Prompt Day #79: If Hell were a travel destination for tourists, what would their vacation be like? Be a tour guide for your characters—or describe it from their point of view from the second they arrive.
Confession: This is a re-worked version of a story I had written last year. I changed a few things and I like it a bit better. There’s still room to improve, there always is. But today, I am on call and I have a baby coming so I can’t be sure I’d finish otherwise. I know it doesn’t exactly stay true to the prompt but in a round about way, it does. I still like it a lot though and I hope you do too.
Come to Hell
Pulling his silver BMW into the spot marked “Reserved for Creative Director”, Michael “Mick” Venner smiled. Life was good. Creative Director of a popular advertising company, a healthy, good looking 47 year old with everything going for him; he had acquired a reputation as ‘The Fixer’. Companies whose names had been tarnished by poor products or law suits for customer injuries came to him and he created ads that brought the lambs back into the fold. Mick sold trust and he was good at it.
He walked in to the office with his usual swagger, winking at Erica the receptionist. “Hello, Beautiful, any calls?” He asked.
“Nothing important” She smiled.
“Good girl, keep it that way. I have a lot to go over, no interruptions. Got it?”
Erica saluted him. “Got it.”
He’d had her after last year’s Christmas party. He’d had most of the women in this office at least once, very few were worth a second go ‘round. Plus, he was married and didn’t believe in having affairs. Much like his ability to sell a product with a bad reputation, he could somehow charm people into forgetting how shallow he was. Of course, the year-round tan, muscular physique, and Kennedy smile didn’t hurt. Women naturally felt lucky to even be noticed by him and after a one night stand, they frequently went on believing that he’d be back for more. Erica had been working towards that goal since last December. Forget it, Sweets, he thought, if I wanted saggy tits, I’d have sex with my wife.
He grabbed a coffee, black as always, and headed into his office. Mick’s department was currently working on new ads for a once top-rated and now despised oil company featuring ocean creatures, he’d tried to talk them out of it but they insisted. So here he sat pouring over videos of dolphins and seagulls frolicking about in the rays of a giant glowing logo sign which, like a search light, was scouring the sea for pollution. Everywhere the light touched, the water became crystal clear. It was a work in progress but the best he could do with the material his people submitted. As Creative Director, he no longer had to come up with the ideas, just accept, reject or polish them up and present them to the client. Mick rubbed his temples. He had a headache already. He sipped his coffee. Swallowing, he felt a pain shoot through his neck and settle in his left shoulder. He rotated his arm around thinking he must have pulled a muscle golfing yesterday. But the pain got worse and his stomach threatened to send the coffee back. He was sweating and found it hard to breathe. I’m having a fucking heart attack he thought. The pain was becoming unbearable. He hit the page button on his intercom.
“Yes, Mick, I mean Mr. Venner, what can I do for you, Sir?” Erica answered with a flirtatious lilt to her voice.
“Erica,” he grunted, “I need you in here.” This second part was whispered as he couldn’t seem to take in enough air to properly operate his vocal cords.
“Oh, yeah?” she asked, assuming this was a come on, “Well, let me just go freshen up first.” He was losing the battle to remain conscious and his finger slipped off the button just before he muttered his last word “No.” At that, Mick Venner, Creative Director, the fixer of bad reputations, collapsed dead.
“Hello, Mick,” a voice said. It sounded familiar yet he was sure he’d never heard it before. He opened his eyes, unsure of what had happened just now. He was sitting at his desk but the office was all wrong. Everything was black and moldy. The walls appeared to be melting or undulating and the floor must have been made of glass because he could see right through it to what appeared to be a pit of lava below. I’m sitting on top of a volcano he mused.
“Mick, really, I need you to focus. Never mind the décor; you need to pay attention to me. Do you know who I am?” The voice asked. Mick looked at the figure in the chair which usually sat across from his desk but now sat leaning against the corner to his left. The figure in it was tipping the chair back like some high school kid. He was lanky, long legged, and thin. He was wearing jeans and a Slayer tee shirt. Mick’s first thought was that the guy looked like Vincent Price in his hey-day when he played all the mad scientists then something shifted and he looked more like Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life. Not crazy at all but trustworthy and all American.
“Nope, never seen you before in my life. Where are we anyways, what happened?” Mick asked watching the man (was it a man?) shift back and forth between the nefarious and the heroic faces of old Hollywood.
“Mick, you seriously don’t know me? Come on, you’re breaking my heart. I think you need to ponder it for a bit and it will come to you. In the meantime, think of me as just another customer. I need your help, Mick. And I am ready to make you an offer you can’t refuse.” The now Vincent Price face smiled and let the chair’s front two legs hit the glass floor. When they did, there was a cracking sound and Mick watched in horror as a large fracture worked its way across the room and under the desk. He heard a few new splits start off in other directions.
“Hey! Do you see where we are? Watch what you’re doing there, this floor’s gonna break and that will be the end of us!” Mick yelled, jumping up and backing away from the growing fissure.
Vincent-face grinned. His countenance changed, and to go with it, he was now wearing a black three piece suit. “The end has come and gone for both of us, Mr. Venner. That is why we need each other now. I’d like you to listen to my proposal, it appears by the size of that rift in the floor that we haven’t much time. Shall I continue?” Mick was dumbfounded. He nodded. The Vincent-face changed into the Jimmy-face and he leaned forward on a cane which Mick could have sworn was not there before.
“I’m a business man, Mr. Venner. To run my business properly, I need customers. This wasn’t a problem for me until recently. You see, there used to be two options for travel in the after-life; up there,” he signaled with his cane, “and here, with me. Human nature, being what it is, what it has always been, supplied me with plenty of clientele. You understand, Mr. Venner, after all, here you are with me.” His face flashed to Vincent for the smile then quickly back to Jimmy. “Now, there’s all this science and with human nature being so damned egotistical, many have decided that rather than believe in Heaven or Hell, they just believe in nothing, and when you believe in nothing, Mick, where can you go when you die?” He paused long enough to watch Mick’s mouth fall slightly open as if dumbfounded. “Nowhere, that’s where. So the only ones left believing anything are the hard core cross-huggers and as much as I’d love to get my hands on them, they are not in my jurisdiction”
“You’re the Devil?” Mick asked then answered himself “Oh my God, you’re the Devil and I’m in Hell, right? Why? Why would I be in Hell? I haven’t been that bad, I’ve never killed anybody, I’ve…”
“Mr. Venner, please!” The now Vincent-face interrupted, punctuating the statement by hitting his cane on the floor like a gavel. Spider webs spread out beneath it and worked their way across the floor. A piece of glass the size of a bed pillow fell into the lava and a blast of heat rose up through the opening.
“But, what did I do?” Mick asked again.
“Mr. Venner, you have committed a number of deadly sins including greed, lust, and pride. You are a false prophet. You make your money with lies.” The Vincent Devil sighed. “Now, may I proceed?” Mick nodded, pale faced, his mouth too dry to speak.
“I want more people to come to Hell. I need more clients, more patrons. I can’t count on the bad behavior of believers such as yourself, there just aren’t that many left. I need you to create the best ad campaign of your sorry life. I want people to want to come to hell. And I need you to make that happen. In exchange, I give you a second chance at life. Does this seem fair to you, Mr. Venner?” His question was punctuated by another loud crash as more floor fell into the infernal abyss.
“Yes! Yes! Please give me another chance, I want to live. I’ll come up with something, it’s my specialty!” Mick had pushed his chair against the opposite corner where the floor appeared more solid.
The now Jimmy Stewart face smiled “Well, that’s just great, Mick!” Vincent’s face leaned forward earnestly; “You have 6 months. If I do not see a substantial increase in Hell’s population, our next meeting will be held in my office. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” Mick whispered and passed out.
He opened his eyes to the gentle caress on his face. His wife was there. He looked around, he was in a hospital, the sounds of monitors beeping and wheezing filled the air. She was leaning her head on his chest. He reached up and touched her head. She jumped.
“Mick! Oh my God, Mick you’re awake!” She jumped up, “Stay there, I’m going to go find the nurse!” She ran out. She was such a spaz, he rolled his eyes. He did not have time to sit here and play the patient so she could nurse him back to health as she was fantasizing. He needed to get out of here. After all, he knew he was fine. He had six months, more if he could pull this off, and he would. He had to. Mick had the monitor stickers off and the IV out by the time Kim returned with the nurse.
“Mr. Venner!” “Mick” They yelled simultaneously. He shoved past them and began searching the room for his clothes. He could hear them buzzing behind him, felt Kim grabbing at his arms. He swatted her away like a bug.
“I’m fine and I’m leaving.” He faced the nurse “Whatever paper work you need me to sign, you better have here in five minutes or I’m out of here. I got a lot of shit to do back at the office.” He heard Kim protesting but ignored her. He was dressed, papers were signed and he was on his way to the front doors when he realized he had come via ambulance. He turned around to Kim who was jogging along behind him tears streaming down her face.
“I need you to drop me off at the office,” he said.
“No, Mick. You need to go home and rest. You had a heart attack. You’ve been working too hard,” she sobbed, “just take a couple weeks off. I’ll stay home and take care of you.”
“Kim, staying with you for two weeks straight would give me another heart attack. Now, you can take me back to work or I can take a cab.” He stared at her, daring her to defy him. He promised himself that if, no when he pulled this off, he would divorce her. He was so sick of her ‘perfect little wife’ routine.
“Ok,” she said, defeated.
Mick Venner spent the next three days locked in his office. He refused to speak to anyone, including his boss. He spoke only to Erica and only when he needed something. She brought him food, fresh clothes and messages from Kim. Erica assured him that everyone in the office had been told to leave him be, that he was clearly not well and while he felt the need to physically be in the office he was not to be considered back on the job. She was obviously hoping he’d reward her for taking care of things. Mick shrugged it off. He was on a roll. This campaign would be the best he’d ever created; his only hurdle would be finding the money to front it and talking upper management into putting their stamp of approval on ads aimed at encouraging people to go to Hell.
The money showed up from a company located in Hell, Michigan called Serpent’s Apple Inc. The substantial check was accompanied with explicit instructions that the work was to be done solely by Mr. Michael Venner, and he was to have complete and total control over the campaign.
A month later, and two months into the deal, billboards began cropping up all over the country. Half naked women complete with horns and tails asked the public questions like, “How about a little S&M?” Some stared up at frumpy women covered in white gowns sitting on a big fluffy cloud with the tag line “Why sit on a marshmallow, when you can roast it?” This one was one of Mick’s favorites. He had fun watching the model biting into the melted gooey mess and even more fun helping her clean it off later. She soon starred in another ad this time with a man in a tie, sporting a gold band on his left ring finger. This one’s tagline: “Hell: what happens here, stays here…for eternity.”
Soon, his ‘devil girls’ and their sexy ads had gone viral. They offered cruises on the river Styx and assured you that ‘you can’t get a tan without a little heat’. Everyone was talking about it but no one really knew what he was selling. He needed more. Using all his girls and hiring only the hottest women he could find (this research was exceptionally fun), he developed ALTA (After Life Travel Agency). At ALTA, you could sign up for a guaranteed trip to the paradise of Hell after you died. The travel pamphlets looked great; caves with a warm orange glow, a moonlit river, and gorgeous half naked men and women everywhere. ALTA was a hit. When faced with uncertainty versus a promise of a wanton, no holds barred eternity, people chose the sure thing every time. ALTA offered anyone who signed up free funeral arrangements, cremation, and a great 666 car magnet. It also allowed family to sign their dearly departed up post-humously if the cost of a Christian burial took up too much of their inheritance.
Mick was amazed to see the number of cars proudly sporting the 666 magnet. The protestors marching around outside of every ALTA office did not deter anyone from selling their soul to the ‘in’ thing. Celebrities and the homeless alike proudly proclaimed their after-life plans. Everyone who was anyone was going to the party that promised to last forever.
Mick celebrated the 6 month anniversary of his first death by throwing a party. Although not lasting forever, he did supply a bevy of devil girls and a Hot Damn Schnapps fountain. He was a celebrity himself and enjoyed the perks as much as he could. At midnight, he managed to break away for some fresh air. Walking along the deserted street, he was filled with the sheer joy of life, and his was a good life. He’d kept his part of the deal and he was going to live every second he’d been given.
“Hey, man, can I get a light?” A figure appeared from the shadows. He looked disheveled. Drug addict Mick thought
“Nope, sorry. I don’t smoke. That shit will kill you.” Mick smiled and started to walk away.
“That’s okay, man, guess I just needed a conversation starter,” he said, stepping full from the shadows, gun in hand.
“Whoa, hold up there! I got money, you need some money?” Mick asked, holding his hands up in the universal ‘I surrender’ gesture.
“Don’t need no money,” the man said, gun pointing directly at Mick. He cocked it. “Just need my ticket to Hell.”
“Oh, shit!” Mick laughed, relieved, “You don’t have to do anything like that. I own ALTA, I can personally see to it that you get there when you go. No need for anything so drastic!”
“Rather be sure. Only one way to be sure. Sorry, man.” He pulled the trigger before Mick could say another word. Then the man turned the gun on himself.
“Well, well, well, if it isn’t Michael Peter Venner,” a much younger Vincent Price look-alike said. He was wearing a red silk smoking jacket and sitting on a throne of flames. “Welcome back, my friend.”
“No, no, no” Mick protested, “I did everything you asked. Look around you, the place is packed!” Mick glanced around as he said it. Souls were burning, screaming, reaching out to him, faces bobbed up to the surface of the river that flowed along beside them. No one was having fun. “This was not supposed to happen, we had a deal!”
Vincent-face threw his head back laughing. “And I kept up my end of the deal. I let you have a second chance, didn’t I? You did a good job, Mick, I don’t deny it. But the deal is done, I owe you nothing. It’s not my fault you’re back here. You didn’t change your ways, you didn’t try to be a better person, and there was no specific time promised, was there?”
“Are you kidding me?” Mick yelled, more afraid than angry.
“Not at all, my friend. Let’s not get off on the wrong foot so soon, we have a long time together, don’t we? Now, why don’t I give you a little tour and then I’m sure we can find something that suits your particular talents. While I appreciate the lovely ads you created, I think you’ll see, they may have been a little misleading.”