Amid the shrieking wails of the damned and the crackle and pop of fire fuelled by sinners, a low chime alerted Office 101 to the arrival of a newcomer. The demon at the desk took its feet down from where they had been propped up against the bloodstained wood and folded up the equally dripping newspaper into a neat square. Blood-covered things were an unavoidable by-product of Hell. It just seemed to get everywhere with no logical explanation. Kind of like smudges on a freshly cleaned window.
The new arrival jerked up from the ground with a choked off gasp. Heart beating wildly, he glanced around and froze as residual adrenaline from such an untimely death spiked in his veins. Slowly, oh so slowly, his bewildered gaze fell on the demon who stood up to welcome him. “What on earth….”
“Aha, not Earth buddy, but I can see how it’s getting a little hard to distinguish the two at this period in time.” The demon walked around the corner of its desk with a wry smile and a chuckle at its own joke. “Hell, in a few years climate change will probably make ol’ Earth look like this anyway.” It cringed at the distasteful but true joke and grimaced at the fires of Hell. The man glanced down at the fires raging levels below him as the demon stared down in muted concern. After a beat, they looked back at each other. The man stood up on shaky legs and tried very hard to ignore the walls dripping blood around him, the horned hellish creature in the pressed pinstripe suit in front of him and even the very fact that he was very much in Hell.
“How did – very sorry – I’m sure you get this all the time,” he began, “but how exactly did I end up….here,” he finished with a lame wave at his general surroundings.
The demon clicked its teeth, the sound clattering around the space like rattling bones as multiple sharp spiked teeth tap against each other. “Ah this is odd, usually people remember, but not to worry! Terribly sorry to say this, but you were murdered and-“
“No no no, I know that,” the man cut across him. He did indeed know that very well. He could still feel the sharp pain of the knife running through him, hear the gargle of the blood – his blood – as it spilled from his lips. He licked his lips then, still tasting the metallic sting of copper. No. It was no use dwelling on it. He shook his head. “I mean, how am I here,” he emphasised. “I was murdered, I didn’t murder someone so why am I here, in Hell when I haven’t done anything wrong! What, was I unwittingly a major sinner in my life? I didn’t even do anything in my life.” He paused and then laughed lightly, as if he had simply missed something obvious. “Wait, this is some sort of mix up isn’t it? This isn’t real.” He nodded firmly and laughed to himself. “There was some sort of bureaucratic mistake.” The man had made up his mind that though there was no denying he had died, there was however a chance to deny his place in Hell.
The demon blinked, multiple eyes going at once. It scratched at its neck and glanced off to the side, unsure of how to progress. “Aw jeez. Listen, murders, be it being murdered or doing the murder falls under our jurisdiction. Murder is a cardinal sin after all. All aspects of it I’m afraid.” The man began pacing, his footsteps squelching in the permanent layer of blood that cursed the ground.
“No, that’s not possible. I read all the Scriptures, I said all the prayers, I listened to all the rules! I did everything right! And nowhere,” he pointed angrily at the fidgety demon who froze under his wild gaze, “nowhere does it say being murdered is a sin. How is that even a thing? It makes no sense to punish the victim.” Silence reigned supreme for a moment, the two of them suspended in a bubble. Well, as much silence as you could have in the realm of eternal punishment and torturous pain. He threw up his hands with a huff. “This is ridiculous.”
“I don’t know what to tell you buddy – “
“I am not your buddy.” The man snapped.
“Okay, okay I get it.” It held up placating hands, and the ease and openness with which it did irritated the man. “You may be right that it wasn’t written somewhere, in this age at any rate. The stories in Scripture and the Bible were never written in English originally, there have been so many mistranslations and “fixing up” of the stories and their messages that meanings have been lost. There are a lot of things that were originally sins that nobody knows about.” The man gaped at the demon, unable to believe what he was hearing. “So we’ve just been wrong this whole time?” He gasped.
Shit. The demon brought its hands together and pursed its lips. “Not entirely?” This did not help him. All the anger seemed to release from the man in one staggering useless breath and he stumbled to the wall nearest to him in the small space, leaning heavily against it heedless of the blood staining his skin. He slid down it. Now sitting on the ground, all he could do was stare vacantly at his bloodied hands folded in his lap.
“So everything I did was for nothing. There was no point to my life.” He mumbled. The realisation hit that everything he had worked for in life, all the opportunities he had avoided or decided against because he was scared of other’s opinions, all his changed goals, everything he had ever sacrificed – it was all for nothing. There had been no point to it all. Was his purpose in life ever truly a purpose? What even was his purpose in the end? To be murdered in a random lane on the way back to his empty house after a long shift at a soul-sucking job he didn’t even like – but hey, it had paid well so that made the misery worth it. The realisation hit and it drained whatever bit of life he had left in him.
He stared up at the demon despairingly. “What was the point to it all? To life?” He awaited something reassuring, an answer that would tell him that he didn’t waste his whole existence on Earth. “There is no point. There is no cosmic purpose to live. There is no point to life other than the one you humans give to it, it isn’t something you search for, it’s something you make.” It grimaced. “I don’t think humans have realised that yet. Not entirely.” That is not what he wanted to hear.
The demon hesitated and then sat down beside the man. For a moment, that’s all they did. They just sat. And then, it spoke. “That is the true divine comedy. So much has been lost to the ages, and so much has been twisted and screwed to fit the popular narrative but nothing has been manipulated more than the supposed point to life. Humans need a point. Every creature needs a point, a purpose, or they feel helpless. They can’t cope with not having some higher meaning to their lives, so they say that they simply haven’t found it yet. They go through their whole life searching for something intangible, some feeling of completion – but they don’t even know what they need to be complete. They live their lives working towards things that others have told them is what they should want.”
It heaved a sigh. Its smile softened. “I suppose that’s where we come in. We’re there at the end to give comfort that people still have time to find that elusive purpose on their own terms. We give some sort of purpose to the lost, once there’s nothing else left really. I think that’s our whole existence to be honest.”
There was a desolate twinge to the demon’s voice that the man was surprised to find he understood. It is one thing to live your life with the aim to be a good person. It is completely another to live your life, your very existence, governed by the decisions of others in the hopes that you are a good person in their eyes like so many people do. To be something that is not entirely your own person but an amalgamation of so many others. The man found there was a similar despair in their experiences. “So what on earth – um, what in hell am I supposed to do now?”
The demon shrugged. “You do what you want. We may be the Torture Destination of the many realms, but there’s a certain freedom here that isn’t afforded up above, don’t you think? You’re finally free of the weight of others.” It grinned ironically. “Funny how death has more freedom than life, if you let it.” It hummed and stood up, brushing off flakes of old dried blood that merely got replaced by fresh splotches. “Will you let it?”
This question it aimed at the human with an out-stretched hand. He paused, and stared. Then a loud cackling burst from him as if he had no control over it. How ridiculous was this? Years of living for others came to nothing in the end, and now here he was, in death, being offered freedom by the very beings who were said to take it away. He laughed with a hiccup and wiped a stray tear from his eye with a loud whistling exhale. At least there was something to be said about learning from his mistakes. With a levity in his bones he had never felt before, he clasped the demon’s hand and stood up strong with a smile. “Take me away then.”
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Fine work Beck. Congrats and welcome to the show.
Love the first paragraph and the description of hell. Also love how human the demon acts, propping his feet on the desk and reading a newspaper. You know, it's funny, I wrote a story for this contest and it was also about a newly dead person, yet my imagining of hell is much different than yours. I guess it speaks to the endless creativity of humans.
So then one has to ask, what is heaven like? Or is that part of the Divine Comedy that there isn't one? In any case this is an interesting concept. Congrats.
ahhh great question :DD i totally meant to mention something about heaven but completely forgot lolol. Heaven does exist, as another creation of the human mind, like how the demon was created because humans believed in his existence and therefore created him essentially. Heaven unlike Hell isn't a place where people will find freedom, it is another place where they will feel the exact same way they did on Earth, striving to find something they think they want, because once they reach Heaven it's as if their purpose is achieved. But no one ca...