“You think this is the gateway?” Carl asked. The small team of four stood in a warehouse-sized lab. It took a few hours to get the power running; when the lights came on a low, heavy hum filled the room. Then, the team noticed a black hole hovering vertically in the center. It was surrounded by an array of 6-foot tall rumbling speakers, assorted electronics, and several computers. As Carl asked his question Commander Johnson and the team’s tech, Lucy, approached the computers that came on with the power.
“Why don’t you go ask someone?” Micky, a portly soldier, chuckled behind him. Micky kept his eyes on the doors, he and Carl were the only actual soldiers on the team that entered the warehouse. The city and most of Ireland seemed to be abandoned and no one knew where everyone disappeared to. Before Carl could think up an equally smart-ass response, Lucy spoke up.
“Commander, there’s a video on the desktop labeled, ‘Watch This’.
“Then let’s watch it,” Commander Johnson said. The rugged man in his 60s was technically no longer a soldier, but a long military career earned him enough respect to be called in. Lucy nodded and double-clicked the video. All screens were immediately filled with a frazzled looking old man with white hair; Commander Johnson recognized him. He sent the message claiming they discovered a gateway to Hell.
“If anyone is watching this, you’ve probably come looking for us,” the man said. Behind him, workmen could be seen carrying boxes and equipment into the black hole. “We’re all fine, you can stop. Moving to Hell is in fact better than staying here,” the man said with an odd grin. “You’ll find a list of everyone that moved with us to account for the missing people. Thank you for coming. Goodbye,” he said. Then, the video ended.
“Moving to Hell?” Lucy asked no one. “Sounds like a demon talking.” Commander Johnson nodded. He suspected the same thing. He’d seen the horrors of war, and it dinged his faith in humanity. But he couldn’t imagine any scenario in which Hell was preferable.
“Let’s go take a look,” he said.
“But, we’re waiting for the other teams, right?” Carl asked. Commander Johnson’s team headed straight to the lab, but he also assigned teams to explore the rest of the nearby towns.
“Carl,” Commander Johnson said. “This is an order. Go to Hell,” he smiled at the joke, but Carl understood he meant it.
“Yes, Sir,” Carl nodded with a glum look.
“I’ll take point,” Micky said. “You stay at the back and keep an eye on Lucy.”
“Okay!” Carl was quick to accept the plan. The four gathered in a loose single-file in front of the black hole, then Micky walked forward with his rifle ready.
After Lucy walked through, Carl stepped up to the portal, took a deep breath, then stepped through. He expected to feel a tingle at the very least, as he walked into the inky darkness; instead, he felt nothing. One short step through the portal and he was in another world; it was as uneventful as walking into another room in the same house.
He noticed the orange-red sky first, but after that he became aware of an overpowering odor. It wasn’t unpleasant in itself, but it was strong enough to to be uncomfortable. Carl surveyed the area. The team stood in the center of a wide, green peppermint field; the source of the all-encompassing scent.
“This can’t be Hell,” Carl said.
“This way,” Commander Johnson said; then, he started walking. Carl turned and looked ahead. He spotted houses, seemingly a subdivision, at the edge of the green field.
“I’ve never seen so much peppermint,” Lucy said as they walked. They moved gingerly around the plants; the peppermint wasn’t growing in rows like on a farm. The plants grew wild and disorganized.
After a deceptively long walk they reached the edge of the subdivsion. The neighborhood looked surprisingly normal. A variety of one and two story houses lined paved streets. Picket fences separated each vibrant green yard, and a car was parked in every driveway.
“This can’t be Hell,” Micky said. “Where are we?”
“Let’s ask him,” Lucy pointed out a lean white-haired man watering his lawn; the scientist from the video.
“Morning!” he waved at the team as they reached his fence. “Welcome to Hell,” he smiled.
“Hello, Dr. White,” Commander Johnson replied. Dr. White’s smile disappeared. He dropped the hose and ran to the fence.
“You’re from my Earth?!” he asked nervously. “How many more of you are there!?”
“Just us for now,” Commander Johnson answered. Dr. White sighed in relief. “What’s the situation?”
“No situation. We’re fine. Go home and destroy the portal on your way out.”
“We’re here to rescue you!” Carl added; it sounded better in his head. Dr. White sighed.
“We don’t need rescuing. We left Earth because it’s better here. There are fewer people and more resources. I’d appreciate it if you didn’t tell the whole world about this place and ruin that.”
“I’m confused,” Carl said. The rest of his team chuckled at that but he kept speaking. “Is this Hell or not?”
“It is,” Dr. White said.
“So where are all the demons and brimstone?”
“At work, probably,” Dr. White shrugged. “Hell” he used air quotes. “Is just the name of an Earth, several actually, but you get the idea. It’s a generalized term, not an all-encompassing truth. Are there demons in Hell? Yes,” Dr. White noded. “But there are also country clubs, neighborhoods and an amazing shopping district. All the stories you’ve heard about Hell are just religious embellishments to scare you into behaving.”
“Hey doc, came to check on you,” a woman’s voice made Carl jump; he was the only one startled. The team turned around to see a short red-skinned woman in a black suit with tall, angled, obsidian horns.
“Oh, and Satan’s real too,” Dr. White added.