Frank Cotton opens a door to reveal a room. The wooden floor is warped and cracked; a single dim lightbulb swings from a wire through the rotted ceiling. There is a cream-colored folding chair in the middle of the room, near a small wooden table on which sits an elaborate metal puzzle box. Cotton enters and does not so much sit as collapse in exhaustion on the chair. His hair is damp, his skin loosely hung on his skeleton; sweat curls down his neck.
“Such pleasures awaited me, such happiness,” he says. Then, lower, “That was what was promised.”
He picks up the puzzle box and turns it over in his hands as he examines its intricacy. He works its mechanisms, eagerly if not expertly, but enough to trigger an animated blue light from the box; it rips open a portal between dimensions and four grim beings cross from their world to ours. The first is a fat humanoid whose stomach is torn asunder. The second is taller, its cheeks gone to reveal only chattering teeth remaining. The third is a woman with a shorn head and an exposed larynx. And the fourth—oh, the fourth—is a statuesque man in leather from neck to toe, from whose bald and ghastly head protrude orderly rows of nails.
These are the Cenobites, men and women whose pursuit of pleasure drove them beyond Earth’s temporal stillness, beings for whom pleasure turned into pain before they were united in a suffering beyond our understanding. “You have summoned us again...” says the Lead Cenobite, the man we might as well call Pinhead.
“You have disappointed me again, “Cotton says.
“We have delivered you unimaginable experiences exquisitely and painfully unforgettable,” Pinhead intones. “We totally ripped you apart with hooks many times. I was there and I remember it.”
“That is what I wanted,” Cotton says. “That is what I desired.”
“The key to this pleasure of yours,” says the Female, “is your suffering. Your endless, abject suffering. We have done things to you beyond your ability to fully fathom, just as we promised. We have sought only to break you entirely.”
Cotton nods. The Cenobites look toward where the room’s ceiling ought to be, but it is gone, replaced only by the darkest black of absence. Heavy rusted chains appear from all angles, each obscenely hooked at their ends. Those hooks sink into Cotton’s flesh as he smirks.
“It is begun,” says the Lead Cenobite. “Just as you desired.”
“At least fucking try this time,” Frank says.
Time passes. Days or weeks or months or years or perhaps it is nothing. Time has no meaning in the beyond that these travelers occupy. Cotton’s existence is disassembled and reassembled again. His body is cut up into 1000 pieces and put back together in 1000 different ways. The Cenobites delight in his misery.
“Challenge us no more,” says the Lead Cenobite. “We are done with you.”
“You have it backwards,” Cotton says. “It is I who am done with you. I asked for all that you could provide—maximal agony beyond not the worst nightmares of those we once were, but of all the horrors ever imagined—and all you have provided are the same chains, the same hooks, the same eviscerations. I asked to suffer and you toyed with me yet again.”
“More?” bellows the Lead Cenobite. “What is left? What is it that you have not yet had? If it’s butt stuff you can honestly take it down the road because I feel like we did quite enough of that.” The other Cenobites nodded their assent.
“The most,” Cotton says. “I want the most.”
There is silence, save the inexplicable churn of grinding gearing in the far off distance. A calm settles over the room.
The Lead Cenobite says quietly, “You cannot handle the most. Even we have not dared near it, for even those who have endured as we have are not beyond its consumption.”
“I submitted myself to you on the promise that I would suffer as no living thing ever had before and no living thing ever would again,” Cotton says. “I gave everything. I want this debt repaid.”
“You cannot mean it.” says the Female.
“I do.” says Cotton.
“We cannot do this,” the Lead Cenobite says.
“YOU MUST!” screams Cotton.
The blackness disappears, a vast wasteland stretching out in all directions. In the middle of everything, the Four Cenobites and Cotton and a single plain door.
“You have done this,” says the Lead Cenobite at Cotton. “This is your want. Through that door you will know what we do not, what it is to know the very apex of misery.”
“I would thank you,” says Cotton. “But you have disappointed me. Tearing my flesh from my muscle from my fat from my bone while fires burned beneath me...this was but a copy of a facsimile of what I truly desired. You could not give me the ultimate in suffering, but you say that what I seek is beyond that door?”
“You know not what you seek. Nobody does. Nobody can. There is no return from it.”
“Then I will not return,” Cotton says, turning from the Four.
Cotton steps toward the door and the Four Cenobites step back in a sort of reverence. The door is engulfed in light before slowly opening. The Four Cenobites flinch Cotton edges closer.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I am proud to introduce your next coach of your Houston Rockets, Frank Cotton!” says a voice at an expanse of microphones. Cotton pauses, then steps back.
“Your apex.” the Lead Cenobite says, watching. “This is your fantasy.”
“It...cannot be,” Cotton says.
James Harden and Dwight Howard and Josh Smith step through the door, grabbing Cotton and dragging through. Cotton screams as the Four Cenobites watch, lightning crashing in the distance, flashbulbs popping in the room.
“Come on, coach,” Harden deadpans, his gaze dead in the middle distance between the two of them. “I was thinking our biggest problem has been my passing.”
Cotton turns to him, “Because you don’t involve your teammates?” he says quietly.
“Because I involve them too much!” Harden says.
“Hey coach, catch!” Dwight Howard says. Cotton turns to him and is hit by a wave of loose Skittles. “Every one tastes different, and I’d love to tell you how!”
“I’ve been working on my jumper, coach!” Josh Smith says. “I’m gonna be Houston’s Steph Curry!”
Cotton turns, his face washed with horror—“No, no, no,” he mutters under his breath—in time to see the Four Cenobites hoverboarding into the abyss. The Lead Cenobite turns back, his ghastly pinned head cocked to forty-five degrees, his eyes rolled all the way up into the corners of his head. “Like in that famous gif Frank. Get it?”
Another Skittle hits Frank in the face. Over the course of one long burp, Howard says, “we’re gonna win a championship.”