“WELCOME TO HELL!”
by Jack Reeves
“WELCOME TO HELL!” I suspect most of you recognize me. The horns, I guess. Anyway, I apologize if what you see isn’t what you expected. Lies have been perpetuated for centuries about this venerable place. Damn Dante!
“As you see, there’s no burning brimstone, no acrid smell of sulfur. Hell is certainly no place of physical torture--as some would have you believe. Actually, Hell is the more desirable of the Heaven-or-Hell options.
“I pity the poor souls--well, not exactly. It’s just an expression: those who waste their lives trying to ‘go to Heaven.’! They live to escape eternal damnation, to become immortal. They talk, sing, and pray about eternity. Stupid fools! Is that redundant? Whatever. The thought of Heaven scares the bejesus out of me!
“No, my friends--also an expression, Hell is not necessarily the dead end it’s rumored to be. Heaven for sure is! Those zealous zombies who got themselves on the Glory Road before they considered where it was going are headed for one Heaven-of-a-surprise! In fact, everyone, without exception, who ends up there ultimately realizes they’re in the worst kind of hell, and would gladly exchange their immortal souls for the chance to be here! It’s true. Would I lie?
“Ironically, consider yourselves lucky because you have one thing those poor souls don’t have: a chance--admittedly slim--to be the “master of your fate, the captain of your soul.” Who said that? I forget. It’s damn good!
“I admit this place lacks novelty. Sameness, though, is one of Hell’s inescapable, explicable features. Notice that as far as you can see there’s sand and beyond that there’s more sand. But, as you’ll also notice, it’s not hot as Hell here, either. Another distortion of truth about the Domain of the Damned. Feel the comfort? It’s 76 degrees Fahrenheit. Eternally.
“And although there’s light, note no sun. And, as you see--or rather don’t see--none of you, including Yours Truly, casts a shadow. Not only are there no shadows, there is nothing else in this dead land except us and, of course, the sand. You’ll get used to it.
“Now that you’re immortal, you have no mortal needs, for example, food, water, shelter, laughter--definitely none of that, rest, sleep, sex. Sorry about sex. Your new life is existence devoid of memories of your mortal life. You are, like those in that other place, immortal, but, and that’s a big but, you, unlike those in Glory, walking those gaudy, glitzy gold streets, can escape your reward--or, as I prefer, the consequences of your badly navigated path of life! You don’t have to spend eternity here. In short, you can free yourself of immortality and eternity.”
Hell’s host pauses for the concept to register in the minds of his captive audience.
“Ah yes.... Eternity. My favorite subject. Let’s reflect on eternity and immortality. See this sand? Actually, it’s the only thing in Hell that’s finite: there are a limited number of grains about us. Trust me.
“I always delight in educating newcomers, giving a general concept of the amount of time their counterparts will be spending in so-called Paradise. Paradise! What a joke!
“Imagine that each grain of sand that surrounds us--don’t hesitate to look around--is one day. Think how many days that is. Blows the mind, doesn’t it? Now imagine that each grain is a year, or that each is, say, a thousand years--better, one trillion years. Ponder that, children.
“Imagine being conscious so long! How do you deal with boredom? even ecstasy?--whatever that is. Now imagine that each grain is a trillion years. In two handsful you could have.... It’s really impossible to imagine. But you’d better try!
“From this moment you have the same experience as your heavenly brethren: you’ve got eternity in a bland, boring place staring you in the face! Look at this sand! Scoop some; look at the little grains and suppose that each is a centillion years! That’s one with 303 zeroes, amigos! Or, if you prefer the British system, 600 zeroes! Do you get the picture? Look alert, people! I’m seeing a sea of blank expression out there!
“What can you expect to do now that you’re beyond time? Well, it won’t be building sand castles! Every one of you will be assigned your special place in Hell. Ain’t that grand? And on your special place--think of it as your home for eternity--is one hell of a pile of sand! Well, pile isn’t the word. Imagine something like all the sand on all the beaches in all the water on Earth. That, by the way, is the only memory we allow you to bring with you to Hell. Just the thought is hellatious, don’t you know?
“Think of all that sand, your private pile. And you’ll be counting every cursed grain of it! Think that’s impossible? Really? You’ve got eternity ahead of you! One year, two years, three, four trillion, five trillion, six quadrillion! Think of those wretches in Heaven! Welcome to Hell!
“Now the good news. Those people in the other place have their goody, goody gospel news, and they’ve got it for eternity. But you, you poor bastards, have a chance. You have an option to your reward for the way you lived your miserable lives. You can escape eternity! What? I would expect a round of applause!
“Anyway, according to the rules here, if you correctly count the number of grains of sand in your pile, your existence will be instantly terminated. Annihilated. You will be removed from the Book of Life. Yes, one here, one there. Miss the number, and you get to start over again--with one exception which I won’t go into now.
“But for awhile--God, I can hardly contain laughing--you’ll be spending time counting sand. You can count on that. Ha! You can count any way you want. Perhaps some of you would prefer to work in piles of a thousand grains. That’s about the amount of sand you can pinch between your thumb and index finger. Get the idea? This is so exciting!
“Don’t worry. The number of grains in each’s assignment is known. By me. If you count correctly one of these days--oh, I love that earthly expression ‘one...of...these...days’! Maybe I should have said ‘sometime in the distant future’--say, ten or fifteen billion years from now! If
you get it correct, great will be your reward in Hell,. You will cease to exist. Zap! Gone! Forever.
“Remember, you’ll be doing this every moment from now on. There is no respite, no rest, definitely no recreation. It’s just endless eternity, of which you will be exceedingly aware of as you count one, two, three, four, five.... Jesus, I’m already booored!
“And I remind you: there is no way that you will be able to escape your hellish task by thinking other thoughts. You have no other thoughts, for they are all dead and buried, maybe cremated! Anyway, there’s absolutely nothing mentally stimulating here. You are an immortal soul, but with the possibility of being, at some time in the far, far, far future, a dead one! That’s what I love about Hell! Let me hear an amen!
“I like to think that Hell is the Habitat with a Heart--because you don’t have to spend eternity here. We give our patrons an out. That’s far more charitable than the other place.
“You know, those fools in Heaven have a surprise coming. No one tells them what’s ahead. They’re sheep, and proud of it! Numb, dumb beasts, convinced it’s great to be there, to shout hallelujah and praise God all day--rather, forever. Are you getting any of this, or am I wasting my time?
“After awhile they begin to wonder what in heaven they’re going to do for eternity! Nobody helped them visualize their God-awful plight. Unlike you, they haven’t imagined all the sand on all the beaches in the world--and then multiplied by vigintillion millennia! Add another two hundred zeroes for good measure! They deserve what they get!
“And then one millennium they realize Heaven ain’t all that great. But now it’s too damn late! They’re stuck there without an out--like you have. Aren’t you glad that the saints, not you damn sinners, got the monopoly on immortality and misery? Praise darkness! You could be out of this place at some point in the future. Are there any questions?
An attractive young woman in the third row dares to speak, though softly. “Sir, I understand there’s a punishment, or as you call it a consequence, for failing to correctly count the number of grains of sand. Do we count forever?”
“I’m glad you asked that. I didn’t tell you this earlier. This part’s always a letdown to newcomers. No and yes is the answer. If you count correctly, your immortal soul is destroyed. If you miss, say, by two, three, a thousand, whatever, you get to start over.
“But if you miss by one--one over, one under--you lose, and lose big. You’re outta here, sent straight to Heaven to experience the torment of eternity without exception. Yahweh and me worked out the arrangement back when. It’s sort of a little joke between us.”
“But, sir, I can imagine trying for billions of years to accurately count the grains. Perhaps the first few thousand times I miss by a large amount. Yet each time I’m trying so hard to be correct. And then one time my count is off by only one grain of sand, and my chances are gone forever to escape the hell of eternity. Why must it be that way? That’s horrible!”
Satan, smiling, looks the questioner squarely in the eyes and replies: “Why to you think this place is called Hell, sweet cakes?”