Satan's here, and he punishes everyone.
If you ever get to talk to him, or read his memoirs, you can find out all about the history of Hell, all the different iterations and improvements he made over the centuries.
Man is the greatest source of despair, he wrote in his memoirs once. Twenty minutes with a person can give you twenty ideas for new, terrible tortures.
I read the memoirs in between being flayed, being burned with lava, being slowly crushed under massive, freezing cold boulders. This was an early innovation Satan came up with. It can't be torture all the time, otherwise it gets predictable and constant. The best torture comes in waves. Fits and starts.
Everyone has a job in Hell, but all the jobs are terrible. Boring, repetitive, physically and mentally draining. People who liked to sleep in late when they were alive have to wake up at five thirty. People who liked to wake up early work from ten until eight.
My job is to read the memoirs. I sit in a hot, stuffy box with a bullet-proof glass window. There's a sign on the box that says: INFORMATION. New souls come to me every day, every hour, every minute, seeking some kind of explanation. Asking for directions, or recommendations. Asking for it all to be a dream, a terrible nightmare.
But I can't answer. I just have to sit there and read Satan's memoirs.
I've tortured history's greatest torturers, Satan wrote. But the best ideas always come from children and addicts. From knowing too little, or knowing too much, I guess.
Animals go to Hell, too. Hell is full of snakes, bears, weasels, elephants, cats. Insects, too. Spiders everywhere, long columns of them destined to wriggle through pools of even smaller spiders and parasitic wasps that bite their legs and poke at their eyes.
Children are forced to struggle for their parents' attention. They get left behind on field trips. They get picked last for the kickball teams. Then they have to eat the spiders covered in smaller spiders, swallow them whole and feel them crawling around in their guts.
I spent so much of my life trying to turn off my brain that now it has to be on, all day, every day, just really concentrating. Really thinking about things. I think this is part of my punishment. But I'm often not sure. Which is also part of my punishment, maybe.
Sometimes I have to fill out little reading comprehension quizzes. Sometimes I have to proofread a thousand pages. Sometimes I have to write my own thoughts and memoirs in the margins, forced to believe that someone might want to read them.
I like to think of the living world as a test market for Hell. We crowd-source new tortures and pains and free up our own resources down here to make things worse for everybody, Satan once wrote. Every new day in the living world reveals a new way to cause misery. Often times, in Hell, the living surprise us with their inventiveness.
Every day, in Hell, a billion people are sent a letter informing them that they've been allowed to leave and go to Heaven. This was just a test, the letters say, and God has seen the good in you and wants you to join Him in the light of Heaven.
Demons dressed like Angels show up and escort them upwards into new, terrifying chambers of Hell. It's a whole production, and the reveal is personalized for each soul. A billion unique chambers for a billion unique people.
For some, the newly revealed Heaven is just a new annex of Hell, and God is revealed to be a slave to Satan -- they see God himself, exuding a holy light of infinite forgiveness, but he is shackled, and he renounces each soul who comes before him.
I've been tricked. I will continue to be tricked. So will you.
I could lie and say that my task is carried out begrudgingly. That it brings me sorrow to bring sorrow unto others. That it brings me pain to inflict pain unto others, Satan says in his writings. But, as it often is with man, the joy that comes from hurting others is the closest thing to Heaven that anyone could experience.
People fall in love in Hell, just so Satan can intervene and break their hearts. He lets them organize wedding ceremonies, put down deposits, invite all their friends. Sometimes he doesn't even have to get involved – the happy couple starts to argue, starts to worry about whether they've found the right person, whether this has been a trick all along. People are left at the altar just as frequently as people are dunked into boiling oil, down in Hell.
Everyone is born with this infinite eventuality looming below them, Satan writes. Some people never experience hope up in the world of the living. These are the most challenging ones to punish.
Sometimes Satan lets people go back into the world of the living. It's like reincarnation, only they are born into broken, deformed bodies, and every night, in their dreams, the truth is revealed to them. Sometimes their bodies are fine, but they suffer great emotional pain, mistaking the futility of escape with hope.
Some people in Hell are doomed to not remember anything. But I am doomed to know too much. To knowing all the little tricks, all the secrets, how high the electricity bills sometimes get and how many of the walls are just painted to look like brimstone to save money.
Some people, like me, end up unsure about whether Hell is such a bad place after all. They wonder why things don't seem so bad for them. Why they seem so special. Among the living, this is often a positive thing, the result of inheritance, privilege, or sheer luck. But in Hell, even the most narcissistic break down after a few hundred years. And if they don't, they start to wonder. This is also part of Hell.
Zac Smith lives in Boston, MA, where he likes to walk his dogs. His stories have appeared in Hobart, X-R-A-Y Lit, Philosophical Idiot, Soft Cartel, and other very sweet online journals. His twitter is @ZacTheLinguist