Press 1 for yes, 2 for no, 3 for maybe, 4 for huh?, 5 for not recently . . .
To Hell And Back
by Stephen D. Rogers
David stared at the envelope in his hands. "Return to sender. Addressee unknown." The red ink nearly obliterated the address he'd written yesterday morning: Grace Bernhardt, Hell.
Closing his eyes to the ever-present Heavenly sunshine, David thought back to that pivotal day back on earth, Grace screaming at him before the ambulance doors closed. "I'll see you in Hell, David Bernhardt."
Despite the desperate efforts of the emergency personnel to save her life, there had been no mistaking what she'd said. Her enunciation had been perfect. The two police officers holding David's elbows had verified her last words and, even now, replaying the image in his mind, David could see her lips forming the sentence.
So where was she?
David tucked the envelope into his back pocket and continued his stroll through the park, sidestepping a pothole in the path.
Sure, Hell was a big place, but David had been told that the postal delivery system there was superb.
Perhaps the problem was at this end.
David unclipped his phone and wandered around the park until he had a signal. Then he dialed.
"Hello. You've reached Information Central. If you know your party's extension, you may dial it at any time. If you would like to ask a question, please press 1. If you would like to report a problem, please press 2. If you would like to raise a issue, please press 3. If you would like to recount a incident, please press 4. Press 9 to repeat this menu."
David pressed 9. Did he have a question or a problem? While he didn't think he had an issue, he might have had an incident. Perhaps he should press 1 and ask.
He did so.
"Hello. You have reached the Question Department. If you know your party's extension, you may dial it at any time. If your question is related to any of the world religions, please press 1. If your question is related to tuning your harp, please press 2. If your question is related to your computer hanging when you try to synchronize your phone's address book, please press 3. If your question is related to this voicemail system, please press 4. Press 9 to repeat this menu. Press 8 to return to the previous menu."
David pressed 8 to return and 2 to report a problem.
"Hello. You have reached the Problem Department. If you know your party's extension, you may dial it at any time. If your problem is related to any of the world religions, please press 1. If your problem is related to tuning your harp, please press 2. If your problem is related to your computer hanging when you try to synchronize your phone's address book, please press 3. If your problem is related to this voicemail system, please press 4. Press 9 to repeat this menu."
David pressed 8.
He pressed 8 again.
He pressed 9.
"Hello. You have reached the Problem Department."
That was his fault. He should have started with the post office in the first place. David dialed 0 for directory assistance.
"Hello. You have reached The Phone Company. If you know your party's extension, you may dial it at any time."
David looked for somewhere to sit.
"If you would like to ask a question regarding your phone, please press 1. If you would like to report a problem regarding your phone, please press 2. If you would like to access a listing, please press 3."
David pressed 3 as he sat on a bench that could have used a fresh coat of paint.
"Hello. You have reached the Listing Department. Please use your keypad to spell the name of the listing you would like to access. For an individual, enter last name, first name, middle initial, rank, and title. For any other listing, enter the name as it appears in the Register. Press # when complete or * to restart."
David tapped the keys until POST OFFICE appeared in the window. He pressed #.
"You entered POST OFFICE. There are eight thousand, two hundred and forty seven matching entries."
David kicked off his sandals.
"If you want to access the listing for POST OFFICE USED VEHICLES, please press 1. If you want to access the listing for POST OFFICE STAMPS BY MAIL, please press 2. If you want to access the listing for STERN MILDRED B MISS, please press 3. If you want to access the listing for POST OFFICE, please press 4."
David pressed 4.
"Hello. You have accessed the listing for POST OFFICE. If you would like the fax number for POST OFFICE, please press 1. Press 2 for mailing address 3 for phone 4 for Register ID and 5 for current stock price."
David shook his head. What? He pressed 9 to repeat the menu but nothing happened.
Shrugging, he pressed 1.
"I'm sorry, but that option is not available."
He pressed 2.
"I'm sorry, but that option is not available."
He pressed 3.
"The number is unlisted."
Perhaps this was fate talking. Just because David felt the need to write Grace didn't mean she was interested in hearing from him. Maybe it was better this way. David managed to get a few things off his chest and Grace could continue to pretend he'd never been born. It was a win-win situation.
"I'll see you in Hell, David Bernhardt."
David leaned forward to pull the envelope from his pocket.
He ripped open the flap and took out the letter, unfolding it to read.
"Dear Grace. I hope it's not true that Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned because I hate to think you're still mad at me after all that's happened. I'm sorry about that last day and I wish we could have resolved our differences peacefully but -- no -- you wanted to talk. Eternity is a long time, however, and I don't see the point of holding a grudge. Anyway, a funny thing happened while I was on Death Row. I found religion and let Jesus into my heart. I didn't expect anything more than rapture during my remaining days on earth but my sins were also forgiven. Believe it or not, I was sent to Heaven. Wish you were here, David."
He folded the letter and returned it to the envelope. But why wasn't it deliverable?
After making sure that no one was watching, David unclipped his phone and dialed 666.
"Fred Minion. What can I do for you David?"
"How did you know my name?"
"We know everything. I even know what I can do for you but I thought it more polite to ask."
"I'm sorry but Grace isn't here."
"Are you sure? She said specifically that she was going to Hell. Several witnesses heard her."
"Yes." Fred chuckled. "She did and she was. But then she went back."
David tried to grasp the implications of what he'd heard. "Grace came back from the dead? What is she, a flesh-eating zombie or something?"
Fred laughed. "Oh no, nothing like that. We send people back all the time. There are whole industries on earth which are staffed by nothing but Hellions. Didn't you ever have any home repairs done?"
"I always rented."
"Ah, that's right. Remember the leaky faucet in your last place, the plumber who was landlord's brother-in-law? That drip, drip, drip never did stop."
"So how do I get in touch with her?"
"Are you sure you want to? Communications with the undead are never perfect."
David sighed. "Our communication wasn't very good even when we were both alive."
"I'll transfer you to Relocation then. In case the transfer doesn't go through, just dial 666. The correct person will answer."
"Thanks for your help."
"You're welcome. Good luck."
There was a short silence and then someone came on the line.
"Hello David. Jordan Minion here. You're looking for Grace Bernhardt?"
"She's working the drive-thru window at a TastE-Treat located at 7734 Norway in Michigan, Texas. I can adjust the frequency of her headset so that you can follow the beam on your Course Locator."
David sniffed. "Actually, my Course Locator hasn't worked for weeks. I called to report the problem but I couldn't find the part number anywhere. Without that, I couldn't get past the fifth menu."
Jordan laughed. "We send the Hellions back to earth. In Heaven, the impossibly incompetent are given important jobs. Tell you what, David. Disconnect, close your eyes, and count to three."
David put his phone away and closed his eyes. "One. Two. Three." David opened his eyes to find himself in a small brick room not unlike his Death Row cell. Somewhere a machine was beeping. Grace stood in front of him, chewing gum, chattering into a headset.
"Thank you for waiting. Would you like to try one of our combo meals today?"
She paused. "How about our manager's special? The manager's special this week is buy fifteen sodas and receive a sixteenth free. As always, the straws are on us."
David reached out to touch Grace but his hand passed through her shoulder.
"Okay then. What would you like to order?"
David stepped around in front of Grace but she looked right through him.
"Would you like to make that a combo meal?"
"Would you like a drink with that?"
David snapped his fingers.
"We don't have small sodas."
David stuck out his tongue.
"We don't have medium sodas."
David was glad to see that at least her wounds appeared to have healed. She might have frightened customers away if they hadn't.
"We have large, huge, and gigantic. Gigantic is the best deal with a savings of twenty-two percent versus a large."
David leaned back. Grace had put on more than a few pounds since she's died. Perhaps employees ate for free.
"I'm sorry, but we're out of gigantic cups."
David said hello but Grace didn't even flinch.
He reached for the envelope in his back pocket but then remembered having dropped it next to the park bench.
Turning from Grace, he unclipped his phone.
"Would you like to make that a combo meal?"
David dialed 666.
"Transportation, Mary Minion speaking. Are you ready to return?"
"Close your eyes and count to three."
David closed his eyes. "One, two, three."
There was the envelope addressed to Grace, right where he left it. Not wanting to litter, he picked it up and searched for a trash bin.
Perhaps everything had turned out for the best. David didn't have to listen to Grace complaining anymore, Grace didn't have to complain about David, and perhaps a few TastE-Treat customers would be driven away from the restaurant to eat TastE-Treat frozen dinners at home instead.
David finally located a trash bin. It was filled to overflowing, surrounded by piles of garbage. A nearby sign asked people to call if the bin needed to be emptied. There was no number.
After kissing the envelope, he placed it on top of the heap and watched it slip to the ground. "Goodbye Grace."
David unclipped his phone and dialed.
"Greetings David. Devil here."
"What is it they call you, the Prince of Lies?"
"That is one of my names."
David grinned. "I must admit that you really had me going there for a while. I actually believed my soul had been saved when all this time I was really in Hell. I have to hand it to you. The illusion was perfect. Perhaps it was a little overdone but I still fell for it."
"What made you decide you'd been fooled?"
"The inconsistencies were too consistent. Grace returning from the dead to work at a drive-thru? Reality simply isn't that ironic." David spun in a slow circle. "And Heaven? The trappings are all here but just underneath the surface, it smells a little like brimstone, if you know what I mean."
"I hear what you're saying, David, and I can understand your confusion even as I applaud your logic. Unfortunately, you're mistaken. I'm in Hell and you're not. I'm sorry."
David closed his eyes.
"Furthermore, I regret to inform you that we've received a Cease and Desist Order. As much as we'd like to, we won't be able to take any more of your calls."
"What about Grace?"
"You're as close as you'll ever be."
Wanna lose me as a customer? Just make me use those stinkin’, drill-down help-line devices. These days companies that use them are masking or delaying the “talk to a human” option. Makes me wanna cyber-strangle some software. Anyway, looks like David’s encountering his own special brand of help-line hell. Enjoy this story? Let us know on our BBS. We promise: no help lines.