A jolt of crashing wavelengths jarred my senses. I couldn't stop its ringing as though thunderous bells were simultaneously clapping inside my head. However, when a melodic chord strung the previously blank slated area suddenly had beautiful soaring skies. The ground I was now standing on, which used to resemble a bare alabaster stone, had lush green grass. I could hear the sounds of a running water stream close by.
It was a vast unfamiliar landscape—as though an untouched paradise. It would be a lie to say that I wasn’t enthralled by it.
Simply put, it was beautifully surreal.
I never got to witness this on earth. After a long and brutal war, you could only see this imagery on postcards sent by loved ones—an artificial art invoking a sense of serenity and hopelessness with its beauty.
I relished it, the natural surge of positive emotions. It was like drugs — the closest familiar feeling I had ever experienced on Earth.
And just like any other drug, happiness lasts only for a few moments before misery starts settling in.
A corporeal form that is reminiscent of my child's body was reflected in the flowing water. The familiar dirty short black hair and blank obsidian eyes. It had been a while since I had directly looked at myself.
Scrutinizing the unfamiliar yet familiar face, I was reminded of my late brother. Considering that we were twins, I was taken aback by how similar my appearance was to him. A forlorn memory resurfaced hazily. I stared at my reflection with a sour look then turned to see the distinctive humanoid figure before me, hidden in a thinly white veil. However, this is the being who will decide my fate. This god named Saklas.
Saklas. I wasn’t a fanatical religious bible basher, but I was knowledgeable on major religions. After all, there were prisoners of war who wouldn’t shut up and shouted their psalms and prayers brazenly amid torture or even in their daily life. I was definitely confused as to how someone who was nailed to a tree can save them.
In short, I was expecting someone like that.
The hooded figure before me sat upon a gleaming chair of gold, crossing his legs, cracking-open a familiar drink...? A can wrap in cherry-red plastic, America’s favorite drink— Coca-cola. A sharp contrast that I was not expecting.
The being seemed to enjoy it just as much as everyone else on earth, however, it just felt so out of place that I couldn't help but feel disconcerted.
"Take a seat," the figure had a deep but melodious voice.
I slowly took a step forward until I reached my destination. It now had two chairs, facing each other which slightly unnerved me. It was similar to a cross-examination setup and it invoked terrible memories. This time, I’ll be the one interrogated. I gulped.
"If it bothers you, I would gladly switch up the placement."
Before I could even take a seat, the chair that was facing the figure suddenly disappeared and all that was left was an empty green lot.
Are they telling me to sit...there?
I couldn't help but stare at the ground, dumbfounded.
Normally, I would be vexed and voiced a slur of complaints if it weren't for the fact that I don't want to mess with something I don't know. I was smart enough to not rile the ire of the one who would judge me.
I silently sat on the ground, still facing him. I couldn't help but look up curiously, its face still shadowed by the hood, and only his mouth, curved in satisfaction, peeked through. The person before me is a shroud of mystery. I didn't know how I would proceed, should I speak up? I have so many questions left unanswered.
"Wait, let me just finish my soda," he motioned with his other hand.
I was stunned, all my mental preparations were rendered useless. I frustratingly sat there patiently and motionlessly waited until he drank the last drop.
"...Take your time," I sighed defeatedly. They were way too odd for a person who was about to determine my fate.
"You seem to be a lot calmer compared to the other souls I've encountered," he spoke after finishing his Cola.
"I don't want to make a fuss knowing you probably won’t give me anything decent," or so I hope.
"Decent? Oh, no, my Love!" I cringed a bit at the nickname, getting called by such an amorous word felt annoying. He tossed his wasted canned drink backward.
Clang! A resounding sound of aluminum crashing followed the answer to my anticipation.
"You're going to Hell,"
For a moment, my mouth fell open at the blunt announcement but soon composed myself. I wasn’t particularly worried, instead, I expected it.
It was inevitable.
“Oh, come on! At least act hopeless,” Saklas grumbled. Seeing how I was taking the news indifferently seemed to disappoint him.
"I see. Is it like Dante's Inferno?" I asked.
The being proceeded to bluntly laugh at my question. "Nope~! Frankly, my Love, human's depiction of hell is much, much, much, much tamer compared to the real thing. I guarantee you that."
He summoned another food, that looks like potato chips and started munching on it happily.
I was starting to question my common sense and theirs because of how out of place their actions were.
Should I... Punch them in the face...? An unusual thought came to me. Normally I was reserved but the way that things were going, I was tempted to go down like a champ. I was going to hell anyway.
"I'm surprised you won't even question why you're going there, my Love."
"It doesn't even matter besides… I know why already."
"At least you're self-aware. All of the souls I've met so far have denied their actions and even denied my existence!" They were just happily joking with me as if the whole sending me to hell was a gag. They even put a clothed arm around me like we were the best of friends just joking around.
What kind of divine entity talks like this? Honestly, it was starting to get on my nerves— my patience running thin. Perhaps, the universe was fucking with me, and that gods were a lot more fickle and petty than a 2-year old.
I readied my fist, preparing myself to beat the hell of whatever godly cunt they are but as soon as my fist was about to contact with their stupid face. A loud sound reverberated, this time it felt like I was going to faint from the glaring noise.
I grasped my ears in hopes it would lessen the pain. It didn't help as if the sound was still projecting directly into my head. I groaned in pain as the hooded figure just stood there, looking away, unaffected.
"Hmm? That's weird? Why is your fate still pending?" He questioned as he circled around me.
"...How?" I asked the hooded figure, who was just standing there awkwardly. He seemed to be occupied by something as he did not turn to face me after some time.
"Tsk! I thought I had it this time," he muttered sullenly under his breath leaving me wondering what the hell did that meant.
He turned around to face me, his figure hunched in disappointment. The blaring noise stopped as the figure stated his judgment.
“Rejoice, penitent. Hell is not your destination yet.”
I couldn't help but sit up in surprise, was it really alright to just let me go?
"Don't misunderstand, I’m not letting you go. Think of it as similar to probation in your world, you would be sent to a new world for you to repent. The reason why you're given a second chance is that your nice little friend, Jem, prayed so hard for your horrible, and utterly sinful soul to be happy. Isn’t she sweet?" Contrary to what his words are saying, his tone felt sardonic.
"Jem? Prayers?" I was confused.
"Prayers do play a role when evaluating a soul. In a way, she saved your soul. Considering how you belittled people who pray I don’t think you deserve that much."
I flinched, turning my gaze away from his sight when he mentioned that. Feeling perturbed that he knew what was going on inside my head. There was nothing to hide.
"Then, where is Jem?" I tried to smoothly change the topic.
"Souls with enough goodness within them would only reincarnate to other various worlds. We usually call this process, metempsychosis. Kind of like recycling."
The cherry-colored aluminum can that he threw was stripped of its color and morphed into some plastic doll. They make it seems like reincarnation is just some sort of garbage disposal.
"I am the Warden of Eden, the second-in-command assigned by the Supreme Being," Saklas, reintroduced himself as he uncovered his hood.
This time, my eyes widened not expecting to be faced with shining beauty. Contrasted by the simplicity of his garments, his long hair that resembled carat gold flowed down to his waist. What was interesting and almost new to me was his eyes. The sclera was deep black but his pupils resembled that of his hair. A peculiar drop-shaped glided under their eye like a vertical tattoo.
“Fallen for me, have you?”
Contrary to popular beliefs, this god had me question his divinity. He appeared to be unorthodox, irritatingly laid back, and crass, not even a speck of holiness can be seen.
Despite my doubts, his appearance was flawless, too flawless. It was clear that this was a dignified appearance of a God… as long as he doesn’t open his mouth.
“Get to the point. I assume you didn’t reveal yourself for some idle chitchat,” I retorted.
“You see, my job is to take in irredeemable trash like you and make them more…”
“Obedient,” he smirked.
Obedience is what got me a ticket to hell in the first place.
I’ll become someone’s tool again, huh. So much for dying. “Then during my probationary period, what do you want me to achieve to be deemed obedient enough?”
He looked down upon me, thinking deeply, there was nothing to give away. It was hard to ascertain his intentions and the validity of what he is saying. But of course, human perception is limited compared to the abnormality of the supernatural.
“You see,” he waved his hand, a wide map appeared. “I’m having a little trouble with this other world, called Eden...”
“...And how could I help you with that?”
Seeing the unfamiliar geography, it was most obviously not Earth. He told me that there were conflicts between demi-folks and humans. I have no idea what demifolks are but I was already dreading the worst the moment he dropped the word “conflict”, and his next words did not disappoint.
“Save the world, of course!” he exclaimed. He leaned in closer and whispered, “Make them stop fighting each other. Restore Eden’s peace once more.”
The map morphed into one that resembled the world I used to live in. I can feel myself sink into despair.
Ridiculous. It’s as if he’s saying that ending a war is the same as stopping children from quarreling.
His vague, almost childish idea of peace… Impossible.
“Cool sentiment, not very realistic,” in short, I would not classify that as ‘little trouble’.
“I don’t understand what you mean, my Love. I mean weren’t you one of the people who chose to kill as mercy,” he retorted.
I took a few steps back as I replied, “First, don’t call me love. And second, it was a realistic decision—”
“You aren’t a god.”
Unexpectedly, I froze at the sudden coldness of his tone. The intimidating air made me tremble but I had to stand my ground. It was stupid, but I need something I could work with.
“Exactly. I’m not a god. Give me something a mortal could do.”
“For every life you took isn’t it fair that you save one as well?”
“I wasn’t a genocidal maniac, okay? I didn’t take that many lives.” I defended. "Besides, I was ordered."
Saklas cackled. “Are you sure~?”
“Yes. I never take lives unless it was necessary.”
“So it’s impossible?”
He turned around and waved his hand in a circular motion. A sudden vacuum of space opened out of nowhere. Feeling the searing heat enter the blissful landscape, lava flowed endlessly from the craters, plants wilted at the black smog as it destroyed the surrounding fields turning them into a stinky puddle of mire and muck. Feeling an impending doom loom over my shoulder, Saklas turned with a bright expression on his face.
“Say hi to Satan, for me.”
“W-wait... I said wait!”
He raised his hand, the moment he snapped his finger; I felt the ground shake and gave away as a portal out of nowhere ominously opened from beneath me. It was the embodiment of fear itself.
"I-Is this hell!?" I yelled as I tried to cover my eyes but some force was preventing me from doing so. I couldn’t shake the scorching burn that made its way towards me.
Gazing into the abyss, the abyss gazes back.
Hell if I know, maybe it was because of my lack of faith that I had doubted the ambiguity of the underworld and underestimated this pandemonium.
I clung to the little stone that was supporting my whole body as it hovered over the screams of the damned, begging to be saved. People, or should I say things that resemble people, had their already charred skin still on fire. Bouts of scream ensued as they continued to claw their way through the underworld’s rubble.
Gagging at the acrid fumes radiating from the sloughed chasmic pit. It was way worse than rotting flesh. Indescribable, disgusting, and infernal.
A truly unforgiving and harsh place.
I swerved around, looking around for an escape, only to spot Saklas who was looking down upon a burnt soul. They were clinging desperately to the small podium on where he stood, it beseeched forgiveness as they cried a river of blood. Saklas placed a benevolent hand on top of the sinner’s hand.
It was a short moment of hope that flashed in the eyes of the soul. However, Saklas flipped their hand off the podium and teasingly waved back at the tortured soul who has his arms raised as he fell back to infernity, forsaken by his redeemer.
Seeing that exchange there was one thing I realized. He was not a benevolent being but he is a god.
It was a brutal reminder that I was not playing by the rules of mortals, but I was now in a gamble with an unknown and powerful entity.
In this purgatory, Saklas is the jury, the judge, and the executioner. He will be the one who decides the playing field.
A rising sense of terror and despair when I stared at the pit left me paralyzed, for I realized that this really was another dimension. It was something no human rationality could comprehend.
It might have been on purpose that I noticed that I was slowly being lowered. Swallowing my pride, I surrendered. Nobody likes an eternity of pain.
“I get it! Let’s talk!” I shouted desperately.
He closed the hellish chamber. Almost immediately it went back to the bountiful and rich haven. He raised a fine brow towards me, after regaining my bearings. “Yes?”
Crashing to my knees— breathing heavily and quivering. I heaved a sigh of relief. I never ever wanted to see that again. The excruciating heat that I felt was still vivid.
“It wasn’t that bad. Think of it as a little motivating factor," Saklas, the prick, still looked unaffected.
"Wow.. thanks. Now, I feel… motivated," I retorted as I tried to catch my breath.
"I think it's a far better strategy to prove my point.” They gave me a callous grin, that honestly made all my senses blare in danger. “After all, there is no better deterrent to disobedience than trauma."