A plain stretched out before me, void and lifeless.
Is this Hell? I wondered.
Something must have gone wrong. In the first place, I had told Sadie to go to Hell, so what I was doing there was quite beyond me. But even when I’d said it, I hadn’t meant it literally. Obviously. Who does? I must have been really concentrating, though; I was pretty mad. Still, that didn’t explain how I ended up there.
But there I was, on that void and lifeless plain. I looked around. The ground was the texture of dry soil, a sort of faded mushroom shade that reminded me of retirement residence walls, and was dotted with blackened stumps. The sky was the same taupe colour, but smooth. That was it. Void, as I said.
I began walking. I didn’t know where I was headed, or if there even was a place to head. But what else could I do? My watch had stopped working and there was no sun, nothing to separate day from night, so I wasn’t sure how long I walked but at some point, the sound of a throat clearing interrupted my thoughts.
Was that me? I wondered. But I kind of knew it wasn’t. I mean, I wasn’t crazy.
“It’s not actually Hell, you know,” said the voice which had moments ago cleared itself. It – he – sounded indignant.
“Ok,” I replied cautiously, looking around. “Who are you?”
“Is that really the question you’d like to ask me? If I granted you one question, would that be your choice? You should think carefully before you speak. Don’t just go blurting things out as they pop into your head.”
I was too surprised to snap at him. Usually I wouldn’t accept that kind of attitude but on the odd chance that I really could ask only one question – anything was possible considering I was conversing with a disembodied voice in Hell – I stopped to consider.
Where was I? How did I get there? Why? When could I go back to my life? I must have pondered my choices awhile because a frustrated sigh roused me from my reverie.
“Decided yet?” asked the voice. I had the impression he was drumming his fingers somewhere on another plane of existence.
I thought I’d start with one question and hope I could wheedle the rest of the answers out of him after.
“You don’t really pay attention, do you?” He asked. “I can read your mind, remember? Insolent brat.”
Whatever. “Fine. Where am I?”
“On a plain.”
“With your attitude that’s all you should really be able to get out of me. I could leave you here to wander indefinitely. Come back to you in, say, fifty years.”
He paused for dramatic effect before sighing again. “Ok, you’re in the Otherworld. And it’s not the colour of mushrooms, it’s the colour of disintegrated bones.”
“You mean the Underworld?” I clarified, ignoring his colour distinctions for the moment.
“NO!” His voice boomed. “I mean Otherworld! As Lord of the place you’d think I’d know what it was called!”
“So, this is Hell! And you’re…the Devil?”
His echoing silences were unsettling, more-so than the disembodied, irritated voice. I could imagine him leaving me alone for fifty years.
After a more protracted silence, the voice replied, speaking very slowly, as though I was of limited intelligence.
“I am the Lord of the Otherworld. The Devil and Hell are the stuff of storybooks, but this, as you can see, is not. This is real. And it is where you are. I thought maybe you’d learn a lesson with all this. Think before you speak. But clearly you’re not capable of that. You must be the most irritating creature who ever landed in my domain. I’m done with you. I’m sending you back. May you have a long and healthy life. I don’t want to see you for a very long time!”
Before everything went black, I thought I saw the plain suddenly transform; there were flowers and trees everywhere and a brightly coloured sky. I had just enough time to wonder whether he had made it appear lifeless to make a point, or to scare me. But then I passed out. When I woke up, I was lying on a sidewalk and Sadie was shaking me. She looked scared. I couldn’t hear what she was saying, though. All I could hear was deep-throated laughter ringing in my ears.