Luther Benson.

Fifteen Years in Hell online

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five years. Always full, bloated, imbecile, idiotic - has no idea of quiting
himself, and would suffer as keenly as any brute is capable of suffering,
at the thought of any one else who is in the habit of drinking becoming a
sober man. When I went in, he was leaning back in a chair dozing, dreaming,
drunk, or as drunk as that kind of a man generally gets. I asked him for
whisky. He straightened up, and a more fiendish gleam of joy than lit up
his brutal face never sat upon the hideous countenance of a fiend fresh
from hell. He got up to get me the liquor, saying at the same time, "I will
bet you five dollars you are drunk before night." I looked at him, saw the
smile of joy, and the intense pleasure that my getting drunk was going to
afford him. Suffering, choking, and almost bereft of reason, as I was, his
look and act caused me to hesitate and wonder what manner of man it was
that was so utterly base and heartless as to rejoice at the ruin of one
whose continued prayer is to live and die sober. Then and there I prayed
God to deliver me from such friends, and keep me from their accursed
influence. Hell knows no blacker deformity than that which would drag a
fellow-creature again to degradation. Satan was as much a friend of human
happiness when he slimed into Eden. In my very youth, I made a resolve that
I never would, knowingly, stand in the path of any man and a better life:
that I would never do anything to prevent a man from leading a better life,
and I have never broken that resolution. I gathered strength and courage
enough, by a desperate effort, to get out of the store without drinking,
and started in an opposite direction from where anything was kept to drink.

I had gone but a short distance, when there was no longer any enduring of
the torture. I turned back and went into another drug store, and told the
proprietor that I was sick, and asked him for whisky with some kind of
medicine in it. The man who gave it was not to blame, for he knew nothing
about me, nor the fiendish thirst with which I was possessed; and while he
was not more than a minute getting the liquor for me, it seemed an age, and
when I took the glass, I read "death" in it just as plainly as ever "death"
was written upon the field of battle. I hesitated a moment, while something
whispered, "Death!" I struggled, but could not let go of the glass. I
felt the hot, scalding tears come in my eyes. I thought if I could only
die - just drop dead; but I could not, yet I felt that I was dying ten
thousand deaths all the time! I lifted the glass and drank death and
damnation! I drank the red blood of butchery and the fiery beverage of
hell! It glowed like hot lava in my blood, and burned upon my tongue's end.
A smouldering fire was kindled. A wild glow shot through every vein, and
within my stomach the demon was aroused to his strength. I had now but one
thought, but one burning desire that was consuming me - that was for more
drink! It crept to my fingers' ends, and out in a burning flush upon my
cheek. Drink! - DRINK! I would have had it then if I had been compelled to
go to hell for it! But I got it just one step this side the regions of the
damned. I went to a saloon and commenced to pour it down, and continued
until I was crazed. All power over my appetite was gone; I was oblivious to
everything around me. I took the train for Cincinnati. I have a dim,
shuddering remembrance of some parties at the depot trying to keep me from
taking the cars. I don't know who they were, or what they said. I got to
the city that night, and staid at the Galt House. I have no remembrance of
anything from the time I left Richmond until I awoke next day about ten
o'clock, with an aching head, swollen tongue, burnt, black, parched lips,
and a thirst for whisky that was maddening. Death would have been kindness
compared to what I suffered that morning.

And here let me ask the reader to indulge me for a while, that I may
explain just the condition I was in, both physically and mentally. I know
just how much charity I am to expect and receive from the corrupt
wilderness of human society, for it is a rank and rotten soil, from which
every shrub draws poison as it grows. All that in a happier field and purer
air would expand into virtue and germinate into usefulness is converted
into henbane and deadly nightshade. I know how hard it is to get human
society to regard one's acts as other than his deliberate intentions. But
of being a drunkard by choice, and because I have not cared for the
consequences, I am innocent. I can say, and speak the truth, that there is
not a person on earth less capable than myself of recklessly and purposely
plunging himself into shame, suffering and sin. I will never believe that a
man, conscious of innocence, can not make other men perceive that he has
that thought. I have been miserable all my life. I have been harshly
treated by mankind, in being accused of wickedly doing that which I abhor,
and against which I have fought with every energy I possessed. The greatest
aggravation of my life has been that I could not make mankind believe, or
understand, my real and true condition. I can safely affirm that a blasted
character, and the curses that have clung to my name, have all of them been
slight misfortunes compared to this. I have for years endeavored to sustain
myself by the sense of my integrity; but the voice of no man on earth
echoed to the voice of my conscience. I called aloud, but there was none to
answer; there was none that regarded. To me the whole world has been as
unhearing as the tempest, and as cold as the iceberg. Sympathy, the
magnetic virtue, the hidden essence of our life, was extinct. Nor has this
been the whole sum of my misery. The food so essential to an intelligent
existence, seemed perpetually renewing before me in its fairest colors,
only the more effectually to elude my grasp and to attack my hunger. Ten
thousand times I have been prompted to unfold the affections of my soul,
only to be repelled with the greatest anguish, until my reflections
continually center upon and within myself, where wretchedness and sorrow
dwell, undisturbed by one ray of hope and light. It seems to me that any
person but a fool would know that I had not purposely led the life of
misery that has marked my steps for fifteen years. It would have been
merciful in comparison, if I had planted a dagger in my heart, for I have
suffered an anguish a thousand times worse than death. I would have had
liquor that morning at Cincinnati if I had known that one single drink
would have obliterated my body, soul, and spirit. I had no power to resist;
and to prove that I was powerless, let us see what effect alcohol, in its
physiological aspect, exerts.

Alcohol possesses three distinct properties, and consequently produces a
threefold physiological effect.

1. It has a nervine property, by which it excites the nervous system
inordinately, and exhilarates the brain.

2. It has a stimulating property, by which it inordinately excites the
muscular motions, and the actions of the heart and blood-vessels.

3. It has a narcotic property. The operation of this property is to suspend
the nervous energies, and soothe and stupefy the subject.

Now, any article possessing either one, or but two of these properties,
without the other, is a simple and harmless thing compared with alcohol. It
is only because alcohol possesses this combination of properties, by which
it operates on various organs, and affects several functions in different
ways at one and the same time, that its potency is so dreadful, and its
influence so fascinating, when once the appetite is thoroughly depraved by
its use. It excites and calms, it stimulates and prostrates, it disturbs
and soothes, it energizes and exhausts, it exhilarates and stupefies
simultaneously. Now, what rational man would ever pretend that in going
through a long course of fever, when his nerves were impaired, his brain
inflamed, his blood fermenting, and his strength reduced, that he would be
able, through all the commotion and change of organism, to govern his
tastes, control his morbid cravings, and regulate his words, thoughts and
actions? Yet these same persons will accuse, blame, and curse the man who
does not control his appetite for alcohol, while his stomach is inflamed,
blood vitiated, brain hardened, nerves exhausted, senses perverted, and all
his feelings changed by the accursed stuff with which he has been poisoning
himself to death, piecemeal, for years, and which suddenly, and all at
once, manifests its accumulated strength over him. In sixteen months I have
fought a thousand battles, every one more fearful than the soldier faces
upon the field of conflict, where it rains lead and hails shot and shell,
and I have been victorious nine hundred and ninety-eight times. How many of
these who blame me would have been more successful? A man does not come out
of the flames of alcohol and heal himself in a day. It is struggle and
conflict, and woe; but at last, and finally, it is glorious victory. And if
my friends will not forsake me, I will promise them a victory over rum that
shall be complete and entire. I have neither the heart nor the desire to
attempt a description of my drunk at Cincinnati. Those who have never been
in that condition could not understand it; and to those who have, it needs
no description.

I was at the Galt House for about ten days, and during all that time I was
as oblivious to all that was passing as if I had been dead and buried; I
did not know day from night. I have no remembrance of eating anything
during the whole time I was there. I only remember a burning thirst for
whisky that seemed to be consuming me. The more I drank, the more I wanted.
After the first four nights I could get no sleep, so I just staid up and
drank all night, until, for the want of slumber, my whole body was torn
with torment for long days and nights. I knew from former experience what
was the awful ending! None who have ever even seen a victim cursed with
delirium tremens will ever wish to look upon the like again. No human
language can describe it; but its scenes burn in the eyeball so deeply that
they never pass away. During the time, all the dread enginery of hell is
planted in the victim's brain and he subject to its terrible torments. Most
persons laugh at the idea of one having the tremens, and think it a sign of
weakness. But there is more disgrace and shame for the man who can drink
liquor to intoxication for ten years, and escape the drunkard's madness,
than there is for the man who has had the tremens two or three times during
that period. Tremens are brought about by the effects of the liquor upon
the brain and nerves, and the less brain or nerves a man has the less
liable he is to be a subject of the tremens. While in this situation the
victim imagines that everything is real, and thinks and believes every
object he sees actually exists. With this explanation, I will now proceed
to tell what I have seen, felt, and heard, while in that condition.

I had felt the delirium tremens coming on for two or three days. I was just
standing on the verge of a mighty precipice, unable to retrace my steps,
and shuddering as I involuntarily leaned over and looked down into the
vortex which my wild and heated imagination opened before me; and I could
see the lost writhe, and hear them howl in their infernal orgies. The wail,
the curse, and the awful and unearthly ha! ha! came fearfully up before me.
I had got into that condition that not one drop of stimulants would remain
on my stomach. I had been vomiting for more than forty-eight hours every
drop that I drank. In that condition I went into a saloon and asked for a
drink; and as I tremblingly poured it out, a snake shot its head up out of
the liquor, and with swaying head, and glistening eye looking at me, licked
out its forked tongue, and hissed in my face. I felt my blood run cold and
curdle at my heart.

I left the glass untouched, and walked out on the street. By a terrible
effort of my will, I, to some extent, shook off the terrible phantom. I
felt that if I could get some stimulants to remain on my stomach I might
escape the terrible torments that were gathering about me; and yet, at the
very thought of touching the accursed stuff again, I could see the head of
that snake, and could hear ten thousand hisses all around me, and feel it
writhing and crawling through every vein of my body; while at the same time
I was scorching and burning to death for more whisky. At that time I would
have marched across a mine with a match touched to it; I would have walked
before exploding cannons for more liquor. I went to another saloon,
thinking I might get a drink to stay on my stomach, and steady my nerves,
and give me strength to get home before I died; for I felt that this time
there could be no escape from death. This time I was afraid to touch the
bottle, and stood back, shaking and shuddering in every limb, while the
murderer poured out the whisky; and again that liquor turned to snakes, and
they crawled around the glass, and on the bar, and hissed, writhed, and
squirmed. Then in one instant they all coiled about each other, and matted
themselves into one snake, with a hundred heads; and from every head
glittering eyes gleamed, and forked tongues hissed at me. I rushed from the
saloon, and started, I did not know or care where, so that I might escape
my tormentors. I had walked but a short distance, when a dog as large as a
calf sprang up before me, and commenced to growl and snap at me. I picked
up a stick about three feet long, thinking to defend myself; but just as
soon as I took that stick in my hand, it turned to a snake. I could feel
its slimy body writhe and squirm in my hands, and in trying to hold it to
keep it from biting me, every finger-nail cut like a knife into the palm of
my hand, and the blood streamed down over that stick, that to me was a
living snake. Hell is a heaven compared to what I suffered at that time.

At last I dashed the cursed thing from me, and ran for my life. I got to
some depot, I don't know what one, and took the cars. I didn't know or care
where I went; at about ten miles above Cincinnati I left the cars. At
times, for a little while, I could reason and understand my condition. I
found, on looking around, that I was in a little town, where a young man
lived who had been a college mate of mine. I went and told him my
condition, and he did for me everything that one friend can do for another.
But as night came on my tormentors returned in ten thousand hideous forms,
and drove me raving mad. I went to a hotel, and there they persuaded me to
lie down. Just as soon as I got to bed I reached my hand over, and it
touched a cold, dead corpse. The room lighted up with a hundred bright
lights, and that corpse, that now appeared to me like nothing that had ever
been visible in human shape, opened its large, glassy, dead eyes, and
stared me in the face. Then its whole face and form turned to a demon, and
its red eyes glared at me, and its whole face was full of passion,
fierceness and frenzy. I shrank back from the loathsome monster. On looking
around, I beheld everything in my vision turn to a living devil. Chairs,
stand, bed, and my very clothes, took shape and form, and lived; and every
one of them cursed me. Then in one corner of my room, a form, larger and
more hideous than all the others, appeared. Its look was that of a witch,
or hag, or rather like descriptions that I had read of them. It marched
right up to me, with a face and look that will haunt me to my grave. It
began to talk to me, saying that it would thrust its fingers through
my ribs, and drink my blood; then it would stick out its long, bony,
skeleton-like fingers, that looked like sharp knives, and ha! ha! Then it
said it would sit upon me and press me to hell; that it would roast me with
brimstone, and dash my burnt entrails into my eyes. Saying this, it sprang
at me, and, for what seemed to me an age, I fought the unearthly thing. At
last it said, "Let me go!" and when it did, it glided to the door, and as
it went out, gave me a fiendish look, and said, "I will soon be back, with
all the legions of hell; I will be the death of you; you shall not be alive
one hour." I left my room, and just as soon as I touched the street I
stepped on a dead body. The whole pavement and street were filled; men, and
women, and little children, lying with their pale faces turned up to
heaven; some looked as though they were asleep; others had died in awful
agony, and their faces wore horrid contortions; while some had their eyes
burst from their heads. Every time I moved I stepped on a dead body, and it
would come to life, and rear up in my face; and when I would step on a baby
corpse it would wail in a plaintive, baby wail, and its dead mother would
come to life and rush at me, while a thousand devils would curse me for
stepping on the dead. I would tremble and beg, and try to find some place
to put my feet; but the dead were in heaps, and covered the whole ground,
so that I could neither walk nor stand without being on a corpse. If I
stepped, it was on a dead body, and it would rise up and throw its arms
about me, and curse me for trampling on it; and it was in this way that I
put in that whole night.

When light dawned the horrible objects disappeared to some extent, and by a
terrible effort I was able to control my mind, and reason on my condition.
I was weak, nervous, and sick. I thought I would eat something, and try to
gain a little strength. The very moment that I sat down to the breakfast
table, every dish on that table turned to a living, moving, horrid object.
The plates, cups, knives and forks became turtles, frogs, scorpions, and
commenced to live and move toward me. I left the table without eating a
bite. I went back to the city that day. I had but just got there when I
wanted some whisky. I took a drink. During the day I drank as many as
twenty glasses of liquor, and by evening I had got myself so steadied that
I took the cars for home. I got as far as Connersville, where I remained
during the balance of my drunk. I kept drinking for three or four days, and
then commenced to vomit again. By this time I had got so weak that it was
with the greatest effort that I could stand on my feet or walk one step. I
felt the madness coming on again with tenfold fury. My terrible fear gave
me more strength. I left the house, and started out on the road, and in an
instant I was surrounded by what seemed a million of demons and devils; it
seemed as though hell had opened up before me. The earth burst open under
my feet, and hot, rolling flame was all around me. I could feel my hair and
eyebrows scorch and burn; then in a moment everything would change. I could
hear a thousand voices, all talking to me at the same time, and every one
threatening me with some horrid death; then I would be surrounded with wild
animals, fighting and tearing each other to pieces, and glaring at me,
while devils told me they would tear me to pieces; then a tiger took my
whole arm between his bloody jaws, and mashed and mangled it to pieces, and
tore that arm from my shoulder; then some fiend, in the shape of an old
hag, would come up and pour red-hot embers into the bleeding wound, from
which my arm had been torn. When I screamed in agony, devils would laugh a
horrid, devilish laugh. I looked down and saw a jug of liquor at my feet,
and when I reached down to get it I heard the click of a hundred pistols,
and a grinning black devil threw his claws over the jug; then devils and
witches boiled the whisky. I could see it on the fire, and hear it seethe
and foam; then they danced around me, and said they had the liquor so hot
that it would scald me to death; then they pried open my mouth, and poured
it down my throat. I could feel my brain bursting out of my head, as that
boiling liquor scalded and burned my tongue out of my mouth, and that
tongue turned to a snake, and with forked tongue hissed at me.

The next thing I found myself standing on a railroad track; I could just
see the headlight of the engine and hear the faint rumble of the cars, and
when I tried to move off the track I found I was tied with a hundred ropes.
It seemed to me there were a hundred devils up in the air, and each one had
hold of a rope that was wound around my body in such a way that I could not
move. The cars were coming closer and closer, faster and faster; the light
of the engine looked like one horrid eye of fire; I could hear the rattle
and rush of a thousand wheels; it was coming right on me with the rapidity
of lightning. I could feel the beating of my heart, and my hair stood up
and shook and shivered. The engine ran up to me and stopped, the hot smoke
and steam choking and smothering me. The devils cursed and howled because
the cars did not run over me; they said the next time there would come sure
death; then they opened the doors of the engine, and threw in cats and
dogs, men, women, and children. I could hear them scream as the hot flames
wrapped themselves about them, until they would burst open; and that engine
was red-hot. I could see the grin of skeleton demons, as, with a horrid
curse, they motioned the engine to move back; and back, back it went, until
I could just see a faint light; then, at the wild, cursing, screaming
command of my tormentors, I could hear the cars coming again, faster and
faster, closer and closer, and that engine ran at me just that way all
night. It seemed just as real, and my sufferings were just as intense, as
if it had been a reality. When morning came the devils left me, swearing
that they would come back at night, and thus I was tortured all day with
the dread of what was coming again at night. That day, as I was walking,
hens and chickens would turn into little men and women; they were dressed
up in bloody clothes; they would surround me, and pick my body full of
holes; then they would pick my eyes out, and I could see my eyes dropping
from their bloody bills.

When night came I went to my room. I could hear voices talking in all parts
of the house. They would gather about me and whisper and talk about some
way in which they would kill me; then the windows would be full of cats,
and I could feel little kittens in my pockets; and when I walked I would
step on kittens, and they would mew, and the old cats would howl and burst
through the windows, and claw me to pieces. Then devils would take live,
howling, squalling cats, and pound me with them until I was surrounded and
walled in with dead cats. The more I suffered, and the harder I tried to
escape, the more intense seemed their joy. The room would be full of every
loathsome insect; they would crawl, fly, and buzz around me, stinging me in
the face and eyes. Then the room would fill with rats and mice, and they
would run all over me. Then ten thousand devilish forms would all rush at
me. There were human forms of every size and shape. Some of them had the
face and look of a demon, and from every part of the room their eyes glared
at me; others had their throats gashed to the very spine, while every one
of them accused me of being the cause of their misery. Then devils and
men would rush at me and pin me to the wall of my room, by driving sharp,
red-hot spikes through my body. I could see and feel the blood streaming
from my wounds until my clothes were covered with it. Then they would take
red-hot irons, and burn and scrape my flesh from my bones. They would pull
and tear my teeth out, and dash them in my face. Then they would take
sharp, crooked knife blades, and run them through my body, and tear me to
pieces, and hold up before my eyes my bleeding, burned and quivering flesh,
and it would turn to bloody, hissing snakes. Then I looked and could see my
coffin and dead body. Then I came back to life again, and I heard voices
under my head cursing me, and saying that they would bury me alive. At this
the devils seized me, and I could feel myself flying through the air. At
last they stopped, and I heard a heavy door open. They dragged me into what
they told me was a vault, and, when I tried to escape, I found nothing but
solid walls. The floor was stone, and slippery and slimy. I could hear rats
and mice running over the floor. They would run up my sleeves and down my
neck. In trying to escape from them I struck a coffin; it fell on the hard
stone floor and burst open; then the room lighted up, and the skeleton from
the burst coffin stood up before me, and a long, slimy snake crawled up and
wrapped the skeleton to the very neck; and that horrid thing of bones, with

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Online LibraryLuther BensonFifteen Years in Hell → online text (page 9 of 12)