Richard Hawkins was a bit bedazzled as he strolled about the New Jerusalem. Of course, he didn’t belong there, and it was only a matter of time before he was apprehended by the authorities.
Needless to say, he had inside help to engineer his escape. Back in hell, everyone was on the take. Every man–or devil–had his price. It was a hellhound-eat-hellhound world down there–with a barter-based economy.
Minos ran a black-market. A shakedown operation. The damned had to deposit their wallets, watches, purses, cigars, cellphones, jewelry, &c., before crossing the Styx.
For his own part, Hawkins had a business partnership with a medium up above. She kept him supplied with contraband cigarettes in exchange for a timely apparition or two. He, in turn, saved up his cache of cigarettes to trade favors with Malacoda, a chain-smoker with a little business on the side, producing fake ID cards.
As you know, everyone in hell was required to carry ID cards. You couldn’t go from one circle to the next without passing through optical hoofprint sensors to verify your security clearance.
But ever since he got there, Alan Turing had been busy devising ways to circumvent the biometric security system. He and Malacoda went into business back in 1966. And business was good.
Of course, no one ever got the better of the Management. There was always some ulterior reason why the Management “allowed” these things to happen. You might think you were getting away with it, you might think you were outsmarting the authorities, but you weren’t. Not really. It was a trap.
Still, the damned were a shortsighted lot. Instant gratification. It’s not as if their long-term prospects were very encouraging.
With his fake ID, Hawkins was able to hitch a service elevator to heaven. It took a while for his eyes to adjust to the brilliant illumination. Should have brought along a pair of sunglasses!
However, he’d forgotten what it was like to breathe clean air. Heavenly!
He made his way to the river of life, by a little grove of shade trees, and took a sip of water. The effect was indescribable.
Everyone in hell was thirsty. All the time. Yes, someone occasionally managed to smuggle in a six-pack of beer, but that went fast, and watching the damned fight for just a sip was not a pretty sight, I can assure you. It made a pride of lions at a fresh kill seem like high tea by comparison.
After quenching his thirst, Hawkins plucked an apple. One bite and he almost swooned at the taste.
As he was recovering, he noticed someone staring at him, with a friendly smile.
“New arrival?” asked the man–with his youthful face and white robe, trimmed in angel feathers.
“Yes,” Hawkins nodded.
“Lovely garden, isn’t it?” the man asked.
“Yes, indeed!” Hawkins nodded. “Impressive the way natural selection can scale Mt. Improbable, don’t you think?"
“I beg your pardon?” the man said, frowning.
“How do you think all this got here?” Hawkins asked. “It took billions and billions of years to evolve.”
“Actually, it was made without hands,” the man answered–innocently. “You know, creation ex nihilo.”
Hawkins began to choke. It’s as if the apple went sour in his mouth. He spat it out in disgust and wiped his mouth.
“Something wrong?” the man asked.
“Don’t go telling me you think some glorified skyhook made this place?”
The man gave Hawkins a quizzical look. “If you mean God, then of course he made this place.”
“That’s a cop-out! A science-stopper! A get-out-of-jail-free card!” Hawkins snapped–quivering with indignation.
“My dear boy, if God made it, then that’s there’s point at which science ought to stop asking questions, don’t you agree?” the man asked.
Hawkins scowled. He could barely contain his contempt. He suddenly felt a deep sense of shame. How could he compromise his principles by allowing himself to enjoy a place like this? A divine stage set! It went against everything he stood for. Better to burn in hell then spend another minute in paradise!
And with that, Hawkins turned around and retraced his steps to the service elevator. As the elevator descended, the temperature ascended. The air took on that tangy, charbroiled aroma. No place like home.