A woman, in her late thirties, dressed in simple blue jeans and a white tee shirt, wakes up from unconsciousness, only to find herself standing in a well-lit room. The room is of average size, a twelve by fourteen, with a large, oak, desk in the center and a man sitting behind it. There is an empty chair across from the man at the desk, old, greyed, and rather unstable looking. She looks around the room and finds the room to be completely made out of concrete. The room is stuffy, if not slightly warm. She walks towards the man who has not looked up from the computer in front of him, and sits down in the chair.
The man finally notices her and looks up from his laptop.
Man: Oh. Hello there, I didn’t see you until just now!
Woman: Where am I? Where is this? Who are you?
Man: I know you might be surprised to find yourself here, or not, actually, but rest assured, everything has been taken care of and you’ll be allowed to make yourself comfortable soon enough.
Woman: You never answered my questions. What is this place?
Man: Questions and small talk are both tasteless fillers in a conversation, except the former is just another way of showing how one is too lazy to Google.
Man: You’re in Hell. I’m Pete, by the way, and I’ve been personally assigned to handle your stay for eternity. While that may seem long, rest assured, it’s certainly not as bad as watching an American football game. Or what I like to call it, a series of commercials.
Woman: (Shocked) I’m… in hell.
Pete: You most definitely are! Rest assured, it’s really not as bad as some people make it, like that one jackassemblylineworker Dante Alighieri. Now let me look up your files real quick, Miss Valentine… You are Miss Jennifer Valentine, correct?
Jennifer: I… I, yes, I am, but—
Pete: Please, Miss Valentine, calm down, everything’s all right. Here, I have some chocolate with me, although they might have melted from being in this stuffy room for far too long…
Pete goes through his desk drawers, looking for some chocolate. Meanwhile, Jennifer slowly regains her composure, and by the time Pete produces the chocolate, she has herself much more under control.
Pete: Here’s the chocolate, Miss Valentine—
Jennifer: How did I end up here? In Hell. What did I do to end up in this place?
Pete: Miss Valentine, rest assured, you were just recently involved in a car accident. The exact details, I believe, were that you had been driving while texting, with your last exact text saying… “Dicks.” Interesting.
Jennifer: Stupid iPhone autocorrect.
Pete: Ah, smartphones. They either fail to live up to their name, or they are undermined by the stupidity of their owners.
Jennifer: So I really am dead.
Pete: Miss Valentine, you are as dead as Coors Light tastes like cat piss.
Jennifer: And why did I end up in Hell?
Pete bursts into a hysterical laughter, a shrill, heaving orchestra of hee’s and ha’s.
Pete: Oh Miss Valentine, you are really such a hoot.
Jennifer: Excuse me?
Pete: Miss Valentine, you very well know yourself why you have ended up in Hell.
Jennifer: I really don’t. Was it because I hadn’t gone to church in a couple of years?
Pete: Miss Valentine, nobody seriously goes to church anymore. One can get the kind of outdated, sleep-inducing lectures pastors give out like candies on Halloween just by going to a retirement home and listening to the patients there. Or politicians, I suppose.
Jennifer: It must be because I stole thirty dollars from the cash register at work the other month, then?
Pete: Petty theft is like sketches for an artist – it’s the first steps to painting a larger, grander, more beautiful piece of art. Therefore, we are very much indifferent to petty theft, Miss Valentine.
Jennifer: Was it because I cheated? I swear I didn’t intend to cheat on Michael, and if I could take it back, I would in a heartbeat.
Pete: Please, Miss Valentine, you know as well as I do that we don’t punish adultery here. If it’s anything that one can say, “If I could take it back, I would,” as a general rule of thumb, then that action is not reason for someone to arrive at our doorsteps. Consider, for a moment, Miss Valentine, how silly that would seem. We would have to receive every robber, murderer, psychopath, sociopath, swindler, adulterer, drunkard, dictator, and any other sort of fellows here at Hell. That simply wouldn’t make any sense.
Jennifer: Why then am I here? If that’s the case, I didn’t do anything seriously wrong.
Pete’s face suddenly turns dark. Lines appear on his forehead, his friendly smile turns into a scowl, and the eyebrows form deep furrows. Jennifer sinks into her seat, not knowing what has caused this frightening change in Pete’s mood and appearance.
Pete: Miss Valentine, rest assured, I will never be unprofessional in my line of work, but there is a part of my conscience that cannot stand the blatant kind of prevaricating that you just exhibited. Frankly, it boils my blood.
Jennifer: I, but, I really don’t know—
Pete: Miss Valentine, do not test me.
Jennifer opens her mouth to say something, decides against it, and closes her mouth. Pete’s mood improves, and he goes back to his good-natured self.
Pete: Miss Valentine, rest assured, regardless of your reason for being here, you will be taken care of in Hell. Now, let us examine the extent of your crimes.
Pete begins looking up Jennifer’s file on his laptop, which happens to be a Mac.
Pete: Yes… Yes… Mhm… Hm… Ah, well, this really isn’t too bad, and it could be a lot worse. It must be said that your parents’ situation certainly does not help your case, but your relation to your significant other Michael is quite favorable.
Jennifer: Look, Pete, I’m not really trying to upset you or anything, I really don’t—that is to say, I just want you to explain everything to me. I, I really haven’t got a clue what this all is about, or why I’m here, or what you’re talking about.
Pete stares at Jennifer for a long time, scrutinizing her face and thinking over what she had just said. There is a pause.
Pete: Miss Valentine, you are in Hell because you were poor.
There is a silence that lasts for ten, twenty seconds.
Jennifer: I’m here… because of my financial situation.
Pete: That’s the only reason people go to Hell.
Pete: This is simply how things work in Hell.
Jennifer: So who goes to Heaven?
Pete: Rich people. Wealthy people. People rolling in the dough, so to speak.
Jennifer: But the Bible says, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle…”
Pete: “…than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” Yes, Matthew 19:24, right, I know. That’s actually not very much reflective of reality in the afterlife.
Jennifer: But how can that be?
Pete: Exxon and Verizon bought the rights to the rules a while ago, and changed it so that a person simply had to be rich to get into Heaven. Heaven was stuck with Microsoft though, and we got Apple to sponsor us, so we’re not too bent out of shape. Rest assured, Miss Valentine, our job has gotten easier at least twenty-fold ever since the rules were amended. No longer do we get tangled up by the complicated mess of a system that used to be in place.
Jennifer: But that’s totally unfair. How could they do that? You can’t just simply buy entrance into Heaven.
Pete: Everything has a price, Miss Valentine. Except maybe for Messi. There’s no price for Messi.
Jennifer: So I’m here because I wasn’t rich.
Pete: I hate to point this out, but you are repeating yourself, Miss Valentine. It’s certainly not something you should be too upset over.
Jennifer: “Not too upset over”! How could I not be! I didn’t decide to be poor. My destiny was determined by something I had no control over – my parents were never wealthy to begin with, and they constantly struggled to keep a roof over our heads. We made a lot of sacrifices, we didn’t have a lot of things, but they were able to get me to college, and I won’t say that I didn’t make my share of mistakes, but I’m better financially off than my parents were. I’ve got a steady job, not great, but it’s better than nothing, and I’ve been saving and making the right financial decisions, and, and—
Jennifer becomes visibly emotional and her eyes begin to get moist.
Jennifer: And one bad accident and I’m in Hell? How is this fair at all!
Pete: (Sympathetically) Miss Valentine, I understand how you’re feeling, but you seem to lay a lot of emphasis on the lack of control you had over your entrance into Hell, while dismissing how little control you had over many of the factors in your life. Your socioeconomic situations, according to the files I have here, seem to indicate that they had a great impact on the options that were available to you. It is the unfortunate truth that the most important decision we make in our life is who we choose our parents to be.
Jennifer: But that’s not a choice!
Pete: Exactly, Miss Valentine, and it’s just the same in Hell.
There is a silence. Several minutes go by. Jennifer stares off into the corner of the room, while Pete does not take his eyes off of Jennifer.
Jennifer: (Suddenly) So what happens to me.
Pete: Well, you’re in Hell now, Miss Valentine. In a moment, I’ll have to excuse myself to allow you to burn for eternity.
Pete: Miss Valentine, it cannot be helped.
Jennifer: But what about that guy who recently stole the wheelchair of a French quadruple amputee? Would he come to Hell as well?
Pete: Yes, of course, but only because he’s a broke S-O-B.
Jennifer: There isn’t a special place in Hell for those kinds of people?
Pete: Well, Miss Valentine, I’m afraid that the Special Place in Hell is only reserved for the truly, sinful few.
Jennifer: And who are these people?
Pete: The down-trodden, poverty-ridden, hopelessly luckless and broke-as-Greece paupers, Miss Valentine. We save the best kind of punishment for these sinners.
Jennifer: Oh my god.
Pete: God had nothing to do with this, Miss Valentine. He’s currently enjoying his windfall from the sale of Heaven, kicking it back in Dubai.
Jennifer: This is unbelievable. There is injustice here.
Pete: And there isn’t injustice on Earth, Miss Valentine? I can see where your shock and frustration are coming from, and I really must blame that troublemaker Dante for giving everyone on Earth a false impression of Hell, but injustice is nothing that any of the people that come through our gates are unfamiliar with. In fact, we oftentimes expect them to make a very smooth transition from Earth to Hell because it’s just the same old thing all over again.
Jennifer: Is there anything I can do about this?
Pete: No, not really, Miss Valentine. And please, don’t take this personally; we really do like every person that comes to Hell.
Jennifer: That’s just another way of saying you’re indifferent to everyone.
Pete: Whatever it may be, we are, and there’s nothing we can do for you or anyone else. Unless, that is, it turns out that we’d made an error with your file and you were actually quite wealthy.
Pete: Well, Miss Valentine, it was certainly nice having this conversation with you, and I really do hope you enjoy your stay for the rest of eternity. Hopefully you didn’t have any regrets, any wishes you had before your unfortunate demise, and if you will excuse me, I must attend another arrival at this moment.
Jennifer: No, you can’t leave.
Pete: I believe what you meant to say was, “I don’t want you to leave,” Miss Valentine. However, as a matter of fact, I can, and I will take my leave now. Tschüss!
A forked tail emerges from behind Pete, and snaps loudly in the air. With a bang, the desk, the chairs, the laptop, and Pete are gone, and Jennifer is left alone in the room. All that is left is a single piece of paper, which Jennifer walks over to pick up. The room has begun to heat up. The letter reads:
“If at any point it feels too hot, rest assured, everything is working as intended. For any other issues you may come across, please phone 1-666-6661 for help.”
Jennifer: … Why the hell would I have a phone?