“Well, damn… This is unexpected,” Maxwell said as he looked around at what was clearly Hell. Underground, flaming lake, and a classic looking red demon behind a desk beckoning him with a finger. Max sighed and walked to the desk.
“Well, I guess this means I was wrong, huh? So now I suppose I must burn in hell for being an atheist all my life? Don’t I even get to see god and ask him why he was so bloody invisible this whole time if he expected me to cower before him?”
“God is a bit busy doing absolutely nothing since the beginning of the universe, I’m afraid. As to burning here for all eternity, you’re just here temporarily. We don’t hold religion, or a lack thereof, against people. It turns out everyone is wrong after a fashion, and we just judge you on what sort of person you are. This whole scenario, including my form, is pulled from your mind, to help you better understand what is going on. Despite your atheism, your Christian upbringing makes you think of hell as this, and of me as, well, this sort of red reptile thing with horns and a tail. Everyone and everything just shifts to whatever one of you thinks everything here should look like. In any case, as you aren’t already being horribly maimed or burned alive or something of that sort, it seems you are destined to go up shortly. Let’s take a look.” the demon paused, looking through a book. “Not great, but not bad it seems. There are a few little deeds here that show you to be a genuinely good person, though it seems you were very arrogant and annoying at times.”
“Oh, really? Well, I always thought I was a bit of a monster. Fantasized sometimes about killing people, was a bit perverse, and I think I was a fairly selfish person most of the time.”
“Well, that may be true, but few people aren’t in some way. That’s just the way of life. I have very few truly, pardon the expression, saintly people come through. And of course, who are we to punish thought crimes? Everyone fantasizes about killing someone at some point, though you at times meticulously planning out just how and where to dispose of the bodies was a bit much, so long as you didn’t act on it, that is what really matters. Plus, in your heart of hearts, you know you never really wanted to hurt anyone. Remember when you found forty dollars sitting on the step of a truck? You thought about taking it, your girlfriend thought you should take it, but in the end, what did you do? You stuck it in the handle of the door in the hopes the owner would find it. They didn’t, unfortunately, someone else came along and took it, but a simple, genuinely good act like that makes up for you groping the occasional female friend.”
“That’s good to know. So, off to heaven for me, then? I really am having trouble wrapping my head around this. I mean, I’m dead. My body died, I remember it, it was terrible, and yet here I am. I seem to have some sort of form. What is this? My soul?”
“Sure it is, if that’s what you want to call it. Look, I’m sure you have lots of questions. The good news is you can have all sorts of interesting discussions about it with all the other dead people. Lots of great atheists are right through that door, you just have to think about whom you want to talk to and you’ll appear where they happen to be. Teleportation is one of the advantages of being dead, you know. We just need you to pass a few judgments on some people who really are in hell.”
“Me? Isn’t that god’s job?”
“Well, he’s busy doing nothing, remember?” the demon replied sardonically. “So we came up with the system of you people judging, well, you people. We spin a roulette wheel of sorts and a random damned person comes up and you get to decide if they’ve been tormented for long enough. If so, they go with you to heaven. If not, they stay put until their number comes up again. Not a great system, in my opinion, but better than an eternal torment most of your wacky religions endorse.”
“Alright, spin the wheel, Pat.”
Maxwell was rather uncomfortable in hell. He could only imagine what the actual damned was suffering. He had always found the thought of hell to be utterly moronic, a callow attempt to scare the gullible and foolish into believing in a book not worth the trees cut down to print it on. Yet, now that he thought about it, it did seem rather unfair that they seemingly use death to escape punishment for wrong doing. But before hand, when life was finite and non-existence seemingly inevitable, it didn’t seem to matter what happened to the already dead. He never approved of the death penalty because that just ended the existence of that person; it wasn’t a real punishment, just vengeance for the wronged parties. Better, he thought that they rot in jail and suffer for the rest of their existence for any wrong doings. Here now though, apparently there was still justice to be served in the after life, but he was thankful to whoever had the compassion to at least make the punishment finite. He really couldn’t think of anyone who deserved eternal punishment. Maybe Joel Schumacher.
“Are you quite done with your inner monologue now? I can hear your thoughts and find them tedious and boring and I am late for my break, so if you wouldn’t mind having a look over at that monitor. You’ll find a Mr. Jack Chick. During life he…”
Max interrupted, “Let him go, who cares what he did? I’m bored, let’s hurry this up, how many do I have to do?”
“Don’t be glib about this! The moment you said let him go he went to heaven! Some people DO deserve to be down there awhile, you know. For all you know, he cannibalized his whole family or wrote terrible propaganda or bludgeoned kittens!” The demon snorted in exasperation and Maxwell felt a bit guilty about letting a potential maniac into heaven.
“Errrr… He can’t actually do anything to anyone up there, can he? How long had he been in hell anyway?”
“No, of course not, you’re immortal now, nobody can hurt anyone, though I’m sure they can’t get annoying, but you could always just teleport away from them. He’d been down there about five years, being repeatedly sodomized by very butch demons with thorny penises. His crimes were basically inciting his fellow human beings to hate each other, which granted isn’t killing anyone, but it is a fairly terrible thing to do with your one and only life.”
“Fair enough,” Max replied. “I’ll listen more carefully next time, but I would have let him go anyway.”
“I think that would have been a fair enough decision,” said the demon, clicking his tongue. “Alright, back to the monitor. Pay attention this time and don’t interrupt. A short timer: Paul Hill. He’s been here six months. He killed a doctor, one who performed abortions. Seems his pro life stance had a shelf life of nine months and then it was every one for them self. He has, thus far, shown no remorse whatsoever, just whines to his imaginary friend Jesus all the time. Most Christians would send him up; most reasonable people would let him rot down there a bit longer. He’s being shot over and over again, most unpleasant, but fitting.”
“Let him go.” Max said firmly.
The demon’s hand smacked his desk in irritation. “Just what the hell are you thinking about, are you even paying attention? If that man had been convicted for his crimes on Earth he would have been rotting in jail longer than he’s been rotting in hell! Don’t you have any sense of justice?” fumed the demon, his nostrils flaring and a little puff of smoke actually came out of them. Max wondered if that was the demon’s physiology producing that or simply Max’s own impression of a demon causing it.
“Look, think about it. He’s already dead. Once someone’s life is over, what is the real point of tormenting them, for anything? I’m sorry, but I’m actually thinking probably this whole hell deal is a bad idea, even if you’ve made it finite. If I say let everyone go, do they go?”
“No, thankfully, you only get to pass judgment on the ones selected for you to pass judgment on. Look, there has to be justice in the universe.” The demon calmed down and had sat back, looking annoyed still.
“According to who there has to be justice in the universe? God? Satan?”
“To YOU! All of you people. You demand that there be some sort of cosmic justice for your lives and your afterlives. All of this is created by you people, your essences coming together to press on after your bodies have expired, and this whole thing was set up because of all of you. Now be a good little hairless monkey and stop fucking around with this. There are probably going to be some people pissed at you when you get up to heaven, let me just tell you that.”
It was Maxwell’s nostrils that flared this time. “So you are saying that we’re such a petty, pathetic species that when we die our souls actually concocted some sort of place of torment where people are judged by what they did in a life that no longer matters and then punished afterwards for it? That is idiotic and childish! If there is life after death and if it is pleasant, then let everyone have it! There is no reason for this. If there were a god, you’d think he’d step in and save us from ourselves!”
“I already told you he really doesn’t give a shit and it is the height of human arrogance to think the all knowing, all powerful Creator of the universe cares what you people do in your insignificant little lives and deaths to each other. Look, you’ve got one more, and this should be an easy call. Just calm down, tell me to keep this one here, and go up and enjoy heaven, alright? You don’t want to give yourself a spiritual stroke. I’m kidding, that’d never happen. Back to the monitor, if you’d please.”
“Holy shit… That’s not who I think it is, is it??” Maxwell gaped at the monitor at the short, angry looking man with a very familiar moustache. He was in the classical lake of fire, screaming, as large, demon things poked him repeatedly with sharp spears, as though bobbing for apples, or stirring a potato in a soup.
“Yes, Adolf Hitler, third Reich of Germany and all around douche bag, I’m afraid. So, I assume he’ll be staying, yes?” the demon said blandly.
“I don’t know… I mean… Fuck… Give me a minute to work through this. He’s been down there for quite some time having that happen to him. But then again, he’s… well, Hitler. He’s fucking Hitler! I don’t know, I can’t decide. On the one hand, it would seem to me that one of the things that makes humans so special is our ability to show compassion, even to monsters. Then again… That’s Hitler, and I can’t imagine the Jewish population of heaven being very happy with me… But fuck, he’s never going to get out, who would let Hitler out, except some Neo Nazi nutcase?” Maxwell began to pace up and down the hot little stone room and the demon snorted in exasperation again.
“Look, that guy was, and in many ways is still, responsible for a lot of bad shit on your planet, just say we keep him and let us get on with the business so I can get out of here already. He’ll get out eventually, they all do. If anything, the poor state of your education system will see to that. Ghangis Kahn got out the other day. The moron who let him go didn’t even know who he was. Give it another couple decades and kids won’t know Hitler from George Washington.”
Maxwell sighed in annoyance. “Yes, well, thanks for that little ray of hope.”
“Well, remember, this is still Hell. So, we keep him, yes?”
“Fuck off and stop rushing me! I need to think about this. Alright, so he’s been down there for over half a century, burning and being poked like an annoying little German pin cushion… Has he expressed any remorse for, you know, murdering thousands upon thousands of people?”
“Ummmm, no. He’s Hitler. He’ll probably never be remorseful, and he’ll probably find a soap box in heaven to blather on, but of course, there it won’t really matter since everyone can just ignore him.” The demon checked the wall clock.
“Seriously, I’m 20 minutes past due for my break… There is not one good reason to let that fucker go, ever. Really, if anyone did deserve eternal damnation, it’s that guy.”
“That’s the thing…” Maxwell rubbed his beard thoughtfully, “Does anyone really deserve any damnation? I mean, let’s think about it. We’ve established there is a magical life after death. Everything done in your actual life therefore doesn’t really matter because it is finite. Everything you do to other people doesn’t really matter because that is finite. In a way, that means having an after life is a terrible blow to morality in general. Then we have this system set up where some people are punished for what they did during a finite time which in the grand cosmic scheme of things apparently doesn’t matter in the slightest, and some aren’t, based on whatever arbitrary rules you or we or whoever has come up with. The only reason morality would matter is if there was only one, short life and everyone needed to make it the best possible life possible for themselves and everyone else. Now that that is over for me, and for Hitler and everyone else, why the fuck would it make a difference to anyone if he is tortured or not in Hell? All the people that he caused to die are either enjoying their reward or punishment either way, so do they really care what is happening to him? They either enjoy themselves or are worrying about their own suffering. The only people punishment should matter to is the living, because punishment should be a deterrent to make sure that the living don’t harm other living. If we are dead and the dead can’t do anything to each other anyway, punishment is completely moot. Let the fucker go.”
“Are you serious? Ugh, well, it’s too late now. People are not going to understand why you did that, you know. Despite your ideals, people aren’t as compassionate as you’d like them to be.”
“I know, that’s why it’s an ideal. Okay, I’m ready to go to heaven now, I guess.”
“Well, enjoy your afterlife then. Too bad your example can’t be transmitted back to your little naked monkey friends on Earth. But they’ll be here soon enough.” With that, Maxwell’s soul vanished to its final destination where he spent several years teleporting away from irate Jews and the demon went to have his break.