Suki was sitting up in her bed that was shaped as a bouquet of roses with the sign “No pricks allowed!” as part of her headboard. She thought it was funny. She was a demgel and as such, she wasn’t a female per se, though she had a form of a drop dead gorgeous one. She didn’t have the parts and also didn’t have romantic drives as they were completely unnecessary for a being not made to procreate. The first man who she rejected on the account that demgels didn’t have sex or anything like that screamed of course this had to be Hell when the woman of his dreams turned out not to be a woman at all. She thought he was being melodramatic, but people in Hell tended to be very whiny to their own detriment.
Suki was not whiny. She was perky, and a happy and helpful demgel. She loved to help weirdoes in need in Hell in order for the Just Naughty Enoughs to get rehabilitated and out of here so they could do something else with the rest of their afterlife than be an unpaid intern in Hell.
All jobs in Hell were unpaid internships. There was always a promise to find a real position, but that was just a flat-out lie. There never were any full-time positions in Hell. Everyone was precariously employed and an unpaid intern at the same time, and people always needed multiple unpaid internships just to make ends meet.
And that was a real thing in Hell.
No one would dare quit all of their unpaid internships.
Suki was not an unpaid intern. She had a real job and the hippest job in Hell.
She was the hostess of a game show called The Marvellous Suki-Chan’s Most Epic Hellescape! Where the winner got a ticket out of Hell. Three contestants would vie for the prize through an obstacle course, and the one who weighed less than the Anubis feather would be sent back into the tumbler called Earth to be reborn.
There were no return customers, but only one decided not to be reborn as he became an advocate for those who were murdered in the waking world in the Otherworldly. Vendel was epically weird, but became such a good man that he was renowned in the afterlife as a beloved patriarchal of the Fallen, and Suki was proud of him.
Today she hoped that the lucky winner would finally get himself out of his epically sad funk. He was a good man in the waking world, but when he tried to infiltrate a street gang to expose them as he was a newspaper journalist, they got him hooked on drugs and he could never break his addiction, alienating his closest friends, never getting with his true love, and then getting murdered just as he realized how far he had gone, but then he was in Hell as a JNE, and he became dejected ever since.
But even in Hell, he had people in the Otherworldly root for him. One of his friends who had also died young, left heaven to join Vendel as part of the Women of Orchid, and she talked to him at the border of Hell, and began to inspire him.
He became strong enough to try as a contestant, and Suki rooted for him, but could never rig the game for him to win it.
He had to win it by genuine means, and the incentive for winning was suggested to Suki by no other than Vendel himself.
There was a Goddess in town called Tommie and She had lived in Eden, not wanting to be a goddess until the religion She inspired got epically mean, and She was mad. She decided to take the religion by the dogma, and that meant leaving Eden to start being an official goddess.
That meant She would need a Messenger.
When Suki heard about it, she thought perhaps a reformed JNE would be appropriate: they knew what Hell was like. They’d know the tricks it used to interfere with deific messages, and if they could get out of here, they’d also know how to counter them or prevent them from sabotaging them in the first place.
Suki wouldn’t rig the results and had two other equally worthy contestants who could also do the job, but her heart rooted for one more than the others, but she could be wrong, and she’d let the future decide what was best.
In the meantime, she had a visitor to greet ad she was excited to do it.
Suki danced around the room when her guest finally arrived. “Tom‑Tom! I am so epically happy to see You, baby!” she said as she ran with her arms open and gave her good friend an epically big hug.
The Tom-Tom in question was Thomasina Darlington, the Goddess in need of a Messenger. Tom-Tom was a casual deity, in plain blue jeans and a t-shirt, though She looked like a runway model with Her good looks, poise, and confidence.
“Thank you so much for suggesting this idea, Suki,” said Tommie as Suki invited her to sit down in her sunflower-themed living room where both the chairs and table looked like giant sunflowers where a sunflower-shaped tray had sunflower-themed cupcakes, “I am new to exercising My deific powers…”
“No, problem. You need an epically fun weirdo to get your message out. With all those normal people in the waking world getting offended over nonsense, they need someone to wake up their hearts before they all get themselves killed and wind up as unpaid interns here. They won’t be lucky to be labelled JNE, but TSTBG.”
“Too Stupid To Be Good. That is, like, one step above the Place Below Hell, and that is really, really, really…really bad.”
“Suki, just how many designations are there in Hell?”
“9,946,258,13,666,901,472,199,631 and All That Jazz.”
“All That Jazz?”
“It’s the catchall designation for evil people who thought being a jazz snob made them immune to an eternity in Hell, where all jazz is just off-key disco.”
“I see. But there are that many designations?”
“Yeah, and I know them all in order, too.”
“You are to be commended for your extraordinary ability to retain so much information.”
“It used to three times that, but the demgels have been working hard to lower that number as we help people become less evil here.”
“Well, if I can help get another person out of here, I will be more than happy to bring another soul another chance.”
Suki giggled as she pounced Tom-Tom to hug Her because when it came to epically eccentric and trail-blazing benevolent weirdoes, Suki always loved them the besterest. Tom-Tom giggled as She returned the hug and the kindest vote of confidence one could give. Hell may have been a grim and gloomy place, but Suki’s brave goodness made sure the darkness stood no chance to her light.
Hell sucked, thought Denny Garber as he looked at the edge of Hell, waiting for his old friend Jenna Shaw to come to the edge to talk to him. She was one of the Women of Orchid, and though she also died young, she went to heaven until something compelled her to leave, where she found her calling consoling and helping people who died as a result of murder.
It was the reason she sought him out: both of them were murdered in different ways. He was given a lethal line of cocaine, a habit he could never kick, and the reason he ended up in Hell as a JNE.
That, and holding a grudge against one of his closest friends who did not tell him of her secret plans of infiltrating a wicked cabal in order to expose them.
She couldn’t divulge it, and Denny knew it. He knew exactly why she kept quiet, and what she was doing, but Denny just lashed out at her, isolated her, and then tried to bully her other close friend to do the same thing.
That’s what got him into Hell, and the worst thing was that he damn well knew, she’d forgive him, and fight for his release. She didn’t hold a grudge.
She loved him enough to repeatedly encourage him to date her widowed mother, even though there was both a racial and an age difference.
And Denny pushed away his dream life, and was now stuck in an eternal nightmare.
Jenna was given a deliberate cancer to kill her, but Heaven wasn’t doing it for her, and she decided to console the Fallen with her new friends, yet still encouraged Denny to break out, but she didn’t understand why he was frozen in place.
He was obsessed with the citizens here with him. He watched them break and crumble as they at first thought they were wronged, and then came to the realization why they were in essence evil. One man was sent to Hell because he refused to talk to journalists who were covering his wife in a negative way even though she was being smeared by her wealthier rivals. He said he was trying to protect her, but he wanted her harmed and traumatized so he could control her and prevent her from being more successful than he was.
Once upon a time, Denny was a journalist. He would have seen through the man’s ruse, and exposed him.
The man deserved to be in Hell.
But he deserved it, so did Denny.
Jenna would chastise him, and she consoled him. She made the effort to come to the edge to stand in solidarity with him.
She never abandoned him.
Worse, the woman he wronged mourned his loss, and he felt it.
And that hurt more than anything else: he wronged her, turned his back on her, caused her distress that could have made her vulnerable, and spoke ill of her, and yet she mourned his death and avenged it.
He looked down and frowned.
Hell was Hell for a reason.
But Jenna came with news for him: he was selected to be a contestant on Hell’s game show where the winner got a ticket out of here. Usually, the prize was reincarnation, but this episode, the prize was to be the official messenger to a awakened Goddess who was in the market for a brass and creative messenger who wasn’t afraid to tell it like it is.
Jenna even played dirty, by telling him she knew that the woman he wronged would want it.
He tried to imply the woman was just some sort of Mary Sue virtue-signaller, but then remembered there was no way she could possibly know where Denny was, and wasn’t particularly religious, either. She wouldn’t think about a Goddess’s messenger needs, or that Hell had a game show where you could escape it.
And if she were to proffer a theory about Denny’s afterlife whereabouts, she’d surmise that he was in Heaven.
She was hurt, not angry, and not vindictive.
But Jenna’s dirty trick did the job: he was going to go for it, even if he thought it was an exercise in futility.
The audience cheered as Suki-Chan and Madame Coccinelle came on the stage.
“Are we ready for an epically good time, baby?”
“Yay!” cheered the demons in the crowd.
“Good, because this a special edition: the winner gets to become a messenger for very nice Goddess!”
“Ooo!” shouted the crowd.
“Now, here are our three contestants: Desmond Ashcraft, Rhys Crowley, and Denison Garber!”
“Woo woo!” yelled the crowd.
“Why don’t our contestants introduce themselves?”
The first British man spoke first. “My name is Desmond Ashcraft and when I was alive, I was the head of a ruthless cartel and tried to kill a female psychologist and her male amputee companion repeatedly during the Second World War because my grandfather hated her grandmother. I died when that cartel blew up my airplane, and I realized I wasted my entire life because I believed a senile old man.”
“Yay!” shouted the crowd.
The second British man introduced himself. “My name is Rhys Crowley and I was a thug who happened to be in the same cartel around the same time, and when I was younger, I killed an undercover agent, and then stole ideas as I became a ruthless tycoon in Toronto. I had every intention of killing the secret son of the police officer just as I kept right on killing people who got in my way, but then an undercover agent infiltrated my company, posing as the new secretary and I was so madly in love with her, I was willing to leave it all behind, but then even though she confronted me, I became in more in love with her, but unfortunately, I plunged to my death before I could declare my love and tell her I never took her act against her.”
Denny frowned. He was a black man of modest origins and not some fancy rich British white man. Worse, his death was far less glamourous than the other two, and he wasn’t ever in any cartel. Even in the afterlife, rich white men had all the advantages.
He sighed as he spoke dejectedly, feeling inadequate. “My name is Denison Garber and I was a newspaper reporter in Canada, and I got hooked on drugs trying to infiltrate a street gang because I wanted to do an exposé on them. I became mean to my friends, and died when I overdosed on cocaine in a motel room. I’m real sorry that I disappointed my folks, was mean to nice people, and never apologized for any of it.”
“Yay!” cheered the crowd.
“You know how this game goes,” said Suki, “We have an obstacle course all three contestants go through, and at the end of the game, we weigh them on the Scale of Anubis with the feather, and whoever weighs the same or less than the feather wins!”
Madame Coccinelle swanned on the stage holding the feather in her revealing black and red outfit.
“Ooo!” shouted the crowd.
“Are you ready?” asked Suki-chan.
When everyone cheered, a large tub of goo was wheeled into the centre of the stage by Madame Coccinelle.
“Here’s the deal,” Suki said to the contestants, “You will all jump into this vat of goo where there are three sleeping demons. You have to find the demon, and bring him back up to the surface.”
The three contestants made faces of disgust, but as the reward was a ticket out of Hell, no one refused the peculiar request.
The three men climbed up three colourful ladders that had steps that were shaped in the letters of their first names.
They all jumped in at the count of three and began to swim in the goo that was very ticklish.
“Stop! Stop!” laughed Rhys, “This is too much!”
“I never knew I was this ticklish,” chortled Desmond, “It is a confounded inconvenience!”
Denny would have laughed except he was too sad to do so. He bumped into Rhys, and suddenly, Rhys looked serious.
“Your touch makes it stop.”
Desmond swam over and held on to Denny. “You’re right, he does have that calming effect.”
Denny nodded, “Since none of us are ticklish when we touch each other, we can help each other by swimming together to the bottom, getting a demon one at a time.”
“Isn’t the point of the competition who gets their demon first?” asked Desmond.
“Suki never said that,” said Denny, “All she said was we all had to find a demon and awaken it. She said nothing about time or order.”
“Yay!” cheered the crowd.
The three men took turns swimming to the bottom, and bringing the three tiny demons to the surface where they awoke, giggled, and flew away, dazzling the crowd.
“And the first point goes to Denny who helped his teammates with their task!”
Denny’s eyes widened. He did not think he would be getting any points, let alone the first one.
But there were two more tasks up ahead.
When all three got out of the vat, Madame Coccinelle removed the tub and came back pushing a large trampoline.
“The next task is to jump to the top and give the three demons a bubble bath in the upside down tub on the ceiling!”
The three contestants stared blankly at each other. They sighed as the all climbed onto the trampoline and began to bounce, but none of the men could reach the top.
“This is frustrating!” said Desmond.
“I am getting tuckered out,” said Rhys.
Denny looked at the trampoline before he spoke. “It isn’t very elastic.” He thought for a minute before taking some of the goo stuck to him and rubbed it on the trampoline. “Maybe if we all coat this with the giggle goo, it will get bouncier.”
“What a strange idea,” said Desmond as he and Rhys followed the directions, and soon all three jumped to the top, got a demon and bathed them in the
Upside down tub until the demons were all clean and giggly.
“Woo hoo!” chanted the crowd.
“Denny gets a point in this round for thinking that cooperation would solve the problem!”
Denny seemed nervous. He won two tasks in a row, and he didn’t want to be resented for it. He wanted his chance to get out of Hell, but so did the other contestants. There was only one more task, and then the weighing.
“Suki,” Denny said, “I would like to sit out the last round.”
The crowd gasped.
“Why?” asked a shocked Suki.
“Because it isn’t fair that these two men are being left out of the points system. They weren’t mean, and they cooperated with me. Just because I thought of it…”
“It’s all right,” said Desmond, “You earned it. Even though two of us will lose today, we are allowed back on the show for another chance.”
“We have been in Hell longer than you, son,” said Rhys, “And we did far worse things, such as murder. We had to work our way up through countless designations over the decades, and in all fairness, you should be the one who gets out first. You have a fighting chance. So, if we miss the mark, it is our first time here, and there is a light at the end of the tunnel for us. A second or even third chance is a blessing, not a curse, especially in a horrible place like this one. To be frank with you, Denison, both of us have been rooting for you all along.”
The audience wept at the touching scene.
“Well,” said Suki, “The last point goes to all three contestants who are rooting for each other instead of competing!”
“Hurrah!” roared the happy crowd.
Madame Coccinelle then brought out the scale of Anubis as the crowd gasped.
“Time to see who gets on the scales!”
Desmond went first and he weighed as much as the feather, shocking everyone.
“Yay!” said the crowd.
“Rhys went on scale, and he too, weighed as much as the feather.
“Woo hoo!” shouted the crowd.
It was Denny’s turn, and he was lighter than the feather.
“The winner is Denison Garber!” cheered an overjoyed Suki, “But since our other two contestants weighed as much as the feather, for the first time in the show’s history, all three are released!”
The crowd gave a standing ovation as all three mean wear teary-eyed and overjoyed.
“But the big prize still goes to Denny!” said Suki as she clapped her hands with the audience applauding along with her.
Denison Garber gasped as he looked at Suki and Madame Coccinelle. “I won?”
Suki danced around as she squealed in delight. “Yes, baby! How epically exciting!”
“I won!” Denny cheered as he jumped up and pumped a fist in the air. “I am getting out of Hell and feeling better than ever!” He turned to Suki. “Now what?”
She jumped up to hug him before turning around and pointed to a beautiful red-haired woman wearing a t-shirt and blue jeans. “Your new boss, baby! She is an epically cool Goddess in need of a messenger!”
“Woo woo!” cheered the audience as the Goddess came over to shake Denny’s hand. “Congratulations for winning, Denison. My name is Thomasina Darlington, but everyone calls Me Tommie.”
“So I am your new Messenger.”
“Well,” said Tommie, “You are also My first and only one. We’ll be winging it.”
“I’m cool with that.”
“The original idea was for you to take a job as My personal messenger, but if you have anything you wish to say, do not be afraid to say it…”
As the two walked off stage, Denny shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know what I’d want to say at this point. I don’t have previous experience of being an Otherworldly messenger.”
Tommie shrugged. “Neither do I. The longest job I ever had as a mortal was working as a knight. I was never a messenger.”
“I lived in the early 1400s in England where I was a governess, then a knight, and then the wife of an English lord before I was widowed, and became a painter before I was murdered protecting My infant daughter and seven brothers who I took in to protect them. I did originally intend to become a governess, but with all the violence around Me, I was compelled to change the course of My life. I became an artist as I had to weigh my options.”
“I was painting the battleground; so to speak, and did not want to draw attention to it. Unfortunately, I was killed before I had a chance to refine My original plans.”
“And You became a Goddess.”
“Against My will. I am warning you now that the game plan is to dismantle that religion devoted to Me so I can return to My parcel of Eden and do whatever I wish with My loved ones. Do not worry, your place there is secure no matter what.”
“Thank you. Is Your daughter in Eden?”
“Yes, and the brothers I looked after in the waking world. We are a small and informal group of free spirits, and We embrace free will.”
Denison looked thoughtful and nodded. “I’m game for whatever happens. I’m Your man.”
Tommie smiled. “I am glad. I will meet you on the other side when you are ready to go. You’ll adore George when you meet him.”
“My closest friend who loves Me, and took everything I ever said to him to heart, and when I breathed My last in the waking word, was the one who held Me as he declared his undying love for me, and it was his kindness and goodness that got that horrid religion started in the first place. He is as anxious as I am to put an end to their distortions and lies. They had no right to misuse Me, just as they had no right to take his love and twist in so cruelly. I’ll wait for you on the other side, Denison.”
Before Denny could reply, She was gone.
Tommie was not what Denny would have thought was Goddess material. She was easy-going, and wasn’t speaking in tongues. She was informal and seemed to do most of the heavy-lifting Herself. He could see why this George person mourned Her to the point of wanting Her legacy to live on. Denny only knew of Her for a few fleeting moments, but when She left, he felt his heart longing to see Her again. She was a living lesson and an enigma, but with lessons from the heart. Her story must have been fascinating, and Denny wanted to know more.
As he looked around, he saw he was no longer in Hell. For the first time since he died, he was looking at the other side of that dividing line.
He then saw a familiar, beaming face running toward him.
“Congratulations are in order,” Jenna Shaw said happily as she pinned an orchid on his lapel. She paused as she then gave an impish grin. “I always knew you didn’t belong there. About time you came back to join us.”
“What’s this?” he asked.
“As you know, I am from The Women of Orchid. We find anyone who was murdered and we pin a flower on all those whose lives were stolen from them. As you were assassinated pursuing a story, you qualify in our little club.”
“Until I met you, I always thought I overdosed. So, it’s official. I was murdered.”
“The man who knew of your cocaine habit gave you a lethal dosage. You thought he was in danger and you were trying to warn him, not knowing he was setting you up to isolate you and kill you because he was doing horrible things and thought that’s why you were after him.”
Denny looked at the flower and sighed sadly. He was out of Hell, but now he had a constant reminder of how he got there in the first place. Yet he received a reprieve and was the official messenger to a goddess who was very nice and eccentric, and her looks and ways suddenly reminded him of a friend he knew when he was alive, and then realized why Suki-chan wanted him to win. Being a deity may have been the ultimate Establishment position, yet this one was a rebel and ultimate outsider whose ways Denny would be immediately familiar with. He could never make amends to his friend, but he could start again with the Goddess whom Suki referred to as Tom-Tom.
He smiled. This was someone’s benevolent wish from the waking world, and it was finally granted.
It was a happy new start, and he was ready to embrace it.
But best of all, he knew Jenna when they were still alive in the waking world. She rooted for him and was the one who pushed for his freedom. She didn’t have to do it. She could have just as easily seen him as unredeemable and make a beeline in the opposite direction.
That was a powerful message, and one that would be Denny’s starting point in his new afterlife. He walked side by side next to Jenna as the one known as Thomasina Darlington walked toward them, ready to greet him and help him learn to speak from the heart once again, without fear and without hatred that had once consumed his soul for no good reason at all.