There could at least have been an escalator. I mean if you’re being sent to Hell, it was a little over the top to force a person to walk down the thousand miles of winding stairs to an eternity of suffering. The staircase was white marble, tiny black veins branching out through the pale skin and the farther down I went, the thicker the air got.
I held my left hand up to wipe away the sweat from my forehead and could smell the metal tarnishing. The silver band with a well-cut diamond placed neatly in the middle was decaying in the heat and moisture at a faster rate than my dead body. The least they could have done was install a handrail.
When we finally reached the bottom we were sorted out into groups according to where we had died.
“You all know why you are here,” said a large man whose muscles looked like they could lift their own weights. “You have all committed some kind of wrong and now you will be punished.”
The main lobby of Hell was massive. The ceiling followed the staircase all the way up to the door, where the pinprick of light blinked on occasion like a roaming satellite crossing the night sky. Doorways branched off the lobby, each following two rivers, one of lava, the other of blood. As the tutorial video in Limbo said, “Hell-Fire+Blood = Sin!”
He glared at the crowd of about 57 of us from Suffolk County. “If any of you think that you are not actually supposed to be here, and that there was a mistake in the filing of your paperwork, you can go see Kathy in the Appeals Office.”
“Really!” asked a sweating bald man in a dark pinstripe suit, clutching a briefcase tight to his chest.
The man, big, scary, and probably a murderer, stared down at him. “This is Hell, we don’t make mistakes. And don’t,” he snatched an elderly woman from the crowd whose hand was holding a tiny gold cross hanging tentatively from a delicate chain around her neck, “pray. Honestly, what did it get you in life? Absolution from your sins is a lie, ladies and gentlemen. As much as the church would like to think that they have influence down here and up in the other place, they don’t.”
His thumb rolled gently over the cross before he stuffed the thin chain into his pocket. Looking to his right he nodded. “I present his Lordship, the Devil.”
The Devil stepped in front of us wearing a gray pinstripe suit, his dark hair neatly gelled back, and his striking blue eyes staring each person down, forcing them to look away. “You are all here for a reason. There will be no if, ands, or buts. You all know what it is you did to get down here, and now you will suffer for it. There is no escape!” he shouted, his voice echoing through the grand hall. Suddenly a scream echoed and a body smashed onto the ground at his feet, body parts splattered all over the ground like road kill on pavement. “Gerry,” he said to the large man. “Why don’t you turn him over?”
Gerry grabbed a shovel that was leaning against the staircase caked with the remnants of the last fool who tried to escape.
“No one escapes from Hell,” the Devil whispered.
Gerry proceeded to corral us into a single line toward a small card table in front, the top glowing white. He grabbed the first person in line, an old woman, and forced her palm over the table, slicing the hand open with a knife handed to him. The Devil ran his finger through the drops, the liquid sticking to his finger as he closed his eyes, seeming to savor the taste. He looked the woman up and down and then said in a soft, almost kind voice, “You don’t like children do you?”
The old woman whimpered. “No.”
“And why not my dear?”
“When I was 14 I had an abortion.”
The Devil smiled sadly. “And abortions are a sin against God, aren’t they?”
“I was raped!” the woman said, tears streaming down her face.
The Devil shrugged. “I don’t make the rules.” He turned to the rest of us. “I’ll let you all in on a little secret. Death is just as unfair as life is. Take her to the nursery; she can take care of her bastard for all eternity.”
Snakes, spiders, falling off mountains, the list went on. One man was to have his eyeballs removed, but not disconnected from his brain. This enabled him to see his body being autopsied, while all the while he would be conscious and able to feel everything.
Finally it was my turn. I stepped forward and without a glance at the burly Gerry, I grabbed the knife and, businesslike, slashed my hand open with it. Holding my bleeding palm over the small table, I watched the drops like soft red rain, specks of red floating together, creating bigger drops like multiple cells combining into one organism, running down my fingers, turning the diamond on my ring finger into a ruby. The Devil glanced over the table, the white light streaming through the blood making it translucent.
“Interesting,” he murmured, dipping his finger into the blood and slipping the finger between his lips. He smacked his lips with a delirious smile on his face. “Very interesting.” In an instant my hand was caught in his and his tongue darted out from between his teeth and ran down the length of my wound. I nearly pulled back, startled, but his other hand held me still as he leisurely lapped at the wound. I glanced at Gerry but he just shrugged, rolling his eyes to the high rock abyss.
“Hmmm,” he said. “AB Negative, we don’t get enough AB Negatives down here, do we, Gerry?”
“Did you know that only 3 percent of people worldwide have that blood type?” he asked me.
“Yes I did.” I answered. “Sir,” I added after a glare from Gerry.
“I see,” he said hesitantly, still holding my hand. “What are you most afraid of?”
I shrugged, a slight smile playing on my lips. “I’m not sure my lord, why don’t you tell me.”
The Devil laughed, looking over my head. “She’s got spirit, I’ll give her that.” And then with the seriousness of a doctor telling a patient they have cancer he turned to me, eyes narrowed. “We’ll soon break you of that.”
“You can try, my lord,” I said with a little bow of my head.
He smiled, but beneath that pleasant exterior something sinister was brewing. “How do you feel about cooking?”
My smile dropped. “P-pardon?” My mind was racing, how did he know? How could he possibly have known? The smell of burning bacon wafted through the air; screams struggled to the surface. I shook my head. If I was ever going to get out of here I needed to keep a clear head.
He smiled wider at my discomfort, his eyes cold and narrowing. “What do you think about cooking, Abigail? The kitchen has been somewhat lacking lately, and I could really use an expert hand. You know how to cook, right, your mother taught you didn’t she?” he asked, even though somehow he already knew the answer.
“Now Abigail you got to beat the eggs good,” the mother mumbled through the cigarette held firmly between her lips, the ash falling like snow into the scrambling could-have-been-life. “No,” she slapped at the little girl’s hand, causing the metal spoon to fling to the floor. “You use a fork, not a spoon, to beat the egg!” she kicked the back of the girl’s knees, causing the little girl to fall to the floor. “Pick it up.”
I swallowed, forcing my memories down. “Yes I know how to cook.”
He leaned in close, just inches from my face. “That’s what I thought.” He leaned back. “Gerry, why don’t you show this young lady to the kitchens. She’ll be just in time for dinner.”
Gerry led me to the kitchens in a giant cavern illuminated with flickering torches. I was directed to make a dish worthy of his lordship and left on my own. I glanced around at all the other people standing at their stations. They all knew what they were doing, having been ordered to do it for all eternity.
Each person was preparing a superbly disgusting dish, each trying to beat the other with how much blood and guts could be used, and it all seemed to be their own blood and guts. One man opened his shirt slowly, button by button; his chest had been cut open and was spread, the flaps of skin held back with meat hooks. The inside of his chest was blue and purple, a giant bruise that would never heal as blood no longer beat through his heart. Certain organs were missing while others were considerably smaller than normal, some slowly regenerating.
The man raised his knife and cut the feeble ligament that held his lung inside his body. Placing it on the cutting board in front of him, he took the bloodied knife and began to cut the meat into bite-size pieces. He threw it into a saucepan of caramelizing onions, and proceeded to saute his own lung. Another man dropped a spoonful of eyeballs into a pot of soup, the eyes floating to the top like apples in a barrel, to bob for.
My stomach jerked in all directions trying to escape my body cavity. “You will soon enough,” I told my stomach silently, if the others were any example.
If I was ever to get out of here I would have to be as manipulative and as clever as the Devil himself. I picked up the knife and began the gentle sawing movements. Many people make the mistake in chopping vegetables or cutting bread, of just moving the knife back and forth, back and forth. Much like cutting through cartilage and bone as many of the other people were doing on their own limbs, in order to cut more efficiently you do it in a circular motion, applying more pressure going forward than back.
“Forward, Abigail!” the mother snapped. “You’re never going to be able to get anywhere in life if you can’t cook.”
The little girl didn’t say anything, just looked down at the sharp steak knife in her hand, wondering if it would be worth it. What would happen if she stuck it into her mother’s current boyfriend’s overhanging stomach, the stomach that had forced her tiny body into the couch just last night after her mother had passed out in the bedroom.
“Are you listening to me girl?” the mother yelled, sending her palm out to clap against the side of the girl’s face.
“Yes, Mama,” the girl said obediently, a practiced two words she had said over and over again.
My knife slipped and clattered to the countertop, the third finger of my left hand staring up at me from beside the knife, the diamond ring taunting me with everything I had lost and wanted to get back to. I looked up and suddenly he was right in front of me, staring straight into my eyes as he took my fingertip, ring and all, and popped it into his mouth as casually as he would a kernel of popcorn at a romantic comedy.
His eyes rolled back in ecstasy.
“My lord!” squealed the small head chef whose torso was considerably longer than his stubby legs.
“Ahh, Jaquamo,” the Devil said to the short man, licking his lips. “How are we doing?”
The man lifted up his pant leg to reveal a peg leg attached to a sawn-off thigh. “I think we’ll get a few more appetizers out of this one sir and then we can move on to the next one.”
TO BE CONTINUED
Ashleigh Macdonald-Bennett, an Amagansett resident, has a Bachelor of Arts degree in creative writing from the State University at Purchase. Her stories have previously appeared in The Star. She works at the East Hampton Library.