“Oh hell no,” Rahul muttered to himself, taking in his surroundings. The nauseating heat that came off the walls so cloyingly he felt he couldn’t breathe, the floor beneath the soles of his feet so blisteringly hot he worried he might not be able to lift them without losing a few layers of skin in the process hinted at where he’d arrived, again. But the most telling clue to his whereabouts was the figure he could see in the distance, flinging about a whip that Rahul could swear he’d seen in the trendy sex shop next to his loft in Brooklyn. He’d only gone in to support local, of course, and maybe to appease his curiosity. He had no need of any extra help in the bedroom department, if he did say so himself. Heaving a big sigh, he started trudging in the direction of the red demonic-looking blob, knowing from experience that he could, in fact, walk without leaving parts of himself behind.
Throwing his knee-length Burberry trench coat off without watching to see where it landed, he tried to shield his face from the hot moisture droplets in the air that had crystallised into visible orbs that dogged his every step. Instead of wasting his energy waving them off with a flailing movement that would never be described as graceful or effective, he laid his hands flat on each side of his nose, using his pinkies to protect his nostrils and applying most of the coverage in the hope of covering his eyes. The tentative, staggering motion that resulted as he made towards his destination was a small price to pay in the end, he bargained.
Predictably enough, his visibility was less than he’d estimated, and he thudded right into the creature that had haunted his nightmares since they’d first met four months ago. “Oof!” he wheezed out, before jumping back as shockwaves coursed through his entire body in excruciating spasms.
“I told you not to touch me,” the Devil said, shaking its head sadly at Rahul in a way that made him feel both admonished and pitied at the same time.
“I wasn’t trying to, dude, I couldn’t see because of all the shit you’ve got in here” he replied, not enjoying the sullen voice that came out in spite of him. Had she heard, his mother would have rolled her eyes at him the same way she’d always done when he was refused anything as a teenager to which he’d responded appropriately by whining and complaining until he got it.
“Whatever,” the Devil (or Big D, as Rahul thought of him) replied. “We don’t need to get into this again. You’re in hell, and this is just how it is. How it always is. What we do need to get into, though, is why the he-heck you’re back here.” It then proceeded to laugh uproariously at its own terrible joke, causing Rahul to wonder if the landscape might actually make up the smaller portion of why hell was hell, and this thing in front of him might be the larger.
“I don’t know,” whined Rahul, “I’m a good guy, I promise.”
Big D rolled its bulbous eyes. “We’ll see,” it sniffed, “But this was your last chance, boy-o. No more redos.”
Rahul supposed that was fair. He’d already met it twice before, and both times had managed to convince the Devil to give him another shot at life. He wasn’t entirely sure if it had been a lack of enthusiasm on the Devil’s part at spending forever with him, or if it had truly believed him capable of being a better human being and earning a spot in heaven, but he hadn’t cared. Much. It’s not as if he wasn’t great company, to be fair. It just wasn’t his fault he wasn’t to everyone’s taste. And truly, not being the Devil’s preferred companion could only be a vote in favour of his good nature, right?
Besides, it wasn’t as if he deserved to be here with the worst of humanity. He’d led a pretty ordinary life, to his own mind. Born to wealthy Indian immigrants in New Jersey, he’d had a normal childhood of alternately adoring and hating his parents. He’d excelled at maths and oddly enough, dance, but had always been picked last at team games and wasn’t allowed to pursue his dreams of becoming a pop idol. Rahul wore braces complete with the headgear in his teenage years (which he’d basically scrubbed clean from his memory), and had a veritable glow up when he turned eighteen, just in time to become a f-boy for his very memorable college experience at NYU. But hey, at the ripe old age of 24, Rahul was a remote technical specialist for the search engine everyone used, paid his taxes, and visited his parents twice a year for the holidays. So who’d decided he should end up here?
An explosion sounded in the near distance, and Big D turned to crane its monstrous veiny head, its forehead the most desperately in need of botox that Rahul had ever seen. “Oops,” Rahul emitted a tiny sheepish laugh, seeing that the coat he’d flung off now lay in multiple pieces around the otherwise stark landscape. “Must’ve triggered another crater explosion.”
The Devil turned back to him and growled, and stumbling in his haste to escape the wrath contained within its eyes, Rahul took several rapid steps backward.
“Fuck it,” it said. “Let him deal with you.” And making a weirdly graceful flourish with his hands, Big D pointed in Rahul’s direction and then somehow, spinning him into a vortex of sorts, sent him on a slide that seemed made of air. Although maybe slide wasn’t the best word, as Rahul felt himself ascending upwards in surprise.
Blinking and more than a little dizzy, he looked around him. He really was sliding upwards, on this weird spiralling air tunnel that kept him going at a constant pace. He tried to move his arms, take a step to see if he would hover outside the tunnel, but he found himself fully restricted. He was in some sort of spiritual straitjacket. Ha, he thought to himself, this would have delighted his ex-girlfriends.
What did they know, anyway, he reasoned, wriggling ineffectually in his invisible restraints. It’s not as if any of them had ever talked their way out of literal hell. And not once, but three times. He didn’t need a therapist, he needed a law degree.
His ascension came to a halt, and he unfolded his arms from where they’d been pinned to his sides, realising he’d come to wherever Big D had sent him. He stepped forward, feeling some sort of urge propelling him out of the slide thing, and cast his gaze about him in wonder.
It was beautiful. He could see miles and miles into the horizon, a crystal clear opalescent ocean surrounding him. It wasn’t wet, he realised, as he leaned forward to touch its surface, the warmth enveloping him and travelling through his entire being, right down to his very soul. Taking in a deep, reverent breath, he felt a deep longing to be here forever.
“Um, hey, I don’t have you on the list,” said a diminutive voice from somewhere behind his right knee. Rahul turned and saw an adorable pixie-like creature, holding a clipboard and running her pen down it. “Bose, right?”
“Yep,” Rahul replied in the affirmative. “The Devil sent me.”
Pixie gasped and turned, as if to flee. “Just wait right here, Mr Bose. I have to escalate the issue to my superiors,” and she was gone before he had a chance to blink. Huffing in impatience, Rahul went back to the puddle of comfort at his feet, this time reaching in till his elbow was immersed in the good stuff.
He hummed with contentment, and eased himself into a seated position, wishing he had his phone to play on but also experiencing more joy than he could remember feeling in a while. A booming voice interrupted his reverie, and Rahul looked up.
“Hi Mr Bose, pleasure to make your acquaintance. Who did you say sent you?” asked a creature who looked like a hybrid of a unicorn and a dragon, its rainbow scales ending in a sumptuous tail of the softest-looking hairs he’d ever come across.
“Wait,” the creature gave him no time to respond, paling slightly. “I know who you are.”
“Just give me one more minute,” it said, backing away.
When it had gone a few more metres away, it swung its tail in a hypnotic motion and before he could ask what was happening, Rahul could feel himself falling, the ocean beneath him giving way to empty air.
“I TOLD YOU NOT TO LET THAT ONE IN,” he heard from above. “HE’S REALLY ANNOYING!”
Well now, Rahul thought to himself, he wondered if anyone else had ever been kicked out of both heaven and hell, and all on the same day, too. Maybe he could put that in his Tinder bio.