Relay: Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here

The nuns were right

    I was wrong, and the nuns were right. It turns out Hell does exist.

    I was not going to argue. I knew I deserved this. Still, I didn’t know what had happened, only that when I awoke, I was in a parking lot a short walk from the gates of Hell.

    I got out of my car and walked through the strangely frigid air to the ticket machine. There were signs posted everywhere about putting a ticket on your dashboard — as though you were ever coming back, once through those gates.

    It should go without saying that both machines were broken, yet the signs’ directive was unambiguous. I punched every button on the machine’s keyboard, to no avail. “To hell with this,” I muttered. I probably wouldn’t need that car anymore.

    There were many other arrivals. Some were combative, indignant. Others wailed in anguish. But most were stoic, silent, resigned to their fate.

    I shuffled to the back of the very long line that snaked through the arrivals hall and waited. A few seconds later, another of the departed turned to me. “The end of the line is there,” he said, pointing over my shoulder. I turned, and saw another 100, each staring at me with their cold, dead eyes. The devil sure knew how to make a guy feel bad, and then worse.

    Satan’s little helpers were nice enough. Bored, probably overworked and underpaid, their rote recitations underscored the eternal struggle above. They had seen innumerable souls the day before, and would see just as many tomorrow. “Stand next to the rope,” one ordered. Then, “Proceed into the main hall.”

    One thing is sure: No nation has cornered the market on vice, or virtue. It seemed that every nation, every ethnicity, every language was represented, a veritable United Nations of unredeemed sinners. We were all stuck here, forever.

    Another thing about Hell: On the wall-mounted flat-screen TV, instead of the Super Bowl, say, or that Grammy Salute to the Beatles, ran an endless loop of vehicle collisions, surely designed to inflict maximum pain. Cars ran through intersections and crashed into garbage trucks. School buses plowed into two-seaters, and police cars screamed down thoroughfares in pursuit of deviant, wicked motorists.

    The younger arrivals, instead of whooping at a particularly violent tackle or improbable kickoff return, would exclaim, “Damn!” at every collision, in a loop as endless, as predictable as the car-crash program itself.

    After 90 minutes — maybe 90 centuries — I was called to the front. Like Satan’s helpers outside, the benign, almost welcoming expression of this one was bewildering. Until, that is, she told me to sit down again. Obediently, I sat and waited. And waited some more. And then waited some more.

    And then I was directed to a small room, where a very old man, clad in black, sat before me. A helper, on either side of him, looked ready to pounce. My heart raced and I waited.

    The rest is a blur, really. All I can remember is being on a long line again, and an interminable wait to reach the front of it. And then, miraculously, I was free, stepping into that frigid air, where, to my astonishment, my little car, devoid of parking tickets, awaited. Somehow, I felt exactly $246 poorer, but it was a small price to pay for a rebirth.

    And if anyone tries to tell you that I’ve got it all wrong, that I’m confusing Hell with the Nassau County Traffic and Parking Violations Agency, don’t believe them. The devil mixes truth with lies to deceive us, you know.

    Christopher Walsh is a reporter for The Star.