Frej Wasastjerna


       According to the 413th corollary of Murphy's law, the last key, if any, is always the right one.
      I finally got the steel door open. By then I had already explored the rest of the house I had inherited from my eccentric uncle Phineas, but this door had been locked. I had gone through all drawers and shelves in the house and collected all the keys I found.
      On the other side of the door was a flight of stairs leading down into the dark. On the right there was a switch. I clicked it, and lights came on. The stone stairs stretched down between stone walls  under a stone ceiling.
      I started walking down. I lost count of the steps, but after about thirty-nine or forty they ended. I stood in a bare, well-lit room. The only features in the room were two doors, each with lettering on them. That on the left-hand door read HELL, in 500-point Helvetica. The right-hand door was labeled HEAVEN.
      I stood there staring. Sure, I had had the impression that uncle Phineas was always a bit out of this world, but this...?
      After a while I went to the right-hand door and tried to open it. The handle went down, but the door failed to budge.
      I tried turning the handle in other directions, but nothing helped. There was no keyhole. The whole door was totally featureless except for the handle and the label, in black letters on gray-green.
      Well, it figured. Actually this had to be some kind of joke, but if it was real...? Would Saint Peter really want to admit me? Hardly likely. That would lower the tone of the whole neighborhood, wouldn't it? Heck, I had  forgotten to wash behind my ears for Phineas's funeral, and I had hidden a frog in my mother's apron pocket when I was six...
      I looked at the other door. Did I want to open it? As I said, it had to be a joke, but what if it wasn't?
      I cautiously backed away and went back up the stairs.
       The thought of that door kept haunting me. What did it conceal? I kept wondering. The Heaven door bothered me less; I had at least tried to open it. Nothing short of breaking it open would work. But, as for the other one, I had just chickened out.
      Why? Did I believe that there were horned and tailed guys with pitchforks waiting to fry me in my own fat behind the Hell door? Of course not. I was torn between a growing curiosity and a fear which I more and more told myself was just a silly superstition.
      So it had to happen. One day when I had just finished welding a broken bar in a balcony railing I made up my mind. I would have to try the Hell door.
      I went down the stairs and walked, as silently as I could, to the door labeled HELL. I hesitated for a moment, then gingerly took the handle and pushed it down. Then I pulled gently.
      The door moved.
      I had moved it only a little. It hadn't yet cleared the jamb, so I still couldn't see what was behind it. Drawing a deep breath, I pulled it open a few centimeters, so that there was enough of a crack that I could look in.
      There they stood, behind a table -- several tall man-like figures with horns, wearing black tuxedos, black waistcoats, white shirts and black bow-ties. Some of them even had towels on their left forearms. On the table lay a very large platter under a domed cover.
      They looked at me with an expression like waiters in a particularly posh restaurant eyeing a customer who couldn't tell Liebfraumilch from Beaujolais. Then one of them lifted the cover from the platter.
      What the -- excuse me, you know what I mean -- was that thing on the platter? At first I could only make out that it was big and hairy.
      Then it stood up. A tarantula, about the size of a Great Dane. I didn't know that spiders could smirk, but this one did as it waved its mandibles at me.
      I screamed and went up the stairs like an APFSDS projectile out of a Rheinmetall 120-mm cannon. Not until I had reached the top of the stairs did it occur to me that it might be a good idea to close a door between that -- that thing -- and myself. I slammed the door at the top of the stairs shut and leaned against it, my heart banging away like a machine gun.
      Could the door be opened from the other side? I couldn't remember for sure, but I thought so. I wouldn't open it to check, though, not for all the playmates in Playboy. I ran to get my welding gear and started welding the door shut.
      I had almost finished when I heard footsteps behind me. I turned around. There stood one of the devils, and he was holding the spider or one just like it.
      I screamed again.
       Well, under those circumstances I was quick to volunteer for stoker duty here when the devil offered me the opportunity. Sure it's hot and uncomfortable, but I couldn't stand thinking about the alternative. That's how I wound up here.
What's your story?