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Fiction

Today’s Question of the Day in Waverly, Ohio

For today’s question, we visited this small town of about 1700 people. As per our practice of the last six decades, they perceived us as a television news crew, and were compelled to speak truthfully, without artifice, self-consciousness, or concern for the regard of their friends and family. All the interviews took place at the same instant, and all were immediately wiped from memory an instant later, returning the participants to their daily routines. All the responses have been filed away at the central office for later analysis, but we herewith provide a selection of the most compelling.

Today’s question, suggested by one of our regular followers, was as follows:

Imagine that you have just been contacted by the Almighty God and given the permanent assignment as the new Lord of Hell. You are now the final authority in charge of torturing sinners for all eternity. No punishment, however cruel, is now beyond your powers; your only limits are the extent of your personal imagination. Assuming that the place as it exists now is the vague subterranean lava pit so beloved of the popular imagination, where the souls of the damned spend all eternity being roasted in pits of flame, and that you are not permitted to simply leave things as is, what would you come up with instead?

THE ANSWERS:

Reverend Wallace Henson, 64, First Church of Christ the Redeemer:

It’s not a job I would want. I’ve never been a cruel man and I’m horrified by the very prospect of having to spend eternity as God’s torturer. I suppose I would make it more about understanding, really. Every damned soul would get an attendant who would counsel them about what they’ve done, the mistakes they’ve made, the people they hurt, the damage they inflicted on the world. I would want to give them all a chance to embrace the loving God, and maybe earn their way into Heaven, but I wouldn’t show them the exit just because they said so. I would have to believe in their sincerity. I guess I could arrange for that to be one of my powers. Anybody who just said, “I’ve seen the light, let me out,” and didn’t mean it, would have to go straight to the back of the line. And they’d have to be redeemed enough to match whatever evils they committed in life. I don’t know what Hitler would have to do in order to qualify, but if I got the job, I’d have to be wise enough to know. But torture? No, that’s not me. It would be me in Hell, really.

Dr. Elizabeth Mauth, 47, Periodontist:

I think being locked up would be the worst thing, ever. So everybody in my Hell would get a private cell, just big enough for them, and I’d close them up, forever, to think about what they’ve done. I’d make the cells soundproof so I didn’t have to listen, and then I don’t know what I would do with my own down time. If I could make Hell anything I wanted it to be, my own home would be a nice house on the beach, under a sunny sky, and I’d have some of the people who weren’t so bad to keep the place clean for me, and keep me company, and they’d have to learn to be nice, or wind up in the cells. But don’t get me wrong. It’s not like I would want people to just kiss my ass all day. I wouldn’t mind minor disagreements or even friendly arguments. I’d just want anybody really awful away from me. That’s not so bad.

LaShonda Reitman, 27, Accountant:

If I couldn’t do the hot lava, I would do the opposite, make things cold. Cold is nasty. I’d make everybody walk around in ice water, freezing their asses off. I’d make it so they couldn’t get warm no matter what they did. Except I guess I’d have to think of something worse for Nazis and child molesters and, you know, like that. I don’t know. I’d have to come up with something. I’m sure I could.

Buddy Hammersmith, 52, Truck Driver:

I don’t know what I’d do with most of those assholes, but I’d probably spend about ten million years or so just doing shit to that bitch Denise. You know, she basically ripped me a new one in the divorce, and I kept telling her, kept telling her lawyer, look, I don’t have any money, you gotta leave me something to live on at least. And I know how much she enjoyed watching me squirm. So I would start off putting everybody else on hold and taking my time doing everything I could think of doing to her, starting with, I don’t know, chaining her to a wall and letting everybody else take turns wiping that goddamn smirk off her face. And then in between I’d show up in my red devil outfit or whatever the hell else I’m wearing and say, “Hey, Denise! Remember me! I’m not anywhere close to finished, you whore! What do you think of that?” And she’d be all like bleeding and shit and saying, “please, please, please, I’m sorry,” and I’d be all, well, “maybe we’ll have a little discussion about improving your situation a little bit in maybe a million years or so.” To hell with every other piece of crap in the world. I’d be focused on using all those powers on her.

Raj Mohinder, 72, Grocer:

My son was beaten into a coma eight years ago. The police did absolutely nothing to find out who it was. I would go into my son’s head and find out who did it, and then I’d find the racist bastards and I’d work things out so they spent all of eternity experiencing what they did to him, the terror, the pain, the helplessness, all of that. I’d also find out for sure how early the cops gave up, and I’d bring anybody who failed my boy into a special room where they’d have to apologize for shirking their duty, forever. I don’t know what I’d do to them if they ever stopped. I’d work out something that would make them afraid to stop, force them to just keep saying, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” again and again, forever and ever, without a break. I’d want them to cry their eyes out like I cried my eyes out, like my wife cried her eyes out. That would be the first thing.

Jenny Sleator, 14, Student:

Ew. That’s a tough question. I don’t even like horror movies! I hate gooey stuff and I think I’d be miserable just coming up with awful things to do to people, forever. Yeah, I know that there are evil people and even people who are just plain mean, but, like, isn’t it just as bad to be mean to a bully as it to be mean to a, I don’t know, normal person? I guess if I had to come up with something, I would make them spend forever just walking down a long corridor, and never get to the light at the other end. If they were really awful people, I’d force them to run, by creating some kind of terrible monster to chase them. But I don’t want to think about it anymore. It’s not the kind of thing I like to think about.

Danny Foss, 35, Retail:

Oh, wow, man, if only that would happen! It would be so sweet! I’d be pulling people apart all day and all night. I’d be like hanging people on hooks and ripping them off, making them shit out broken glass, slicing them up with razor blades and then dipping them in salt! You know what I’d really do, though? I’d get my revenge on every stuck-up bitch who ever looked at me like I was some piece of shit that got stuck on their bottom of their shoes, every Betty who ever refused to give me the time of day because they were holding out for some guy who looked like a Hemsworth, and I’d chain all of them to the same wall, and shit, make them sorry. It’s no more than they deserve, and I’m telling you, just because they wouldn’t give me five minutes, just because they wouldn’t give me one goddamned night, because they wouldn’t put out, I’d . . . man, what wouldn’t I do! And then not ever have to stop? It would be epic!

Helene Arneson, 87, Retired:

All I can say is that the young people today, and I pretty much mean all of them, don’t appreciate this country they live in, and I would make Hell the kind of socialist hellhole they seem to want. I would just make a country like the kind they have in Europe, where all the homosexuals get to shove their lifestyle down everybody’s throats, and where there are these whole neighborhoods you can’t go near anymore because the Muslims were allowed their way, and there’s nothing but pornography and filth everywhere you look, and the Bible is pretty much outlawed, and I’d say, okay, if that’s the kind of world you want, then I’ll let you have it, and see how long you like it! But I’d also put in one exit, an iron gate with a big sign on it saying, THIS WAY TO HEAVEN, and I’d be sitting behind it at a desk and every time one of those blind and benighted people came up to the gate and said, “Okay, I’ve had enough, I’d like to leave now,” I’d say, “Sorry,” and see how they like it. I have no sympathy with that kind in my daily life and I’d have no sympathy for them in Hell, if the Good Lord saw fit to put me in charge. Believe me!

Perry Lucas, 39, Disabled:

I’ve done my damn time in Hell, and most days I think I’m still there. If God ever came to me trying to get me to take over the Devil’s job, I’d ask him why He thinks the world needs another amusement park dedicated to suffering when there’s not a single goddamned way that one human being can imagine being shitty to another that the human animal hasn’t thought of and put into practice. What do you need Hell for, when the world already has Afghanistan? But if you’re saying I got drafted into that shitty job and didn’t get the option of saying no, if you really gave the job of figuring out ways to curse people for all time, I’d first ask for a chance to walk around a VA Hospital, taking notes on what it’s like for the guys who’re going to be there long-term. And then I’d make that the eternity for all the pieces of shit in Washington who sent them there, and I’d thank them for their goddamn service once an hour for the next ten billion years. That’s what I’d do, if you put me in charge.

Cindy Holmes, 7, Child:

I’d make them sleep in the same house as my father.

Adam-Troy Castro

Adam-Troy Castro

Adam-Troy Castro made his first non-fiction sale to Spy magazine in 1987. His twenty-six books to date include four Spider-Man novels, three novels about his profoundly damaged far-future murder investigator Andrea Cort, and six middle-grade novels about the dimension-spanning adventures of young Gustav Gloom. Adam’s darker short fiction for grownups is highlighted by his most recent collection, Her Husband’s Hands And Other Stories. Adam’s works have won the Philip K. Dick Award and the Seiun (Japan), and have been nominated for eight Nebulas, three Stokers, two Hugos, and, internationally, the Ignotus (Spain), the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire (France), and the Kurd-Laßwitz Preis (Germany). His latest release was the audio collection, And Other Stories (Skyboat Media), which features thirteen hours of his fiction, including the new stories “The Hour In Between” and “Big Stupe and the Buried Big Glowing Booger.” Adam lives in Florida with his wife Judi and a trio of revolutionary cats.