"The Devil’s At The Pearly Gates" Short Story by Emily Franklin

The Devil’s At The Pearly Gates 

Mama’s eyes are full of tears bigger than apples in late autumn on the trees that stretch over the golden fields of Kentucky where I’ve spent my twelve years of life. The pain in my stomach is takin’ over; lookin’ at Mama is all that keeps me from cryin’ out. It’s been growin’ for two weeks. What started as a needle prick in my belly button, now’s gon’n taken up my whole body and it’s ready to explode out my fingertips. Light glows around Mama like angel’s wings as she wails for God’s mercy. But her sobs are a glorious heavenly choir, liftin’ me from my painful existence. 

The pain is slippin’ away. Goodbye Mama, goodbye Joey… faces of all my loved ones seem to hover in my mind all at once. Please don’t fret, guys, I’ll be waitin’ in Heaven… as I send my sentiments down to my family somethin’ inside me jolts, Mama, wait! Somethin’ inside me is tryin’ to stay, but I know better. Meema taught me what to do. Just go into the bright lights. That’s where she’ll be waitin’. The bright lights are warm around me now; it’s like Mama’s breast has enveloped every crevice of my being and I’m bein’ lifted into the golden clouds around me. 

Stop–wait! I suddenly scream, but my voice is gone. The orifices that once produced it are far below me inside my motionless body. Help, I don’t wanna go! Mama! Please stop this… I wanna stay home, I wanna play in the fields, I wanna play with Billy and Papa while Mama sings us songs. I wanna ride my bike and never stop. I wanna live. Please just… I struggle. Let. Me. Down! I’m tryin’ to touch the ground again: tryin’ to flail non-existent limbs to swim back down to my house but still, I float away. 

Floatin’ so slowly… Tortured with views of all my memories… Hauntin’ pictures of things I’ll never do again. Don’t take it all away, please. I just wanna curl into a ball but I’m stuck more utterly exposed than ever. Completely outside of my own darn body. Can’t bury my face and sob. Can’t scream. Can’t run or be free. I’m too free to feel the freedom. Wellp, I’m free from my body, I think, But what’s freedom worth if ya can’t even feel it?! 

“If this is freedom, I don’t wanna be free!” My voice is producin’ sound again! I look down and I’m in my body again too! But… I’m there’s no more pain, and there’s a weightless white sheet perfectly over my shoulders. A moment of hope is washed away by the realization that the world I know is far out of sight beneath the clouds. And I still can’t move. 

“I heard you were distressed, so I fast-tracked your progress,” somehow I’m standin’ normal but my feet are hangin’ relaxed with no ground beneath ‘em… this is so weird… 

“Are you God?” I say, eyes wide and locked on the large, clear blue ones starin’ down at me.  My feet wanna dance and hands wanna fidget but I can’t even feel ‘em. 

“People ALWAYS think that,” his deep voice grumbles as his eyes seem to turn to ice, “Heaven’s down there, Sweet Cheeks!” 

“That can’t be, then that means you–” 

“Yeah, yeah I’m the Devil. Old Nick, Bad Man, Prince of Darkness, Good ol’ Tail-N-Horns, Kepalo I’ve heard em all, Kid. But I prefer Lucifer.” 

“But–I don’t understand…” 

“I know princess, ya didn’t do nothin’ wrong,” [He sounds like he’s channeling a sad housewife who never left Boston] “You’d neva’ say the Lord’s name in vain, you’ve settled all ya sins, yadda, yadda, yadda. I’ve heard it all!” [His booming voice is back reminding her how large his ghostly head is. He quiets down],“Now here’s the inside scoop. Heaven’s a little full. And you know how it is,” [He looks at her, attempting to feel badly], “or maybe you don’t…” [he’s having trouble finding words], “Ugh, whatever. To make a long story short, Kid, nobody wants a packed paradise. So, we had to make a little room for the most deserving of all of us, you know, the elites, the rich fucks–oops, uhh folks–yeah that’s what I said. The rich f–,” [he pauses and articulates carefully], “FFFolks that seem to uh, have the world spinnin’ on their finger down there on Earth. You know the kind...uh yeah, anyways, the point is they keep it spinnin’ in death too, Kid. Yeah,” [he says as he stretches and reclines, interlacing his hands behind his head], “Yeeeah, that’s why they sent me up here, Kid. Tryna make sure the ‘not-so-worthys’ feel a little better knowing at least they got sent to Hell with a clean conscience.” What the heck is he talkin’ about? I think. 

“Now, Kid, this is the most crucial part of the speech,” he lowers his voice whisperin’ to an audience I can’t see, “It’s also the most difficult to wrap your teensy mortal brains around.” 

He turns back to me, “You’ve done nothing wrong,” he looks like he’s said this a trillion times, “Yera sweet lil God-fearing child but sadly there were too many just like you from Simi Valley who passed this year, so they get candy mountain, and you get Hell. Just know this–you are just as good if not better than all them spoiled little devils down in Heaven.” 

I want to cry but my face has been replaced with a porcelain doll’s. I still can’t move my arms. I’m floatin’ forward slowly with little dolls scattered around me in every direction, each with a face just like mine. I inch along starin’ each creepy silent little doll in the eyes while they watch me float by. Some of them teeter back and forth on their hip-joints and some fall weakly over to one side with rust peekin’ out the other like an open wound. I start to wonder, What’s next? Where am I supposed to be goin’ to? That man seemed to think Hell is in the sky but that just ain’t right! But look at the doll’s faces...that one looks so real–hey! I try to shout. No sound appears but the doll’s eyes seem so...alive. Why, if I didn’t know better I’d say I’ve passed this doll a while back...but would there be two of her? I couldn’t be goin’ in circles… Heaven’s supposed to take me to my family. But he seems to think this is Hell...but Hell’s down there! What is goin’ on here?! I wanna see Meema! I wanna hug Pappy! But I still can’t move or hear my own voice. I just keep inchin’ forward as the unblinkin’ eyes around me seem to cry out for salvation. 

It seems like I’m goin’ in a circle and other circles are goin’ next to me all at the same time like some sorta weird ball made outta a bunch of Saturn’s rings and I’m just a rock floatin’ around in one of ‘em. Kinda reminds me of one of them cool science balls Uncle George gave me from the museum in the big city...but not really… they’re kinda different. I loved hearin’ stories of the big city...of the giant fluffy pretzels with just enough salt to make your mouth wanna pucker, the autumn leaves coverin’ the ground as you’d walk through Central Park. The stories Uncle George painted me were a home away from home. A taste of life. Adventure. But I didn’t even get enough time to finish growin’ up. Sure adventurin’ would’ve been just like a fairytale, but I still needed time just to be with my Mama and Bill and Papa. We still had learnin’ and runnin’ and laughin’ to do! And I almost forgot. Not only am I stuck never growin’ past twelve years, I’m in a heaven that ain’t no heaven Reverend Lyle’s been preachin’ ‘bout...Suddenly I remember. No...no. This ain’t where Meema’s been livin’. There ain’t no way….I’ve gotta find her–and Pappy! I look around searchin’ the dolls’ faces for one that resembles Meema or Pappy. It won’t be easy; they’re all wearin’ the same porcelain face–but I know my Meema’s eyes. I would look deep into them every time she spoke. She was an angel walkin’, she must be an arch-angel up here! Just feel it, Harper… Look for a sign, they’re here somewhere. I close my eyes and remember Meema tellin’ me that anytime I’m lost I can find her in my heart. I search deep inside and it doesn’t take long before she responds. I’m hit with a blindin’ spotlight. Biggern’ any I seen on Earth. I open my eyes and see the source: bright lasers of light are shootin’ out of one of the doll’s eyes. It’s gotta be Meema. But we still can’t talk and she’s far across at the other end of one of the rings, glowin’ bright among the dull dolls. 

I wait and wait, sendin’ her thoughts and messages Please answer, Meema, do you hear me? No reply. Her light just glows as it makes it’s way in line with the other dolls; around and around, and around, and around, and around… Devil. Heaven. Dolls. Around. Meema. Words repeat in my head like I’m gettin’ hypnotized. I can’t get stuck here. All of the sudden I can feel my toes wigglin’ and scrapin’ hard metal–I’m in control. I can feel my body and my voice is soundin’. There musta been a glitch in the system! I think, excited and hopeful for salvation even if I have to scrape my way outta here one layer of metal at a time. All-o’-the-sudden my stomach drops  and I wiggle my arms into my doll’s body chamber and start searchin’ frantically for some kind of bolt–anythin’ to pry open, unscrew, delatch, or smash through–anythin’ for Meema. At last I find it: a little round washer in my doll’s left side. Yes! I get ahold of the nut on top of it and twist. The nut falls and clangs by my feet, and I find myself tryin’ to balance inside the doll’s empty legs as the heavy top half keels over with a SQUERRREEEAAAK and falls off. I manage to stay put inside the doll’s legs after rockin’ dangerously over on what feels like a ferris wheel cart on an invisible ferris wheel. I’m not afraid of heights. That’s Bill. Not me. But the ground is so far–wait… can I even see the ground? I peer over the edge at the endless sky below me, the only thing past the clouds I can see are more clouds. 

Don’t look! I think after lookin’ too hard and startin’ my legs tippin’ again. As I steady my nerves I remember that I can hear my voice again! I shout, “Meema!” I see her glowi’g down the way, she seems to pulse brighter when I shout her name. I know what I have to do and I’m not excited. She’s approachin’ rapidly (the fastest these things have ever seemed to go since I’ve seen ‘em). I gotta jump, there’s no other way. Here she comes… I hoist myself onto the doll’s topless bottom, balancin’ carefully on the rim tellin’ maself, “Don’t tip. Don’t tip…” Grippin’ my stomach and bitin’ my tongue, I wait for the perfect moment. Right as she slides into position across from me, I lose my focus and let out a sigh, words comin’ into my head again, “Devil. Heaven. Dolls. Around. Meema.” I jump at the last second, fightin’ the hypnosis and reachin’ for Meema with all my might. My landin’ is faulty. I was hopin’ it’d be as simple as leapin’ an’ bear huggin’ her like a koala, findin’ her screw and gettin’ us out. Instead, I’m holdin’ on to a dainty black metal shoe. Thank God for the rust or that glossy black shoe woulda been the death of me–again. 

“Don’t let go!” Meema and I say in unison. My heart is poundin’. 

“You’re awake!” 

“You’re here!” 

“This ain’t where neither of us should be!” I say, hangin’ on for my life. “I just wanna be in heaven, Meema, this ain’t right.” 

“Darlin’, the world ain’t right…” Her eyes begin to dim as she says this, “And seein’ you here is provin’ me that nothin’–not even this Hell of a Heaven–is worth livin’ for. If my precious young grand-daughter is stripped from the world and taken to a wretched place like this, who are we to stay here supportin’ its’ existence. Drop. Drop, little girl!!” Her voice gets darker and sounds like a dragon’s in her tummy. She roars and spreads her wings as she transforms and opens her jaws to eat me up. 

“Ahhh!!!” I scream as I bolt up in bed and stare at my wall full of fairytale friends, my alarm blaring beside me. “What the…” Suddenly, the door swings open and my mom rushes inside. Something’s different about her. 

“Honey, is everything okay?” she says from my bedside. 

“Yeah…I’m fine, I think...” I say and furrow my brow, “But is grandma, like, from Kentucky?” 

 

 

[Full Ending:]

“And wait–is that a tail?!” I add. 

“No Hon, she’s Hadesian.” 

“What?? Where’s Hadesia? And you didn’t answer me about that new addition to your wardrobe either, Mom!! What the–” 

“It’s not Hadesia, Sweet-Pea, it’s Hell! And we’re locals, born ‘n raised!!” Her smile widens to an awful laugh. The room opens up from the middle and we’re thrust into a whirlwind of red hot flames with darkness extending around. It’s like we’ve been transported to a vast cave of jagged cliffs towering over seas of roaring flames. I pop out of a slimy red door way next to others just like me, popping out of their own doorways. Oh God, not Adolf. Don’t. Make. Eye-contact. Phew. That guy never stops talking...Now THIS is the Hell I’m used to. A familiar face passes by in a bustling of Hells-folk and I instinctively call out to him, “Hey Dick! Wh–why the Heav’n am I always forgettin’ that this is life now?” 

“Don’t feel bad man, those things are powerful. Joe’s always gettin’ sucked in too deep. Just look at Benny! Ehh… maybe don’t look at Benny.” We both know Benny lost his mind a few weeks back and threw himself off the cliffs into the deep depths of Hell. Somewhere down in the firey pits he may have found peace. “Don’t worry, man, you won’t turn out like him, ‘sall good!” Dick likes to feel ‘gangsta’ sometimes. It is sickening. 

“Yeah, man, that shit just gets crazier every time…” 

“True that, George… I feel it. What was it this time, you blew up the world trade center? Heah!” Dick bellows grotesquely, winking at me with a poor attempt at secrecy. 

“No, Dick…” I say looking up. I think of all the children, before Hell and all this madness. All the mistakes...All the selfish deeds...I’ve never thought twice about it ‘til now. 

“I was just an–” My throat tightens in an attempt to speak, “An innocent little girl.” 

Dick just looks at me. He seems dumbfounded that I would be feelin’ a thing. “Huh, you seem shook.  Why doncha go take a nap? You’ll forget in The Lagoon anyway.” 

“Yeah, you’re right. See ya, Dick.” 

“See ya, George,” I turn away and head toward the Lagoon to drown in my regret. 

“Hey, George!” 

His voice makes me cringe; so I force a smirk and turn around with a brotherly saunter, “What’s up, Dick?” 

“You ain’t goin’ soft on me, now, are ya?” His crooked grin jeers at me, subtly patronizing my every move, plotting his next micromanagement. 

“No, no, not me. Just realized that it was all for nothin’. And hopefully you do too some day.” With that I drop. Just like Meema told me. Down past the cliffs and the ring of fire, deep into the sea of Hell where I belong. 

I’ve always prayed for my own inner peace one day, and I guess this is my last chance. But as Dr. King Jr. said, “...peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but... it is a means by which we arrive at that goal. We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means." As the flames get hotter and higher above my head I feel a hole within me tear open even wider. I’m sorry I failed you, Dr. King. I’m so sorry. 

“Your remorse will not be ignored,” are the last words I heard before all went to black. Not sure who spoke them, or where they came from, down there in the pits of hell. But they were for me. 

 

A note from the author: 

I know this story was pretty dark, but remember to be happy! Not just for yourself, but the ones around you. It can be hard, but it can also be easy! Just try to be forgiving to yourself and others, and look at the positive. It’s all good if we want it to be. We’re all just specks of dust on a big rock after all. Thank you for reading my story. I hope it brought you sommore joy to supply the stash I know you already have. Stay smilin’. 

-Emily

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