BRIMSTONE AND LIARS • by Stephanie Scarborough

In hell, bowling is the pastime of choice. It’s like a rite of passage. I’ve been here two days, and once you get used to the sulfur, wailing, and the constant loop of Michael Bolton songs–it’s still bad, but you get used to it. Just don’t look in a mirror. You don’t want to know what you look like. I’ve found the best thing to do is keep myself distracted, and since bowling is the only thing as perpetual as the itching and burning, I’ve been doing a lot of that.

My bowling team today consisted of Shirley, a former waitress-turned-shoplifter; Jeff, who was an IT guy until a big rig plowed into his Honda Civic; and Judy, a sweet housewife who’s been here since 1957.   I haven’t met any famous people like Hitler yet. They’re probably on one of the deeper levels of hell where you’re personally tortured by Satan for the rest of eternity. I’m not that far down. Not yet, anyway. I’m on the level for people who didn’t tip their waiters or jaywalked too often.

The thing about bowling is, if you win, you get to go to a better level of hell. If you lose, you go down a level. If you’re one of the dorks on your team with a score somewhere in the middle, you stay, but a couple of Satan’s little helpers–shadowy, lesser demons with a penchant for aggravating hell’s citizens, will prod you with hot pokers for a while. The latter has been the extent of my bowling success so far. So, in theory, if you have a bad game and get thrown to one of the crappier levels of hell, you could always win another game and get back to the level where you were before, but word has it that usually doesn’t happen. The further down you go, the harder the games get. If you’re really good, you might be able to bowl your way to Limbo, but I haven’t heard of anyone being so lucky.

You don’t have to bowl, but it’s better than the alternative (i.e., being constantly tormented by Satan’s helpers). Judy’s been able to stay on this level of hell for 60 years by being a totally mediocre bowler–she’s never won a game, but she’s never lost. I hoped some of that mediocrity would rub off on me.

“You’re up, Drew.” Shirley handed me the smoking black bowling ball–the palms of my hands still hadn’t adjusted to that sensation. I winced and stepped up to the lane, passing the hot, smoking ball from hand to hand to ease the pain. You should see Judy’s hands–nothing but pure calluses on those babies. I was in fourth place at the moment, thanks to two gutter balls. I rolled the ball down the lane and crossed my fingers. The ball plowed right into the pins, knocking over all but three. Sweet.

Jeff was in first place, as usual. He’d worked his way up two levels of hell during his scant two weeks here. He rolled his ball down the lane and all ten pins hit the floor.

“Hell, yeah!” He did a victory dance, retrieved the ball from the return, and passed it to Judy.

She feebly rolled the ball down the lane and we all watched and waited for the next several minutes until it eventually knocked down four pins. Judy and I were now tied for last place. With one round left, I was getting anxious. Shirley took the ball and got a strike. I got a spare, and, of course, Jeff got another strike.

“Guess who’s goin’ up another level?” he asked as the pins fell.

I was suspicious, though. Every time he got a strike, the last few pins wouldn’t fall until after the ball had fallen back into the return. The ball would strike, a few pins would fall, then the rest would stand there for a few seconds. It was only after that that the rest would fall, and that’s when I saw something–a hand or a tail–pop out of the ball return and knock the rest of the pins over. Judy took the ball from the return and stepped up to the lane. As new pins were set out, I walked down the brimstone lane to the ball return and looked inside. Something moved. I reached inside and felt something. I grabbed it and yanked it out–a tiny, black imp with glowing green eyes and jagged yellow teeth. I glared at him, then at Jeff.

“Got a helper, huh?” That caught the attention of some of  the other helpers. Helpers are only supposed to do Satan’s chores, not the bidding of some random IT dork trying to cheat his way to Limbo. A swarm of little helpers pounced on Jeff, as well as the renegade imp from the ball return. Judy had already rolled her ball down the lane. It inched towards the pins, but half-way there, veered to the left and into the fiery gutter. The ground beneath Judy disappeared, and she plummeted to next level of hell. Satan’s helpers carried Jeff to The Pit–a fiery hole that goes straight to the bottom of hell, where Jeff would probably get far more acquainted with Satan than anyone would ever care to.

As Jeff’s tortured screams echoed from The Pit, Shirley and I exchanged looks of relief to see the gaggle of shadowy demons running towards us with glowing hot pokers.

Stephanie Scarborough has previously had work appear in Syndicate Product, Traffic Life and Planet Relish. When not writing she spends her copious free time watching b-movies and keeping her cats from destroying the house.

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