art by M.S. Corley
by Grá Linnaea
Things you were supposed to believe in, but you didn't really until He told you for certain:
The Garden of Eden.
In hell, being a priest makes you a punk. You have to fight for respect; there's a hierarchy to the damned, and fallen priests are dead bottom. You don't mention you're here on His plan.
So you try to blend in, be inconspicuous. If the demons notice you for any reason, well, let's just say it's just that much less delightful.
Count the number of times your watch's hands go round; You've been damned for what would've been a month if time existed, but since it doesn't down here, it's been forever.
Yeah, you still have a watch, Timex 465 with a steel band. Catch yourself winding it more often than you really need to.
Most people here end up naked. Maybe that's a blessing, what with all the heat, but you hoard your clothes just the same.
You regenerate if the demons mess you up too badly, or burn you, or rend you, or mash you, but you regenerate minus the clothes. You're careful, so you're still wearing what you were in when you died, complete with clerical collar. That alone made the first few days pretty dicey.
You lose the collar damn quick, and the rest of your clothes look ratty now, indistinguishable from the other rags.
The smell pervades everything, not brimstone, more like plastic and hair. Somehow your clothes smell even stronger than the air around you.
But blending in is more than just clothes. People learn to watch body language. Like dogs with smell, you learn to read each other like a sixth sense. You notice, he moves like a librarian, he moves like a gardener, he's a banker. To throw the others off, you remember how you moved when you were a soldier.
There are no women. Maybe they don't go to hell; maybe they get their own.
Hell looks pretty much like the storybooks say, like an iron factory, like the inside of a volcano. Demons look like birds and lizards and bulls, sometimes parts of each. The landscape stretches for forever, nothing but rock and fire.
It doesn't take too long to map the surrounding area in your head. You learned that in the army.
Good thing too. There's no paper down here. Someone says hell keeps growing at the edges, but there's no time to explore all of it anyway. You have a job to do.
Officially, you're here because you ate a gun halfway through your sermon on Jesus and Judas and forgiveness.
The suicide was a technicality. Not to say you didn't pull the trigger, but God held your hand.
Just an hour earlier you'd taken the gun off a kid. At the time you couldn't have explained, even to yourself, why you kept it in the pulpit. His plan was elegant. You saved a kid and then rushed down here. God always plays multiple angles.
Information is difficult to gather. The damned don't say much. The upper demons do a decent job of beating some down, favoring others, keeping resentments high. Every few spins of your watch dial, someone tries to band folks together, get people to stand up. Your heart goes out to them, but you avoid them like the plague. They get just enough hope to make it hurt when the demons come destroy it.
The guy down here God wants you to find is the proverbial needle in the haystack. He's somewhere amongst the rocks and the lava and the endless masses of the damned.
But you'll know the guy when you see him. God etched his face in your mind. More importantly, God etched how he moves.
God doesn't tell you why, just find him and wait for further orders.