Friday, August 1, 2014
Here Lies Me
Gregor knelt at the grave. He didn't quite know what to expect. He thought returning here would give him closure, a meaning for all he'd gone through, maybe even the chance to escape it and move on to the next state. But instead, he just felt odd. Odd and slightly nauseous.
“Here lies Gregor Branson. 1971-2008. RIP,” he read, and sighed. “Really, mom and dad? That's the best you could come up with?” But he was more fixated at what was under the grave. Six feet down (unless they half-assed the grave, too,) was his own body, rotting away. Though after the bus hit him, he doubted it looked all the great anyway.
So much for this trip, and possibly his whole day off. Gregor shrugged and rose to his feet. At least the perpetual drizzle set the mood. He was hoping to see the sun again, though, just once. Before he had to go back.
He found Reastrom exactly where he left her, hanging out just in front of the front gates. Ah, Reastrom. His jailer, his tormentor, his greatest enemy. And, sadly enough, his only friend. Of course, she normally had the wings, horns, and talons to match her personality. Up here, she looked like just some goth girl hanging out by a cemetery.
“Are you done already?” she asked him. “Ready to go back?”
He knew she expected his eyes to widen, to tremble and beg not to go back, but he'd long since accepted it. Sure, he wasn't pleased when he died and found himself in Hell. Not many people would be. But it wasn't quite the way he expected. He assumed he would be tossed into a lake of fire, and maggots would eat his eyeballs. Something like that. But while they had a lake of fire and the eyeball maggots, they saved those for the truly evil people. Gregor wasn't evil. He was just kind of an asshole.
When the demons read the list, Gregor thought it sounded bad, but not eternal damnation bad. He cheated on his girlfriend. Well, on several girlfriends. And maybe he embezzled some money from his bosses. Big deal, like those millionaires would have even missed it. If anyone deserved to be down there, it was them. Frankly, he felt more sorry when he made fun of the fat girl in back in grade school than any of the other stuff. So he was more indignant about his fate than despairing. At least until Reastrom got to work on him. She wasn't the lashes and venom type. No she preferred the more ironic punishments. Feeling what his victims felt, escape attempts that failed due to one trivial thing. In time, he grew to accept it all. Maybe the gods or fates or whatever had a point, and he deserved what happened to him. For now.
But that was a concern for another day (and week, and month, and possibly every year until the end of time.) What the brochures about hell didn't mention was that every so often, the damned can get time off for good behavior. It's rare because well … not much good behavior down there. And even then, you only get a chance on an anniversary, like the tenth year after your death, and at the most, you get a day. Reastrom sounded as surprised as anyone when she gave him the news. And he was as surprised that he was already down there a decade as he was about getting to leave, however briefly.
“How much time do I have left?” he asked her.
Reastrom checked her watch. “About an hour. Not much time to do anything fun.”
Gregor shrugged. “I didn't expect much else. How about we just grab a burger or something before going … going back?” he asked. He almost caught himself saying “home,” and refused to think on the implication.
“Fine. Don't worry, I'm buying,” Reastrom offered. “Least I could do for the audit-torment. Some things are too low even for us. I'm just glad to get away from this awful place.”
“I was wondering about that,” Gregor said. “Why didn't you go in with me? Consecrated ground?”
She snorted. “As if. Graveyards just creep me out. I get depressed how many names I recognize from back at the office, and I hate thinking about work on these trips.”
Some time later, the two were at a booth in the closest diner they could find, munching on greasy fries and burned hamburgers dripping semi-congealed mayo. It was the best meal Gregor's ever tasted.
“So I have to ask,” Reastrom asked, her voice muffled by fry blockage, “Of all the places to go on your day off, why your own grave? Why not, I don't know, visit your parents or something? I told you they were still alive.”
“What would I have to say to them?” he said. “They're alive, they moved on, they have other children who are better than me, or at least less dead. Would I just walk up to them, offer a weak handshake, and tell them, 'so hey, about death, I have good news and bad news?'”
“So why not Vegas, a beach, a brothel, anything?”
“Yes, that's exactly what I need; the chance to add more sins to my list,” he muttered. He didn't know how that worked, but he wasn't about to risk it. “Look, we may not have always seen eye to eye about … tortures and such, but you've been more than fair to me. Even so, any chance at a normal life again was enough. I didn't need special, just this.”
“Okay, but you still didn't answer my question. Why a freaking grave?”
“I was hoping to find an answer, or some mystical whatsit. You know, the answer to life or something. Maybe learn if there were … other options, visitors from other places, I don't know. It doesn't matter. Nothing happened.”
“I could have told you all that,” she said between sips of liquified sugar. She checked her watch again. “Well, if there's anything else you want, you better do it soon. Get some pie? Use the bathroom? I should warn you, waiting to get back to piss on the fires won't help at all.”
“There's just one thing I want from you,” Gregor told her. “You never answered my question.”
Reastrom just glared at him. He didn't expect more than that. She never answered it before, either yes or no. Just gave an annoyed grunt and then upped the torment for a few days. She couldn't do that here, though of course she would remember it when back ho … in hell. But Gregor didn't care. That was the one answer he needed, the one thing that would satisfy him for any length of torture. Well, any length but one.
“Is there a point to it?” he asked her for the hundredth time. “Is it all just punishment, or is it something more? If you learn the lessons, are truly sorry, will without a doubt try to be a better person, can you … move on?” Punishment was one thing, after all. But infinite punishment? An eternity of it? Unlimited suffering in exchange for the limited list of crimes even the most evil person could do? That he couldn't bare.
So she glared. And he waited. They had, at most, five minutes left. He figured she would just run out the clock, and maybe give him the lake of fire treatment this time. Instead, she whispered something, so soft that he couldn't understand it.
“What did you say?”
“I said 'maybe,' okay? And that's all you're getting, so shut up and get a damn pie or something.”
“Then why keep it a secret. Why not tell people that there's a chance, however slight, they might get out?”
“Because that ruins it,” she snarled at him. “It's not about being a better person so they might get out. It's about being a better person to not being a worse one. Otherwise, how will we know when people are ready, really ready to leave, and not just faking it? Gregor, the last thing I want is repeat customers.”
Gregor took all that in, wondering if by insisting on the truth, he just damned himself. Either way, as they left (they had leftovers, but Reastrom insisted they wouldn't need a doggie bag,) he insisted on giving the waiter a really generous tip.
Reastrom knelt at the grave. Gregor never did get another day off. Reastrom figured the bosses learned that she slipped up, let a moment of sympathy get to her. She had the same worry he did, that by learned the truth, she condemned him to be down there forever. But today, she revealed just one talon and carved a little something into his still-boring grave. It would be days before anyone even noticed, and even then, they had no idea what it meant. They just assumed some vandal was having a bit of fun, though they couldn't explain why the new words looked they were made from an animal's claw. Or why they glowed bright red. Whatever the reason, they figured that the grave's new epitaph, “Here lies Gregor Branson. 1971-2008. RIP - 2008-2079” meant something to somebody.