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A cold day in Hell

From the diary of Phelan Tweed, Manager of People and Persecutions, Hell Inc

I didn’t think this would ever happen at Hell Inc. The fiery furnace is on the blink and with temperatures plummeting like the souls of devious scam callers through our gates the situation has become more and more alarming. We often talk about the day Hell freezes over. We may just have arrived at that unfortunate juncture.

Brian Bentham, the local representative for the UDP (Union of dead people) paid me a visit despite my email informing him that the engineers had been called. Here was a man with the face of a fairly disgruntled tortoise who had somehow found himself front and centre of an issue that neither of us felt would ever occur. His green roll neck sweater was not helping the situation either. Normally I am only honoured with a personal visit from our union friends in emergencies. One could typically anticipate a long-winded email, peppered with micro aggressions and blind copied into the world and his wife for good measure. Such is the way that the UDP conduct their business. Brian was highly vexed at the cost of no longer living crisis and how it affected his membership, not to mention it was getting rather chilly down here.

‘My members are not happy’ he railed, slamming his fist on the desk and disturbing my overfilled latte. They are not satisfied at all, and my members would like to know what you, being the representative of people in this business are going to do about it’

I found his lack of respect for my coffee break irritating but nonetheless in the interest of partnership working I allowed this indiscretion. The veins in his temples were pulsing and I began to speculate that the rupture of one of these vessels was likely the very cause of him arriving in Hell in the first place.

‘Take this one member of mine, he continued, waggling his podgy digit in my face. This member of mine can’t even afford to keep warm in his hovel of an evening, let alone feed his family. My member is shivering in his shack Mr Tweed.

‘Please would you refrain from describing your union colleagues as ‘Members’ I insisted. It conjures up a highly uncomfortable image in my head’. I think it was the unfortunate combination of the roll neck and his wrinkly bald head.

‘Be that as it may, what action are you going to take?’

By this point I am afraid I was beginning to lose my interest in the conversation and played the card that only a business as unique as ours can. ‘I’m sure they will survive Mr Bentham’ I said failing to hide a smirk. After all, we are here forever. ‘Perhaps we could offer some wellbeing support, how about a free yoga lesson?’ This didn’t go down well. His wrinkly face had turned bright red, he looked like he might actually explode. Although it did give him a rather festive look.

‘I am filing a grievance he yelled, you haven’t heard the last of this’ He stormed out of the office. I have sent him a roll up yoga mat and some candles in the post to cheer him up. I hope this won’t aggravate the silly fool too much. You see, as I have mentioned before, people round here tend to revert to type, they don’t understand or know that they are really dead, and that they are here forever. There is no point in trying to rock the boat or get into arguments with your colleagues about things. The things that affect you on Earth bear no meaning here. Oh it might look like Earth but it is Hell, it is designed to irritate you much as life would have done in the past.  It is about time you got used to it. Time for another coffee I shouldn’t wonder. It was getting rather chilly.

dark humour, diary, featured, fiction, funny, Hell, people, short story, writing

Interviews with the dead

I awoke early this morning knowing I had to interview some people today for the new post. I don’t think any of them had actually realised they were dead yet.  It is notoriously tricky coming to terms with being a living, breathing entity. I don’t have to tell you all that, after all you are doing it right now. All those stages of physical and mental progression and regression, doubts, successes, tackling love. Then, all of a sudden you find it’s over, done. Not surprisingly it can take many years to resolve the issue in your head that deadness (yes that is what we call it) does not have the immediacy to it that one would automatically presume. Awareness of being awake and alive does not come to us instantly, death is much the same. I spend much of my time trying to get people to wake up to the facts.

So back to the interviews. The first candidate had lovely shoes but had an annoying habit of sniffing after he finished a sentence. When he made a point that he was particularly proud of he licked his lips as if savouring the words falling from his gob. Forgive me if I appear hypercritical or unforgiving but I have being doing this work for a long time, perhaps too long. Making decisions about employment round here is a skilled job. If you are aware that you will have to have to put up with these little foibles for eternity you best be the most patient person in the dead world or just avoid employing people at all.  They aren’t the worst of it though. At least they are trying to do something valuable with their time.  Those who aren’t seeking employment generally spend their time drifting around looking for family members for reasons I have yet to fathom. They only visited twice a year when alive (birthday and Christmas – I know, the irony) so why this becomes so important once dead is a mystery to me. Seems to be a misaligned superficial sense of belonging. I was explaining about the first candidate, ultimately he lacked the experience of his predecessor. You must allow me these digressions, after all, we do have till, well, forever.

My name is Phelan Tweed, talent management specialist in the dead world. You may know this as heaven or hell if you are one of those ‘believing in stuff’ types. Quick fact check for those not yet in the know, everyone already existed in heaven and hell simultaneously. It’s called earth. It is surprising that most of us didn’t work this out when it was relevant and yet we spend most of our time in constant astonishment and horror at the wonderful and most terrible things that happen there. The thing is, in the dead world it’s just like earth but more monotonous, because its forever, so you can take your time to achieve things. It’s not quite as hilly which is good because we have a lot of pensioners here. Ironically people are less risk averse, once they work out that the worst thing that can happen already has. It is not uncommon to find fragile gentleman white water rafting on a weekend.  You can’t exactly end up more dead, can you?

The role we are aiming to fill here is security. It’ a pretty easy role. Stand at the gates, let people in, check they are properly dead (usually they are, but sometimes you get those special cases and they get turned right back round). You get a nice office and sometimes Janice brings biscuits in. We can usually tell who to refuse entry to as every couple of minutes their whole body jumps 2 feet as if they have been electrocuted. It’s very disconcerting having a conversation with someone in that position. Sometimes they turn up with the paddles still attached. Big giveaway.

It was a shame to see Pete retire. He had been at the gates for a lot of years. He had some kind of mid life crisis I guess and started attending poetry slams in the hippy quarter. Think he found his calling, I mean, he already had the beard.

So we were still after a replacement. I had a whole list of people to see but each of them was an extra level of foible that I could hardly deal with. The next lady ended her sentence with both a raised inflection and a barely but definitely audible ‘mm hm’ as if to emphasise her point. Crossed off the list. The next chap was a decapitation. I don’t wish to appear prejudicial but it simply wasn’t going to work.

Most people don’t realise that you get here how you left there, injured, old, missing body parts. There are no body refresh options. Although there is a black market in spare limbs if you are into that sort of thing. Hence the reason you may see an elderly gentleman, ambling round with a beautifully manicured hand, or a child with a fully grown male leg attached. They look like children, but they just inhabit that form. Some of them are older than me and the language that comes out of them is shocking I have to say.

Even as a talent management expert, dead land is a hard sell for employment, there is no salary or pension. You take the job till you feel like doing something else, and on it goes indefinitely. There are very few perks, apart from a vague sense of superiority over the Neanderthals and the beaker people. Of course they are here too, moping around in the kind of primitive way you would expect. Sometimes I feel a pang of jealousy towards them. They don’t know they are primitive, they can’t know they are dead. They just are. How I wish I could just be. In fact the very thought left me in a dark mood that even Janice’s biscuits couldn’t lift.

I must admit I dismissed the remaining candidates today. It is no great inconvenience to them or to me. There will always be another day, another role to fulfil. Perhaps one day you will join us If you can get past security, maybe mention my name. I am always looking for new talent.

This section was first published in Voidspace zine as a flash fiction piece entitled Frimmelstein’s diary and is the inspiration for Hell is other people. Acknowledgments to Katy Naylor and Voidspace for the initial prompt.