Halloween Challenge Honorable Mention
I want to tell Lincoln about the time he drank all of that soda pop on our vacation, but I can’t remember if I told him about it recently. He kept getting free refills at a fast food place. I can’t remember which one. He went potty right before we left, but an hour later he had to pee so bad. We were in the middle of Nebraska and there wasn’t anywhere for him to go. He kept belly-aching and crying until we pulled over and he ran out to pee in the ditch. It was so funny, watching him run out into the ditch like that.
Lincoln was a good boy. I don’t know why he ended up in Hell. Or maybe I do know and I just can’t remember it – my mind gets a little hazy these days, and my wife’s not around to help me get things straight. Lincoln died in a car accident three years ago, and I can remember the funeral but not much else.
He’s back now, and he’s taking me to see the edge of Hell. I’m no fool – I don’t want to go to Hell. I’ve never been the church-going type, and I’m not going to start now that they tell me I’m sick. I know I’ve made mistakes, too, but I’ve been mostly a good guy and that ought to count for something. I plan on making it to Heaven when I die, but I do wanna see Hell before I go.
Lincoln takes me past a new strip mall that I don’t remember being there. It used to be an empty lot. When I was a kid, we’d play football there. I used to run through tackles and get touchdowns every time. I don’t know when they put up this new strip mall, but I wish they’d keep some places green and empty so kids could play on ‘em.
Lincoln’s been different since he came back. He don’t talk too much. He used to talk all the time. He was an only child and the youngest in his extended family. He always tried to keep up with his older relatives and he ended up being kind of annoying. Good kid overall, though. Tried hard. Maybe a little too hard.
He sure looked funny running into that ditch, though. I laughed about that for the rest of the day. I wonder if I should see if he remembers it?
We follow along some railroad tracks. He’s walking slow now, and I can keep up with him. Being in Hell made him awful slow, because I never would’ve been able to keep up with him before. I got a body that ain’t quit yet, though. Wish my mind held up as well.
Walking down the train tracks I remember a family vacation we took by train. The train ended up getting knocked off its rails by some debris on the tracks. Whole thing made us a day late coming home and I had to call into the factory. My supervisor wasn’t happy about that at all.
Then I can’t remember why we’re walking down the tracks in the first place. I can’t remember why Lincoln is out there with me. I can’t remember how I’m going to get home.
“Grandpa?” Lincoln asked.
“What am I doing?” I asked.
“We’re going to go see Hell,” Lincoln said. “Remember. You wanted to see it in case it closed up again.”
I did remember. Hell had opened up in the last few weeks, spewing out the bodies of sinners. “When there is no more room in Hell, the dead will walk the earth” became a mantra for the living. Doors were locked every night – even during the day. People carried guns, even though a few bullets didn’t do anything to stop those who escaped from Hell. People kept disappearing, too. A couple of my old friends weren’t around anymore.
I think they were gone. Some of them might have died well before this Hell business and I just forgot. I get confused sometimes. The other day I spent half an hour trying to find someone to pick my wife up from work, and she’s been dead for years. How do you forget a thing like that, I wonder?
Lincoln asked me if I wanted to see Hell; I didn’t ask him. I remember that part clearly, because I wondered why he even thought to offer me that opportunity. I didn’t think too much of it because, you know what, I did want to see it. I grew up with preachers always talking about who was going to Hell for what reasons. When I was younger, it may have scared me into behaving a little bit better. Guess I wanted to see if I was right to be scared.
“Did you know you were getting out?” I asked Lincoln.
He didn’t respond. He never responded to questions about Hell. As soon as the topic got brought up, he’d stare forward into nothing and just zone out. You couldn’t ask him about his behavior, either. Why do you always sleep sitting up in a corner, Lincoln? Did you steal my chef’s knife, Lincoln? Why are you screaming, Lincoln?
Lincoln veers off from the train tracks and leads me into a copse of trees. I follow. The terrain starts to slope and now I am walking much slower than Lincoln. I step over dead trees and try not to slide in the slippery mud. Lincoln keeps walking for a few steps, and then he stops to watch me. He’s angry with me, which makes me think about the time he peed in the ditch all over again.
“We’re almost there,” Lincoln says. I catch up and he grabs me by the elbow. None too gently, either. He holds me steady as we walk further into the woods.
Ahead, between the trees, I can see the opening of a cave. It’s barely the size of a man. Inside, it’s black as night. The floor of the cave was slick with blood and other oozing fluids.
“That’s it, huh?” I ask Lincoln.
“How close can I get?” I ask. Then, I wish I hadn’t asked that question. I wanted to stay right where I was.
“Go ahead,” Lincoln said. “It’s almost full down there. When they opened the doorways, most of us stayed inside. They had to force people out.”
I wondered why you would want to stay in Hell. I walked forward. I smell Hell – gunpowder, thunderstorms, and iron. I hear weeping and low, slow noises. I peer into the cave and see a room filled with people. They are wedged into any space they can find. They cry. Occasionally, one of the damned souls skitters off and poke at another person with something sharp and jagged. With nowhere to go, that soul simply wails harder.
I think I remember more about Lincoln’s death. Something about him not being the only one who died during that car accident. Was it someone in his car, or was it someone in the other car? Or was it both? I’m not even sure they told me what happened. I notice they don’t tell me as much, because they don’t think I’ll understand.
I hear a twig snap behind me.
“You’re late,” a voice says.
I turn to see three people standing there. They are barely visible amidst the trees and prairie grasses. There is a tall, stringy-haired woman in an army coat, grey hoodie, and yoga pants. Beside her stands a shorter man in overalls, his thick chest hair poking out from the top of his shirt. Another man – a boy, really – stands sheepishly behind them, his blond hair bouncing in the breeze.
Had I met these people before? I really couldn’t remember. I smile as if I knew them. No one smiles back. Are they mad at me?
The door to Hell starts to fill with smoke. I smell meat and char. My eyes water.
Lincoln leaves me alone with the three strangers, who must be friends of his. They all carry small, sharp pocket knives. I remember I used to have a knife like that. Nice knife, too. One of my kids probably took it when I moved into the smaller house in town. They took everything from me.
“They’ll let us back if we do this,” the hairy man says. “Right? They’ll let us go back down.”
“I can’t stay up here,” the blonde said. “It’s awful. I feel so . . . I feel so wrong.”
“Do it slow,” Lincoln says. Is he crying? He always was kind of a cry-baby, but I can’t figure out why he would cry in front of his friends like this. “They told me they’d let some of us back in when some more room opened up. But we’d have to earn it.”
“How are you going to get back in?” the blonde asks.
The tall woman wipes snot from her nose.
“Betrayal,” Lincoln says. He is crying. “Of someone I love, who is very vulnerable.”
Lincoln ducks his head and walks into the mouth of Hell. Steam hisses as he crosses over the threshold. I hear him scream.
The three strangers step closer to me. Their knives are open and pointed toward my chest. I must know them from when Lincoln was younger.
“Did I ever tell you about the time Lincoln drank too much soda pop when we were on vacation?” I ask them. It’s a funny story. I laugh every time I tell it.