“Welcome to Hell,” everyone says to those freshly arrived from the Pearly Gates.
The dust rises up from the perpetually blowing wind, framing the greeters in what must seem like a pretty evil and hell-ish landscape. I know that I was scared out of my mind when I first descended here, thrown from the clouds after my accident that stole my life away. I chased it; up in the air, through the clouds, then bumped into St. Peter.
And I was thrown back into the abyss, down, down, down, until I finally blacked out somewhere in the middle of falling and more falling. When I came to, I was in Hell.
Hell, population unknown, existed somewhere beneath the sky, of that I was certain. Other then that, I was as baffled as any of the residents here when I first landed, ass-first, on the gravelly soil that marked the general terrain of the land I now found myself consigned to waste away, forever.
It wasn’t that bad. We had houses: clapboard, but nice. Running water, flush toilets, and plenty of space, especially when you were living alone, like me. I set down a plastic flamingo outside, by the front door – it gave everything a more homey feel.
The images of Hell that I had read about in the Bible – an eternity of work in the fiery pits ruled over Satan himself – I discovered had been pretty far-fetched. I mean, sure, temperatures got hot enough, but never more than Los Angeles on a particularly bad day. There was smog, but you could generally breathe.
We did work; I worked in the mines, sawing away rock for iron that would be used in the cities. But that wasn’t too bad, either. We had rest breaks, water, and clean showers. I even heard that some workers in the other part of Hell had unionized.
Satan rules over Hell, obviously. He was a pretty good leader, as far as leaders go. I mean, he wasn’t a demon or anything. Most of us have never seen him, but we figure that we’re still alive, so he couldn’t be doing too bad of a job.
But make no mistake: hell isn’t a pleasant place to be.
Sometimes, when I get tired from shoveling rocks, I sit down in a shady corner somewhere – shade exists, but only if you look hard enough – and think about what heaven is like.
I’ve heard stories, from my friends who’ve been there as one of the lucky few as diplomats and traders. (Heaven-sent wine is one of the most popular commodities here.)
Everything’s clean, they say. The wind always blows fresh – not dust-filled like here – and the water is cold, and pure.
Most fascinating of all, according to them, is the way the sky is always blue, always so empty. It’s hard to imagine that, here, when the sky is always a dusty dishwater-brown.
Hell is ugly.
But when the rare moment came when the skies would cloud over in the merest veneer of grey, and the air would become humid enough to the point where I could notice the moisture in the air, I would go outside – where the cracked ground would be healing its wounds – and stare up at heaven, longing for even the smallest hint of rain.
And when it did come, and oftentimes it didn’t come at all, something very rare would happen in Hell: laughter. The laughter of children as they would come rushing out of their specially-built homes, arms reaching toward the sky, jumping to and fro. The adults – most of them ragged rough by life in both Earth and Hell – would look at them, without disapproval, and possibly crack a smile in their dust-chocked faces.
Then, the flowers would come, and the birds, appearing seemingly out of nowhere, and for a delicious few hours or even days, the scent of pollen and honey would invade our grimy homes, subtly transforming it into something … different.
And the dust would settle, driven down by the rains, and the air would feel clean to breathe, and I’d take in deep breaths, as many as I possibly could, before the dirt covers everything again and I don my hard hat again, ready to work.
For the mines would be closed when it rained, and all of the tired workers would suddenly find themselves the owner of something they’ve never had: time. For in Hell, one must always work, direct order from Satan.
When free time came, some of us would just stay home, sleeping late, watching the sun soar across the sky. Others head down to the water, recently cleansed of grime and shimmering sapphire blue.
Personally, I do neither of these things. Instead, I pack a simple lunch, and head to the mountains. The flowers bloom in abundance there, and on occasions of especially heavy rain, the water trickles between rocks and gravel, and the gurgling sounds of the impromptu streams are like music to my ears.
I reach the highest point, the closest I will ever get to Heaven. Hell is spread below me, and for a few moments, I feel like I’m on top of the world – even though I’m on the very bottom.
Even hell, I thought, could be beautiful. Even the very bottom.