The Chamber Of A Rotten Heart

Jimmy didn’t hate his job. At least, not completely.

Considering how his fellow-sufferers in hell were doing, his wasn’t the worst profile imaginable.

Jimmy wasn’t exactly sure as to how long has passed since he landed in hell. The concept of time didn’t have a foothold in this place devised by Satan, though there’s a firm adherence to the idea of space-particularly personal spaces. For instance, if someone’s eternal fate is to jump into a lake of lava and then come out of it after a few hours of incredible anguish, only to repeat it endlessly, the space around a lava pool would be the area demarcated to that individual.

And if someone’s punishment was to stay cramped inside a 3 feet by 3 feet caged box when he’s over 6 feet tall and reasonably big, you bet he isn’t gonna get out of there. Ever.

What made these proceedings possible- the endless repetitions actions was the fact that you never feel hungry in hell. That was an aspect which fascinated Jimmy endlessly when he first arrived here. The absence of hunger was something that people always wished for down below on earth. And they are granted their wish-perversely enough when they were in hell.

There’s no hunger in heaven either. But over there, they do hold grand banquets sometimes that have gourmet preparations for the buffet. The people in heaven consume those delicacies not to satiate their hunger but to caress their taste buds. Such sensory pleasures can be enjoyed if you are in heaven, in degrees so much more than on earth. Of course, having never been to heaven himself(alas), Jimmy has only ever heard of all these.

And being in hell, it wasn’t pleasure that was Jimmy’s business.

Jimmy wasn’t surprised by the fact that everyone had a job to do in hell. After all, the jobs that people did on earth were also sometimes synonymous with hell. Some killed you faster, others slowly. What did surprise him was the profile that he was given.

He still remembers that day-the very day of his arrival when he was summoned to the chambers of Mr.Grozz- a grizzly being that stood at well over 10 feet and had the bulk of a humongous bear. Mr. Grozz would grin from time to time at some morbid joke that he himself came up with and many of these have afforded Jimmy the glimpse of his teeth-he seems to have just four canine teeth, sharp as the dagger of a king’s chief guardsman, deadly as the bite of a Black Mamba. It’s Mr. Grozz’ duty to assign jobs to the new arrivals. In the hierarchy of hell, Grozz was pretty high up in the ladder or so Jimmy has heard: the assignation of tasks being considered one of the major profiles in this nether world.

Grozz’ chamber was the interior of a heart- a rotting heart. As soon as you enter it, you are greeted by the stench of rotting flesh. Jimmy, of course wasn’t aware of the reason for this on that first day but later he when became better acquainted with Grozz, he came to learn that the heart was a practical joke that Grozz played on himself. Grozz had died back on earth due to a viral infection that caused his muscles to rot-including his heart. “My chamber reminds me of my death. which inflicts me with severe psychological pain whenever I’m inside it.” By the time Grozz has said this to Jimmy, Jimmy was acquainted enough with the nature of hell to know better than to raise an eyebrow at this.

It was inside the parody of Grozz’ rotting heart that Grozz read out to Jimmy from a ledger(bound with treated human flesh that was as good as leather) his job profile:
“You, Jimmy Roberts, are to be the chief Torture Planner of hell.”
With those words Grozz dismissed him but Jimmy wasn’t prepared to leave yet, for he had no idea what a Toture Planner was.

“It’s exactly what the title implies,” said Grozz with a weariness that was like the sigh of ages. He would wear a pair a round rimmed spectacles whenever he read from the ledger that has all the entries of hellers’ (As they are non-affectionately addressed sometimes over the PA system) jobs. He took off those specs as he spoke to Jimmy in a tone that a weary teacher might use with a student he considered as ‘slow in the head.’

“You will have to come up with novel ways of punishing people-torture methods for eternity. Of course, ‘for eternity’ is just a clause which could be wiped off from the contract at any moment by the hand of Lord Satan. For Lord Satan wants to be entertained, every single moment and it’s for the pleasure of his entertainment- and also as retribution to the sins you committed on earth, that people go through sufferings. And you can hardly blame the Lord for feeling bored with watching someone named Daisy who is impaled on a steel rod being endlessly turned over a spit of fire, the spin of the rod matched only by the pitch of her screams. So, he might ask for a different punishment for Daisy once in a while,” Grozz added with a wink before replacing the glasses on his eyes and turning his attention back to the open ledger, calling out “Next!” And the next person came in through the door- an old lady with a highly emaciated body and a frightened pair of eyes.

What Grozz didn’t tell him that day but which was something that Jimmy was to learn the hard ay was that in hell, if the boss is displeased with your work, you are not gonna get away with just a warning.

Ever innovative methods of torture- that was what was demanded of Jimmy.

One day, after being punished by Lord Satan because He was ‘unmoved’ by seeing what Jimmy had devised for an unbaptised 2 month old- pouring down its throat a school of flesh eating maggots that would come out of it ass and climb all the way back to its mouth to enter its body again, ad infinitum, Jimmy went into Grozz’s chamber and found him relatively free. The grizzly monster was going through his ledger but there was no one else in the chamber.

“Why is the chamber empty?” asked Jimmy.
“Slow day,” Grozz said with a shrug of the shoulder.
“How can it be slow?” said Jimmy, walking towards Grozz, limping on his right leg. “If there’s one thing of which there’s no dearth on earth-that’s death.”

Grozz looked up at him, then shut the ledger and leaned back in his seat. When he looked at Jimmy, the look in his eyes was as though he were looking from a great distance. “Why don’t you sit down?” he said, gesturing towards the chair at the other side of the table- a chair with a seat of metallic thorns.

Jimmy looked at the chair and declined the offer.

“From the way you limp and the battered state of your face, I imagine that you were punished by the Lord for some offence?'” said Grozz, a hint of mockery in his voice.

“Yeah, the offence of not being offensive enough to the dead soul of a child,” said Jimmy, sounding angry. This was one of the reasons why he talked to Grozz whenever he was feeling down. Grozz was someone to whom you could divulge your anger-the anger you felt towards the Bad Lord Hims. And Grozz wouldn’t take it bad-at least not always . Contrast that with the rest of the inhabitants, like the Chief Crude Joker whose task it is to come up with the dirtiest jokes imaginable for the un-edification of Satan and whose loyalty to the Dark Lord was so strong that he would scream and shut his ears with his hands to block out the voice of anyone who expressed their anger at Him.

Grozz didn’t take Jimmy up on his comment regarding the child, except for saying, “Ah, children..they remind you of birth and so they remind you of death too.” Jimmy was used to the odd ways of Grozz’s talks,so he didn’t find this observation unusual. “And what you said before about death being not scarce on earth is only true. Over one and a half lakh people die there every single day.” he added.

“Yeah, but, why is the day so slow, then?” said Jimmy. He didn’t really want to know about it. But the thing is, Grozz was something of a workaholic and the only things that you could really talk to him were related to work.

Grozz eyed him with a look of amusement on his face, as though he had his eyes on a highly peculiar alien specimen. “Did you actually think that this is the only section of hell where dead souls arrive? “he said with a smile that was somewhere between a sneer and a mockery.

“I didn’t even know that there were different sections of hell,” said Jimmy,which was also when he first had the thought of how long he had been in hell. But before he could dwell on that thought much longer, Grozz said, “Of course there are. And depending on the intensity of the sins people have committed when they were alive, they would arrive at different sections.”

“So, ours is for the worst of sinners, I presume,” said Jimmy, adding an “Ouch!” because his chin hurt where a portion of the punishment was meted out to him by Satan a few minutes ago(if units like minutes are applicable in the after-life).
Grozz laughed- his entire body shook, especially his belly which shook like jelly.

“Oh, no, Jimmy, ” he said, “It’s just the low to moderate sinners that we get in Section A. Why, did you actually think that you counted as one of the worst that earth could produce? You have never even been in a prison!” he added, then laughed some more, a sound which was loud enough to make the very walls of the chamber of the rotting heart shake.

Jimmy thought about what Grozz said. “Well, ” he said, “I thought that since I am here, what I did do was bad enough.” If Grozz recognised the sound of mockery in what Jimmy said, he didn’t show it.
Instead, he said, “Of course what you did was bad. But Jimmy, there are different levels of bad.”

Jimmy nodded, just like a schoolboy who received the right lessons from his teacher.

“How long have you been here, Grozz?” he asked. He got another lesson then.”Things like time don’t mean anything here, son.” Grozz suddenly sounded tired. “Long enough to turn into this,” he added, pointing to his own monstrous body. “You graduate into monsters at different points of your existence in hell- as time goes by. Only thing is, no one can really measure time here.”

“Not even if we build a clock?” said Jimmy. He was in earnest- the absence of time- a sense of direction as in past-present and from there to the future made the hard existence of hell even harder. For without time many of the consolations of existence which your mind conjures up in your mortal life is no more- like hope, for instance, because in the absence of a future, the idea of hope is also negated.

Earnest though Jimmy was, Grozz only laughed . “Build a clock! You talk like a child sometimes. You know very well that some things are just impossible in hell!”

Jimmy let out a sigh. But while his chest heaved, his heart hurt. “Ouch!” he said again. “What the hell, man!” he exclaimed. “Couldn’t you have given me another job? I am getting punished almost every other day and I can understand it-to some extend. After all, I am not exactly cut out for this task. Nothing in my experience as an accountant with a small company on earth had prepared me for this.”

With an agility that was surprising for someone of his bulk, Grozz sat forward in his seat. “Well, let’s not forget that it was in your capacity as an accountant that you embezzled all that money-which hurt badly not just the employees of the small company contributing to its breakdown, but also many an external stakeholder. So, you see,” he said with a sneer, “You do know a thing or two about hurting people.”

But hurting people wasn’t my primary intention with stealing all that money. It was for getting more pleasure for myself, Jimmy thought but didn’t voice the thought.

Grozz leaned back in his high backed chair again, his expression softened but there was still the trace of a sneer on his face. “You can do it, Jimmy.”

Now, sitting at his table, trying to come up with more grotesque ideas to make the unbaptized child suffer, Jimmy tried to derive confidence from Grozz’s words. But that wasn’t working.

He looked at the nearly blank page opened on his laptop screen. The document name was “Unbaptised torture-revisions 2” though there was just a single entry in it: Pour molten lava directly inside the child’s vagina while piercing her eyes with sharpened pencils. But he was not satisfied with that idea, and he knew that Satan wouldn’t be too. Not when having the child being ripped apart by horses to which either of its limbs were tied and then having wolves feast on the pieces of ripped flesh while the soul could still feel the pain was the last plan of which the Bad Lord was thoroughly unimpressed.

“Shit. Shit. Shit!” he repeated the word like a mantra. His tension was mounting. Even though there was no time in hell, he knew that he didn’t have an endless time to do this job. At some point of time, Satan would send an emissary and ask for the ‘Baby’s exhibit’ which was a fancy way of saying “Torture her!”

He was about to say ‘shit!’ again when the message window popped up. “New arrival. Looking session,” said the message.

‘Looking Session’ refers to the tradition by which the torture creator has to look at the person he is to devise the torture methods for, from up close. The torture creator could interview the ‘subject’- asking him or her questions like ‘What used to be your worst nightmare when you were alive?’ to glean necessary insights to create the appropriate torture methods.

In effect though, at least for Jimmy, it was a different matter. Every session of looking just made him feel nauseous. He thought that it would get better as he keep on seeing a new persons in frequent intervals but for some reason, the more number of people he looked at, the more sick it made him. The worst part, of course was looking them in the eyes when he asked the questions-something that was stipulated in the rule book for torture creators which the Dark Lord himself had written(or so the claim goes though Jimmy suspects it was written by some unfortunate scribe who never got recognition in earth and met with the same fate in the after-world as well).

Jimmy looked up just in time to see the door opening to his tiny room. The walls of the room were decorated with multiple torture devises- iron maidens, guillotines, saws, machetes, drills, thumb screws, chastity belts, the pear..you name it, you could see one on the walls.Jimmy had found the decoration darkly amusing during the first days of his stay in the room-but as the days wore on, do did the novelty.

Besides, he wasn’t completely sure if he liked what spending hours alone in the company of nothing but these dangerous utensils was doing to him. Not that he needed to preserve his humanity(whatever is left of it) in hell, just that the transformation process was turning out to be yet another thing that sickened him. He looked forward to the breaks he enjoyed with the looking sessions. ‘Enjoyed’ being a highly relative term here though.

The person who walked into Jimmy’s room was an old woman. Surprisingly for someone her age, she had a full head of hair but that was as far as it went with regard to youthful appearances. Jimmy assessed her to be in her late seventies or early eighties-that’s if she were still alive. He wasn’t the least bit surprised that the old woman was completely naked-one should expect such things to happen in places like this. However, the woman was obviously v aware of the lack of even a single thread on her person, as was evident from the way she positioned her hands in such a way that they hid the bulk of her breasts and also her pubic hair. This made her walk awkward and it immediately reminded Jimmy of something- something related to his niece.

Jimmy’s sister’s little girl was just 4 when Jimmy died. Jimmy last saw her just a month before his death. He went to his sister’s place for a visit as he did every once in a while. He had to ring the calling bell thrice before his sis opened the door. He was ushered in, was informed that she was giving her daughter a bath, was asked to wait which Jimmy dutifully did on the sofa in the living room. A couple of minutes later, his niece, fresh out of the bath came over to him(she really adored him-mostly because he brought her sweets whenever he visited but also because he could mimic sounds of multiple animals-including the tiger and a kukatoo). The child was butt naked but she was trying to hideher nudity from him by wrapping a door curtain around her, seemingly having forgotten the better way of getting dressed and then coming out to meet her uncle.

At the memory of his neice, he felt a sudden pressure of tears behind his eyelids.

“Why don’t you have a seat?” he said to the woman, gesturing towards a chair-funnily enough, the chair for the ‘visitors’ was not a replica of a famous torture device- instead it was as comfortable as it got, complete with a plush cushion.

The woman looked at the seat and then back at Jimmy before shaking her head, ever so imperceptibly.

“I would like to ask a few questions”

The woman looked up at him. In her eyes there was nothing but unmitigated terror. Someone must have told her how this works-about the procedure of first asking questions, then gleaning insights from the answers before eventually using them to punish the one who answered . Of course, one could always try and hold back information-refuse to answer, but the consequences of course would be terrible.
The old lady looked at Jimmy as if contemplating whether she should or should not give him the answers. But when she opened her mouth, it was to speak something unrelated. “Can I have some clothes, please?” she said. Her lips trembled, ever so slightly. Jimmy could see that she was trying really hard not to break down and cry. Trying a bit too hard maybe.

Jimmy shook his head slowly. “That’s not in my purview,” he said in his best professional tone. But within, he was thinking. The woman’s request has made something click in his mind and he was pondering the possibilities of the newly realised idea. And the more he thought about it, the more it made sense. And an odd sense of elation built up in him. Evasion of punishment- if he didn’t displease the bad Lord, that’s what he would accomplish. And even though hope-any sort of it wasn’t a feature one could enjoy in hell, this gave him something akin to it.
“You are dismissed!” he said abruptly. It was only when he saw the startled expression on the woman’s face that he realised how loudly he has spoken.

The woman looked lost for a while, even more lost than before, that is. But she regained her composure and was about to turn around when Jimmy said, “Wait!”

The woman looked up at him once more, a vague look of expectation in her eyes, perhaps in the hope that he would give her some clothes..

“I have seen you before,” he said. The face, and the perennially startled expression on it looked familiar. Yes, he had seen her before. He was surprised that he has missed that aspect till now. It was only when the woman began to turn and he had her profile in view that the idea that this woman was familiar came to him.

No, familiar wasn’t quite the term. But he did know her from somewhere, maybe an acquaintance once or someone whom he had seen passing on the street daily on his way to work back on earth.

“I don’t think that I know you, sir,” the woman’s voice was the most pathetic sound that Jimmy has ever heard. It wasn’t a whining voice, it was filled with the realisation that dignity was just an illusory idea. And that’s what made it so beautiful, thought Jimmy.

He peered closely at the woman’s face. And as his face loomed closer to hers, she flinched. Jimmy didn’t seem to notice it. His mind was filled with images of the punishment that he was going to inflict upon this woman with the melancholic voice.

He was actually enjoying thinking about it, he realised with surprise. Such a thing has never happened before. Grozz has once told him that there comes a point in every torture creator’s life when he would cross over a threshold- a point of no return from which instance onwards you begin to seriously enjoy your job. “And the victim with which that turning point comes will always remain special for you,” Grozz has said.

Jimmy looked ever more closely at the woman-at her frail body, the veins visible through the thin coating of her skin, the wide open eyes that proclaimed nothing but terror, the cracked lips dried and withering. He would have preferred someone else for the victim who was the turning point for him- someone younger, perhaps the dead soul of a supermodel. But nonetheless, he was happy that he has finally found THE victim.

He would have loved to remember where he knew her from though. For some reason he though that if he only have access to that information, it would be more fun to think of her impending suffering. He couldn’t see the rationality in this thought except for the perverted logic that if at all you’re going to punish someone, it’s always more satisfactory to punish someone you knew rather than a stranger.

And then, in a flash it came to him. The lady who stood trembling like a leaf in front of him was no acquaintance of his from earth. He had seen her before but only once- on the very first day of his arrival on hell . That day when Grozz has explained to him patiently what his job entailed, this woman was the one who walked up to Grozz when Grozz called out “Next!” after dismissing Jimmy. Surprisingly enough, he couldn’t remember if the lady was naked then too. But he did recall that she had this same startled expression on her face then too.

The fact that they both arrived here on the same day- meaning they died the same day didn’t elicit any feeling of kinship in Jimmy. But he did cling to that knowledge for the pleasure that it gave him- the coincidence of their death date made them ‘familiar’ in a certain sense, or so Jimmy decided. And he smacked his lips thinking of punishing this familiar.

“You are dismissed,” he said again. As soon as the woman was out of the door, Jimmy rushed back to his table. On the document that was open on his screen, he typed a new heading- “Old Naked Woman- Torture Plan” beneath which he typed, Cloth her in a metallic garment that would have spikes on the inside. The spikes would gouge her flesh, giving her incredible pain. The garment is removed from her frequently(here he first typed “every five minutes” before finding the futility in such a statement and then deleting it). And every time the garment is removed an incredible self-consciousness would settle on her regarding her own nakedness. This will be so painful for her mentally that she would beg for the garment again-unmindful of the pain it could inflict on her. But of course, once the garment is back on her body, it hurts like hell..

Jimmy was never much of a writer. He has rarely read a work of fiction in his adult life and whatever he has read in his childhood, he did with dread since he read all those stuff because he had to, not because he wanted to-they were part of the syllabus at school. But when he looked at the words that he just committed to the electronic paper, he sort of ‘got’ what the whole idea of creativity was. He also found that he liked it. Satisfied with his latest piece of thinking(of course, there was the matter of the unbaptized baby still unresolved but for now he wasn’t thinking of it) he patted himself on the shoulder.

****
“It’s always a pleasure to watch a new consignment coming in!” Grozz said.

They were sitting on top of a spiral tower which directly overlooked the gates of hell, or rather the gates of this section of hell. Hot and humid air kept blowing, ruffling Grozz’s fur and Jimmy’s hair. The air was suffused with an unholy stink as if it issued from the backside of Satan himself- and it probably did.

The top of the tower was shaped like a the submerged surface of a saucer. A single black railing ran all around it, almost as if it was meant for the protection of visitors. Not that the idea of tourism was hot in hell, and even if it were it’s hard to imagine why anyone would come up here. Not for the wind and certainly not for the view.

For Jimmy could see spread out in front of them a seemingly endless expanse of land filled with nothing but leafless trees-black, the branches looking more like some monster’s tendrils than anything. And the tips of many a branch was decorated with decapitated human heads in different stages of decay. But that wouldn’t have been all that bad, thought Jimmy if it were not for the fact that these faces screamed and sometimes shouted at each other to stop screaming. The noise-no the cacophony was loud enough that it easily carried to the top of this tower which was easily at least 180 stories high by earth’s standards.

Jimmy looked down at the landscape of dread at the edge of which stood the gates- the same gates through which he was ushered into this place of his eternal unrest. He couldn’t see why Grozz has invited him here. He knew that he was changing-internally, as evidenced by things such as the pleasure he derived from watching the naked old woman suffering with the consistent clasping and unclasping of the special garment on her body. But even if his mind was ever more corrupted than before, he still couldn’t find enjoyment in the landscape of the screaming heads.

“How long have you been here, Grozz?” he said. Maybe, he thought, it takes one a long time to begin to enjoy these things. Somewhat like what his father(an accountant like himself, but an ethical one) has once told him, “You need to be at a certain age to truly appreciate such things as a park full of beautiful trees.” The entire family went on a vacation to Japan. They were in a beautiful natural park. Jimmy wasn’t really into parks and all-pubs were more his thing-something that was not possible to indulge in a family vacation. He rolled his eyes when his father looked up at a crane in flight and sighed. Seeing how his son was unimpressed, he made the observation about age and the enjoyment of beauty. Not far from them, Jimmy’s sister and mother were admiring a bush of Violets. Jimmy felt like telling his father how he was wrong ’cause couldn’t he see how his own daughter-one so young was admiring the natural park? But something kept him from saying it- a deep seated knowledge that was within him, inside everyone.A gleam of natural insight that whispered in your mind that it does take age to admire beauty from a certain perspective. Even though his father didn’t put it in so many words(like him, his father too was agnostic to literature unless it’s written in a ledger and was interspersed with a lot of figures). But Jimmy understood what he meant all the same.

Jimmy looked at Grozz. The monster remained silent, not bothering to reply Jimmy’s query . He kept his eyes fixed on the gates. The gates stood far from them but they could both see it fine enough-that was one of the things with hell, as Jimmy was beginning to find. Your senses were heightened in hell, including the sense of fear.

A few beats of silence passed before Grozz spoke and when he did, it was in a voice that sounded almost serene, meditative. “You know that that’s a stupid question? There’s no time here.”

“Yes, but there must be some way in which you keep track of it?”said Jimmy.
“Like how?”
“I don’t know, maybe by using every new soul that you assign a task as a unit of time?” suggested Jimmy.

Grozz chuckled. “That’s an interesting idea,” he said, “But you know that in the absence of an endpoint to your life, you can’t really hold on to the thought of time for prolonged periods.”

“Yes,” said Jimmy. “It’s just that you said people turn to monsters as they complete a long time here..” He sounded melancholic. For some reason, the absence of time was something that disturbed him a lot about hell. Back when he was alive, he had thought that eternity was a cool concept. But now, he wasn’t so sure.

“I know it takes a long time before you get to become a monster,” Grozz said, “But I don’t know how long it takes.” And he added, “Do you?”
“Do I what?”
“Do you try to mark time?” said Grozz, an amused look on his face as though Jimmy were an alien species and he was trying to find out secrets of how its brain functioned. If he was making Jimmy feel like a lab animal, he didn’t show it, instead he said, “I did tried the tally mark for a while-marked one every time I had someone come in whom I had to look at, you know. Of course, I knew from the beginning that that was no even measure of time, but still, it’ll be something, I thought. But funnily enough I forgot about it completely at some point and it’s only now when you asked that I remember it again.”

Grozz must have felt the melacholic mood Jimmy was in for he said, “Son, are you sure you don’t want to get laid? Because that is possible in hell, you know?”

“Yes, I know. I have heard of how it works, how you can have your pick of the sluts-and these sluts are like so superhot it’ll give a statue a hardon. The catch is, your dick is gonna feel like it’s dipped in Hydrochloric acid for a long while afterwards. Yes, I’ve heard of it. But no, I don’t wanna fuck,” he added.

Grozz raised an eyebrow. “That’s the first time anyone has said that fornication isn’t something they are interested in!”

Jimmy smiled, he didn’t say anything though. Not for a long while. And when he spoke again, the melancholy hasn’t left his voice , “How did you die, Grozz?”

Grozz,who was staring at the gates like someone who stood at the edge of the ocean staring at the horizon, didn’t avert his face. But he did speak, so softly that it was totally unbecoming the huge being that he was. The voice was so soft that Jimmy had to strain to hear the words above the howl of the blazing hot wind.

“Death comes to the ones who most deserve it, and to ones that don’t.” Jimmy waited for more but more was not forthcoming. He thought maybe the wind was obstructing Grozz’s voice from reaching his ears but it wasn’t hard to figure out that that wasn’t case- Grozz’ s lips remained motionless. Sure, there were methods of communicating using telepathy in hell but those were reserved mostly for punishment purposes.(Speaking inside someone’s brain in the voice of the person one loved the most,as if the voice is taunting him or her, saying, “Suffer, suffer, you sinner!” is a case in point).

“So..” how was it that you died? Jimmy was about to add when a loud creaking noise- loud and disturbing enough for anyone who heard it to flinch and for the screaming heads impaled on the branches of the trees below to stop screaming completely- only for a dot of earth time, made him halt.

He sent his gaze in the direction of the sound and saw that the source of the sound was the gates opening, shedding in bright light which made the beings who were coming in look like mirages. Jimmy remembered Grozz saying once how there used to be a man with a flaming sword who opened the gate and welcomed the newcomers. But with advancement of technology on earth, the souls who came to hell became that much sophisticated and brought knowledge from earth which they used in Hell. The result: completely automated doors among other things.

“It’s a mighty shame that they have taken out the man with the flaming sword,” Jimmy said as the gates were being opened, the two giant parts of the gate sliding away from each other, as if in slow motion, every inch that was revealed shedding more and more of the luminescent white light which spills over from the other side.

“Yeah, I know..,” said Grozz. “But that guy’s in charge of the acid bath now.”
Jimmy nodded, then a thought struck him, “Hey, how come only some of us in hell have a job?”

“What do you mean?” said Grozz, still not taking his eyes off the opening gates and the members of the ‘consignment’ that was coming in-they were slowly taking distinct shapes, unmerging from the giant white globules of light. It was evident from the glazed look in Grozz’s eyes that he enjoyed this spectacle. The only other time that Jimmy had seen such a look on Grozz’ face was when he listened to some torture plan which Jimmy had devised which he really liked.

“You don’t assign a job to everyone, do you?” said Jimmy, “There are the ones that are punished- I mean, the ones for whom I come up with torture plans.”

For a second(again, only a euphemism) it looked as though Grozz hasn’t heard him, so intent was his gaze at the gates. But then, slowly his eyes became unfocused and equally slowly, he turned his face towards Jimmy.

“There, you are wrong, Jimmy, for the souls for whom you make the tortures are also doing a job. The job of keeping the bad Lord happy. For without them, where’s the entertainment value,” he said and winked. It was the first time Jimmy had seen him talking in so relaxed a mode about Our Bad Lord. He realised that this-this watching of the gates being opened to let in the new ‘consignment’ was the equivalent of watching a movie to unwind as far as Grozz was concerned.

He decided to keep his mouth shut and enjoy the spectacle along with his grizzly friend/mentor.

The members of the consignment were taking their first steps beyond the gates, and they were greeted by quite a number of screaming faces. Stuck on branches. And the greetings were, fittingly enough not of an amicable kind. “Cunt!” called out one face at a woman who looked more perplexed than scared, as though she was completely sure that this was all a mistake- how could someone like her end up in hell? “You two-timed your husband and when the poor guy broke down when he found out, convinced him that it’s the right time for a divorce!” the face screamed pitilessly.

“The way I see it, that husband sounds like a wimp,” Jimmy said to Grozz, breaking his own vow of not disturbing Grozz. Grozz laughed, a full throated, belly shaking laugh which reminded Jimmy of the laugh of a child. For one second there, Jimmy could almost imagine that Grozz was once a human. “But how can we hear these things so clearly?” continued Jimmy. “We are so far from them.” But before Grozz replied, Jimmy realised-or rather remembered the answer himself. Things like distance didn’t matter here.

And as though finishing the thought for him, Grozz added, “These are also taunts. And the whole idea of hell is to make people feel uncomfortable. And the more number of people who hear they are being taunted, the more uncomfortable they’ll be.”
“But do they know that all are hearing?”

Grozz looked at him and gave a satisfactory nod, “Yes, they do. It’s something like instinct in here, that knoweldge. Haven’t you noticed?” he added.

Now that Grozz has asked the question, Jimmy realised that yes, even he has felt that throughout his existence in hell. The watchful eyes of those around him who knew for exactly what reason Jimmy is here-the sins he has committed, the follies he failed to correct..This he has experienced-like the prickle on the back of his neck even when there were no one else around him, even when he was all alone in his room full of torture weapons hanging from the walls.

“Thief!” “Murderer!” “Whore!” “Politician!” many were the taunts that the screaming faces inflicted on the members of the new consignment. Jimmy remembered how he himself was called “Embezzler!” by one of those faces when he came in. He hadn’t expected to be called that. In fact, he wasn’t even sure if it was a real word. But he felt like he was being weighed down by something, and every time a face called him that, another lump was added to that weight until eventually he was practically bent over with fatigue that translated as the purest of sadness.

As though reading his mind, Grozz said, “The mind weakens once you enter hell. Weakens so much that it becomes but a thin expendable layer, like the peel of rotting onion. And those who come in here find it more convenient to let that layer peel away. Otherwise, light though it is, it remains a burden. That’s why hell is so full of mindlessness. The souls that come here choose to be that way.”

“Am I mindless?” as soon as he asked it, Jimmy realised how stupid a question it was. But Grozz apparently didn’t think so for he said in a grave tone, “You aren’t yet. But you’ll reach there soon. Don’t worry.”

That wasn’t quite what Jimmy had meant. He actually would have liked to keep his mind. Back on earth, he wasn’t someone who was focused on the happenings of the mind- at least, not any more than the next person. But still, a mind was a mind- and his mind had helped him love three girls(at different points in time) during his student years, helped him gain a post graduate degree in commerce and land a job with a company that afforded him a chance to embezzle a good amount of money- his ticket to a grand life which never materialised.

All this has made him quite attached to his mind, and as a memento of his time on earth, he would have liked to keep it, not withstanding the fact that it was the presence of his mind that made him susceptible to the intense bouts of pain he frequently experienced in hell.

An odd sort of sadness suddenly overcame him. It was not so much becasue of what Grozz said as the way in which he said it- a dead certainty: Jimmy was going to lose his mind, that was an incontestable truth. Jimmy sighed.

That was when he heard the taunt again: “Slut!” He looked up; he felt for the woman unlike last time-not a question of empathy but about sharing in that same pain as the woman. He felt Grozz shudder beside him. That’s the price you pay for ‘listening in’ on the taunts(although you can’t help it). You also feel some of the pain.

But, as he looked up, Jimmy saw that it wasn’t the same woman as before who was being taunted now. Whereas the woman who two-timed her husband and then convinced him of a divorce had a long facial profile and a dark mole on top of her left eyebrow, this one had a more rounded face-her hair was cropped at her neck and her face was blemish-less, barring the sadness which wrinkled it. More importantly for Jimmy was the realisation that to him, she was the most beautiful woman in the universe.

“Who is that?” He wasn’t even aware that he has asked the question out loud until Grozz said, “Who?”

“That woman,” Jimmy said pointing a shaky finger at her. “The one in the purple blazers and white pants. The one with the face like a moon, the one who has an air around her like she’s the radiant sun. The one whose beauty is not comparable even with the most beautiful creation of the greatest artist on earth-whoever that is.”
Grozz looked at him with a raised eyebrow. “I thought you said you were never into literature,” he said.

“I hate literature,” Jimmy said, still not taking his eyes off the woman in the purple blazers. He felt his heart beat rising though he knew only too well that there was no heart thudding in the body.

“You slutty swine!” Jimmy shuddered at the sound of a face calling her that. He felt a rush of raging blood through his veins though he had neither blood nor veins anymore. He felt like jumping off the tower right then and there and running all the way down to that withered and burning tree from which the face hung- the face belonged to some old man but Jimmy wouldn’t hesitate from beating it to a pulp.

Satan would enjoy such a show as well, he was sure.

The only thing which kept Jimmy from doing that was the sudden laughter from Grozz. Once again the monster issued a merry sound that could have been considered all too human.

Jimmy cast him an enquiring glance but even before he could ask the question that was on his mind, Grozz said, “Why, you are in love, you motherfucker!” His belly began to shake again with a thunderous laugh. He said “motherfucker” with so much love like a mother would call her son, “My love!” It almost brought tears to Jimmy’s eyes.

“Now, this is the shit!” Grozz added before laughing again, watching the woman being taunted by the disembodied faces again. Jimmy didn’t know what to make of this. Not that he was trying hard to understand the meaning of the words, he had a mind only for the most beautiful woman he has ever seen.
******

Strip the baby’s flesh into thin slices. BBQ them, have them eaten by one of the hounds of hell, then have the hound regurgitate the pieces which would coagulate again to form the baby. Ad infinitum.

That was the latest plan Jimmy has devised for the unbaptised baby. He stared at the lapop screen on which was open the document which contained this latest piece of creative inspiration. He read the words, then read them again, thinking about the various pros and cons about such an approach. He was deciding that he would have to chuck this idea too since Satan didn’t like to put his dear hounds through much chores when the pop up appeared: “Looking Session.”

Jimmy sighed wearily. He would have liked it very much if he could finish one task before moving on to the next. He swivelled in his chair as the door to the room hissed open like it was an airlock(the hissing was a recent addition by hell’s Chief Architect whose job it was to constantly renovate the different parts of the place so that the souls are in a perennial state of disorientation. Soon as they get used to a spatial arrangement, he changes it.)

Jimmy’s eyes lit up when he saw the girl in the purple blazer walk in. She looked with trepidation at him, as though she was afraid that he would pounce at her any moment and rape her. Jimmy stood up from his seat as soon as she walked in. This gesture was meant to appease her but it had the opposite effect-for she inadvertently flinched as if certain that he was indeed going to pounce on her.

“Please don’t worry,” said Jimmy and immediately realised how silly that must sound. As if echoing his thought, the woman let her eyes stray all over the shiny and spiky instruments that hung from the four walls of the room, and also from the back of the door.

“Umm.. would you care to sit down?” Jimmy said, pointing to the chair. The woman looked at the chair with suspicious eyes, as though worried if some hidden contraption in the seat would spring up and maul her as soon as her bottom hits the seat.
She looked back at Jimmy and shook her head. “Why am I here?”

“Well, it’s because..you see…this room..” Jimmy didn’t know quite how to proceed. But neither did he want to sound indecisive,as though he were someone who wasn’t confident enough to deal with things- a trait that was of fundamental importance if you were to woo a girl, something that he learned on earth and which was probably of no use in hell but which he nonetheless didn’t eschew out of pride.

Thankfully enough he was brought out of the predicament as the girl said, “I don’t mean this room. I mean, why am I in hell?”

Jimmy let out a sigh of relief, for here was something that he could answer her. Confidently. “Well, didn’t they tell you as soon as you entered the gates..those faces stuck in the branches?” Jimmy said with a smile, satisfied that he put it in as diplomatic a manner as possible.

“But that was..” the girl began, then stopped, decided to change tack, “But that’s beside the point. For I am an atheist. I don’t believe in hell or heaven. So, why am I here?”

“Well, I’m afraid it doesn’t work like that?” said Jimmy, feeling at the same time sad for the woman and also secretly pleased that he was having an actual conversation with her. He felt like a teenager on his first date.

“How do you mean?” said the woman, her eyes wide with curiosity, her pupils filled with the light of trust that he would provide her with all the right information. Jimmy felt his chest swelling.

“I mean that the fact that you were an atheist didn’t mean you can’t be in hell in your after-life,” Jimmy said with a smile on his face, a smile that communicated that “You don’t have to worry ’bout nothing.” “In fact,” he continued, “It’s a good enough reason to land you in hell.”

The woman looked at the ground, as though Jimmy’s words have spurred some memory. “Yes, you are right,” she said, “I forgot my theology.” When she looked up there was a trace on smile on her lips and it was all Jimmy could do to keep from falling down.

The woman shook her head. “But that.. that face said something else as the reason for me being here!” Her words were delivered in a voice that was shaking with indignation. When she looked at Jimmy next, her eyes had a fire that was fitting for someone in hell. Her gaze pierced through him or so it felt to him. “The faces kept calling me a slut!” she said, the same indignation painting her emotions. “I have never been one,you know,” she added.

Jimmy was all but ecstatic at the way the conversation was proceeding. As far as he could remember this was the longest he has ever talked with anyone in a looking session, aside from asking them questions to find out their worst fears and experiences.

“May I know how you died?” Jimmy asked. At that moment, he wanted to know about nothing more than that. For a thought passed through his mind- if someone had murdered her and if that murderer comes to hell, he will surely assign that dirty bastard the worst of punishments.

The woman, surprisingly enough laughed. And it wasn’t a nervous laughter either. “I was hanging out with some of my friends. We were atop a cliff, more importantly we were drunk. It was late evening. No one saw when I strayed to the edge on my shaky legs. It all happened so fast. One minute I was on a downfall and the next, I am here!” She looked up at him, again with her eyes wide open like a child discovering a wonder of the world. She clutched the side of her blazer and added, “This was the only garment I could borrow from one of my friends owing to the cold.” As she said those words, an incredible sadness came over her voice. Enough to make Jimmy wish that he could take her in his arms, console her. But afraid that any sudden movement would only make her afraid again, he kept himself in check.

“May I know your name?” he said.

She looked at him, the sadness still remaining like a scale over her pupils. “It’s Alena,” she said, “Alena Williams.”

Savouring the name with his ears, he said, “You are a Christian.” It was a statement, not a question. She looked at him but didn’t say anything. “Surprising that you forgot the theology that atheists will be cast to hell.”

“I was never that religious,” she said in a casual tone but one which was still suffused with sadness. “I stopped going to church once I turned old enough to go to the loo on my own, and I never got back into all of it. I mean, what a load of bull, right?”It was only after she said it that she seemed to realise what she just said. She looked around at the room, then back at Jimmy, “But then again, it’s all true, isn’t it? Heaven and Hell. Maybe not exactly like it’s said in the Bible or any of the other religious scriptures, but still..” She sighed. “Can I sit?” she said, “I feel very tired.”

“Of course,” saying thus, Jimmy pulled the visitor’s chair out for her.
She remained seated, looking downcast. She kept staring at the palms of her hands which she rested on her lap. Jimmy was trying his best to come up with something to tell her. Eventually, all he could find was: “This place looks and feels different to people of different religions.”

For a second he thought that she hasn’t heard it for she remained with her head lowered. But then, slowly, so slowly that it looked as if it’ll take forever she looked up at him.

“But I didn’t believe in any religion!” she said, “And if a disbelief in the existence of God could land me at a place where there’s no God, disbelief in Hell should by rights land me at a place that’s not hell, right?”

Jimmy wasn’t sure he completely followed Alena’s logic-his mind as well as his eyes were fixed on the her beautiful face. But that’s not to say that he didn’t find her idea profound- after all, the words articulating the concept came out of her mouth. So they have to be profound!

“My God!” he exclaimed. “That’s so true!”

And as soon as he uttered these words, out of nowhere came a whiplash which plucked the flesh off his back, revealing the bones tenuously covered with transparent flesh. “Aagh!” shouted Jimmy. “Don’t use God’s name in vain!” came an incorporeal voice.

It’s not in vain! Jimmy wanted to shout. But he didn’t, knowing fully well that doing so would only invite another lash or worse.

Alena meanwhile jumped out of her seat at the sight of the whip falling on his back and then disappearing into thin air. Once he got over his pain enough to look up at her, he attempted a smile which came out as a grimace for even though he had got over the pain, he hasn’t REALLY got over it.

Judging from the still startled expression on her face that his attempt at appeasing her using a movement of facial muscles was a failure, Jimmy said, “Don’t worry. What you said makes so much sense. Let me take it up with my boss.”
***

On his way towards Grozz’ room, Alena closely trailing him, Jimmy kept thinking of how much of an impression he coould make on her if he could convince Grozz about the mistake that was made by bringing her to hell. More than that, he thought about how much he would miss her if she were to let go from here. Sure, he has seen her but twice and their verbal exchange would amount to nothing more than what could be termed as a ‘quickie'(without the vulgar connotations, of course) he didn’t think that he could ever forget her.

Not that Jimmy believed that Grozz was powerful enough to make such a big decision as allowing someone to leave through the gates of hell. In fact, he wasn’t even sure that he could convince the monster of the solidity of Alena’s logic-which to be fair, sounded vague at best. Fromm the times he has spent with Grozz, Jimmy was convinced that Grozz wasn’t someone who went for abstract thoughts.

They were presently passing through a twisted corridor with the walls lined with human skulls. These skulls were all speaking together, whispering would be a better word. And they were all whispering the same thing: “Help me!” They sounded terribly weak, like they were the victims of torture-which was essentially what they were.
“Oh, these poor things!” Alena exclaimed. “Why are they all.. why are they all stuck like this.”

Jimmy wasn’t sure if her choice of words were meant to be a joke. But when he stole a glance at her, he could see her eyes looking at the skulls with an earnest compassion. Surely, thought Jimmy, she isn’t one for hell. And with the thought came a sadness which he pushed aside immediately, for he didn’t want to be be weakened.
“Maybe we should help them out.” saying this, Alena moved towards one of the walls.
“Don’t!” Jimmy shouted just as she was about to touch one of the skulls. She didn’t seem to have heard, so transfixed was she by the talking skulls. But Jimmy managed to grab hold of her arm just in time, her fingers inches away from the forehead of one of the shining skulls.

Alena looked up at him, an enquiring look on her face. “If you touch them, you become one of them,” he explained. “That’s how they collect victims.”

Alena looked up, the wall seemed to extend all the way up towards infinity. The same was the case with the wall on the opposite side. And the skull which she was about to touch began to laugh a whispery laugh- a sound that was taken up by all its peers, a sound which soon escalated into a ghostly echo that rung across the length and breadth of the corridor. It was sharp and vague at the same time, something that made Alena feel dizzy.

“Come on, let’s get out of here,” said Jimmy, pulling her lightly on her arm.
The corridor of skulls ended in the door to the chamber of the rotten heart. Jimmy used the knocker on the door. After a few beats, the gruff voice of Grozz came from within: “Come in!”

As Jimmy expected, Grozz was hunched over his ledger-such a curious job for a monster such as him, he thought. But he didn’t dwell on the thought too long, didn’t want to waste too much time. Grozz alternated his eyes between Jimmy and Alena, a faint smile evolving on his lips, as if he were thinking, “This ought to be interesting.”

Jimmy explained Alena’s theory. To Grozz’s credit, he listened patiently, without interrupting even once.

And once Jimmy was done explaining, he leaned back in the chair which creaked under his weight. The stench inside the rotten heart suddenly rose,even though there didn’t seem to be any evident reason for it. Alena pressed her nostrils shut with her fingers. Grozz caught her gesture, looked offended. Alena slowly took her fingers off.

“That’s an interesting theory,” Grozz said, turning his attention back to Jimmy. “But a theory nonetheless.” After a brief halt, he continued, “Do you know how many souls have landed in hell all because they were atheists? They were incredibly nice human beings-far less sinful than the rest, but their ultimate fate was to spend eternity in pain because they didn’t believe in God.” He looked at Alena, then back at Jimmy again, shook his head. “No, it won’t work!”

Jimmy let out a sigh. Even though he hasn’t truly expected Grozz to buy the theory, he was nonetheless disappointed to hear him say it won’t work. At the same time, he was glad that he tried this much-if nothing else, it’d buy him some brownie points with Alena.

“So, there’s nothing you can do?” he said.

Grozz nodded. “Yup, there’s nothing I can do,” he said in a casual tone, like he were a teenager who was saying yes, he liked chewing gum. Thank you Very much.

Jimmy wasn’t sure just how far up in the hierarchy Grozz was in hell. The monster himself never talked about it, at least never explicitly. But Jimmy has heard stories from his fellow-sufferers about how Grozz has the final say on many things including the ever-evolving architecture of hell and the number of consignments that were to come in here every day. In other words, if hell were a company, Grozz would be the COO.

So, maybe if I tried to persuade him more, he might help us, thought Jimmy. Yes, he would be saddened by seeing Alena go. But far worse would his fate be if he has to come up with punishment plans for her. To see her suffering, or to know that she is suffering in the mode that he imagined for her, days after endless days would be something that would reduce his after-life into something worse than hell. He didn’t know what the term would be for such an existence, but he was sure that it’s not ‘bliss.’

“If there’s nothing else, you may leave,” said Grozz. Jimmy thought of saying something but then thought better. Now that they were on talking terms, he didn’t want to let go of the opportunity to spend some more time with her. Maybe they can go for a walk in the valley of wolves or perhaps a swim in the lake of fire? No, I’m not thinking straight, he thought. But when he looked up into her azure eyes, he couldn’t see how he could think straight.

Looking at her, he gestured towards the door.

But as they both turned around to walk away, the stench inside the chamber rose again and Grozz said, “No. Not you, Jimmy. You stay!” There was a certain gruffness in the monster’s voice which made Jimmy think that whatever the reason Grozz was asking him to stay back, it wasn’t for a friendly chit chat.

Jimmy exchanged glances with Alena. Heartening him, she said, “I’ll wait for you outside.” Once she was out of the chamber Grozz asked Jimmy to pull up a chair and have a seat-an ordinary chair. He poured a green slimy liquid from a jug into the ornate glass in front of him-ornate as in it was adorned with teeth-so many human teeth. “Would you like some?” Grozz said, pushing an empty glass towards Jimmy. And if the glass-which looked much like the one from which Grozz was drinking, wasn’t revolting enough, there was the stench of the liquid itself which rose and competed with the overwhelming stench that was normal inside the rotten chamber.

Seeing Jimmy flinch at the sight of the liquid that swirled inside Grozz’s glass, Grozz said, “It’s fresh juice produced by grinding the entrails of a monster called ‘Rotara.’ The creature is a cross between a dragon and a spynx and is rarely formed in hell. But whenever one comes along, the race is on to get to the juice-and that’s hardly an easy thing to accomplish, as you can imagine.” Grozz chuckled- a self satisfied sound if ever there was one.

“Is that the result of the fight?” said Jimmy. For there was a bright vertical scar that ran down the side of Grozz’ face. Grozz nodded.

“Anyway,” he said. “The topic for us shouldn’t be monsters or ghouls. It should be puppy love. ” He laughed again, this time with a mocking edge to it. “For that’s what’s happening here, isn’t it?,” he continued. “How old were you when you died, Jimmy?” Jimmy knew that Grozz knew the answer to that well enough-he might be a monster but he has a memory the kind of which no human being can ever aspire to. He knew the name, cause of death and time of death along with the age when they died of all the souls that have come through the gates of hell- his hell.

But just so he could humour him, Jimmy said, “Twenty eight.”

Grozz tut-tutted. “Such a young age to die!” From the way his face creased into an oddly joyful grimace, it looked to Jimmy as though Grozz was having some fun at his expense. “There must have been a lot of passion which you didn’t get the time to indulge in properly,” Grozz continued. “And what about the girl? How old was she?”
Jimmy blinked. Grozz’ question made him realise that he didn’t know virtually anything about Alena except for her name. “Not more than 25, wouldn’t you say?” said Grozz, seeing how lost Jimmy looked.

“And is she in love with you?”

The question took Jimmy by surprise. Not just because it was unexpected but also because he himself hasn’t really thought of it. Sure, for him it was love at first sight and all that but for her..? he wasn’t even sure if she saw him just as a prospective way out of here. If that was the case, she would be sorely disappointed, he thought, now that Grozz has turned down his request. At the thought of letting her down, he once again felt the heart palpitating inside his heartless chest.
He was brought back from his thoughts by the sound of Grozz laughing. “You don’t know, do you, lover boy?”

Jimmy shook his head, sighed. “I don’t. But I do know this one thing: I won’t be able to bear it if I am to devise punishments for her.” Jimmy wasn’t sure what prompted him to say that. It was a deeply personal piece of thought. But even so, or perhaps because of it, he felt slightly better having said it out loud.

Grozz looked at him with a bemused look on his face. Nothing in that expression suggested that he was beginning to take Jimmy seriously, but at the same time there was something there that suggested a level of indulgence,which was more than you could expect from Grozz sometimes.

Grozz emptied the glass of grime down his throat. Then, with a sigh of satisfaction he looked at Jimmy and said in a rather grave tone, “So, you really love her, eh?” It was the same tone which he had used to call Jimmy back earlier, when Jimmy was about to turn away from him with Alena. The tone which suggested that what Grozz wanted to talk with Jimmy wasn’t anything friendly.

But when Grozz spoke again, the tone notwithstanding, Jimmy found the content to be more than friendly.
“Look,” said Grozz. “First of all, you have to make sure that the girl loves you too.” He waited, for Jimmy to acknowledge. He was making no bones about who was the boss here. It took a few seconds for Jimmy to catch on but as soon as he did, he nodded.

Grozz looked down, as if collecting his thoughts before going on, “You make sure of that first, and then there might be a way out of here..”

Jimmy’s absent heart began to beat faster at these words. There was an odd mixture of elation and pathos making waves in his mind. Elation at the thought of freeing Alena from this place, pathos at the prospect of never seeing her again if that’s the case.

As Grozz has displayed on many previous occasions, he once again showed an acumen for reading Jimmy’s thoughts correctly, for he added, “A way out of here not just for the girl, but for you both..”

Jimmy looked at Grozz as if seeing him for the first time. Friendly though he was with him, and for a boss he has been more than good to him on multiple occasions, he has never expected the monster to suggest that there might be a way out of here. For Grozz has always come across as too loyal to what he is in this sector of hell: if not its guardian, something very close to it.

Correctly tuning into his thoughts, Grozz said with a weary sigh,”You are not the only one who knows what love is, Jimmy.” He did a sweep of the air around him with his bulky arms. “Why do you think I have had this heart built for my abode in hell? It’s just about the only place here that remains unchanged for ever. And it is meant to remind me of what I lost.” Jimmy looked at the walls of the chamber-there’s always some chunks of rotten flesh that will be drooping down these walls whenever you are here, thought Jimmy. He couldn’t imagine what this heart was supposed to remind Grozz of.

With a weary sigh, Grozz continued, “I lost my heart. For I too loved once. You see, I was a travelling merchant at the time and I met this woman. I could have married her, built a life with her, but I was ambitious. For riches. The young man that I was, I asked her to travel with me on my pursuit for riches-live a completely uprooted life, until I was rich enough to build a palace for her, of course. But she declined, talked about her obligations, how she will have to stay back in her village. ” With another sigh, Grozz concluded, “And so I left her behind.”
Jimmy remained silent while Grozz poured himself another glass of rotora juice. When he spoke, it was in the gentlest of tones, afraid that he might be offending the monster.

“So, you built this heart because you left her?” he said. It didn’t tally for him. Grozz supposedly wallowing in an eternal misery because he went after what meant greater for him? That’s kind of a stretch, he thought.

He was so caught up in his own thoughts that he almost missed what Grozz said. “I didn’t just leave there. I raped and raped her again before killing her with a dagger struck down her eyes before I left. ” When he looked up, Jimmy could see pure rage in those eyes. “I didn’t want anyone else to have her.”

Jimmy nodded. He looked at the walls of the chamber once again. “So, this place..,” Jimmy let the words trail so that Grozz could take over from there, which he did as soon as the new glass of drink was over.

“This place was built so that I could remember the rotten heart which I lost when I died,” said Grozz, sounding grim, looking even more so. “The rotten heart which I possessed from a very young age..”

“Why do you want to be reminded of that?” Jimmy said, forgetting for a moment that this was hell(Love, true love could do that to a man).

Grozz smiled, the saddest smile Jimmy has seen yet on the monster’s face. He simply said, “This is my hell, Jimmy” and drooped his head. He sat like that just for a moment-a moment that stretched in Jimmy’s mind thinking of how he was making Alena wait outside.

“So, what was this way out you were talking about?” he said tentatively.
Grozz slolwly raised his head, looking a bit lost. His red rimmed eyes were pictures of sadness that Jimmy has never expected to see on the being’s face. Grozz blinked a couple of times, snorted-the force of which threatened to sweep Jimmy off his feet. Grozz blinked again and spoke like someone coming out of a sleep. “Yes, the way out..” It was evident that a part of Grozz’s mind was still caught up in his remembrances of when he walked the earth with the rotten heart in his chest.

Slowly he spoke. About the way out. About how once in a while the worst of the souls in this sector, the hardened ones who won’t scream even at the most painful sufferings would be released to the next sector “Down below”. Which was an “even worse hell.”

“You see,” Grozz was speaking with considerable animation,his earlier sadness now forgotten, “This sector is shaped like the human anus. And it’s through that particular opening that the worst souls are released to the Down Below.” He giggled like a child relating to his friend a prank that he was planning to pull on someone they both knew.
Suddenly, Jimmy felt tired. “So, that’s the escape plan?” he said, “Escape to even worse a place than this is no escape at all!”

Grozz suddenly stood up, the movement so abrupt that it was inconceivable for a being of such bulk-if the being was on earth, that is. The monster came around the table to where Jimmy was standing. Jimmy was sure that he was going to get a thrashing. He knew that he spoke rather too loudly when he said those last words.
But Grozz simply placed a hand on his shoulder and said, “That’s not the plan, Jimmy.”
***

“So, this sector of hell is shaped like the..the human anus and it’s through that particular crevice that he’s planning to drop us?”
“Yes,” said Jimmy.

Alena thought about this for a second and began shaking her head. “But,” she said, “I don’t understand.He told you that he’ll arrange a ‘line-up’, that’s the term right? of the hardened souls and arrange it so that we are also in it.” She looked at Jimmy. They were sitting atop the same tower from where Jimmy had seen her the first time, overlooking the gates to the dark domain. “I don’t understand,” she added, her voice rising above the harsh wind that perennially blew through the domains. “He said this is something that happens only when they have a selection of people who are worse enough not to be in this particular section of hell.So, how can it be that he can arrange it on his own?”

To Jimmy, Alena’s question was only an indication of how little she actually knew about Grozz-about the power that the creature wielded in these parts. “Grozz can do such things. Besides, who is to say that it isn’t time yet for the next consignment or whatever it is they call the bunch of souls to be expelled from this region?” After a brief pause, you added, “You don’t look convinced.”

Alene not only didn’t look convinced, she also looked a little lost-like a puppy out in the rain though it wasn’t raindrops but specks of fire that were blowing all around them.Jimmy wished he could gather her in his arms and comfort her but desisted-he didn’t want this to end in heartbreak. He’ll wait till they are both out of here before taking their relationship to the next level(read getting physical).

“Yes,” said Alena. “I mean, I don’t know what’s happening. Even though I have never really believed in hell or do not know much about the theological angle, I have always assumed that hell is a place that’s kinda strict. The idea that you can escape from there so easily..it’s kinda unsettling. If that’s the right word,” she added looking up at him.

Gazing at the closed gate that loomed up like a formidable monster in its own right-an entity that was uncompromising in its demeanour and didn’t appear to have any button with the motif “Press here to enter” Jimmy had a moment of apprehension. But it soon passed because he wanted to believe that they would both be together in a better place.

“Grozz said we would be in a better place than this,” he said, inflecting a confidence which he didn’t quite feel inside. “It could be that that’s just another part of hell. One that’s more lenient than this but hell all the same.”
Alena nodded slowly, looking thoughtful. Peering at her, Jimmy saw that the lost puppy look hasn’t quite left her.

“So, how do you like the view?” he said to distract her mind.
***
The line-up was complete. There were only ten of them. Half of the ones who were to be expelled were on their knees because their limbs from beneath the knees were cut off. Blood continued to flow profusely from the sawed off parts of their bodies, so much so that after a while it all began to look more absurd than horrifying to Alena.

“Are you sure this is a good idea?”, she said. She clutched Jimmy’s hand firmly, more firmly than she was aware of, as if afraid he would let her go at any moment.
Jimmy patted her and assured her that everything was going to be alright, though he could only wish that it would turn out that way. What bothered him the most was the absence of Grozz. Since he has been here he has developed a special bond with Grozz-something which pendulumed between the comforts of a father-son relationship and the agonies of a master-slave one. In other words, one of a kind and one which he wasn’t bound to forget. Now that the time has come for them to leave, he wished Grozz were here.

A loud hissing noise brought his thoughts back to the present. For a few moments he was sure that a giant hissing snake, or some such apparition was ready to consume them. The sound that followed-a loud scream bolstered this theory. But it didn’t take long for him to realise what was happening: the ‘anus’ has opened with the hissing sound and the first person in the line- a woman in her thirties with one breast cut off from which were growing two tiny mangled hands like vegetative sprouts from the soil fell down through the anal opening.

He felt the clutch of Alena’s hand on his tighten. “It’s alright. We are on the move.” Even as he said it he felt his chest tighten in anticipation. He realised that the prospect of escaping this hell hole with Alena was at its final fruition, and the thought was so exhilarating that he couldn’t help but smile.
He was the fifth in the line. The ones in front of him fell down the hole one after the other and each time the anus opened with a hiss brought Jimmy and Alena closer to their escape.

“I’m afraid, Jimmy,” Alena said in a feeble voice behind him. Pulling her closer to him, he coiled an arm around her waist. Thus, walking side by side they proceeded until they both stood at the precipice of the hole which opened up just in front of them.
“Eww..” said Jimmy. “When Grozz said anus, I didn’t know that it would be so realistic.”
He looked at Alena. They both felt a tug from below, a pull that was getting stronger by the second.
“You know Jimmy I don’t know what’s going to happen now. And this might sound crazy given how we haven’t known each other for long and we met under unfortunate circumstances. But, the fact is, I am in love with you. And that’s not gonna change no matter what happens from now on,” said Alena.

Just a beat of silence later Jimmy said, “You know how much like a movie you sound?”

Before Alena could formulate a reply in her mind, let alone say anything, the tug from below became strong enough and pulled them both down under. And the thing that hit them both, at least at first was the incredible stench of the passage through which they were falling. It was a tunnel but a wobbly one at that. When their bodies hit the inner curvature of the tunnel both of them affirmed that what they presumed from visual data was indeed the truth-the tunnel was made of flesh. Eyes and lips were embedded on the inside of the tunnel-dispersed throughout like vulgar pearls embedded on a fleshy garment. And as they were in a free-fall, some of the lips moved and the words they spoke seemed to follow them down. “So, long, cunt and dick! Go fuck yourselves in the worse hell!” the lips were saying.

“Are you sure that what Grozz said about going to a better place was true?” Alena shouted, the words from the lips throwing more doubts into her mind.
“Yes!” Jimmy shouted to make himself hear over the blast of hot wind that blew across their faces. He didn’t really have any basis for saying that-he knew it but he was glad that Alena hasn’t let go of his hand all this while.

“So, you said I sounded like a movie. You think I was just saying that?”
“No, no!” Jimmy hastily said. “That’s not how I meant it!”

“Cunt and dick!” called out another pair of lips they were passing by but neither of the lovers really heard it.

“I know you didn’t mean it that way,” said Alena with a smile that melted Jimmy’s non-existent heart. “I was just pulling your leg”

Jimmy pulled her closer and hugged her tight as their free-fall continued. “Man, we are falling very slow!” said Jimmy. Looking down he could see the bald head of the man who fell down the anus just before them. And beyond the man’s baldness all he could see was one yawn of blackness which looked as it it extended to eternity.

“Why, are you in a hurry?” said Alena, smiling. To her own surprise she realised that she was enjoying the fall. Or rather the fact that she was freefalling in hell with the man she loves.

“If we are going to a better place, like Grozz said, then yes. I am in a hurry!”said Jimmy, offering her a smile of his own.

Right then, bright red light streamed from below. They both looked down to see that what Jimmy earlier took to be the absolute dark which went on forever was slowly yet steadily breaking up, and through the web-like cracks issued light and heat which could only come from the worst of fires.

The bald man below began to scream as the two lovers looked on in mute horror. They saw the victim who went before them flaying his arms in the air desperately looking for somewhere to hold. But the vacuum offered no relief as the black surface below disintegrated completely.

However, what greeted the bald man was no fire.

It was worse. A black conical shape with tentacles flowing out of its surface like so many waves loomed from the fire from which the heat and light issued. And as the bald man inched closer to the tip of the cone with a scream that was fast fading in volume due to exhaustion the cone’s tip opened up-four different parts tenuously connected to it parted to let the bald man inside. And the parts closed with as much rapidity as they opened soon as the victim was in. But it didn’t take long for the man to come out of it-in multiple pieces.

Jimmy realised that what he took to be the tentacles of the cone were in fact tiny openings-elongated spores if you will that projected from the conical body. For out of one of them was thrown out the man’s arm and through another what appeared to be his torso. Meanwhile the cone’s tip opened again and pushed out the bald man’s head only to gulp it down again and then issued it out of one of the tentacles/spores. Thus, the different parts of the man’s body found their respective exits, from which they all plunged into the lake of fire below.

Just when Jimmy thought that that was all, the body parts ascended from the lake, clad in a clothe of fire-each and every piece burning, burning without ceasing. And the bald man’s face began to cry in agony as the flames began to lick his cheek and poured down his ear. The ascending pieces regrouped over the cone and assembled back into the man’s body-as though they were parts of some DIY furniture pack. That’s when the cone opened up again.

And that’s also when Jimmy realised the true horror to which the bald man’s soul was being subjected to. The process was to be endlessly repeated-the devouring, the ripping of the body and the burning in the lake of fire. Even as Jimmy shuddered to think about it, he couldn’t help but feel a tinge of admiration for whoever it was who designed the punishment.

“Oh, Jimmy, are you abolutely sure Grozz knew what he was talking about?” said Alena.

Jimmy wasn’t sure. He looked down at the gaping hole below and the horrifying drama that went on beyond. He looked at Alena, pulled her face close to her chest,. But he didn’t say anything.

Not until their free fall was broken by a sudden suck of air that pulled them sideways, through the opening of a pair of lips on the curved walls of the tunnel.
“I told you Grozz was right!” said Jimmy triumphantly. The passage through which they were currently passing was dimmer than before but there was light enough to see that the inner surface was sleek and almost translucently blue. In fact, it was easy for Alena to imagine that they were inside an aquarium.

“This reminds me of a trip that I took to Singapore with my parents once,” said Alena.

“I thought Singapore was supposed to be a well-developed place. Not like hell,”Jimmy said, looking at her with a frown.

“That’s not what I meant. We went to this aquarium there. You could see dolphins swimming from within tunnels like this.”

Jimmy nodded as though satisfied with this explanation. “But I wonder if it’s dolphins that are waiting for us at the end of this slide.”

Even though Grozz said that the new place is going to be better for them, that was just about all that he said about it. And Jimmy didn’t think about contesting his offer because beggars can’t be choosers. But now that they seemed to be thwarted away from the worst hells down below into a sideways lane, he was wondering what exactly was on the other side of all this. Hopefully, not a job that required him to come up with ingenious ways to torture Alena.

“I wish we could be like this forever,” said Alena. “You know, just sliding down this translucent tunnel, forever and ever more, and my head on your chest like this.”

“Oh, now you sound like a television serial!” said Jimmy and they both laughed.

Their slide down ended in a swift landing, like they hit a giant sack of silk. Only, it was much smoother.

But looking down, neither of them could see on what place they have landed. Up to the height of their ankles all they could see was a thick swirl of white fog. And all around them, it was the same. And the whiteness of the fog was unlike anything either of them had seen. Pure, like how pure should be and not how it is conceived to be-that’s what the white was like.

And the fact that they landed on their feet-even though they were sliding through the translucent tunnel horizontally didn’t make much sense. Though Alena voiced her amazement about it, Jimmy was not in the least surprised . After all, we just came out of hell’s anus, he thought.

But he was rather apprehensive about the fact that he was unable to see what was around him.It was fine enough to have all the whiteness surrounding him like a cocoon- even reminded him a little of all the Apple products he used to be a fan of back when his soul was tied to the earth. But still, he couldn’t help but imagine weird figures looming up from behind the fog.

Wheras Alena was gripping his hand firmly before, he was the one who now clutched her arm with all his might, afraid that if he let go he might not be able to find her again.

“What sort of a place is this?” she said, looking all around her at the whiteness. Jimmy saw the white reflected in her pupils like the moon on a river and he was thrilled, momentarily forgetting his fear of dark monsters hiding behind the shearing whiteness which suffused the place.

He caught a sudden movement out of the corner of an eye- a glimmer really, like an ornament glinting in the sunlight. He looked above-towards the direction from which the glimmer came and saw that it was indeed an ornament-at least, it was gold. The fact that it looked conical put in his mind thoughts about the bald man and the recurring fate that he met with. But this conical element was of a small size- the size of an ordinary drinking glass and its allure was so much that he couldn’t take his eyes off it. Alena followed his gaze and was caught in the loop of the same allure. Enthralled, both the lovers stood still as the fog gently parted as though they were watching a spectacle put on especially for them and the rest of the ‘ornament’ was revealed to them.

It turned out that the cone was just the tip of a long pole some 20 feet high. And the pole was just one end to which a gate was attached-intricately designed with floral patterns, made of pure gold, with pearls inlaid. The lovers couldn’t determine what lied to either side of the gate for it was enveloped by fog.
As if they were metallic pieces being pulled by a magnet, they took their steps towards the gate, holding each other’s hands, but never looking at anything other than the gate. Which opened as they moved closer. No one was around-at least, no one they could see but when the gate opened they heard the most mellifluous music either of them has ever heard. A lilting melody that came from a lute, played by-they were sure, magical fingers.

Walking in, the view was different from how it was from the outside. Sure, there wes fog swirling around still. But there were also glimmers among them-golden, luminous, ethereal, the sole function of which seems to be to soothe the eyes of the beholder-in this case, Jimmy and Alena.

“Oh, my God, is that a goat!”

Jimmy turned his head at Alena’s exclamation-looked towards where she pointed. And sure enough, standing to their right, at the foot of what appeared to be a sloping ascent of a hill was a goat. No, upon closer inspection they saw that it was a sheep.

“I was totally a goat-freak back on earth!” said Alena. The smile on her face warmed Jimmy’s non-existent heart. She didn’t seem to mind the fact that it was not exactly a goat.

The sheep bleated and walked towards them. It was fat and as it came and stood close to him, Jimmy longed for some well-cooked meat. He also thought of how goat is a symbol for the devil back on earth and wondered if this gentle-looking sheep was going to transform into something monstrous.He still couldn’t forget the fact that hell was just a tunnel ride away.

Letting go of his hand Alena crouched down beside the sheep and patted it. The sheep lowered its head like an obedient dog. Jimmy looked around to see if there were any other living thing(relative term) around. But he could see nothing as far as the eye could see. Just endless expanse of pure white fog and the golden shimmers that were like gorgeous eyes winking. He felt a calm settle down in the core of his heart. More importantly, he felt his heart-beating, alive and warm within his chest.
Alena also felt the same. For she looked up at her lover’s face with a hand pressed to her chest and a look of astonishment on her face.

A look that was reciprocated by Jimmy.
“I feel alive, Jimmy!”

He gave her a hand so that she can pull herself up. He was ready to take the next step- kissing her.Now that they were back being their warm blooded selves, there seemed to be little sense in prolonging the same. He pulled her closer to him, gently, ever so gently, like the soft tug on the underside of a flower by the wind. As soon as she found herself being swept closer to him, her lips parted subconsciously. Her eyes widened, brimming with expectation. As if on cue the melody which has been playing in the background raised in volume. And so did the tempo-it felt to both of them that the tune was now being played to the rhythm of their hearts.

“I love you,Alena,” Jimmy’eyes twinkled like the golden cone on the gate.
“I love you too.”
“Were you a movie buff back on earth?” he whispered.
“I used to watch sometimes. With my friends. You?”
“I hated the bloody thing. Such a waste of time!” said Jimmy. “But God damn us to hell if this isn’t filmy!”

They both laughed but the laughter didn’t last long. Neither of them were interested in prolonging it.They had more important matters to take care of-like sharing their first kiss ever. The entire area surrounding them became fragrant as though a million flowers came into bloom together. The music flowed into their ears like audible nectar.Their lips were just millimetres away from touching each other.

Which was when the whole scene was broken by a gentle yet stern voice. “I am glad that you made it!”

At first, neither of the lovers looked away from the other-not wanting to be the first to do so. There was a sense of frustration in Jimmy’s face whereas Alena’s facial features were a study in disappointment. They both hesitantly turned their heads to look at the newcomer. And both of them gasped.

For standing not 10 feet away from them was none other than The Man himself- Jesus of Nazareth, in the flesh, holding a wooden rod in one hand, garbed in a free flowing robe that was as white as the fog surrounding everything. At the sight of Him, the sheep which stood beside Alena ran to Him. Jesus laughingly extended a hand and as if my magic-it was most probably magic the sheep flew up into his arm.He cradled it, pressing it gently against his chest. The mute creature revelled in the warmth that exuded from the Chest.

Jimmy-without even being aware of it, took his hand off from Alena’s ass where it was resting.
“Welcome,” said Jesus with a sweet smile that could easily melt an industrial size fridge full of butter.

The two lovers, open mouthed in awe walked towards the Man, as though being pulled by a force. The fact that neither of them truly believed in the existence of Jesus in Heaven when they were in earth-notwithstanding the occasional Sunday visits to the church by Jimmy, they still felt special to be in the presence of such benevolence.

“He looks just like in the paintings!”Jimmy muttered under his breath, audible enough for Alena.
“I know,” she said without taking her eyes off from the Holy One.

“I can hear you.Even if the words are whispered amongst yourself. Or if they are whispered within the chamber of your heart,” Jesus said, his friendly smile broadening.

Well, that sounds like very deep surveillance mechanism, thought Jimmy and immediately wondered if Jesus heard that. If He did, He didn’t show it. Instead, with a single wave of his hand, he vanished the staff he held and with his newly freed hand began to rub the sheep’s body, gently enough to make the creature bleat with pleasure.

“So, is this heaven?” said Jimmy. They both were standing not two feet away from the Mighty One. Jimmy couldn’t help but wonder the look on his mom’s face if he could tell her that he has seen the Man. She has always thought him to be more the Devil’s creation than a child of God.

Jesus nodded like the sage that he was.
“This is the garden of pleasures,” He elaborated. “Where the gentle-minded roam free, doing whatever they wish to do with their bodies and mind.”

“You mean, having sex as much as you want?” said Jimmy. He felt Alena’s clasp on his hand tighten.
Jesus nodded again. “As much as anyone likes. And with anyone you want to. And you will never tire of it either. Total freedom, in other words.” He waved his arm in a “Just chill” kind of gesture.

Jimmy nodded, not quite sure how to process this information. Alena looked equally baffled.
“But before that,” continued the Nazarene, “You have to see something.”

Unnoticed by the lovers, the sea of fog all around them had turned a crimson red. And it now rose steadily until it covered all the three bipeds in the scene up to their chest. The colour change of the fog coincided with a change that happened inside the lovers’ minds- for instead of the awe that they felt before there was a petrifaction. An ominous feel that something bad, worse-wrong was going to happen. And the feeling was like a calloused hand clutching on your heart. Not only did they find it harder to breathe, they also found all the willpower to move draining away from them.

And neither could they blink, they found. It was as though Jesus was exerting the highest level of power on them-the kind from which no one could ever escape, or even think of escaping.

As they looked on, Jesus rubbed the sheep’s body with an ever increasing speed until the motion became just a blur. The subtle bleats of the animal now turned into a loud wail-one which sounded almost human in its quality. And along with the siren-like wail, the sound of the music also changed-slowly evolving from a soothing melody on the lute to a jarring cacophony of metal clanging against metal. But more than that, it was the humanoid cry of the sheep which grated on Alena’s ears the most. Enough to make her let go of Jimmy’s hand, raise her arms and use them to shut her ears against the noise.

A well-muscled man with a goat’s head came out from the fog to their right. Two curved horns projected from the roof of his head, evenly placed from each other. Though he was playing a wooden lute, the sound that issued from it was that which was making Alena feel as though someone was hitting on her head with a jackhammer.
Jesus, for his part now punched a hole through the sheeps’ body and pulled out its heart, throbbing in a suffusion of red blood. The sheep continued to wail and now there was no mistaking that the sound was human.

“Behold, the heart of the lamb!” said Jesus, raising the still beating heart into heaven’s air.

Grinning widely at the two lovers Jesus took a bite or two from the heart from which thick juicy blood dripped down on to his robe. Colouring his attire the same as the fog. Out of the corner of his eye Jimmy could see that the goat-headed man who was half-naked had on a pair of red jeans.

This looks like a party with the colour red for a theme, he thought. He has had attended quite a few parties in his time on earth but none with such events as live heart-eating. But that’s not to say that this was also not designed by someone.

But he couldn’t pursue that line of thought since he was startled out of it by what happened next. Jesus, or the thing that appeared to be Him mutated right in front of him. Not the whole being but its face. For where there was the supple skin and gentle black eyes and a long forehead, there now were an even longer forehead and skin that was furry and teeth that were the stuff nightmares were made of. The head was that of a fox but the rest of it was Jesus as you would see in a painting you would behold in the living room of some relative’s home-or perhaps your own, adorned with a garland of cereal bulbs.Barring the ever widening pool of crimson blood on the robe, around the region of the chest.

The fox Jesus began to eat the flesh of the sheep which continued to wail. And the fox consumed the flesh with such relish that it moaned in between bites. The moans addressed the tempo of the crazy tune that Goat-head was playing from not far away.
One good thing that happened due to these latest developments was that our two lovers were shocked out of their putrefied lethargy. Alena now found her hand clasping Jimmy’s, without a wilful effort from her part. And they each felt the fact that their hearts were beating again may not be such a great thing, after all. For now they felt the heart beating like an overworking piston. And the blood that was being pumped built up so much pressure that the idea of dying for a second time wasn’t far from their minds.

Jesus was now done with the sheep. He dropped what was left of the body-a mangled mess of broken bones, blood and fur on to the floor where it disappeared amidst the crimson fog, and looked right at the lovers, shifting his eyes from one to the other and licking his lips,as if wondering which one to feast on first.

“Jimmy, I think this is the part of the movie where we start running!”

Alena barely finished saying this when Jimmy pulled hard on her hand and forced her into a run, towards the gate that still stood-thankfully enough-open. He felt a little stupid for running towards that small opening when to either side of it was nothing but fog that rose to heights unseen. Maybe they could move through it with as much ease as they were doing now-pushing aside the curls of thick fog from around their feet without even being conscious of the fact. But then again, it could be thick walls that greeted them behind the smudge of fog. In which case they could be trapped in here with That-which-was-not-Jesus and Goat-head.

Even through the tension of making away from the havoc in heaven, a thought occurred to Jimmy about how utterly relaxed the other two characters seemed to be. He couldn’t hear the Jesus figure chasing him and the music-if that term is still applicable to the noise was still being played.

Almost as if he read Jimmy’s thought, That-which-was-not-Jesus pulled the next trick on Jimmy. For out of the blue Jesus’ head appeared in front of Jimmy, making him come to a sudden halt with Alena slamming into his back.

The head was hanging from its neck in an inverted position, grinning right into his face. Even before he looked back, Jimmy realised what has happened. Jesus still stood where he has consumed the innocent sheep but his torso and neck elongated like they were made of rubber, elongated enough to make it possible to have the face staring into his eyes from an angle 180 degrees tilted. And that wasn’t all. The quality of the face has changed-the grin was more vicious, the eyes rounder with dark circles under them and the eyeballs themselves sunken within the sockets to a degree which in a normal human being would have been alarming. Also, there were rashes of hair growth on his cheeks which did nothing to glamorize his appearance.

In other words, this is what Jesus would probably look like if He were a junkie.

“Where do you think you’re going?,” he hissed snake-like. “While what I said about this being heaven was obviously wrong the thing about the freedom to have sex with anyone you want to for as long as you want is true. Including with me, or Goat or sheep over there!” This last, he said to Alena who cringed away from him.

As if on cue, Goat stopped playing the infernal lute and the mangled mess on the floor reformed into a sheep which small though it was raised its hind leg to display a long and hard dick. It grinned at Alena who looked away in disgust.

While everyone was thus pre-occupied with Goat and Sheep, Jimmy used the opportunity wisely by inserting two of his fingers up-or rather down the nostrils of That-which-was-not-Jesus who started whimpering incomprehensibly . “I think the lady says, no, thank you,” Jimmy hissed into his ear before pulling on Alena’s head and running past the inverted head and past the open gate.

They stopped only when they were exhausted by the run, long after they had passed the golden gates. They looked back to see an endless expanse of nothing-sheer blackness like outer space without planets or any sort of physical bodies. If this were the sky, stars would be just part of mythology.

“What now?,” Alena said, still panting from the effort of running.
Jimmy slowly raised his face to the oblivion above. And shouted, “Grozz!”

**
The first thing that they noticed as soon as they were in Grozz’ Chamber of the rotten heart was that their hearts weren’t beating anymore. Their bodies felt as cold as the grave which is the rightful situation for folks in hell. And though neither of them voiced it they both secretly found it a relief to be back in their dead selves. The recent blood-pressure inducing excitement that their bodies were subject to made it very clear that having a morbid self was more advantageous than one might imagine.

The hard stench that was the main feature of Grozz’ chamber wasn’t exactly welcome to Jimmy-especially not after the trick that Grozz pulled on him and Alena but it was better than being around a wacko Jesus and some dude with a goat’s head and a sheep with a hard on.

Grozz was on his chair behind the table.He wasn’t alone though. On his thigh was seated one of the most luscious monsters Jimmy has ever seen. Luscious for a monster, that is-which is a far cry from being beautiful as per human parameters.
“I thought this heart is a testimony to your ever-lasting love for a woman you killed,” Jimmy said, trying to fill his words with as much sarcasm as he could muster.

“It is, Jimmy!” said Grozz, wide eyed and with a sly grin. “But this is just lust!” he ran a hand around the monster-lady’s bottom, his fingers getting embalmed in a thick liquid in the process.

“What the fuck did you do to us, Grozz!” Jimmy said, unable to keep in check his anger anymore, unable to control his language in front of Alena who was being a mute spectator. She was still slightly disoriented with the effect of the abrupt transportation. One moment they were both on the great void, just out of the golden gate but inside nothing. And the next moment, as soon as Jimmy called out Grozz’ name they were in this chamber.

Grozz dismissed the monster-woman with a wave of the hand and threw her a kiss as she looked back from the door, ready to disappear. Once she was gone he stood up and came around the table, patted Jimmy on the shoulder. Jimmy was stone faced though Grozz was giving him his best grin-which wasn’t much.

Seeing that his charms were not having any effect on his friend Grozz said, “Relax, man. It was a joke, okay? Just a joke. What did you expect? To walk away with your doll in your arm into the sunset and live happily ever after? This is hell, for Christ’s sake!”

“But you gave us hope!” Jimmy’s voice was shaking with a hardly restrained anger.
Grozz held out an open palm as though saying what’s the big deal.He asked Alena to help and make him understand but she just turned her face away.

“Look,” he said to Jimmy in a tone that was the most reasonable that Jimmy had heard the monster use till date. “I fooled you.I admit it. What, you think that you are the only one with a job to do around here?I also need to please the Evil One now and again. Otherwise, hell would be really hell. If I manage to please the Lord-which,as you well know is hard, He would give me perks.”

“Like the one who just walked out now?” Jimmy interjected, the anger rising in his voice again.’

Grozz, who has been nervously scratching the stubble on his chin, looked up at Grozz. “Yes, like the one who just walked out. And as I said before, this is hell. So, it’s the kind of shit you can expect. In case you haven’t noticed, mercy isn’t the currency on which this enterprise runs.” Jimmy noted that the monster’s voice has lost whatever softness it had. He looked at Alena helplessly. He could see that she was saddened but trying like anything to put on her best smile.

“But..”

They both looked up at Grozz. The monster was now back behind his desk, though still standing looking down at the open ledger, a thick stub of a pencil-made of multiple human fingers held on his hand . “But,” he repeated, “There is something that I can do for you. And this is no pulling of leg. You can believe me, if you can believe me.” Grozzz stopped for dramatic effect before continuing. “To begin with, I relieve you from the role of chief torturer. “ Grozz struck off an entry in the ledger with the finger-pencil. “And you will both be together for eternity. Undergoing punishment after punishment. And best of all, both your punishments will be devised by yours truly!” added Grozz and grinned, looking at them both, from one to the other, expecting them to be pleased by this set-up.

“You do realise that I don’t have to personally formulate anyone’s punishment? “, Gross said, seeing how silence seemed to be all the response that he was getting. Silence and looks of disappointment. “That will be the duty of the new chief torturer.But I’m doing this as a favour for you guys. You may even consider it an amendment for the Jesus trick that I pulled on you.” Grozz grinned sheepishly.

Jimmy thought of something to say before he left the chamber but couldn’t really come up with anything. He thought of how sad he had felt standing at the brink of the anus thinking how he won’t be be seeing Grozz ever again. He shook his head at his own stupidity. With a weary sigh he took hold of Alena’s hand and walked to the door.

But when they reached the door something did occur to him. He turned around and said, “So, who is going to be the new chief torturer?,” Hated though he did his job, he was still curious enough to know. Whoever was going to fill his shoes didn’t have any clue as to how hardened a heart Satan’s was, how tough it was to come up with something that was cruel enough to amuse the Evil One.

“She’s on her way here right now. You will see her on your way out,” Grozz said without looking up from the ledger, all business-like.

The corridor outside Grozz’ chamber was re-adorned. There was a newly made fountain that had grotesque monster figures carved on it. Piss flowed endlessly from the fountain. But after the incredible stench inside Grozz’ chamber, neither of the lovers thought anything of this.

As they walked down the corridor, the fingers of their arms still entwined, they saw the old naked woman whom Jimmy had brought punishment walking towards them from the other side. At first, Jimmy thought that she was coming to plead with him to alleviate her suffering, in the misconstrued belief that Jimmy held even an iota of power in this place where such concepts are power were but relative. But as the distance between the lovers and the old woman diminished he saw a determination- a sense of power in her eyes which he has never seen there before. Even her nakedness about which she used to be consistently shy doesn’t seem to bother her anymore. She walked with her arms moving to and fro, head held high and even a thin smile on her lips.

If the circumstances were different Jimmy may have smiled at her himself but as it was he merely nodded at her. Besides, the woman hasn’t come to meet him as it turned out since she walked right past him with a curt nod, on towards the chamber of the rotten heart.

That was when Jimmy smiled. When realisation set in.

“What is it?” said Alena.
“That is the newly appointed Chief Torturer,” Jimmy said. One with a lot of illusion of power, he thought but didn’t say out loud.
******
“I was out with some friends. We were all drinking…drunk.We went for a ride. To a hill.We reached the top of a cliff. It was night. I stood too close to the edge and slipped. That’s how I died.” Before Jimmy could say anything Alena continued. “An innocent way to die, I know and something that doesn’t merit hell. But…but there’s something about my life on earth which I haven’t told you.”

“Listen,” interjected Jimmy. “You don’t have to say anything. What happened when we were alive is long gone now. And though it’s a fact that we are here precisely because of whatever we did on earth, there’s nothing we can do about it now. So, if you want bygones be bygones, it’s cool with me.”

Alena looked at him with an appreciative smile. She even took a couple of moments to think about it but then decided against the idea. “No, I wanna say this.”
Jimmy nodded.

“People, if we can fast track this, I would appreciate it.I have other business to tend to,”Grozz who stood in front of them with folded arms said solemnly but urgently.

After nodding affirmatively at him Alena said to Jimmy, “I was married once and I cheated my husband with another man. Not for money or anything but for the simple pleasure of it.”

She looked closely into Jimmy’s face for signs of how he was taking this. There seems to be a lot of changes in his facial expressions in the span of a few seconds-from confusion to sadness to a forced smile.

I have expected an embezzlement-like me, or maybe even a murder, Jimmy was thinking. But cuckolding her husband?

Somehow Alena has not looked to him the type.

But then, appearances can be deceiving, thought Jimmy. He finally decided to settle on the facial expression of the forced smile. Will you do it again? The question did occur to him but he didn’t bother asking because he knew how irrelevant such a thing is in hell. Of course, she could. There’s no law against it here. Not that that prevents people from doing it back on earth.

“Shall we proceed with the ceremonies then?”said Grozz in a put-on solemn tone. Grozz was attired in a long white robe the kind of which you would see on a priest. Only, instead of the cross the insignia on this one was that of a goat’s head. One with red horns and a crooked smile.

Alena nodded and so did Jimmy though one was more enthusiastic than the other. Jimmy tried to push the negative thoughts from his mind by thinking how she did tell him about what brought her here-but still it was impossible to lose the knowledge that this was hell and shit could happen.

He gulped as Grozz proceeded with the ceremonies.

“Do you, Miss Alena Gomez, accept this man as your husband?”Grozz said in his deep voice that sounded like it issued from the deep recesses of some dark cave.

“Yes. I do!,” Alena said enthusiastically.

Out of thin air popped the lusty monster-lady whom the lovers had seen earlier in Grozz’s chamber. She now stood beside Grozz who looked visibly happier with her appearance.Raising his robe a bit she rubbed on his cock as he continued with the ceremony.

“Do you, Mr. Jimmy , accept this woman as your wife?”

Jimmy nodded, wondering what he was getting into.

Seeing the lack of confidence in his face, Grozz repeated the question. Gruffly, threateningly.

This time Jimmy followed the nod with a somewhat firm, “Yes, I do.”

Grozz’s facial expression softened as he said, looking at the two lovers and moaning in between words at what the female monster who was now crouched in front of him was doing for him, “In the name of all that’s unholy-which goes by the name of Satan, I now pronounce you man and wife.”

He them handed both a ring each which he produced from up his anus, asked them to adorn it on each other’s fingers.

They did as ordered and immediately their fingers began to burn.

Grozz smiled. “It’s gonna burn and burn bad. Until one of you plunges the dagger down the heart of the other.”

The pain was fast becoming unbearable. Shooting up the marow of the bone in their hands and up towards their brain with the penetrating power of a hot dagger plunged into the heart. It soon became evident to the lovers that they won’t be able to stand the pain for long.

With a sly grin, Grozz produced two daggers from beneath his robe and handed them to each of the lovers.

Jimmy looked at Alena. The pain that was now seeping throughout the entire length and breadth of his body like a vicious and endless bolt of electricity that sought to eat him from within. So intense that he couldn’t even hear what he was thinking. But the pain did address his mind-it told him how certain he should be that the woman who stood so near to him was going to cheat him with another man. So, he shouldn’t hesitate plucking her heart out with the dagger. And that was one thought he could hear loud and clear.

As for Alena she was having a thought of her own, induced the same pain-this guy is gonna be an imprisonment, as guys are wont to be. It’s best to kill him off and break away from the prison that’s in wait for me.

And they could see the same thought reflected in each other’s eyes. Without losing time, they were at each other’s throat.

Grozz came into the female monster’s mouth at that moment.

“And this is to be your first level of punishment,” said Grozz, looking at the two fighting so earnestly. “Hope the mighty one will be pleased!”
And he began to laugh.
***

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