Eternity Will Keep You
“Eternity will keep you where death finds you.”
When Oscar stepped out of the teleporter, he knew it was going to be one of those days. Just like always, it took him a few seconds to get his bearings. He was at the office. It was the start of another work day. Perfect. And no sooner had he pulled himself together than, he started to sweat, which was bad. It was hot out, sticky hot actually, and Oscar, though not what you would call tubby, was prone to sweating. Once he started, his body would just not stop, no matter how cool the air conditioning was inside. His armpits were like the eyes of a little bitch who can never stop crying.
To make matters worse, the first face Oscar saw as appeared was David’s and Christ, did he always have to smile like that. David was officially Oscar’s least favorite human. He was one of those guys whose entire identity is wrapped around their status as class clown, which was an exceptional problem in David’s case because he was just not very funny. You know the type.
And great, now he was gonna start talking.
“Whew! Is it hot out!” said David with his goofy, could-be-charming-if-I-wasn’t-so-damn-ugly smile. “You know how hot it is?”
Oscar sighed, resigned. “How hot is it?” he asked, dutifully feeding the line.
“It’s so hot, on the way to work, I saw a guy pull his pants down and piss on himself just to cool off!”
“You didn’t see anything on the way here,” said Oscar wearily. “You teleport just like everyone else.”
“I know,” said David, looking pleased with himself. “It’s a joke. I made it up.”
“Besides, piss is warm,” said Oscar with no idea why he was arguing with this prick.
“That’s the joke,” said David. “Piss is warm, but it feels cold ‘cause it’s so hot out!”
The only thing keeping Oscar from pounding the crap out of this guy or just going back through the teleporter and calling in sick was knowing that in a few seconds, he’d be seeing Cassie. She was magical and definitely the high point of Oscar’s day. He’d finally built up the nerve to talk to her a few months back and they’d become friendly. He even thought she may have been flirting with him a few times, but that was almost certainly his imagination. If only he knew how to take it to the next step, ask her out, maybe get in her pants. Oscar wasn’t a bad looking guy and although he wasn’t what you’d call charming, he was nice enough, so bedding the office beauty shouldn’t have been entirely out of the realm of possibility.
Believe it or not, Oscar was quite charming once up on a time. Not so long ago, he was adept enough at flirting and all those games to get laid at least a couple of times a month. But over the last few years, Oscar had been feeling more and more disjointed and just felt less of a need to be nice until finally, he realized that he’d forgotten how. For some reason, he’d been getting testier; his fuse was getting shorter and shorter. Either that or everyone else was getting more irritating.
But, of late, he’d been thinking that needed to stop and he should make nice, if for no other reason than he needed to get laid. And not from one of the countless parade of escorts, call girls and just plain hookers that filled the pages of his little black book. (Okay, the book was actually burgundy, but that doesn’t matter.)
And Jesus Christ, here she was. He progressed from shriveled to flaccid to rock hard in a matter of seconds. He’d told himself the night before that today would be the day he’d ask her for dinner or coffee or drinks or whatever. ‘Don’t be a puss, Oscar,’ he told himself. Girls like confidence, so he should just ask her even though she was a 9 and he was a 4 on his good days. Chicks like guys to be decisive, aggressive even and they’d look past all kinds of flaws if the guy carries himself the right way. So, if that was true, why did they carry pepper spray?
“Hey, Oscar,” she said before he’d realized that he was already within speaking distance.
“How’s it going, Cassie?” Oscar answered. Goddammit, just do it, you pathetic weakling.’ And then, to his horror, he heard himself blurt out, “Drinks with me?”
“I’m sorry?” said Cassie.
Well, that was mortifying, but there wasn’t any turning back now. “Would you like to have a drink with me after work?” he asked, surprised that he was capable of structuring a sentence.
Cassie smiled at him, but then, she said, “I don’t drink.”
“I’m three years sober last month.”
“Congratulations,” said Oscar, unsure of what the proper response to an announcement like that was. He stood there, looking and feeling stupid, with his hands in his pockets, fingering his change and staring at her. “I’d better get…” Oscar trailed off, and after a few more awkward seconds, he started to turn away.
“I drink coffee, though,” Cassie said, stopping him. “Sometimes, I even have dinner.”
‘What do I say now?’ Oscar thought, panicking. “Um…” he started. “Do you wanna have coffee and dinner?” Christ, that sounded stupid!
“Wow, coffee and dinner,” said Cassie with a smile. “Look at the big spender!”
Good, she was joking. She wasn’t very funny, but she made a joke, which relaxed Oscar a little. “Should I just pick you up here after work?”
“Sounds like a plan, Oscar,” Cassie said with (was Oscar imagining it?) a flirt in her voice. She stood there, looking at him for a couple of seconds, like she was expecting something else.
‘Should I grab her tits?’ Oscar wondered.
Probably not. He just turned and walked down the hall to his cubicle.
The rest of the day just flew by. Oscar felt just like a Jr. High kid who’d just gotten a note passed to him in study hall from the popular girl saying, ‘Do you like me? Check yes or no.’ He was in such a good mood that he didn’t even mind David popping by every twenty minutes or so to say something retarded. He was going on an honest-to-God date with an honest-to-God hottie and there was a chance that he’d be having complimentary sex, if not tonight, then soon. And to top it all off, when Oscar and Cassie walked into the teleporter together, she took his hand, a sign that there was potential tonight.
So imagine Oscar’s surprise when the machine turned on and suddenly, he found himself standing alone on a sidewalk in hell.
Nothing was burning; there was no heat, no soundtrack of screaming. There wasn’t a thing about the place that would’ve tipped off a casual observer to its nature. Even so, Oscar knew exactly where he was. He’d died and gone to hell.
Come to think of it, how’d that happen? There had never been a teleportation accident. Not one. Apart from being so fast, that was why everybody loved it so much, its safety. It was why its inventor, Dr. Trinity was a hero. No more car wrecks or plane crashes. Aside from the escalating homicide rate, the world was a perfectly safe place now.
Oscar did a turn to look at the city around him. Funny, he never would’ve thought that hell would have cities. The place was surprisingly clean. There was no litter, no graffiti, and no cracks in the sidewalk. But aside from being clean, it was also empty. There wasn’t a single car on the street. There was a school on the corner, less than a block away, complete with playground, but no children.
Just as he was wondering if he was going to have to spend eternity without ever seeing another soul, if that was maybe what made hell hell, three men appeared from around the corner and started walking up the sidewalk toward him.
Oscar couldn’t believe it. The only thing that could’ve possible been more shocking than dying in the first place was the sight in front of him, these three men coming at him. It was like being in a funhouse hall of mirrors. Each of these three was his height and weight and each shared his face. They were duplicates.
The one on the right was a younger version, sure, but it was him nonetheless. The one in the middle looked to be the same age as he was now and very serious. The one on the left was also roughly the same age and wearing a sly, kind of dirty smile.
The trio reached him and the one with the smile was the first to speak. “Have we fucked her yet?” he asked.
“Fucked who?” asked Oscar.
“Cassie,” answered the serious on in the middle before turning to the pervert. “And you asked me that this morning and I said ‘no.’ He’s been at the office all day. What makes you think that he found the time to approach her, much less fuck her?”
“What the hell is going on?” asked Oscar.
“They could’ve had a nooner,” insisted the horny clone, ignoring Oscar entirely.
“We didn’t have a nooner,” said Oscar.
“See?” said the serious one in the middle. “They haven’t even gone out on a date yet. There’s no way they’d have a nooner.”
“Stranger things have happened,” said the horny one.
“We were on our way to dinner,” said Oscar. “I asked her out this morning and we went into the teleporter together. And now I’m here so again, what the hell is happening?”
“It seems there’s a flaw in Dr. Trinity’s invention,” said the young one on the right, speaking for the first time. “It’s just not safe.”
“That’s ridiculous,” said Oscar. “There’s never been a teleporter accident.”
“It’s not a teleporter,” said the young one.
“I don’t follow,” said Oscar.
“How does it work?” asked the young one. “You step in, the machine breaks you down into subatomic particles. Then, it puts you back together on the other side, right?”
“A person can’t survive that! How could Dr. Trinity think that someone could be vaporized and live through it?” demanded the young one.
“So, if it’s not a teleporter, what is it?” asked Oscar.
“A cloning machine. It kills you, then it clones you,” explained the young one. “You’ve only existed for a few hours, my friend.”
“Bullshit,” said Oscar. “I’m thirty-three years old.”
“And you remember it all, I know,” said the young one. “The machine is very precise. It makes a perfect copy, down to the memories. Down to the soul.”
Oscar looked around and suddenly, coming out of every door and from around every corner, stepping out of every crack was a perfect replica, as if on cue, to emphasize the young one’s last point. Some were a bit younger, many were a lot younger and they all were dressed differently, probably to tell each other apart. “Okay, what now?” Oscar whispered.
“Now nothing,” said the young one. “You pick yourself a name and start your life in Hell. There’s nothing for you to do until the next one gets here. Then you’ll come with me to meet him.”
“Pick a name?” said Oscar.
“We can’t all be Oscar now, can we?” said the young one.
Oscar turned to the serious one. “What’s your name now?” he asked.
“Theo,” he answered, and then pointed to the horny one. “He’s Heff.”
“No, I wanna be Oscar,” said Oscar.
“Don’t be stupid,” spat the young one. “I’m Oscar. Pick something else.
“I’ll fight you for it,” said Oscar.
Young Oscar looked surprised, but why? Surely this wasn’t the first time this had been proposed. Shit, they were all the same guy, right? It was hard to imagine that he could say anything new even if he tried.
“You’ll fight me for it?” asked the incredulous young Oscar. “What, did you have a few drinks before stepping into the teleporter or are you just a fucking retard?”
“No, he was on his way out on a date,” said Theo. “He died with confidence.”
“What does that have to do with anything?” asked Oscar.
“It means you’re probably the only guy here with any balls,” answered Theo, eliciting a giggle from Heff at the word ‘balls.’
“I don’t follow you,” said Oscar.
“Eternity will keep you where death finds you,” said Young Oscar.
“Thank you, Mr. Cryptic,” said Oscar. “What the hell are you talking about?”
“Whatever frame of mind you’re in when you die determines what you’re like down here,” explained Theo. “For example, the guys who got into the teleporter hungover always feel like shit.”
“And this guy?” asked Oscar, nodding toward Heff.
“Remember a couple of weeks ago when the office called us at home and had us come back to grab that file?” asked Heff.
“Yeah, I think so,” said Oscar, actually remembering it very well. Christ, this was surreal. And he was starting to miss life and the world where everything was flat and normal and you only use the word ‘surreal’ when you’re high.
“You remember what we were doing when they called?” asked Heff.
“Jerking off,” answered Oscar.
“And we went without finishing, didn’t we?” said Heff. “I stepped into the teleporter with an end of the world hard-on and now, I can’t think about anything but fucking.” Heff stopped for a giggle when he heard what he’d said. “Ha! I said ‘butt-fucking!”
“Okay, thanks for the education,” said Oscar, turning back to the young one. “So, how about it?”
“You really wanna fight me for the name?” said young Oscar.
“Yes, I do.”
“What are the terms?”
“Whoever stops moving first loses,” said Oscar. “The winner gets to keep the name ‘Oscar’ and the loser has to call himself ‘Herb.’”
“Why ‘Herb?’” asked young Oscar.
“Because it’s a shitty name,” answered Oscar.
The young one took a second to think. “Fine,” he said and Oscar clocked him in the face with his elbow before anyone could even blink.
“FIGHT!” yelled Heff at the top of his lungs and wouldn’t you know it, all the wandering Oscars gathered ‘round, forming a circle around the fighters.
Young Oscar recovered pretty quickly, though. He wiped the blood from his mouth and lunged at Oscar with something like a shriek of rage or maybe a war cry exploding from his throat. But Oscar was ready for him. He stepped to the side just as young Oscar came into reach, grabbed the kid’s head with both hands and slammed it right into his knee. Either young Oscar wasn’t very popular or else they hadn’t seen a good fight in a while, because the crows erupted in cheers and whoops. Out of the corner of his eye, Oscar thought he saw Heff put his hand down his pants.
Oscar wasn’t about to let the kid who’d soon be calling himself ‘Herb’ regain his footing. The little prick’s nose was flat against his face and blood had soaked the front of his white shirt, but Oscar didn’t think hell was any place for mercy. He grabbed a fistful of hair from the back of the kid’s head and kicked his legs out from under him. He smashed the kid’s face into the pavement six time and then let go, stepping back to see if the kid was going to keep moving or not.
“Had enough, Herb?” he taunted. All the other Oscars were hushed, thickening the suspense.
The kid slowly pushed himself up. Scraps of skin were hanging from his face and in one place, his cheek was torn open so you could see his teeth. “Just so you know,” he growled, still on his hands and knees, spitting blood with every word. “After I finish you off, I’m gonna fuck you.”
Wow. The determination Herb was showing was admirable. Still, Oscar rushed up and kicked the kid in the ribs, throwing him onto his back. Then Oscar stomped on the kid’s neck, pushing down with all his bulk until he heard the kid’s neck snap.
And the crowd went wild.
Oscar had never been much of a fighter. He’d only been in two fistfights, or rather had the memory of two fistfights, in his life. But goddammit, that felt good.
Heff ran up and gave Oscar a huge bear hug. Oscar felt Heff’s erection up against his leg which was disconcerting, but it was gonna take more than a little creepy homoeroticism to dampen his spirits.
Theo walked up and clapped Oscar on the back. “I think we have ourselves a new leader,” he said.
Oscar scanned the crowd and Theo was right. They were quiet again and every eye was fixed on him. He didn’t know if they were waiting for words of wisdom or instructions or just a good old-fashioned pep talk, but Oscar knew what he had in mind.
He turned to Theo. “What’s outside the city?” he asked.
“I have no idea,” Theo answered. “I’ve only been here a few hours myself.”
“Right,” said Oscar, turning to the crowd. “Who’s been outside the city?”
The crowd just looked at each other stupidly, some shaking their heads.
“Well, we’re in hell and here’s a city full of us,” said Oscar. “Why wouldn’t there be other cities?”
Everyone looked perplexed. Oscar couldn’t believe that nobody had thought of this before.
“Somewhere, there’s gotta be a city filled with thousands of Cassies,” said Oscar.
The crowd took a few seconds to let this sink in. Then, Heff stepped up, raised his fists to the sky and screamed, “PUSSY!” That one word was the spark. Everyone started screaming and throwing hats into the air and Oscar could’ve sworn he even heard a couple of ‘yee-haws.’ He looked out at his multitude, all wearing his face and they started chanting, ‘Os-car! Os-car! Os-car!’ behaving the way the crowds do in old newsreel footage of Nazi rallies.
He held up his hand for silence, but before he could open his mouth to ask for volunteers to join him in his little quest, he heard a voice behind him say, “You’re a fool.” Oscar turned to see young Herb back on his feet. His neck was slightly askew, but other than that, he seemed whole. The gashes on his face were even starting to heal. It made sense. All of them were dead already, so snapping someone’s neck shouldn’t really be that big a deal.
“Nobody asked you,” said Oscar.
“Do you even know what’s out there?” demanded Herb.
“No, do you?” returned Oscar.
“No,” the kid admitted. “But I know that we’re in Hell and this city is relatively safe. Whatever’s outside, it can’t be good.”
Oscar turned to the crowd. “Okay, everybody who thinks we should listen to this fag, raise your hand,” he shouted.
There were scattered murmurs and laughs, but not a single hand was put up. Oscar turned back to Herb and shrugged. “I guess it’s unanimous,” he said.
Typically, in a situation like this, the kid would’ve had some kind of respect for Oscar for what he’d managed to do in a matter of minutes since he’d gotten here. The kind of admiration that grows slowly throughout the ninety minutes of your typical buddy movies where the two guys hate each other at first. Not so. There wasn’t anything in the kid’s face but seething resentment. “I still can’t figure out how you beat me,” he said through clenched teeth.
“You’ve been here what, twelve years now?” Oscar asked him.
“Give or take,” said Herb.
“Well, there you go,” said Oscar. “That’s more than a decade’s worth of Kung Fu movies that I’ve seen and you haven’t.” He turned to the crowd. “Right, I’m thinking that only four or five of us should go at first, then if we find something, we’ll go from there. I promise nobody will get left out. It’s just that we’re a small army and we don’t want anyone thinking they’re under attack.”
There were some grumblings at this, but nothing intense enough to suggest mutiny.
Heff stepped up next to Oscar. “I’m one of the four or five, right?” he asked. “’Cause I’m coming, like it or not, even if I have to trail behind like a stray dog.”
“Yeah, I kinda figured,” said Oscar, turning to Theo. “You in?”
“Why not?” Theo said. “I got nothing to lose, right?”
“Not that I know of,” said Oscar.
“I’m coming too,” said young Herb. Oscar turned around to look at him and was a little surprised to see that he was pretty much healed. His neck was straight and they wounds on his face were just shadows now.
“I thought you said this was a bad idea,” said Oscar.
“It is,” said Herb. “I’m coming anyway.”
Oscar shrugged. The kid was a pain in the ass, but he’d been here longer than anyone else, so who know? He just might come in useful. “Whatever,” he said, turning back to the crowd. “Okay, we’ll be back soon,” he told them. “If any new Oscars show up, let them know what’s going on.” He turned back to Herb. “Which way is out?”
Herb pointed past the crowd. “That way’s as good as any,” he said.
There really wasn’t anything else to say, so the four them made their through the Oscars who, a few claps on the back aside, (and a couple of times, Oscar thought he felt someone grab his balls) let them pass unmolested. Whether the silence was out of some kind of respect or if they just wanted to let them get on with it without any further delays wasn’t clear.
They were at they edge of town before they knew it. “Were we close to the outskirts already or is this city just smaller than it seems?”
“It’s not a big city,” said Herb. “No matter where you are, you’re never too far from walking right out of it.”
So, they walked into the wilderness without any more fanfare. None of them spoke much. Even Heff seemed nervous and kept to himself.
The ground under them was rock. It was almost like pavement only it was red like clay and crumbling and it reminded Oscar of the desert except there wasn’t the occasional cactus to break the monotony. There weren’t any crevices where snakes or scorpions might be hiding. It wasn’t hot or cold or bright or cloudy. It was nothing. A perfect wasteland.
It wasn’t long before Oscar couldn’t see the city behind them anymore. There was nothing but horizon as far as the eye could see in every direction. They could’ve veered to the left or right and gone in a perfect circle without realizing it until they were back in town. Since nobody was making conversation anyway, Oscar focused hard on keeping his feet straight, which was proving harder than you’d think. If pressed, he wouldn’t have been able to swear that he was weaving like hell, but after a while, Theo grabbed his arm and stopped him.
“What’s that?” asked Theo.
It took Oscar a couple of seconds for his eyes to find what Theo was talking about, and when he finally saw it, it was a let down. Two strings, white, the kind people used to tie packages up with, floated in the air, suspended, never falling. Oscar doubted anyone would’ve ever noticed them except that they sky was getting dark enough for the white to almost glow and besides, there wasn’t anything else to look at.
“I don’t know what it is,” said Oscar. “Why doesn’t it just blow away?”
“There’s no wind,” Theo pointed out.
“Then why doesn’t it fall?” asked Herb, walking toward it with his head bent to one side.
“Careful,” said Oscar, putting his hand on Herb’s arm to stop him.
“Hands off; you’re not the boss of me,” spat Herb, shaking off Oscar’s grip. Real mature.
“Fair enough,” said Oscar, holding up his hands in mock surrender.
Herb moved on toward the string without further discussion. He reminded Oscar of a bug going into a light. That never ends well.
“Someone’s gon-na di-ie,” sand Heff with a delirious grin. Oscar was about to say something, reprimand the pervert for his sadism, but then he realized that he wanted to see what kind of mischief the string was going to work on Herb as much as anybody. The smart money said that whatever was about to happen to young Herb, it was gonna be pretty cool.
Oscar, Theo and Heff stood completely silent as Herb approached the string. For a second, Oscar thought that maybe nothing was going to happen after all. But when Herb reached out to touch the string, its work was quick.
In the span of maybe three or four seconds, the strings stretched and wrapped themselves around Herb, holding him fast. He had just enough time to begin a scream when the strings pulled themselves tight, slicing through the boy. It was an instant vivisection. The hundreds of pieces Herb was now in fell to the ground, making the sound of a brief, sickening rainfall.
Oscar, Heff and Theo stood there, stunned and staring at the pile of Herb. After a minute or two, Oscar took a step toward the mess, but Heff and Theo both grabbed him.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea, boss,” said Heff.
“The strings are gone,” said Oscar. And so they were. Their work was done and they’d simply vanished. Oscar shook off his companions’ grip and walked down to Herb.
“What exactly do you think you’re going to do?” Theo called after him.
Oscar, bent over Herb’s pieces now, looked back at them. “We have to put him back together,” he said.
Theo and Heff, still clearly spooked, slowly made their way down to where Oscar was. “Don’t be ridiculous,” said Theo when he’d reached him. Heff sat down on the ground and crossed his eyes, just staring at the puddles and glops.
“You saw how fast his face and neck healed themselves,” said Oscar. “If we start putting him back the way he was, I think his pieces will mush themselves together and he’ll be good as new.”
“If we manage to put all of him back in the right order,” Theo pointed out.
Heff laughed at the idea. “Can I put his dick where his nose goes?” he asked.
“No,” said Oscar, smiling a little at the thought in spite of himself. “Now give me a hand.”
“No problem, assuming we can find one,” said Heff, reminding Oscar of that asshole David and his ba-dum-ching humor.
As you’d expect, it proved to be slow and tedious work, but Oscar was right. All they had to do was put two pieces together and they fused and started to heal. Even the parts that were just bone locked into place. Then, all that had to be done was glumping on some flesh like spackle and it looked like a body part in seconds. Oscar started with the feet, looking for toes to stick back on while Heff worked on the hands. Theo tackled the more difficult job of piecing together young Herb’s skull.
As it went by, it got easier by degrees, mostly because the more they worked, the bigger the pieces they were working with got. Instead of putting together skin and meat and bone together like a jigsaw puzzle, it was soon a matter of putting a foot onto a leg, etc. None of them could be sure they were putting his organs and guts in quite right, but if they got in there close enough, they’d fix themselves. That was the theory anyway and the three workers were hopeful.
At last, all there was left was putting the head back on. Herb looked a little Frankenstein-ish, but the scars were healing before their eyes. The only problem was when it came time to scoop the pile of goop that was his brains back into his skull. Putting heart and lungs back in roughly the right cavity was one thing, but there was no piecing the kid’s brain back together, so they slopped it back into the head. Finally, they had a sloppy creature that, drooling aside, seemed to be able to stand on his own.
“So do we go on or what?” asked Theo when they were done.
Oscar looked up and whistled under his breath. “Jesus,” he muttered. He’d been so hard at work and focused that he hadn’t noticed what was happening in the sky. Everywhere he could see, the sky was filled with strings, ribbons, pinwheels, thick ropes with nooses, etc. The only area that was clear of danger was the way they came from.
“We should go back,” said Heff. Since even Heff, who would’ve braved anything for a chance to get into Cassie’s pants, wanted to go back, Oscar was inclined to agree and just give up.
So the foursome headed back with broken spirits. They’d failed completely. Aside from Herb’s babbling, which was a step up from his drooling and farting and self-pissing, they were all more or less quiet.
“I wonder how many I can convert,” Heff wondered after a while.
“Convert to what?” asked Oscar.
“Well, women are out, so I’m about to go and start my life as a fag,” answered Heff. “I’m just curious how many usses are going to let me put it to them.”
“Herb just laughed and said, “Fag funny,” which was a step up from his babbling.
“I’m sure you’ll find some takers,” said Theo.
When they got back, the streets were empty again, which was fine with Oscar since he wasn’t exactly itching to tell his throng about the great failure. The only person they saw was a new Oscar, standing alone and looking around, dazed.
Herb was talking nonstop now, saying things that, while incoherent, were at least complete sentences, like, “Banana pooped on sidewalk.” It was a step up from his ‘fag funny.’
So the responsibility of greeting the new soul fell to Oscar by default. Heff and Theo had slipped away. Oscar didn’t want to entertain the visual, but he figured they were off somewhere fucking or trying to get Oscars to join them in a circle jerk.
So all there was to do was to go up to the new soul and ask the question that was burning in Oscar’s mind.
“Have we fucked her yet?”