Hold Your Breath and You’ll Hear the Devil (Part 2)

For a friend who has been waiting a few years for this. If you missed Part 1, click the link!

I’m not sure how long it’s been since my induction into Hell. There’s no clock in my room and I can’t focus long enough to accurately keep the time. I don’t know if it’s day or night – or if those concepts are relevant anymore in this predicament I find myself in. My thoughts have been all over the place, just like my emotions.

I like to think I’ve evened out a little bit, but my mind is a little fragile right now. People get flustered when their plans don’t work out, or when their daily routine gets interrupted in some way. I not only got shot a billion times by my wife and died (obviously), but I just as obviously ended up in Hell.

People who are still alive are so stupid. They think Hell is a place where fires and demons roar in the face of the dead and perform horrible acts of sodomy and torture to punish those who sinned in life. In reality, this is what Hell is: an empty room.

Economically speaking, it makes a lot of sense. While I have no idea who runs Hell, or even if there’s any type of religious implication, putting people into rooms and making them deal with emptiness is probably more efficient than making a mess. I mean, can you imagine the bodily fluids in a more traditional type of Hell?

Besides, isolation can make the strongest person crazy. Nobody has the ability to withstand this type of nothingness. The thing is, people who claim they’re okay by themselves are sort of lying. Even if they get by without talking with other people, they have things to do. Maybe they like reading, or writing, or killing ants with a magnifying glass. Whatever they do, it’s something.

Here? There’s nothing to do. I suppose you could punch the walls and do some jumping jacks. You could sing to yourself, or talk if you suck at singing. Of course, it doesn’t matter if you suck.

If a person sings alone in the middle of nothing, does he make a sound?

By my completely unreliable calculations, it’s been at least a month since I’ve been in here. The voice that reminded me of Benedict Cumberbatch hasn’t returned and all efforts to remain sane are dubious. My creativity has been forced to work hard, although retaining any sort of result is impossible.

I would write, because I could do all sorts of stupid things like make fake NBA rosters or even jot down some shitty poems. Alas, there is nothing in this room. I’ve even tried to rip my shirt and sweatpants and do something – anything – with them, but they’re made of some ridiculously resilient fabric.

This Hell is difficult to understand. I’m hungry and thirsty (tired too), but not overwhelmingly so. I haven’t washed in a month, but I’m still clean as a whistle (a saying which makes no sense to me, actually). I have not lost weight, nor have I gained any. This is a very subtle form of psychological torture, it seems.

Something about the mind and body. Whatever. I’m not sure how I haven’t gone crazy yet, although I’m sure it’s thanks to the very nice and awesome writer who is writing this.

Yeah, it’s me again! Welcome to Part 2. Yay. Our mutual friend here is so bored; I think we should spice things up a little bit.

I like the sound of that! Right on cue, the voice returned. It was such an emotional moment, I slumped over and sobbed. Then I became defiant, because I was showing such weakness. The voice said, “I am impressed with your progress thus far. Many have broken before reaching this milestone. As a reward for your mental fortitude, take this. Enjoy it while it lasts.”

Right before my eyes, a laptop materialized and softly landed in my open hands. With trembling fingers, I turned the power on.

As it booted up, I called upon the writer to pass the time while the laptop finished doing its thing.

Yeah, what do you want?

I was intrigued as to what was going to happen. Did Hell have internet?

I wouldn’t want to spoil anything, now would I?

Sure enough, the laptop inexplicably skipped forward and went right to some kind of instant messaging application. I stared at the blinking cursor and slowly started to type.

ME: Hello?

The anticipation was killing me (ha) and thankfully a reply came pretty quickly.

TED_PHOENIX: Hello.

Hmm… intriguing. Who was this?

ME: Who are you?

TED_PHOENIX: I am from HR. My job is to jog your memory about some poignant things the reader will want to read about.

ME: What kind of memories?

TED_PHOENIX: Really, it doesn’t matter.

ME: Instead of going through my memories, can’t we replicate a movie or something? What about Underworld, only it’s me and Kate Beckinsale doing all sorts of stuff?

TED_PHOENIX: Please hold.

I waited. Then something struck me right between the eyes so hard, I was sure my head was permanently deformed. Like in a cartoon. As I reeled in agony, the laptop chirped and I looked at it through a salty waterfall.

TED_PHOENIX: Unfortunately, my supervisor has rejected your request. Now, after your demise from the living world, we took a look at your life. We’ve isolated a handful of memories we think the reader will particularly enjoy. Especially one reader we have in mind.

ME: Just one reader? I thought this was in some kind of prestigious book or magazine or something. Where is this getting published again?

Uh, just my personal website.

ME: But you get some good traffic, right? I mean, people read your stuff?

Oh, ya. Ya! Definitely!

TED_PHOENIX: In any case, we thought going in chronological order would be appropriate. Do you remember that tree, on your front lawn…

When I was just a kid, we used to wrap ourselves in soft blankets and snuggle into sturdy chairs on the front porch during the cooler summer nights. Sometimes, while we gazed out at the sweeping front lawn, he would point to the majestic tree in the middle of it all and whisper, “Look at that tree. It has withstood the trials and tribulations of time. Fire, wind, man – nothing can stop it. It was here in the beginning, and it will be here in the end.”

During the day, I would climb to the top of the tree and proudly soak in the surrounding neighborhood. I could see for miles, it seemed, all the way into other states and other worlds. From time to time I would lean back against a sturdy branch and relax, tracing the fluffy clouds with my fingers as I squinted against the bright sunlight.

As I grew older, the tree became a sponge for my pain during times of great sadness. My brother, the one who would whisper cryptic messages to me on the porch, died just after graduating from high school. It was a Friday night and he was off to a friend’s house to presumably go through yet another confounding The Lord of the Rings movie marathon.

On the way, he stopped at a local convenience store, inadvertently interrupting a robbery. He was shot several times.

Before he left, he told me what he was going to get at the store.

A bag of chips.

A few boxes of candy.

The police came to our home. I listened to what they said and ran to the tree. I stared at the bark, taking time to examine the intricate ridges that weaved up into the sky. Then I started punching the tree. I punched it until my hands were raw and bloody and swollen. The tree, of course, didn’t budge. I collapsed at the base and stared back at the house.

Eventually, we all moved on. It was hard, but we did it. I graduated from high school, went to college, got my degree, and came back home to my old neighborhood and my ageless tree. My parents were living in a different city by then, but had kept the house. They said, “Consider this your graduation present.”

Then they moved to Miami where they’ve been having the most relaxing time of their lives.

I don’t live in that house anymore. I mean, I live in Hell now, but I wasn’t living in that house before I died. The last time I saw that tree was right after my first wife passed away. Yeah, can you believe it? You can imagine why I wanted to get away from that place. There was a lot of love there, but a lot of pain too.

You know, the highlight of my life was when I saw her for the first time. I know it sounds cheesy, but it was such an unexpected moment it totally caught me by surprise… which I admit also sounds cheesy.

Whatever. You want to hear what happened or not?

Part 3 is here!

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