So this was Hell! It wasn’t at all what Edmon had expected. Not at all. The line was moving slowly so Edmon had time to let his eyes wander. He wondered why anyone would want to go to that other place. Look at those huge, deluxe houses! All with swimming pools and tennis courts. And the girls! He’d never seen so many young, sexy girls in one place. Yeah, this could be really nice.
“Move along now and stay in the queue.”
“Yeah, yeah…it isn’t like I’m going anywhere now is it?” replied Edmon with a laugh to the guard who was trying his best to keep the line moving in the right direction.
“Oh, you’re going somewhere alright mister…and you can bet it ain’t gonna be a nice one if I get any more of your lip.”
“Oh, please. What are you going do? Kill me?” said Edmon as he burst out laughing again.
“No, I won ‘t kill you. But you will want to kill yourself…and I promise you’ll try to do it…over and over and over again. Won’t do any good though.”
“Who? Me? Try to kill myself? Not likely. I mean look at this place; it’s better than any place I ever saw when I was alive. No, my good man, I have no intention of trying to kill myself again. I tried it once…that was enough. You know Heathcliff, I believe you need to lighten up a bit…get rid of those fire ants in your pants…and maybe change some of those red duds you’re wearing for something more mellow. Blues or purples, for example.”
The guard, who had been standing stiffly, almost at attention while Edmon continued his rant, finally grabbed him by the arm with more force than Edmon thought possible in a man that size and started to drag him out of the line and toward a small building to the left of the main road along which the crowd of newcomers had been lined up. The building stood out because, unlike all the colorful buildings around it, this one was painted pure black from top to bottom.
“Hey, no need to get rough. I was just joking with you…having a little fun. Hell should be fun, don’t you think?”
“No, I don’t. What did you say your name was?” asked the guard.
“Can’t say that I did say,” replied Edmon, “but I’m not averse to given that bit of information out. I’d kind of like people to know who I am. The name is Edmon…Edmon Furceli. And what might yours be?”
“Well, Edmon…it’s not Heathcliff. But I don’t intend to tell you what it is. I will, however, share one bit of information with you: believe it or not, I do have fire ants in my pants. Everyone down here does…sooner or later. So will you. But I also have a very low tolerance for pieces of cow dung like you, so I hope you enjoy your stay.”
The guard said this as he was opening the door to the small black building. He dragged Edmon inside where a musty, dank smell filled a small room lit only by the light coming in through the door.
“Got another one for you Lon! Make sure you introduce him to all the crew.”
With that he flung Edmon onto the hard cold floor. Edmon glanced up from where he had landed and, in the dim light of the room, saw a long scaly arm reach down, grab his right foot and lift him up until he was dangling head downward from about six feet off the floor.
“No need worry much ‘bout that, Boss Man. He meet ‘em all. Big Lon make sure that!”
The door to the black building shut as the guard went back to the line of newcomers. It left Edmon, however, in the dark with some kind of giant scaly thing holding him upside down. Lon, the guard had said…Big Lon.
“Lon, my friend. Is there any possibility you could set me down,” said Edmon. “I don’t want you to think that I don’t appreciate your concern and consideration for my well-being—picking me up off the floor and all was a nice gesture—but I really think I should be running along to rejoin the queue outside. I was hoping to get set up in one of those nice places with a swimming pool and lots of girls…you know the ones I speak of, don’t you?”
Lon didn’t respond, he just began to shake Edmon vigorously up and down as if he were a yo-yo.
“Oh, Lon…I do wish you would stop this up and down business. It’s giving me a bit of a headache,” said Edmon. “Could we please take a short break? I’m really not a bad sort of chap, you know.”
“No Lon to you…Mister Big Lon. Say right or no stop.”
“Right then, Mister Big Lon, sir. I do apologize for the faux pas. But keep in mind that I have only been here for a short while and have not had time to get all the rules memorized. So please, Mister Big Lon could you put me down…and perhaps a little light wouldn’t be too much to ask for?”
“Big Lon no need light. But you like light? Good. Lon know place for you. Lot’s of light. Put you down now…way down.”
For just a moment before Big Lon let go of Edmon, he wondered what the big brute could mean by ‘way down.’ Edmon was working up a thoughtful question to pose to Big Lon on the subject when he felt an odd sensation…the darkness had begun to rush by him…and he could not feel Lon’s iron grip on his leg.
“Big Lon? Still there old chap? Hello!”
But Big Lon did not answer. And the sensation of falling continued. Several minutes passed as he continued to fall into the darkness before Edmon noticed something different. There seemed to be a flicker of light up ahead…yes, there was definitely a light…and it was getting brighter quickly. There was something else as well…it was getting warm and, in addition, there was this smell. Oh dear, it wasn’t just warm, it was getting downright hot, and that smell…peeheuw! It was growing stronger by the second. The light up ahead was also starting to come into focus and Edmon could see that he was rushing towards the source of that light at an incredible speed. It was an inferno.
Well of course this was Hell…so it should be an inferno. But surely, this free-fall elevator will stop before I land in that mass of flames.
But Edmon did not stop. He slammed at full speed into the flames, and into something else he had not noticed—the floor of the inferno was covered with sharp pointy iron bars, a number of which skewered Edmon. One went right through his open mouth and out through the back of his head. The pain was excruciating. But of course, Edmon did not die due to that little problem of already being dead. He was surprised that he could still feel the pain, but there was no question about it…pain was everywhere. His skin would burn completely off and then reform and burn again. The spikes in his head, arms, legs and body were exactly as he imagined they would have felt if he had been alive. And the smell… that may have been the worst of all…was as if all the dead, rotting animals in the world had been dumped in this place.
The pain, heat, and smell almost immobilized Edmon, but eventually when he saw that they were not going away, he started to carefully lift himself up off of first one spike and then another. He tried to be careful not to step on or touch any additional spikes, but unfortunately he ended up with a few more poking through his feet and hands before he finally was able to stand up between them. Slowly, Edmon made his way across the flaming spikes to what appeared to be a door on the far side of the furnace. He grasped the handle and turned it, hoping they had not locked him in. It was difficult, but Edmon resisted the urge to scream as the red hot handle burned into the flesh on his palm.
The door did open. A poorly lit corridor stretched out in front of him, but Edmon did not move. There was someone else in the corridor as well. Someone who Edmon had never wanted to see again. Someone who made his blood run cold even in this overheated place. He tried the door behind him thinking that he would prefer the flames and the spikes, but the door was now locked. There was no escape.
“Get your butt in gear, Furceli. And follow me.”
It was Mrs. Magnolia Hoppswitter, his sixth grade teacher. This time Edmon couldn’t stop the scream from coming. All those horrible memories flooded back. The endless story problems, the two hours each day of French immersion, the wickedly long and tricky lists of spelling words, the countries and capitals that no one else even knew existed. And all the time, Mrs. Hoppswitter marching up and down each row of desks, a fiendish smile on her face, rapping students on the back of the head with a long ruler if they dared to even look up from their work. Edmon had already been to Hell once…and it had been that year in sixth grade.
His screams echoed off of the walls, getting louder and louder as they bounced along the corridor. Mrs. Hoppswitter turned back towards him, her lips pursed tightly together. She walked stiffly back toward Edmon, pulled out her ruler, and began hitting him on the top of his head.
“Stop! Please stop…I’ll do anything…anything, but please, not Mrs. Hoppswitter.” He said this to himself more than to anyone in particular, but as he said it, the darkness, the heat, and Mrs. Hoppswitter with her ruler all faded away.
Edmon opened his eyes. He was in his room with the early morning sunlight filtering through his bedroom window. It had been a very warm night and his sheets were drenched with sweat. What a nightmare! Edmon rolled out of bed and glanced at his alarm clock. 7:05 am. Lingering flashes of the nightmare crossed his mind. Why would he be dreaming about that old witch Hoppswitter? Must have been the twenty sliders along with the big slice of pecan pie he had eaten right before bed last night. Yeah, that was it. People always said you shouldn’t eat too much right before bed.
The clock now read 7:12 and Edmon knew he needed to get going or he would be late for work. He stood and moved toward the bathroom. As he passed his nightstand, a long thin object caught his eye and he froze. There next to his alarm clock was Mrs. Hoppswitter’s ruler.