It was hot, so hot. The sun beams were needles piercing Katie’s red, irritated skin, and their brightness was blinding her even through her eyelids. She wished that she had a hat or some shades to keep the sun out of her eyes. That was the least that God could have done. Damn him!
The ringing of a cathedral bell rang out across the meadows and a divine voice suddenly filled the entire world. “One additional bale of hay will be added to the penance, due to sacrilege.”
Katie leapt up from the hayfield that she had been lying in. No way! This couldn’t be for real. She glared at the sky under a visored hand.
“What?” Katie shouted at the sky. “I only thought it. THOUGHT IT! It doesn’t count!”
The sun didn’t reply.
“Hey!” Katie shouted. “Hey! This is just wrong! You know that don’t you?”
“No,” the voice finally replied. “Hay is correct. One additional bale. You have successfully moved 998 bales to the barn, of the original 1000. However, you will now be required to move 1001 bales total.”
Katie was sure that she would faint as she stood hunched in defeat, the beads of sweat rolling down her arms.
Three bales of hay remaining, Katie considered between rasps. But she couldn’t move another bale even if she wanted to. And she didn’t want to. No way! More than anything she wanted to shout at the top of her lungs: Fuck them cows! But she bit her lip as she thought better of it. God loved his precious bovine and insulting them would mean prolonging her indentured servitude.
Katie was angry, but she had never been a quitter. Just suck it up, K. Three more and you’re done. You got this!
Breathing heavily, she forced herself erect and eyed the remaining bales of hay in the field, singling out three that were nearby, and summoning all of her remaining strength, took a step forward.
The ringing of the giant bell filled the world again. The sun pulsed, then spoke. “Fuck them cows, is an unacceptable response,” God said. “You show no remorse for what you have done, so 10 additional bales of hay will be added to your penance, raising the total to 1011 bales.”
Katie felt herself falling. She collapsed onto straw and heaved from exhaustion. It was so hot. She was so tired. This couldn’t be her life. When you die aren’t you supposed to go to heaven, attend a big ‘you made it’ party, chill with some cherubs, then pick out a villa on the other side of the tracks?
She covered her face with her hand and tears began to mix with the sweat. Her boyfriend, her job, her life, all that was gone now. Even the love of her life, her beautiful Mustang, which was only two notes from being payed off, was gone. She felt a twinge of pain as she thought about what it must look like now, the front caved in and the front glass shattered. “Shitty cow in the road,” she cursed.
Time passed, but the sun seemed to hang fixedly in the sky, slowly cooking Katie until she was attritional and well done. It had been like this for days, maybe weeks, but as the sun always remained at high noon, she wasn’t sure exactly how long she’d been here.
When she’d first arrived, God had declared that this world, composed of rolling hills and hay meadows, was purgatory. But she was certain now. This was Hell and the sun was Satan.
As Katie lay on a hilltop, pondering if it would be possible to sell her soul for a Baja Blast Freeze, something unexpected happened. It began to rain.
A steamy mist rose up and hovered above the smoldering fields.
The rain was cold, and tasted sweet. After a while, Katie arose and began to work mindlessly. She stretched out a hand and gathered the steam into a thick cloud, onto which she began to heave the square bales of hay. One bale. Two bales. Three, four,… She grabbed the cloud firmly and began to pull it behind her like the Radio Flyer that she’d owned as a kid.
The big red barn loomed, and in the distance Katie could hear the mooing of cattle.
Katie rolled her eyes. ‘The cattle of a thousand hills.’ She’d heard the biblical term long ago, and hadn't given it a single thought since. But apparently God owned a lot of cows, and a lot of hills, or whatever. The thing that most people didn't know was that, apparently, this was a special, fenced-off section of purgatory reserved for cow killers. God, she hated cows…
It was hot, so hot. The steamy humidity had turned the world into a sauna, and Katie struggled with every fiber as she stacked the square bales of hay in the barn. She hadn’t been very strong when she arrived here and it had taken forever to harvest and store just a single bale in the beginning. But now, she would be able to handle these heavy bales with ease were it not for the heat. The labor had also given her tone and a beach body that she was never able to achieve in her lifetime. But of course that was of no use to her now.
Katie lay the final, square bale to rest atop the towering wall of hay, then stood back to admire her work. The haystack strangely made her think of Minecraft.
The ringing of the bell filled purgatory once more and Katie let out a sigh of relief and slumped to her knees. “It…is finished,” she mumbled. Then the world quickly faded to black as she lost consciousness.
Katie awoke to the sound of waves crashing onto the surf. She opened her eyes and found that she was on a white beach. She was reclining on a lounge chair, and a large umbrella was comfortably blocking the sun.
Katie heard someone clear their throat, and turned to see a butler with a bow-tie and tailed suit standing beside her.
Katie's eyes widened. All of this was very strange, and Katie had no idea how or when she’d arrived here. Normally she would have had many questions for the butler. Possibly she would have asked if those wings on his back were real. But her eyes were drawn irresistibly to the silver platter that he was holding! “Is that…”
The butler smiled. “For you miss,” he handed her the icy beverage.
It was so cold that it stung her fingers when she grasped it. She gulped it down like a person that has discovered an oasis in the middle of a desert.
“Ahh!” She clapped her palm to her forehead. “Brain freeze.” It hurt. But as soon as it passed, she began to slurp once again, leading to another brain freeze. This repeated several times before she slowed down.
“Thank you so much!” Katie said to the butler, almost in tears.
“Not a problem,” the butler replied. “That's what the big guy pays me for.” He tapped the platter and a burrito suddenly materialized. “A burrito to go with your freeze, miss?” He chuckled. “It’s beef.”