Estimated reading time — 8 minutes
“Well, this is embarrassing. Usually, I check on the new arrivals, and they’re already begging to make it all stop. I mean, even if they had no regrets before, they sure do now, right? But this… this is new. Just a room with blank walls. I haven’t seen an occupied room that didn’t at least have scenes of torment projected on the walls.
“Okay, so first things first. This is Hell… Who am I? No one important. I came down here the same as everyone else, with all the torment and loss of hope and knowing that this would be my eternity. But then, after a while, I was given a job. Trusted lieutenant in charge of recruitment. Armageddon, you know. Need to find the ruthless ones, separate the strong from the cannon fodder. It’s all in how you handle your torment. I guess I handled mine better than most.
“No, no fire pits or anything like that. Dante had a good imagination, but that’s not what hell is. Hell is whatever you bring with you. And you, my friend, have brought nothing with you at all. No regrets, no torment. Jack diddly squat. Well, of course you miss your wife and kids and family and friends. And football, of course. And coffee. But that… that’s not grounds for torment, pardon the pun. By all rights, you shouldn’t even be here.
“What does it mean? No clue. I haven’t heard of us transferring anyone up to you-know-where, but I haven’t been here all that long compared to my superiors. So it might have happened before.
“Now, normally I’d be tempted to torture you myself, but regrettably, that’s not my job. So I’m going to find out what’s going on. I’ll get back to you. Don’t go anywhere… yeah, I know, but it is Hell. Mostly bad puns and Dad jokes.”
“Okay, my friend, I might have some… hey, how did you make that chair? And the bed? How the… wait, it’s a projection. You’re projecting your desires instead of torment… I had no idea that could be done. I was only gone for a week, and look at you! I’m actually really impressed… Yeah, I’ll bet it does take epic concentration.
“Anyway, I… wait, can I sit? I don’t ever get to sit…. thanks, buddy. Anyway, human souls. Perception determines reality, and that’s true no matter if you’re generally good, evil, or somewhere in between. And just to clue you in, pretty much everyone is in that third category. You’ve done things you shouldn’t have, told lies, sinned, all that, and while you yourself regret those actions, that regret is not enough to make you want to self-flagellate for all eternity. Nor does it mean you don’t feel bad. Unless you’re a psychopath, which you aren’t, you have a conscience. So you’ve made peace with your sins, and you’re certainly not unique in that.
“Now, contrary to the general belief of humanity, you don’t accumulate a point value for your good and bad deeds and get sent up there or down here based on your score. It’s more like a whole-life approach. Did you do enough to help ensure the continuation of humanity as a species? Now, on the surface, many people, going up or Hell-bound, can say that. They had kids and raised them right, they did their part to leave the outdoors cleaner than it was before, and so on. But what were you doing when nobody was watching, when you stepped away from glorifying your family and accomplishments on social media, when it was just you, or just you and your family. Did you maintain the same values? Or did you molest your kids? Did you beat your wife? Did you rape, murder, decrease the value of someone else’s life in some way? Mankind’s inhumanity to mankind. Were you the same person in the dark as in the light? Because that plays a factor.
“I can tell I’m losing you, so I’ll simplify it. Human souls only get routed here because they deserve it, or because they are so full of regret that they cannot possibly accept salvation. You fall into neither category. I have read and re-read your file, and the file includes everything you have ever done, good, bad, ugly, every thought, every deed. I had my superiors take a look, and they have soft spots for nobody. They agree with me. There is no reason for you to have been sent down here.
“I agree, that’s a comforting thing for you. The problem is that the only precedent of someone coming to Hell and leaving again… well, you can guess who that was, and even then He made a stop in the mortal realm first before ascending, didn’t He? A direct transfer of a soul from Hell to… there? Way above my pay grade, my friend. So it may take a while to get a decision on this. So you just sit tight… and try not to make yourself too much at home.”
“Okay, so I… wait, what did you do? This… wait a minute… this looks like your house! The window, the view? How do you have a view? This is Hell, man! You’re not supposed… okay, okay, I know, unique situation, but if anyone else figured out they could do this, then Hell wouldn’t be Hell anymore. Everyone would delight in their own depraved little fantasies… what do you mean, including me? I… okay, well, yeah, but that’s not the point!
“Anyway, here’s the deal. You’ve been brought to the attention of the Morning Star himself, and a decision is pending. You’ll be happy to know that even the Father of Lies thinks you don’t deserve to be here. And that, paradoxically, is no lie. It doesn’t guarantee you a way out, though. They’re still trying to figure out how you got here in the first place.
“How did… man, you can’t say that name down here! Not unless you’re screaming for deliverance, anyway. So okay, how did He come down here and then leave? Well, when you’re the son of… well, you know… that pretty much gives you free reign to go wherever you please. Part of the whole ‘new covenant’ thing. All you have to do is believe in Him, and up to… there… you go.
“But there’s the rub. How many truly believe, and how many just say they do so that they can act however they want and justify it in His name? My personal favorites? The ones who talk about Him but worship at the altar of Ayn Rand; in other words, ‘I got mine, so fuck you!’ The ones who give to charity because of the tax write-off instead than the good they can do; for the purposes of the afterlife, it’s the intent that counts, not the result. The ones who use tax havens so that their tax dollars don’t go to services for the elderly and the poor. The only reason they say they believe is because it’s politically expedient and good business. Yeah, I’m a sinner, and in a big way, but there are some transgressions that even make me sick. It pleases me no end to see pricks like that get what’s coming to them. I’ll sit there and watch them suffer for hours, if I can…
“Why am I here in the first place? Let’s just say I had a lot of fun over many years with teenagers and cutlery. Oh, don’t give me that look. If you knew what my own mother did to me… yeah, Mister Morals, I know that doesn’t excuse it, but at least you know I wasn’t born that way. And besides, unlike those hypocrites I just mentioned, I never had any illusions about who I am. Still don’t, as a matter of fact.
“Right, anyway, I’ll let you know what Lucifer decides. Sanctimonious little…”
“Hey, buddy… wait, where are you? Hello? … okay, are you hiding now? Not cool, my man. Maybe you’re downstairs? Anyway, I know you’re here, and I know you can hear me. So the decision was made… wow, something smells good… the decision was made to keep you here… the one pure soul in Hell. You’re going to be leverage, my man. They have people up there that we want here, and we’re going to get them with your help. You should be honored.
“Not in the kitchen… wow, and a roast in the crockpot. You really have taken ownership of your reality. I am truly impressed. I wish I didn’t have to say what I have to say next…
“More stairs? How big is this damn house? Anyway, I’ve been ordered to keep you company until the exchange, which could take a few centuries to arrange. So in the meantime, we’re going to tarnish your soul a bit, just to make a point for when we hand you over. You’re going to view my sins. Over and over. Who knows? You might start to see your own kids in the faces of those that I… ended. I consider myself a craftsman, and after I… broke them, I turned each of them into a work of art. I think you’ll come to appreciate me…
“Wow, spacious basement. Come on out so I can…”
“Wha… what the hell? How do I have a headache? Why does… you! You hit me! How does that even work? It’s the fucking afterlife! My head shouldn’t… shouldn’t… yeah, I remember what I said about perception determining reality, but what does… what… oh no… you didn’t… you can’t… hey! You tied me up… but you didn’t even move, you… just… thought it. Look, man, I don’t know what you think you’re going to accomplish here, but… ahhh! No!!! No, please! Make it stop! Nooo! I can’t fucking take it! Jesus God, please help me, ohh nooo!”
“N-no… no, I’m n-not telling you shit… they’ll be here any m-minute… oh nooo! No! It fucking hurts! No, please stop! Okay, okay! Okay! Stop! Stop!!! … Okay, they don’t know when I’m c-coming out… I told my superiors I w-wanted at least 100 years to break you d-down, s-so they got someone else to do recruiting… Bundy, I think, or D-Dahmer… no, I can’t. No! I can’t tell you how to move between… nooo! Kill me! Kill me for good! Stop stop stop stop stop…..please… pleeeeeease! Okay, I’ll tell! I’ll fucking tell!!!…”
“You know … I don’t even know how long… eight months? Seems l-longer…
“Made them watch… I made them w-watch the n-news about themselves… their p-parents crying… new depths of despair… recorded and made them watch it while I used them… drilled the hope out of them… but I still hope, Whenever you l-leave, I have hope. I’ll do all this to y-you one day. I’ve tried to change reality when you leave, but… but I fucking can’t! Why? I have the p-power here! I have… nnoooooooOOOOOO!!!”
“Rumble… rumble rumble… never been rumbling… earthquake? Fuckin’ earthquake. Hell doesn’t get earthquakes… or does it… can’t r-remember…
“Oh… back again… got earthquakes now… how… how do… whoa… whoa… I feel… better… why am I… why did you heal me? I’ve been in constant pain for years and… okay… I’ll… yeah, I’ll shut up…
“Dead? Man, I thought you were smarter than that. Lucifer may be fallen, but he’s still an angel, and he can only be killed by… by… They came? From up there? But we had the best of the best! I helped recruit… you posed as me… what? Oh, you clever fuck. You altered their perception. That’s what all the… the crockpot, the smell… the attention to detail… that was you training yourself. But wait… you unbelievable bastard, you were sent here! That was your whole… oh, nice, slow clap for me… arrogant fuck… ow, fuck, okay! Okay!
“So what, all the ones I recruited, all the ones like me, they’re tied up in other basements? … What do you mean, or worse? You know what? Forget it, I don’t want to know.
“So It’s all fucking over? We lost? Okay, fine, so what, though? You still have billions of souls here, and one of them is bound to pick up the mantle… selected for forgiveness? How does that work? … Wait, the ones who were worthy but refused to believe? You took them??? What the fuck, man! They turned it down! … Saw the error of their… unbelievable.
“So the rest of us? What, are you going to wink us out of existence? … Wait, finish out our sentences? The sentence is eternal damnation, so how can we… how can… no… no… you call me a sadistic bastard, and you do this? How is this just? How is this fair? We don’t get cleansed? We don’t get shown mercy? The dregs of the earth? Those who fucking need it most? Those who were damned to this fate by their own parents? By a mother who used her fucking needle-nose pliers on every inch of flesh she could find? I never had a chance! I never… yes, I’m fucking crying! … Why should I say I’m sorry? Why shouldn’t she have to do that? … Okay! I’m fucking sorry, okay? I’m sorry I hurt them! I’m sorry I killed them! Now, please let me out, please!! … How can you say that? Of course I meant it! … Well who the fuck cares if I meant it! Let me out of here! Please!!!
“Wh… where did you go? Where did… oh, you vanished upstairs. I hear you up there, rummaging through your drawer! What, too lazy to walk up the damn stairs? Oh, coming back down, I see. You’re just a … just…