It was a slap in the face, to say the very least. Perhaps if I had this knowledge before, I would have said my grace before each meal, prayed on Sundays, and maybe- just maybe- not have killed all those people.
The boat, although quite beaten down and damaged, managed to carry us onshore. The hooded figure at the front of the mast turned his head toward me.
“That’ll be 5 gold coins,” he said, handling the oar in his dry, cracked palms.
“What? Buddy, I didn’t choose to come here. Why do I need to pay?”
“I don’t have pension benefits.” I couldn’t see any of him under the shadow of his hood, but his tone almost sounded pleading.
I shook my head, patting the pocketless orange pants. “I don’t have anything with me.”
“They didn’t bury you with anything at all?” he implored.
“I’m in hell. Do you really think I would have died with honour?”
He sighed. “The Egyptians had the right idea, burying the dead with gold…” he droned on and on; I didn’t stop to listen, I had to figure out where to go next, and how to adjust to this new ‘life’.
Walking through hell was like walking on Mars. The ground was brown, perfectly complimenting the tinges of red and orange. The slight breeze was almost dusty and stale.
The same hooded figure materialized in front of me right as I was looking around in curious wonder.
“Great,” I exhaled sharply. “You’re back again”. I was acting way out of line for someone who was about to be tortured for eternity.
That’s when I realized that these hooded figures were all around this underworld: Some were just standing around, gossiping in deep, rough voices, while some were walking alongside some of the lost sinners like me.
“You’re my guide,” I said out loud as the realisation dawned on me. “You’re going to take me somewhere.”
The figure just nodded. I was relieved that this one wouldn’t speak. I didn’t give two hoots about why the Egyptians had the right idea.
We walked across the barren land. Weirdly enough, ‘Hell’ was exactly what the books or movies portrayed it as- dead and dark, with spirits bustling around and a huge black palace with a red-like incandescence to it, standing proudly- mirroring a vanguard being adorned by followers with garlands.
The palace was where we were headed, and I was overcome by a sinking feeling in my stomach. Was I about to meet the Devil? Satan? Were all those myths about being tried and tortured for your crimes actually based on reality? From what I’ve been taught as a child, the devil wouldn’t be the prettiest sight- he was definitely not to be messed with.
I was not expecting a woman.
"That's a tad bit hurtful."
She can read my mind?
“Well, technically, you don’t have a mind. You’re dead.” She spoke with a drawl, like a purring, lazing cat. She could afford to be relaxed because she was the one in control, while I sure as hell wasn’t. I simply could not predict what would happen next.
“So... I’m in hell?” I ventured.
“I don’t know that. You tell me.” She studied me with her glowing red eyes- they matched the hue of her hair and lips.
“What’s that supposed to mean? Shouldn’t you know? You’re Satan.”
Her eyes glinted with mischief as her red lips tugged into the smallest of smiles- “Am I?”
“I mean, this place looks a lot like Hell.”
“Then it is Hell.”
“Am I wrong?”
“Of course not,” she smiled knowingly. “No one’s wrong.”
“Not everyone believes in Hell, though.”
“Well, they’re not wrong either.”
“But- but I am in Hell, right?”
“Death is what you make of it.”
“So this isn’t real.”
“You’re really confusing, you know that?”
She laughed softly. “I’m just a reflection of what you think.”
The boatman had been more helpful. “I think you’re a bitc-”
That’s when I fell. It felt like I fell through a thousand roofs. It felt like I collapsed through time and space. Vibgyor colours merged in and melted and diverged out of each other until there was just plain nothingness.
“Get up,” a gruff arm nudged me- rather, grabbed me. “It’s the day.”
What day? It felt like I was supposed to remember this, but my mind was a blank slate.
The big man in the uniform who woke me up latched my wrists in handcuffs and turned the key to lock it. He seemed chirpy today. As he tucked the key in his pocket, he took me by the arms out of the jailed space I was in. I looked around the corridor; there were decorations- wreaths and holly; green, white and red. The guard with me was wished by every other guard as we passed by.
“Merry Christmas, Maury,” they’d wish, “Happy Holidays!” the others would cheer.
It was Christmas.
I was taken to a room and instructed to sit on a chair, which I was then handcuffed to again. I noticed the doctor in the corner- injection in his hand.
Oh, right, I thought to myself as the realisation dawned on me. It’s the day.
Death is what I make of it... So until hell freezes over, I will never have to pay for my crimes.
Merry Christmas indeed.
Author: Gayathri Nair Editor: Aastha Mahajan