Aphelion Issue 275, Volume 26
August 2022
 
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Billy Goes to Hell

by M. Grant Baker


"Next, please. Yes, sir, that means you."

He looked around and realized that he was indeed the next in line, though he could not for the life of him remember what he was in line for, or even how he'd gotten in line.

"Name?" The man behind the podium had a plump, cheery face, though his voice carried an unmistakable edge of irritation.

"Uh, Deck. William Deck."

The man flipped through the pages of an immense book, muttering names under his breath. Deck surveyed his surroundings in dazed fascination bordering on drunken stupor. The white floor stretched endlessly in three directions to meet the azure sky at the horizon, while an equally white wall rose behind the white-clad man at the white podium. White and wispy, rather like a cloud. His gaze shifted skyward and met a clear, daytime-bright expanse obscenely devoid of a sun. Then he noticed the gate in the wall, fashioned from elegantly curved and twisting metal painted an off-shade of white that was almost… pearly.

"Oh, hell," Deck muttered as the fog of shock cleared from his mind. Typical, he thought bitterly. One minute you're sitting in a five-star restaurant enjoying a two hundred dollar bottle of wine with the most gorgeous woman you've ever seen, the next you're being smeared across half the street by some cabby who probably doesn't speak more than a dozen words of English.

"Heaven, actually," the man corrected icily. "But not for long if you keep talking like that."

"Right. So that makes you what? Michael?"

The angel looked up from his page flipping with narrowed eyes. "Gabriel. You're off to a promising start, aren't you?"

Deck shrugged and tried to discern the landscape beyond the gates. "I'm a lawyer, not a priest. So this whole cloud motif's a bit clichéd, isn't it?"

"Heaven appears as you envision it," Peter said. "Here we are. Hmmm. You've been a bad boy, haven't you?"

Deck swallowed nervously. "Whoa, hey. I'll admit I was never a saint, but I never broke any of the Commandments… Well, except for that bit about using God's name in vain… And the adultery one -- but I swear I didn't know she was married!"

"Says here you defended George Reno to an acquittal."

"So?" The Reno case had put him into the big leagues: a former politician accused of brutally stabbing to death his ex-wife and her lover. Reno had had a mountain of evidence against him, but Deck dragged the trial on for months until the jury finally acquitted just to put an end to it.

"You knew he was guilty. He confessed to you at the onset of the trial."

"And I was legally obligated to defend him to the best of my abilities. Everything I did was well within the letter of the law."

"Man-made laws do not supersede those of God, Mr. Deck. That is but a portion of the infractions listed. My judgment is that you have lead an impious and sinful life and have no place in Heaven."

The clouds behind him swirled open to gush forth a red searing heat that made his back and neck bead with sweat. "Hey, don't I get a trial?" Deck pleaded. Unseen hands dragged him into the aperture.

"Life is your trial, Mr. Deck," Peter said as the cloudy edge dissolved beneath his frantic grip. "You should have known that."

The red abyss swallowed him like a warm lover turned hot, raging she-bitch. Deck plunged through waves of heat and gusts of wind that tore at his clothes and dried his eyeballs. After twenty minutes of tumbling descent, the ground remained unseen and he began to wonder if he was even still falling.

"So this is terminal velocity," he mused aloud with a slight tremor. He had learned something useful from high school physics after all, it seemed.

Then, before he was even aware of it, the ground rushed up to meet him and he was landed. It was hardly the bone-shattering ordeal Deck had expected, but merely a matter of no longer falling. Dead people couldn't break bones, he supposed.

Hell, much like the pearly gates, was pretty much as he expected, which was to say, just as the media had portrayed it. The cavern was immense, far larger than anything he'd thought possible, the walls lost in the distances and the ceiling only just discernable at the limit of his vision. Stalagmites grew in abundance, desperately reaching across the expanse for their stalactite lovers; a few of the older members had actually succeeded, forming massive pillars taller than many skyscrapers. A hundred fires raged across the landscape, their ominous orange glows hounding the shadows to the smallest crevices. In the distance he could see the yellow snake of a river of lava twisting through the forest of stalagmites and he suspected the dull roaring he perceived was the unseen lavafall at its source.

A faint rustling startled Deck almost to a scream. He slowly turned around, expecting a great slavering demon waiting to drag him to eternal torment. Instead he found a short, skinny imp seated on a rock, a large leather-paged book occupying his lap and attention. Deck must have made a sound, for after a moment the creature suddenly looked up and blinked in surprise.

"Oh my, a new arrival!" it squeaked anxiously. The thing's long, pointed ears wiggled nervously.

William Deck issued a strangled croak of terror and fled from the odd creature as fast as his legs could carry him. He weaved through the stalagmite forest, his terror blocking out any thoughts of where, exactly, he was going. Rocks and uneven ground confused and twisted his feet several times, though his noncorporeal body felt no pain during his tumbles. He skirted one of the massive pillars and suddenly came upon a well-paved road slicing through the forest. Too late did Deck realize that a solitary figure was on that road, directly in his path.

Deck hit the man at a full run and bounced backwards to land heavily on his back; had he lungs, the air most certainly would have been forced from them. The stranger regarded him almost casually, completely unfazed by the violence of the collision.

"And who would you be?" The man was tall and lean with sharp, expensive clothes that seemed to fit him perfectly. His face was sharp and handsome, complete with a sharp goatee and two sharp little horns. His sharp, red eyes regarded Deck with mild amusement.

Deck's eyes went even wider with fright as he scrambled backwards from the figure. "St -- stay away!"

"Oh, come on, there's no reason for that."

"You're S -- S -- Sa…" His back was against the pillar now.

"Sam Waterston? No, I'm afraid not, though he is a remarkable actor. We finally got cable a few months back, you know. You like football?"

"What?" Deck stopped in mid-scramble and stared at the sharp-dressed man and the hand he had helpfully extended.

"I promise it doesn't bite."

Against his better judgment, Deck accepted the man's hand and was pulled to his feet with surprising ease and grace.

"So you were going to tell me your name?"

"William Deck. Are you… what do I…?"

"Most of the boys just call me 'Lucy.' Come on, this way."

"Where are we going?"

"To flay the flesh from your bones and boil your eyeballs," Lucy said casually. "That was a joke. You see, Billy, it's like this: Forget everything you've heard about me, Hell, or what goes on down here. Most of that's propaganda and outright lies. You ever read the Bible, Billy?"

"Uh, no."

Lucy shrugged. "Most of the souls down here haven't. See, the whole 'War in Heaven' thing started because me and a few of the other angels wanted free will to do as we please. Well, see, the Big Guy, He didn't like that. I don't know, He wanted the universe ordered a certain way or some such thing. Truth be told, I haven't read 'the good book' since the 1200s. Just too depressing, you know? All these prophets and disciples misinterpreting things and twisting facts.

"Of course, my own people, well, they do the worst damage, see? Always running around drawing pentagrams and killing cats and chickens. Hell, couple months ago this one mutton-head worked some freaky ritual he'd dug up somewhere. Pulled poor Gary -- you met Gary, right? Short guy watching the door? -- Anyway, one minute Gary's reading that book of his, the next, he's standing in some dirty cellar in the backwaters of Wisconsin. Well, Gary's a smart little bugger, see? Always got his nose in a book… knows a lot about that voodoo nonsense, right? So Gary goes to work -- completely ignores this mutton-head, you know -- and before we even know he's gone, he poofs back in, works some more of that magic of his, and bam!, we got cable."

"Huh," was all Deck said. He had noticed that Lucy had slowly changed as he talked, losing some height but becoming broader in the shoulders and torso, and adopting a relaxed, loose-limbed gait. His hair had grown long and wild, and his now-strong face was darkened by a five o'clock shadow. The neat, expensive clothes were replaced by Bermuda shorts and a half-buttoned Hawaiian shirt. "You, uh, you look different."

"Eye of the beholder, Billy-boy. And here we are."

"Here" was a rather inconspicuous shed constructed from smooth, red bricks. Double frosted-glass doors silently slid open as they approached and revealed what looked for all the world like the interior of an elevator. Deck paused at the threshold as cold air rippled over his skin, but then conquered his fear when he observed Lucy's patient, amused look.

"We get a ton of scientists and engineers down here." He pushed the down button. "Atheism's a sin, you know?"

"Where do you get the materials for this stuff?" Deck asked, examining the plastic and metal construction of the elevator.

"Funny story, that. I'm no geologist, see -- had no idea about mining or mineral refinement or any of the crazy stuff when me and the boys first got here. So, first couple millennium or so, we're sitting around here bored out of our gourds, nothing to do but pick our noses. Then we get our first soul, see? Billy, I tell ya, those early days… me and the boys figured out ways of inflicting pain that'd make you piss yourself just at the thought, you know? Calm down, hey, and let me finish. So anyway, one day me and Ralph are sitting around and decide we're bored with the whole torture bit -- only five hundred and three ways to skin a human, you know?"

"Five hundred and three?"

"Five hundred and three. So me and Ralph -- or was he still Beelzebub back then? Anyway, me and Ralph figure 'why should we be the only ones having fun?' Figure you dudes are down here for same reasons as us: wanted to live by your own rules, do what you wanted, right?"

"Uh, I suppose…"

"Right, so we start talking to everyone down here and start learning about all the crazy stuff you humans been doing up top. So we get organized, see, start looking around at what we got. I tell ya, we got some bright boys down here -- wasn't a year before we were mining and manufacturing and building. Turns out we got enough metal and organic sludge down here to last us 'til the Big Guy shuts the lights off, see?"

"So don't you need power plants or something to run all this?" Deck asked as the elevator slowed to a stop and slid its doors open.

"Geothermal energy," Lucy replied as he exited. "Least that's what those science-types call it. Smart buggers, those guys. We had working electricity two centuries before they did up top, you know?"

Deck followed and found himself standing in a street lined by blockish red buildings with frosted red windows and street numbers forged of various metals. The avenue stretched into the distance to converge on a cluster of skyscrapers that reached just short of the cavern ceiling. The elevator doors slid shut, attracting a brief glance and then a surprised double-take as Deck realized the shed they'd just exited was lacking a towering elevator shaft.

"Don't ask," Lucy advised. "Quantum something-or-another. Stuff'll give you a migraine to hear the boys explain it."

"What is this place?"

"Nirvana. Or maybe Utopia." He shrugged. "The boys have some crazy names for their cities."

"Are there many of these?"

"Seventeen, last I counted. Takes a lot of space to entertain ten billion souls."

"I see. And what exactly goes on down here?"

"Free living, Billy-boy. Do what you want, go where you want, say what you want. We burn to please."

Deck looked around at the city dubiously. "If everyone's doing what they want, how did you accomplish all this?"

"Well, we got a bit of a… what do the hippies call 'em? We got a commune, see? Everyone pitches in, everyone reaps the benefits. Anyone who doesn't play ball gets kicked out, right?"

"Out?"

"Back up top. Rebirth, life, death, the whole shebang all over again. Lotta Buddhists and Hindus take that route."

"And God just lets you do that?"

"Sure. Have to maintain the balance of things, right? God only made a finite number of souls, see? A few are in Heaven, most down here, and the rest are still living the dying life. Cosmic recycling, or something."

"Okay, but what about all the torturing and eternal fire and brimstone stuff?" Deck asked. "What about punishing all the murderers and rapists and sinners of the world? You just let them run around down here free to murder, rape and sin?"

"Who're they gonna kill? Dead people? You can't really rape a girl that goes incorporeal at will. Not that we don't got consensual sex down here, don't worry about that. As for the whole eternal damnation bit, I don't think the Big Guy's all that concerned with it anymore. Haven't heard of Him smiting' anyone lately, right?"

"Then what the hell's the point of Hell?" Deck asked in exasperation.

Lucy paused in his stroll to clip and light a cigar. He puffed on it meditatively, apparently unconcerned by the chorus of shrieks and screams of pain suddenly erupting from the building next to them.

"What the hell is that?" Deck asked in re-mounting terror.

A cloud of smoke wafted forth with Lucy's satisfied sigh. "Some of the souls we get kind of enjoy the torture bit, I guess." He shrugged again and continued walking. "Whatever floats their boats, you know?"

"Right," Deck muttered uncertainly, though he thought he could hear undercurrents of pleasure in those screams. Shuddering, he rushed to keep up with his guide.

"So where was I?"

"You were going to tell me the point…"

"There is no point, Billy-boy. See, you ask me, the Big Guy finally realized He was being too uptight about the whole creation bit. You got an entity with all the power in the universe, and here He is getting His panties in a knot over a few people working on Sundays. I mean, after a couple thousand years, the whole good-and-evil/right-and-wrong thing just starts to seem silly, you know?"

"Then why…"

"I'm getting to it. Over there's Valhalla." Lucy pointed to another building identical to its neighbors. "Vikings got sent down here for being pagans. Now they spend all their free time killing each other over and over."

"Sounds pretty pointless."

"Doing what they want," he said dismissively. "But, can't really let them into Heaven, just the same. Hundred thousand screaming Vikings running around gutting each other and fouling up Paradise might make the good kids a little antsy, you know?"

"So you're saying God doesn't care what you do in Hell so long as you maintain the status quo?"

"That's exactly what I'm saying, Billy-boy." Lucy puffed his cigar and blew some smoke rings. "Least that's the way I figure things are going. But hey, I'm the Prince of Lies, right?"

"Not unless you're a lawyer or a politician."

Lucy stopped dead in his tracks and bellowed with laughter. "I like you, Billy," he stated after calming down. "What'd you do up top?"

"Lawyer."

"Well, we won't hold that against you."

Lucy swung a door open into a cool, dark interior. The babble of a dozen conversations mingled with the authoritative clack of billiard balls and fought vainly for audial superiority against Bon Scott and the jukebox. A big screen TV dominated the back wall, casting its friendly glow on the fans gathered around for the game.

As the pair entered, all heads turned to examine them and Deck was subjected to the momentary horror of fifty people raising their glasses and cheering Lucy's name in unison.

Lucy sidled up to the bar and was greeted by a full mug of beer, which he passed to Deck. "Swill's not as good as up top, but we're working on it."

Deck was never particularly fond of beer in life, but given his circumstances, he decided that any kind of alcohol right now was a very good thing.

"So what do you think of the place?" Lucy asked after downing half a beer in one go.

Deck turned on his barstool to survey bar patrons -- a refreshingly normal looking group -- and tasted his beer. Since waking up this morning, he'd done his taxes, gone on a date with a drop-dead gorgeous woman (whom he'd failed to score with on account of dropping dead), been banished from Heaven, and discovered that Hell was ruled by a communist named Lucy whose only real concerns seemed to be beer and catching the game. And now said communist wanted to know his opinion of eternal damnation.

It could be worse, he supposed: He could be back in his pre-law days and living with his parents in New Jersey. For that matter, he could be back in his law school days and living with his ex-wife's parents.

William Deck took another drink and chuckled in resignation. "You know, Hell ain't a bad place to be."

THE END


© 2007 M. Grant Baker

Bio: Mr. Baker is a full-time underwater welder. His passions beyond writing and water include basket weaving, ice fishing, and birdhouse crafting. He hopes to someday have a recognizable, or at least notorious, body of literary works. Visit his website at M. Grant Baker - The Official Website.

E-mail: M. Grant Baker

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