In advance of the release of Perils of the Bike Path (the fifth opus in my comedy/sci-fi series), I’m presenting an occasional scene from one of the earlier books. This one comes from the third book, The 22nd Gear. My cosmic bike rider, Jack Miller, has bicycled into Hell, where he meets his tour guide, who looks like Buffalo Bob Smith from The Howdy Doody Show, but he’s not. He tells Jack:

“You may call me Nananana.”

He actually sang his name, and it sounded like the part of that Steam oldie chanted by nasty sports fans when the opposing team is walking off the court, ice, whatever, after the hometown boys have just kicked the shit out of them. I almost jumped in and did the hey-hey-ey, good-bye part but thought better of it.

Jack asks Nananana if this is really Hell as he watches people in large baskets passing by. Actually, he learns, this is one of two Hell’s Entryways. The first is for those deemed Terribly Frigging Bad, Beyond Redemption. (Psychopaths, architects of genocide, serial killers, etc.) They are immediately dumped into the fire and brimstone below. The second is for those determined to be Pretty Damn Bad, But Salvageable. They get to spend a thousand years in their own private Hell and then get a second chance.

Nananana leads Jack onto Hell’s Overpass to show what he means by one’s “private Hell.” There are many outrageous examples. Here is one of them.

We hovered above what looked like an ordinary living room in an ordinary house. A woman sat in a tattered armchair staring at a television set. Hey, I knew her! It was the woman I’d seen in the basket, the one who wanted to drop-kick my balls somewhere. She wore regular clothes, and the meat cleaver was gone.

Nananana scrolled through his index again. “Ah, one of our new arrivals. Etta Donegan of Hamtramck, Michigan. That was both her place of birth and death. Was a poor mother to her three children, sad to say. Either punished them excessively or ignored them totally. Two are turning out to be just like her, which is sometimes what happens. So, Etta will be residing here for a millennium, then will see if she can get it right the next time.”

There were three women on the television screen at which Etta stared, a blonde, a brunette, and a redhead, all beautiful in an Oscar de la Renta sort of way. They sat at a table in an expensive restaurant, sipping white wine and talking cattily.

“It’s all over between Eric and me,” the blonde said. “Yes, it has been now for six hours.”

“You had better be right, Marcie,” the brunette stated, “because…I’m carrying Eric’s baby!”

“But, Laura,” the redhead said incredulously, “I thought you were carrying Paul’s baby.”

“No, I’m carrying Paul’s baby,” the blonde insisted. “But, Susan, I thought you were carrying Jeffrey’s baby.”

“Which Jeffrey?” the redhead asked.

“Surely not my Jeffrey,” the brunette said pissedly.

“Oh, definitely not your Jeffery, dear,” the blonde said, “since he ran off with…Jonathan.”

“I thought my Jeffrey did that,” the redhead mused.

“Oh, no, not your Jeffrey,” the brunette said, “not after he had one look at Stacy!”

“But Stacy is…my teenaged daughter!” the blonde exclaimed.

“Then…you mean…?” the redhead stammered.

“Yes, it’s Stacy who’s carrying Paul’s baby!” the brunette revealed.

“I thought you said it was Jeffrey’s baby,” the blonde said.

“Who’s Paul?” the redhead asked.

Etta Donegan shifted in her armchair. “Shit, I saw this one already, and it sucks,” she muttered.

I looked at Nananana. “She has to watch soap operas for a thousand years?”

He shook his head. “Just that one episode.”

Jeez, do you think it could get worse? Yeah, because a door to Etta’s “living room” burst open, admitting three ambulatory preschoolers, a girl and two boys, and a huge hairy mutt. The kids were dressed in frilly cowboy and cowgirl outfits, which made my Buffalo Bob guide beam proudly. One boy rode a tricycle, the others got around just as fast on booted, thudding feet. They were screaming, shouting, firing cap pistols as they scooted around Etta’s chair; the kid on the trike squeezed a bulb horn that sounded like a whoopee cushion; the dog barked its head off. Etta Donegan shouted at them and tried to get up from the chair but couldn’t move.

On the screen the fashion princesses were now discussing the comparative manhoods of two guys named Evan and Roger.

Oh, yeah, this was for sure someone’s Hell.

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