WAUKEE, IA—Ever since he fell down a portal to the underworld while playing in a field behind his grandparents’ house, residents of a small town in central Iowa have been racing against the clock to save 8-year-old Joey Fletcher, who sources confirmed is currently trapped in hell.

On Sunday, while attempting to retrieve a soccer ball he had kicked over a backyard fence, Fletcher reportedly tumbled into the ancient, long-forgotten gateway to hell, dropping nearly 25 feet into the blazing inferno below. Local authorities stressed the need to rescue the child as quickly as possible, noting that he has been exposed to toxic levels of sulfur and that the longer he spends outside God’s sacred light, the greater his risks of permanent damnation.

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“Our number-one priority is to get Joey safely out of hell before his soul becomes imprisoned there for all eternity,” said Waukee fire chief Hank Andrade, adding that a pile of human bones upon which the boy had been standing since his initial descent recently gave way and caused him to slide another 12 feet down to hell’s Third Circle, where the black bile of the damned could be up to his waist by now. “I hope he’s still hanging on. We shouted into the hole he fell through to let him know help is on its way, but the only thing we’ve heard back are some garbled screams and a faint, trembling voice speaking backwards in Latin.”

“Paramedics lowered down a bucket of food and holy water for Joey yesterday, but it unfortunately caused a torrent of blood, entrails, and excrement to erupt from the hole for several hours,” Andrade continued. “That slowed our progress quite a bit.”

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Earlier this week, after drilling a shaft parallel to the one that swallowed Fletcher, rescue workers said they hoped to find a more stable entrance to hell through which they might extract the boy. According to reports, however, they overshot their mark and soon found themselves riding upon the wingèd beast Geryon and crossing the Great Abyss to the Eighth Circle, which is occupied by the condemned souls of seducers, thieves, unscrupulous businessmen, hypocrites, simoniacs, and alchemists. Officials confirmed this attempt was called off after a rescuer was ripped limb from limb by demons and cast into a river of boiling tar.

Local pastors, who reportedly raced to the scene upon learning Fletcher had fallen through the gateway, have been observed locking arms, chanting the Lord’s Prayer, and making a pentagram of salt around the smoking crater in an effort to contain the droves of disembodied arms that have begun crawling, like spiders, from the opening.

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“We’ve had some setbacks, including today, when an EMT who climbed down the hole to treat Joey was flayed alive for the sin of gluttony,” said Andrade, explaining that the paramedic’s flesh and spirit were torn asunder by Cerberus, the three-headed hound that guards the Third Circle and now stands between rescuers and the boy. “It is our understanding he has been impaled through the anus on a stalagmite and will remain there until the end of time.”

Andrade added, “We also lost rescue worker Fran Cusimano, who, despite her devout Catholicism, is now trapped in purgatory because her face was clawed off by a Harpy before her priest could administer last rites.”

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Community members at last night’s vigil for Fletcher continued to pray for his safe return, despite the fact that the Prince of Darkness taunted them with shrieking laughter each time they invoked Christ’s name. Attendees told reporters a GoFundMe account has been established in the boy’s name to help cover the cost of his medical care and any necessary exorcisms once the rescue is complete.

“Joey, if you can hear me, I want you to know that we love you and we want you to reject Satan in all his forms and get out of that hole,” said Annie Hoffman, a neighbor of the Fletcher family who voiced concern upon hearing rumors the boy may not have been baptized. “Why wasn’t that gateway to hell covered? That’s what I’d like to know. I don’t understand why the city never came around and at least nailed a piece of plywood over it. It’s just not safe.”

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At press time, rescuers announced that after working 56 hours, they had finally succeeded in saving Fletcher from Lucifer’s clutches. However, joy reportedly gave way to concern when the boy’s mother expressed her certainty that whatever they had just pulled up from the ground—though it looked like Joey and talked like Joey—was no longer her son.