ell has a lovely waiting room. It’s carpeted and elegant in a way that my grandmother would approve of, with green and white love seats, rosewood end tables, matching white lamps. I sit in an armchair, trying to get up the nerve to enter the main chamber of Hell. You can put it off as long as you like but eventually you have to go in. If you procrastinate enough, this itself can become part of the Hell experience.
A few other people are in the waiting room with me. One is an adorable little boy: big-eyed, tow-headed, urchin-faced, no taller than my hip. He makes a beeline for the entrance and I lunge to stop him—Hey kid! Don’t!—but he marches through the door without a glance back. I sigh, rubbing my thumb over my fingernails.
The other person in the waiting room turns out to be Jude Law. He’s lying on the carpet taking deep breaths, trying to calm his panic. Jude Law is so hot I can barely stand it; good God, I think, am I going to get to have sex with Jude Law? I kneel beside him and stroke his forehead. He smells like Davidoff Cool Water, which is barely a scent, only a sort of aura of hygiene recently performed. He holds my hand and looks deep into my eyes. I’m pretty sure he’s my soul mate; wait. Yeah, he is.
While Jude Law lies on the floor taking deep breaths, he explains that he needs to go to Hell in order to save the tow-headed boy. This is his mission; his noble, sacred mission. I want to help! I tell him so and he says Babe, you don’t have to do that. He says I can just wait while he takes care of business on the inside. But I persevere and he finally agrees that I might come in handy. We get to our feet and open the door to Hell.
Once I’m in Hell I immediately lose Jude Law. Oh, I think, of course Hell is the absence of Jude Law. Duh. Still, I slog around, looking for the little boy. Hell is a vast, echoing room, like cathedral or a seventies-style ski lodge. Everyone in Hell is standing in line. It snakes around like the line for the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland, only the aisles are more narrow. At the switchbacks I have a view of what’s happening up front on the big altar. The Devil is up there, a regular white guy in chinos, and he’s got some little dogs beside him. They are super cuties—bichons and poodles and shi tzu’s, fluffy ball chasers and hand lickers. The Devil is feeding human infants to the dogs. He appears to find this boring but he does it anyway, like shoveling coal into a boiler. The dogs look like they’d be too small to eat so many infants but they’re not. They jump and wag and gobble up babies.
I begin to understand that in Hell, if you’re unlucky, you have to go up on the stage and be eaten by an adorable lapdog. I think: Maybe they’ll pick someone else instead! I look at the other candidates, my fellow hellions. To a man they look gray and waxen, with bad teeth. Surely any of these people would be fed to the dogs before me. But the thing is, there’s a sinister knowledge circulating in Hell that no matter how fervently you wish for your neighbor to get eaten instead of you, eventually you’ll have to go up on the altar and get eaten anyway. The delay just gives you more time to experience dread, fear, and schadenfreude.
I catch sight of the little boy in the line next to me and grab his arm. To my surprise, I manage to drag him out of the chamber—I’m not so clear on the mechanics of this—and before I know it I’m out of Hell, in the open air, leading him back home. Time and space collapse, and it turns out that I’m right where I’m supposed to be. This is unexplainable. But great! The sun is bouncing between buildings, the boy is silent and glued to my hand, and we’re back in the world of the living.
I take the boy to his apartment in an industrial area of the city. His parents hug him and then he runs inside to play with his toys. He doesn’t seem to want to talk about Hell and who can blame him? I stand on the sidewalk and chat with his folks about normal stuff—the weather, our caffeine intake, what we have to do tomorrow. They thank me for bringing back their son, but they also act like it’s no big deal and maybe it’s not. Maybe any of us would do that for each other: rescue the little children, bring them home, restore peace.
After a while boy comes to the window and peeks out. I notice that something about him doesn’t seem right. Now he seems…bad. He’s still cute but something—his body language, his expression—communicates a sort of everyday routine of deceit, like you’d expect from a politician or a salesman. I’m stunned and confused.
Just then his little sister bounces up to me, a toddler with a ripped dress. She’s lost her dog! Her little pet dog, she says, red-eyed, glancing from side to side, overwrought. I ask her what happened and she says: “Jordie gave me fifteen dollars to lock the dog in the closet before we went to Hell, and when I came back he was gone!”
She goes on to explain that Jordie, her tow-headed brother, was always doing wicked things along these lines. He’d frequently lock the dog in the closet, or make cuts on its paw, or burn its fur. Oh, I think, okay, he’s a torturer of animals, this boy I saved from destruction. That’s a sign that he’ll grow up to be a real psychopath. It dawns on me that he’s evil, possibly he is Satan’s spawn, and I’ve saved him so that he can do more bad things to mankind. My stomach sinks. What I feel is beyond regret; it’s a deep sense of having fucked things up for everybody, forever.
Then it hits me: this is all part of Hell. From the waiting room to the cathedral to the nice people chatting on the sidewalk, I’d never left it for a moment. And I never would.