Shuffling into the lunchroom on his first day in Hell, Greg meets a mysterious soul, who’s been there longer than anyone.
‘Uh, hey man. I’m, uh, Greg.’ He sat down next to the stranger at the last table in the corner of Hell’s lunchroom. ‘So, uh, look, I’m new here… I don’t get that we eat lunch… Isn’t this meant to be damnation forever?’ Greg asked.
The stranger looked at his orange juice thoughtfully, then decided not to say anything.
‘So, do you have a name? You been—’
‘You couldn’t pronounce my name even if you wanted to buddy. And to answer the second part, I’ve been here a while.’ The stranger took aim at his peas.
Greg played with the food on his tray too. Mashing the peas into the mashed potato, doing anything to try and see out this awkwardness.
‘Just call me, Ben,’ he finally said.
‘So, uh, Ben. What did you do? I mean you don’t seem bad. I guess people can mellow out—’
At that point a big uproar erupted from Satan’s table. He was at the centre of attention telling a story. His cronies were howling with laughter. Satan stood on the table pretending to surf and smoke a bong at the same time. The Angel of Death was trying his best to keep his lunch in his mouth. ‘An’ you know what I said to the Old Man? Stop being crass Big Mass! I don’t care if it was meant to be an ornamental plant… I’m smoking it!’
Everyone erupted with laughter again, as Satan proceeded to throw himself from the table.
‘Bloody Lucy! He’s such a pimple on your nose. You know he invented the whole high school hierarchy BS? It’s true. He modelled it off of how he runs this ship here. He’s an arse!’ Ben took a stab at his mashed steak. ‘He’s just ungrateful y’know? I been here too long Greg. What’re you, like a couple days? You still look fresh. Satan hasn’t got to work on you yet, I’d take it?’
‘What? Satan’ll work on me?!’ Greg asked. ‘But, I wasn’t that bad! I don’t think? I wasn’t a believer really, I thought I’d get limbo. But—’
‘See, it’s the really that gets you there. You weren’t a believer really. Which in Big G’s eyes means you were. And seeing as you weren’t just caught in the wrong place wrong time yada yada, spend your time in limbo etcetera etcetera, you have to come to Hell. Satan, Ange, all the minions, they all do shift work. It’s a bit sucky, but hey, Sunday is normally a pretty good roast.’
‘But, aren’t we meant to have done bad things? Like you, if you’ve been here for so long, doesn’t that mean you’ve done the worst sin?’ Greg asked.
‘You don’t do the crime then do the time! It’s eternity. Eternity! Didn’t you read the book? It doesn’t matter what you’ve done – you did it! You went against God. No second chance. If you don’t want to risk it, sit in your room and pray all day. If you want the least bit of a tickle, you gotta get out of the room. And soon as you’re outside, pretty much everything you do, in context, can become a sin. That was my first wedge. So no, you don’t have to do anything bad to get to Hell. But you don’t have to do anything either. You had doubt. So that got you here. Where as the poor sods in Limbo just get magazines. No Sunday roast, Tuesday loaf, Thursday pancakes, or Fry Up Friesday. It’s literally the same issue of Moses Quarterly‘
Ben wiped his mouth with his napkin and threw it on the meal.
‘I’m sorry—’ Greg began.
‘No you’re not. No one is. Sorry gets you nowhere. That’s a dirty word. You can apologise all you want, but Ole Swamp Balls won’t change his mind,’ Ben said.
‘I’m sorry, who?’ Greg asked.
‘You wanna know why I’m here, kid? I was God’s partner. I helped him make this. All of it.’ Greg shoved his meal back.
‘You think he could do it all in seven days? Sorry, six with one to rest. Hell no he couldn’t. He was an overly excited architect who contracted the work out to me. I did all the heavy lifting. I played the evolutionist, picking where to put you critters and what to grow. I make one joke. One joke! And I’m banished forever down here. I built this little dungeon for God too, walked right into the trap. Last minute inspection, he says, then bang! Slams the door. I waited forever down here in the dark. Then after a while Lucy showed up. Thought I was the janitor or something. But he knew! He knew that if I was here, I predated him. So he kept his distance. Let the lion roam his own cage. Don’t feed, don’t screw around with him, just stay away!’ Ben got up from his seat and began to walk away.
‘But what do I do? I mean, can I tag along with you?’ Greg asked, struggling to keep up.
Ben had been smaller at the table but now he appeared to be in a larger form. His true form? Greg didn’t know, but he wanted to find out.
Satan and his cronies fell silent as they walked past. They began to whisper. ‘Hey, uh, uh, Ben?’ Satan stammered. ‘The uh, Fields of Eternal Ripping are closed today… uh, for maintenance. So um, you know, you can’t go there—‘
‘Can do what I want when I want, Sacktan. I built this place, you just run it.’ Ben said.
Greg was running to keep up with Ben as they left the hall. He seemed to grow bigger with each step.
‘You can do what ever you want outside the hours of 8 to 5. You’ll get ripped into, then lunch, then re-ripped, then home time. After that, you can do whatever. You’ll find a place though. Most start out camping, but you’ll learn to roomie up with some of the minions on low wage. There’s an apartment complex in the North.’
They passed admin and emerged from the building into the lungs of Hell. A signpost directed the waves of souls around the domain. Ben was looking over the crowd of heads and searching into the distance.
‘Hey did you get a token when you arrived? A call token? They were giving them out for a while. You had one call back to the living world to who ever you wanted. Any time, any place kinda deal. You get one?’ Ben asked earnestly.
‘You mean this?’ Greg said, producing a clear talisman from his pocket.
‘Nah, that’s just your holiday token. Everyone gets an allocated four weeks off each century. When that bad boy turns purple, you’ll be allowed to have some time off. It’s cool.’ Ben kicked at the dirt.
‘Who’d you wanna call anyway? Did you have friends other than God?’ Greg asked.
‘Don’t worry man, I already used mine this year. See, G Boss still gives me some respite. Even though we’re not talking, he lets me call someone each year. You guys on the other hand are a one-off.
‘Who do you call?’ Greg asked.
‘Well, it’s easy ain’t it? My nephew. Cheeses Crisp.’ Ben laughed.
Greg was transfixed.
‘Wait, what?!’ he said.
‘C’mon, hurry up! If you’re gonna tag along you gotta work for it!’ Ben said.
Words by Rhys Stalba-Smith
Image by George Vlassis