9 Sep

Bernard was discovering that even the dead can shiver because he was both dead and shivering. And it wasn’t a result of the cold because, mere feet in front of him, raged all the fires of Hell, and they were a great deal brighter and hotter than he’d ever imagined any fires could be. Yet as he looked around him deep shivers racked his insubstantial flesh and he felt rotten.
He’d lived a life of needing to be good. It had been thrashed into him by a disciplinarian of a mother when he’d been too small to realise just how deep the conditioning was going. But go deep it had, and he had grown to be a creature so determined to do no wrong that his whole life had been lived with that solitary objective. There are some who might have said that he was a fool, but in all truth he couldn’t help it.
And here he was standing on the very threshold of Hell in the company of the cowled figure of Death, and that noble squire was wearily carrying a shining scythe over one shoulder as if that’s what he had created for.
“Come on,” that sombre figure growled. “We can’t hang around out here for ever. The time has come for you to take your rightful place in here. And I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. There’s no danger of you getting cold or catching a chill…”
“Do I have to? Whimpered Bernard, “I only ever tried to do the right thing. I only ever tried to please my lord…”
“And you did!” replied Mr Death. “Beelzebub is right pleased with you, you can be sure of that! Why, he only said to me the other day how he was looking forward to a bit of time in the company of the virgin Bernard! He said you could exchange experiences with him, tell him what it’s been like not having a woman between your legs in all your life and he could tell you all about the joys of almost continuous activities of a carnal nature. Because he’s seen some life, he has, good old Beelzebub, he’s put it about and no mistake!”
“I don’t want…” shivered Bernard, but Mr Death pushed him firmly on a naked shoulder and he found himself taking that one necessary step through the hidden door and onto the burning coals of Hell, with fire all around him and the stench of sulphur in the air, making his dead spirit-lungs splutter.
“Never mind what you didn’t want,” soothed his companion gruffly. “This is what you’ve got, you lucky ghost!”
There was the sound behind them very much like that made by a child popping his cheek with one finger, and Bernard spun round. The door had vanished as though it had never been and instead of Terry’s bedroom complete with bed and his contorting activities with the beautiful Amelia there was a landscape stretching for as far as the eye could see. The sheer beauty made Bernard gasp.
Above that scene there was a perfect pale blue sky dotted with the sort of tiny cumulus clouds many an artist has struggled to reproduce over the years, and failed. And hanging in it and lighting all that blue was a magnificent sun casting both light and warmth on the land. And that land! There was a vast acreage of meadow dotted with tiny flowers of every colour under its gentle sky, and here and there, as if composed by the mightiest of creative skills, were clusters of trees in the full green majesty of their early summer canopies. Nearby a fluffy Lamb gambolled in delight, watched over by a lion licking its lips with adoration.
Here and there under the sun were little clusters of people dressed appropriately in almost nothing for such a balmy day, sitting or walking in little groups, and the ringing of their laughter filled the air. Bernard stared, unable to believe his eyes.
“What’s that?” he asked.
“Oh, that’s the other side. That’s Heaven. A bit boring if you ask me,” grunted Mr Death. “That’s all they do, the folks in Heaven, sit around or walk here and there, chattering about nothing in particular and giggling at jokes that aren’t at all funny. I mean, how can you have a funny joke when every joke ever conceived of has already been told a zillion times? And, you know, there’s no romance. That’s all been left behind, but then I guess they’ve all had enough of it when they were alive!”
“I’d prefer it to toasting my feet on thus side,” muttered Bernard.
“Oh, it’s more than your feet you’ll be toasting!” assured Death. “And you’ll not have a moment of boredom, I can tell you! There are ladies over here amongst the furnaces and flames who will be more than happy to satisfy your every appetite and the fun of it will be that they’re discovering stuff at the same time that you do!”
“What do you mean?” asked Bernard.
“Surely you understand,” began his guide. “You’re here because you wasted your life. Every minute of it, and that’s accounted a sin in these parts when all you have to do in life is pass your genes on as humanity races towards the end of its course and attains perfection! But no. You opted out. You failed. You didn’t even spill any of the stuff of life in an orgy of self-lust. Why, you even treated your teenage nocturnal emissions as if you were ill, with aspirins. You failed every test and that’s why you’re here. But the other people, on the other side, laughing and happy, they’re stuck in Heaven where I’m afraid they’ll have to suffer the same jolly perfection day in and day out for ever. I think you’ve got the better bargain, and look, here comes your first satanic lady-friend, you lucky spirit.”
“I don’t want any lady friends, satanic or otherwise!” protested Bernard.
“Don’t worry! You’ll get used to it!” almost cackled Death.
And Bernard spied, coming towards him, what could be best described as a hag with everything sagging about her that could possibly sag and a look in her eyes that suggested she wanted to be anywhere but where she was.
“So you’re Bernard,” she croaked, “well we’d best get it over with, I suppose. My name is Sister Mary Turtledove and I’m warning you now. Keep your nasty little man-fingers off my flesh, say nowt against my faith and we just might get on all right! Mine’s the third furnace on the right and I’ll thank you not to wet it!”
© Peter Rogerson 09.09.16


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