Reagan Parker’s Guide to Surviving Hell

By: Kimberly Gullo

How did I get here? A palpable question. How did any of us get here, really? A fleeting decision, a non-believer, a content sinner; we are all here. Some of us in regret and some of us quite complacent.

I couldn’t tell you the exact moment that I snapped, losing control of all my senses but I could tell you that it was the most free I’ve ever felt in my entire life, euphoric even. Anger stored itself deep down, bubbling in my blood, rising and rising until it had nowhere to go but out. It was an outer body experience. I had no control of my own thoughts or movement, like I was floating above myself, just watching. The room was still and quiet, even though I’m sure the actuality of it all was chaos; screaming and choking and moaning and the loud sounds of suffering but all I could hear was this pleasant song, like a symphony, my own personal opera guiding me along the way.

Every swing of the ax went perfectly in time with the melody. My motion was smooth and graceful, effortless. I don’t remember much of that night after that. I just remember the after math wasn’t as pleasant. Numbness filled through out my entire being. No sadness. No tears. I didn’t cry, or panic, or throw up at the site of blood splattered everywhere. In fact, I don’t think I ever let reality set in. I just basked in the stillness. It was over, in every sense of the word.

I used so much of my strength lifting the blade in and out of flesh over and over again my arms went weak and I dropped the ax. It bounced in slow motion off the wood floor a few times before falling directly next to my husband’s lifeless face. I stared down for a moment. Eric’s body was at the base of the bottom of the staircase. I could barely recognize him. His blue eyes red, nose crushed in, forehead split. It made me feel better that it didn’t look like him, as if maybe- it wasn’t. I remember stepping on a cell phone at one point, Jaclyn’s, maybe? I’m sure it hurt my foot but I didn’t feel it with all that adrenaline still flowing through my veins. Her body was adjacent to Eric’s but facing down, close to the door. I guess maybe she tried to run? I can’t remember.

I gently tip toed around their dead bodies, up the steps. The house seemed so dark. I couldn’t hear the steps beneath my feet, the symphony still playing in my head, drowning out the normal house noises; the air lowly murmuring, the faucet dripping, the creaking of the floor boards and staircase. I pushed open the door to my daughter’s room. The light from the moon came in threw the big bay window and lit up her cradle. She hadn’t woken up, perfectly still like an angel, dreaming. I couldn’t spend much time in her room or it would break my numbness. I needed to feel numb in order to finish up this night. I kissed her forehead, stroking the thin dark curls around her head. I told her I loved her and how sorry I was. Leaving her will always be my biggest anguish but there’s no going back now.

The sound of sirens mixed in with my symphony. I peeked out the window; flashing blues and reds lit up the sky. It was oddly beautiful to me in that moment. It didn’t faze me that the cops were here. I guess a neighbor called or perhaps Jaclyn may have had the chance with her last dying breath when I wasn’t looking. It didn’t matter now. They wouldn’t have time to get me. I wouldn’t allow it. I walked into the bathroom and gazed into the mirror. Someone was looking back at me but I didn’t recognize her; a familiar but strange face: frazzled and flushed, hair encrusted with blood, maybe my own claret, maybe Eric’s, maybe Jaclyn’s. Perhaps it was better that way- unrecognizable to myself. I pressed both hands against the sink for balance. I was dizzy and weak and faint. I pulled out the small black pistol from my back pocket and placed it on the counter. I had used three or four rounds on Jaclyn and Eric just to initially take them down before I switched to the ax. I liked the ax better. It was classic and much more personal. I took a deep breath in and softly pushed my hair away from my face. I just wanted another minute to enjoy the song in my head. Funny how a person can change their life in less than ten minutes with the snap of their finger, or perhaps I should I say with the snap of their sanity.

I put the gun to my temple and pulled the trigger. I could see for a few seconds after the blast went off. I saw the bathroom ceiling, droplets of black, I saw the mirror and an image of a body falling down, I saw the floor and a hand- my hand, stretched out in a pool of blood, thick blacks and reds and browns all swirling together. The symphony playing in my head ended. The house noises returned. I could hear fast creaking on the stairs now, a stampede of footsteps, officers I could only presume. I wonder who the lucky bastard is that’s going to clean this mess?

So, in short, that’s what got me here. And if you don’t want the same fate as me then this is your wake up call. Turn back now or join me here, in Hell. I wish I had this opportunity at my crossroad, someone to give me this subconscious warning. Oh, sure. There were signs, small forewarnings that I was too foolish to see but nothing as straightforward as I am giving you now. So consider yourself lucky.

Nevertheless, should you find yourself at the gates of Hell after you resign from your flesh, then deem me as your counselor. Remember all that I tell you now because Heaven Forbid you should wake up in an eternal nightmare- then at the very least, you’ll be one step ahead of the game. Learn through my mistakes and pay close attention as I, Reagan Parker, guide you through the rules of surviving Hell.

Welcome to Hell. Population: Endless.

I sat in the passenger side of Roper’s oversized pick-up truck. We started on the dunes of Black Water Beach, breathing in the salty air for a bit before driving down the long, empty parkway just before your enter the city. This is a trip we often take.

I had a bottle of Jack in my lap and a lit cigarette resting on the window ledge in my right hand. Every time I lifted the bottle to my lips, the tires would pounce on the jarring highway and liquor would dribble down my chin. Roper would occasionally catch on to this and intentionally zigzag the vehicle abruptly just so I’d spill more liquid down my neck and chin. I knew he found this funny although he didn’t laugh.

Black Water Beach is the entrance of the afterlife. I can remember, distinctly, waking up in darkness, soaked and cold from the murky water, confused; my body washed ashore onto this ebon gravel over a gray sky. There was no friends or family waiting for me. No pearly gates; just the sound of bleak waves crashing against a deserted shore. This intonation once scared me because it represented the beginning of the end but now it exhibits a sense of solace.

My advice to you is that you skip moaning and groaning and crying. Do not stay curled up in a ball like a helpless child if you find yourself immersed among the water and the sand. From experience, I can only tell you that you are wasting your time and will grow wary and restless and do what we all do, which is: follow the gravel until it turns to asphalt and then journey down the long, desolate road that will lead you to the city. You cannot screw this up; for it’s the only road there is leading off of Black Water. There will be no street signs, no life; just hot pavement in between sparse patches of grassland.

Keep going. It goes on for miles and miles. You’ll want to give up. But just think: Your options are to keep walking into the unknown, or turn back and spend the rest of eternity in solitude, staring into endless, ominous crashing waves.

I took the unknown.

You’ll know you’re getting close when you start to see the artificial lights beckoning you from the dense air. And just before you hit the beginning of the city, Sinner’s Cove – there it will be: a square sign looming overhead, floating in the nothingness like a hapless cloud that reads; “Welcome to Hell.”

If you’re lucky, some passerby’ll pick you up during the endless route and drive you into the city. If you’re real lucky- that passerby will be Roper and I. In fact, that’s how I met Roper. An oversized, black pick-up truck with a metal skull adorned on the front bumper, pulled up next me slummed over on the side of the road. He was handsome and well dressed. Don’t be fooled- trust nobody. Roper offered me a friendly hand but behind his dashing good lucks and bright smile, he’s no Good Samaritan. His kindness was nothing more fiending for a new victim.

Roper, or should I say, Dr. Daniel J. Roper in his flesh living life was a well-respected Psychologist and also, a serial killer. His victims were mainly woman, sometimes even his own patients. By his forty-second birthday, he had over twenty-six hits under his belt. He had told me once, “I was aiming for forty-six kills by my forty-sixth birthday but I never made it to then. I’m sure, had he not been gunned down by the police shortly after he turned forty-three, he would have beaten his goal. Roper is quite the charmer. His resume reads: intensely intellectual, a master of manipulation, proficient in concealing evidence and a grade-A smart-ass. I can see why woman were easily smitten by him. It’s like that children’s book, “Chicken Little”: trusting, naïve little Henny Penny being led to the cave by the conniving Wolf.

Roper often drives along the empty highway between Black Water and Sinner’s Cove, waiting for easily targeted newcomers. But he met his match when he met me. I suppose that’s why we work so well together.

Relationships aren’t the same down here. You cannot feel the endearment of love but you can feel lust and obsession, which, if you fool yourself enough, can feel a little like love. Your emotional realm only ranges in certain capacities: sadness, depression, confusion, anger. You learn to keep level. Laughter usually only stems from someone else’s expense and love is artificial; more or less just for the sake of normalcy.

I guess at one point, that’s all Roper and me wanted: something that resembled our old breath emitting life. That’s one benefit of being in Hell. You can gluttonously binge on sex, booze and drugs without remorse but after awhile, you’ll long for convention. We all do eventually.

We entered Sinner’s Cove. Roper would fluctuate between drags from his joint and swigs from my bottle of Jack. His attire was professional like always: dark slacks, black collared button-up shirt and polished dress shoes. His blue eyes gravely focused on the road ahead of him. Now and again he’d swerve to hit a pedestrian innocently walking by. They’d hit the grill of the car and launch forward right before Roper’s tire rolled over their body. The thud would hurl the truck off the ground causing the whiskey to explode out of the spout and usually land on the crotch of Roper’s pants.

“You look like you pissed yourself,” I teased.

He laughed. But I’m not sure if it was at the irony of the liquid bulls eye or the pleasure he got running people over, probably the latter.

“What number is that?”

“Six,” I lied. I wasn’t keeping track.

“Wrong. Eight.” He corrected me.

“Why are you asking me if you already know the answer?”

He pulled the bottle from my hand and took another long sip. He let loose a loud ahhh sound before remarking. “To make sure you’re paying attention.”

A hooker started to stride closer to Roper’s driver side window. He flashed a kind smile before side swiping her into the wall of a brick grocery store building. “Nine!” He belted out proudly in a German accent. I leaned back in my seat and comfortably leaned my right leg out of the window. The bottom of my black dress lifted up with the wind. I acknowledge the fact that my red-laced panties were fully exposed. The exhibition in combination with the exhale of smoke from my cigarette made my feel infinite. And I was.

Sinner’s Cove sits on the eastern half of Hell. In this city exists the lesser evil of the underworld: the non-believers, the heartless, the whores and petty criminals. The locals relatively keep to themselves. Most of the townies established small, local businesses: markets, shops, watering holes. I know that sounds odd being there’s no use for money or jobs here in Hell but like I said before, and I’ll use this term often and loosely- the town wanted to have a sense of normalcy and working created that.

Do I work? No.

I had enough of that during my first life. Eight years of a monotonous nine to five office job. Being under appreciated and underpaid were probably partly responsible for my mental breakdown in my last month alive. Or at least, I tell myself that.

Oh, and those townies Roper hit, don’t feel that bad for them. You can’t die because you’re already dead. That’s the good thing. The bad thing is, and let me think how I can clearly explain this to you? Well, you have no bones, or pumping heart, or breathing lungs. Just a soul and a mind full of memories: an emulation of once existing flesh. Your nerve endings are all dead but the memory of pain causes your entire body to feel every bit of it somehow. I don’t know exactly how it works; I just know it’s the price we pay for being sinners. You can feel an immense amount of suffering that would make you wish you could die all over again. For example: when Roper hit the prostitute with his car- she felt it. Her senses imitated the agony of ribs cracking, arms and legs breaking, head throbbing. Her body will even mirror that of flesh wounds but there is no hospitals or medicine or painkillers because the affliction is all in your mind, churning in your memories, and there is no fixing that. You’ll heal in time, and in some cases, never.  This one time when Roper needed his kill fix; he had been fighting with a local man down at Saints & Sinners Tavern over something I can’t even recall. Something about: who was the bigger genius: Manson or Gacy, I think? Anyway, the argument ended up with this portly man, a former sex-offender, with his head completely sliced off by the blade of Roper’s ax. I don’t have much concept for time down here, but I’d say it was a good three or four years later that I spotted that same portly man from the bar walking down Sinner’s Cove still carrying his head in his hands. That man will curse and grunt and spit at Roper in passing but Roper only responds back with a wave and a smile. Quite the prick my boyfriend is, but adorable nonetheless.

Sex, drugs and booze work the same way as pain. You have no liver, or digestion system, or organs, or brain cells to even process these things but your recollection of being drunk or high or fucking gets rekindled, and thank goodness for that.

“Ten.”

Screech. Thud. Bump. There goes the rest of my whiskey.

I live in the midst of the east and west end, right along the border of the Devil’s Den. Devil’s Den is home to the underworld’s most notorious delinquents: gang members, mafia, criminal masterminds, serial killers, rapists, pedophiles, the deliriously crazy; they all reside here, including Roper. It’s called the Devil’s Den because the town lies directly under and slightly to the left of Satan’s Manor, also known as Lucifer’s Castle, whatever you want to call it- that’s where the Devil dwells with his army of demons. The mansion sits on top of a raised cliff and is gated by a steel, barb-wired barrier. Devil’s Den and Satan’s Manor are only separated by a foreboded forest, thick with whispering redwood trees and Reminisce Fall; a river that pours down from the top of the alp, runs along the forest and into the end cap of a cave (the cusp of Hell). A 400-foot metal gate runs side to side between the cave just where it starts to shrink up.

There’s a rumor that if you swim up to the gate and peek through it’s golden bars, you can see the water drain through this diminutive-sized hole where the end of the grotto shapes into a V. A hint of light emulates through the aperture, a beckon of hope for some, and I say that because the hearsay is that this wall of rock and limestone is the divider between Heaven and Hell.

And I bet you thought Heaven floats in the sky and Hell crumbles below the Earth?

Well, that could be…but the belief down here is that we’re adjacent to each other. The talk of the town is that if you squeeze amid the slotted poles and jostle through the hole in the cave, you’ll escape Hell and sneak into God’s land.

Sounds easy but it’s not. Factor #1: There’s two skeleton wards clothed in black hooded-robes with iridescent red ovals for eyes, perched among the top of the gate, fully armed with a bow and arrow and ready to attack any soul that dare climb this barricade.

What does it matter if you can’t die again, you say? I’ll explain.

A soul can hurt another soul through the memory and imitation of pain. That’s the best way I can describe it. The affliction a soul endures on another soul is usually fleeting depending on the person. However, the pain a paragon figure causes you (a demon or the Devil himself) is permanent. Satan’s noxious weaponry was designed to penetrate a soul like flesh on a human. If he bites off your finger, that appendage will not return by cognizance, nor will the pain ever end. After all, this is Hell…

Get it? Don’t worry. You will eventually.

To put it as simple as possible, and the number one rule of thumb is: Don’t mess with the Devil. Capisce? Besides, Factor #2: If you weasel your way into Heaven, an angel or God will eventually get word of your escape or recognize you la-dee-daing around Arcadia and boot your ass right back into the depths of Hell. Sigh. You’re stuck with us.

Now back to what I was saying before. If your sins are seemingly minuscule and you wind up in Sinner’s Cove: my advice is that you keep a low profile, mind your business, and keep a relatively unacknowledged existence. However, if your path in life leads to afterlife in the Devil’s Den: make friends real quick (and I use the term friend liberally because down here, friends are more like frienemies). Buddy up to the nearest Mayan gang member or impress Ed Gein with a plethora of intellectual conversation because it’s the only security you’ll have to keep your protected.Hell runs like a prison system. It’s all who you know.

Roper’s my safeguard. Not to mention, I made clear at the beginning of my hereafter that I wasn’t a girl to be fucked with. I started off by slaying a number of townies without much other reason besides that I could and why not? and also to brand myself as a predator, and not a victim. I suggest you do the same. That’s where I got this cute, straw cowboy hat you see on my head: my first kill.

It started at Slaughterhouse Pub, as did most of my succeeding hits. This red-faced, loud-mouthed southerner at the end of the bar would grab the top of his hat and slap his knee whenever he belted out this hearty, heckling laughter. He paid me no mind, but that damn hat sitting on his fat, roly-poly face sure stirred up bad memories from my mortal life. I retrace my steps to March of 2009: a dance floor, a wedding, my husband, Eric’s niece, Didi, was getting married. We flew down to Austin, Texas for the weekend. It started off lovely, really. Skip midway during the ceremony. There I am, three cocktails deep and flirting with my husband’s uncle- not because I find an overweight, white haired, sixty-some odd year old man attractive- but because I’m bored as fuck and Eric’s nowhere to be found, probably bullshitting with some long lost cousin. Uncle Pete adorned his light gray suit, white button up and striped tie with a straw, yellow cowboy hat. I complemented the accessory and in return, Pete said, “Ya like it? It’s yours. Here lil’ darlin’,” before placing the hat on my head.

I loved that damn hat, perhaps only because of alcohol influence but the tight black dress I was wearing, complete with a genuine, meridional cowboy hat made me feel sexy as I strutted and shimmied around the dance floor. Eric found me shortly after, dragging his legs across the wood square tile with a stern look on his face. Maybe it was the scotch, maybe it was an argument with a cousin I wasn’t there to witness, maybe he was growing tired of small talk and chitchat but either or, Eric returned to me in a foul mood. There I was, happily swaying back and forth to some disco-techy beat and without warning or much reason, he looked up at me, snarled his lip, and said, “Take that stupid hat off, Reagan. You look like a fucking idiot.” Needless to say, he soured my cheery demeanor.
Fast forward to my afterlife; Slaughterhouse Pub, fat guy in a straw cowboy hat, echoing laughter throbbing in my head. I trace an outline around his face and replace it with a blurry image of Eric, grimacing. The word asshole circles in my mind like a train; round and round, blowing it’s whistle with smoke spouting out from the letter H, until the mimicked feeling of blood bubbling, as it had before when I was angry, raised to my temple and I could feel an explosion about to erupt. The tubby man gulps down the rest of his drink, likely a scotch, just like Eric had been drinking, and smacks the rocks glass on the bar top. He hollers a goodbye to the bartender and some acquaintances next to him. He doesn’t so much as even look at me. I follow him out, nonchalantly, struggling to get my arms through my leather jacket as I walk. Tubby’s a few long strides in front of me, and like a perfect ominous sign, he stops dead in his tracks to lit up a cigarette. And that’s how I got him: an ambush from behind. I pulled a knife hidden in between my cleavage and used the sharp blade to slit open the delicate flesh of his neck from right to left. He fell to the ground immediately, clutching his throat, gurgling and chocking on the illusion of his own blood. I put one leg on top of his back, digging my heel into his spine like a stake, and gently pulled the hat off of his head and onto my own. I patted his skull like a good dog and thanked him before slowly walking away. He never saw it coming. It was that easy. It was that heartless. It was that cold.

I should have felt guilty but I didn’t. I convinced myself it was okay with the logic that he couldn’t die anyway, he only suffered; but in most cases, suffering is worse than death. Murder without guilt gave me a high so I continued on my killing spree. I’d hit a few pedestrians on the street as I drove by. I’d hide out in the bushes and hunt out the killers and rapists as I noticed them stalking out the whores down in Sinner’s Cove. It always gave me pleasure to watch them turn from predator to victim when they least expected it. Thus began my conversion from an animate, existent saint to a lifeless, soul-bearing sinner.

Roper hauled his truck into my driveway. I didn’t feel like going inside my house yet so I decided to stall Roper’s departure with a question that I knew would piss him off. I do this often out of boredom and for entertainment purposes.

“Do you think you would have loved me in real life?”

He grunted and shifted in his seat, irritated. “Why are you asking me this?”

“Why not?”

“It’s a stupid question. We’ve been over this already.”

“It’s not stupid. It’s perfectly admissible.”

“Ug.” He pushed back his soft, light brown hair away from forehead and then scratched the top of his head, vigorously. It’s something I notice Roper does whenever he’s agitated. “You’re being” he huffs,” emotional.” Are you imitating your period again? I fuckin’ hate when you do that.”

I open the door of the car and start to step out. “You’re impossible.”

He grabs my arm and pulls me toward him. “I love you as much as I can love you, without really loving you. You get what I am saying, kiddo?”

I understood that. I know Hell doesn’t grant real love. I know Roper tries; he’s my companion, and protection, and is there for me when I need him, and he hasn’t tried to strangle me in my sleep yet, which I know is as good as it’s going to get down here.

“I know that. I just mean, if you had met me during the course of our real life, in the flesh, do you think you would have loved me?” I leaned back inside the truck and shut the door.

“Yeah. Why not? You’re beautiful, intelligent, funny… you have great tits. What’s there not to like?”

This time, I was the one grunting but a sarcastic quip was the best I was going to get from him and I accepted that. “Did you ever love someone during your life?” I asked. He gazed through the windshield, intensely. I could tell he was really thinking about it. He pushed a red liter between his thumb and index finger back and forth until he was ready to answer.

“Yes, once. Maybe twice.”

“Who was she?”

“Emma was her name. I met her when we were in college. She was sweet, very pretty in that natural, girl next-door kind of way. She was studying to be a teacher. There was something so innocent about her…that’s why I think I loved Emma: her innocence and her kindness. Never said a bad word about anybody.” He became deep in thought.

“How long were you together?”

“Give or take, ten years.”

“What happened?”

“Um, well, I proposed to her eventually, bought a house, did the whole white picket fence thing. She vanquished most of my appetite to go out and kill anybody, even though I still did periodically. Westchester County should thank her for keeping the streets safe for a little while… but eventually, the cravings, the desires, all came back and she wasn’t enough to stop me. In my early thirties, the demon in me just went wild. I annihilated at least fourteen more girls just within a three-year time slot. I went on feeding frenzies during the night. I killed more people then I ever intended to but the beast in me couldn’t stop. It was this high I needed to have. No drugs could get me there. No amount of money could give me that power. No love could ever satisfy me the way a hard-earned kill could. Ever strangle somebody as you stare directly into their eyes? Their pupils bounce up and down, their lips quiver, they’re silently begging you for their life. You watch their last breath, the very second they leave this world is all yours. That kind of power is fucking godly. I called it off a week before our wedding. I had too. She was talking about kids. I can’t have kids. How could I have kids? I’d infect them with my disease. I’d destroy their purity and respect for their own father if they ever found out what kind of monster I was. I loved my unborn children enough not to do that to them, ya know? Bad enough I dragged her along for all those years, thinking we could ever be normal. Emma was heartbroken. I gave her some bullshit reason. She could see right through it but she never questioned me, or fought it. She let me go. Who knows? She probably thought I was fucking another chick or something, but I would never do that to her, ever. No, the reason was much worse than I’m sure she could ever imagine. I never told Emma what I was, obviously, but she knew me better than anybody. I think in the end, she might have had an idea, maybe.”

I lit his cigarette and then my own. We were silent for a few moments, collecting old memories.

“Did you love anyone after Emma?”

He shrugged. “Eh, sort of. Milli, this Asian chick. She was hot, great body, super smart; a classically trained pianist. She played the most beautiful music. She was a young girl, a good fifteen years younger than me at the time. We were dating for a year right before I was shot. Come to think of it? No, I never really loved her.”

“Do you regret your life?”

Roper laughed loudly to himself. “No, see that’s where me and you differ. In your life, you made a mistake. Then you assimilated to this portrayal of a wickedness in the afterlife just to survive- you’re no depraved villain. I was born a monster, I died a monster, and I’ll live out the rest of eternity doing what I did best. I’m fine with that.”

I kissed Roper goodbye and watched him back out of my driveway. I was surprised he didn’t come in for a quickie but I suppose after our talk, he was hot for a kill tonight. Understandable.

I faced my house and lit my twelfth cigarette today. My house is a cozy, three-bedroom ranch; all brick, with a black roof and black shutters, white garage doors; silver, house number twenty-four is perched next to the porch light, with two cement steps under the white door. There is a garden of brightly colored orange and red and purple impatiens planted on either side of the small patio, and also down at the end of my driveway, encircling a black mailbox.

Your house in Hell emulates your house in real life. Not necessarily the last place you lived in, but whatever during your time span on Earth that you considered to be home; whether that be the place you grew up in, as mine is, or the first house you bought with your spouse, or friend, or perhaps on your own. It could even mirror your dorm room from college if that’s what you associated as your safe haven. I grew up in this suburban ranch with my parents and older brother, Jimmy. I recognized it immediately after I entered the underworld. Of course, it didn’t feel the same. It was cold and empty but I was just glad to have some sort of familiarity where I was spending my eternity.      I sat on the top of my stoop, ashing the remnants of the butt into the potted plant. As I slowly inhaled the last drag, I could hear this eerie echo in my mind of a child’s laughter. I envisioned this transparent image of a little girl in pigtails, about four or five, scampering around the bottom of my driveway with a small red bicycle. My heart sank in my chest; overwhelming sadness took over my entire being. My hand begun to shake and I wished I hadn’t finished my smoke so quickly.

Fuck. I miss my daughter. Maybe I can visit her tonight.

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