A short story by John Johns. It might appear towards the end of his unfinished novel, A crate that once contained oranges.
The boy was twelve, which was unusual – to see someone so young in hell. He wasn’t seen often. He lived alone in a brown cube with no windows and a roof that was flat and white, and tethered to the centre of this roof was a dalmatian called Charles. Charles mostly remained silent but everyone in hell avoided the place anyway, this Motel, as it was commonly known.
The boy himself was also called Charles, and he’d sometimes appear at garden parties in the form of a brown cloud. His arrival would prompt a chorus of sighs and all the drinks would turn to mud, and then all the guests would transform into dalmatians. That was quite annoying. Each dalmatian would eventually trot off and find themself at the foot of their own brown cube. If the guest had ever raised a child, that child would appear on the roof of their cube, screaming, tethered to its centre by a chain. (I never had children.) Usually at this stage all of hell’s dalmatians would start barking like mad. That was quite annoying.
The boy hosted his own party once. Several dalmatians came, including me. I could see them approaching the Motel from every direction. While they walked the sky became white-blotched-black and the ground became very muddy, and all the dalmatians sank and decomposed into this mud. The mud became white-blotched-black, and suddenly there seemed to be no distinction between sky and ground. And no distinction between myself and the world around me. It was a general black and white sludge and I didn’t enjoy it at all.
The boy, I imagined, was lonely. For some reason I did feel sorry for him. So, after isolating several strands of reality’s black and white sludge and threading myself into a kind of monochrome rope that one might reasonably call myself, I slithered off back toward Charles’s Motel – this time alone. The sky was brown now. As I circled the house in search of a door the dalmatian on the roof stared at me ambivalently and did not bark, which I appreciated. ‘Hello Charles,’ I said to the dalmatian.
The boy replied from behind a small brown door. ‘Hello,’ he said, ‘you have become a grey rope.’ This seemed rude but I had no way of expressing my offence without starting an argument. ‘Hello,’ he said again.
The boy’s room was empty and the carpet was brown and there was a gold cage in the corner containing a comfy-looking cushion designed for a dog. Where was the boy? The door to the dog cage opened welcomingly so I slithered inside and coiled myself up like a snake and slept. I dreamt of a garden party with pruned hedges and wild parrots, and jazz. And it was good except they only had cheap, flat tonic.
The boy woke me and I slithered out from the cage only to realise I was trapped inside the Motel. The carpet was brown and plush. I could hear Charles the dalmatian on the roof, barking and scratching. There was nothing much to do except wait for the boy and think about the world outside. What had become of reality now? What forms had the black and white sludge settled into? I unthreaded the strands of matter that constituted my body and on the carpet constructed agglomerations of black and white cubes. They resembled cities; I resembled cities. I glowed blue to make a sky. I cut windows into the cubes and they became buildings. I made several tiny versions of my past self, each with its own tiny sense organs, and these figures walked into and around the buildings. To have so many centres confused me, the inflow of sense data was multifarious and incohesive. I began to feel the dissolution of my consciousness – though to say it was me experiencing this feeling might be misleading. Though, I suppose, it was all me. It was something fundamentally multiplicitous, but then again it was only me.
The boy knocked on the door, which embarrassed this me. My world crumbled to the floor. Then it reconstituted itself, shoddily and without much thought, and I don’t know what form I took after that. I tried to speak and produced a sound like mulch. ‘Charles!’ came the voice from beyond the door. ‘Charles!’
The boy answered the door and said hello. His teeth were jaunty but cheerful. He wore a blue denim cap. His eyes glowed with genuine positivity. He wore a white T-shirt printed with a cartoon picture of his pet dalmatian. He waved his chubby little hand. His shorts were pale yellow and grass-stained. ‘Hehe,’ he giggled and gestured for me to follow him. ‘Hehehe!’ That I could move seemed a miracle, and it was uneasy. Legs moved beneath me and propelled me, four legs. It was a heaving motion and I couldn’t stand upright. ‘Come on boy! Hehehe.’ I followed. I exited the Motel.
The sky of the outside world was blue. From his pocket the boy took a brown bone-shaped treat, and I struggled towards him. I could only wheeze, horribly wheeze. ‘Come on boy! Hehehe,’ said the boy. We were in a garden, apparently, and I was tired. A pebbledash wall rose to our left, and at the top of this wall was a terrace on which some people chatted, loudly. And they laughed. There was the smell of barbecue and the sky remained blue. Plain blue except for a small pink cloud that hovered beyond the reaches of a nearby eucalyptus tree.
‘You’re gonna give me that fucking bone-shaped treat,’ I said to the boy. ‘Right. Now.’ The boy just giggled and teased me with the treat as he backed away. ‘GIVEITTOMENOW!’ I said. The eucalyptus tree shook and several wood pigeons took flight, and a scattering of leaves floated down. In the sky the pink cloud neared. ‘Come on boy! Hehehe,’ said the boy.
I took his throat in my jaws and bit and he didn’t scream. I tasted the rush of blood as it pumped. I began to eat. I ignored the treat and I ripped into the flesh of the little boy Charles. The world became pumping red as I gorged into him and I roared, and I crunched through the ribcage and found the beating heart and I nuzzled in and drank it all in and I kept eating until everything that had been inside him was inside me.
‘NOWYOUWILLKNOWHELL,’ I said. ‘Now you’ll know hell.’ The partiers finally took notice and rushed down from their terrace. Most of them screamed Christian obscenities. ‘Join me in hell,’ I said, ‘so that I might be less alone. Less myself.’ One of them – he was fat and red – he lunged at me with a wine bottle but stumbled drunkenly and fell to the grass. ‘Charles!’ screeched another, a woman with sleek grey hair and the eyes of a young pig. I recognised her. I licked my lips and tasted blood and the gamey sonoration of human organ flesh. ‘Charles!!’ she said. I couldn’t look at the boy but I did happen to notice that one of the women had brought down from the terrace her glass of gin and tonic, or whatever it was. She didn’t seem so concerned by the mutilated little body. Her eyebrows were thick and short and black, and the general grief embarrassed her. She sipped her gin and tonic. She licked her lips. Over her shoulder I saw black smoke pluming up from the terrace, presumably because the barbecue had set fire.
Wood pigeons played arcs through this tower of smoke, observing the fire below, hoping for sausages, keeping one eye on the dead body of the boy Charles. The pink cloud had arrived and it was now big and thick. I turned away from the crowd and squeezed my way between two sports cars parked in the driveway. I trotted off down the lane following the smell of the beach, feeling good and full in the shadow of that pink cloud.
By the time I got to the beach the cloud almost filled the sky, though it’d turned umber in the dying light. The sea was, of course, brown. And it was warm. The waves were big and smooth. I went swimming for a while, awaiting salvation.
 The general sludge naturally garnered different densities and velocities, so, as time went by, it separated into distinct conglomerations of stuff – strands. Probably these distinctions between things were always there but had only now become perceptible. (How can we know that a distant alien would not, at a glance, assume that our universe was featureless sludge? Featureless like life before birth. I’m certain they would conclude that.)