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Infinity.  The human mind cannot even grasp the meaning of such a word.  To contemplate it during the brief snatches of sanity in the depths of Hell drives one right back into the screaming jaws of insanity.  But it’s not an insanity of senselessness.  It’s not the insanity of blank-faced oblivion.  Not an empty mind defunct and destroyed behind vacant eyes.  Oh No!  It’s a cold, calculated insanity where chaos runs amok and logic is only allowed in to heighten the misery to the apex of suffering.  It’s an insanity designed by pure, malicious evil.

The torments of Hell are a creeping, crawling evolution with no end in sight.  Like mad scientists the demons react to the specimen’s actions with sterile precision.  A torture may go on for years extracting every ounce of suffering from the doomed individual with only minor tweaks in administration.  Each variation is a carefully calculated and shaded nuance that prevents the damned from building the least bit of sensitivity to their unique ordeal.

The longstanding formula of Hell is nine parts suffering, nine-tenths part chaotic insanity, and one-tenths part logical sanity.  The latter being the small, finite hope needed to contrast and compare infinite damnation.  But it is abundantly clear that the spark of hope is the real thing in each person that is being tortured.

The longstanding maxim of Hell:  Hope be damned.

*

Thargus Ramuntula swept into the dingy cell like a flitting shadow and poured into the empty chair against the darkened wall.  Thargus was a lithe and dramatic demon.  He nestled into the darkness, unseen except for his slit-like, red eyes.  The two malevolent eyes studied the grotesque fiasco at the center of the room with mirthful intent.

Stephan Iskander was Thargus’s current subject.  A neon light projected a wavering, sometimes flickering beam of light on the form of Stephan who was strapped into a rusty, filthy, blood-caked dentist’s chair.  Fat leather straps secured his arms, legs, chest and head to the chair.  Stephan’s eyes were inhumanly wide with terror as he strained to look at Thargus hidden in the shadows.

It was difficult to see just what Stephan really looked like due to the large strap across his forehead and the bloody pulp that used to be his mouth.  Metallic hooks were anchored at various places within that pulp; cables, stretched taunt, radiated out from Stephan’s mouth into various places around the ceiling.  In life, Stephan had had a horrible phobia of the dentist and Thargus had chosen to spend the next several years playing upon this fact.

Thargus had grown bored of the most recent bout of torment and this day a profound sense of melancholy had settled over him.  It was rare that he felt these saturnine moods covering him like an oppressively heavy cloak, but today he found himself in need of sharing his dour mood with his subject.

“You probably spend a lot time regretting raping those little girls, Mr. Iskander.  And I’m sure you wish you could go back and change your life.  Knowing what you know now you’d probably be a model saint, I’m sure.  It’s funny, huh?  Why doesn’t He just show you all this beforehand and then you’d all be so good.”  He said the last word as if it caused pain to his tongue.  Stephan only groaned and continued staring wild-eyed towards him.

“I shouldn’t be telling you this but I’m feeling rather philosophical today.”  And with these words Thargus sat forward into the edge of the light as if he were about to impart some vast secret that would forever change the workings of Hell.  His skin was blackish blue and his lean, red tongue momentarily worked its way over his needle-like, yellow teeth.

“You shouldn’t beat yourself up about any of it because there is no such thing as freewill.”  He paused a moment for the dramatic effect, but it was lost on Stephan.

“That’s right, Stephan.  From the very beginning it was determined that you would do every single thing you’ve ever done and that you would wind up right here.  You might have thought you had a choice but it was always known; every little thing you would ever do.  Now isn’t that a kick in the ass?  The great, good, all benevolent, Big Guy created you knowing that he was sending you on a one-way street to Hell.

“Doesn’t sound like a very nice thing to do, now does it?”

Thargus paused to pick at his teeth with one long claw before settling back into the darkened chair.  Just then the door to the chamber opened and a lesser demon entered.  This demon wore a long white apron smeared with blood.  His head was hidden behind all manner of devices including a jeweler’s loupe and a doctor’s headlamp.  Stephan began to struggle and moan at the presence of the demon whose task it was to administer the excruciating tortures.

The demon paused and looked over at Thargus.  Thargus grunted with annoyance and waved his hand as if swatting a fly.  The demon squealed in pain and then scattered into thousands of tiny particles that disappeared into the darkness.

He continued as if there was no interruption.  “The supporters of The Great and Wonderful Oz would have you believe that there is a loophole that preserves your freewill.  They say that He doesn’t influence your choices; He just knows what you will choose when you freely make a choice.

“What a load of shit, right?  I mean, even your addled brain should be able to see the flaw in that logic.  He still knows what you will choose way before you ever existed and, yet, He still created the whole thing knowing that you would choose to be a pitiful little sex pervert – a slave to your drives and desires.”  Thargus rose suddenly from his chair and began to circle Stephan, his large, clawed hands clasped behind his back.  Stephan squirmed as his wild eyes tried to track Thargus’s circuits.

“Did you really have a choice, Stephan?  After all, His knowledge of your choices existed before you did.  Do you see the absurdity of the whole tragedy?”

Thargus stopped, grabbed the top of Stephan’s head in his huge hand, and shoved his face a fraction of an inch from Stephan’s face as he exclaimed, “Do you see, Stephan!”

Tears began to stream from the corners of Stephan’s eyes.

“The secret is this, Stephan:  God isn’t the great guy he’s cracked up to be.  God is a real mean sonuvabitch.”  Thargus released Stephan’s head and once again began to circle the chair.

“And still, He likes to keep this whole charade going; pretending he is good and we are bad and that all you mortals have a real choice between the two.  He cast me into this shit hole for all eternity because I point out his flaws – now that’s childish.  And he makes you think this is all your fault, when you never really had a choice – now that’s just evil, Stephan.”  Thargus stopped and stared piercingly into Stephan’s eyes.

“Wouldn’t you agree, Stephan?

“Well, I’ll tell you what I’m going to do.  Call it a rebellion, if you will.  ‘Cause, even from Hell, I can still piss Him off.

“How, you ask?  By bucking the rules.  Going against the establishment.  Upsetting the status quo.  By turning Hell into a little slice of Heaven!”  And Thargus began to roar with the most malevolent laughter Stephan had ever heard.  It was a deep, hearty laugh that erupted from Thargus’s abdomen.

“I’m giving you the day off, Stephan.”

With the wave of his hand the chamber transformed into the facsimile of a filthy bedroom.  Stephan found himself standing there, nude, his face no longer mutilated.  Thargus stood beside him, his huge form dwarfing the bewildered Stephan.  Stephan’s hand shot to his mouth and he felt his jaw for damage but there was none.  Stephan felt perfectly whole.

But there was a third person in the room, too.  Cowering in the corner on the floor beside the bed was a girl no more than eight or nine-years-old.  She was sobbing and curled into the fetal position.

“That’s Sarah.  She’s here because she was never baptized.  That’s all.  I told you that He’s a real mean sonuvabitch.  I’ll let you guess what her Hell is, Stephan.”

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