Due to circumstances outside my control, I ended up spending most the summer of 2005 in hell. How I got there, well, that's a long story and I won't waste your time. How I got out will likely be of some use to you in the future.

First of all, hell isn't like people think it is. Yes, there are a lot of flames, and a lot of people screaming. Everybody wants out. That's about where the similarities end. See, the Devil learned a long time ago that burning people alive for all eternity, while entertaining, wasn't really that profitable. Hell may be in a different dimension, but it still follows some of the same rules as earth. Money and personal worth is very important in hell. In the 1980's, when everything started to be about money and gain and profit and loss, the devil decided that it was time to cash in on something that would make him rich, something he could retire comfortably on. By 1986, hell was outsourcing call centres and helpdesks to forty major companies. By 1988, everyone in hell had stopped burning aimlessly and started working towards securing Satan’s empire. These days, when you buy a TV or a VCR and you don't know how to program it, chances are good if you phone the technical support line it goes directly into the deepest pits of hell. On paper, on Earth, it all looks legal and normal. Not unlike money laundering scams, there are shell companies which handle all the up-front stuff. Satan only ever comes in to close a deal. In hell, the devil isn't some red guy with a pitch fork and horns. As powerful as the devil is, he can take any form. For some reason he mostly preferred the form of Jack Lemmon. Another thing, the devil also made everyone call him 'D', or 'D-man'.

I didn't want to be in hell when everyone was burning forever, and I wasn't too keen on it now, either. Right away when I got there I started looking for a way out. That's another thing about hell, and you may already know this, but hell is endless paperwork. If you wanted out, you had to file an I-130 with the Bureau of Departure. To get into the Bureau of Departure, you had to have a signed and stamped B-420.d from the Bureau of Departure Acceptance Department, which was on the other side of hell. You literally had to go through hell and back just to get in the door.

One more thing I left out about hell that you may know about, you get to bargain for your soul. This was something you could compete in, against the devil himself, in order to go back to Earth. But you don't get to pick Chess or Checkers or Battleships to win your soul back. Probably, the first guy could pick, but after he won and got free the devil probably decided that he'd better use something he's good at. Satan sucks at Chess, by the way. So, that’s probably how it happened that the only way to get out of hell was to race the devil around a track on pogo sticks.

When you step inside the Bureau of Departure in hell, the first thing you notice is that it's air conditioned. Right after that, you notice the row of people in front of you that stretches off to where the people become tiny dots. Look to either side and you'll see that there are similar rows to the left and right of you, also stretching off into the distance. They had a numbering system somewhat like you'd find in other offices and some restaurants. When you get in the door, you take a number. If your number gets called you can go to the desk and submit your I-130 and hope you get lucky. These weren't numbers like you'll find on earth, though. The management in hell -- which isn't necessarily Satan -- long ago realised that most people who come to hell soon want out. And with endless rows going this way and that, they needed to rethink the whole sequential numbering thing. I'm not going to explain the whole thing, but let's just say that the numbers get unbelievably huge. We're talking about centillions to the order of octillions here.

Time in hell -- or any other dimension -- wasn't like time on Earth. Waiting in line, with every person in hell who got there before you and every one who got there later behind you, it wasn't like waiting a thousand years or something like you might think. You got the impression that you may have been waiting forever, but it could be five seconds for all you know. I eventually got to the desk and handed in my form, and even with all the people in hell, the front desk at the BoD was understaffed. It's funny, but even if the only thing of a person that comes to hell is their soul and their credit history, the one at the desk still manages to plod through their job with the emphasis on being a soulless automaton.

My request went though what seemed like an endless process, but I eventually got approved to win back my soul. What they call an audience with Satan. I was immediately moved to the testing grounds, a small twisting track around a warehouse in the eastern space of hell. I was issued a pair of tight pants and a pogo stick at the track's administration office and I took my place at the starting line. I thought I was racing Jack Lemmon until I realised who it was.

You may not guess this about Satan, but he doesn't do trash talking. Decades of business management meetings and customer satisfaction paradigm seminars have taught him to be extremely focused on his goals. As the red signal lights ran down from infinity to the one green one, Satan just stood there, in his Jack Lemmon body and green tight pants, one foot on the stick, ready to start the race.

The last thousand red lights went off one after the other and the green one lit up, and we were off with the cheers of an endless number of trapped souls. Satan started pulling ahead right away and had built up a good lead by the fiftieth lap, but I was determined not to spend the rest of my afterlife in hell and managed to keep with him. On lap five-hundred-and-four, Satan took a bad step on turn thirty-one and lost significant time. He pushed hard to build up his lead again but I managed to keep the gap at a few thousand feet. A few hundred laps later, the devil had started to feel the effects of a bad case of crabs. This was courtesy of a hooker in Tijuana who Satan had met recently at the end of spring break. Even Satan had to learn the hard way. Forty-seven laps before the end, the devil and I were fighting for the lead.

Due to several scratch stops by Satan, I had caught up completely. It appeared that Jack Lemmon and I had the same power-to-weight ratio and we pushed ahead with equal measures of determination. With all the unthinkable masses of souls that have raced around the track on pogo sticks against Satan, you could count the ones that actually made it back to Earth on one hand. We were still bouncing head-to-head on the last lap, and no matter how hard either of us tried we still stayed right next to the other. As treacherous turn forty-two came up I tried to push out ahead but I was matched in pace exactly. We took turn forty-two at the same time, but Satan ran a bit wide for momentum and pulled a way out in front of me. But taking the turn wide had made the track that much longer for him, and I could pull ahead almost as much as he had, putting me slightly in the lead. The crowd of all the world's lost souls screamed and yelled and signalled the home stretch. The devil and I were bouncing for the finish line like vigorous maniacs, pushing our sticks to the boundaries of their operation. As we approached the line, the devil had drawn on some hidden power and was slowly gaining on me, but it was too little too late for him and he finished slightly behind me.

I never thought I'd photo finish with Jack Lemmon in hell, let alone on pogo sticks, and if the photos weren't so expensive I'd have proof. I was hoping that Satan, or D-man, would come and shake my hand and congratulate me and hand me my pardon himself, but as soon as the race was over he dropped his stick and his green tight pants and left for a business meeting with a new client. Some people may say that hell isn't that bad. It's only slightly worse than a timeless eternity on Earth, but do you have any idea how hot hell is in the summer?

Critiques welcome. Please /msg me.

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