Thursday, August 1, 2013
Nancy and I had a little challenge yesterday that we would each write a short story in a few hours, with the prompt: A man goes into space, meets the devil, then escapes. Here's what I wrote:
One more time, my children begged. They wanted to see that stupid movie again, which I can say with confidence that I didn't. But, like the good father that I call myself, I stood and made my way to our new Blue-ray player, since Melvin thought it would be real freaking funny to snap the piece of crap remote in half like carob. Just as I was reaching towards the play button, I realized the thing has no play button, it needs the remote for...
The higher functions of my brain sunk very quickly, as if they toppled from the crown of my head. There was a pain so enormous that I could hardly register it. Through what sounded like ten feet of water, Melvin and Maeve were urging me on to restart the film. My legs seemed to shrink before a growing nightmare in my skull. I was conscious for a moment as I fell to the floor, and it was then that I began to leave myself.
Inside a warm, dark place that I could somehow see clearly, I saw blood pouring from hard tissue into softer grey stuff. "My brain. An aneurysm", I thought, though it couldn't truly be thought, because I was dead. I knew I was dead; it's something that a living person can never know with certainty.
As it happens, souls are lighter than air. In fact, they are composed of negative mass, so gravity has the opposite effect on them. I was compelled to space so rapidly that even as I went past the cloud cover, my house below was vanishing in a hurry. There was a planet that I vaguely recognized as Earth, and it altogether vanished too. “Did I have a home planet? Something called Earth?” I thought with my ghostly brain. “It seems that souls have a strange mechanism for memory.”
The sun, which I figured to be too big and luminous to disappear from me, became indistinguishable from the other stars. I was not afraid. “It seems souls are incapable of fear”, I thought. I was feeling things, though, but they were... More pure, I suppose. I felt my love for my children and desire for my ex-wife, fury towards my older brother, and reverence towards an old friend. I could also feel something, something of negative mass like me, pulling me somewhere the opposite direction I was facing. The stars were a blur.
A warmth more pure and powerful than all my terrestrial emotions fell on my ghostly back, and an earthly fear protested against it with mortal fervor. “Do not not look! Run!” it told me. But the pull was stronger. I turned.
It was the opposite of a black hole. A vaginal entrance of radiance and acceptance came closer and closer, burning away all my old iniquities. I got very, very close.
And I missed. It was not, as it turns out, the thing that was pulling me. I felt an emotion akin to the end of summer vacation, multiplied many times over. I was about to scream in whatever language spirits speak in, but I became aware of a new force. A silent, humbling force like a roar just below the threshold of hearing . I saw it coming with its true form and I began to laugh.
“Stupid”, I wailed repeatedly in unpleasant mirth. The absurdity hurt me on a fundamental level. It was a mansion, bigger than a stellar nursery, swallowing the cosmic horizon. Nothing of any god-fearing sense would build such a massive building, with curtains wider than Pluto's orbit and a roof that was hundreds of light years long. I hit the door.
My human body, with all its pains and fears, came back to me. Naked, bruised, and soft, I crashed through the door and landed on a stone threshold that was larger than the gulfs between stars. I was aware of the pain, the cold, and that the door was open and the snow was blowing in. “Now, I don't think it snows in space”, I said stupidly, and I closed the door.
It was the sort of mansion that you would expect to see in space, with the foyer of Victorian architecture, small wall fixtures topped with antique artworks, and a sort of sweeping staircase. Nothing about it strange to me, apart from the fact that it was very cold, colder even than a house in space ought to be. Worse yet, I could sense that there was heat to be sought in the place somewhere, in some room, all while a mystical logic told me it was not possible. And yet, there was a glow.
Somewhere atop the curving steps, beyond another corridor, a red light burned against the snow-grey that dominated the scene. It was, I figured, the only color present. As I made my way up the steps with all my puny strength and against the monstrous pain all over me, I could feel the heat. It did not feel good, it didn't even nourish me or give me hope, but I sought it out all the same. It seemed natural, like swimming for an unreachable surface while drowning.
It was from painful cold to painful hot. The closer I got to the source, the more terrified I became. Worse than that was a supreme sense of discomfort, like sickening waves of deadly radiation. The heat striking me was burning me to death, but the cold behind needed to be escaped. I found it then, a furnace door of polished wood, blood red and wavering with heat. I grasped a scorching doorknob and opened.
The terrible heat did not go away, but it became less important. Inside was another man like me, naked and bruised with searing flesh, prostrated in boredom on an uncomfortable chair as a fussy little man in fine clothing, seated in a plush chair harangued him ceaselessly with dragging, involved, esoteric dribble. The tormented man clearly did not want to be there and did not want to listen to this idiot go on, but he suffered it dutifully, even asking for reiteration on softly spoken details.
In spite of his suffering, I envied him the attention he was getting. I was uncomfortably aware of a queue of countless other naked men and women waiting their turns to be talked to, all of them looking at me. No clear action came to mind, it was frustrating and embarrassing, and I found myself profoundly flustered. I closed the door, thinking the coldness outside was displeasing them, but that only enraged them further. I made to go the end of the endless line, but that didn't seem right. There was no choice but to speak.
“SHUT UP!”, the fussy little man shrieked. The endless line of people moaned and hissed. In a stutter of enraged movement, he pointed a well-groomed finger at his current listener. The poor man burst into flames so intensely that his flesh was incinerated to the bone, and his animated skeleton ran to the back of the line, screaming. “You!”, the fussy little man snapped.
“Me?”, I was so confused.
He didn't answer, only scoffing impatiently. I shuffled awkwardly over to the uncomfortable chair, which was still smoldering. Not only did it burn my backside severely, but it was shaped so strangely that it was impossible to be comfortable in it.
The fussy little man took on a self-pleased smile. “Hello, sir”, he began. “Welcome to my house.”That was all he said, and it took me a few moments before I realized he expected a reply.
“I, uh, hello, sir.” Then a question came to mind. “Who are you? Where am I?”
“He seemed pleased to answer. “Well, I'm the devil, and this is hell.” He waited again.
I had always imagined the devil to be a horrifying monster with an impossibly deep voice and some sort of torture device. This was just a little man who most people were intensely uncomfortable to be around. He continued.
“Why do you think it is, my pet, that you've found yourself in hell?”
I thought for a moment. “Well, I don't know. I don't really have a frame of reference, you see. I didn't believe in God before I died, but I didn't really think that was an issue, even if there was a hell. I thought ut was more important to be a good person.”
He tapped the arm of his chair, leering unpleasantly. “You haven't answered my question.”
I sighed. This guy was really annoying. “I'm in hell because I didn't believe in God before I died.”
“Well, yes, partly”, he confirmed. “But also because you did not pray to Him in His oracular language, because you did not clap your hands exactly one hundred times every galactic year, because you did not chant the Jagboota Jilx before your death, and because you didn't challenge your brother to mortal combat in His name.”
“I only read the Bible once”, I said. “But I don't remember those rules.”
The devil scoffed and shifted in his cushy chair. “What's the Bible? Do you think that He would allow a puny terrestrial to write down his Law?” Then he added more angrily, “Are you all that stupid?”
I breathed in the burning air of the room. “I've never heard of those rites from any religion on earth.”
He sniffed in sanctimony. “Of course you haven't. Only a handful of humans ever knew of His Divinity. How stupid are you humans, eh? His Law is clearly writ in the oracular language of the stars.”
I felt like crying. “How can He expect us to know?”
The fussy little beast leaned forward and bared his sharp teeth. “By getting close. It's the easiest thing to do, but no human has ever gotten close to God.”
The memory of the magnanimous entrance of light returned to me.
“I got close one”, I said. “On my way here.”
The devil leaned back and squinted at me. “Did you?”He sniffed again. “Well, a millimeter or a parsec, it doesn't matter. You missed. I got you first.” He clapped his prissy hands with glee.
“What now?”, I asked, defeated.
He brought his hands together like a Broadway actress. “You stay here and I play with you. Most of the time, you wait to be played with while I play with everybody else. While waiting, you're so bored and you want to be played with. While being played with, you're so tormented that you want to be back in line.” He laughed in a shrill, insufferable voice.
“Can I leave?”, I asked. The devil froze and gaped at me.
“No”, he said succinctly. “No, you're mine now.”
“I know, but...” I got up. “What's stopping me?”
He glared at me with childish indignity, and I went for the door. I heard him get up jerkily and shriek behind me.
“No, no, no, no!”, he wailed, and then I was on fire. It did not stop me. Vaguely, I could hear mutterings of the tormented behind me.
“Can he do that?”, asked a woman.
“If I knew...”, began a man.
“He can't just...” But I was already gone. Down the corridor, down the the stairs, into the cold. It was too cold for me or the fire, but I could survive. The fire could not.
I slammed through the way I entered, back into space, away from the old mansion that turned out to be hell. I realized something:
“Can he just pull me back? He pulled me here all the way from Earth.” Indeed, I felt the familiar force pulling me back, now fueled with anger.
I called up the image of the beautiful ball of light again, and I listened to the oracular language that I had been deaf to in life. Something began to pull me in another direction.
I would not suffer the devil's conversation again.