Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Hell's back door

Logan and Liam were hellraisers long before they died and went to hell. When they were still alive, they thought hell was a big joke. Even so, they quipped about how, if hell was real, they'd rather end up there because it was way more fun than heaven and all their friends would be in hell. The wisecracking was enjoyable until they died together in a car wreck. 

For some newcomers, hell was initially exhilarating. They were finally in their natural element. However, it didn't take long for the rush to wear off. 

To their everlasting consternation, hell had no women. Or, for all they new, hell had women, but hell was sexually segregated. 

In addition, hell consisted of roving, marauding goon squads who periodically captured and tortured members of opposing goon squads. They'd skin you alive or pull your teeth out or bury you up to your neck, pour honey over head, then empty a jar of fireants on your head. Fun stuff like that. And the damned rejuvenated, so the cycle continued ad infinitum. Maybe all of hell wasn't that bad, but for hellraisers like Logan and Liam, that's what they experienced.

Demons were the prison guards. Damned humans made deals with the fiendish guards. Hell was the ultimate place where everyone had his price. 

A basic job of demons is turning humans to the dark side. New arrivals in hell had intel on the living, intel on their classmates, coworkers, and other suchlike. In exchange for demonic favors, newcomers would debrief demons on the vulnerabilities of their classmates, coworkers, and the like, giving the demons an opening. 

Newcomers demanded different things in exchange. If, say, you were killed by a rival gangbanger and wanted to exact revenge, you could have a demon arrange a freak accident. Soon you assailant found himself in hell with you, and you had the element of surprise. 

There was an ancient, immemorial rumor that hell had a back door. That it was possible to escape if you could find the back door. 

Some of the damned had long memories because they'd been in hell for so long. The quest for the back door to hell, if it existed, was a diversion and preoccupation of the damned. Was it just a legend to give the damned a perverse sense of false hope? Only the demons knew for sure, but demons were notorious liars. 

In hell, the only disincentive to lying is that if you wanted to make a deal, you had to keep up your end of the bargain. If you had a reputation for reneging on a deal, you couldn't be trusted to do a favor in exchange for a favor. 

According to one rumor, the back door to hell was hard to find because it moved around. It might be in one place one week and another place another week. 

By calling in a lot of chips from gambling debts, Logan and Liam finally got an up-to-date map to hell's back door, drawn in demon blood. When they got there, at the end of a dimly-lit tunnel, sure enough there was a door. But was it the door out of hell? 

Using a one-time key, they unlocked the door and went through it. The door closed and locked behind them. 

It looked like they are back on earth, above ground. Indeed, it was a trail through the woods, on the edge of the small down where Logan and Liam grew up. They made it!

They went inside the local bar to rustle up some beer and broads. But no one was there. Just the jukebox wailing and echoing in the abandoned tavern. The whole town was deserted. Every house was empty. A ghost town. And the sun never rose. Just the glaring street lights. And a howling, dusty, bitter wind. 

They were still in hell. The backdoor as an ambush. A trap. 

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Waiting in vain

Weston was Dora's only son. A teenager. She became increasingly dependent on him for companionship, protection, and help around the farm after she was widowed. But war was looming. She dreaded the prospect that he'd be conscripted to fight. Dreaded that she might be left alone to fend for herself. Dreaded for his own sake that he might die in battle. 

She prayed that they'd be spared, but no amount of dread or prayer kept the day from coming when she watched him ride away to war, leaving her behind and bereft. As she watched him turn his back and start up the road, watched his receding figure, watched him passing out of her life, she didn't know when, or if, she'd see him again. Didn't know when, or if, he'd ever come home.

Days wore into weeks, then into months, then into years. She prayed day and night for his return. She struggled to manage the farm by herself. Sometimes the parson could spare a bit of food. She watched neighbors move away and childhood friends succumb to illness and malnutrition. 

One day, as she was sitting on the porch, she saw a familiar figure limping towards the house. She leaped out of her chair and ran to him as best she could. They embraced. And then she woke up. It was only a dream.

Another day, as she was peering through the kitchen window, she saw a familiar figure riding towards the house. She rushed out of the house to greet him. She was overjoyed to see him and he was overjoyed to see her. It almost seemed too good to be true. And then she woke up. Alone in bed. Alone in the chilly darkness. Another fickle, tantalizing dream.

Finally the war ended. Her side lost. But she continued to hope, wait, and pray for his return. Yet as the weeks wore into months, he didn't return. She never received official confirmation that he died, but had he survived, he should have come back by now. It was too late to hold out hope.

So she painfully reconciled herself to the fact that all that time she was hoping in vain, praying in vain, waiting in vain–for a reunion that never was to be.

Yet if she had it to do all over again, she'd do the same thing. Even though she waited in vain, he was still worth waiting for. She had nothing better to look forward to. 

She refused to say good-bye. She couldn't go forward or backward. So she just wandered in circles. 

Then she herself sickened. Struggling for every breath. She was nearly bedridden. Then she saw him come through the door. She must be dreaming again. Indeed, she was dreaming. She was dying in her sleep.

But this time it seemed different. Weston was different. Radiant. Healthier than when he left for war, so long ago.

It was a dream, but more than a dream. The waking world was fading like a dream as the dreamworld became a bridge to heaven. He had died on the battlefield, years before. Now he came from heaven to bring her back. He took her by the hand. As she rose from her deathbed, she was young again. Then they walked into the light, as the world behind them went dark.