With mosquitoes and low-hanging branches taking turns attacking his face as he trudged through the woods, for a fleeting moment, Chad considered turning back. The burlap sack slung over his back seemed to grow heavier and heavier with every step deeper into the woods. Despite being taught in numerous science classes he sporadically attended that trees create oxygen, the element seemed to be having a hard time finding its way through the thick canopy of trees over Chad’s head. The sun, however, managed to somehow find its way , beating down on his exposed shoulders, the layer of sweat glazing his body doing nothing but amplifying the harsh effects.
At this point regret was beginning to set in for the 19 year-old high school dropout. Regret that he opted for AXE Body Spray rather than bug spray. Regret that he chose a shirt without sleeves over a more traditional garment. Regret that he had deemed Adidas flip flops appropriate footwear for such an excursion.
The regret, though, faded quickly as he felt a squirm in the bag. This, he reasoned, was gonna be good. It was gonna be worth it. Worth the mosquito bites. Worth the sunburn.
This would be his pièce de résistance.
He stopped for a moment to wipe the sweat from his brow and turn up the music already blasting through his headphones, and continued on.
After what felt like hours but was, in reality, 16 minutes, Chad emerged from the thick jungle known officially as Pennyplace Play Park.
One hopped fence and one leapt creek later, Chad had arrived at his destination. His mosquito bites itched, but there likely wasn’t time to spend scratching. A glance at his phone told him both that he had exactly four minutes to prepare, and that he had, yet again, been unmatched by another woman on Tinder.
It wasn’t his fault.
But now wasn’t the time to focus on some charity-case Tinder whore, he rationalized–it was the time to focus on the task at hand. Another quick struggle from the bag on his back reminded him that he still had about 6 feet of a gentle gravel slope to ascend before he reached the train tracks.
Though the flip flops certainly proved themselves a bad idea, Chad did wind up climbing the stony hill without overwhelming resistance. Thinking the stones would likely be uncomfortable, he took a seat on a railroad tie and slung the bag forward over his shoulder and into the ground between his legs. It wasn’t a particularly hard swing, nor was it intentional, but the thud indicated that the rabbit inside was likely unconscious.
“Well that ought to make it easier,” he said aloud, to no one in particular. He reached up and scratched a few mosquito bites on his face. Like much of the population, he hated mosquitoes. As he scratched, for a brief moment, he was in Heaven–the itching gone, the problems in his life set aside and wiped clean.
As he finished scratching and returned to Earth, Chad paused, giving the rabbit a final few seconds to move before he’d open the bag.
Nothing happened. After six seconds of silence passed between the bag and Chad, the latter opened the top of the bag, reached in and removed the rabbit.
A train whistle–still distant–broke the silence. Chad looked up, and looked around. It was time to move. He only had about a minute.
He threw the sack to the side and stood up. Carefully, using both hands, Chad laid the unconscious rabbit across one of the rails of the track. Standing slowly, hands out as if being warmed by a campfire, Chad backed away while the rabbit remained balanced across the steel.
Knowing he had just seconds now, Chad paused again. He admired his work. The placement was perfect. It was going to explode everywhere, and he was going to get it on tape.
The blaring of the horn of the train tore Chad from his trance. He regained his senses and turned around. The train was closing in quickly, but he had time. Turning back once more to check the rabbit and admire his work, he noticed movement. First just a kick of one leg, now an eye was open.
He should have swung that bag down a little harder.
As the rabbit regained consciousness, Chad turned to grab it before it escaped. His flip flops did not.
Falling to his stomach, Chad realized–as you probably did a minute or two ago–that he was about to die.
The last thing Chad saw–the last Earthly image burned into his retinas before the train arrived was the rabbit hop-hop-hopping its way off the rails, across the gravel, over the creek, under the fence, and safely into Pennyplace Play Park.
For a little, everything was cold and dark. I won’t reveal on a whole what the fleeting seconds between having your head blown a mile down the tracks by a train and the arrival in the afterlife is like. So for a little, it was cold and dark, and then later, things got brighter and warmer.
Also, Chad’s head came back.
With the reattachment of his head, Chad regained his vision. It was nothing like it was in movies. Much more sudden. His mosquito bites, he noticed, were gone.
In front of Chad was a large, large set of black steel gates, much like what you may see in Hell.
“Welcome to Hell!” said a voice.
Chad turned a bit and saw a man–olive skinned, middle aged, glasses–perched atop a comically tall chair behind an equally comically tall bench, much like what you may see in a comically tall courtroom.
“Don’t worry, not a comically tall courtroom,” the man said, hopping from the chair and walking towards Chad. “Just Hell, that’s all. Did I already say that?” He extended a hand.
“Yeah,” replied Chad, reaching his hand out to match the ended hand of the man. “Yeah, you already said that.”
“Sorry,” said the man, grasping Chad’s hand and giving it a hearty shake. “I’ve rehearsed this so many times, I figured I’d have it down by now. Honestly, I was beginning to think this day would never come.”
“Chad,” said Chad.
“Stan,” said Stan.
“Stan,” said Chad.
“Yup,” said Stan.
“Well, it was at least,” said Stan with a slight shrug and cock of the head. “One bit of sloppy handwriting thousands of years ago and all of a sudden an extra ‘a’ gets thrown in there and, of course, that’s what catches on with the masses.”
“So that makes you…” said Chad.
“Yup,” said Stan.
“Staan?” said Chad.
“Satan,” said Stan.
“Right,” said Chad.
“Right,” said Stan. “And you, my friend, are my first visitor!”
“So literally no one,” said Chad, now sitting in a wobbly wooden chair across from Stan’s desk. The chair was normal height. “No one has ever come to Hell?”
“Nope, you’re the first,” said Stan, looking down over the desk. He cracked open a beer. Most of it foamed out of the top.
“So where are all the bad people,” asked Chad, his face largely unmoving from both bewilderment and having just regained full control of the reattached head.
“The ‘bad people’?” said Stan with a dip of his brow. “I see you’re putting that GED to good use. C’mon dude. Murderers. Rapists. Presidents. Expand your vocabulary past three letters for once.”
“And they’re…” said Chad.
“In Heck,” replied Stan, taking a sip of the lukewarm beer.
“Heck?” said Chad.
“Heck,” confirmed Stan. Another sip. “When the ‘bad people’ die, they go to Heck. You’re in Hell because you’re a piece of shit.”
“So I’m the worst person…”
“…To ever live,” finished Stan. “That’s right.”
“What about like, Hitler?”
“Adolf?” asked Stan.
“Yeah, that’s the one,” Chad replied with a look of slight confusion.
“Nope, didn’t make the cut. He’s in Heck too,” replied Stan, shaking his head a bit.
“Didn’t he kill like–”
“Quite a few people yeah,” Stan said, shuffling a few papers on his desk. “But what fewer know is that he was also an artist and philanthropist.”
“Well that’s kind of nice, but I’m not sure that it really cancels out like seven million,” Chad began to say before he was cut off.
“Not really your call to make Chad,” said Stan with a hint of authority. “Though your resume is quite impressive. In fact, I’m almost afraid you’re here to steal my job.” A slight smirk washed over Stan’s face as leaned back in his chair and rested his boots on his desk.
Authentic leather, from the looks of it.
“I haven’t killed anyon–” said Chad.
“Forty six rabbits,” said Stan, unraveling a list that he had almost certainly not been holding a moment ago. The list, too, was comically tall. “Seventeen birds, twenty-one squirrels, and two deer. Plus you dropped a Jolly Rancher on the sidewalk one time and a little girl choked on it and died like two weeks later so that actually counts for you as well.”
“Well that can’t count for me I didn’t–”
“Well who else are we going to put it on Chad? Bill Hermsen, creator of Jolly Ranchers? He changed lives Chad. You just killed a shit load of animals. You also impregnated a girl and smoked like, way too much weed.”
“Weeds not even–”
“I don’t care if it’s not in the Bible, Chad,” said Stan, emphatically gesturing with his hands, sending beer flying. “You did like, way too much. I actually considered killing you at one point. Not even kidding. I can do that, by the way–kill people. I don’t really, because most won’t wind up here anyway, but I can. I considered dropping a dresser on your head as you slept when you were like 14 but I figured ‘hey, let’s see what else this kid gets into. Let him go naturally, you know?’ Turns out your retarded ass got yourself killed 5 years later in an attempt to–surprise surprise–kill a rabbit.”
“It actually survived,” said Chad. “I saw it hop off right before.”
“Oh well in that case you’re free to go. Over to Heck you go then,” said Stan.”
“Really?” asked Chad.
“No,” said Stan. “What the fuck? No. You think 45 is the cutoff for rabbit deaths? Below that and you’re in the clear? You’re here for good Chad.”
“Now,” Stan followed up, correctly reading that the blank stare on Chad’s face indicated a lack of response at the ready. “I’ll show you to your room.”
“So you’ll be here, 24-7-365-..infinity I guess” said Stan, gesturing to a surprisingly spacious room.
“This is a surprisingly spacious room,” said Chad. “Is that a Furby?”
“It is,” said Stan, pleased. “The only toy to ever make it down here.”
The room radiated heat, the walls were either made of flame or painted to appear so. Chad walked in and sat down on the bed. It was sort of lumpy.
“So what am I supposed to do?” asked Chad, looking back up. Stan was gone, the door closed and rendered invisible and inaccessible from the inside.
He laid back on the mattress, looking upward. The walls, he noticed, were painted.
“Damn,” said Chad. A mosquito landed on his face.