the roots of apocalypse? (a death tree)I’ve been thinking a lot about Hell recently. Maybe because it’s been snraining for four straight days (snow + rain = snrain), or because the upstairs flat is getting drilled and hammered into by fourteen morons at 8 a.m. On top of this I have been looking into my summer holiday destination and therefore found myself on Hell’s Wikipedia page. Looking into my final destination, as it were.

But frankly, if you grew up Catholic then Hell probably crosses your mind on occasion. Take a debilitating sense of guilt and parlay it with the ability to obsess on pain and suffering, and you get a lifelong fascination with eternal damnation.

No matter what your religious background – if any – there is some present concept of Hell. In Naraka (Buddhist Hell) a hedgehog lives in the sinner’s skull and eats his brain. In Jahannam (Islamic Hell) shameless women forever burn in fire for exposing their hair to strangers.

Unpleasant though it sounds, once you come to terms with the fact that you are probably going there, Hell is not such a terrible thing. And I have known for a long time that I would be a resident of the place where all burgers are vegetarian and all movies made by Michael Bay.

I was taught by nuns, and if there’s one thing nuns love to tell children, it’s about how they are going to Hell. And it doesn’t stop there; it extends into exactly how long you are going to be there and what is going to happen to you when you get there.

This all started in the first grade. I was six. Sister Mary Himmler was telling us to be quiet and, being six-year olds, we had trouble attaining the level of silence she was hoping for.

“Children, quiet! Be quiet, or you are all going to Hell!”

We instantly shut our mouths and stared at her. Hell was something we’d only heard referenced when our dads stubbed their toes or were cut off by another driver. There was a fleeting knowledge of the concept: heat, red fellows with tails, horns and pitchforks, underground. I had always imagined it being beneath my dad’s workshop in the basement.

But this was big. This was a daughter of God letting us in on this esoteric place. This was an empirical discussion of torturous ideas. We listened.

“What is Hell?” Someone asked. I can’t remember who, but they spoke for all of us.

“Hell is where you go if you are bad.”

Someone else: “What happens there?”

“You are eaten by dogs and boiled in lakes of fire.”

“For how long?” I asked, figuring that as long as I can be home by Saturday morning cartoons, I can deal with a dog bite or two.

Sister Mary Himmler looked ominous, “For eternity.”

This was a new word for our lexicon and we murmured its unusual sound. “How long is eternity?”

“Close your eyes,” she commanded. “Now, imagine a mountain, the biggest mountain you can imagine. Now imagine that a seagull flies by every thousand years and takes a tiny bite out of this mountain. When that mountain is gone, that is one second of eternity.”

My eyes were closed so I couldn’t see the horrified faces on the other children, only join in our collective gasp of terror.

“Will we go there?” Someone asked. Our eyes were still closed. I think I had started to doze.

“If you don’t do your homework, pay attention to me and be quiet, then yes, you are going to Hell.”

It was at that moment that I accepted my fate. I hadn’t done my homework in a week and listening to a nun was only slightly less annoying than being quiet. Sister Himmler ranted on and by the end of her edict, we – at six – had all consigned ourselves to an eternity of pain and suffering.

But at least it was lunch time.

We confirmed this consensus at lunch as we all talked about our damnation over Scooby Doo lunch boxes and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The general feeling was that, while bummed to be facing an eternity of wrath and disembowelment, we still had some time to enjoy Earth. Across the cafeteria Sister Mary Himmler ate with Sister Elizabeth Goebbels and Sister Rosaria Bjork; their collective sneers heating up the room in anticipation of our eventual descent.

After lunch, Sister Himmler commenced the afternoon hours with a crack of her ruler against the gray metal desk. Immediate boredom led to doodling, which combined with my destination resignation, eventually led to doodling Sister Himmler being eaten by Hell dogs. A quick canvas of those around me confirmed that they too were enjoying our newfound freedom from restriction and further punishment. Everyone was either sleeping or drawing pictures of our penguin-like leader enjoying Hell. How could our fate get worse than eternal damnation, right?

So, what the hell?

When Sister Himmler lurched, covered her mouth and sprinted towards the door, we watched with interest. Before she could reach the door she let forth a great spray of vomit, in which her entire lunch came rushing out in a colorful arc of karma. It created a pool on the floor, which she then stepped into, slipped on and ended up sitting in.

Had there been any doubt about our fate before that moment, our great gusts of laughter surely sealed our damnatory deal.

Since then there have been depraved acts of lust (premarital), horrible sins of sloth (reading on the couch) and disturbing gluttony (eating Burger King). So I only wait for my eventual invitation to the Devil’s ball.

And now I sit at my desk, reflecting on that day, and listen to the idiots with hammers above me. Maybe in Hell they’ll occupy the flat above mine, which I hope has a view of the River Cocytus.

Incidentally, does anyone want to get a place together down there?

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