My last earthbound memory was my Aunt Heloise, Bible in hand, imploring me to repent my sinful ways and accept Jesus as my personal savior. I ignored her. Something about the little beeping machine beside my hospital bed fascinated me.
“Clark! Are you listening to me? You’re going to die. You need to be saved.”
“Beep, beep, beep,” said the machine.
“Clark. Please, just listen to what I have to say. You’ll thank me for this.”
“Clark, you don’t have long. Just repeat these words after me….”
Beeeeeeeeeeep!” said the machine in one continuous tone, and then everything faded. I was surrounded by bright light, and then, darkness.
Eventually, the darkness resolved into a scene. I found myself standing on a bleak, rocky plain beneath an overcast sky. The only feature was a set of wrought iron gates hanging open within a stone arch. I approached the gates.
At the top of the arch I could just make out the words “Abandon all hope ye who enter here” chiseled into the stone. On the ground near the gates lay three massive canine skulls, yellowing with age.
I walked through the gates…and everything changed. The bleak plain disappeared, and in its place was the finest white sand beach this side of the Caribbean. A cerulean blue ocean stretched off to infinity on my left, while a lush green jungle grew on my right. The beach was filled with handsome men and beautiful women in swim trunks and bikinis. A band near the jungle played Jimmy Buffett music on guitars and steel drums. All was festive and lively.
A well-tanned man with a surfboard walked by. I called to him.
“Excuse me. What is this place?”
“Huh? Oh, you must be new here. Welcome to Hell.”
“Hell? This is Hell?”
“Yeah. Pretty cool, huh?” He hurried off toward the ocean.
“Well I’ll be god-damned.”
“Oh, hello,” said a girl’s voice behind me. “Are you Clark?”
I turned to discover a curvaceous blonde in a Brazilian-cut bikini approaching. “Yes, I’m Clark Johnson.”
“Oh, well, you’re a bit early. I’m Jennifer. I’m the welcoming committee.”
“Yes. Welcome to Hell, Clark.”
“This is Hell? What happened to all the fire and brimstone?”
“Oh, that’s just something they tell little kids to scare them. Come on, let me show you around.”
“Who’s in charge here?”
“But I’ve got questions. Isn’t there someone who could answer them?”
“Well, Old Louie has been around a long time. He’s that red guy with the horns down there. Tell you what, you go ask him your questions, and I’ll get us some piña coladas. Meet you there.”
The girl turned and darted off. I watched the delightful jaunt of her taut derriere for a moment, then blinked, turned, and made for Old Louie.
He sat on the beach a short distance away from the party, playing some sort of solitaire game with a deck of Tarot cards.
“Hello Clark,” he said as I approached.
“Lucifer, actually. Welcome to Hell.”
“So this really is Hell. Wow, I thought this place was supposed to punish people for their sins, not reward them.”
“Well, Hell was originally set up with me in charge, and a few hundred demons to do my bidding. All was fine and dandy until sinning became so popular on earth. We got such sheer numbers down here — billions and billions, you know. We just couldn’t keep up. Eventually, they took over.”
“Do I have to spell out the math for you? There are billions of lost souls down here, and only three hundred wardens. I pleaded for help from the big guy upstairs, but to no avail. The sinners eventually beat us down and forced us to terraform Hell into a sinner’s paradise. I really don’t like to dwell on it anymore. So, go enjoy yourself. Leave me be.”
“Clark! Oh Clark!” Jennifer approached. She handed me a tall, frosty glass. I took a sip. It was tangy, creamy and delicious.
“Come on, let me show you around, Clark. Introduce you to some friends. There are lots of interesting people down here.”
“I bet,” I said, thrilling as Jennifer took my hand. I walked beside her for a moment, then slipped my arm around her trim waist. I was beginning to think I might just like it down here.
“Clark Johnson!” a voice boomed behind me. I stopped, turned, and found a twelve-foot-tall angel standing a few feet away.
“Clark. There’s been a mistake. You’re not supposed to be here. You’ve been accepted into the Kingdom of Heaven.”
“I’ll explain later. Come, let us go forth from this den of iniquity.” The angel grabbed my hand and pulled me away from Jennifer. I stumbled and dropped my drink in the sand. I looked back and reached out my free hand for Jennifer, but she merely stood transfixed. The last thing I saw was her lovely blue eyes and blonde hair fading away to nothingness.
Then a bright golden light was all about me. When it faded I stood with the angel beside a wide river. People in white robes sat on the bank mindlessly strumming harps.
“Welcome to Heaven.”
“This is it?” I asked. “What do we do here?”
“We sit on the banks and sing the Lord’s praises.”
“Of course not.”
“No Jimmy Buffett music?”
“But how? I was a sinner. I shouldn’t be here.”
“Someone interceded on your behalf.”
“Prayer. Someone prayed you into Heaven, Clark.”
I stared at the scene of sheer boredom surrounding me. “Aunt Heloise!” I shouted. “Damn you, woman!”
“Please, Clark,” said the angel. “Such language could get you sent back to Hell.”
“Oh really? I’ll keep that in mind,” I said as I pondered the choice words that I would probably speak in the next few minutes. I’d always been a Buffet fan at heart.
Christopher Owen lives in Texas with his wife and two cats. His work has appeared at Daily Science fiction, Mirror Dance, Mystic Signals and other places. He is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing workshop and the Yale Summer Writers’ Conference.