8 Sep

Bernard couldn’t help it. Something made him glance back towards the bed where Terry and the lovely Amelia Amplebutt were lying together, so close he thought that at least a dozen sins were being simultaneously committed without them seeming to be least bothered, and he had a nose for sin.
All his life he’d been terrified of committing even one of them. His parents had impressed him with the importance of clean living and a clean mind and he’d spent a dismal lifetime ensuring that he had both. He paused for a moment as Mr Death pushed against a wall that instantly assumed all the properties of a good old fashioned door and wondered why Terry had never mentioned it.
“Never play with yourself,” his mother had admonished him when his hands had awkwardly brushed against the lower part of his own body on account of him needing to suppress an itch. He’d not yet been in his teens but she’d swiped him with a saucepan anyway. “Many an evil sin is committed by a lad touching himself,” she had said, sniffing her displeasure at him, and to ram the lesson home she’d explained to his father why Bernard had a purple bruise on his face, and that good man had decided it was time to explain the facts of life to his son.
“Women were born evil,” he had said, and Bernard had been hard pressed to see any relationship between his genitals (which had needed scratching because of a persistent itch) and the gender that often sported pigtails and wore frocks. But he had nodded his agreement anyway because failing to do so often resulted in additional bruises, and the big one that had been the consequence of a really irritating testicular itch was quite enough for him to cope with at the moment.
“It says so in the Bible,” his father had continued after lighting a briar pipe and filling the room with acrid smoke, which Bernard found to be chokingly unpleasant. “Eve committed the first sin, and Eve was a woman. You might say that she invented sin. A bad lot, was Eve, and she used all her evil feminine wiles to tempt her man. That’s why women were born evil and why you playing with yourself is doubly evil. Now, boy, get you to bed and start begging the Lord for forgiveness.”
And he’d done just that despite the earliness of the evening.
Other conversations with his loving parents had revealed that in addition to his own sins they were protecting him from their own evil, which had emerged from a dastardly and reprehensible evening of disgusting lust during which he had been inadvertently conceived. His father had been firm on the point. It had been his mother’s fault because she’d flaunted herself in front of him and it would have been best for her to have an abortion, but back then it was illegal and the law needed to be obeyed.
“The law of man is one thing, and the law of God is another,” his father had said obliquely.
Now Mr Death was opening a door in a room that shouldn’t have one just there and his neighbour Terry was being evil with the much younger and, even to Bernard’s eyes, gloriously attractive Amelia.
And he, Bernard, had to follow Mr Death through that door.
The cowled and scary individual paused on the threshold and signalled to Bernard that he should wait for a moment.
“We are here,” he said in his inimitable growl. “I have brought you to your last resting place, so to speak. All the efforts you have made in life, every moment of praising and worshipping the terrible deity beyond this door, has been recorded and you are here as though you were naked.”
Bernard looked down at himself and saw that he was naked. With a nervous hand he covered his most private parts up and almost fainted when he detected the very beginning of an ominous twitch where there should only be stasis. He’d had ominous twitches before, and had taken aspirin for them.
Mr Death coughed. “Now pay attention,” he growled. “I’m not in the habit of repeating myself and I don’t intend to start now!”
“Sorry,” whispered Bernard, and the twitch subsided.
“It is recorded that you have lived a life of self-sacrifice and almost total boredom,” intoned the guide. “Every moment you have spent is in the book of life and from what it says it would appear that you are bound for an eternity to stay with the Antichrist in Hell!”
Bernard couldn’t help opening his mouth as wide as a dead mouth will open and shaking his head.
“That can’t be right!” he spluttered. “All my life I’ve been wary of the dangers of sin and have completely avoided committing any! I’ve never paraded myself clothed or unclothed in the presence of a woman nor have I laid a finger on one! And, you know, I’ve wanted to. I’ve had urges inside me, but I’ve suppressed them using self-inflicted punishment and prayer. Oh, how I’ve bled and prayed! So I have lived a life free from sin.”
“You have?” growled Mr Death, and had there been any visible features on his face Bernard was certain that his eyes would be twinkling.
“I most assuredly have!” gabbled Bernard. “Why, when I was a young man I was approached by a whore…”
“A whore, you say? A prostitute?” spluttered Death.
Bernard nodded. “A woman who lived down the road, with pretty blond hair and the bluest of eyes. She wanted to have a drink with me, in a house of sin…”
“In a pub, you mean?”
Bernard nodded again. “And she had the loveliest face with satin-smooth skin and lovely soft lips. I could have gone with her, into that evil pub, willingly, for she was almost begging me. But I stood firm. I obeyed my principles and left her at the hostelry door. I would not go in!”
“Ah, that explains it,” sighed Mr Death.
“It does? So I’m not for hell?” asked Bernard, eagerly.
“Oh, you’re for Hell all right,” nodded his guide. “There can be no doubt about that! But from the little you say I can tell what your sin is, and I warn you, there are few worse. You are, in fact, the veriest of sinners.”
Bernard was appalled. “What have I done that is so very evil?” he asked.
“It’s obvious,” said Mr Death. “You must be able to see it. You have been given a life, quite a long life as you know, and you have wasted it. Every minute of it. And that, my son, is a dreadful, dreadful sin. That’s why you’re coming with me into Hell! You’ve wasted your precious life.”
© Peter Rogerson 08.09.16


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