THE HOTEL AT THE END OF THE UNIVERSE by Carlton Herzog
I knew that I was dead. Since I had renounced shrooms and acid long ago, how else could I explain hovering above my motionless, blood-smeared body? Besides, I remembered the shoot-out with the cops. But my ethereal musings were interrupted by a very powerful gust of wind carrying me up through the ceiling and into a large tear in the sky. Stars flashed past me in streaks of coloured light until I alighted in a hotel lobby.
The next thing I knew I was standing before the façade of an enormous hotel. On the lawn behind me a sign read Welcome to Eternity in big, bold, flaming red letters. It was flanked by two enormous pitchfork-wielding devils. I entered and went up to the hostess. She had the reddest lips and palest skin I had ever seen on a woman. She wore a red blouse and a black leather mini-skirt with a slit in the back for her serpentine tail. Her nametag read Maltista, Head Succubus.
“Mr. Swain, I presume.”
“Welcome to Eternity. May I see your Visa?”
Somehow, I knew what she meant. I reached into my now blood-free coat and retrieved the document in question.
“From your paperwork, I see that your stay in Hell will be brief before you’re recycled. You have your choice of room, suite, cottage or tent.”
“I’ll take a room.”
“Excellent choice. Remember, this is a family run hotel where you’ll find demonic hospitality with a human touch. Do you want me to have the concierge take your bags up?”
I hadn’t noticed the bags before and gave her a quizzical look.
“Those are your so-called sins, Mr. Swain. The big suitcase is for the mortal ones; the little one is for peccadillos and misdemeanours. Good Jelly is our concierge. He’ll bring them up for you.”
Good Jelly was a huge ball of quivering purple gelatine with sausage fingers, tree trunk legs, and horse teeth. I had heard of a hipster dufus but never a demon dufus.
The astonished look on my face prompted Maltista to remark: “He’s a big fan of the Kool-Aid guy.”
I said, “Wait a minute. What about the fire and brimstone, the demons torturing the damned with pitchforks and rivers of fire?”
“We have all manner of Hospitality packages for our guests. What you have described is just one of our many kink packages. You can order that if you like. We also have the landscape of open graves with a mass of twisted and emaciated corpses trying to eat you. Or you can swim around in a river of boiling blood along with other bodies and be poked and prodded by a regiment of centaurs. Or we can fuse your body to a dead tree in the wood of the damned, and let you get pecked by Harpies. It’s all up to you, Mr. Swain.”
“I thought hell was a place of punishment, shame, moral condemnation.”
“Nope. That’s a tall tale we have spread to keep folks from offing themselves every time the going gets rough up there. It’s just a relaxed waiting room for the soul.”
“Where is it exactly?”
“Think of the universe as a great ball. Hell is its circumference or bound. Hence the name, the Hotel at the End of The Universe. You can tour the circle by rail if you like, see all the sights from above. Rent a pet to keep you company or purchase one or more escorts.”
“Wouldn’t that would take a very long time?”
“We can manipulate the perception of time here, so a million years seems like a day, or a day seems like a million years. So, an extended train ride for a million years could be said to seem only as long as one from Milan to Paris. Why, look—it’s our house comedian Diabolicus. Hey D, got a joke for our new guest?”
D laughed and said, “I sure do. Guy dies and goes to heaven. When he gets to the Pearly Gates Saint Peter says, ‘You’re too much of a sinner for this place.’
“‘That’s nonsense. How many times did I take the Lord’s name in vein?’
“Saint Peter says, ‘A million six.
“The guy says, ‘A million six! Jesus Christ that’s a lot!’”
We all laughed at the blasphemous humour.
“Thank you for helping Mr. Swain feel welcome, D. Now off with you. Mr. Swain, what kind of food do you like?”
“I’m dead, why do I need food at all?”
“Many of our guests still like to enjoy a good meal. Your hospitality package could be coded for normal human appetites and nutrition requirements. If that’s what you want, then you have the option of a room with a kitchenette and grocery delivery, room service, or simply visit the banquet room which serves 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The only thing not on the menu is other people. Some things are not permitted and encouraging cannibalism is one of them.”
As I stood there, Elvis and Buddy Holly came strolling by en route to the banquet hall. They were laughing and joking.
I said, “I get why Elvis is here, but not Buddy Holly.”
She said, “Buddy would wake up every morning and shoot God the double-bird and say, You sir, are a piece of shit. Of course, such blasphemy counts for nothing in the long run, since there is no actual punishment for sins, just a weak acknowledgement. Forget about all that stuff and go try the Bizarro, our hotel bar.”
“Sure, why not. I’ll freshen up and then go have a few drinks.”
After Maltista finished my paperwork, she said, “Good Jelly can’t make it. Little Evil will take your bags.” With that in came a giant drooling baby’s head skittering about on eight chubby legs. He brought my bags into the room. I searched in my pockets for a tip but there was neither change nor bills.
He saw what I was about and said, “No need, Sir. The pleasure is all mine. Besides, here the only coin of the realm is goodwill.”
After I cleaned up, I headed over to the Bizarro. The sign over the vestibule read ANYTHING GOES!
As I walked over to the very large circular bar, I noticed that there was a peculiar division of labour. Babies smelling of talc and shampoo walked or crawled along the bar taking drink orders, then in gurgling tones called them out to headless pourers in black bow-ties and vests.
Incredulous, I just stared. One of the babies saw me and drooled as babies are wont to do. It slithered over and asked me in the underdeveloped palette lisp of a toddler what I was drinking. Maintaining my composure, I replied, “Jack Daniels. Make it a double.”
In the next moment, I was, drink in hand, standing at the edge of a sunlit field filled with apple trees. Yards away I could see a man and a woman naked except for fig leaves covering their privates. They were diligently picking apples and tossing them into a massive juicer. They were watched by a coiled cobra that hissed at them to “Work faster; money doesn’t grow on trees.” A few feet away an old man worked in a flower garden. He wore a white toga and sandals. He had majestic white hair and beard together with a stern disapproving face. He wore Mr. Magoo thick glasses. He was angry about the theft of his apples. He would yell at the man and the woman to “Get out before I throw you out.” When he did the man and the woman stopped picking apples, walked over to his flower bed and urinated. The cobra laughed and then hissed “Shame on you. That’s no way to treat your father.”
Then I heard applause and was seated back in the bar. Apparently, the Bizarro hospitality package included an impromptu and snarky take on the Fall of Man. It was followed by Diabolicus’ short comedy routine called The Three Doors.
“Guy dies and goes to hell. Devil says you can pick your punishment from what’s behind these three doors. Guy opens the first door, and everybody is standing on their head atop a wooden floor. Guy opens the second door, and the scenario is the same except the floor is made of concrete. Guy opens the third door, and everyone is standing in shit up to their knees, but are otherwise drinking coffee, chatting and having a good time. Naturally, the guy picks the third door. A moment later the Devil reopens the third door and yells, ‘Okay—coffee break’s over; everybody back on your head.’”
Hysterical. I had a few more drinks and left. As I walked back to my room I thought, ain’t hell grand? It has the worst P.R. but the best hospitality. I wouldn’t mind sticking around here for all eternity.
When I passed through the lobby, I stopped to thank the hostess for the good time I was having. Maltista was gone. In her place was her sister Malvista.
I said, “This is the best hotel I have ever stayed at.”
She smiled and said, “Of course it is. It has all the bells and whistles and you’ve only seen but a few. I can show you more, if you like. But there is a catch.”
“Well, you’re a short timer. That means you don’t have enough time to see much more. You would have to waive recycling for a time. You would just need to sign on the dotted line. A small formality.”
“Is this a trick?”
“Heavens no. But even if it were, you said yourself hell is a great place to spend eternity, so what’s the big deal?”
I didn’t think they had to trick me into anything, since I was already in hell and at their mercy. So, I signed the contract of extension. And Malvista delivered on her promise. I had an amazing time. When it was over, I expected to be whisked back to the land of the living and installed in a new-born.
But she said, “You should have read the fine print. You permanently waived your right of return. Your fate is now in the discretion of the presiding authority, namely, Lucifer. And He has decided to be merciful.”
I thought for a moment. “So I won’t be baked or broiled for all time?”
“That would be barbaric.”
“So, what are you going to do to me?”
“You get the Third Door.”
And with that she snapped her fingers, and the next thing I knew I was standing in this shit pile with you losers. Say, how long do these breaks last?