10 Sep

“Now let’s get our heads round some rules,” croaked Sister Mary Turtledove as she settled herself as close as she could to a fissure through which flames and smoke and the dire reek of sulphur poured without actually burning herself.
I don’t want any rules and I most certainly don’t want to be here with this ancient hag, thought Bernard, ashamed of his nakedness and aware that his decrepit companion was eyeing him with either anticipation or hatred … he wasn’t sure which but hoped it was the latter. He was used to being hated and could cope with that but had a general fear of anything worth anticipating.
“To start with,” she hissed, pushing her pyorrhoea-infected breath into his face as a stern reminder that even mortal afflictions have their shadows in the afterlife. “To start with I’ll tell you again: I spent my life being unsullied by men and I won’t let it start now, so no touching. My flesh’s precious to me, it is, as is my virginity, and both are going to stay in place … or else!”
“Er…” he began, but she silenced him before he’d started with a wave of bony fingers and a toxic glob of rancid spittle.
“And no telling tales that aren’t true either,” she sniffed, “I don’t want it doing the rounds here that I’m easy meat for you boys to take advantage of! My flesh is my own affair, always has been and always will be… though I did once think of letting Sister Pretty Bumford cuddle up to it when we were both a deal younger … but only think, mind you, only think, she was willing and would have been inside my drawers at the drop of a hat, but I was made of sterner stuff and tried a bit of flagellation instead. That worked, it did, and I never saw hair nor hide of sweet little Pretty again. So be warned. I’m not easy meat and that’s a fact.”
He looked at her sadly and shook his head. In the flickering red and orange lights of Hell she wasn’t even meat, he thought. Her thinning grey hair, to his eyes indecently long on such a gnarly creature, dripped with what might have been perspiration caused by the extreme heat, or maybe ancient grease that had somehow survived the journey from life to death. For he could tell, by looking at the dull emptiness of her spirit eyes, that she was dead and most probably had been for quite a ling time.
“You’ve nothing to fear from me,” she murmured mildly, deciding that low-key was probably the best was of approaching this hideous old creature. “I’ve never laid hands on a living woman and I’m certainly not likely to want to touch a dead one,” he added.
“Hey! Who are you calling dead?” she squawked, suddenly erupting into a burst of anger that came as more than a shock to him. Had he given any thought to the matter he would have concluded that she was incapable of such sudden animation and yet here she was leaping into the air as if on a spring.
“We’re all dead,” he replied, shaking his head. “But you know that, don’t you?”
“I know no such thing!” she squeaked. “There I was lying in my bed and doing my devotions, praising the Lord like I always have twenty hours a day all my life, when this oaf with a big knife came and dragged me away, and me with not a stitch on me! Wait till I get back and I’ll start my flagellations all over again, I will, letting the oaf see me in the altogether!”
“That was Mr Death,” sighed Bernard. “He came for me, too, before I was ready. But I couldn’t do anything about it. He made me walk behind him and brought me to this horrible place, and there I was thinking I’d done all the right things to get a place in Heaven for ever and ever amen!”
“You wouldn’t want to go there!” boomed a suddenly new voice, and both Sister Mary and Bernard looked up to see who had broken into their conversation.
The most grotesque figure imaginable was standing like some kind of anti-god in a space between the belching fissures through which flames of every colour (but mostly red) shot. It was either male or female (or possibly some indeterminate neutral sex), had horns that even a Texas Longhorn bull would have been proud of, a tail that whipped around behind it, forked and hideous and probably smelling of something dreadful, and yet it was loosely the shape of and had the bipedal arrangement of a man.
“The devil…” whimpered Sister Mary Turtledove, “the Lord save us…”
“The Lord?” bellowed the horned figure, “you’re not allowed to mention that lily-livered scumbag here! The Lord? He’s in charge of the other side where they sit plaiting daisy chains and sipping non-alcoholic champagne! No, this is my domain, Satan’s anti-paradise, and don’t you ever forget it!”
“But I don’t want to be here…” began Bernard, feeling the need to explain his deeper, most troubled thoughts to this awesome newcomer. “I only ever wanted to plait daisy chains and I’d never drink anything if I thought there was alcohol in it…”
“Oh, I would,” spluttered Sister Mary, “not that I ever got much of a chance in the convent! Mother superior saw to that! But I had the odd moment…”
“You mean?” almost exploded the satanic creature, “you mean you actually touched some of the stuff? If you never got much of a chance it sounds as if you got a little bit of a chance…”
“I did,” confessed the hag-like sister, “I pinched some strong communion wine from Mother Superior’s secret supplies once and it made my head go all woozy. I could be so naughty when I tried!”
“Oh no! No! No! No!” roared the gigantic devil. “You’ve come to the wrong place, you silly nun! You’ve not wasted your entire life like my friends all have, not if you’ve actually stolen some wine. Get thee hence at once and go to where the flowers are pretty and everyone sings madrigals the whole day long…”
“You mean…” gabbled the nun, her empty breasts swinging as she clambered to her feet and danced a little jig.
“Just get thee hence, wench!” roared the devil, and he made to gore her with his hideous horns. She gave a little shriek and scampered off, narrowly avoiding many a chasm and fissure until she was out of sight.
“What about me?” asked Bernard, pathetically.
“Ah, you,” smiled the mouth beneath the horns, turning to face him “you’re staying, my lad, because in my big book it says you’ve never committed the smallest of sins and that your life has been actually totally wasted! You’re here for ever, but if you’re really good I might let you take a day-trip to Heaven once you’ve settled in and got your feet under the table…”
© Peter Rogerson 10.09.16


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