“Wh…what am I doing here?” John asked as he reached the checkpoint.
“Let’s see,” the guard said, leafing through a thick notebook. “Ah, John Sedgewick. Here it is. Says here you cheated on your wife.”
“Well, to be fair, she cheated on me first,” John said, in his defense.
“Be that as it may, it’s still adultery.”
“But everyone does it,” he countered.
“Which is why Hell is such a crowded place.”
“So this is…” He couldn’t quite say the word.
“Yes, John, it’s Hell. Didn’t you notice all the fire and brimstone and tortured screams?”
“So what? It’s like East L.A. in the summer. Big deal.” But it was a big deal, and John knew that it was. He tried to reason with the foul demon. “But my wife didn’t even care that I cheated on her. She said she was glad to get me out of the house.”
“Lovely women, your wife” the demon quipped with a shake of his head. “But you got out of the house every Saturday for over a year.”
“Yeah? Well, that was when my wife liked to clean. Again, so what?”
“So Saturday is the Sabbath, and screwing your neighbor on the Sabbath isn’t so holy, John. Also, in breaking Commandment number four, you managed to break numbers three, eight, nine, and ten.”
John was at a loss. He ditched bible school when he was kid – not to mention church as an adult. “I don’t follow.”
“No doubt,” the demon snickered. “Anyway, you told this women that her husband was cheating on her first, in order to get her to sleep with you.”
“And he wasn’t. You bore false witness against your neighbor. And you swore to God that he was cheating on her, to boot. That’s fallaciously swearing in the name of the Lord, John. And you coveted your neighbor’s wife. And you ate his food and drank his beer. ”
“I was hungry and thirsty,” John whined.
“Yes, well, it was stealing.”
“But it was just leftovers and some Bud Lite. It’s not like I stole his car.”
“Stealing is stealing, John. Besides, it says here that you screwed her in his car, too.” The demon continued to read from his notebook. “Then there was the act of sexual intercourse itself.”
“What, is there a crime for being lousy in bed?”
“No, John. Though, on a side note, your neighbor’s wife did in fact think you were lousy in bed. Be that as it may, you screamed ‘Oh God’ in the act of lovemaking. Repeatedly.”
“I was enjoying myself.”
“And you were using the Lord’s name in vain.”
“But I’m a pagan. I don’t even believe in God.”
“Ah,” the demon said, slamming the notebook shut. “And there’s Commandments one, two, and five.” Before John could question these, the demon held up his clawed hand and said, “Commandment one, John, says you must believe in the existence of God. Two is that you shall have no other gods besides Him. And five is to honor your father and mother.”
“How did screwing my neighbor’s wife dishonor them?”
“Your father is a minister, John. You weren’t exactly honoring him.”
“The guy’s a jerk. And a cheating jerk at that.”
“Yes, John, we know. You’ll be seeing him soon enough, too. As a matter of fact, most everyone you know will be joining you down here, in time.” The demon laughed a sinister, evil laugh that sent a shiver of fear down John’s spine.
Just then, a crack of thunder rattled through the cavernous waiting area, and the smell of sulfur permeated the already wretched air.
“Yikes,” the demon said as he knelt to the ground.
“Yikes? Why yikes?” There was no response. The only sound was that of a clip-clop that was fast approaching.
In a heartbeat, if John still had one of those, he felt the odorous breath on his neck. He gulped and turned around; and there, standing directly behind him, was the most frightening sight he’d ever beheld – including his wife without makeup. It was, of course, Satan himself – from his jet-black, cloven hoofs up to the razor sharp horns that protruded from his molten-red scalp. Strangely, he was smiling, baring yellowed, dagger-like teeth from within his purple, pursed lips.
“John Sedgewick,” he intoned in a low rumble, filling John’s very soul with utmost dread.
“Y…yes, sir? Did you want something of me?” John almost fell dead away, though that might have been redundant.
“Want? I want of nothing.” His voice bellowed and shook the very ground around them. “However, perhaps there is something I can offer.” A malevolent leer spread across the Devil’s hideous face.
“You mean you want to offer something to me?”
Satan jeered at the sniveling man. “Yes, to you. But in exchange for something from you.” The prostrated demon guard laughed, and then caught himself. The Devil swatted him like a fly, and then continued. “You see, John, you’ve already broken nine Commandments. That is, indeed, quite a feat, even for a lowly human such as yourself. Now, if you could break all ten…”
“That would make you happy, sir?” John asked.
“It pisses Him off when his creations do this. So, yes, it would make me, as you say, happy.”
“Him? You mean God?”
“Don’t be an ass, John. Of course I mean …God.” Satan retched at the word.
John paused and thought back to what the demon had said he’d already done to deserve his plight. In an instant, he knew what Satan was getting at. “You want me to murder someone? But who?”
“Why, the person who killed you, of course.”
“I…I was killed?”
“Listen, John, lots of people wanted you dead. In life, you were a prick. So, yes, you were killed. In your sleep, as a matter of fact. Bludgeoned to death with a hammer.”
Now it was John’s turn to retch, but then he thought to ask, “And what do I get out of this?”
“Get? You get the job of the gatekeeper – a far better cry than what we had planned for you, I must say.”
Defeatedly, John shrugged and nodded his head in assent.
“Touch her shoulder, John, and she will die,” Satan leaned down and whispered in his ear.
In an instant, John was back in his home. He walked through the living room, then to the bedroom. And there is where he found her. His wife was standing over his bloody corpse, hammer firmly in hand. She had a satisfied smile on her face.
“Rhonda,” he sighed. She couldn’t see or hear him, though. He approached his wife and placed his hand just above her shoulder, as Satan had commanded.
“Don’t do it, John,” came an unearthly voice from behind him. He turned, and there, in magnificent glory, was an angel of the Lord. He was encased in a warm, white, radiating glow, and on either side of him stretched stupendous feathered wings. It was the most beautiful sight John had ever beheld.
Regaining his composure, he asked, “Why not? She killed me first. She’s got it coming to her.”
“That is not for you to decide, John. Besides, the Lord doesn’t look too kindly on murder.”
“Yeah, well, it appears that he doesn’t like for us to have any fun at all, from what I can tell. What, doesn’t he have a sense of humor?”
“Don’t be bitter, John. It’s unbecoming. Besides, you still love this woman.”
“Yes, you do. I can feel it. What’s more, so can you. Look inside your soul, John.”
The angel vanished as quickly as he appeared. Again John turned to face his wife, and again he went to rest his hand upon her shoulder. His hand, surprisingly, stayed in place. “Damn it,” John cried. “I can’t do it.”
He hung his head low, and watched in amazement as the floor beneath him began to spiral down and out. He was sucked into an immense, black vortex and flung through space and time. At last, he found himself in an all white room, before a set of massive golden gates.
“Heaven,” he uttered, in disbelief.
“Yes,” said the same angel from behind the gate. “Heaven.”
“Can I come in? Are my sins forgiven?”
The angel laughed. “You’re joking, right? You broke nine Commandments, John.”
“But not the tenth one. And I had the chance, as you well now.”
“So you want to be rewarded for not killing someone?”
“Well, how about for pissing Satan off then?”
The angel smiled a beatific smile. “Yes, well, the Lord will be glad for that much.”
The light surrounding the angel instantly grew in intensity, temporarily blinding John. And then, in the blink of an eye, everything went black. No Heaven, no Hell, just utter nothingness. John sat down and waited for what was to come next. He waited a very long time. Many years, even. And then, one by one, he was joined in the nothingness. First by his father, then his mistress, a whole host of people he had hurt in his short, miserable lifetime, and, lastly, by his wife.
“Uh oh,” John said. “This ain’t good.”
“John?” his wife asked. “Where are we?”
“Purgatory, I suppose,” he replied, glumly. “I think we have to make amends for our sins here. To redeem our souls.”
Each person in the large group looked around and, one by one, grimaced and groaned.
“It’s gonna be a long eternity,” John added.
And then, overhead, a roaring laugh filled the void.
“It’s not funny,” John shouted out.
“But it is, John. It most certainly is,” came the reply.
God, it appeared, had a sense of humor, after all.