Escape from Hell – chapter 1 – Death

Escape from Hell is a fictional, faith-based novelette I’ve written, chronicling the journey of one man into Hell. It is a creative piece where I’ve let my imagination unspool and is intended for adults. Aspects of the subject matter will be unpalatable to some; while it is not my intention to inflict the reader, I have portrayed Hell graphically.

Copyright © 2019 by Ben Ezard. All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the author, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.

I was dead and I knew it. That thought alone caused my brain to seize up. The words endlessly reverberated against my consciousness, completely overwhelming any other thought. I’m dead. I’m dead. I’m dead.

It took me a long time to move beyond that thought; eventually the shock receded and the mental-block began to crumble. Like the tide ebbing in, the ramifications of my situation seeped up to my consciousness.

I’d always assumed I’d live into my 70’s or 80’s. I’d imagined myself dying from a heart attack while gardening or, best-case scenario, drifting off to sleep one night and never waking.

Peaceful. Placid. Timely.

I’d never even considered I might die from a long-term illness or in tragic circumstances. I’d anticipated death would be accompanied by a warning, a death-rattle of sorts. There would be gradual signs of declining health as my peers began to die around me. I would live and grow old – and then when it was time and I’d lived a full life – then, I would die.

I now realised that my entire life plan had been nothing more than a hope-filled expectation. Death had approached far more stealthily and with instantaneous speed. I hadn’t seen it coming, uninvited and without forewarning.

At the young age of 36 life had just been getting underway. I had a wife and young daughter that I loved. I’d worked hard for a decade to establish my career and had started paying off our dream home.

Only now, life was over. Finished. My brain struggled to reconcile reality had radically shifted under me.

My life was gone.

I hadn’t expected that when I left for work this morning. And yet that’s where I now found myself.

There was no escaping the results of my last memory: an oncoming semi-trailer drifting into my lane. It’d all happened too fast, too close. I got my hand to the horn and tried to pull away, but it wasn’t enough. The juggernaut of death had hit me with the sounds of screeching tires and crunching metal and a final colossal bang as my head hit the windscreen. Road-train vs sedan: my life ended in a dozen adrenalin-fuelled heartbeats.

Even the fact that I still had awareness was a total surprise. My firm conviction had always been that there was nothing beyond death. I’d always considered the notion of an afterlife to be a premise adopted by a weak, albeit understandable, fear of ones’ own mortality. And yet here I found myself, conscious after death. Clearly, I’d been wrong. Was this it now? Trapped and immobile for eternity, surrounded by darkness? Or was there more?

As I looked out into the pitch blackness I began to experience revelations – some large, some small; important and unimportant. I remembered interactions with others and really understood their motivations for the first time. I realised what they said was only a tiny part of the spectrum of communication. Like a child who only recognised letters and then suddenly could comprehend a language fully, that was the scale of my insight. It wasn’t just a leap-forward in emotional intelligence, other aspects of intelligence were also improving. Complicated formulae around fluid dynamics which I’d struggled with at University became perfectly obvious. It was as though my brain was becoming super-charged and no longer corralled by bias, experience or limited understanding.

Primary among these revelations was the permanence of death. Permanent: as in never, ever, ever changing. During my life I’d used the word ‘permanent’ plenty of times, not realising how flawed my concept had been. I thought I’d be permanently married- and yet it had been just a few years. At most it would have been seventy years. A microscopic length of time when translated onto the timeline of history. Even a mountain range might take thousands of years to erode but it was still temporary. Every time I’d used the word ‘permanent’ I had actually meant temporary, until now. I knew my death was permanent in the truest sense of the word.

Instinctively I understood that my consciousness was trapped inside my broken and mangled body. Though seeing, my eyes had a fixed stare straight-ahead. I couldn’t feel my body, which was probably a mercy. Being completely paralysed and looking into unmitigated darkness should have been terrifying and yet I had a strange sense of peace blanketing me. I knew this was a time of waiting. The enticing smell of freshly baked bread began to permeate the air. I’d always loved bread.

For a brief time I thought of all the people whom I’d just left behind: my wife and daughter, parents, friends and co-workers. They’d be shocked hearing of my death, and feel the searing pain of it. My absence would leave a wound in their lives. My wife and daughter and parents, would mourn me the most. Though I regretted their pain, strangely my own emotions were muted, nothing more than an aloof sadness. All of my memories and thoughts of my former life were fleeting, slipping away from my consciousness within seconds. Trying to hold onto the thought made no difference. If a human life was so infinitesimal when measured against the truly-permanent, how much shorter would my loved ones’ sadness be?

When I considered the life I had, I didn’t mind there were things undone on my ‘bucket list’… I’d planned to visit Spain, learn to fly a plane, and retire at a beach-front property. Many goals were still undone, and it didn’t matter to me one iota. If I had the chance to swap every achievement in my life for a minute to say goodbye to those I loved I’d accept it immediately.

And yet I somehow knew it wasn’t a possibility.

It seemed cruel to have a clear perspective on what was important in life, now that it had gone. Even that sense of regret disappeared quickly, lingering only as long as morning dew in summer.

As cruel as it might sound, the people and events of my life – even my death – were now irrelevant. They were all in the past, temporary.

This was permanent.

A sudden pin-prick of bright light appeared in my peripheral vision. I watched in awe as the light began to widen. I had no doubt I was witnessing the ‘tunnel of light’ as described in near-death experiences. At the centre of the tunnel there was a Being walking toward me, and the tunnel moved closer with every step it took.

I couldn’t help but feel small and inconsequential in the Being’s presence. If I were a candle, it was the sun. He wore a robe of red with a golden sash around his chest and radiated power, confidence and strength far beyond any human. Soon the Being was standing over me. He crouched beside me with a warm broad smile.

“Do not be afraid, son of man. My name is Abdon and I have been sent to give you a great gift.” He spoke at a normal volume, and yet his voice had authority that projected into the darkness like a megaphone, “By the authority given to me by the Author of Life, I command you human to be born into your eternal body.”

A cold tingle rushed through me, from the skin of my scalp to my toe nails. It was as though every atom in my body began vibrating wildly with an ecstatic pleasure. The sensation was intense and all-enveloping, a molecular massage which filled me with an incredible warmth and sense of wellbeing. It was unlike anything I’d ever experienced and I didn’t want it to end. Gradually though, like a long-held hug must come to an end the tingle dissipated.

“Feels amazing, right?” Abdon said as he reached out and took my hand, pulling me to a standing position. My eternal body felt weightless and invincible, far stronger and more agile than my human body had ever been. I looked down at my new body; it was similar in appearance to my old body, but glowed faintly and was semi-translucent. I wore a Roman-style toga, similar to what Abdon wore, without the gold. I started to turn, curious to see what my old body looked like-
“Do not look,” Abdon warned. At his instruction the desire to look vanished. It wasn’t that I couldn’t look, I trusted him. We walked away from the wreckage of my earthly body into the tunnel of light.

My tongue and curiosity finally overcame my sense of wonder.
“Are you an angel? Some kind of ascended being?”
Abdon laughed and shook his head, “Not in the way you mean ‘ascended’. I have always been as I am. Angel is one word humans use to describe us. We prefer to think of ourselves as Messengers and Servants of the Most High God.”
“Okay,” I said as though it answered my question, instead of giving me another dozen. “So why does it smell of bread?”
“Because you like the smell of bread and this place is designed to be pleasing to both you and God.”
“God likes hot bread?”
“Jesus did. And God likes everything pleasing to you, as long as it isn’t harmful.”
“Sounds good. Are we going to Heaven?”
“To the outer courts of Heaven. All must be judged when they arrive.”
“Hang on a minute… judged? Judged for what?” I asked.
“For your actions and your inactions; for every word you spoke and every thought of your heart and mind. For the very sum of your life on Earth.”
I stopped walking. “And what if I don’t want to be judged?”
“All must be judged, there is no alternative, for it is Written,” Abdon said, somehow enunciating the capital letter. His words had a ring of truth. If there was no alternative then it was something that had to be done, like paying taxes. The very prospect of discomfort was unpleasant. Who wants to be in front of a Judge?
Abdon took my silence for confusion. He motioned me onward and explained, “God is Just. His very nature insists that justice occur; that means each person must be fully judged for their life.”

Although still uneasy, the more I thought about it, the more relaxed I became. I wasn’t worried, not really. I’d led a pretty good life. Not perfect, still almost everyone said I was a great guy. I hadn’t made any big mistakes and I’d done more than my share of good deeds. I’d be okay. Besides, I’d never found a situation I couldn’t reason or talk my way out of. If God was as fair as advertised, I was ‘in’.
“What is Heaven like?” I asked, trying without success to keep the kid-at-Christmas-morning out of my voice.
“Its beauty is currently beyond your ability to comprehend. Your heavenly body is still acclimatising. When a baby is born he must explore his environment to understand it, your heavenly body is the same.
“In time you will find all the beauty of Earth is like a single dry crumb compared to the great feast of Heaven. Think of a moment of extreme and complete happiness – multiply it by infinity and then realise that moment is permanent. That is Heaven. God dwells there, and where He is there is peace, love, joy and goodness forever.”
“Sounds… amazing.”
“And so it is,” Abdon said, “We’re almost at the court, I must explain the process. In the Judgement the prosecution will go first and then there will be rebuttal by the defence, followed by the ruling. The outcome of the case will determine whether you can enter Heaven.”
“It sounds similar to normal court,” I said. I’d never actually been inside a courtroom, but I’d seen about a thousand Judge Judy shows.
“Only as a horse is similar to a cow,” Abdon said.
“Human judges are often so confused. Many do not understand what truth and justice are, so they cannot dispense it.” Abdon’s tone darkened, “Others are easily swayed by weak human logic or bribed by hidden incentives. Your Earthly courts are a broken and poor imitation of true Justice. Here God is Judge and he is both perfectly just and merciful in every ruling.”
“Will I have a lawyer, someone to defend me or do I speak for myself?” I was confident of my speaking ability if given a little time to compose myself, as long as the court wasn’t too formal.
Abdon chuckled as though he’d heard my thought.
“No, the prosecutor would eat you for lunch. You’ll have a court-appointed defence lawyer.”
“Is he any good?”
“You could say that: he’s the Son of God, and he’s the very best.”

I felt a thrill of celebration. Surely having the son of the Judge defending me, appointed by the Judge, had to give me an excellent chance of victory. I could almost taste that heavenly feast now, and I think it was more than the intoxicating fragrance of hot bread.

Abdon said I couldn’t conceive Heaven… If what I’d already experienced in this place – the feelings of peace, contentment, invincibility… If this was an entrée, I was hungry for the whole meal.

Continue onto chapter 2: The Court

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