July 2008


Part One: Missing, Presumed Alive

Hell is a lot of things, but its main selling point is that it is, in fact, hellish.

If you said “Hell” to the average person in the street, firstly, they’d look at you funny, and secondly, images of fire and pitchforks and demons and eons of not being allowed to go to the bathroom would come to their mind. Thirdly, they’d wonder if you were on one of those Bluetooth things so it only looked like you were talking to yourself. When no technological ear-raping device can be found on your head, fourthly, they’d just wonder what you were on.

Over the centuries, Hell had some decent rulers. Lucifer was often considered the greatest of these. Perhaps it was his organizational skills that pushed him over the top, the inventiveness of his punishments that gave him the edge, the continuous customer dissatisfaction that demons of all sizes can really respect. Mostly, it was because he had the most badass wings.

Hell’s ruler in the twenty-first century was known only as the New Management. The New Management had effectively scrapped all of the old punishments and antiquated tortures, and gone for something entirely different and altogether more nightmarish. Modern Hell was comprised of little bubbles of worlds where people served out their sentences of eternal damnation, reliving what pained them most.

Some parts of Hell remained untouched, however. In the midst of the multidimensional maze of worlds cooked up by human brains torturing themselves was a swamp. The main rivers of Hell converged here, and it was here that one could find a marsh full of frogs, croaking and hopping and generally being happy and hating every second of it.

This was where the writers went.

There was only one person who looked after the frogs. Her name was Elizabeth, and she loved nothing more than to dive under the water and listen to the frogs speak to her – old passages and quotations that were nothing more than echoes of the world before. The frogs were happy here – so there was no more creative thought, no new ideas, only the old and the ancient repeated again and again.

She floated in the swamp, tuning her attention to one frog in particular:

I shall be telling this with a sigh, somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference…

“Has it really?” Elizabeth bubbled, but the frogs could not hear her. She stopped floating and stood in the swamp. “Looks like you’re all in the same place, to me.”

Elizabeth climbed out and laid on the overgrown grass beside the frogs’ home. There was not a drop of water on her. Closing her eyes, she let the croaking of the frogs blend together into nonsensical background noise.

How long she laid there, she didn’t know, or particularly care. It wasn’t like she had anything else to do. This was her life, watching the frogs. She could lie there all day.

“You gonna lay there all day, girl?”

Her eyes flashed open. Blocking her view of the sunless sky was a dark-skinned and visibly hurried woman.

“Yes, maybe,” Elizabeth said curtly. “If I feel like it.”

“Well, you gonna hafta get up, girl, cuz we gotta talk.”

“And… who are you?”

“My name’s Latoiya. And you in biiig trouble. Mm-hmm.”

Elizabeth humored the woman by sitting up. “Big trouble?” she asked, giving Latoiya a quizzical look.

“I’m from the Offices of Fate, girl. They was runnin’ a routine database check, and guess what?!”

“What.”

“Turns out Hell’s missin’ a soul. Taylor, Ivan. You wouldn’t know anythin’ about that, would you?”

Elizabeth didn’t respond.

“Mm-hmm, I thought so. See, the gal who’s in charge of takin’ Taylor into the next world? She files a report sayin’ that he seen ’im back on the planet! Sounds a little fishy to me. And it says he was a writer, so that means you was in charge o’him.”

Elizabeth’s eyes narrowed. “I don’t keep track of every damned frog there is.”

“Well, the Offices woulda thought youda noticed a damned soul slippin’ through a crack in dimensions. Why dinntya report it?”

“I didn’t see anything!”

“Listen, girl, I’m tryin’ to help you out. Jus’ tell us wha’ happened.”

Nothing happened.” Elizabeth got to her feet and found herself slightly disappointed in the fact that Latoiya was about two inches taller than she, but made up for it by giving her a stare that was almost certainly burning the back of her skull.

“Well look. I’m afraid if you don’t give us a reason’ble explanation in a couple hours, you gettin’ pulled offa frog duty.”

“What.”

“Not that it gon’ matter. The New Management say alluh ancient Hell is gonna hafta go sooner or later. Might as well find somethin’ else to do, honey.”

“And what happens if I stay?” Elizabeth asked, raising an eyebrow.

“You gon’ have the Offices on yo’ ass. And lemme tell you, there’s hella lot worse ways to spend eternity than sittin’ in a swamp.”

“Fine. And what if I find your missing soul?”

“Everythin’ git back to normal. If you call this normal,” Latoiya added, gesturing to the swamp.

“Then I’ll figure out what happened to the damn soul. I’ll fix it and report to the Offices directly. How’s that sound?” Elizabeth hadn’t moved the entire time, save for the one vertically wandering eyebrow.

Latoiya grinned. “You ain’t got the first idea where the Offices are, do you?”

“Of course I do. I’ve been here for centuries. I know where everything is.”

~~~

“Grandpa, where are the Offices of Fate?” Elizabeth asked some time later, sitting on a rock on the edge of Hell. Her grandfather, Charon, stared into the distance, admiring the infinite horizon of pale rocks. Above this desolate place was the planet Earth, both the blue marble and the stars around it in clear, unobstructed view.

“The Offices? Hmm,” Charon said thoughtfully, limping over to his granddaughter. “I’m afraid I don’t know, Elizabeth.”

“Great,” Elizabeth said huffily. “Apparently I’m in trouble with them just because I let someone take a soul back.”

“Now what would you do that for?”

“I don’t know. You saw the guy, Flavian, he decided to take his friend back up with him. He came down with Wes, and went up with his friend, so it was two down, two up, and I didn’t think anybody anywhere would notice. But they caught it, somehow.” She hugged her knees closer to her chest. “So no idea? Who’d have one?”

“Well,” Charon said, looking up to Earth, “there are plenty of people out there that know all the dimensions and that hoo-ha. People just love getting into trouble. I was a bit of a troublemaker myself back in the day,” he added, winking. “Me and a couple of my friends got out of Hell for a while and did some crazy things. That’s how I met your grandmother,” he chuckled.

“How do you get out of here? You just… leave? Maybe I’ll wish for an elevator, like Flavian did.”

“No, that only works for humans. It’s part of the punishment, actually. But there’s a great taxi system if you’d care to give that a try.”

“Taxi system?”

“Of course. Just shout. Taxi!” Charon rasped. The call echoed throughout the rocky plain, and space split in two, allowing just enough room for a bright yellow taxi to fly through and land heavily on the ground.

Elizabeth stared at the anomaly in wonder, and her grandfather led her off the rock and over to the taxi.

“You be careful, now,” Charon warned her. “Don’t get into trouble. Don’t talk to strange supernatural beings, and don’t cause any time paradoxes.”

“Thaaaat’s gonna kill my suspension,” the taxi driver lamented as he stepped out. “Where to, miss?”

Elizabeth had stood on good, mostly solid, Hellish ground all of her existence. She’d wandered around the place, but had never been anywhere else. She looked at the small tear in space – it looked as though someone had opened a door a crack, and allowed her a peek at the colorful world within.

“Earth,” she said, catching her breath.

“You got it. Hop in.”

Music blasted inside the little taxicab. Elizabeth climbed in the passenger side and watched the driver expertly maneuver a lever where the gearshift should have been.

“Buckle up,” he said. “Interdimensional travel isn’t exactly a cruise.”

With that, the taxicab lifted into the air. The driver hit the gas, and the taxicab drove back into the crack in space as though it were on an invisible road. It landed ungracefully on the other side on a large, visible road, with several other vehicles speeding on it. The space around the road shone with colors and patterns, twisting into different shapes and generally making Elizabeth dizzy.

“Earth, Earth…” the driver mumbled to himself, glancing around as he did so. “Oh yeah. Hold on!”

He slammed the steering wheel hard to the right, and the taxi flew over several lanes, and over the edge of the road itself. The taxi tilted forward, and Elizabeth got a pretty good look at eternity through the windshield.

Roads. Hundreds of them, twisting and swirling in every direction. Marvelous light shone through the gaps in between them. Some jutted sideways, others looked clearly upside-down, still others twirled around like a rollercoaster track.

Thump.

The taxi landed on one of them.

“You can breathe now,” the driver said friendlily.

“What… what was that?” Elizabeth exclaimed. “What would’ve happened if we missed?”

“You can’t miss,” the driver smiled. “Even if we missed this one, there’s so many roads in so many different directions that we’d be bound to hit another.”

The road took a sharp curve downward. Elizabeth expected to fly through the roof, but gravity didn’t seem to exist here; “down” was relative to the road.

“So… Earth. Any particular place? Country, city, town, address?”

“Flavian,” Elizabeth said, watching the other taxis fly in different directions on other roads. “Mark Flavian. He’s a human. I don’t know where he lives – ”

“That’s all right. This baby doesn’t drive through ten dimensions for nothin’.”

The taxicab flew through several more roads, and Elizabeth could no longer keep track of where she thought “up” was. The driver made a few adjustments with the lever, and the taxicab shook as the sound of a crash engulfed its two occupants.

As the fine white dust settled, Elizabeth stepped out of the car and onto a mound of wreckage. Behind her was a whole that was probably a nice, content wall a moment or so ago. All around her was a very messy and dusty apartment. And to her left, Mark Flavian stood over his stove, his back to the disaster.

He was making pasta.

This story is continued at chrislesiw.com! It’s been moved to a new home. Not spam! Honest!!

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Really. I’m just at my family’s shore house, and I’m working on the next story, Roads. Part I will be up midnight EST, Saturday night/Sunday morning, I promise.

It looks like a new story has got its hooks in me, so I’ll stop my regular posts yet again to bring it to you as I finish parts of it.

This one takes place after The Frogs (so read it if you haven’t), and is called, simply, Roads. What it’s about? I’d love to tell you, but I’m not really sure myself.

See you… whenever the first part is done!

Here’s a cute site for you: GodTube.

Instead of YouTube, where you broadcast “yourself”, GodTube encourages you to “Broadcast Him”. (At one point, we were planning to upload God and the Problem of Evil, a movie of ours, onto the thing. But then we’d have had people with pitchforks and torches coming to burn down our homes and stab various things, or whatever one does with pitchforks.)

At any rate, I now present to you, from GodTube: “Baby Got Book“.

Well, it happened. I’ve actually stuck with this blogging thing for a considerable amount of time – up to 100 posts.

Granted, not all of them were exactly filled to the brim with content. Some of them were written by my cat. But the numbers don’t lie, people do, and the numbers say this is my one hundreth post.

Wow.

What a weird hobby I’ve got.

My favorites from the past 99 posts

Interesting that Playing Dice has survived this long… 100 posts, and over 1,200 hits. Hi to anyone who’s reading this because I spammed the URL in your yearbook – feel free to comment, you know!

I found this while browsing the Internets. Enjoy. Visit the original page and give it a Digg.

This is Playing Dice, preparing you for anything and everything you may come across on your journeys across the Internet.

For those of you who thought upside-down text was bad, prepare yourself for the next level in lameness, uselessness, and annoyingocity: ROT13!

(more…)

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