Wind Shares

Friday, March 09, 2007

The Adventures of Billy in Hell


When Billy got to Hell, he was confused. He recognized it immediately as Hell, of that he was sure--the reddish stalactites and bubbling pools of brimstone were familiar to him from every cartoon depiction he had seen of the place. Yet something still troubled him.

"What am I doing here?" he asked the devil, who was standing beside him. "I thought only bad people went to Hell."

"That's correct," replied the devil. "But they never would have been able to complete that atom bomb if it hadn't been for you. You're responsible for millions of people being killed. If anyone ought to be here, it's you."

"But I'm just a little kid," Billy argued. "Kids aren't supposed to get blamed for that kind of stuff."

"Tell it to a jury, pal," the devil scoffed. "We don't deal with age restrictions down here. Everybody gets what they deserve."

Billy mulled this over for a moment and decided that it sounded fair.

"At least I'll still get to see all my friends and family," Billy reasoned. "They must have all died when the bomb went off too."

"Oh, they sure did," said the devil. "But you won't be seeing them. All of your friends and family went to Heaven."

"All of them?" asked Billy. "Even Uncle Alvin? Daddy used to say that Uncle Alvin was going to Hell because he had sex in his butt."

The devil chortled. "Oh, I'm sure he did. But, like I said, you killed a lot of people. A lot of good people, but a lot of bad ones too. Honestly, so many bad people that we just didn't have space to put them all. So some of the lesser sinners got sent up to Heaven."

The devil paused.

"Well, the space was a concern," he continued, "but, also, I didn't want to spend all my free time greeting a bunch of newcomers."

The landscape of Hell changed to something that Billy had never seen before.

The devil looked right at Billy. He was different too. "I wanted to make sure I had plenty of time to spend on you."

And it began.


Eventually Billy came to realize that nobody got any older in Hell. He wondered whether this fact made him better off--being a spry ten-year-old rather than a desiccated, crippled husk like the majority of the inhabitants seemed to be. After a while, though, such distinctions hardly seemed to matter.

For worse than any physical agony was that, while Billy's body remained the same, his mind continued to age--not normal aging, as through the accumulation of years of experience, but rather through the sheer fact of existing for so long. There was no way to tell how long he had been there--since nothing ever changed in Hell and nobody ever slept, it was impossible to tell one day from another--but judging by the fashions of some of the recent arrivals, Billy figured it had to have been at least several hundred years. Far longer, at any rate, than anyone ought to be alone with his thoughts. Particularly someone as young as Billy, who exhausted his store of memories fairly quickly.

As young as Billy was, even he knew that humans could eventually become accustomed to any sort of misery. Like a dog being shocked in a psychology experiment, they would soon succumb to hopelessness and stop looking for a way out. The normal rules did not apply down here, though. No matter how many times Billy admitted to himself that nothing was ever going to change, that this was forever, his mind still screamed without cessation for death. The human brain was not equipped to deal with eternity. Billy sometimes wondered if people had this same trouble in Heaven, which was presumably just as eternal. Probably not, he decided.

There was a reason why they called it Hell, after all.


There was rarely any talking in Hell. Most people generally failed to see the point of it. But one day, or whatever you could call it, Billy took notice of one of the new arrivals. She was probably in her late thirties, but had the skin of a much older woman. She had bleached blonde hair, and clearly bore the scars, real and metaphorical, of the type of rough life Billy could scarcely imagine. But what drew him to her was the fact that, rather than screaming spasmodically like most new arrivals or affecting the dull stare of the veterans, she seemed merely...uncomfortable. As if insects were crawling on her skin.

Billy spoke for the first time in several billion years. "Hello," he said. "My name's Billy."

The woman looked at him warily. After some time, she responded, "Nadine."

This marked the endpoint of Billy's conversational abilities. Eventually, he decided to go forward with the one topic that seemed relevant: "So...why did you end up here?"

"No one thing, I suppose," sighed Nadine. "I treated everybody that ever loved me like crap. Betrayed the trust of anyone who was ever stupid enough to place it in me. I never showed any respect to my own body. I had two abortions, and the one kid I did have I screwed up so bad that she'll probably end up here too. I finally just had enough of it all and took a whole bunch of pills. That probably didn't help my case much either."

She exhaled deeply. "I guess that's probably how it is for just about everyone here," she concluded. "No one thing."

She looked back at Billy. "So...what about you?"

"I was involved in the creation of an atomic bomb that caused the deaths of millions and millions of people," Billy replied. "Also, one time I knocked down Jimmy Mitchell from up the block and took his trike, until my mom made me give it back.

"But I think it was mostly the atom bomb."



And after that, they spent months talking without cessation--about their lives, about their expectations of the place where they had ended up, about nothing at all.

"Don't they say you're supposed to see St. Peter before you end up here?" asked Billy. "Be judged for your sins? I didn't get anything like that. The bomb went off, and the next thing I knew, I was here."

"Yeah, that's right," said Nadine. "I didn't see St. Peter either. Aren't you supposed to get a fair trial? Face your accuser?"

"It's in the Constitution," Billy agreed.

"Hell is un-American!" said Nadine. "Alert the Supreme Court!"

Billy turned toward the assorted demons gathered below them and shouted out, "Bunch a' Commies!" (He didn't really know what it meant, but it was something he'd heard his dad say.)

They both laughed uproariously for several minutes.

"I tell you," Nadine said, wiping tears from her eyes, "Hell can't be so bad, as long as you have good friends to share it with."

"Of course it can," Billy pointed out. "It's Hell."

They never spoke again.



So they went around the circle, these damned, each of them explaining what they had done to end up in Hell.

"I really have no idea what I did," said Cyrus. "I lived a God-fearing life. I've run it through my mind for so long, and the only thing I can think of is that time I killed a Mexican. But they can't really be holding that against me, can they? I mean, it's not like I killed a real person or something."

"I was a compulsive gambler," said Kirk.

"Wow," responded Billy. "I didn't think they'd send you to Hell just for gambling. That's harsh."

"Well, I gambled with people's lives," Kirk explained. "And, boy, was it ever fun, let me tell you. Once you've gambled with people's lives, going back to gambling with money feels like screwing your sister.

"Actually," Kirk mused, "screwing my sister probably didn't help either."

"Grog spear last woolly mammoth," Grog said. "Satan say Grog practice poor conservation skills. But Grog greatly relished thought of being last human to taste grilled mammoth trunk--was great delicacy in Grog's time. Also Grog just loved to spear stuff. Big stuff, little stuff, mammoths--it not matter what."

"I shot William McKinley," said Leon.

Kirk, who was something of a history buff, was quite impressed. The celebrity damned usually tended to only mingle amongst themselves. ("Grog was celebrity in Grog's day," protested Grog, to no avail.)

"That's funny," said Roger to Leon, "because I shot Franklin Roosevelt."

"Roosevelt was never shot," Kirk pointed out.

"Not while he was alive," said Roger.



"I don't know a whole lot about your people," Billy said to Grog. "Did they have fire in your time?"

"Of course!" replied Grog, beaming with pride. "Grog invent fire!"

"Wow!" Billy said. "Is that true?"

"No," Grog admitted, deflated. "Grog pathological liar. But you not understand how easy it was to lie in Grog's time. In fact, Grog invent lying--that part true. People had never heard lying before--their brains not able to comprehend that you say something that not truth.

"One time Grog out hunting with friend, Plog. Plog say, 'Sun hot today.' So Grog say, 'You know, Grog invent sun.' Plog tell everyone else, 'Hey! Grog invent sun!' Everyone say, 'Wow! Grog greatest genius in history! Us make Grog king!'"

"Wow, you were really a king?" asked Billy.

"Yes!" said Grog. "Grog not lying about being celebrity. Grog was most famous person of Grog's time--known by nearly seven people.

"So you understand," Grog continued, "lying very addictive for Grog. Grog could say, 'Biggest cave--you know, cave not filled with scorpions--that cave talk to Grog. It tell Grog it want Grog be only one lives there, or it crush everybody else. Everybody say, 'Wow, better let Grog have big cave with no scorpions. We not want be crushed.'

"Or Grog could say, 'Mammoth poop very healthy. It filled with vital nutrients. Eat mammoth poop, maybe you live to thirty.' So everybody run out and eat mammoth poop. Grog never laugh so hard. Lying never get old. Eventually, it become difficult to tell where lies end and Grog begin."

They sat in silence for a few moments, staring out at the masses of writhing, gnashing humanity. "You don't see a lot of other cavemen down here," Billy finally said.

"This true," said Grog. "Satan explain this to Grog once. Most caveman's brains not so advanced--they little more than animals. And animals can not sin--they not responsible for actions. So animals not go to Hell. So Grog being punished for having advanced brain--Satan say Grog smart enough to know difference between right and wrong. But where Grog's moral examples, huh?" he continued, his voice rising. "Grog just do what everybody else do! very unfair to Grog."

"Are you crying?" asked Billy.

"No," answered Grog forcefully. "Grog not cry."

But the art of lying had advanced quite a bit since Grog's day.


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