Arnold: A Work in Progress
So, one fateful day, Arnold decided to kill himself. It was a surprise to him that he actually went through with it. He found himself in an empty white void, with a gentleman in a white suit approaching him.
“Is this… is this heaven?” Arnold stammered.
“Well, of course it is!” the stranger sang. “We love suicides, get ‘em in by the dozen.”
“No, you idiot. You’re in hell.”
Arnold looked around, puzzled. “I have to admit, it’s not what I expected…”
“Everyone’s a critic…” the stranger sighed. “You see, I usually custom-tailor one’s eternal torment to the life they lead. Since you feel your life was empty and meaningless, I’ve little irony to add as spice to your suffering.”
“You mean to tell me – “
The Devil smiled broadly. “Now, let’s get back to the matter at hand. I was going to force you to live the life you tried escaping from, over and over, for the rest of eternity. There’s a touch of irony there, just a pinch. But, well, then you might actually realize that your life was actually worth living. I can’t have that. Remorse and regret have little flavor. I should think I’ll need your help.”
“Wait,” Arnold snapped, raising a hand to halt this nonsensical conversation. “You want me to help you determine my ultimate and eternal torment?”
“Sure, why not? Don’t you see the opportunity I’m giving you? How many choices did you have in your own life? Now, you get to make a few. So, tell me a bit about yourself and let’s see if we can figure this out…”
A chair was produced for each of them, and Arnold began his tale. “I was born in Orpington in ’72. My family moved to the Bronx when I was three.”
“Don’t care,” the Devil huffed. “What about your parents? Were they brutal? Did Daddy slap you around for taking the big piece of chicken? Get to some juicy stuff already.”
“God, no! My parents would have had to pay attention to me first, and that was unlikely.”
“So they starved you? Did they leave you alone to die out on the street? Did you feed on rats and roaches, live out of a cardboard box? I could work with stuff like that.”
“No, no. It’s just that my parents didn’t give me the attention I needed. I was always so alone.”
“So, your family life was good, but simply boring. Go on, please. Continue.”
“I was never good at anything,” Arnold continued. “I tried basketball for a while, when the other kids would let me play. My hook shot looked more like a right cross. I couldn’t do anything other than dribble.”
“So they made fun of you, bullied you, beat the crap out of you for being such a punk, a loser, an essentially useless human being.”
“Where do you come up with these things? No. They simply didn’t know what to make of me, I suppose. I was very different in their eyes. I only ever made but a few friends, but those never lasted.”
“They died horribly, then, leaving you alone and grieving, possibly feeling their deaths were your fault. Were they your fault? Did you kill someone, Arnold? That would be something, at least.”
“Maybe we should try something else,” Arnold sighed. “I’m sure all of my old friends are alive and well, although I haven’t spoken to them in ages.”
The Devil enumerated his points, each with a finger. “You had a good childhood, apparently. Your parents fed you and clothed you and kept you safe. You weren’t tortured by them or anyone else. You had a few friends, probably closer to you than you might think. Honestly, Arnold, you’re killing me here! Where’s the drama? Where’s the actual conflict?”
“I don’t know what you mean,” Arnold replied with a worrisome look on his face. “Look, can’t we just do the fire and brimstone thing?”
“I don’t want to do the fire and brimstone thing! It’s unimaginative! I’m an artist, Arnold, a professional! Crafting horrors is sort of my medium. No fire, no brimstone! And, for the record, no pushing stones up the sides of mountains, no boiling oil, or any of that medieval nonsense! Your torment should be as unique as you are, an expression of the person you once were. Help me find my muse! Ah, no wonder you think you’re worthless. I’m beginning to believe it myself.”
“Stop, I don’t work well under pressure.”
“Why did you kill yourself, Arnold! Make me understand, or we’ll be here forever! Were you terminally ill?”
“Was your life in danger somehow? Did you tick off the local bookie over a few big debts? Was someone at work angry that you got the promotion they wanted? Did your girlfriend leave you for a real man?”
“No, none of those things. I was just… tired, I guess, of being alive. There seemed to be nothing for me in life, nothing at all.”
“That’s the most ridiculous answer I’ve ever heard,” the Devil stated calmly. “What did you think was awaiting you here? What escape did you imagine this would be? You don’t knock yourself off and go directly to Disneyland, Arnold. Death is not a vacation. In a way, life is the vacation. You just didn’t enjoy it. You didn’t savor the experience. I’m thinking whatever torment I choose for you would be a complete waste of my talent. You didn’t deserve this much of my time.”
The Devil stood up. “Wait here. Well, that’s a given, considering you’re nowhere and can’t go anywhere. But I’ve got to consult some people on this case.” With that, he disappeared.
There was no way to tell how long Arnold waited, but he considered it a very long time. Finally, the Devil returned, already seated. “Well,” he laughed, “God and I figured out what we’re going to do with you.”
“God? You went to talk with God?”
“Yeah. I don’t do it often, but my idea regarding your case had to be cleared by the Creator Himself.”
“Why? What do you mean?”
“You’re going back. Good thing you chose a punk way of killing yourself. Pills, we can explain away rather easily. Again, I don’t get to be creative. A subtle series of coincidences were all we required.”
“I’m not dead? That’s great! Thank you!”
“Don’t thank me yet, Arnold. My input was that you should live a very long life. During such time, you’re mine. I’m going to make every moment of your life as horrible as possible. Job will have had it easier, please believe me.”
Arnold was in complete shock. I’m going to live, only to suffer? He couldn’t believe it. But something occurred to him, something that fueled a fire within him. All his life, Arnold complained that his life was uneventful, empty and meaningless.
“Fine by me,” Arnold assured the Devil. “Bring it on!”
And, from that moment until his 125th birthday, Arnold lived a cursed life with a persistent smile. He did everything he was ever afraid of doing, knowing he would survive it. He plummeted to his near-death while skydiving, being paralyzed from the neck down until the Devil got bored with his condition and healed him. Arnold married a hag of a wife that treated him like dirt, but he only married her for her money anyway and could take anything she dished out. He swam with sharks. He played Russian Roulette. The Devil made him suffer, surely, but Arnold matched his every torment with an equal amount of joy.
Arnold went to sleep for the last time on his 125th birthday. He found himself back in hell, with the Devil waiting for him. The Devil merely smiled, gave Arnold a bow, and disappeared.
Arnold understood what his eternal torment would be. He would always be Nowhere, with nothing else to do after doing everything, and suffering in nearly every way. Now, it would hurt as it never could before. “Well played,” Arnold sighed as he took his seat. “Although, not frightfully creative, you old bastard.”
He would never leave that seat again.