11 Oct

The whole work is called “The Sinner” and this is Chapter Seven and replaces previous chapter sevens by pushing them along a bit. I hope my friends who are reading it on this site can keep up. I’ll post a complete list

There was a meaningful flash in the deceased Bernard’s memory. It had happened sometimes when he was alive, an image from the long-ago past returning an age after it rightfully ought to have been forgotten, and filling him with fear. And in death it had come, and he shivered.

It wasn’t remotely cold in Hell. In fact it might have been described as blisteringly hot, enough to turn living flesh into ash if the flesh he had was still mortal flesh, but nevertheless he shivered as the image took form in his mind.

He was in the dark.

It was terrifyingly dark, and the space was confined so that he could barely move without banging himself on an unseen interior, and all because he’d been a naughty boy. He hadn’t been at all sure at the time that it was naughty, in fact he had thought that it wasn’t, but it seemed he had been terribly wrong.

He’d come in from playing in the garden, the tiny front garden which butted onto the street where he lived. The house next door had two frail old people living in it but he did sometimes talk to them if he wasn’t allowed out onto the street ” and this was a Sunday, so he wasn’t allowed past the gate because God wouldn’t like it, and if he did of venture beyond the boundary of home he’d be forced to spend a very, very long eternity in Hell when he died.

“It’s nasty in Hell, Bernie,” his mother had said, and because she had called him Bernie he thought she was being affectionate. She called him Bernie sometimes, though in all truth she was never truly affectionate to anyone, not even his father who she hated with an almost unnatural venom. “There are fires everywhere,” she went on, “great shooting white-hot flames with the foulest gases in them, gases that smell more like rotten eggs than rotten eggs do! And there’s that evil devil there with his whips, flaying the burnt flesh off the backs of sinners until they’ve got no flesh left … and he still keeps on flaying them. And then there are the flaming spiders, the smoking rodents, the tortured souls howling and howling for a long eternity. You wouldn’t like that, Bernie, would you, so tell me what you’ve been doing out there on the front bit of grass?”

“I was talking, mummy,” he’d replied quietly, “Mrs Ashe from next door…”

“That old biddy? That ancient piece of human scum?” asked his mother, and he knew by how quietly she was speaking that before long she was likely to explode. He might only have been a child, a young one at that, but he had worked her moods out. It had, he supposed, been a matter of self-preservation to guess what might be coming, and prepare for it.

“She’s kind, mummy,” he had said. “She gave me a sweetie.”

“What!” That was the explosion. That was the beginnings of his trouble. “She did what, Bernard?”

“She gave me a sweetie, mummy,” he repeated, wondering what he should have said.

“She gave you a sweetie? She came up to her bit of fence and leaned over it, leaned over it mark you so that you could get a glimpse of that bosom of hers, and gave you a sweetie?” screeched his mother. “She did that? Oh, may the Lord forgive us, but he would not like that. He would not like that at all! On a Sunday! On His own day! During the hours he’s set aside for us to worship him! And she’s given you a sweetie with her bosom hanging out! Where is that sweetie now, Bernard, what did you do with it?”

What would any child do with a sweet that he’s been given, asked the deceased Bernard of himself, and what bosom, I never saw her bosom, I’d remember if I had…

“I ate it, mummy. It was a soft sweet, and I ate it.”

“What!” The explosion was in the megaton range! It was huge, it made his mother shake and turned her face almost purple. “You ate a stranger’s sweet on a Sunday, and her half-naked and tempting you? On the Lord’s day? On the one day we’re specially told in the Good Book not to eat sweets?”

“I didn’t know, mummy…” And he hadn’t, not then and not now that he was in Hell. Surely there was nothing in the Bible about small boys eating single sweets on Sundays? And how could overdressed old ladies be tempting a boy with a bosom that was no doubt tucked inside several layers of material?

“Well you do now, and you’d better start praying here and now for forgiveness! And you’d better hope that he hears your prayers! So many people ask him for love or healing because they’ve got hatred or disease in their lives, and he hears them, but is he going to hear a scruffy little boy’s begging above all that other praying? Is that likely? You need to go somewhere special so that your prayers come easily, you nasty little sweet-eating urchin! And when he gets home from the pub I’ll get your father to give you such a lathering with his belt, that I will, so that the bruises stay for a month of Sundays and you know all about eating sweeties on the Lord’s special day!”

“Not there, mummy, not there … I didn’t know … you never said….”

There was the cupboard under the stairs. It was a horrible black space full of dust, spiders and the odd mouse where his parents kept useless things they didn’t know what to do with. He’d felt a mouse scurrying past him on previous occasions when punishment had led to incarceration in that black hole, and he was terrified of it. He’d prefer a lathering from that leather belt that was often promised but never delivered. His father was weak, but never cruel.

“I promise I’ll never eat a sweetie on a Sunday ever again now that I know,” he pleaded. “I didn’t mean to do wrong. I didn’t mean to make God so angry. I didn’t think…”

“No, Bernie, you didn’t think. And Mrs Ashe next door is an evil woman. You know that, don’t you?”

He shook his head. He didn’t seem to know anything any more.

“The creature is a woman, Bernie, an evil and rotten woman ready to lead you astray, keen to drive you into the arms of the Devil in his hell! Don’t you forget that! Like all women ‘cept your sainted mother she’s filled to her rotten core with evil, and she’s trapped you. Yes she has! She’s driven you from the path of righteousness and you must suffer for it. You must suffer hours in the cupboard! You must weep and beg forgiveness of our lovely, noble Lord! Then maybe he’ll hear you above the din of others needing honest help, and forgive you!”

And she grabbed him by the back of his short trousers until the stretched and strained material threatened to cut into his genitals, and she pushed him into the cupboard under the stairs.

Then she shut the door and he heard her locking it.

Inside was pitch blackness. Inside was dirty and dusty and filled with unnamed and unguessed horrors. And yes there was a scurrying, a furtive little movement and he struggled to move away from it, but couldn’t. The space was too small, and he was a growing boy.

The dead Bernard in Hell might have wept if the dead can find tears where they are. But he didn’t. Instead he stood there next to the dire Satan and heard him cackle quietly as a whisper inside his own head said our father, which art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name because I’ve been so very very evil eating a sweet on Sunday, and please, please, please forgive me….

© Peter Rogerson 11.10.16


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