Friday, April 19, 2013

Flash Fiction Challenge: Choose Your Opening Line

A Special Place in Hell
by Kristin Mireles

   This week's Flash Fiction Challenge is called "Choose Your Opening Line."  It reminds me of when I was a kid and I would read the "Choose Your Own Adventure" series.  Those were so much fun!  Anyway, here's my entry:

   “You must walk three paces behind me,” she said.  “And never raise your eyes to mine.”
   Dan thought it was a weird request, but he followed obediently.  Hell, why not.  I'm up for anything.  He had never met anyone like Vickie, and he couldn't wait to get to know her better.  
   He met her after stepping out the back door of his favorite restaurant for a cigarette.  
   Dan needed to get away from the tension after witnessing a woman raise all kinds of hell and flat-out refuse to pay her bill because she and the rest of her table didn't like the food -- even though they ate all of it.  
   He lit up, and a gorgeous, slender 6-foot-tall brunette with a little red dress came up from out of nowhere and asked to borrow a cigarette.  The way she looked, she could have asked to borrow his soul, and he wouldn't have denied her.  
  They laughed together as they talked about the obnoxious restaurant customers, and as their cigarettes were almost completely burned out, she put her hand on his arm and said, barely above a whisper, "Wanna see something you'll never forget?"
   And now here he was, going down this crazy path.  He thought it might be something cool, like an underground club.  It turned out to be literally underground.  
   "Hey, aren't you even going to give me a hint about where we're going?"
   "I promise, Dan, you've never been anywhere like it."
   She flashed a smile and said, "You know those people who are always assholes to salespersons, who run restaurant servers around like they're their personal staff, who abuse receptionists and other customer service workers?  
"Because they made these workers' lives hell on Earth, they will have a special place to serve in Hell."
   Vickie lit the pathway with her iPhone, carefully descending steps that finally came to a huge, concrete brick archway with a sign above it that read, "This will not end well."
   Exactly what I was just thinking, Dan thought.  A chill crept up his spine as they passed through.
   Vickie stopped at a doorway that revealed a room full of terrible screams.  Dan looked in to see people trying in vain to soothe screaming infants and puppies.  
   "This is the first circle," Vickie said.  "These are customers who -- just like colicky infants and puppies suffering separation anxiety -- were innocently unaware that their constant demands for attention made extra work for those whose job it was to help them. They will have no rest."      
   Further down, the second circle revealed people chained behind a desk, with thousands of hands grasping for them from all directions because in life they selfishly acted as if they were the only customers who mattered.  
   In the third spiral, people were walking up steep hills carrying enormous sacks because each of them became an impossible burden on society by habitually trying to work the system for discounts or free meals.  
   A disturbing scene opened up to Dan when Vickie brought him to the fourth circle of Hell, full of giant, oozing globs of ... people?!?
   "These were those who worked in management, and never backed their employees when customer complaints came up," she explained. 
   "Let me guess ... they have to go all eternity without a spine, since they never really had one in life," Dan said.
   "Exactly," Vickie said with a satisfied smile.
   The circles of Hell that followed were each a great spectacle.  In the fifth circle, those who would bully and yell at people in the service and retail industry were confined to a concrete cell echoing with piercing shrieks that would ring in their ears for all eternity.  
   Unfortunate souls in the sixth circle were made to walk back and forth, without a rest, because in life they would constantly enter a store right before closing.
   Vickie led him to the seventh circle, reserved for managers who played political games with their employees.  
   "Because spiritually, they were such vile creatures in life, these sinners would be forced to become one of the most vile creatures that ever walked the Earth -- cockroaches, constantly having to run away from a giant foot.  After being stomped, they would black out, and wake up again as new cockroaches, running around until they are squashed again."
   Dan shuddered all the way to the eighth circle, full of people who would take up a commissioned salesperson's time with hours of negotiations, only to take that deal to the competitor's business. 
   "Isn't that what the salespeople were there for?" Dan asked. 
   "Commissioned salespeople are not paid by the hour.  If I wanted you to go mow my lawn, pull all the weeds, and trim all the hedges and told you to do it for free, what would you tell me?"
   "Hell no!  That's hard work!  I would expect you to pay me for that shit!"
   "Exactly.  These people are essentially stealing valuable time and labor.  That's why they will spend all eternity in the trenches of Hell, doing hard labor without reward."
   The ninth circle was the most disgusting.  People who would give condescending lectures to customer service personnel who didn't kiss their ass were stung by a million buzzing bees that never died, while stuck waist-deep in a steaming vat of dung. 
   Dan's nostrils were burning from the olfactory assault. 
   "Are you ready to go back?  I think we've seen enough today," Vickie said after she looked at her watch.
   Dan was relieved.  He couldn't stand the smell any longer.  
   As Dan resurfaced, he turned around to see the obnoxious family leaving the restaurant, complaining loudly.  Clearly, no amount of free food would appease them.  
   When he looked back, Vickie was gone.  He quickly went back to the bar and closed out his tab.  His bill came to $41.23.
  "Here, thanks for the great service.  Keep the change," he said as he gave the server a $100 bill.  The server stood there in shock as Dan smiled, then walked out of the restaurant, knowing he had made someone's night.

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