It was 1990. A 50-year-old doctor named Tony had a mild heart attack in his sleep. For a few minutes, his heart shut off and if anyone had noticed, he would have been pronounced legally dead.
Slowly, through the darkness, Tony gained awareness that he was falling at a rapid pace through pitch black. He had no idea where he was until he passed through gate adorned with words “Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here” in flames.
He continued falling until he landed in the front of what looked like a deserted hospital, surrounded by a trash heap. He hit the ground with a painful, undignified thud, and looked up at the squatty figure of a red-faced, balding man in an ill-fitting leisure suit.
“Hiya, Tony. I’ve been looking forward to seeing you. Welcome to your new home,” said the man in a wheezy, voice, as if he had been chain smoking unfiltered Marlboro Reds every day of his life.
“Who are you?” Tony asked, looking at this ugly little man, obviously someone below his own level of importance.
“You should know,” said the man. “We’ve been dancing around together since the early 80s.”
Tony just stared, trying to grasp where he was, or at what kind of pathetic individual he was looking.
“Not what you expected? I’m the master of making people see what I want them to see,” the man said. “If I can make them think I’m a hot, tall, perfect-winged creature like all those renaissance paintings depict, a ripped, badass like those metal albums, or a refined well-dressed smooth talker like Hollywood loves to do, then all the more alluring. I might have been something when I was still in ‘up there,’ but this is what I’ve become.”
Tony slowly began to realize just who it was he was talking to.
“You’re…,” he could barely bring himself to say the last two word, “…Satan?”
Satan threw his head back and laughed, revealing cracked, nasty teeth. His breath was foul like what Tony imagined a thousand bus station bathrooms would smell like. Not that he’d ever venture into one of those himself.
“This is the real me, baby,” Satan said, scratching his saggy backside, “and the utter, desperate disappointment when they see me is part of what really gets me off.”
Satan then turned around as if showing off not only himself, but his surroundings.
“And this, my fellow little fiend, is where you are spending your eternity.”
He led him into the hospital through the front door.
The place was pure filth, and not in a supernatural “fire and brimstone” way. That, Tony later discovered, was merely the outer shell of the place, not meant to keep people out, but to hold them as they tried to scrape and crawl their way out. People had worn their fingers down to bloody stumps trying to claw their way through the endless heap of their worst nightmares amplified beyond their own comprehensions.
In the building were empty hypodermic needles, dry and rusty, wadded and yellowed old condoms, empty, broken glass bottles that once contained every type of libation imaginable, empty cracked pill containers and medicine bottles…and dirty, disgusting and soiled surgical masks, lined on the inside with mucus, blood, and vomit. The pile was endless, and over it were millions of condemned souls, their flesh barely hanging on their bones, desperately poring through the filthy pile, trying to find one item to give them some trace of relief. But there was nothing left.
Not one of these souls could bear to look at one another, as if they were too ashamed of themselves or too disgusted by the others to even make simple eye contact. Tony couldn’t help but choke back an involuntary gag as he looked at them, filled with hatred and confusion. And what was the deal with the masks?
“Why am I down here with these losers?” he demanded. “I’m not a drug addict. An adulterer. I’m not a useless, homeless alcoholic.”
He pointed in disgust to the putrid remnants of broken lives around him.
“I’m not the one who left this mess,” he yelled.
“Oh, but you are,” Satan said calmly. “You are. All of these people are here because of you. Their blood. Their indiscretions. Their paranoia. Their deaths are because of your negligence. Your painstakingly detailed manipulation. Your repulsive and insatiable ego.”
As he spoke, the fat little being in front of him was beginning to grow and expand, not just in height, but in muscle. At first, Tony laughed nervously to himself, as the transformation made him think of popular fiction like The Incredible Hulk or even Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde.
“You see, Tony, many of these people are here because of your instructions. Remember when you and your friend ‘discovered’ that new virus a few years back? You hoarded millions in research funds in order to disregard the role of various drugs contributing to the deaths of its victims, you gave false positives to scare the public, and worked with several high-powered foundations to accumulate a massive amount of money while others remained scared, misinformed, and terminally ill.”
Tony’s eyes begin to wide, as Satan pointed a finger at Tony’s twitching nose.
“It was almost admirable, from my standpoint, how you pushed a certain ‘preventative drug’ that was soon revealed to be toxic. The disease is still around today. No vaccines, just treatments until the person dies. Wow. Way to use your funding. Your malpractice created panic. It created a social isolation of victims. It created fear, and desperation among members of the general public, and yet, as you contradicted yourself on whether or not casual contact would cause this, you had already planted the seeds of fear in many. The victims, of course, now in the hundreds of thousands, keep slowly dying.”
Satan kept growing, and looming heavier and heavier over Tony’s head.
When he was full height, he was easily 20 feet tall, and had ugly, bulky, scale-covered muscle, with claws emerging from his fingers, and fangs growing long from his mouth. A nasty, yellowish-green venom dripped uncontrollably from his canine teeth. There were no horns. No goat feet and no tail. Just a sheer, hideous and terrifying behemoth.
“This is where you will spend your eternity, Tony….” Satan emphasized the last word in Tony’s overexaggerated Brooklyn accent. “You are going to crawl on your hands and knees among the most wretched of the lives you helped destroy. You will be as dirty, as shunned, as marginalized, as all of them put together. You will feel every sore and lesion they ever had to hide and endure, and you will wither away to nothing, as your immune system fails you. You will feel ever dusty, dying cell of your body until there is nothing left. Then….”
As Satan spoke, his voice became louder and more pointed until it was so loud Tony felt his head almost break apart at the sound. He dropped to his knees in tears until Satan leaned in close to his ear.”
“Then…,” he whispered. “We’ll start the process over again and again for all eternity.”
At this, Tony flung himself forward, pleading with his face to the ground for some sort of Hellish redemption.
“Please,” he begged. “I will do anything you ask. Anything! I can gain you so many more blind souls if you just let me go back.”
“Anything?” Satan asked with feigned politeness.
Tony could only nod. Satan thought for a minute before speaking.
“Well, you do have a talent for playing puppet master with the masses, and your bullshit level is impressive to say the least,” he said. “Okay, I think I have one thing that you can do better than anyone, something that will make that other epidemic seem like small stuff. I’ll send you back, and no one will even know you were here in the first place. You’ll wake back up and carry on with your life. BUT, if you get caught or leave any trace that you’re working for me, your punishment will be tenfold.”
Tony stood up screaming.
“YES! YES! I’LL DO ANYTHING,” he groveled, “Just tell me what to do.”
At this, Satan shrank efficiently down into his former blob of a self.
“Good,” he said. “Keep your calendar open for the year 2020.”