Marla felt the heat before she opened her eyes. She could smell the sharp, pungent smell of burning flesh, hear the pop and sizzle of skin, and the cries of the damned in the distance.
Faaaack, thought Marla.
She squeezed her eyes shut tighter. She wasn’t really surprised she ended up here, after all. She’d done all the things one shouldn’t do in her long life: masturbated, frantically and often, had impure thoughts and acted on them (frantically, and often); envied her sister, who had remained trim and lithe all her life; chewed gum in Singapore that one time; and was an avid practitioner of sloth.
There’s also all those people she poisoned but why dwell on the negative? She’d ended up where she should be and she was starting to sweat and she knew she had to open her eyes and get on with the rest of eternity.
Marla sighed a great sigh and opened her eyes and sat up, gingerly. She furrowed her brow as she looked around. She’d expected fire and brimstone, blood dripping from the walls, souls a weepin’ and a wailin’, but what she saw looked a lot like…Studio 54?
She was in a room with a small disco ball circling above her head and, now that she was fully awake, she could hear the deep bass of music reverberating in the walls. She was laying on a shag carpet and there were plush pink leather sofas against the walls. There was a doorway with no door, and Marla could see a throng of people moving about outside.
Hmmph, thought Marla.
She got up to her feet and realized that her body was no longer old. Her back, which had been bent almost double with osteoporosis, was straight again and her knees didn’t crack and creak with every step. Her hair, once her crowning glory, a halo of red curls that had dried and shriveled with the rest of her body, was once again lustrous and sheeny.
Maybe, thought Marla, as she grinned incredulously at the sight of her young again body, maybe I made it to the Other Place?
Marla didn’t dare believe that she had slipped past the pearly gates. She knew they were a forgiving lot but she was sure remorse was part of the deal and she had never felt badly about any of the lives she’d taken.
And there were many, starting with that boy who’d pulled her pigtails in grade 5 (she’d whipped up a concoction in chemistry class that had stopped his heart) and ending with her sixth husband (she’d whipped up a concoction in her kitchen that had stopped his brain), with at least a baker’s dozen in between.
Marla headed out into the fray. Blondie’s Heart of Glass was playing loudly in her ears and beautiful, scantily clad people were dancing frenetically. She made her way through the crowd, her mouth agape.
Where the hell am I? she thought.
As she looked around the room, she saw people dancing on the pits of fire along the walls, shaking their asses and throwing their hair around. The screams she’d heard were the sounds of people screeching along to the music. The smell of burning flesh was coming from the barbecue in the restaurant / lounge section of the club. Everyone looked like they were having the best time.
When a demon walked past her, bare chested with red skin and white booty shorts, horns sticking out of his head and a tray of cocktails held aloft, she thought
Ah okay so this is Hell but it’s…
“FUN, ISN’T IT?” a voice yelled in her ear.
Marla whipped around, startled, to see a gorgeous drag queen grinning down at her. She kind of looked like RuPaul: at least seven feet tall, legs up to her perfectly sculpted breasts, tiny waist, honey brown skin and makeup on point, the hair from a blond wig trailing down her back.
Marla’s eyes opened wide. Is she the devil?
“GIRL PLEASE, DO I LOOK LIKE THE DEVIL?” the drag queen shouted. “THAT’S HIM UP THERE, IN VIP.” She pointed up to a roped off section where a man in a robe sat bobbing his head to the beat, surrounded by beautiful people, all of whom were stark naked.
Marla squinted her eyes and looked at him a little closer.
“But…isn’t that Hugh Hefner?” she whispered to herself.
“YES,” yelled the queen, before she motioned to Marla to move off to the side. They fought their way through the throng of dancers towards a British telephone booth off to the side of the big hall. The queen motioned for Marla to get in, which she did hesitantly. The queen came in and shut the door, leaving the two of them squeezed up together, ensconced in silence.
“But more importantly,” the queen continued where she left off, “I’m Celine and I’m here to process you in.”
“In a telephone booth?” said Marla.
“Well dear you can’t read my thoughts yet since you’re a newbie and I can’t be shouting like a crazy person, girl, I have to sing later. I need to preserve my voice,” said Celine, her sharp eyebrow raised. “This is the only quiet spot we have.”
“Oh,” said Marla, because she didn’t know what else to say.
“Ok honey now let’s look at your file,” Celine said, a clipboard materializing from nowhere in her hands, a pair of hipster-looking square gold glasses appearing on her face.
“Sooooo what do we have…fornication, envy, hmm hmm hmm, fairly standard fairly standard…ah! Murrr-derrr! You little minx,” she tapped Marla playfully on the shoulder.
The blood rushed to Marla’s cheeks. There was no use denying it but she was afraid of what the consequences would turn out to be.
“Yes,” said Marla with a grimace. “But…I’m sorry but I can’t tell…where am I?”
“Oh girl, you’re in Hell! Do you think Heaven would look like this?”
“I…well I don’t know, this isn’t what I thought Hell would look like, either,” said Marla. “It just looks like a big party…”
“Well that’s cuz it is, up here in the shallows, sugar tits,” Celine said, tucking the clipboard under her arm. “Look, Up Top, everything’s a sin nowadays so people just stopped trying to fit in and decided to just be themselves, and so more and more of them ended up here. But, honey, they were all the fun people! When we finally outnumbered the demons 1000 to one, we just took over, girl. We made them turn this place around and now it’s party central! Anyone who’s anyone’s here, sugar.”
Marla’s eyes were wide. Hell was party central? So she wasn’t going to burn forever and ever for her sins? It didn’t quite seem fair but she didn’t want to say anything and seem like she was complaining.
“You better not complain,” said Celine, her head shaking on her neck. “Anyways we went to heaven on a field trip a few centuries ago, and let me tell you something, sugar, the most exciting thing they do there is reap corn.”
“Corn, girl! They were so excited to reap the damn corn! Because there is Nothing. Else. To Do.” Celine shifted her weight to one leg as she continued. “All the music is here, all the dancin’, the gyyyy-ratin, the food! Ohmygod the food. All the cooks are Jamaican, everything’s spicy as hell. I hope you weren’t vegan though? Cuz it’s all meat all the time. Anyway, everything’s pretty hunky-dory here, as long as you’re not in the B wing.”
“The B wing?”
“The B wing,” Celine said, her eyes wide. “Now, if you’re looking to have your skin flayed, your eyes burned out with hot pokers and acid poured down your ears forever and ever amen? That’s where we stick you. That’s where we’ve got our Hitlers, our Pol Potts, our kid killers, our rapists, and the space reserved for the Trumps and the Kushners and what have you. We don’t want to mix with that kind of riff raff, honey.”
Marla’s faced squeezed in on itself as if she were sucking on lemons. The B wing sounded…well it sounded like Hell.
“It is the worst,” Celine agreed. “We slow time down to a crawl there so eternity lasts even longer. You know how you’d be at work and you’d look at the clock and it would be 9:05 and then you’d do some work and think 4 hours had gone by and you look back at the clock except now it just says 9:10? It’s like that, except the whole time you’re having nails rammed into your orifices and bleach thrown down your throat and oh! just the most awful awful things, love, forever and ever amen. You do not want to be in the B wing.”
Celine shuddered and made a face.
“Now,” she continued, looking back at her clipboard. “All those people going about their lives who did not have any real reason to be here but they stuck them here anyway? They get to join the party right away. Youuuuu’ve done a fair bit of murder, though, so we’re gonna have to send you through to the C wing before we let you back in the club.”
Celine leaned her head to the right, her mouth set in a pout, as Marla began to shake with panic. If the B wing was the perpetual unending torture she thought all of Hell would be, she was scared to ask what happened in wing C.
“Oh don’t you worry, love,” said Celine, leaning forward and shaking Marla by the chin. “It’s very light torture – just some flogging, some heavy spanking, being forced to listen to people chew sausage and stir tea endlessly on a loop, that kind of thing.”
She flipped her hand from left to right as she counted out the ‘light’ torture.
“You might even enjoy it!” she continued. “It’ll just be a few centuries and you’ll be back out in no time, trust me. As long as you’re not in the B wing, you’ll be fine..”
Marla blinked a few times as she processed the information. Okay. So, she ended up in Hell, and she’d have to go through some…’light’ torture, but, all things being equal, it wasn’t that bad. What was a few centuries of torture compared to an eternity of partying? She was scarcely able to believe her luck at how things turned out. A smile started to spread across her face. For someone who’d left a trail of bodies in her wake, she’d made out pretty well. She wondered if, once the torture was done, there was any downside to being in Party Hell.
“Oh yes there is, sweetie, it’s not all rainbows and roses here,” said Celine, looking somber.
“Oh?” said Marla.
“No dogs,” said Celine, her face scrunched up as if she were in pain. “That’s the one thing Heaven’s got on us. There might be nothing to do but reap corn Up There, but you can pet all the dogs you want. They’re all there: fluffy ones, hairy ones, big ones, small ones…cuteliddlepiddlewiddledoggies.”
A tear ran slowly down Celine’s cheek and sizzled as she looked into the middle distance outside the telephone booth.
“Oh!” said Marla. “Well I hate dogs, so, that actually works out fine for me.”
Celine’s forehead furrowed and she moved her eyes slowly back to Marla.
“You what, love?”
“Ugh. I can’t stand them, they’re, blecch, yuck, no, never liked them, they slobber and they’re so loud.”
Celine closed her eyes and took a deep breath as Marla continued:
“There was this one dog my neighbor had? This, one of those kind of stupid ones, like a, a golden retriever? MAN it would not shut UP, so loud with the barking and it was always jumping up on me and leaving hair all over my black clothes. So I took a hammer to its head one night, bashed it right in, shut that dog right up.”
Marla smiled at the memory. “It’s actually kind of funny because, with all the people I killed, I never once got blood on my hands. Just with that one, stupid dog.”
Marla had been so deep in her memory that she hadn’t noticed Celine’s skin beginning to melt off her frame. Black steam poured from Celine’s head and she shook in a rage, her teeth clenched together so hard that her jaw looked on the verge of breaking. The telephone booth became hot, like a fire had been lit at their feet.
In a voice gravelly with rust and age, Celine said, “You. evil. BEAST!”
“Wha…?” said Marla, perplexed, her hands open palm upwards in confusion.
Celine flung open the telephone booth door, the sounds of Chic’s Le Freak blasting inside like a gust of wind.
“CARLOOOOOOOSS!” shrieked Celine.
A large demon appeared suddenly before the booth door. He was taller even than Celine and he stank of lit matches and garbage left out in the sun. His face looked like a bulldog’s, the lower lid extending out, the teeth hooked over his upper lip. His hands had long claws like a raven’s beak.
Celine spoke to the demon but she was looking Marla dead in the eye when she said
“Carlos. We have one for the B wing.”
“Yummmm,” growled Carlos deep in his chest, while he licked his lips.
Panic swept through Marla’s stomach.
“But…but you said…no….noooooooooo” she screamed as Carlos the demon grabbed her by her curls and dragged her down into the real depths of Hell.