The road to hell ends at a pair of dingy glass doors hiding a dimly lit lobby tucked in between a TrashMart store and the South Hades Pornography Wax Museum.
"That's it?" asked Liz.
"That's it." said Satan. "You expected something more?"
"Well, I did expect something with a bit more grandeur. And shouldn't it say 'abandon all hope ye who enter here' above the door?"
"That's at the other end of the tunnel. There's a little sign over there that says 'Admission by invitation only'. But maybe we could put something a bit more symbolic over the door. How about 'There's only one way out of here. This isn't it?"
"Maybe something with more pizazz. We can work on that." She scribbled a note in her notepad.
She walked toward the door, but the devil restrained her. "Not a good idea for me to go in that way. They can't stop me, but they'll know I've been here. For the time being, I'd rather they were busy tracking surrogates over in the East end. We'll go in through the TrashMart ... unless you'd rather go in through the museum." He leered at her suggestively.
Liz thought it over. " ehrr. How extensive is the museum?" she asked with studied casualness.
"Very. The models are live, not wax. And this is really Central Hades, not South Hades. But our Truth in Advertising Law requires that at least one statement be true, so there is certainly a lot of pornography. Your trip to Hell really isn't complete without it. He turned toward the door which was set back between what Liz saw to be an enormous pair of brass .... ulp
"Not on your life." said Liz. as she turned and marched toward the sliding doors of the TrashMart.
Inside, the TrashMart was revealed to be huge store with aisles of merchandise stretching into the distance. Hundreds, maybe thousands of people drifted about pushing shopping carts. Muzak drifted from speakers. "Wow!" said Liz, I never expected anything like this in Hell ... Except for the Barry Manilow, maybe. If you don't mind my asking, what's so painful about this?"
"Well, I have to admit that I was skeptical when the idea was presented, but the slide show was really convincing. The merchandise here is cheap and shoddy. A lot of it is broken out of the box. Most of the rest, won't last long if you try to use it. And most of it is stuff nobody needs anyway. The prices look cheap, but after you take most people's salaries and take out withholding, insurance, taxes, fees, late charges, compulsory donations, and the like there isn't much left. This place and places like it takes every bit of that and puts the clients in debt to boot. And we keep hundreds of thousands of good solid capitalist souls working 12 hour a days seven days a week for starvation wages to supply merchandise. It's really great. Lots better than slave labor. Do you know what it used to cost us to feed slaves? And the medical bills .... One little untreated scratch and next thing you know, you're burying a capital asset. Capitalist workers? Bury their own dead, and there are 20 replacements lined up the next morning looking for the deceased's job. You just can't imagine how tough slave owning is compared to capitalism. I love capitalism.
"Take this for example." The devil grabbed a can of beer off the top of a pyramid of cans and handed it to Liz. "Costs us next to nothing to make. Costs this rabble" he waved his arm expressively " a half days salary for a case." Liz looked at the familiar looking can. Something was not quite right. The name ... something about the name. She studied it. The first letter. The first letter was wrong. "Cudweiser. CUDweiser? CUDWEISER!!! Bealsie. You didn't!"
The devil looked sheepish. "Well, yeah. We did. Grain doesn't grow too well with no sun, and there was all this cow urine sloshing around with no good use for it. But we ran taste tests first. 83% of the American beer drinkers couldn't tell the difference between cow piss and American beer. And of the 17% that could, 68% preferred the cow urine. Can't blame 'em. I wouldn't drink either, but if I had to make a choice, I'd probably go with the Cudweiser."
"What about the non-Americans?"
"They agree almost unanimously. Being forced to drink American Beer is one of the worst punishments of Hell. Retribution quotient for this stuff is 9.932. It's about a ten thousand of a point behind being tossed into a fiery pit, but the braintrust says that isn't statistically significant.. Want to stop for a brew or two? I'm in kind of a hurry, but we'll need to take a break sometime. Might as well be now."
Liz ignored him and marched on into the store.
Their journey through the store was uneventful until they got to Sporting Goods where one of the customers was shooting up the Department. The first shot took out a cash register in a cloud of sparks. The second whanged past the Devil's head and destuffed a monstrous purple dinosaur in the the Toy Department. The devil pushed Liz into the pet department aisle and dived after her as another round took out a fully loaded goldfish bowl dowsing the devil with water and goldfish. "That tears it." muttered the devil. "They can sell guns and ammo in Houston if they want to, but from here on out Hell is gonna have gun control! Who needs this?"
Sitting legs akimbo, soaking wet, surrounded by flopping goldfish, the devil started to twiddle his thumbs. Liz interrupted. "A fiery pit seems appropriate," she said smoothly, " but won't that tell the people that you don't want to know where you are where you are?" More shots rang out. In the distance a motor could be heard starting
The Devil stopped twiddling his thumbs. "Ignoring the peculiar syntax of that last sentence, I suppose that you are right." More shots. Crashes and crunches approaching from the back of the store. Motor noise louder. Another shot.
"What the hell is that? yelled Liz
"Store Security. ExPhiladelphia Police. Sherman Tanks. They'll handle the problem without nukes -- I think." More shots. Another motor started. The crashing got louder and nearer. Screams pierced the air. "Liz, m'dear," said the devil. I think we should make tracks. That way." He pointed. "You're already dead and I'm immortal, so being run over by a tank won't kill us, but it won't be the high point of our day." The two skittered off keeping low as the noise behind them rose to a crescendo. As they made their way through household appliances and automotive, the noise faded. They slowly straightened up and returned to a more normal demeanor.
"So," said Liz, "Where is the exit from TrashMart to the River Styx? And why is there an exit to the Styx?"
"The entrance is back of the tire department, and it's there because my predecessor got taken by a fast talking defense contractor. They convinced him that the entrance tunnel had to be wide enough to accommodate the entire population of Earth after the Battle of Armageddon. Slinkley, Fradulence and Skuzz managed to dig four miles of super wide tunnel before someone got around to asking exactly how we were going to get the whole population of Earth across the Styx. When they went looking for SF&S, all there was was an empty office. Six weeks later we got a postcard from the Pliedes that said 'We don't have a clue how you will get them all across the Styx. Maybe you can teach them to fly.' No extradition from the Pliedes. SF&S took 27,000,000 shekels with them when they left."
"Anyway, we chose to make the best of a bad deal and used the wide part of the tunnel for the store and the museum.
Satan and Liz made their way to the back of the store without further incident -- their journey punctuated by the occasional sound of cannons and a distant flickering light that Satan strongly suspected came from Molotov cocktails improvised from Coleman lanterns.