Hell wasn’t what I expected. No fire, no brimstone, no torture; well, no torture in the traditional sense. Waiting on entitled customers marked high on my personal meter of Hell-on-Earth, but I never thought it would literally be the case.
In the endless halls I passed rooms of obscure retail shops: the ones you only notice when you go on vacation and then never find again. Punished souls inhabited bodies like they’d put on suits for work. This was only the first level of Hell—I didn’t want to wander too deep into the maze.
Oops. One of the demons spotted me darting through the shops. The thing is, demons are not red-eyed evil monsters with a burning hunger for human flesh. They’re more like hall monitors on a power trip. He jabbed a finger against my sternum and noticed my marks. He was cute, so I didn’t mind.
“Oh, you’re one of them. Follow the rules. Don’t get in the way.”
“OK. What’s your name?”
“Because you’re the first person to help me.”
“No, I didn’t. It’s Glen.”
“Thanks, Glen. I’m Bea. You’ve been here for a while to make demon status, how much longer until you move up?”
“We don’t talk about it. Now get out of here before I change my mind and assign you a spot.”
For once my feet moved before my mouth did. Still, I couldn’t find her. I’d lost track of time. There was no day or night here, and as a soul I couldn’t judge by my heartbeats or breaths. I hadn’t had time to adjust to my new state, let alone the new surroundings. My family up top had been so disappointed, but I had to follow my heart, even when it led me to Hell.
Another store flashed by on my left, but there were no souls tending it. The emptiness called to me. Had the punished soul slipped through the wards? I tiptoed inside. It was an antique shop, but children’s toys had been scattered, ruining a display. By habit I nudged them into a basket.
“What are you doing?” A ninety-year-old woman grabbed my arm, or the soul inside her did. I panicked, forgot the wards, forgot I was a soul, forgot the rules of Hell and broke her hold to burst through the front door. It wasn’t until I was halfway down the street that I realized I was a free ghost now. I’d found a way out of Hell! More importantly, I’d also found her!
I returned to the shop as fast as my see-through legs could carry me.
“You aren’t supposed to be here.”
Now that I knew what to look for I could see Annabelle’s face shine through the guise of the elderly woman’s skin suit.
“We promised we’d see each other in Hell. It’s not my fault you died ten years before I did.”
“That’s not what I mean. You don’t belong in Hell. You should be up there.” Luckily the store was empty, so it didn’t look strange for her to be conversing with air or gesturing wildly.
“No, we made a promise.”
“We also promised we’d tie up Captain America and keep him in our basement. Somethings we said for fun.”
“I’m not leaving my best friend to rot in Hell alone!” I balled my hands into fists. “I never thought you’d really end up here.”
“Are you kidding? You know what I did. Who I did.”
“But you aren’t a bad person.”
“Bea. Stop. You can’t be here. Go back up.”
“No. There are special circumstances for souls like me.” I held up my arms, allowing them to shine. The imprinted filigree looked like white tattoos scrolled all over my skin, marking my choice to follow her into the darkness.
Annabelle brushed the marks, tears forming in her human suit’s eyes. She couldn’t touch me, but her soul did behind the borrowed flesh. “Why?”
“We promised. I don’t mind being here”
“You idiot! This is Hell. You can’t…you can’t—”
I hugged through the suit to Annabelle’s soul. “Besides, I can leave when I want. And I don’t actually have to work. I can sit around and laugh at you. Does that help?”
She snorted and cleared her throat. “Never mind, now I don’t want you around.”
“Also it’s not really eternity. Just some reconditioning. A little community service for past indiscretions.”
“Out. I’m done with you.”
“I’ll go find some hot spirit guys to lounge with while you’re tortured. Add to the humiliation.”
“You’re the worst.”
“Best friends for life.”
“And death apparently.”
I grinned. “I’ll have to get Glen in on this. You’ll like Glen.”
Annabelle palmed her face. “You haven’t changed.” The door chimed as a customer entered.
“Nope. Now get back to work.” I turned to the customer, who couldn’t see me or hear me as I didn’t have a suit. “Welcome to Hell!”
Haunting was going to be fun.