Mary – yes, that really was her name, it’s a bit on the nose but let’s go with it – was only fifteen years old when she got pregnant. Her parents were very religious, and she knew they wouldn’t approve. She panicked.
She wore loose-fitting clothes over her belly and stopped going out. She avoided her parents whenever possible. No-one noticed what was going on, not even the father of the baby, who she broke up with. Eventually, one horrible night, it happened. She gave birth.
It hurt like hell but there were no complications. She had looked up what to expect and what to do. But her parents were both at work and there was nobody else. She was alone, as was her newborn baby.
Mary did not want the baby. (Abortion had been, for many reasons, out of the question.) But she also didn’t want it to die. Listening to it scream, fearing neighbours would hear, she made a decision. She wrapped it up in blankets and took it outside. It was cold.
The baby, which was a boy, stopped crying before too long. Mary hoped it was okay. She kept going until she found a church, and she deposited both the baby and the blankets on its doorstep. Because it was so very cold, she tried to wrap the blankets around it a bit better, and then reached up and hammered on the door.
Inbetween her knocking she thought she could hear voices on the wind, and so she ran away. Someone would find the baby very soon, she thought. No-one would ever know what she had done. It would be fine. As the icy wind whipped around her body and her bleeding parts, she knew it would be fine.
One day later she read in a newspaper that the baby had been found dead on the steps of the church. Help had arrived too late.
For the next few weeks Mary hid in her room, pretending she was sick, knowing she was damned. The baby was given a funeral, she learned, when all attempts to find the mother were exhausted. As it had had no name, it had been given one from the church where it’d been left. William, after Saint William. That was what her dead child was called.
Years went by. Mary grew up, got a job. Her parents died, first her mother and then her father. She had a few boyfriends, none of whom she loved. She moved into a place of her own. She read and wrote and went on long walks, knowing every minute of every hour of every day that the Devil was coming for her soul.
Then one day she felt a lump in her breast. She knew what it was, but ignored it. She didn’t have the money to go to a doctor anyway.
Mary died of cancer at the age of 26. A few friends, none of whom knew her secret, attended the funeral. They talked about how sad it was, and they meant it, and then they left. Mary was buried at the same church where her baby had died.
And then she went to hell.
Of course, everyone went to hell back then, but Mary didn’t know that. And the demons wouldn’t have told her.
At first there was a queue. That was it. No demons came to greet her, she just joined a long, long line of her fellow mad and tormented deceased. She instinctively knew it would end eventually, perhaps in the company of the Devil himself, but in the meantime there was nothing to do but wait. That in itself was pretty hellish.
In the queue the woman behind her looked her up and down with a dead sort of interest. That only seemed natural, considering the situation they were in. Mary looked back warily.
“What did you do?” Mary asked her, meaning of course, what did you do to end up in hell. She thought it best to ask before she herself was asked.
“I killed my husband’s babies,” said the woman.
Such was Mary’s shock that she was only able to answer, “Babies?”
“My husband took up with some common whore,” said the woman. “She gave birth to triplets. Triplets, while I had nothing. So I took them out to a garden and drowned them in the river, one after the other. How they squirmed when they realised what I was doing!”
Mary assumed she was talking to a woman who had lived a very long time ago, but she couldn’t be sure. She said nothing else, and neither did the baby-drowner.
The line moved forward.
The person in front of Mary was a man, and he was wearing an expensive watch. He was also wearing a wedding ring, and as Mary watched another being suddenly crackled into the air. They grabbed at the man before he even had a chance to react.
“Hey, I hear you didn’t use this for its intended purpose! I’ll take it off your hands.”
There was a flash of light and the man’s finger, along with the wedding ring, was sliced off. The man screamed, but Mary barely heard it.
The demon picked the finger up off the floor.
“Heh, take it off your hands… take it off your hands? Get it?”
Then they were gone.
Gradually the line, Mary and the child-killer and the unfaithful husband and all the others, moved forward. Mary started to see more and more demons. They flickered about between the humans, pushing them and tormenting them and sometimes pulling them aside.
Mary simply waited for her turn. Eventually, a demon with the face of a man came to her position and stared her in the face. He looked exactly like how the dead baby would’ve looked, Mary thought, if he’d gotten to grow up. That was on purpose. All these creatures knew what she had done.
“How ya doing?” it said. Then as quickly as it had come it was gone.
Mary was thankful to have no bits sliced off of her. As time dragged on she started to see the end of the queue. Everyone was descending into a great pit, a jagged hole in the atmosphere, and it was full of fire.
Down and down they went.
Hell looked a bit like a city, the sort of city Mary had never seen before in her lifetime. Great burning structures loomed above them and the sky was as red as blood.
“This is so damn cliché,” said the man without a finger.
Mary said nothing. She wasn’t sure she could have done even if she’d wanted to. Her mouth felt like it was filled with smoke.
Monsters moved among the people, grabbing them and flinging them into buildings or black holes. Mary didn’t know if they were being sorted by the severity of their crimes or if the demons, being demons, were just playing games with them.
Eventually one got to her. It grabbed her with its talons and pushed her through a door that seemed to appear out of nowhere. It should have scratched her arms and hands to pieces, but there was no blood, just pain.
She was too broken to even comment on this. But she did notice the room she was in. It was bewilderingly benign. It was all decked out in white, and there were pictures of landscapes on the walls, and chairs underneath them.
There was also something behind a desk. It looked at first glance like it was human, but everything about it was wrong. It had eyes almost like those of a crocodile, but a crocodile is just an animal doing what comes naturally to it, even if that thing is eating people. There was nothing natural about the being in the room with Mary, and it would happily do much worse than eat her.
It gestured for her to sit, and she did, because she had no choice.
“Welcome,” said the demon. “Everything is wrong.”