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So there I was, lying in my bed in Hell's quarantine hospital, all along in the dark, unless you count the thing on the bed to the right. And then I heard someone coming smiling toward me through the gloom.
Then the individual in question came in sight. A man with silver hair, immaculately dressed in a nice suit, a slippery light gleaming around him.
"Are you an angel?" I asked.
"No," he said. "I'm a lawyer."
And, immediately, my question seemed naive, stupid, self-embarrassing.
"Well, Macy," said my lawyer, "how are you doing?"
"That's not my name," I said, annoyed.
"You know what Aunt Taniwha always used to say," said the lawyer. "Macy once and Macy always."
"Well, I hope Aunt Taniwha is burning somewhere," I said.
That would be really nice to see. Aunt Taniwha crisping and curling and screaming in agony. But, because of the segregated nature of Hell, if you're a guy you never get to see what happens to the female half of the species.
"Here's the bad news," said the lawyer. "Oh, by the way, my name's Lustahog. Sam Scranton Lustahog."
"So," I said, as he paused, smiling. "The bad news first. Let me guess. Aunt Taniwha isn't dead yet."
"Oh, she's dead all right," said Laywer Sam. "But she died and went to Heaven."
"To Heaven!" I said, outraged. "Her!"
"Yes," said Sam. "She went to Heaven, you went to Hell. And that's why I'm here. Given that she had such a large part in your upbringing, would you like to sue her for messing up your life?"
"I can do that?" I said. "But, if she went to Heaven, she's ... well, you know."
"Heaven is changing, just the same as Hell is," said Sam. "In terms of criminal law, she's innocent. But she's the one who taught you to always favor yourself with the best. That's what led to you ending up here, isn't it?"
"Sort of," I admitted, recalling the painful truth about why I am in Hell.
"Right now, she's living sweet," said Sam. "Big mansion. Servants. The whole deal. But if you license me to sue her, to bring a civil suit against her in the Courts of Heaven, we can reduce her to poverty. She'll be begging on the golden streets for the rest of eternity."
"And I get her money?" I asked. "The money, the mansion?"
"No," said Sam. "I get her money, her mansion, the freeze-dried flower collection, the twenty-seven cats. You're stuck here in Hell. There's no way out."
This sounded like a lousy deal, but Sam explained that there was a sweetener.
"I can get you out of here for ten minutes," said Sam. "Back to the old world of daylight. You'll have ten minutes in someone's body. Ten minutes of liberty. You'll see the sun, Macy."
"That's not my name," I said.
But I protested with less force than before. Ten minutes. What did I have to lose? I could be ... well, you know. In Paris. Walking by the banks of the Seine. Or in bed with someone - who knows? Or at a bar with a big cool beer in front of me.
"Deal?" said Sam.
"Deal," I said.
And his smile stretched and sharpened into a grin, and the next moment I was hot, roaring hot, vomiting with the heat, my every cell protesting as it bucked against the impositions of the atmosphere, and instantly I knew (somehow) that it was 54.2 degrees Celsius, which is 129.56 degrees Fahrenheit.
And I was flesh-and-blood, organic, heaving in torment, my breathing corpse in rebellion against the impossible demands being made upon it, this while I fought to control the hot metal bucking in my hands, a piece of metal which I identified as a combat rifle.
Crushed by heat. Annihilated by the light of the sky. I should have looked, then. Upwards, I mean. At the sky. At the light. But I didn't. Instead, I dropped the rifle. And flinched. Downwards. Squeezing my eyes shut. Trying to squeeze myself into annihilation. Trying to hide.
"George!" yelled Condi, as I faltered. "George! Don't give up!"
And then I knew who I was, at least for the next ten minutes. I was George Merkin, a member of Killer Squad Alpha Congo, the toughest of the tough, the bravest of the brave, heroes of the War for Liberty. And Condi? Why, Condi Bowl, my comrade in arms.
I knew I should get a grip on myself, should continue firing. But I just couldn't bring myself to. One thing you learn in Hell is how to fail. The residual impulse to success lingers on, as I've mentioned before, but you do have to face the reality, which is that life in Hell is eternal, with success not really a possibility.
And there was no way I was going to resume trying to fire that bucking weapon while I was vomiting from the heat.
I had given up and I was not going to ungive up.
And the next moment, a high-pitched screaming, very near at hand, made my eyes flare open in alarm, and I saw, I could not help but see, they were coming over the wall at us, the Things, the Gangrene Monsters, the Inhumans, gibbering insane accusations with their stainless steel teeth.
I saw this: each of the Gangrene Monsters was clutching a dead baby. Each baby was rotten with maggots, dripping with entrails. And I knew this: the Gangrene Monsters blamed us for the dead babies. And I was sure of this: the Gangrene Monsters were utterly wrong. For we came armed with truth, justice, freedom, democracy. It is impossible (scientifically impossible) for the use of such armaments to result in a heap of dead babies.
But we were accused. And, more, under assault.
"Ganaar!" screamed Condi, firing a machinegun from the hip.
Despite the fact that I was throwing up, despite the overwhelming dread precipitated by the assault, I had time to be awed by Condi's beauty, a beauty both physical and spiritual. She was black, a black woman, the first female I had seen in too many years (unless you counted caterpillars), and her spirit was clean-burning, brilliant, incandescent with self-sacraficial purpose.
What she was doing with the machinegun was technically impossible. The weapon was too heavy for someone of such slender build to manipulate in such a fashion. But then I remembered. Condi had gotten cyborgified years ago. Was no longer human. Was something more than human. Was possessed of the purity of a slogan, of the simplicity of a battlecry.
"George!" she said, calling on me. "George! I can't do it alone!"
But, as I say, I had given up.
Then a burst from a Gangrene Monster weapon smashed Condi's right arm, reduced it to twists of mangled metal, and the next moment she was down, and the Gangrene Monsters were sweeping toward her.
"No!" yelled a huge voice.
Who? Why, HyperSplargeant Dick Cheyenne. Who stormed forward, his radioactive flamethrowing bayonet fixed. He was going to save the day!
Then Dick's twenty-seventh heart attack cut in. Poor guy. He should have been at home, tending to the family ammo reloading business. Instead, despite repeated heart attacks, he had insisted on going to war, placing himself in mortal danger. And now he had paid the price.
Chunks of wet stuff flew in all directions as the Gangrene Monsters devoured dead Dick and fallen Condi. They were almost upon me.
"Ten minutes," said the voice of Laywer Sam.
Impossible! Ten minutes? It felt more like thirty seconds. The sky! I had to see the sky! I started to turn, I looked -
Upward into darkness.
The hospital ward. Hell. Back again. Back in the sweltering stillness. Unable to breathe. Only now things were worse.
"Because I realize what I am," I said.
I knew, irrefutably, my own Fallen nature. A vile self-serving thing, following only my personal self-interest, indifferent to the Higher Good.
Somewhere out in the wilds of Reality, there were genuine combat heroes, Condi and Dick and George and their friends, a valorous band of warriors who (voluntarily!) sought out battle with the Enemy.
The one consolation was that if Lawyer Sam had told the truth (and perhaps he had) then Aunt Taniwha would suffer in the Courts of Heaven, enduring a lawsuit and its consequences.
"But that's a poor consolation."
Success. I really wanted to turn this disaster into a success. Ten minutes out of Hell, and I didn't even get to see the sky. All that would have been required would have been to turn my face upwards. I could have seen the sun. The sky. Broad daylight. But didn't.
Then I realized. I had succeeded, in a way. I had gotten out of Hell. And what can be done once (if only for ten minutes) can surely be done again.
Which brings me to my next question: How am I going to get out of Hell forever?
This escape from hell escapestory story, "Escape from Hell," was first published when posted online by Hugh Cook 2004 July 24 Saturday. Copyright © 2004 Hugh Cook. All rights reserved.
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life after death story
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