Bewildering Stories

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Time Enough for Hell

by John Thiel

Svet Chutney always figured that when it was his time to go, he'd have plenty of it to think about where he was going to. So he spent the years he'd been allotted carousing and, mostly to support the carousing, stealing, extorting and embezzling, and generally doing little good. He did believe in an afterlife - scientists had proven to him that there was a life after death - but doubted that he would make out in it no matter what he did, and he made it his concern to prove to the world that there was life BEFORE death.

Now his notion that he had plenty of time to consider the afterlife was being severely challenged. Twenty-two minutes was not a whole lot of time. Especially under modern, high-speed-of-life conditions. He'd been lying on his cot looking at his shoes and moving them outward and then inward. Now he wondered how many more times he'd be able to do this before his time was up.

Let's see, if he was going where the priest had suggested, he'd be arriving pretty shortly and there wouldn't be any shocking changes, not that there would be no shock involved at all. But after that, he'd have no end of time, according to reports.

He pondered the resemblance death had to sex. It totally involved the organism and had an effect of change on the self which a person might or might not like. When one had sex, afterwards there was a cigarette. But in death, there was no cigarette. It came before, if at all.

He tried to think back to his birth. Would his entire life be passing before his eyes shortly? He was having trouble remembering anything just now. If man had a spirit, why could he not remember before his birth? Was forgetfulness instilled by some mysterious powers? Probably - there were just such arriving at this moment, their arrival presaged by the sound of boots in the corridors. They weren't visiting anybody else. This time he was sure he had company. He hoped there would be a vulture among them, about the size of the rest.

His present life was now a little bit difficult to remember. His door was clanging open. There, as he had hoped there would not be, was that infernal priest. He remembered his notion about the vulture. Then he was hearing his own agreement to walk, and they were on their way down the corridor.

"It'll be short," one of the guards told him.

"I hope the short occurs before I sit down," he said. A carouser. He had a sort of low wit to him that the guards commended him on as they ushered him down the corridor, trying to buck him up so he could face it as okay as one could.

He was in the room. He stared around him and saw the contrivance he had anticipated. If any machine was an invention of the devil, it was that one. "Ohm, watt's that?" he said, pointing at the chair.

"You'll be sitting in it shortly enough. Got any last wishes?"

"Only this - I'll be going to a certain place shortly, or short-circuitedly, according to my beliefs, and I would like it if you could see them greet me there."

"No cigarette? Shot of brandy? We got some."

"I've decided against it. May you taste brandy for a long time after you leave this room."

"YOU won't again. That's a mild pronouncement. I've heard worse."

"So have I."

They strapped him in. He felt like a jet pilot taking his first solo flight. He'd be flying a long way, but in a descending path. He looked at the dots along the dial. "Volt's dot?" he asked them.

"We want to be able to read it," the operator said.

"Say it yourself," they told him when they were ready.

"Electricity!" he screamed. And they began running it. The operator reached for the dial. It started going up. He shut his eyes. "The straps ampere my movements," he told them as a last thought. Three of them laughed. Hadn't he once been described as having a wild shock of hair? The helmet made that a rather surrealistic thought. One thing was sure, he wasn't out of contact - he was surrounded by current events. A person could actually get a buzz out of the experience. It's what an AC/DC type had to expect, a final acey-deucy with an electric sendoff that would give him a real charge, even if it was free. With a final jar he left his body which, as far as he was concerned, could be taken and laid in at their pleasure. His earthly load was lightening.

And now? It was like he was waking up, like his life hadn't been real and something else was real. He was looking at a maroon band hanging rather vibrantly, or was it instead dormant, in the blackness of space. Figurines seemed to be dancing at the lower edges of it like paintings on an earthenware jug.

A voice said, "Here's a new fellow with a lot of output. Call it pa-zazz. Just giving a plug to a man who really doesn't need one."

"Hell, he can turn on when he wants," another voice said. "How long do you suppose he intends to stay?"

Chutney had forgotten his last wishes. He returned thoughts to the voices he heard: "Tell it to the people back in the execution chamber."

"You got demons, boy - - the way other people have guardian angels."

"I'd like to see someone with guardian angels get the hot seat. They'd have something to say about it to the flunkies."

"We can meet your demands. How's it feel to get another one down?"

"Don't expect a fellow not to get his last wishes, do you?"

"What's that, a task force in there? Take a look at the sparks and let your minds roam."

"This fellow's cheating death. That's because he's been that much of a cheat."

"Call that a hot seat? You should see the one His Emperor sits on."

"We'll take care of your boy - we're wrapping him in bunting now."

"Hey, fire!"

Then the abyss was opened for Chutney. He didn't see anybody barring his entrance as the vast realm spread out. He was more than welcome. The only diabolical part was it wasn't really a very good place.

He hadn't had much time for his women but he had time for this. Chutney first walked and then ran into the flames, like a child running down the beach toward the water.

Back in the Death Chamber they were talking about his departure. "Ever had the pits open in here before?" the turnkey asked.

"I've sometimes imagined it happening, but I haven't ever heard anyone saying anything."

"How's he rate?" a guard asked.

"Low," the executioner said. "That fellow's a real low-down type."


Copyright © 2002 by John Thiel