Suddenly, I found myself standing in the middle of a dimly lit room. There was a sickly sweet smell wafting through the air, and it was hot. Scorching. Confused, I turned in circles and tried to make sense of where I was and why I seemed to be in line for something. As soon as I attempted to turn, a miserable looking old man hobbled over to stand behind me, and I noticed that the line stretched out behind me and was growing by the second.
“Hey,” I said, tapping the shoulder of the Asian man in front of me. No response.
“Hey, do you know what the line’s about? I just got here.” Again, nothing.
“Hey man, what’s your problem?” Now I was starting to get mad. I was confused, sweaty, and worst of all, a little hungry.
“Shhhh!” he hissed, spinning around and glaring at me, before realizing how loud he was and doing an about-face. Okay then. Guess I’d have to figure this out on my own. I contemplated jumping the line but reconsidered once I spotted some pretty mean looking people ahead of me. And I don’t mean playground bully mean, some of these people gave off a serial killer-esque vibe that made me hesitant to tap them on the shoulder. I huffed out a sigh and shifted on my feet as I realized I would more than likely have to stay in this line. Since I had no idea where I was, leaving might not be the best tactical option.
For what felt like five days but was probably around an hour, the line inched painstakingly slow towards what I could eventually make out was a booth of sorts. There was a woman stationed there who appeared to be stamping a set of documents, after which a guard would lead the person in front of her into one of three rooms. I say led, but in some cases people had to be dragged in, accompanied by lots of wailing and thrashing. This scene did not bode well for my nerves. As I got closer and closer to the front, my mind began to race. What day was it? Why couldn’t I remember what I had just been doing? Did anyone notice I was missing? Probably not. The only person who would notice I was gone was my dad, and even then it would only be once he’d barged into the house yelling for dinner and found nothing. If I was lucky, I could be done with this in time to pick up McDonald’s. If not…well.
“Next!” The voice of the lady at the front pulled me out of my thoughts, and I realized I had arrived at the front.
“Name?” She asked, looking me up and down. I felt myself getting irritated. She’s giving me attitude after I’ve spent half my life in this line for who knows what? How is that fair? I roll my eyes and give my name, at which she sighs and starts shuffling a bunch of papers.
As I waited for her to process me, or whatever it is she needed to do, I noticed how tired she looked. I turned around and was shocked for a moment when I saw how the line snaked so far back that I couldn’t see the end of it. Just how many people were they processing through this place? And what is this even for? Some new reality show? It seemed impossible, seeing as nobody I know would sign me up for something like that. And didn’t you have to sign a waiver for things like that? Is that what the line was for? But then why didn’t I remember anything?
“I said, first door to the right!” Next!” She snapped, handing me a paper tab and jerking her head at the security guard who I swear had materialized out of thin air. Apparently, this place was starting to get to me. I looked down at the piece of paper and read the number printed on it: 6,032,857,001. What did that mean? Before I could stop to think about it, someone ushered me into a waiting room. I glanced around and spotted four other people in the room, none of whom looked as confused as I felt. If anything, they looked relieved. As I prepared to try my luck and ask if anyone knew why we were here, I heard my number being read out.
“Six billion, thirty-two million, eight hundred fifty-seven thousand and one?” trilled out a perky blonde dressed like a flight attendant. As I hesitantly raised my arm, she beamed at me and nodded me over.
“Over here please!” I walked into the room she stood next to and heard the door shut behind me. Sat at a metal table under fluorescent lights in the middle of the room was a middle aged man. He reminded me of my high school history teacher, with the way his frameless glasses sat a the end of his nose, and how he looked like he wanted to be anywhere but here.
“Okay,” he said looking up. “No crying, that’s new. I like it.” What?
“What?” I said, not understand what this guy was saying. Was this supposed to be an interview?
“Ignore me, bad joke. It’s been a long day,” he mumbled, flipping through a file.
“Okay, but what is this, exactly? Is this like a reality show thing? Because I don’t think I’m cut out for that. So, if we’re done here, I’ll be going…?” I began to inch towards the door, only to find that there was no door. What was going on here?
“Are you serious?” the man asked, looking at me suspiciously.
“Do I look like a clown?” I snapped. Where was the door? How could a door just disappear? Was I high?
“Jesus. Sorry, sorry, my bad, a slip of the tongue” he said, glancing up to the ceiling. Who was he talking to? “Every single day it’s something. And okay, yes I get it, the humans just keep breeding. I mean with the whole Industrial Revolution thing we thought, great, they have medicine now, so they’ll die slower. But no! There’s more of you now which means a lot more dead people! And it’s every little thing; you get sick, you die. You cross the road, you die. You choke on a freaking pretzel? You die! I’m not even kidding, there was a guy in yesterday, and that’s how he went! Rough, right?” I stared at him, and clearly, he must have seen something in my face that made him pause. “Right. Yeah, sorry, you must be confused. We’re short staffed, so you must have missed orientation and been skipped straight into the line-up. So, the long and short of it is, you’re dead.”
“Yeah. And I hate to be the bearer of bad news but, you’re in hell.”
“What the hell?”
“No, wait, what do you mean I’m dead? How can I die and not know? Is this a joke?”
“Do I look like a clown?” Touché. The room seemed to be getting smaller. Was the room supposed to spin like that?
“Ah, well, you see, you had an aneurysm in your brain, and it went off. It was pretty sudden, so you just collapsed in the middle of gym class. It was kind of funny how it happened because–ah, well, probably not so funny for you, I imagine,” he said, scratching his head.
This made no sense. How could I be dead? And okay, let’s suspend disbelief for a second and say I did die, whatever. Why would I be in hell?
“Why am I in hell? If I’m in hell then where does Hitler go? Or those Popes who touch little boys?” I mean, hell? Really? Up until today, I didn’t even believe in hell! How is that fair?
“Well,” he said, leaning onto the table, “you’re in Lower hell. You see, heaven is divided into three sections; Upper heaven, Middle heaven, and Lower heaven. Depending on the quality and quantity of good you do during your life, you get put in one of the three. Do a little good for a few people? Lower heaven. A little good for a lot of people or a lot of good for a few people gets you into Middle heaven, and a lot of good for a lot of people gets you into Upper heaven. You following me?” I wasn’t, but he didn’t stop to make sure. “If the bad you do in life outweighs the good, you end up in hell, but that’s in sections too. You do a little bad to a few people, Lower hell, a little bad to a lot or a lot bad to a few, Middle hell, and so on and so forth. So the guys you’re asking about are in Upper hell. Not a very good time, I gotta say.” He shuddered at the last part, and for a second I wondered what could be bad enough to make what I assumed was a demon shudder.
“ Okay, I get it, Lower hell Upper hell, cool. But why am I even here? I’m a good person!”
“Yeah, you and everyone else here,” he said, scoffing. Rude. I mean, okay, sure, I wasn’t the nicest person, and I never went to church or anything, but really? Wasn’t that a little extreme? And permanent? “Also, I’m like seventeen! How is it fair to judge me before I’ve even gotten the chance to live?” At this point I was grasping at straws, but can you blame me?
“Well, the big man upstairs is all seeing and all knowing, so they’re able to pull up every good and bad thing you’ve done since you had the ability to know right from wrong. They also factor in your potential for good. They send the files down to us to make processing easier. You can look through the files if you think anything’s shady,” he said, sliding the files over to me. I grabbed the first one and flipped it open.
“Oh. My. God.”
You know when you’re alone in your room, and you feel as if someone’s watching you, and you shake it off as you just being paranoid? Well, clearly I was right to have been paranoid because listed out in front of me was every single thing I had ever done since I was old enough to tie my shoes.
“Oh come on, that was one time!”
“Well, more than once actually, you can see if you turn to page forty-eight, sub-section three.”
“And this one was in the eighth grade; everyone’s a bad person in middle school!”
“Well, yes, but not everyone is the cause behind a suicide attempt. Big no-no for the Big Guy Upstairs.” Okay, but how was I supposed to know the consequences of my actions? Isn’t that the point of youth? To make mistakes?
Well. That was that. Looking at the record of my life, every counter-argument I had thought up flew right out the window. I sank into a chair. So this was it. I would spend all of the eternity in Lower Hell with the cast of bootleg Law and Order. Not even SVU?
“Oh, there is one more thing.” Oh, goody.
“What is it, Detective?” I asked. Should I be happy I hadn’t ended up in Middle hell? What was lower hell even like? Kansas?
“What? No, my name is Jeff. But, back to what I was saying, you get a wish,” Jeff said. Come again? “This usually doesn’t happen, but maybe that’s why they skipped you through orientation? Someone in your family tree up to three generations back got into Upper heaven, so as per the rules, any descendant that ends up in lower hell gets a wish.” Clark said, taking out his gum and sticking it under the table. “If you’d wound up in Middle or Upper Hell, you would’ve been shit out of luck.” My mind started to race. I get a wish? Like a genie type of thing?
“And before you ask, you cannot wish for more wishes. You also can’t wish to get into Upper heaven. It doesn’t work like that. Your wish can only affect the state of things on earth, and can’t be something that directly causes the end of humanity. Those are the rules.”
“So I can wish for a cure for cancer?” I asked.
“Wish that math never existed?”
“Erase the continent of Antarctica?”
“Hmm. Not sure about that one.”
I got a wish! I could wish for anything! Then it dawned on me: nothing I wish for would change anything. I’d still be stuck in lower hell for the rest of eternity. So what was the point? What was the point of making the world better if I’d still be stuck in hell and couldn’t even enjoy it? Plus, nobody would even know it was me. Half the reason anyone does anything good is for the recognition. Where’s the gain in curing cancer if some doctor in Nepal goes down in history for having cured it instead of me? If I got stuck with a shitty life, why should I make everyone else’s life better? Screw that.
I thought hard for a minute and came up with something that made me satisfied and ignored the niggling thought in the back of my mind that said maybe this wasn’t such a great idea.
“Who’s leading the presidential race right now?” I asked.
“Oh, weird, I was legit just reading about that in the paper,” Jeff said. He snapped his fingers, and a newspaper suddenly appeared in his left hand. “Here,” he said, passing it to me. Like I thought.
“I want this guy to win,” I said, pointing towards the entertainment section. Perfect. Snapping the paper shut, I relaxed back into my chair.
“Wait, what?” Jeff said, his brow furrowing.
“You heard me,” I said. “I. Want. Him. To. Win.” I leaned forward, staring him dead in the eye.
“Are you crazy? He’s not even a politician! And besides, this guy is kind of…bizzare. I mean, I know this is hell and all, but still.” Jeff began to rub the back of his neck.
“Listen, it doesn’t break any of the rules, right? So what’s the problem? Let’s make it happen.” If I was going to stay in hell, the rest of the world might as well join me. Clark sent me a long look.
“Are you sure?” he asked, his face slightly concerned. “You can’t take this back. You’ll have to live with this choice for all eternity and trust me, you will regret it.” Was I sure? Yeah, pretty much. If I was going to be in hell, I might as well deserve it.
“Yes. I’m sure.” I replied. Jeff stared at me. I waited and a few minutes went by. I started to get a little uncomfortable. Once he seemed sure I wouldn’t change my mind, he sighed. He snapped his fingers once, and a stamp appeared in his hand. He opened up my file and stamped it with bold red letters ‘FAIL.’ What?
“You failed the test,” Jeff said to me, staring at my confused face. “There is no relative in upper heaven. Everyone who gets sorted into lower hell gets the chance to redeem themselves. They get presented the opportunity to do some good in the world, for no personal benefit to themselves. If they choose to do good, they get moved into lower heaven. Unfortunately, very few people pass. And neither did you.” Jeff said, packing up the files and shifting his chair back. “Sorry kid, it looks like you’ve made your choice.” He pushed his chair in and started moving towards the door.
“Wait! No way, You guys tricked me! That wasn’t a real choice; I was just mad, I just wanted to see if you were for real! Come on, guys! Jeff!” The door slammed shut.