There’s one way to discern the Highway to Hell from all other highways. It’s a one-way street, it goes downhill from start to finish, and there aren’t any decent landmarks or interesting pieces of scenery to be seen. Just rocks, flames and more rocks.
I guess the only positive thing about driving on the Highway to Hell is that the demon at the start gives you a real bitchin’ car. I’m talking about cars that teenagers pray for. The demon at the start has an entire garage of these supercharged cars, topped up with hi-octane gas and ready to roll. Me, I picked a red Lamborghini Diablo. The demon handed me the keys, I got in, I drove off.
Now the best thing about the Highway to Hell is that there is no speed limit. You can go as damn fast as you can, and there isn’t going to be one single cop or speed camera or anything. I guess that’s why more people get into Hell than Heaven. I mean, to get there, you have to take the Stairway to Heaven, which is basically just a really big spiral staircase. Let’s face it, who, after dying, wants to be climbing stairs for an eternity to get into Paradise? I know God’s into that whole selflessness thing, but making people climb what is essentially a gigantic ladder right after they’ve cacked it isn’t going to win you many popularity points.
I’ve been on the Highway for about a month now. The Diablo doesn’t have air-conditioning (seeing as the purpose of Hell is to make me suffer forever), but there is an icebox with an infinite supply of lukewarm beer. I guess Satan thought cold beer was a bit too nice for us sinners. Anyway, every so often, I pull over to the side of the road, grab one of my warm beers, sit on the hood of the car and watch the volcanoes erupt. It’d be almost relaxing, except I know that I’ll eventually be inside one of those volcanoes, somewhere down the road.
I even see other people while going down the Highway. Corporate businessmen, a Mafioso or two, even a small number of defrocked priests. Recently, I was cruising down at about 400km/h when a motorcycle overtook me. I signalled the driver to pull over. I got out of the car, and walked up to the bike. This bike was a Dodge Tomahawk. For those of you not in the know, a Tomahawk is the most powerful motorcycle known to exist. Real beauty, too. The driver, as I found, was a real beauty as well. Brunette, nice ass, leather jacket with a red grizzly bear motif on the back. Her name was Michelle. I gave her a warm beer, and we talked for a while. Turned out she’d been killed only a day after me. Shot in the face by her husband. Don’t know how he could have; she had the most beautiful face I’ve seen.
I told her about my run in with the law, and how I’d crashed my Volkswagen while trying to get away. She offered her condolences, and said she was hoping I’d get into the same part of hell as her. I doubt it; Satan knows who you like, and places them elsewhere. Still, I gave her a goodbye hug, and offered her a second beer. She took it and hopped back on the Tomahawk, the engine revving madly. One last wave and she drove off, brunette hair tailing behind her. I haven’t seen her on the road since.
Now the most unnerving thing about the Highway is that it never bends. It’s a straight line all the way. I guess that’s how they make sure no one gets lost en route. In the far distance, the sky is really red, and I see the occasional bolt of yellow lightning. I suppose that’s my final destination. Looks really hellish, but that’s the point, isn’t it. Another car overtakes me, this one a Rolls-Royce. Don’t know which model; I never had much of an interest in British cars. Maybe a member of the Royal family has died. Or would they go to Heaven? Probably not; royalty are too lazy to take the stairs.
You know how I said before that there weren’t any landmarks en route? Turns out I was wrong. I can see a building on the side of the road. It isn’t a very big building. Looks mighty run-down, actually. As I draw closer, I can see that it’s a gas station and diner. I’m feeling a little hungry, so I pull in. There’s another car already in. It’s a silver Mercedes-Benz McLaren F1. Very beautiful car. I don’t bother locking my door when I park it. Who’s going to steal a car around here?
The inside of the diner is practically empty. The tables and chairs look ready for business, but are unoccupied. On a stool at the counter sits a man in a suit. I walk up and sit next to him.
‘Hello,’ I say. He nods to me, and focuses on the plate in front of him. Looks like he’s having fish and chips. I hear a noise, and see a waitress walking up to me. She smiles and hands me a menu.
‘Good mornin’,’ she says to me. Her voice has a Southern quality to it. Her nametag says “Ruby”. ‘Welcome to the Purgatory Roadhouse. How may ah take your order?’ she asks.
I tell her I’m just resting for a while. She nods and pours me a complimentary cup of coffee. It smells good. I pick up the menu. There are few choices. Redemption Caesar Salad looks interesting. None of the items have prices. I have a sip of my coffee and turn to the guy next to me. He doesn’t seem to be enjoying his meal. I figure he needs some cheering up, so I say to him ‘Hey man, why’re you looking so down?’
He tells me that he’s hoping to get off the road permanently. Seems he finds the Highway not as appealing as he thought. This place, he says, is where sinners come to be released. Once we pass the Roadhouse, he says, we can’t go back. But it’s a hard way to go, harder even than taking the Stairway. I decide to mull it over. After all, I have an eternity.
I call over Ruby the waitress, and ask for the Redemption Caesar Salad and a Cherry Coke. She asks me to justify why I deserve it. I ask her what she means by that. She sighs. I can tell by the way she sighs that this is a common question.
‘The way it goes, sugah,’ she says, ‘is that you have to justify why you deserve it. We can’t just hand out meals like that; we’d be out o’ business like a rattler in a quake. So tell me; what makes you think you can just change sides like this?’
I pause. Don’t really know how to answer this one. How can I say I’m worthy of getting into Heaven when I’m practically already in Hell? My life was mighty lousy, come to think of it. I went to church maybe twice, and hated it. I may have only given to charity once, if that. I never helped little old ladies cross the street. And I committed armed robbery right before my death. There’s no way, in other words, that I’ll be staying here.
The guy next to me can see I’m troubled. I probably look a lot like he is. He tells me that he’s on the Highway for money laundering and blackmail. He’s been trying to justify himself for three weeks, and he still can’t find a good reason to get away. My shoulders sink with depression. How long will I be here before I give up and get back into my Diablo?
I decide to sleep on it. I read once that your brain comes up with stuff out of the subconscious mind when you’re asleep. I tell Ruby that I’ll be back soon, finish off the coffee and walk out. I sit in my car and tilt the seat back. It takes me a while, but I’m eventually dead to the world.
Whenever it is I wake up, I get out of my car. I notice that the Mercedes is gone. As I walk into the Purgatory Roadhouse, Ruby gives me a small smile. I ask where the other guy is. She tells me he gave up. It’s not an uplifting moment. He spent a month here, and couldn’t find a good reason to leave. How will I cope? Ruby pours me a cup of coffee and tells me ‘Sugah, you gotta understand that I’m here to help people get out of this place and off the road. There aren’t many takers on this Highway. So justify yourself.’
‘Well,’ I say, ‘I’m not sure how. I haven’t been very selfless or helpful during my life. Heck, I probably haven’t done anything really good since I was eleven.’
‘Honey,’ Ruby says, ‘it’s not what you do. A lot of people here did some pretty great things, but they weren’t the kinds of people you wanted to meet. That’s sort of a point people tend to forget when they’re on the road. They say to themselves “I did a lot of good! Why am I here?” or “I did everythin’ the Bible told me to! I don’t deserve this!”, and they may be right. You ever heard that old saying that actions speak louder than words?’
I say I had.
‘Well morals speak louder than actions. It’s who you are that makes you good or bad, not what you’ve done. The guy who left last night, he was close, real close. He was generally a nice guy, but had dark spots in his mind he couldn’t rub out. It’s the rubbing out that makes this place.’
‘So you’re saying that I have to evaluate the kind of person I was?’ I ask. She nods to me. I think about it. Well, with that kind of reasoning, maybe I wasn’t such a bad person. After all, I was always ready to buy a drink for a stranger, because I figured everyone deserved a cold brewski when they were feeling down. I wasn’t really a family man, but I wanted to be one. Just never found the time to have one. What else? Was there anything else?
‘I can’t say I’ve been that good,’ I say. ‘Back in life, I was more a passenger than a driver. I felt strongly about things, but I didn’t really do anything to fix them, besides buying the odd beer for a friend.’
‘Oh come on,’ Ruby says, ‘you must’ve done something good in your life.’
‘’Fraid not,’ I say. ‘Guess I’m going to have to just face the music.’
Ruby nods slowly. Her eyes were sad. I search my pockets and pull out a ten dollar note.
‘Here,’ I say. ‘You deserve this. Thankyou for trying, but this is a problem I have to face head on.’
She takes the note, looks at it and hands it back to me. ‘You know,’ she says, ‘you’re the first failed person that’s ever tipped me. I mean, when they succeed they’re all happy and they give me wads, I mean thick wads of cash. The unlucky never do. They just swear, kick a chair over and storm back to their hotrods. You’ve done a good thing today, you know that.’
I tell her I’d tried, place the note on the counter and start walking out towards my car. I blink in surprise. The Diablo is gone. As is the highway. I’m on the side of a cliff, overlooking an ocean. Ruby walks up behind me. She has a warm smile.
‘You passed, sugah,’ she says. ‘One good turn deserves another.’ She has a remote in her hands, and as she presses a single button on it, a spiral staircase folds up and over the ocean. I start walking to it, full of happiness. And then I blink.
I’m back on the Highway. In the Lamborghini Diablo. Screaming past the usual rocks and volcanoes. Where is the Stairway? Where's Ruby? What's happening?
I shout in confusion and anger, and hear the radio for the first time.
‘Ain’t false hope a bitch,’ it cackles. ‘Welcome to Hell, asshole!’
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