A loud blast of a horn, the unyielding barrier of rushing metal as it bombarded against my weak flesh, and that was all.
Or so I thought.
The overwhelming stench of sulfur and brimstone singed my nostrils before I even awoke. When my eyes finally fluttered open, I thought that it had all been a dream; that I hadn’t really been run down by the transit bus in the street. I put a shaky hand to my forehead, feeling a slick sheen of perspiration, and something else. Something deeply grooved, like gnarled wood. And then I noticed the insufferable, unbearable heat. Heat that should have melted my skin off of my bones, and turned my eyeballs into quivering masses of dripping goo that could run down my cheeks like new fallen tears. But my skin stayed where it was, and I could see just fine.
Not that I really wanted to, you understand.
My ears picked up the piercing wails of disparaged souls in eternal torture, the steam blasts of rising lava geysers. Lakes of blood-red fire surrounded me where I lay, and the entire landscape shimmered like a mirage from the suffocating atmosphere of heat. There was only one place I could truly be; which meant that it hadn’t been a dream, after all. I was dead, and I was in Hell. I only really had one question.
A dark shadow blotted out my vision as it enveloped my supine figure. I turned to see a giant monolith of a creature that was half-demon, half-human. Its face was the ugliest, most distorted thing I had ever seen, with yellow eyes that bulged outward like bubbles and a cavernous mouth full of sharp, fang-like teeth. Despite its monstrous image, I saw something familiar in its features. The shock came to me all at once, and I gasped. It was my own face, twisted horribly into this demon mask.
“Get up,” it growled in a deep, rumbling voice that seemed to shake the rocky terrain beneath my back. I obeyed, too scared to do anything else. It smiled then; at least, I think it was a smile.
“Your first torture is scheduled soon. I will bring you to the whipping post,” it informed me.
I didn’t like the sound of that. “Wait a minute,” I said. “What’s going on here? I don’t understand; I shouldn’t even be here. I haven’t done anything wrong, I was a good person.”
And I was. I had never committed a felony, or even a misdemeanor for that matter. I attended church regularly in my childhood years, got baptized, and communized. I never cheated on my taxes, and had been faithful to my one and only wife up to the point where she had passed away from cancer. I had even donated to the Salvation Army every time I went to Wal-Mart during the holiday season. It didn’t make sense for me to be punished in Hell. I wasn’t a sinner.
The demon-me apparently didn’t like to be questioned. It struck me down, hard, with one hideous claw, and growled hungrily. “You dare ask me such a stupid question!” it bellowed. It hunched down on its powerful, gray-toned hind legs to shove its face in front of me as I whimpered softly. “Do you know who I am?”
“N-No,” I stammered.
Then it laughed. A gruesome, blood-curdling laugh that made me clap my hands over my ears in pain from this nightmare of sound. The yellow eyes rolled back, displaying a sickly white color that made me want to vomit. It patiently waited until I removed my hands from my ears. “I’m you, my friend. The other part of you, the you that you kept hidden all of your adult life. Your inner demon, so to say. You may have been a good person up there-“ he pointed into the dark abyss above the steam geysers and stone walls sporadically lit with wavering flames, “but you couldn’t destroy me, even if you had wanted to.
“And if you think I’m ugly, well...let me just say, you should be very thankful there isn’t any mirrors down here,” it said, laughing once again. I remembered the grooves I felt over my face, and noticed that the skin on my arms was petrified, covered with bubbling blisters that oozed a syrupy pinkish liquid. I almost screamed, but knew that it wouldn’t do any good.
“But...I was good,” was all I could manage to say.
“That’s why you’re here,” the demon-me said. “I suppose I could let you in on a little secret, now that it doesn’t matter very much to you.” It sighed loudly, pinning me with those devilish eyes. “It’s all reversed. The good people, the angelic, beneficial saints who do good up there come here, and the bad people, the vile, corrupt, despicable scum of the earth go somewhere else. Even we don’t really know where. It’s just the way it is, the way it’s always been.”
“That’s not fair,” I whined, feeling faint.
“Was life fair?” the demon asked me.
I didn’t have to answer, resigned to bow my head down submissively while I followed my demon doppelganger to what he had deemed the whipping post, feeling the light tickle of a tear as it slid from the corner of my eye.
I’m sure that there were many more to come.
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