When I got to hell, the place was packed. We were piled on top of one another, thousands of bodies deep. It didn’t smell like sulfur; it smelled like sweat and body odor. More people appeared out of thin air and landed on the pile.
Hell was a cavern –a cave of sorts. The walls were black stone, stained with soot. It was the biggest place I’d ever seen. Bigger than Yankee stadium. Bigger than the Grand Canyon. And at near capacity.
Someone yelled my name from below. “Carl!”
A hand came up and nearly dragged me down. Instead, I used my precarious leverage and pulled. The hand was attached to a girl I used to know. “Penny?”
“I thought that was you,” she said. “I’ve seen a bunch of people from high school. Shelly Patterson. Stevie Knight. Billy Holiday. You know he offed himself so he’s all the way down at the bottom.” I spent a moment imagining being on the base of this huge pile and I shivered; I was glad I was on top.
“So what happens now?” I asked.
“Nothing,” she said. “It’s hell, Carl. There isn’t an in-flight movie.”
Hell wasn’t what I had expected. I thought there would displays of torture and sexual depravity. This was relatively benign.
“When I got here, we were nowhere near so close to the surface,” she said. “We should be breaking through any time now.”
“Breaking through?” I asked.
“At least, that what we all assume will happen,” she said, pointing. The cavern roof wasn’t more than twelve feet overhead. At the rate hell was filling, the place would be bursting in hours.
More bodies fell out of the air and I struggled back to the top of the pile. Penny struggled with me. “What happens to us when we break through?” I asked.
“Don’t know. It’s never happened before.”
I thought about my poor parents. If I went home, they’d have a heart attack. On the plus side, they’d probably end up in heaven, which couldn’t be anywhere near this full.
The pile rose and me with it. I was within touching-distance of the cavern ceiling. It seemed far too solid to punch through. Still, there were an awful lot of us. I rose higher and higher until my chest was within inches of the top.
“Dive!” Penny yelled suddenly.
I didn’t question it; I did exactly as she said. I was really glad I did, too, because as suffocating as skin and hair were, they were at least soft in comparison to the stone.
The great mass of humanity heaved upward. I couldn’t breathe but I wasn’t sure that I really needed to. Penny gripped my arm and I gripped hers. In this sea of bodies, she seemed like the only real thing.
We surged upward again. The walls moaned and rumbled. The people on top of me screamed as they crushed into the stone. The people below me howled in determination. Escape was suddenly an option and they fought for it.
The bodies were like one solid mass, like one muscle. We constricted, braced, and pushed. The walls protested. In between the heaves of upward pressure it was silent. I could make out the sound of water lapping on the other side of the stone. I wondered what our cavern looked like from the outside. Was it an island in a vast ocean? Could passing ships hear our cries?
“Just once more,” Penny gasped.
But she was wrong. We pushed and constricted, pushed and constricted again. I let go of Penny. I wanted to be closer to the top. I needed to know what was happening. Arms buoyed me up.
When I reached the stone, I studied it. Instead of a fissure, instead of sign of weakness, it bore a different look. With the next upward heave it moaned and stretched. It expanded only the miniscule amount it took to hold the new member of hell.
“No!” I yelled. I didn’t have the room to pound my fists against the wall, though I wanted to. Instead, my chest was ground into the stone with the next upward heave. And somewhere, deep below me, probably from where the suicides had spent eternity supporting the pile, I heard laughter.
Kathryn Board has had one short work of fiction appear in the speculative fiction anthology Triangulation: Dark Glass. She has also recently had work accepted to the speculative fiction quarterly, Electric Spec. She is a Lab Safety Specialist with a passion for writing; it’s a left brain/right brain mess.