Escape from Hell – chapter 2 – The Court

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.

This is chapter 2. First read Chapter 1: Death.

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.

“We are here,” Abdon announced. How he knew, I have no idea: the tunnel was unending brightness to me. Another step and we were outside of the tunnel and it winked out of existence.

As my eyes adjusted to the lesser-light I discovered we were in a marble foyer before a large oak door in-laid with gold. Abdon opened the door and motioned for me to follow. As soon as the door opened, a strong fragrance of exquisite incense filled my nose. I couldn’t identify the scent as anything I’d ever smelled before. It was, with no pun intended, heavenly. We sat at the back of the court in seats marked ‘Reserved’.

The court was immense, shaped like a stadium but many times larger. The public gallery was the largest part of the court, filled to capacity by more than a hundred and fifty thousand. While some angels were among the crowd the majority of the audience were humans in glowing heavenly bodies. Most wore plain togas like mine, though some wore crowns and had sashes adorned with precious gems. Each toga was embroidered with the person’s first name, and below each name was written ‘Son of God’ or ‘Daughter of God’. The audience was fixated on the court proceedings.

A figure, presumably God, and obscured by light sat on an intricately carved wooden throne on top of a dais. Up one arm of the chair was the carved body of a lamb, on the other a lion.
“That’s surprising; I’d expected God’s throne to be golden,” I whispered, more to myself than Abdon. Abdon shook his head in my peripheral vision.
“His golden throne is in Heaven, though I suspect he treasures this one more. It was hand-crafted by his Son; a gift of love on his return.”

Before the dais were two simple tables, undoubtedly defence and prosecution. The defence lawyer had his back to us but he was wearing a white toga with a plain deep red sash. At the prosecution table were two men and a stunningly beautiful woman, all dressed in impeccable Western-style suits. The good-looking prosecutor with blond hair and a square jaw was standing behind the table speaking.

High above us the roof was burnished gold. There was an engraving on it with huge lettering. Though it was not written in English or any Earthly alphabet, I could read it. It started with ‘You shall have no other gods before me’… Though I didn’t know them word-for-word, I guessed they were the Ten Commandments.

It was only then I realised my eyes were seeing further than they should be able to: I could read the embroidery on a garment three hundred metres away with ease. I could also hear far more acutely. More than that-
The thought was cut off by a wave of nausea. I felt dizzy and lurched forward, Abdon steadied me.
“It’s okay,” he said reassuringly, “you’ll adapt to it in a few minutes. Your heavenly body has more acute senses than your earthly body; it takes some acclimatising, especially when in a crowd for the first time.”

That was an understatement like saying an ocean is fit for a bath. My five human senses were all massively heightened, but the most disorienting was my sixth sense. In the presence of all of these people, or whatever we were now… wow. I could perceive the emotions of everyone. I felt their emotions and had an emotional response in return. Like a stranger’s voice in mob I couldn’t determine the source of the emotions but I was inundated by them.
“If you focus on a single individual, you can tune their emotion to the foreground. Or you can tune them all to the background,” Abdon advised. It took me several minutes to master dulling the deluge. “It’s normal; all humans go through the same adjustment. I’ve heard it’s very disorientating.”

I began to experiment on tuning in on individuals. With some embarrassment I found those who’d witnessed my ‘adjustment’ feeling sympathetic toward me. I smiled weakly and they returned feelings of acceptance. More than that, deeper; love. From complete strangers.
“So Abdon, can everyone sense my emotions too?” I whispered, aware how far my voice may travel.
“Is there a way to hide them?”
Abdon looked confused.
“My emotions, can I keep them to myself?”
He turned to me. “Why would you want to do that?”

The implications of it suddenly dawned on me: everyone in Heaven was so intimately connected they shared all of their emotions. It would be like knowing, and being known, in a way that was never reached on Earth, even in the most intimate relationships. People were innately willing to be completely honest and vulnerable with one another. I had a lot to learn about Heaven.

As I recovered from my sensory overload I realised the previous case was finishing. A massive African-American was standing at the defence table with his back to me, broad-shouldered and heavily muscled. Every inch of visible skin was tattooed, and none of the tattoos were kosher. He was a gang-banger, the kind of person you would avoid anywhere. He turned around in a slow circle to view the entirety of the public gallery.

He was no longer intimidating; tear-stained, emotionally broken but with a look of awe in his eyes. I sensed a feeling of great wonder, amazement and thankfulness from him.

He was no longer intimidating. His face was tear-stained. He was emotionally broken but had a look of awe in his eyes. I sensed a feeling of great wonder, amazement and thankfulness from him.

God brought down the gavel which was literally accompanied by a peal of thunder. The defendant slowly hugged the defence lawyer in humility and near-disbelief. The surge of thankfulness exponentially increased and he lifted the defence lawyer off his feet in a huge embrace. The lawyer laughed aloud and hugged him back, kissing him on the cheek.

An angel walked to the defence tables and presented a white robe to the lawyer, who helped put it on the defendant. ‘Jerome, Son of God’ was embroidered upon it above the heart. Jerome threw his arms up in celebratory fists and pivoted around again.

The entire public gallery exploded in unrestrained joy. The happiness in the room was infectious, and wave upon wave of euphoria washed over me, far beyond anything I’d ever experienced. Such incredible – pure – happiness. All throughout the court the audience was cheering, hugging one another and wiping away tears of joy. Some even broke out in song, singing in a unison of praise for God and Jesus.

After a while Jerome raised his hands, signalling for quiet. It took some time before the audience’s joy could be restrained. Jerome dropped to his knees before the Judge. His arms remained upraised in an act of surrender and wonder, a physical act that mirrored what his heart was yelling at my sixth sense.
“Thank you, Father. You are a righteous Judge and yet so incredibly merciful. And thank you, Jesus.” he said turning to his lawyer, “You rescued me. All glory to you.”
His words were enough to ignite another round of celebration from the audience.

“It never ceases to amaze me how good Jesus is at getting acquittals,” a nearby man said to his companion. “It doesn’t matter how many times I see it, every single one is still as amazing as the first time.”
“That’s why this place is so popular,” his companion replied.

My eyes were drawn to the only three in the court not celebrating; the prosecution team. Square-jaw was sitting, staring into nothing. He reminded me of a volcano seconds from a cataclysmic eruption. The woman was rubbing his shoulders, her efforts ignored. The third prosecutor was trying to extinguish the celebrations with his glare. I tried to tune in on them and got nothing.
“It is not wise to examine darkness, lest it spread to you,” Abdon warned, and I stopped trying. The festivities continued for a long time before the Judge called for order.
“There is much to be thankful for in the previous verdict and yet others await. Let the next case begin,” God declared.

An angel at the front of the court called my name. I stood up with Abdon and we walked forward together. He directed me to the defence table and sat in the row behind.

The defence lawyer greeted me with an intimate embrace, long and hard. It was a hug of friendship even though we’d just met. I felt uncomfortable but returned the hug to be polite.
“Jesus, I presume?” I asked, still in the embrace. I wasn’t much into man-hugs but there was something nice about it. I could sense he really cared about me, and always had. He had a strong scent of wood, such that I expected to see a chisel nearby.
“The one and only,” Jesus said as he let me go and showed crude nail holes bored through his hands.
“Woah,” I said, honestly shocked at the sight. All of the stories I’d heard in Sunday School… I wondered how much of it was real and accurate? Perhaps more than I’d realised.
“If we could get underway your Honour?” the prosecutor asked as he rose.
“So ordered, please begin.”
The prosecutor continued, “If it pleases the court, I would like to move straight onto the review of the defendant’s life.”
“You may.”

In the space between the tables and God a three-dimensional holographic-like display appeared. As Abdon had advised me would happen – every word, thought and deed that I had ever had or done was reviewed in heavenly-enhanced detail. It was a replay of my life, beginning when I was about aged two. It reviewed the events of my life, including the emotions and thoughts of everyone involved, no matter how tangentially. The emotions of the events broadcast throughout the stadium like audio out of a surround-sound system.

The court watched as a three year-old me with chocolate stained-mouth told my mother I didn’t know where the cookies had gone. I felt her disappointment and frustration at trying to teach me right from wrong.

We watched me growing up, getting into schoolyard fights where I felt the physical pain I’d inflicted on others. I sensed the emotional hurt my taunts had caused and witnessed how those events rippled outwards. Callous words or actions which continued to affect the individuals and those around them long after I’d forgotten the event. The ramifications of my actions and inaction were far broader than I’d ever considered. A stray thought or word could caused collateral damage as surely as a bullet would.

I was embarrassed as the entire court watched my first sexual encounter in the back of a car. I had convinced myself I was in love… months later I had no problem dumping her and bragging about the experience with my mates. Now I realised I’d been selfish. I knew that my proclamations of love and subsequent betrayal were a contradiction in heavenly logic. Ashamed, I felt her sense of loss at not being a virgin when she married a decade later. While she’d ultimately made the decision, I had certainly manipulated as best I could. And the whole court had witnessed my short-term, selfish attitude.
“It was the dumb mistake of a kid,” I explained to Jesus who sat quietly at my side.

We watched as I passed by a homeless man, pretending not to notice him. I’d justified it by thinking he’d spend anything I gave on booze. Now I saw how to him I was just another passerby who ignored his plight. I felt the social isolation and dysfunction solidify within him because of me. A kind word would have blessed him more than loose-change.

Like a painful catalogue the intense scrutiny went on. My second-and-third glance at a woman walking past were harmless in Earthly perspectives, but here my lustful thoughts and desires were revealed. I was deeply embarrassed as the fantasies of my mind were displayed for all to see. Was it fair that I had absolutely no privacy? Was I really being judged for such trivialities as ogling a woman?

It wasn’t all bad though. I did experience the pleasure of friends and family when I was with them. I felt the gratitude of the elderly as I delivered Meals-on-Wheels while at University. I hadn’t appreciated how much those visits and minutes of idle chit-chat had meant to so many of the older folk. Knowing now how it made them feel, I wish I’d done it more.

We watched my early twenties, where I’d started to drink a lot. I’d never gotten blind-drunk but unfortunately it had loosened my lips. Again, careless words cut far deeper than intended.
“My inhibitions were lowered… and I apologised the next day,” I whispered.

In my mid twenties I’d sold a car or two, down-playing the mechanical problems. At the time I’d felt OK about it: ‘buyer beware’ and all that. That excuse was hollow here as we watched the later disappointment, anger and stress it gave the unlucky buyer.

Likewise I’d ‘padded out’ or been a little creative in how I’d described my skills and experience on my résumé a few times.
“I had a family to support.” I said to explain the context, “We’d have lost the house if I didn’t get a good salary. And I busted my arse; I made them a lot more money than they paid me. It ended up being a win-win for both of us.”

Intellectually I knew the process of reviewing my life – especially with all the tangential side-effect reviews – must have taken a very long time, but here it didn’t seem to matter. The concept of time was completely different. If there even was a concept of time at all. No one got bored, tired or distracted… part of me wished they had at the really embarrassing points.

I realised from my perspective the good outweighed the bad. The real question though was how did God view those events? At crucial points the prosecution would stop the ‘playback’ and dissect and highlight the aspects that weren’t favourable to me.

Finally the replay got to the moment where my hatchback folded up like an accordion. My very last thought on Earth had been thinking the oncoming driver was an idiot.
“He was killing me. If you can’t be mad at the guy killing you, when can you be mad?” I muttered in self-defence.

I started to worry that I might be in trouble. The emotion in the room was one of palpable sadness. I kept waiting for Jesus to stand up and object to something the prosecutor was saying and yet he remained silent, listening politely. I felt sick – I just wanted it to be over. I needed Jesus to do some magic to turn the case around like he had for Jerome the gang-banger.

With the playback over the prosecution turned to face us.
“The prosecution has one final question for Jesus: Are you friends with this man?”
“No, as you well know, Accuser,” Jesus replied in clipped words.
“The evidence speaks for itself. The accused is guilty, and the prosecution sees no need to prolong the inevitable,” the prosecutor said with a smile that said he’d gotten exactly what he wanted.

Jesus stood up, holed-palms against the table. Here it was, I thought. If Jesus could get the gang-banger off then he’d have no problem with my small indiscretions. I could hardly wait for the room to burst into jubilation on my behalf.
“Sadly there is nothing I can add. The defence, regrettably, rests.” Jesus sat down.

“Objection, your Honour!” I yelled, jumping from my seat. “That’s what you call a defence?” I accused Jesus. Why had he betrayed me? The emotion from the audience turned cold at my thought. My mind was reeling too much to care.
“You may not object,” God said. “Only Jesus is recognised in this court for the defendant.”
“He doesn’t seem to be defending me,” I said, my mouth racing ahead of my brain. A universal gasp came from the public gallery.
“Sit down!” God ordered, an edge of anger in his voice for the first time. My body sat automatically without conscious thought. I turned to Jesus, confused.
“I’m sorry, but what about all the good things I have done? I’ve donated thousands to charities over the years. I’ve helped many people; done many selfless acts. You saw them all.”
Jesus shook his head. “Your actions are irrelevant. It is not a question of quantity. Even Mother Teresa if she’d come here with her actions alone, would have been found guilty. No amount of good deeds can make you righteous.”
“I’m not righteous enough, but that gang-banger Jerome is? He’s somehow better than me?”
“You are not judged against other humans, but against the standard set by God himself. No human’s conduct is good enough; it is only through relationship with me that men can be saved. I alone am the way, the truth and the life.”
“But I did know you,” I protested, pivoting my argument, “You saw how I went to Sunday school classes as a boy. I know about Noah… and about how you died on the cross for my sins. I remember that Bible verse that’s always on the billboards: John 3:16, ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son… whoever believes in him shall be saved.’
Jesus shook his head and spoke with sadness. “You know of me, but you don’t know me. Sadly, we never got to know each other as I wanted us too.”
“I really want to know you now. I’ve seen what Heaven is like, and I can feel God’s goodness… I want to know you. I want to go to Heaven, please.”
Jesus shook his head. “You are judged for your time on Earth. It is too late now.”

God spoke again, his voice now full of compassion.
“Is there nothing that can be done for this child, Son?”
Jesus answered, “Nothing Father. He called upon us several times when in need but even when we helped him he didn’t glorify us. Nor did he ever acknowledge us as the source of all of the good things he enjoyed. Throughout his life he had many opportunities to know us. He crossed paths with my beloved multiple times and was always too selfish for his own good. He lived his life the way he wanted. He did not seek us, and would not listen when I called to him. Though we knew him intimately, he never knew us. He did not choose to add his name to the Book of Life.”

A great murmur of sadness went through the crowd. It sounded like a death knell in my ears.
God spoke with resignation.
“It gives me no pleasure to do this and in fact I loathe it. Wrong has been committed and there must be a reckoning. I sent my Son to pay your blood-debt, and all you had to do in response was recognise him. We could not have made it easier for you, and yet you chose not to accept him.
“Justice demands that sin cannot go unpunished and your lack of belief has meant the punishment must fall on your own shoulders. I have no choice but to declare you guilty of all charges brought by the Slanderer.”

The prosecution team clapped loudly, congratulating each other with smiles and hand-shakes. I looked around and the public gallery was muttering in sadness to one another; I could sense only sorrow from them.
“Thank you, your Honour. A just decision-” the lead prosecutor offered. A feeling of anger shook the room like crashing thunder. The prosecutor stopped mid-sentence with a look of unmitigated panic on his face.

I persisted, unwilling to accept the judgement. This seemed like the time to go ‘all in’ and hold nothing back.
“Your Honour – God. Having seen all of this… the movie of my life and now understanding how selfish I was I truly am sorry for my actions. I didn’t realise what I was doing at the time. I didn’t understand how my actions were impacting others, including you. I wish I could take back the pain that I caused.”
“I know you are sorry, but sadly it is too late. If only you had known my Son and I while on Earth. I am Just and the penalty for un-confessed sin has been set since the beginning of Time and applies to all equally,” God replied.
I turned to Jesus, “Can we appeal?”
“There is no reason for appeal, the judgement is just.” He sensed my next question and continued, “There are no extenuating circumstances. It doesn’t matter what happened to you, but how you reacted to it. You have made your choices in life and now you reap the consequences in the afterlife. I am sorry, I would have liked to personally show you around Heaven.”

The lead prosecutor smugly turned to Abdon, “Take him away,” he gestured dismissively with his hand. Abdon was standing but didn’t move until Jesus nodded. Abdon chained my wrists together,
“I am sorry you have been found guilty and must be treated accordingly.”

Continue reading Chapter 3: Hell

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