clearing, sunlight starting to burn through it. Marlow could just about make out shapes there, a person. The relief of it, of not being blind, of not being helpless in the dark, was almost as bright as the light. He lifted a hand again and was surprised this time to feel it respond.

  What’s going on? he tried to say, but what came out of his disobedient mouth was more, Atooingon. He tried to move his arm, tried to control it, grabbing hold of a fistful of what could have been dirt. He managed to blink, and again, each time the world swimming further into focus. There was a person there, sitting to his side, just a silhouette against the sky. He reached for her, and when the person slapped his hand away—hard—he pursed his lips and spat out a word.


  He blinked again and suddenly the world was crystal clear. It was Pan, but she was different, somehow. He couldn’t work out what it was because the sky behind her was so bright, shrouding her face with shadow.

  “Marlow,” she said, chewing on the word.

  He looked down the length of his body. Most of his body, that was, because right now he ended at the knees.

  He swore, a depth charge of panic exploding inside him. He tried to sit up but couldn’t lift his head more than a couple of inches off the floor before his stomach muscles gave out. His mind was full of the demons who had torn him to bloody ribbons and he was lost in the memory of their fury, all teeth and claws and heat. They’d taken his feet, and what else? He groaned, staring at his legs—only to see that they were longer now, down to his shins.

  They were growing.

  “What the…”

  Pan laughed, a sound as strange as birdsong. He peered down at his ankles as they materialized from nothing—or maybe not quite from nothing. He could see tiny threads being drawn from the ground around him, as thin as silk, white and red and earth-colored. They were being pulled into his flesh, knitted together into meat and bone.

  “What’s going on, Pan?” he asked. The words were still mangled, like he had a mouthful of caramel, but they were louder now. He coughed, testing the power of his lungs and sensing no sign of his asthma. His legs had sprouted two feet, and they in turn were dividing into toes. He wiggled them and they responded, even as the last few threads spiraled around one another to form his nails.

  His stomach cramped and he rolled onto his side, waiting for the agony to pulse its way out of him. Down here he could see that the ground wasn’t made of gravel at all, it was bits and pieces of what could only be broken bone, fractured skull, powdered flesh. Ribbons of skin and muscle seemed to hold it all together. He could make out the gaping hole of an eye socket, hundreds of scattered teeth. He blew at a dusting of ash and saw a tube, made of glass and filled with a liquid that was almost black—a spatter of silver spots swimming in it. There was something else there, too, pieces of dark metal woven into the organic. They were moving, ever so subtly, the machinations of an Engine.

  They were there in him, too, delicate traces of gunmetal gray and copper in his flesh. He held up his arm and they glinted in the light. Even now tiny filaments of metal and flesh were settling into whorls and shapes, like tribal tattoos. There was a sudden urge to dig in his nails and tear them out but he clamped his teeth together and forced himself to breathe. He traced his fingers along his forearm, feeling the tickle. Then he patted his hands down the length of his body to make sure everything was where it was supposed to be.

  It was, and it was right there in the open for anyone to see.

  Because he was stark naked.

  “Oh,” he said, slapping his hands to his crotch. His stomach muscles fluttered, threatening to cramp again. “Sorry.”

  Pan shrugged, circling him. When she caught the light he suddenly saw what it was about her that seemed different. Her body was too thin, hunched over like an arthritic old lady’s. She was wearing a faded summer dress, something that might once have had flowers on it, but the skin on her legs looked too loose, as if she were wearing leg warmers. The sun shone through them, revealing crooked bones. She circled him, stalking like a vulture, making guttural noises in her throat as if trying to dislodge a string of meat.

  “Pan,” Marlow said. He put his knuckles to his mouth, chewing on skin that tasted like machine oil. “What’s going on?”

  “You really need me to tell you?” she said in that not-quite-right voice, staring over his shoulder. Her mouth curled into a tight smile, her eyes as big as moons as she said, “Look.”

  He did. They were halfway up a mountain of dead things, forged of bones packed so tightly together that they were as hard as concrete. Scraps of flesh and hair were caught between them, like an abattoir floor. More of those tubes and mechanical parts were embedded in the decay, and the ground beneath him seemed to thrum. Above him a lightning rod of black metal jutted up from the top of the mountain, piercing a sky that was too bright and too dark at the same time.

  In front of him, too close for comfort, was a sheer cliff edge. Over it, stretching as far as he could see, was a landscape of ruin and decay. There were other mountains out there, towering cairns that might have been made up of human remains like the one he was sitting on, those antennae pointing skyward. They had to be a thousand yards tall, maybe twice that, maybe ten times that. It was impossible to tell because the air was thick with dust, great clouds of it kicked into storms by a soft, warm wind. It had already formed a coating on his new flesh, and he ran a finger along it, seeing that it wasn’t dust at all but ash. He spat, waving it away from his face, squinting at the buildings that crowded between the hills. They might have been skyscrapers at one point, but that point had to have been centuries ago because they were little more than skeletons now.

  “I don’t get it,” Marlow said, climbing to his knees, then on to legs that felt too brittle to hold his weight. “Where are we?”

  Pan coughed the dust from her lungs, shaking her head.

  “Do you really want to know?” she said, that weird noise filling her throat again. There was a flutter of movement inside Marlow’s stomach, something squirming down there.

  Something was wrong.

  He snorted a humorless laugh. Everything was wrong. He had died. He’d been ripped apart by demons. His soul—or whatever you could call this part of him—had been dragged to hell, where he’d grown a new body out of the remains of a million dead. It was insane. It was impossible. The thought of it was a rat trying to claw its way out of the overheating bucket of his brain and for a moment he was lost in a maelstrom of panic. The world rocked off its axis and he straightened his arms to try to keep his balance. Deep breaths, in through the nose, out through the mouth, like his mom had always shown him, the oxygen like water on the fire of his panic. He waited for the rattle, for th
e gunk to flood his lungs the way it always did after a panic attack, but whatever his new body was made of evidently didn’t suffer from the same weakness as the old one.

  You may be in hell, Marlow, he told himself. But at least you can breathe.

  The right side of his face was burning and he turned to see Pan watching him, her head cocked, her eyes wide. There it was again, the tickle of movement right in the middle of him.

  “What?” he said.

  “You’re laughing,” she replied. “Why?”

  He chewed his knuckle again, feeling his teeth grate against a shard of metal beneath the skin. He was glad of the pain—it meant that this body, however weird it was, was his.

  “I’m not,” he said. “It’s just…”

  “Just what?” Pan asked when he didn’t continue. She took a lurching step toward him, her loose skin fluttering, one eye drooping. “Don’t you like it here?”

  “Like it?” Marlow asked. Pan took another step in his direction and he’d staggered back before he even knew it. He was conscious of the fact that he wasn’t wearing a scrap of clothing, felt as vulnerable here as a newborn baby. The loose ground beneath him crumbled and he glanced down, the cliff edge too close. “What are you talking about, Pan? Why would I like it?”

  When he looked up again she was even closer, close enough to touch, and she lifted a hand and rested it on his elbow. Whatever his new heart was made of, it was hammering at his ribs like an old engine—and Marlow wanted to put his foot down, get the hell out of here, because there was still something wrong with her, not something there but something missing.

  “Pan?” he said when she didn’t answer. He tried to step to the side only for her to step with him, her grip on his arm tightening. Her uneven eyes were huge and unblinking and he could see himself in their wetness, he could see a version of him that was not really him.

  “This place, it isn’t what you think. It’s not as bad as we thought it would be.” She smiled, her teeth small and neat and dirty. “I can make you like it, Marlow. I can make you happy here.”

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