Hell: An Autobiography
by Ellen Parker
I expected it to be hotter. Hair-smoking. Skin-sizzling. I imagined hordes of naked bodies huddling close not for warmth but for respite from the flames and the magma and the melting boundaries. I thought people's soles would get burnt.
Actually, it's cold. Not unbearably so; just mildly chilly. So I requested a space heater and I got it. To his credit, he gave me a space heater. He asked me, Are you comfortable now? And, honestly, I am not physically uncomfortable. There are three settings and a blower.
Also, hell's up. You thought down? So did I. No. It's in an attic. I'm not sure what's below because I'm not permitted there. Certainly I can hear him moving around underneath. From the muffled sucking sounds I infer there is a refrigerator. That must be why he's so fat. When he pushes himself up the stairs, the sides of his body swish against the staircase walls. That's the noise I hear when he's coming: a prolonged, nightmarish swissssssssh. Obese footsteps. One weak stair, toward the top, groans.
Up here I have a futon and, ah, it's a comfort! I switch on my heater and ball up under the woven blankets. By the window there is some greenery, one of those juicy-leafed jade plants. I made the mistake of mentioning to him once, dreamily, that I imagined heaven to be lushly, wonderfully, entirely green. He raised a red eyebrow and said, You have a plant. Why do you think anybody else has more plants than you do?
The plant sits mutely--somehow it stays succulent--on a small table next to a window, which doesn't open, of course. The pane is black and solid, like granite or lead or some stony substance. It feels cold and firm and everlasting. I couldn't break it. I never expected a window like this.
I don't need to eat. I don't need to wash. I don't need to use the bathroom.
This is, after all, death.
To summarize: in my small attic of hell there is a queen-size futon, an end table by a stony window, a jade plant, and a rug. The rug is special. It is about 8 feet by 10 feet and it covers the entire floor. Underneath there is ancient plywood. I spend time, which seems endless but never quite sufficient, on my knees studying the designs that are dyed into the fabric, a wool, I suppose--do they have wool here? I cannot accurately describe the markings on the rug. I remember nothing like them from Earth, but of course I forget everything. Each marking is a different color. Each one is thin and twisty shaped, like a character of an alphabet -- a letter! -- but none are letters I know from Earth's languages.
I say! Hell's alphabet!
Does a person really want to know how to read hell's alphabet?
The fat man says, repeatedly, Haven't I told you the rules? They are: 1) You must never leave; 2) You must not go downstairs; 3) You must not laugh; 4) But you MUST have sexual intercourse with the fat man during which A) you must be willing and B) you must be underneath. This, of course, is a conundrum. First of all, I am not willing. I have told him this again and again, at various volumes.
He says, I will wait forever.
Well then, second, if I were underneath him -- isn't it obvious? -- the fat man would crush me. Perhaps it seems foolish for a person who is already dead to fret about being crushed. But one thing I've learned -- there is death...and then there is death.
I asked him once, semi-rhetorically, Would it work if I were on top?
In response, he recited the rules.
Another time I asked, What do I get if I willingly lie beneath you and we have sexual intercourse and by some chance I emerge uncrushed?
He looked at me blankly. What do you get? You have been given all that you see here. He spread his arms benevolently. Are you saying that this isn't enough?
Here I squelched laughter. Sometimes the fat man is funny. One time I laughed, though, and before my eyes he expanded like a balloon, after which he bounced down the stairs, bop, bop, bop, bop, all the way to the bottom. (Somehow he fit. In hell, it makes sense.) When I saw him later, he seemed to have slimmed down microscopically, but I couldn't be sure. He jammed his thumb against my nose (this is how they point in hell) and he told me, Don't think you can laugh and laugh and I will grow larger and larger until I'll no longer fit through the stairway. Others have tried it.
I had to admit I wished I'd thought of it.
I asked, What happened to the others?
He shrugged. Nothing, he said.
In bed in a ball I wonder, Are all the others kept in places like this? Is the fat man the devil for each of them? Perhaps he wears masks. He did tell me once: The others don't think I'm ugly. You might need a new set of eyes.
I took this to be an important clue.
All I have to do is check your face, he says to me, and I'll know whether you're willing. So he repeatedly pokes his head around the stairway wall and he peers. Lately I sense his impatience. Recently he said (another clue, I think), You set it up this way. This is nothing more than what you asked for.
I have no memory of asking. I don't recall much of myself before I got here. That's the way it is in hell. Of course, this is only my interpretation. Ordinarily I might ask someone else's opinion. I've asked the fat man, yes. But I think he lies.
About the author:
Ellen Parker's fiction has appeared in Literary Potpourri, Painted Moon Review, Outsider Ink, Insolent Rudder, and Bovine Free Wyoming, among others. She is fiction editor at Samsara Quarterly. She has written a novel called "Only Temporary" and is currently working on a second novel.