Your expectations for me may be higher than I deserve, so I'll make it crystal-clear: I'd never actually been to Heaven. Before you ask, I didn't know anyone else who'd been, either. But I could tell you what Hell was like.
You might be surprised to learn that in many ways it was just like the living world. Your world. When I was alive—and that was a long time ago—I lived in Arizona. Interestingly, in Hell, I still lived in Arizona. I'll explain just why in a moment.
I wasn't very religious in my time, so I never read the Bible and learned the official story, but why God picked Satan to run the place was beyond me. You might reasonably think that Hell would have had a reformatory purpose. You might think that it would have been a place where corrupt souls were given the means to escape their negative condition and leave behind their shadows to enter the realm of light.
What I'm trying to get at is that you might have reasonably thought that the purpose of Hell would have been to cleanse corrupt souls like myself and return them to the Father, like the purpose of God's Reinvention Program.
Ha, sure. I wish.
I hate to break it to you, but Hell seemed to be just the opposite. If you ask me, it was a place so profoundly depressing and reminiscent of all the world's darkness that it seemed almost miraculous that some souls had managed to escape and reach the holy gates.
Okay, now's the point where you laugh.
It wasn't all bad. I mean, sure, it was depressing by all standards—but you got used to it. And you adapted. And if you were like me, you started seeing humor everywhere. That's because down there, humor was the only light most of us could muster.
One of the things that made Hell depressing—and it's actually kind of a long list—is that after you reached Hell and passed through its extensive immigration process, you got to live—for free!—in the same time and place you died. (Really quick explanation, though I'll be more detailed later: The layout of Hell was an exact replica of the layout of the mortal world in any given time, and so any existing location in any existing time in the mortal world was sure to have its corresponding time and location in Hell.)
If I had to bet, I'd say that was Satan's idea.
Remember that I told you I lived in Arizona? That's just another way of saying I died in Arizona. I lived in my former house, specifically.
You know, the exact place of my death.
I didn't want to live there. It was a sea of memories in which I was always drowning. But I couldn't help it.
I was tied to it.
Because of Satan. Thanks, Pal.
It was a large and empty house, literally frozen in time. It probably wasn't as large as it seemed to me—it was just really empty. That's because I'm the only one who died at that exact place and that exact time.
Speaking of which, time was pretty significant there in Hell. And compared to your living world, time operated in a pretty weird way.
Which... reminds me of this quote, actually, credited to the Cheshire Cat.
"I'm not crazy. My reality is just different than yours."
It feels so relevant.
But anyway, back to my story.
Year-round, whether it was Thanksgiving, or Easter, or Halloween for the living, it was Christmas in my house. It was Christmas anywhere I went, really—which was sort of a nice thing, since people were less hateful than usual—because I died on Christmas Eve, 2014. So unless I used my magic watch to escape that time—which came at a price, mind you—I was stuck there.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Sorry. It's just a lot to explain and I'm pretty excited.
Green and red stockings hung over the brick fireplace, and the fire burned eternal. (No, that's not me being poetic—I couldn't put it out if I tried.) In the corner, next to the window, stood a Christmas tree. It was green with white, a mimicry of freshly-fallen snow, and it was made of plastic. (Though I guess this last detail hardly mattered when time stood still—it could have been an authentic tree and it would have survived equally well. Time had stopped, so nothing ever aged.) It was decorated with glittering ornaments of intrinsic decorations and the following colors: Gold and royal red; silver and royal blue; black and emerald green; royal purple and white.725Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡN0yc7WjJj7
Some of the designs resembled the structures of snowflakes.
At the base of the tree was a little train track. Every morning and every night, a toy locomotive drove on it endlessly. Well. To me it was a toy. (If you'd asked my dad back in the day, he would have said it was a "collector's item").
It circulated the house, nonstop. I always had to watch my step so I wouldn't trip over it—the track extended all around the house—and I could never rid my mind of the annoying, tireless sound of its wheels turning. I couldn't do a thing about it. I'd tried grabbing the thing and setting it aside, which worked momentarily. But the moment I'd look away, it'd be on the tracks again, its wheels spinning endlessly as though Satan himself were troubling me for his own amusement.
It wouldn't really surprise me. Actually.
The house had been perfectly preserved since the day of Christmas Eve. Every time I went to the window, I could see the blue Christmas lights branching off of white cables dangling from the edge of the roof, resembling icicles. At 6:32 P.M. every day, after it got dark outside, the lights became activated. From that point and on through the night, the lights turned on and off in sequence. The pattern was always the same, and the lights never turned off until the break of day.
I'd tried to turn them off, because at some point it got maddening. It all did. But disconnecting the right cables or even turning off the house's power never worked. All I needed to do was close my eyes for a second—which happened naturally every time I'd blink—and everything would be restored, returned to the exact way everything had been.
That's what I mean when I say time stood still.
I felt the presence of my family members all the time, and it wasn't because of my memories. The Christmas Eve dinner my dad made all those years ago was probably in the living room by then. I checked my watch to confirm, and sure enough, the time of day let me know that the table had just been set by my mom.
With the exactitude of a time loop.
It was a time loop, instead of an absolute time freeze. Every day was the same day, but the exact time of day changed moment by moment. Time passed no slower than in the mortal realm. (Though it sure felt slower when you had nothing to do.) And then, at the last moment of the day, time reset.
Now, if you're thinking what I think you are, then you're probably thinking that every day of my life in Hell was 24 hours long. Well... no, not really. Because it's not like I died at the last moment of that day. It's more like I died sometime in the afternoon. And the way my personal reset works is that time resets itself at the time I died.
So basically, my days are shorter than mortal days. On Christmas Eve, 2014, Asher Nicastro died at 7:46 P.M. Since I was alive at 12:00 A.M. that morning, that's when my day begins. The hours and minutes tick by in the same exact way every time, until the clock strikes 7:46 P.M. And it's actually even more specific than that, and I've got it down to the exact second. Once that exact time is reached, the day ends. That's when the reset takes place, and no matter where I am or what I'm doing, the sky instantly changes. The clouds rapidly shift into their new positions, and so do the stars. I don't even have to look at a clock to know what time it is.
It's 12:00 A.M., and it's the morning of Christmas Eve.
It all happens like this. On that day, at that hour, at that minute, at that second, an electric blue shock-wave ripples out from me. (Why electric blue? It's actually a complicated answer and a sensitive topic. I'll just have to tell you later.) I'm always the source, and it doesn't matter where I am, or what I'm doing. I bring about the end of that day, and the beginning of that same one. I am the reason that time cannot move on. I am the jailer, and time is my prisoner.
Yeah, I took drama classes in school. Not sure if you could tell.
I call them Mom and Dad because that's how I saw them. Although technically, I was adopted. I'd never met my actual parents. I didn't even know who they were.
But let's go back to talking about my living room.
The silver utensils were no doubt gleaming under the shine of the overhead chandelier. I didn't even have to step into the room to know that my mom had set four places at the long, rectangular table: For herself, for Dad, for Victoria, and for me. Mom had laid out a red tablecloth with a repeating image of Santa Claus in his red sleigh, holding the reins of his reindeer team as they soared above city lights.
I liked to sit down at the table sometimes, and pretend it was still that day in 2014. I'd reach for the utensils and pull the decorative cloth napkin into my lap. Then I'd reach for the plates and serve myself what I wanted. I had a constant food supply, although I didn't really need to eat, being dead. Eating wasn't ever really pleasurable, either, ever since Satan in his infinite wisdom decided to render all food tasteless.
I remember that day, with crystal clarity. It was the day life got considerably worse.
So when I did eat, it was usually just me trying to bring back memories, or trying to resemble the living.
When I was done eating, all I had to do was look away, and then when I'd look back everything would be back to how it had been. As though I'd never sat down.
I was in an odd situation, because while on one hand I had the never-ending impression of being a ghost in my own house, on the other it felt as though the house had ghosts that haunted me.
My thoughts were interrupted by a nasty sound. Once painful, now it was just hateful. Every time I heard it, I was reminded of how badly I wanted to leave the place.
It was a sound I could never escape. It was more exhausting than the train's tireless movements. More frightening than the sound of metal utensils scraping against plates in the living room. It was worse than the static that came from the TV at all hours when it had, that day, been in use.
It was worse than any of it.
The house phone took the cake.
It rang for seconds while my younger self ran to it. I still remember what I had said:
"That's probably Victoria!"
Victoria. My (adoptive) older sister.
She had told us she would be a little late, but had said to start eating without her.
I had decided to wait for her. I had wanted us to eat together. So badly had I wanted her to see my dress, and my hair, and my make-up. I had thought she would be proud of me, if she could only see me. Sure, I had been tempted to dig in without her. It looked so delicious. But I hadn't.
And as for after the phone call, I had lost all my appetite. Because the moment I reached the phone was the moment my world fell apart, at the hands of crumpled metal and fire.
Victoria would never come home for dinner.