It was around 10 p.m. when a lone car careened down the empty rural road, engine growling, disrupting the peace of a lonely night. Its headlights ploughed through the darkness ahead as it angrily chewed up the centre lines along the road, then spewed them out in the rear, back into the nothingness trailing in its wake.
Reggie Morton sat in the driver’s seat of the Corolla, leaning forward, his fingers closed so tightly around the wheel that his knuckles had gone white. Eyes fixed under a sour, pinched brow, he glared ahead through the windshield, towards an impossibly straight stretch of road, as endless and inevitable as the blackness that engulfed it. With his jaw offset to the left and tightly sealed lips masking his clenched teeth, he slowly but steadily eased his foot further down upon the accelerator pedal.
Beside him was his wife, possibly his soon-to-be ex-wife, or rather his not soon-enough-to-be ex-wife, Thora. While Reggie had resolved to keep his yap shut till they made it home --still ninety gruelling minutes away-- she had set no such conditions for herself. Thora initiated her screeching harangue the moment they had gotten into the car thirty minutes ago and peeled away from her parent’s cottage and had not let up for one minute.
What a turnaround. The goal for the weekend had been reconciliation, to rebuild the bridge and foundation of the family’s relationship by spending a few days together at the cottage.
Two hours after arriving, Reggie nearly busted down the screen door, scrambling for the car to make his getaway. Thora had barely been able to throw herself in to try to stop him as he burned rubber down the gravel driveway. Emancipated, he sported a grin on his face as he revved through forest and farmlands despite his wife’s shrill screaming. She would calm down eventually, he had thought.
He thought wrong.
“You asshole! You son of a bitch! How can you say that to my parents? How can you do this to me? Why did I marry such a loser? I hate you! I really, really hate you! You asshole! You goddamn asshole!”
Really, her rant only consisted of maybe a dozen different ideas, mostly personal insults, paraphrased or stretched out with colourful adjectives for some variation, and all of them expressed at the volume level “Ten Plus”, also known as "verbal castration". Reggie wasn’t even sure if she had taken a breath as she wailed and yelled endlessly.
“Go to Hell!”
Reggie blinked. That was new.
Slowly, he turned his head, taking his eyes off the road even as his foot shoved the accelerator to the floor. He stared at Thora… his wife… this woman… this… harpy… her face full of hellfire, her eyes so wide they were popping from her head, her mouth gaping like a dark pit.
A moment of crystalline clarity sparked from within his soul. With an uneasy calm and through a churlish grin, he hissed, “I wish you were dead.”
Things seemed to happen in slow motion the moment he uttered those words. As if moving through water, he watched as Thora looked away from him and gazed ahead. He could practically see the tone of her skin drain from red to white as her mouth and eyes rounded wide. Her body went rigid as she screamed, “Ohhh myyy, Goood! Waaatch ooouuut foorrr thhheee cooowww!”
Reggie turned his head. “For the wh… -?”
The cow on the road bellowed as the Corolla struck it, flipping it up onto the hood and sending its backside crashing through the windshield. Suddenly overweight, the car swerved sharply across the road, hurtling into a ditch before coming to a dead stop by slamming into a sturdy tree.
The peace of night had been restored in exactly three-point-one-four seconds.
Reggie stood on the side of the road, admiring the wreck. He whistled. It was a pretty damn impressive sight. The tree’s trunk was rammed inside the hood of the car where the engine usually lived. Further along, four long, knobby bovine legs stuck straight up as if its hooves were pointing out the stars in the sky. The cow’s body was buried in the wreckage of the car, having shorn off the top and embedding itself amongst the seats. The head hung over the side of the rear driver’s side window, its giant slug of a tongue dangling out, a highlight to the overall “Why me?” expression on its sad face.
Reggie whistled again, unable to get over being such intimate witness to total carnage. Then, he paused and frowned. Standing upright, he thought hard for a moment, looking down the road behind him and then back at the car.
He had been driving down the road. That was his car in the ditch.
Suddenly he felt like a blender had just switched on within his gut. He took another closer look.
That was him beneath the cow, or more precisely crushed by the cow. That was his arm, anyway. That’s all he could see, but he could recognize his own arm despite it hanging bloody and limp.
“Huh,” he breathed and shifted his jaw to the right as he continued to process and think.
So that would mean…
Reggie walked around to the other side of the car/cow.
He recognized that arm, too. It was just as bloody and limp. The body it belonged to was also burdened by cow… the ass of said cow.
Reggie sputtered, his lips fluttering before he covered them with his hands. Still shaking as he gawked t the wreck, he thought to himself, “Screw it,” and let out a hearty laugh that emanated from his very soul and into the dead of night.
“Who’s the asshole now?!” he guffawed, pointing towards the human pancake he once swore to be the devoted husband of an entire lifetime ago.
A disarmingly pleasant chime sounded behind him. He turned slowly towards the road and suddenly found himself staring into a bright light. He squinted until his eyes adjusted and the light softened. Before him, in the middle of the road, an elevator car stood. Its doors slid open.
Once more, Reggie held his jaw aside as he peered cautiously at the peculiar thing. And once more, his only reaction was a shrug and a dull “Huh”.
He didn’t even flinch when a disembodied voice called to him as if it were all around him, “Reggie Morton. Please step into the elevator.”
It was an emotionless but somehow assuring voice, sounding at once both male and female, young and old.
Pausing only momentarily, Reggie stood upright then stepped forward without questioning the voice, drawn toward the light of the elevator. He stopped just outside the doors and peeked inside once again. The car had a pristine, polished chrome interior with overhead lights. There was nothing particularly unique about it other than it was an elevator plonked in the middle of a countryside road at night.
Reggie took a breath and looked up. He asked, “I’m dead… right?”
“Please step inside,” the voice replied uncommittedly.
Doing as he was told, he walked in and turned. That’s when he noticed that there were no buttons or anything to display the floors. Then, the doors quietly slid shut.
Reggie stood still, only his eyes rolling around, framed by a quizzical frown. He had always envisioned that the path to the Gates of Heaven would be along a gold and marble staircase… maybe an escalator. It would have been cool to watch his ascension into the clouds rather than being confined inside a small elevator without even so much as a window until he reached “The Penthouse”.
Still, it had just been a presumption on his part.
After a few seconds, he realized the elevator wasn’t moving. His looked up and asked, “Um… so… are we gonna get going, or what?”
A soft, mechanical whir of a motor started, and then Reggie felt the floor falling beneath his feet. It matched a sudden sinking feeling he felt in his stomach. He was going down.
He continued to look upward as he turned aimlessly inside the car. “Oh… uh, wait. I think… is there some mistake? We… I’m going down?”
The elevator continued its descent.
Flustered, Reggie insisted, “This can’t be right. Why am I going down?”
He had thought he had led a moral, decent life. Never stole candy from babies. Never kissed the girls and made them cry. He was the type of person who, when confronted with a creepy bug in his home, would escort it out on a piece of paper rather than crush it underfoot.
“This isn’t right! I’ve never done anything!” he pleaded. “What did I … -?”
“I wish you were dead.”
His own voice and words before the crash haunted the confines of the elevator, skimming off the sleek walls and swirling around his ears. He felt the warmth of the blood rushing up his neck and blushing his cheeks as his trembling lip hung limply. He croaked, “I… I didn’t mean that.”
“Yes, you did,” the voice replied, calmly.
Yes, he did.
Reggie tried again. “But I… but I wouldn’t have…”
“Yes, you would have.”
Yes, he would have.
He chewed his lower lip anxiously as he thought of his next plea. Taking a moment to swallow back his panic, he asked carefully, “But I didn’t actually do it, right? Isn’t this a bit harsh?”
“Much like the grains of sand in the desert, people often presume too quickly that space in Heaven is infinite,” the voice answered.
Reggie was flabbergasted. “Heaven is full?”
“Heaven is selective.”
He slumped heavily against the elevator, stunned by being treated and discarded like an apple with a soft side, cast from Paradise due to one mental slip up. Grudgingly resigned to his fate, he stared at the floor for possibly an hour, or a day, or a week, before finally muttering, “So, when do we get there?”
Reggie frowned and shook his head, annoyed. “What do you mean ‘where’? When do we arrive?”
His mouth hung open and dry as another realization eventually dawned on him. He wasn’t going anywhere. This was it.
This was Hell. Alone in an elevator. Not as metaphorical as he had imagined, to be honest.
Reggie felt his legs bend slightly at the knees as the elevator unexpectedly slowed to a stop, the gentle sound of the motor ceasing. Then the doors slid open.
Once more, he was looking out upon the empty country road and the accident. Nothing had changed. It was still dead silent, calm and pitch dark.
“Do I get out here?” he asked hesitantly.
For a fraction of a heartbeat, he considered leaving the elevator and making a run for it. Something told him that it would be pointless if he tried.
Then he heard it: the sound of some scuffling and grunting coming from the accident. From between the cow and the Corolla, a figure struggled and finally emerged. Reggie squinted at the shadowy image in the dark. It stood like a twisted, contorted lamp post for a moment before it turned and slowly dragged its way towards him in the elevator.
It was Thora.
As she plodded towards him, revealing more and more of her broken body as she approached the light of the elevator, Reggie stepped back until he bumped against the rear wall. Eyes stuck on the advancing bloody corpse of his wife, he exerted his full will for the doors to close.
They did… once Thora lumbered in.
The elevator resumed its downward descent.
Reggie sucked the breath through his teeth as he stared at her while he attempted to meld himself into the wall. She stood motionless on the other side of the elevator car staring at him through her one remaining, blood-soaked eye. Something greyish green oozed from her ears. Her normally lithe body was fractured in several directions, most notably her concave chest. Thora hadn’t exactly been well-endowed in that area, but… damn.
Her dislocated jaw suddenly moved, a trickle of crimson spit seeping from the edge of her mouth. She mumbled something.
He barely managed to swallow, then asked, “Uh… wh-what? I didn’t quite hear you.”
“You…” she rasped with a low moan, “… asshole.”
Reggie cocked an earnest brow. “Oh.”
“You asshole,” she repeated, her voice intensifying. “You asshole!”
He nodded. “I know! I'm sorry!”
“You goddamn son of a bitch!” She continued to assail him, her fury rising immediately to a screeching, ear-busting pitch. “How can you talk to my parents like that? You’re such a goddamn loser! I hate you, you stupid asshole! I hate you!”
As she relentlessly spewed her hate-filled guts at him --literally, she was spitting up her mangled guts at him-- all Reggie could do was nod mutely and stare back at her, aghast as if his eyes were propped open by toothpicks. As meaningless minutes and hours passed, he realized she wasn’t going to stop. Oh God, she would… never… stop.
Reggie knew, then, that he was definitely in Hell.
Once more, the elevator eased to a stop, and once more the doors slid open. Just over Thora’s smashed shoulder, he could see the dark, country road again. There was the tree. There was the wrecked Corolla. There was the cow.
Unable to move past the hideous figure of his deceased wife, Reggie watched helplessly as the cow slumped over to its side and rolled off the car like it a sleepy side of beef sliding off a mattress. It then lowed a long, mournful, grizzly moo, before it trundled its way toward the elevator.
“Oh God, no!” Reggie cried out. He peeled himself from the wall to try to block the door, but Thora shoved him back with surprising strength for someone whose arm was hanging by the sinews. “No! No! No!”
As his dead wife continued to rail at him, the cow came up to the door and stopped. The giant black orbs that were its eyes were unblinking as it gazed into the elevator while it continued to chew its cud like a big wad of bubblegum. Then it groaned another forlorn moo before turning around on its knobby legs, then backing in and stuffing itself into the tight, enclosed space.
Ignoring her screaming and his pitiful protests, the cow’s rump shoved the two of them together against the back of the elevator, pinning them to the wall. Against all impossibilities, it squirmed and squeezed every inch of its huge, smelly, beefy carcass into the confines, just enough to allow the doors to close.
And after a moment, the elevator resumed its descent one final time.
“Goddamn loser, son of a bitch, asshole!” Thora shrieked, her blood dribbling down from her mouth, nose and eyes.
With cow butt against his cheek and the grotesque visage of his decaying wife at his nose, vilifying him like a deranged banshee on crack, Reggie’s eyes rolled up towards the lights in the ceiling. His mouth flopped open as a moan ached from his lungs, “Ohh, God!”
The cow bellowed along with him, rattling the elevator.
This… this was Hell, he knew.
And right on queue, the soprano-sax instrumental version of Livin’ La Vida Loca started to play.
In an elevator car descending towards destination forever, a scream of unequalled anguish was heard by no one.