To Hell and Back

This is a fictional story based on many real life accounts. It’s not always the light that people see when they are close to death

By Virginia Carraway Stark

This is how it happened. This is how I saw Hell.

It was a normal day like any other, I woke up, had breakfast, kissed my girlfriend and checked my email on the way out the door.

I went to work, talked to clients, flirted with my secretary and filled out the miles of paperwork that made up most of my business life. I want to be clear with you on this. I never once in my life considered myself to be a bad person. I didn’t kill anyone, I didn’t molest children, I never raped anyone, in fact, in my own personal ledger, I counted myself as one of the good guys.

My law firm was a small one, Stylus and Firth. I being Richard ‘Rich’ Firth and an expert on property law I did my job day to day in a way that was within the confines of the law. I bent the rules from time to time, but no more than anyone does and I never did it to harm someone. Even the phrase ‘bending the rules’ is a little extreme. I was good at finding loopholes in the law and if a small time farmer was being pushed out by a big corporate company, I might be extra diligent in finding these loopholes and helping out. It was the livelihoods of entire families on the line. Often these sorts of cases would determine the fate of a farm that had been hacked out of the forest from nothing and turned into thriving concerns that had been maintained for generations.

I did pro-bono work on more than one occasion. A recently widowed woman whose son tried to take all she had from her and leave his own mom a pauper was the most recent case. Why am I telling you all this? Why am I giving you my justification for all this?

Because we all have a set of scales in our heads, or at least, all the good people out there have them. Sometimes our scales get a little skewed. I think that’s what happened to me. I saw a lot of bad people doing a lot of bad things.

It started when I was a kid. My parents were do-nothing rejects who would screw over their friends or their own son at the drop of a hat. They disgusted me. They were slime balls. They thought they were good people because they didn’t beat their kids, they didn’t screw around on each other unless they were sure the other one wouldn’t find out. I still remember my Dad, a man who evaded things like taxes and fines like the plague, hollering out, ‘I pay my taxes, you work for me!’ to a meter maid who had left a ticket on his windshield.

But go ahead, ask my Dad or Mom if they think they’re good people and they will answer an undeniable, ‘Yes. Always’.

Their scales were screwed up. They were weighted and I thought that because I helped people once in awhile, when it didn’t put me out too much, and that I was by and large a good citizen that I was also balanced on my inner scales. I was better than my parents. I went to school, I paid my taxes, I got a good job, drove a nice car and gave money to Veterans and donated my used suits to the Salvation Army.

In university I was one of the good ones. I had a couple of girlfriends, screwed around, did a bit of coke, got a lot drunk (especially when I found out I had passed my finals and again when I passed my bar exam). I didn’t do anything bad. I wasn’t one of the guys I saw ‘slip a little something’ into a girls drink. I wasn’t one of the guys who made fun of the ones who didn’t fit in, not very often.

I got married in my last year of University and then divorced eight years later and two kids in. I paid my alimony until she remarried and paid my child support and spent weekends with the kids and I still do the last two. My kids are in their teens now and I’ve put aside money for their college fund. I know my ex and her new husband have done the same and we had regular meetings together the four of us, my girlfriend Tracy and my ex and her new husband to talk about the kids. Chantelle, my ex, is the one who handles the PTA shit and once in awhile I have a hard talk with my son or daughter about ‘choices’ and where their current path may lead them.

I get to be the good guy in their lives most of the time. I get to sweep in and take them on a trip to Europe for the summer. Tracy was great with them and I would have married her in a minute if I thought it would have changed anything between us, but it wouldn’t have. And after everything, I’m glad I didn’t, it would have been hard to have two divorces instead of just the one. There were plenty of missed weekends and once or twice a missed holiday with the kids, I always told them about it. It was always work. I never meant to let them down but sometimes it was someone else’s entire life on the line.

This is how I am trying to justify to you, with a full confession of the good and the bad what I had done and not done. How I felt ok when I shaved every morning meeting my own gaze in the mirror. This is why when I finished work at the end of that beautiful day in May and was driving through the heavy traffic, that I thought my scales were balanced and that I was right with the universe.

I was driving through an intersection. I had my phone on speaker and was talking to my assistant when it happened. I know that because she told me about it afterward but I don’t remember that part. I had left some files on my desk and she was finishing up a few things. My phone had rung and I used my voice activated app to answer it. Gloria had noticed the files on my desk and wanted to know what to do with them, they didn’t belong on my desk but I had obviously intended to do something with them.

“Shit, that was the Johnson report. I meant to take it home with me,” I cursed again under my breath, debating turning around. I was only ten minutes from home.

“I figured it was something like that,” She replied. I remember that I could hear her crunching something between her teeth. She was eating something, probably a carrot. It was right at that point that for a few moments, everything becomes crystal clear and the sound of someone eating a carrot to this day drives me around the bend. I start to wonder all over again how my scales are doing and if they’re rigged even a little bit after all.

I started to tell her to put them in my desk and that I would deal with them tomorrow, I remember the word, “Just” leaving my lips and then, blackout.

That should read BLACKOUT. I haven’t been able to remember a single thing about the accident. It wasn’t my fault, I was going through a green light, someone ran the red and that someone drove a big Hummer that decimated my convertible. I don’t remember still being alive and being cut out of my car with the jaw of life, I don’t remember the medics or the trip to the hospital.

What I do remember was that there was a pressure pushing down on me. It was so dark and the pressure was like I had been steamrolled flat. I didn’t have any pain despite the extent of my injuries, none that I can remember at any rate. It was just that pressure and everything was black.

Slowly my eyes adjusted in the dark and I could feel that I was flying. A wind pushed back at me and far ahead I could see a sullen, glowing red. I was filled with terror and I wanted to do what the wind urged, to go back the way I had come but my flight propelled me forward with so much momentum that I had no way to stop. No knowledge of how to stop. I was without a physical body and I couldn’t control my spirit from flying through what I could gradually see was a large tunnel. Beneath me I could hear the sounds of a raging river and in those moments I didn’t know who I was or where I had come from, I only knew that where I was being propelled was bad. I didn’t want to go there.

I emerged from the mouth of the tunnel. The raging flood of water formed a deep pool of black water where it connected with the molten lava that was the source of red light.

No voice spoke to me. No one told me why I was there but I knew I was in hell and I knew beyond a doubt that I deserved to be there. How did I know?

My scales had been fixed and I knew that I wasn’t right with the universe at all.

My soul flew around a large underground chamber. I shouldn’t have had senses but I could smell the reek of sulfur and brimstone and I could see ahead of me a lake of fire. I was like a paper airplane. The heat thermals gusting me around the cavern. I had no engine and I slowly spiraled downward until I could see up close that inside the lake of fire there were people. I suppose I should say the souls of people, but they looked like regular people to me.

Their faces were filled with anguish beyond anything I had previously comprehended and I knew as I spiraled downward that I would shortly feel what was causing them such pain. Some of them were screaming, some were weeping, some were calling out, confessing their crimes endlessly. I saw my Father and my Mother and they saw me. They had been sobbing, weeping together, their arms around each other. In their pain they were closer to each other than I had ever seen them be in life. Together the two of them started to blow and wave their hands at me, trying to steer me away from my descent. Whether it was their meager but utterly loving and heartfelt efforts or the doctors that were frantically saving my life and pumping my physical body with air and blood and mending me, or a combination of that and my own will to live, something lifted me up and back into the wind that had pushed against me.

It pushed me back along the tunnel I had come through and then into darkness once more.

I was exhausted and the darkness was my inability to open my eyes. They had been taped down to keep them protected while I was in surgery, they kept flying open was what Tracy said.

The doctors said I had been dead for five minutes. Five minutes, long enough to float around like a paper airplane over a lake of fire. Long enough to see my own parents in hell.

It was, and still is, a long road to recovery. I’ll never be the same as before the accident and walking is still painful. Often, I will resort to my much despised walker or wheelchair when it gets to be too much. It takes time to heal when you’ve been smashed into itty-bitty pieces.

It’s not just walking though, it’s a change in my heart after my near-death experience. I look at everything now from how it feels in my heart and I don’t do things when they’re convenient for me anymore, I do things because they are right to do. Sometimes I’ll see a homeless person and know, just know, that I have to do something for them. I’ll take them out for coffee and talk to them. Homeless people aren’t all drug addicts and drunks without any chance at redemption, lots of them have had a streak of bad luck and just need a hand.

Sometimes I take them home and let them stay for a few days or a few months until they can get back on their feet. Have a bathtub, have a phone, have clean clothes and a way to get a job and get out of the hole they fell into.

Tracy left me. She couldn’t handle my recovery from the accident, my trauma or me bringing home random strangers. I think it was the last one that really did it. She said she didn’t need this shit and one day packed up and moved out. It didn’t matter to me, my heart didn’t cry out when she left and I think until I get myself straightened out, it’s best for me to be alone, except for when I need to help someone in someway. It’s always different.

They say I’m an angel but I think I’m a long ways away from having wings. I’ll be happy if I can just avoid ever being a paper airplane ever again and I don’t think anything will do that except to do the right thing.