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Chapter 2

One For Hell

    Joe was startled to his core to suddenly find himself floating above the accident scene.  Was he floating?  Or was he just viewing it from a great distance?  He couldn't quite tell.  Joe could see the passenger side of his car folded around a tree, and the front corner of the semi truck's trailer buried deeply into the the driver's side.  He could also see that the semi truck's cab had completely obliterated the driver's side of  the car that had been directly behind his, and that the truck's front bumper had pushed what remained of the driver's compartment all the way over to the passenger side.  Everything that he was looking at began to take on the appearance of being--unreal.  'Unreal' was the only way Joe could think to describe it.  Not quite cartoon, but not solid and realistic either.  The ringing in his ears was finally subsiding.  As Joe looked on, the image of the accident scene and the surrounding landscape began to fade, all the time seeming less and less real.  The more the images around him faded, the more Joe realized that he was in some sort of tunnel or maybe it was a deep valley of some sort.  Slowly, the visual images of Earth evaporated completely as the tunnel grew more and more discernible; much the way images from a vivid dream surrealistically fade into images of the bedroom as one gradually wakes up.  Before long, all of the images of Earth were gone, leaving nothing but the long, seemingly endless tunnel by which Joe now found himself surrounded.  Joe couldn't exactly have described the tunnel even to himself.  Yes, there was a scant visual indication of being in a tunnel, but the experience was much more the sensation of being in a tunnel.  Just one more part of this strange event that Joe could not have found the words to describe.

    Joe suddenly had the feeling that he was moving through the tunnel.  He had no way to gauge how fast he was moving, but he had a definite sense that he was moving along at a very high speed.  No matter how hard Joe tried, he could not see the end of the tunnel.  Considering the speed at which he was moving through the tunnel, and the fact that he felt as though he had been there quite a while already, Joe was rather surprised that he wasn't yet far enough along to see the end of the tunnel.  After what seemed like hours, Joe was able to just barely make out a dim glow far down the tunnel in the direction toward which he was traveling--a glow accompanied by a mild feeling of wellbeing.  

    As Joe got closer, the feeling of wellbeing intensified into a feeling of all-encompassing love as the glow finally became bright enough that Joe could start to make out what it was.  The glow seemed to be light reflecting off of what appeared to be a huge, white gate.  Since the image was somehow subdued and visually muddy, Joe couldn't see much detail, but it was definitely a gate.  As he got closer, the gate became bigger, even though Joe still couldn't really see it clearly.  To Joe, the visual image was like looking at a gigantic, shiny, white gate through the dark, brown glass of a beer bottle.  

   The warm feeling of love had by now grown so strong that Joe smiled, giggled and began to sway back and forth like an excited child.   "A gate?" Joe thought to himself. "Why would there be a gate?  What could it mean?  Is it really there, or is it just some sort of symbol?  Maybe my imagination or a dream?  Maybe just hallucination.  Maybe, any minute now, I'll regain consciousness as they're pulling me out of my car.  Please let it be real, I don't want this feeling to end."

    That strange sensation of knowing he was dying right after the accident now flashed into Joe's mind as a sudden realization came to him, "A feeling of warmth and love...a gate...Heaven's gate!  It's Heaven!  I was right, I am going to Heaven!"

Joe actually laughed out loud when it struck him that once he was in Heaven, this feeling of warmth and love would continue forever.

    Joe only got a little bit closer to the gate when he observed a human figure standing in front of it.  If Joe's perception of the huge size of this gate was correct, then this person standing outside the gate was at least ten feet tall.  The figure was definitely a human form, apparently male, and had a pronounced glow.  He appeared to be dressed in a long, white robe, but that beer bottle effect made it difficult to be certain of anything except that there was a gate and a person.

    "Is that an angel sent to Heaven's gate to welcome me?"  Joe wondered. "Or is that whoever or whatever God is?"  Wondering if the figure could be God surprised Joe since he had just gotten done telling that Dave character that God probably doesn't even exist.  Joe had barely completed that thought when the image of the gate was abruptly swept from his view in a blur as the tunnel seemed to veer off in another direction.  It really wasn't a change of down, up, left or right, so Joe couldn't exactly tell in what direction he was now moving, but he was certain that the tunnel had somehow curved off.  It was obvious that he was no longer headed toward the gate.  At the same time that the visual image of the gate was torn from his view, the sense of love was ripped away from Joe and replaced with a feeling of emptiness--an intense longing as if something very precious to him had been just within his grasp, then cruelly yanked away.  Joe was left with a feeling that something was missing.  It seemed as though something very important...something deep within his very being...something that was inherently his to keep, had now completely evaporated.  Joe hadn't realized until now, how emotionally overwhelming that feeling of love, warmth and--perfection--had actually been.  Now that the feeling was gone...his body and his spirit knew.

    Joe next felt an intensely sick feeling welling up from his very core.  Now that the feeling of love, warmth, acceptance, belonging and perfection was lost, Joe was left with an overpowering sense of being dirty.  Not dirty... filthy.  No, filthy didn't even begin to approach the feelings that were suddenly coursing through Joe.  Filthy...disgusting...arrogant...defiant...unworthy...unforgiven.  It was all of those feelings, plus a lot more, all melding together into a sickening soup of emotions now permeating Joe from the inside out.

    At that instant, the tunnel seemed to explode all around Joe into a white light so pure and so intense that Joe had to squint his eyes.  Joe both saw the light and felt it at the same time.  The sense of perfect love Joe had encountered a moment ago was now back, but the sickening feelings Joe developed afterwards were still there as well.  Had he needed to, Joe wasn't quite sure how he would even begin to describe it, but he could feel a raging battle within him.  It was as though the light, love and warmth now surrounding him could not be in the same place as the feelings of filth, disgust and unworthiness now gripping him from within.  Evidently, those two infinitely diverse sets of feelings could not be permitted to exist together in one place. As though the light around him was drawing him in while the filth within him was ripping him apart in its attempt to force him in the opposite direction.

    Joe's eyes were still squinting so tightly that he couldn't see much detail and he couldn't be sure, but there seemed to be a man standing in the light.  Well, not so much standing in it as being surrounded by it.  No, not really surrounded by it either, but being one with it, as though the warmth, love, light, perfection and this man were all actually one and the same.  The feelings of being filthy, repulsive, unworthy and worthless intensified to a point that Joe thought the battle within him would literally tear him apart.  Without even knowing where it could possibly have come from,  Joe found himself trying to scream out the sentence "Lord, save me,"  but he only had enough composure to get out the word "Lord."  The pleading, desperate manner in which Joe yelled out the word "Lord" took Joe by surprise.  Especially since he had made no conscious effort to say it--the word came out on its own from somewhere deep within him.

    As Joe continued to scream out "Lord, Lord, Lord," while trying to reach out toward the magnificent, glowing figure before him, Joe had a sense of being held back by the feelings of filth within him.  It made absolutely no sense to his human perception, but those feelings of unworthiness were somehow forming what could only be described as a physical barrier that Joe couldn't see but could certainly feel.  Each time Joe reached out toward the being before him, a powerful compulsion from somewhere within him pulled his arm back.

    Joe began to follow the word "Lord" with the words "I believe."  Again, Joe was making no conscious effort to say anything.  All of the words being uttered were coming from somewhere deep within him.  From so deep, in fact, that it didn't even feel as though it were really him speaking.  These pleadings were welling up from a level of Joe's spirit so deeply buried that he was never before even aware of its existence.

    Without volition, Joe was uttering the words "I believe" when he was hit with a barrage of words so intense that he wasn't sure if he was hearing them or feeling them.  Joe wasn't even sure if the words were coming from outside his body or from within.  The words, very authoritatively but very sincerely, said "It is not a matter of believing...its a matter of rejecting."  Then, with a tone of heartfelt regret and sincere sadness, those words were followed by "Depart from Me.  You are not Mine.  I don't know you."  With that, the light, and the man who was one with it, were instantaneously pulled away as if by some giant vacuum.  The tunnel slowly worked its way back into view, although it now felt more like a void than a tunnel.  The sense of loss Joe felt earlier had now returned but with much more intensity.  A loss so profound and so visceral that Joe broke down into uncontrollable sobs of sadness and regret.  Somehow, these feelings of loss flooded up from the same level of Joe's being that had produced the words when he was crying out to the light.  He wasn't sure why, but with every fiber of his being, he wanted that light back.

    Just as Joe was certain that the uncontrollable sobs and intense sense of loss would crush him into nothingness,  He began to see another glow at the end of the tunnel. Joe felt his sense of dread lift slightly as he realized that he was about to get a second chance.  As he got closer, Joe could see that this new glow was also a human figure.  Not nearly as tall as the one standing outside the gate, and not glowing nearly as brightly as the man Joe had just seen, but a human figure glowing quite brightly nonetheless.  

    Joe thought to himself, "this must be an angel sent to give me another chance, or it's God, or something like that.  See, I was right!  I am going to Heaven!  My spirit guides, my mediums, my brother didn't let me down--I'm going to live in Heaven.  Any second now, that feeling of warmth and love will come flooding back!"  Joe's emotions were only lifted slightly--the sense of loss eating away at him from the inside was still there.

    The sensation of moving through the tunnel abruptly ceased, even though it was not accompanied by the usual jolt one feels in a sudden, unexpected, high-speed stop.  Joe found himself face to face with the glowing figure, still a surprising distance from any end to the tunnel considering that Joe thought the figure was standing at the end of the tunnel when he first saw this warm, glowing, angel.  Although startlingly bright, Joe was surprised that the glow surrounding the figure didn't seem to be much brighter this close up than it had been at a distance, and in no way bright enough to make Joe squint his eyes.  Joe was a little bit scared; but, he was also very relieved knowing that he would soon get his second chance, go to Heaven and be with his brother forever.  With quite a bit of effort, Joe managed to force his excitement to slowly overcome his fear and sense of loss enough that he could speak:

    "Who...Who are you?" Joe inquired of the glowing figure.

    The figure responded in a calm, gentle, soothing male voice that Joe had heard many times during the hundreds seances he had attended over the years.  

    "I am your spirit guide, the one with whom you have communicated throughout your life.  I am here to lead you on to your reward."

    "My spirit guide!  A reward!  Oh, you're as beautiful as I imagined.  A glowing spirit of light.  I am so...so...thrilled to meet you!"

    The word 'thrilled' didn't seem an adequate word to describe Joe's excitement, and saying 'meet you' seemed a little silly, but it was the best he could do while still trying to overcome a small, lingering modicum of fear... well, no longer fear really...now just nervousness--nervousness mixed with anticipation and excitement.

    "I have so many questions," Joe said to his spirit guide, "so many things I want to know.  Please tell me if..."

    Joe abruptly stopped speaking when he observed the appearance of his spirit guide beginning to change.  He wasn't quite sure what the change was at first, but there was most definitely a change.  Within seconds, the change became all too obvious and Joe's joy and excitement turned to terror.  

    The glow had disappeared and the spirit guide's face began to change.  Although he retained his human shape, the spirit guide's face slowly took on a contorted look.  Then Joe noticed the guide's eyes becoming considerably oversize for its head.  Its facial features became distorted, twisted and disproportionate.  The spirit guide's previously yellowish silver, flowing, full head of hair morphed into a sparse collection of stiff, dry, bristly, grayish-black strands of what could barely be considered hair, atop a head now greenish-brown, pitted and deeply wrinkled.  The guide's robe seemed to disintegrate into nothingness and was replaced with the same wrinkled furrows of twisted greenish-brown skin which covered its head.  Joe could now make out its hands and feet and saw that they were covered with the same horrid skin as the rest of its body.  The arms and legs were grotesquely disfigured with oversize knuckles along with fingers and toes of disproportionate length pointing off in slightly different directions  There didn't seem to be fingernails or toenails of any kind--just more of the same disgusting, greenish-brown skin.  Looking at the guide's hands and feet drew Joe's attention to its frail-looking arms and legs.  From the way the arms and legs were deformed and grotesquely disproportionate, Joe got the impression  that the bones in the guide's appendages must be severely curved, bent and twisted.  When they first met, the guide had stood about Joe's height, but now, with its back somewhat hunched and slightly twisted to one side, it stood about a foot shorter than Joe.  The more seconds that ticked away, the more hideous this spirit guide thing became.  A knot of fear formed in Joe's stomach, accompanied by a overwhelming, gut-wrenching attack of nausea.
   
    Joe felt a sense of sudden acceleration as he and this spirit guide thing began to speed along the tunnel in the same direction that Joe was previously traveling.  As Joe and the guide were speeding through the tunnel, Joe watched three small, blurry, barely discernible, greenish-brown clouds slide swiftly and silently into positions surrounding the guide.  Joe then heard four distinct, low-pitched, gravelly, male voices conversing with each other at a volume too low for Joe to hear what was being said.  The voices continued speaking to one another as--right before Joe's eyes--each cloud congealed into a living creature.  Although the human-like bodies were twisted and distorted in different ways from that of the guide, they looked grotesquely similar to the guide.  One of the creatures was slightly smaller than the guide, one was about as tall, but the third was large, imposing and monstrous.

    Joe found himself overcome by uncontrollable panic.  He began flailing his arms, kicking his legs, reaching out trying desperately to grasp anything  he might be able to use to pull himself in the opposite direction and away from these terrifying monsters.  Joe tried with every bit of strength he could muster, but there was no part of the tunnel that he could get a hold of--in fact, no matter how far he reached, he couldn't even feel the sides of the tunnel.  As Joe struggled to exhaustion, he could hear a barrage of mocking snorts from the four, horrifying creatures around him--snorts that abruptly stopped when Joe screamed:
   
    "God, please help me!  That is not my spirit guide; I don't want to be here, this is some kind of mistake!"

    Joe was shocked that, in an act of utter desperation, he was crying out to a God he was never sure even existed.

    "Please!" Joe continued, "Please at least just get me away from these creatures!"

    "Creatures?"  Joe thought to himself, "Or demons?"

    "Oh God no...demons?" Joe screamed out loud as the demons returned to emitting their mocking snorts. Joe continued to cry out, "Please somebody help me!  This is a mistake!  I don't want to be here, I'm not supposed to be here, please!"

    Joe stopped screaming only long enough to catch his breath, then tried desperately to remember the words his mediums and fortune tellers had used whenever they summoned Joe's spirit guide.

    "Spirit guide...helping spirit...one who comes in light...please appear to me now, give me your wisdom...and lead me out of here!"

    From behind him, Joe heard a male voice.  The voice was calm, soothing and seemed very loving and caring.

    "This is the voice!" Joe thought to himself, "this is the voice of my spirit guide.  That creature thing was only trying to imitate it before, but this is the real voice I remember hearing from my spirit guide."

    As he turned to look behind him to see his real spirit guide...not the impostor, but his actual, loving, caring, helping spirit guide, Joe heard more words of comfort:

    "Don't' worry Joe," the soothing voice said calmly, "you do not belong here.  Take my hand and I will lead you out."

    Joe completed his turn and reached his hand out toward the voice only to see the same, hideous spirit guide thing that met Joe in the tunnel moments ago.  In a startled reflex, Joe yanked his hand back.

    "It's me Joe," the guide demon continued in the same voice but now with a mocking tone, " I am your spirit guide here to help you."

    Instead of the calm, soothing voice, the words 'help you' were spoken in the low, gravelly voice Joe heard when the other demons first arrived.

    "No!" Joe insisted with a loud, quivering voice;" You are not my spirit guide.  My spirit guide appears in light and speaks with love and concern.  My spirit guide cares for me deeply."

    "Back when you contacted me on Earth, and when you first got here," the guide demon explained forcefully, "I did appear to you in light...I did speak to you in a soothing, caring voice...I AM YOUR SPIRIT GUIDE!...but, I do not 'care for you deeply' as you put it."

    All four demons began to make sounds like laughing, or possibly just satisfied grunts and snorts.  It may have just been grunts and snorts, but Joe could clearly hear contempt in the mocking tones of the demons' voices.  

    It was then that Joe remembered Dave, the man who spoke to him in the shopping mall, saying "Even Satan himself can appear as an angel of light"

    "No," Joe yelled, "you are not Satan...you can't be Satan."

    "No," the guide demon confirmed, "I am not the One--I can mimic his light, but I am not Satan.  But," the guide demon continued in the same, mocking tone," I am the spirit guide that you were once so fond of."

    Among satisfied snorts and grunts, the smaller of the demons spoke up in a slightly higher pitched, but equally gravelly voice, "And I was the one who gathered information about you and your loved ones to feed to your fortune teller.  Didn't you ever wonder where she was getting all of that information?  It was me...it was always ME!  I've been watching you and your family for years.  I know everything about your life and theirs.  All I had to do was tell the fortune teller what I knew or what I wanted her to believe, and she passed it right on to you."

    Just then, Joe was startled by a loud voice yelling "ENOUGH!"

    The voice sounded very familiar.  Joe recognized that voice, "Adam...my dead brother...it's Adam's voice!  Adam will know what to do!  Adam can get me out of here!"

    Joe turned, only to hear Adam's voice coming from the largest of the demons who until now had not spoken.   
   
    "It's me, Adam," the demon went on,"It is peaceful here.  There is rest here.  I have seen no Jesus and no God here, they don't really exist.  I was wrong about that..  Live a good life.  Just be a good person and some day you will come join me in Heaven.  I miss you, Joe.  I love you, Joe."

    The words that the demon spoke in Adam's voice were familiar to Joe.  It was word for word what Adam had said to Joe during the very first seance at which Joe was able to make contact with his dead brother.

"How easy it was for me to make you think you were actually talking to your dead brother," the demon continued in his own voice and with a tone of ridicule, "your brother isn't even here.  He's with...he's in...well, he's not here."

   The remaining demon then spoke up with disdain in a low-pitched, subdued but clearly audible voice. "Hundreds of us took turns being the voices of your channeler.  How easily God's fallen creation is deceived!"

    "NO," Joe screamed at the top of his voice, and then began to repeat to himself in a childlike whimper: "Hell is just a state of mind...Hell is just in my mind...maybe this is as bad as it'll get...Oh please, God, let this be as bad as it gets.  I don't want to be here...I don't belong here."

    By now, Joe seemed to have no qualms about calling out to a God that he was once so sure didn't even exist.


From bad to worse

    Joe suddenly realized that he was now able to just make out a faint, insignificant orange-yellow tint at the far end of the tunnel.  As Joe and his accompanying demons got closer and closer to the orange-yellow tint, Joe noticed that the already stale air was taking on a noticeably pungent oder.  At first, it just smelled like a pile of old, wet, filthy laundry, but; seconds later, that oder combined with others in a smell so bad that Joe began to literally gag.  He could think of only one way to describe it: As though someone were trying to cook raw sewage.  In a very short time, the already horrendous stench was combined with a smell like rotting meat so overpowering that Joe started to dry heave.  He was surprised that he didn't actually throw anything up, but actually wished he would.  The taste and smell of his own vomit would be preferable to this.  Joe did his best to take only quick, shallow breaths, and only when he absolutely had to.

    The orange-yellow tint was getting much closer now.  Joe could tell because the end of the tunnel was just beginning to take on the look of a mostly round opening with a slight indication of an orange-yellow light trying to escape out the opening and swirling in what Joe could only describe as a light-hungry darkness.  As if the smell weren't already bad enough, it seemed to be getting worse.  Joe could hardly stand it.  A stench of death so intense that it was as if Joe had ripped open the bloated, rotting carcass of a large, dead animal, and plunged his head inside of it.
    The foul air surrounding him was turning very dry.  It felt as though the air had no humidity whatsoever.  The few breaths Joe did have to take while struggling to escape the permeating stench, seemed to stab and rip at his lungs.  His throat was so dry and sore, that he nearly screamed each time he swallowed.  His eyes and eyelids were so dry that it felt like sand grinding and scraping in his eyes each time he blinked.  Joe could feel his lips and his skin cracking from the dryness of the rank atmosphere around him.  He could actually see cracks and splits in his skin, but surprisingly, no blood at all.  Although many were minor, some of the cracks in his skin were as wide as the thickness of a pencil, and appeared to be quite deep, yet no blood.

    Joe was now close enough to the end of the tunnel that he could clearly discern that the orange-yellow swirl was filtering out through a round opening that appeared to be about twenty feet across and made of some sort of rock or hard-packed dirt.  The dull, orange-yellow light was no longer the only thing emanating from the opening.  Joe's ears could now perceive what seemed to be screams.  Some had the same quality as the voices of the demons he was traveling with, but many more sounded as though they could be human screams.  Each scream was so prolonged and filled with such agony that it hardly seemed as though it could be produced by a human--but it sounded human nonetheless.  Just a little closer to the opening, and the screams combined with the long, drawn-out, plaintive moans of both men and women.  Joe could also now hear many voices yelling out actual words, but he could not make out what was being said.  Each scream, each moan, and each word being spoken made Joe's stomach even sicker than it already was.  With each scream and each moan, Joe felt violent shivers like those that sometimes happen for seemingly no reason starting at the neck and working their way down the spine.  The ones where the muscles tense up and a cold shiver travels all through the body.  Joe remembered some sort of old saying about those shivers meaning that someone had walked across where your grave would someday be.  That attempt at a creepy metaphor back when he was still alive could not even compare to the feeling of death and dread he was feeling now.  Back when he was still alive?  Had he actually thought that?  No, he would not allow himself to start thinking that way.  He was moving, speaking and thinking so he must still be alive.  He would find some way out of this.
 
   Without warning, Joe heard a slight swishing sound and found himself being pulled violently into the opening at the end of the tunnel.  As he passed by the outer edge, he felt his arm scrape against the rock from which the opening was formed.  Now, Joe knew that it was definitely rock and not just packed dirt.  Rock so sharp, in fact, that Joe felt skin being ripped from his arm and felt the rocks scrape all the way down to the bone.  He looked down to see that a piece of flesh the size of his fist had been torn from his forearm and was hanging by only a strand or two of skin.  His fears were confirmed--he could see the bone in his arm and the damage that had been done to it by the rocks' abrading, sharp edges.  The bone in Joe's arm had deep scrapes and splinters of bone where the rocks had  struck.  Such an injury--all of that damage--and still no blood.  How that could possibly be, made no sense whatsoever.
    Joe could see that the tunnel had ended at a very wide crevasse, maybe fifty feet wide and three hundred feet long, that ran down to what looked to be a large cavern of some sort.  One push, from the demons who were now gathered behind him, sent Joe drifting down into the crevasse.  During fleeting flickers of the minuscule amount of orange-yellow light managing to briefly escape from the other end of the crevasse, Joe could see that, for it's entire length, the wall of the crevasse was covered with thousands and thousands more demons.  Various sizes, but all with the same appearance of those he had already seen.  Thousands of oversize, distorted eyes watched Joe intently as he drifted along the crevasse.
    Joe immediately felt a sense of deep dread--a feeling of inescapable doom--a feeling of...utter hopelessness.  The feeling was more than he could stand.  He began to involuntarily and uncontrollably scream as he tried desperately to find something--anything, that he could grab onto to pull himself back out of the crevasse, or at least slow his descent.  If he could only slow down his descent, he could at least give himself some more time before reaching whatever awaited him at the other end.  He didn't yet know what he would find there, but he did know that he desperately wanted to gain even just a few extra seconds of time before reaching it.  It seemed like such a trivial goal now, to want as little as to just prolong the time it will take him to reach whatever awaited him at the other end of the crevasse; but, deep down inside, a feeling of impending destruction told Joe it was a worthy goal.  Joe struggled to the point of total exhaustion, but found nothing he could hold on to.

    All too soon, Joe found himself at the far end of the crevasse where he came to a stop so violent that it knocked the breath out him.  He could see that the crevasse emptied into a very large cavern.  He had no way to judge how far below him the bottom was, but it was far.  Joe observed, at the bottom of the cavern, a vast, mostly flat landscape as far as he could see in all directions.  He also now knew where that feeble orange-yellow glow had been coming from.  The bottom of the cavern was awash in flames.  Joe could see some very small open areas of ground where there were none, but flames seemed to be completely engulfing the rest of the landscape.  He couldn't help but notice how dark it seemed, especially considering that there were flames everywhere.  No sooner would a flame leap up from the ground, then its light would be swallowed up by that same, insidious darkness Joe had noticed as he was approaching  the opening at the end of the tunnel.  It was such an all-encompassing darkness that, in spite of the flames, he could barely make out any detail down at the bottom of the cavern.  What a strange sight it was to see that much light being completely annihilated by darkness--a darkness so intense that Joe was convinced he could physically feel it.  
    In the small amount of light available, Joe could see that the hard, flat landscape had many very large cracks and fissures in its surface.  He also thought he saw people moving around.  He had absolutely no idea how that could be.  How could anyone even survive flames like that, let alone be moving around.  With a little squinting, Joe was able to see that, although most of the movement down there was actually people, some of it was demons.  He occasionally caught a very brief glimpse of  what appeared to be human forms being chased through the flames by demons.  It was terrifying to understand that the screams and moans he had been hearing had been coming from all of those people down there.  Joe could finally make out most of the words they were yelling. The words were terrible, horrible, endless strings of curses directed at each other, God, and even themselves.  What must these people be going through?  How long do they have to endure this?  How could something like this happen?  Despite how far Joe still was from the flames of the cavern, he could not believe how intense and dry the heat was.  So intense, in fact,  that Joe couldn't believe that he was even still alive, let alone how those people engulfed by the flames were.  

    "Is this just a bad dream, or some kind of vision?" Joe demanded loudly and defiantly, but got no response. "If I am supposed to learn something from this vision, tell me what it is so that I can return to Earth and tell others."  Still, no response.

    He then saw that the original four demons he had met in the tunnel were gathering behind him.  Joe remembered that when the demons had done that just a moment ago, they had pushed him from behind as he stood at the crevasse.
   
    "Pushed?  They wouldn't...They couldn't...NO," Joe thought, "I couldn't stand it down there.  I wouldn't survive it.  They can't do this, they CAN'T DO THIS!"

    Joe managed to calm himself down just a little by thinking to himself  "It's OK, they wouldn't do that.  This is just a vision or a bad dream or something.  Any second now, I'm going to wake up at home in my own bed."

    Joe was longing with all of his being for that release when a person wakes up from a terrifying nightmare to realize that none of it was real and they're actually safe at home in their own, comfortable bed.

.  "This can't be Hell," Joe continued to think to himself. "Hell is all in the mind...all in the imagination.  Hell is what you make it.  Any time now, I'm going to wake up.  Any time now...any time now.  Come on, Joe, wake up.  Any time..."

Joe didn't even finish his thought before he heard a demon's voice from behind him yell "It's not yet our time, but it is yours.  Here's the reward I promised you.," Joe then felt himself shoved hard from behind catapulting him from the crevasse and out into the cavern.  He could feel himself falling toward the desolate, burning landscape below.  Not just moving or drifting this time, but actually falling.  The scream that Joe was letting out on his way down was such an intense, terrified scream that Joe couldn't believe it was coming from him.  To Joe, it didn't sound like his voice--it sounded more like the horrific screams he had heard just a moment ago from those people in the flames at the bottom of the cavern.


Final Destination

    Joe continued to let out a scream that seemed to be coming from some deep, primal part of his core.  The flames grew closer and closer while at the same time that eerie darkness began to close in around him.  The horrible, nauseating, stomach-churning oders were now much worse than earlier.  The air, if you could call it that, was now so intensely hot, so putrid, so--heavy--that he had to struggle just to inhale anything at all.  Joe could not understand how he could even be taking in enough of a breath to be able to scream; but, scream he did, as he fell for what felt to him like an eternity.
    Joe looked down to see the ground coming up at him in a violent, twisting blur.  He instinctively contorted and flailed until he managed to get  his legs underneath him so he could land on his feet.  Joe landed on one of the open patches of ground between the flames--hard.  So hard, that he felt the sensation of every bone in his legs shattering and splintering.  His perception was confirmed by a sound like creaking wood and snapping twigs followed by pain so intense that it briefly took away Joe's breath.  With unbelievable agony, the pain engulfed his legs then exploded up through his entire body.  Still screaming, Joe very quickly stood up.  He didn't know how that could be possible with his legs destroyed, but nonetheless, he did manage to stand.  Even more intense pain added to his already loud, visceral scream as Joe felt indescribable heat now beginning to char his skin.  The dangling piece of flesh that had earlier been ripped from his arm by the jagged rocks was now bubbling, sizzling, and becoming a mix of charred meat and dripping, melted fat and oil.  It appeared that the skin all over his body was now blistering in much the same way.  He could see areas of skin burn through and pull apart like thin, melting sheets of plastic wrap.  One thing that Joe did expect to see, but still did not, was blood spurting from his wounds.  
    A demon, much larger than the four Joe had already encountered, but with much the same appearance, burst from the flames and charged straight toward him.  This one was not only larger than the ones Joe had already seen, but much larger, at least twelve feet tall.  As Joe stood there, frozen in fear, he saw that the skin of this demon was burning and charred in much the same way as his own.  A wave of intense fear, panic and dread washed over Joe.  He quickly regained enough composure to begin running for all he was worth to get away from the horrible, raging demon creature now closing in on him.  Joe seemed to know instinctively that this demon was intent on killing him.  Killing him?  Joe wondered if that were even possible now.  If he could be killed, then the poison atmosphere, heat and injuries should have already done that.

    "Maybe I can still die," Joe thought, "maybe I'll finally die and that's how I'll get out of this place."

    After only a dozen or so steps, Joe found himself facing a wall of flames hundreds of feet high.  A wall of flames in front of him, and an evil, hideous demon creature closing in from behind.  Joe had to make a decision and he had to make it fast.  For some reason, unknown to Joe, the demon was a far more terrifying proposition than the wall of flames.  Joe took as long and deep a breath as he could stand to take, and ran full speed directly into the flames.  He was unprepared for the intensity of the pain as the flames engulfed him.  Lost in a sea of swirling clouds of red, orange and yellow flames, Joe felt a deep hopelessness and dread permeating him from the thick, heavy darkness that surrounded both him and the clouds of flames.  In response to the unbelievable, indescribable level of pain, Joe let out with yet another heart-wrenching, animal-like scream.  He could hardly believe it when he heard the demon doing the same.

    "The flames aren't just hurting me, they're hurting that thing as well."  Joe remembered something Adam had mentioned a long time ago about God originally creating Hell as a place of torment for the angels who rebelled against Him--angels who were now nothing more than demons.  "Maybe I can use that to keep this monster away from me." Joe thought, surprised that he could think this clearly while continuously screaming out in agony.

    Wondering now if pain would at least slow down a demon, Joe opted for staying in the flames rather than dealing with the terror of the creature trying to find him.  Joe couldn't believe that his life has now been reduced to deciding to be tortured in flames rather than to be tortured by a demon.  By now, the hope of this being nothing more than a bad dream was far from Joe's mind.  He knew this was really happening and he knew he had to do something--anything--to get himself out of this place.
    Joe was searching his mind for any ideas that might accomplish that goal, when, from directly behind him, he heard a horrifying scream that seemed to penetrate clear through to his internal organs.  He turned to see the twelve foot tall demon with it's right arm extended fully across the front of it's putrid, burning, decaying body.  The demon's arm came toward Joe so fast that it made a rushing sound through the flames as it landed squarely in the center of Joe's chest.  His feet left the ground completely as he was propelled backward several feet landing hard in the bottom of an eight-foot-deep fissure.  The impact with the ground knocked the breath from his lungs.  He felt waves of stabbing pain throughout his body as several bones in his back shattered like glass.

    Through the roar of the flames, he could hear himself, and God, being cursed by the demon who had just shattered Joe's body.
  
    "I have done nothing to you," Joe yelled to the demon in a moment of total desperation; "I don't belong here...why are you so angry at me?  Why do you hate me so much when I haven't done anything to you?  Please, just let me out of this pit and out of this place ..PLEASE!"

    The demon let out with another long string of rage-filled curses and then spoke: "You're made in God's image.  You are His creation. "   The demon cursed God at the top of his voice, then continued,  "I hate Him for putting me in this place.  I hate Him for torturing me.  I can't get to Him--but, I CAN get to you...His creation...His creation..."  The demon then let out a thunderous, echoing scream as a burst of flames washed over him.  Still screaming, the demon ran off through the flames and was gone.

    "My chance," Joe thought, "if I can climb up out of here, I can find a way out of this place.  Despite it seeming as though every bone in his body were broken, Joe was still somehow able to get to his feet.  Slowly, painfully, he managed to find just enough of a hand and foothold to begin climbing from the depths of the fissure.  Joe was only half way up the rough, jagged wall when a torrent of flames swirled over and then into the pit.  Joe felt his hands and his back sizzle and sear from the intense heat.  He let out with yet another scream of agony as his hands pulled loose from the rocks and he once again fell to the bottom of the fissure, exhausted.

    Joe was appalled to see that most of the flesh of his body was now sagging and hanging in charred, bubbling chunks dripping with a putrid-smelling brown-yellow liquid, but still no blood.  In several places on his body, he could easily see through to his own ligaments, tendons and bone.  

    "How am I even still alive?" Joe wondered "Sooner or later this has to kill me.  I'll be dead, but at least it will be over.  I want to be dead--I just want out of here, I don't care how."

    Joe's throat was so sore and cracked from the heat, the dryness of the air, and his constant screaming, that when he swallowed, he could feel dry, burned tissue in his throat rubbing against itself in a constant wave of sharp pain.  Joe's lips were so cracked, split and burned, that touching his face, he could hardly discern his lips from the charred, split, peeling skin which now made up the rest of his face.

    "I need some water," Joe thought to himself, "I just need a little water...just a little bit of water...just a drop..."  Then Joe screamed out in torment and frustration "I want water!  I need water!  Is that asking so much, God?"  Then Joe began hurling curses at God much as he heard his demon tormentor do moments ago.  It had become all too real to Joe now.  There really is a God.  He wasn't sure how he knew, but he knew.  "When I get out of this place," Joe thought, "I'm going to just accept God's existence...I have to accept it...I know that now."

    Joe had slowly regained enough strength to make another attempt to climb from the pit.  Once again, slowly, painfully, He made his way up the wall.  His determined effort was so keenly focused now that he knew he would find a way to connect with God once he got out of this place.  He was further driven and encouraged by the thought of the drink of water he would have after finding a way out.

    At last, Joe's fingers curled over the top edge of the fissure and he knew he was almost out.  With the last of his strength, and with total, focused energy, He began to pull himself up over the edge.  As his head emerged from within the pit, he looked up to see a monstrously large foot lifted several inches above the ground.  A foot hanging with rotting, putrid, torn, greenish-brown flesh.  "Oh God no...," Joe uttered, " No, no, no."  Joe had just enough time to look up and see a demon, even bigger than the one he had dealt with earlier, when its gigantic foot dealt a crushing, forceful blow to Joe's face.  Joe heard a crackling sound as his nose was crushed and his skull fractured.  Again, Joe crashed to the bottom of the fissure.

    "You can't win!"  Joe yelled up defiantly. "Sooner or later this place will kill me.  I'll be dead, but I'll be out of here.  I'll be dead, but it'll mean that I won, not you!"

    The demon yelled back with a sound of triumph in its voice.  "Dead?  You're already dead.  You've been dead for several minutes, and now you're here with the rest of us!  You're dead and you will be tortured in this place just as I am.  I can't leave, and neither can you...God's creation."  The demon made a concerted effort to say the words "God's creation" with a tone of contempt it its voice.

An Epiphany

    With an emotional jolt, the reality of his situation hit Joe like a sledgehammer.  "Dead?  No...I'm dead?"  Suddenly Joe understood why there was never any blood from his injuries.  It also came to him why the poisonous atmosphere, the intense heat, the broken bones and the scorching of his entire body didn't kill him.  "They couldn't kill me...because I am already--dead!   And I only died minutes ago?  That can't be.  I've been here for hours, maybe even days...not minutes!"  Then it occurred to Joe that during this whole, horrifying, nightmarish experience, he never once perceived any definite passage of time.  It was like time didn't really exist in this place.  Like time was being swallowed up by the same, oppressive darkness that was sucking away what little light there was.  Joe then remembered Dave referring to Hell as "eternal death."  Eternal?   Forever?  This goes on forever?  No way out?  Ever?  No hope...no hope!"  The crushing weight of utter hopelessness and loss caused Joe to break out in uncontrollable sobs as his stomach twisted into a tight, painful, knot of nausea.

    "That Dave guy was right?  Tony was right?  They were right?...they were right!  God, I know that now, please give me another chance and get me out of here!  I'll serve you Jesus, I promise I will...I swear to you that I will serve you!"  But even as Joe uttered the name God and Jesus, Joe could sense that his prayer went no further than his own lips.  His prayer had evaporated in the deep, heavy darkness that filled this place.  There was no sense of God here.  No sense of hope.  Joe began to swear at, curse, and blaspheme God with every foul, angry, hateful word he could think of.   "Why would you give me free choice and let me use it to end up here?"  At that moment, it struck Joe that that's what it was really all about--free will.  Joe realized that he himself had been told the truth about God and about Jesus, then used his free will to make his own decision to reject the forgiveness offered by Jesus Christ.  He realized that it wasn't so much that he had refused to believe the right things; it was more that he had rejected the Truth when he heard it.  Joe began to loudly curse Dave yelling, "Why didn't you make me believe you, Dave?  Why didn't' you force me to understand so I wouldn't have to be here?  What about you, Tony?  And Adam, while you were alive, why didn't you make me believe you?  How could you do this to me?"  But deep down inside, Joe realized that Dave had done all that Joe would let him.  Dave told Joe the Truth as did both Tony and Adam.  There really was nothing more they could have done.  The decision, ultimately, was Joe's to make.  He understood that now.  He made his decision not to have a relationship with his Creator, and it cost him dearly.  

    "It cost me everything." Joe thought out loud.  "Everything...everything..." Joe began to think about all of the things he would never have again.  Water for one.  Just a drop of water in this place would be precious beyond comprehension.  How could he have been reduced to this?  Wanting, with all his being, something as basic as water.  Then Joe began to think about his wife, Sarah.  So loving, so caring.  Joe thought about the warmth of Sarah's body against his.  He would give anything...anything, just to be able to give her a hug right now.  No, not a hug...hold her as close as he could and never let go...NEVER let go.  

    A much too vivid image of Sarah ending up in this place flashed into Joe's mind.  He pictured Sarah screaming, begging, pleading, her flesh being torn and burned from her body.  Joe yelled out to God once more: "Please, God, at least send someone to tell Sarah about this place.  Make her understand about Jesus' forgiveness.  Don't let her come to this horrible place.  Take away her free will if you have to, but don't let her come here!"  But again, Joe knew all too well that, in this place, his prayers went nowhere and meant nothing.  He understood the power that prayer would have had while he was still alive, if he had listened to his brother Adam and had chosen to live his life for Jesus Christ and have Jesus' sacrifice on the cross pay for his sins.  It had been so long since Adam had talked to him about such things, that Joe was amazed he could still remember so much of what Adam told him.  Now, Joe's prayers were nothing more than meaningless expressions of his own anger, fear,despair and self-loathing.  

    For some reason, the thought of music impinged on Joe's mind.  Maybe the thought of Sarah reminded Joe of a song he could not now remember; or, maybe it was because Hell was constantly echoing with the agonized, tortured, plaintive screams, moans and pleadings of all of the people and demons trapped there.  The sound never stopped...never!  It rattled Joe's ears constantly.  He couldn't stand that sound anymore.  He wanted silence, just a little silence.  No, he didn't want silence, he wanted music.  He wanted some soothing, relaxing music.  But music is gone now.  He knew he would never hear music again, would never see Sarah again, Joe's entire body began to shake with more uncontrollable sobs.

    He thought about his friends and wished he could enjoy the sense of belonging he used to feel when he spent time with them.  A friendship in this place was impossible.  The poor, tortured people here had only enough energy to scream, cry, beg and curse.  Much like himself, the souls here had been reduced to trying to endure unending, gripping pain and avoid demons, while mourning all of the things they once had in their lives--things now lost forever..

    One by one, thoughts of all of the blessings he had during his life, and didn't even appreciate, came into Joe's mind.  Light.  Not the feeble, fleeting light being swallowed up by oppressive darkness in this place, but the bright, joyous light of a warm summer day spent at the beach near his home.  And food.  All of the tastes, textures and joys of food.  He would never be able to taste food again.  He would never again gather with friends and loved ones around a table full of all kinds of wonderful things to eat and drink.  The thought of family gatherings made Joe think of  laughter.  In this place, he was unable to even remember anything funny; but, he could remember the emotion and shear enjoyment of joking and laughing with his friends and family, and he could remember the simple joy of laughing at a funny movie or television show.  Joe's mind briefly jumped to memories of the many times, throughout his life, that he had used the expression "funnier than Hell."  Now, here in this place, he couldn't even find words within his own thoughts to describe how stupid and foolish that expression really is.

    Joe's thoughts returned to television.  Television, what a silly thing to miss, but yet he did miss it.  Maybe because it was such a big part of his life.  He loved watching television with Sarah in the evenings, and he loved when a commercial gave him the anticipation of wanting to go out and buy whatever was being advertised.  That sure seemed shallow now.  All of the things and money he had when he was alive, things he thought were so important and so impressive to others,  meant nothing now--not here.  All of those things--everything Joe enjoyed in life...gone...meaningless.

   As if the emotional turmoil now tearing at Joe's emotions weren't enough, Joe was dealt one more crushing realization:  "The warmth...the love...the perfection I felt at the gate...was that God?"   "Yes,"  Joe thought to himself in a moment of sudden insight, "it was God."  Joe now understood that the feelings he had experienced at the gate were the love of a Creator for His children, and the warm light of the Creator's Son.   That thought took Joe completely by surprise--God's Son.  Joe was so sure that there wasn't even a real God, why would this thought of God having a Son suddenly appear?  Then Joe remembered that, while still alive,  Adam had told Joe many times about forgiveness through Jesus who was supposedly the Son of God.  That same message had been reiterated and reinforced by Dave and Tony, and had been completely rejected by Joe. He remembered the words spoken to him at the gate: "its a matter of rejecting."   Joe sadly now understood that it was never a matter of not believing what Christians told him, it was a matter of rejecting the forgiveness of God's Son, Jesus Christ.  Experiencing God's perfection and love at the gate, only to have it torn from him forever, was the cruelest things Joe had ever experienced.

"NO," he screamed at the top of his voice. "It's not fair--that deep a level of love and perfection ripped away, and then I end up in a place like this."  He had barely completed this thought, when he was rocked by yet another devastating realization...

   "How could I have been so stupid?  It all made perfect sense.  Deep down, I knew that all that stuff about Jesus was true.  Why was I too proud and defiant to listen?  I can't even remember now why I was so determined not to listen.  They tried to tell me, and I refused to listen.  I rejected perfect love and forgiveness.  Now I've lost everything...EVERYTHING!"  Instead of sobbing this time, intense anger welled up within Joe.  Not anger toward God or Dave or Tony or Adam, but anger at himself.  It was his fault.  It was his decision.  It was his arrogance.  It was his stupidity.  He felt like such a fool.  He didn't' just feel like a fool, he knew that he was a fool, and the cost of his foolishness is an eternity in this horrid place.  "Why did I let this happen to myself?"  Joe's thoughts flashed back to times during his life that, in anger, he had told people to "go to Hell."  Now, he could hardly believe that those words ever came out of his mouth.  What a profoundly ignorant and asinine thing to have ever said.  He would not wish this place on anyone, no matter how he felt about them.  Joe's mind seemed to teeter on the edge of insanity as he pondered the thought that being trapped in this place was his own fault.

  For the first time since dying, Joe began to accept some of the blame for his situation.  He began yelling out more streams of curses and hatred; but this time, he aimed the curses at himself.  Then he cursed God again.  Then himself.  Then Adam, Dave and Tony.  Then he directed his anger at the other people there in Hell with him.  "Why can't they all stop screaming just for a few seconds?" he thought to himself.  He couldn't stand the constant screaming of so many people, even though the intense pain pouring all through his body made Joe scream out in agony as well.  Then he went back to cursing God,  then to cursing Adam, Dave and Tony, then himself, then more curses aimed at the others there in Hell.  He stopped for just a moment trying to fathom that this was forever.  This was never going to end...NEVER going to end.  There is no hope.  No hope of any kind.  He thought again about all the things he loved that were now gone forever.  All the joys of life he would never have again.  God's love, warmth and perfection now out of his reach for eternity--Joe broke down into more sobs.  Then back to vile cursing.  Then intense screaming.  Abject crying.  Then more cursing.  More sobbing.  More screaming.  More crying.  Cursing...sobbing...screaming...crying...

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