“Welcome to the Underworld! My name is Eugene and I’ll be your guide this evening.”
Jack opened his eyes and blinked hard, trying to focus his eyes. He was lying on his side, his face pressed against a cold, slightly damp cement floor and he had a splitting headache, worse than he had ever had in his life. “What—“ he tried before being interrupted by the exceedingly cheery, accented voice.
“The Underworld. Yes, you did indeed hear me correctly.” Jack finally laid eyes on the man casually leaning against the wall in the small, empty room. He was dressed in strangely old-fashioned clothes, one hand casually in the pockets of his trousers, the other holding a clipboard at his side. He had an obnoxiously large grin slapped on his face. Jack sat up, wincing as his head protested the movement, and tried to make sense of what the man above him was saying. “I’m here to settle you into your new afterlife and to answer any and all questions you have, though I always find that this all works best if you just wait until the end of the orientation.” Jack couldn’t make heads or tails of what the man was saying so he chose to ignore him in favor of taking in his surroundings. He was in a dank box of a room, nothing more than four cement walls, a metal door, and the hard, slightly damp floor that he was already well acquainted with. Suddenly there were fingers snapping in his face to grab his attention. “Now, if you would please stand up and give me your full and undivided attention, I have a few questions for you before we get started.”
“Sorry—“ Jack responded, though he wasn’t exactly sure why he was apologizing to this obnoxiously chipper man spouting nonsense at him. “Who the fuck are you? And where am I?”
Eugene squatted down to patiently say, “This would probably be a bit easier if you stood up and focused, yeah? I’ve got another due in about half an hour so it would be best if we could keep things moving at an even pace.” Eugene stood and offered a hand out to help Jack to his feet. “Splendid!” he sang once Jack was standing. “Now, as for your questions, I am, as I said before, Eugene.” He thrust out a hand to enthusiastically shake Jack’s in greeting. “I am your guide to the Underworld. Which, of course, answers your second question as to where you are. The Underworld. Hades. Hell. The Inferno. Take your pick of the names, but you’ll find that most people like to refer to it as the Underworld. It’s a bit less fire and brimstone than the others, if you know what I mean,” he winked. Jack really hated this guy.
“Hell?” Jack laughed through his headache. “Am I seriously expected to believe this shit?”
Eugene gave him a quizzical look then started flipping through the pages he had on the clipboard. “You’re not actually surprised are you?” he asked pointedly, gesturing down at the papers with a nod of his head. “You had to have known you were going to end up here. Heaven really was never going to be an option for you, mate.”
“This has got to be some cosmic joke,” Jack huffed angrily. “Did Tyler hire you to do this? You’re yet another aspiring actor in LA then? That would explain the stupid accent.” Eugene looks a bit offended at that. “So, he drugs me, shoves me in a room, and has you make up some crazy shit about ‘the Underworld’? Very funny, but I’m not playing,” he sneered and shoved his way passed Eugene without waiting for any further explanation. “You could have at least chosen something—“ he trailed off after he flung the open the door. “More believable,” he finished quietly. He was in an empty hallway that looked very much like what could be found in an office building. Creamy white walls, hideous carpet, fluorescent overhead lights, and a scattering of doors. “What the fuck?” He walked back into the room where Eugene was still standing, shocked that such a cold, concrete room could be found off the hallway that looked so… normal? Boring? Corporate? Eugene was consulting his clipboard and yammering on some nonsense about how Tyler wasn’t even supposed to arrive for another 27 years and that they were really off schedule. Jack walked back into the hallway, looked left, then right, then took off to the left, without any clue where he was going other than away from Eugene.
“You’re really not being very cooperative,” Eugene called from behind him, jogging to catch up. “This really would be easier if we went through the rest of the orientation and then I’ll give you a proper tour. There are some logistics—“
“Fuck your logistics,” Jack growled. He reached the end of the hallway and was faced with another choice of left or right down a hallway that was identical to the previous one. Full of wooden doors, all closed, stark and cold against the white walls. He turned right and started jogging, hoping to lose Eugene, but the man was trailing along behind him, resigned to just let Jack go where he wanted.
“So your name is…,” Eugene trailed off as he looked down at the clipboard again, as he trotted along to keep up. “Jack. Hey, that’s a great name! Classic. Nice and strong. How do you like it?”
“It’s fine.” Jack took another right at the end of the hallway, slowing to a walk as he realized he was stuck with Eugene for awhile.
“Well, that won’t do then. We’ll have to start calling you something else, something a bit less cool. What about… Arnold? It’s not an awful name, but it’s not particularly great either.”
“What?” Jack furrowed his brow, unable to track what was being said to him, though he wasn’t really paying much attention, his focus primarily on getting out of the endless maze of hallways.
“Your name. We’re going to have to change it.” Eugene explained with a grin. “Please pay attention, this really will go much faster if you do.”
“What?” Jack asked again as he took a left.
Eugene’s grin fell. “You’re really not a bright one, are you, Arnold?” He thought about it for a moment and then shook his head. “No, not Arnold. Doesn’t suit you. I’ll keep trying.” Eugene tucked his clipboard under his arm as they reached the end of yet another hallway. He grabbed Jack’s arm just as he tried to turn right and dragged him to the left instead. “This way please.” He let go and motioned for Jack to follow him. “Now, your name. This isn’t heaven, so when you make it down here to the Underworld, there are a few adjustments that need to be made. And we start with the names, depending on how much you like your given name. Those whose parents clearly hated them get to keep their name for all of eternity, But those with the good names, like you, have to change them to something a bit more horrible. It’s all about the little details, you know? Now, for you, I’m thinking maybe Bob. That’s a bit of a funny one,” he laughed.
“Is this how you got your shitty name?” Jack snapped, his pounding head and the hallway maze making him even more irritable than normal.
Eugene just smiled and puffed up his chest in pride. “I was born, bred, and died as Eugene thank you very much. It’s far from a great name, I’ll give you that, but it’s mine and frankly there are worse ones out there. Just think what this place is going to look like in a few decades with all of those celebrities out there naming their children such ‘unique’ things. Kids are gonna hate their names, resent their parents, and then if the end up here, which they likely will, they’re still going to be stuck with those horrible names for all of eternity. But hey, it’s great for me! There’s a lot less paperwork when we don’t have to change it. Good things don’t really happen down here too often, so we take ‘em where we can get ‘em, however small.”
“Fucking hell you talk a lot,” Jack grumbled. “Would you either fuck off or tell me how to get out of here?”
Eugene ignored him. “So… John, maybe? Everyone’s name is John. You’ll meet a million down here. It’s a nice enough name, but it’s so common that it’s a bit awful. I think we can do better than that though,” he smiled. “So, what did you do for work before you died?”
“Before I… what?” Jack asked, knowing he must not have heard correctly.
“Before you died. Your occupation please?” Eugene raised his eyebrows at the confused look Jack gave him. “You really haven’t put that together yet? After our entire conversation? ‘The Underworld’ and all and you still don’t know?”
“Aren’t you done with this shit yet? Very funny, I’m in Hell. My Hell is apparently an office building. Very accurate, I’ll give you that, but can I just fucking leave? I’m not buying it so please just tell me where I can find Tyler so I can beat the shit out of him.”
“No, you can’t just leave, Irwin. Once you’re here, you’re here.” Jack shouted in exasperation and turned to leave but suddenly found himself shoved up against the wall by Eugene. “Pay attention!” he snapped in a forceful way that was so opposite to his previously cheery attitude. “You’re dead. You have a bullet hole in your head that you apparently haven’t noticed. Can’t you feel it at all?” He lifted a finger to Jack’s forehead and pressed just off-center.
Jack shouted as excruciating pain shot through his whole body. H shoved Eugene away from him and collapsed to the ground as a sheen of sweat broke out across his body. He clutched his hands to his head as though he could push the agonizing pain out. As the pain receded a bit, he lifted his hands away and lightly pressed one hand back to his forehead, the pain shooting through him once again. His hand came away bloody. “Fuck,” he breathed then widened his eyes in realization. He felt at the back of his head. “Shit, shit, fucking shit!” He felt himself starting to panic as he discovered a huge hole in the back of his head that was a bloody mess of exposed bone and tissue. Dead? He couldn’t be dead, could he? How else could the fucking gaping hole in the back of his head be explained though?
“The bleeding will stop soon, so you won’t have to worry about it forever. The pain will stop too as long as you don’t keep poking at it. It’s just a bit fresh is all,” Eugene explained as he sat down next to Jack against the wall, clipboard settled neatly against his raised knees.
Jack looked at Eugene as though he had grown another head in the last few minutes. How could be be so nonchalant about it all? Jack was dead and this prick was just going to sit there as though it was business as usual?
“So you were a bartender then, Norman?”
“I just discover I have a fucking hole in my head and you’re asking me about my fucking job?!” Jack shouted.
“We could have done this back in the orientation room but you just had to go and storm out. There are ways to ease the newcomers into it all, but you didn’t seem too keen on that. Eventually I had to go with the more direct approach,” he grinned that stupid grin again as he held up his slightly bloodied finger that he had pressed into Jack’s forehead.
“If you had it written down why bother asking in the first place?” Jack snapped.
“Just trying to properly gauge how you felt about your earthly occupation. You obviously hated your job, which makes things easier for me!” he grinned.
“I didn’t hate—“
“You’re very argumentative, you know?” Eugene interrupted. He got to his feet and pulled Jack up as well. “I’ve been doing this job for thousands of years. Please don’t bother to tell me my assessments are wrong. They never are. Who actually likes being a bartender? ‘Always thought you could amount to more but could just never get it together,’ blah blah blah, same story all the bartenders we get down here have. Now let’s see…” He looked around the hallway to assess where they were. Jack still couldn’t see any discernible features that distinguished it from any of the other dozens of hallways they had walked down previously. “Ah, okay. We’re actually just around the corner.” Eugene kept walking in the direction they had already been heading before stopping at a door that looked just like all the others. “Here’s the one. I think you’ll feel right at home here,” he said knowingly. He winked and his giant grin grew even more as he through open the door and gestured for Jack to go inside.
Jack peaked through the door and then froze at what he saw. He looked at Eugene for confirmation of what he was seeing and got an amused nod in return. It was his bar. The one he had been working in for years, stuck, making drinks for other useless deadbeats just like himself. A bar that should have been the embodiment of sex, drugs, and rock ’n roll but was really just a den for the alcohol, drugs and, let’s face it, despair. He took a few steps inside, utterly confused as to what he was seeing.
Behind him, Eugene checked his watch – a fucking pocket watch – and hissed a breath of surprise at the time. “Damn! I’m late again. Your orientation ran too late and we didn’t even get to finish. Well, I might have some time to come back in a few hours to show you around a bit more, but go ahead and get settled in here. You should be quite familiar with the place.” He scribbled something down on his clipboard and then handed a small bit of paper to Jack. He took it and glanced down to find that it was a “Hi, my name is…” name tag. “TBD” was written across it in large, bold letters. “We’ll figure out your name later, I guess.”
“Anonymity suits me,” Jack replied, shoving the name tag in his pocket. He had no intention of wearing it. Eugene gave him a disapproving stare, wrote a new one, and slapped it on Jack’s chest himself.
“I do hate to leave you nameless and all given that you’re clearly not taking this in very well. Couldn’t even figure out you were dead,” he said laughed, a touch condescendingly. “Well, I’ve got another one waiting for me – gotta go greet her! Best of luck, Milton!” he waved as he left.
Jack glanced around unsure of what to do. There were a few others in the bar, all looking miserable as they drank. There didn’t seem to be a bartender, but one man walked behind the bar, poured himself a drink, then went back to the other side to sit down and have it. Well, Jack assumed he was here for that then. The new job. The new job that was actually the old job, and apparently his job for the rest of eternity which was just fucking wonderful. At least he knew how to do it. He went behind the bar, planning to familiarize himself with the setup, and found that it was exactly as his old bar had been back when he was alive.
Another man got up to grab himself a drink and Jack stopped him. “Er, I can get you a drink. I guess I’m the bartender now.”
The man took a long look at him, narrowing his eyes, and then huffed out a deprecating laugh. “Bourbon,” he said as he sat down at the bar. Jack grabbed two glasses. He was in Hell after all. If he had ever deserved a drink, it was then.
“Cheers,” the man raised his glass toward Jack and then downed it in one gulp. Jack refilled it without needing to be asked. “So you’re the bastard she was cheating on me with?”
Jack choked on his own drink. “What?” he coughed, trying to catch his breath again.
“My own personal Hell indeed, being stuck here for all of eternity with you. You did know she had a husband, right?”
“Shit. Shit, you’re him. What—“
“She shot me too,” he replied, reading Jack’s mind.
“Shot…,” Jack digested. “So she’s why I have this then?” Jack gestured to the hole in his head.
“Yep,” the man said, popping the ‘p’ at the end. He tossed back his drink and Jack automatically refilled it again.
This was truly hellish indeed. Face to face with the man he had been trying to convince the girl he had been fucking to leave for months.
“What’s your name then? She didn’t get around to telling me before she shot me.”
Jack pointed at the bold ‘TBD’ on his name tag.
“Howie, apparently,” the man responded, tipping his glass to Jack.
“Nice to… meet you, I guess,” Jack replied. “So, um, what do you do for work?” He couldn’t believe he was making smalltalk with this guy.
“Nothing anymore. Officially unemployed in the Underworld. I apparently find too much fulfillment in working, so I’m stuck doing fuckall for the rest of eternity.”
“Not a bad gig, really,” Jack commented. “At least you don’t have to serve drinks forever to the most depressing bunch of people I’ve seen in my life.”
They were silent for awhile before Howie asked, “You think she’s going to end up here too?”
“She fucking murdered us. Of course she is.”
“I’m gonna kill that bitch when she gets here,” Howie growled.
“She’ll already be dead, unfortunately.”
“Well, then I hope she goes fucking tragically.”
“I’ll drink to that,” Jack grinned as he poured them another.
It took ten years for her to show up. Of course, it felt closer to 100 as time moved painfully slowly in the Underworld. But after ten Earth years, she finally walked into Jack’s bar. Jack recognized her immediately, the moment she walked into the door, escorted by Eugene who gave an enthusiastic wave to Jack, who flipped him off in return. It had been an eternity of waiting and she had aged a bit, but it was really hard to forget the face of the person who murdered you, especially when all you had was time to think about her. Howie was sitting at his usual place at the bar, drowning himself in drink. The two had struck up a bit of an odd friendship. They still loathed each other, of course, but they were mostly civil. Being murdered by the same woman can be a bit of a bonding experience.
Jack got his attention and gestured toward the door with his head where she was still standing. She had frozen in place when she had recognized them. “Fucking hell…,” Howie muttered under his breath. He knocked back the rest of his drink, but remained where he was, refusing to even look at her again. Seeing that Howie wasn’t going to do a damn thing, Jack walked out from behind the bar, went straight up to her, and in one swift movement, collided his fist with her face.
“Shit, Jack!” she cried out, cradling her bleeding nose. “What the fuck was that for?”
“Quit your whining,” he snapped, shaking out his now aching hand. “You’re already dead. It’s not like I can do any real damage to you.”
“Of course you can do damage! You broke my nose, you bastard!”
“Yeah, well it’s not like I can kill you in retaliation for what you did. ‘What the fuck was that for?’ What the fuck do you think it was for?”
She took a deep breath, wincing for her nose, and glared sharply at him before asking, “Can I at least get a fucking drink since you broke my nose?”
“You killed me — I don’t think a broken nose is anything to complain about in comparison.” Nonetheless, he walked back behind the bar, gesturing for her to follow. “What do you want?”
Jack couldn’t help but smile. “That’s my girl,” he said as he grabbed the bottle. He couldn’t help it, murderer or not. He always loved a girl with the mouth of a sailor and the ability to drink one under the table. She winked at him as he handed her the drink.
“Do you mind?” Howie snapped from a few stools down. “It’s bad enough what you did with him when we were all alive, not to mention killing me, but do you have to flirt with him now? Is this what I’m going to be subjected to forever?”
Neither of them paid him any attention.
“So, Wilhelmina now, is it?” Jack chuckled, gesturing to the tag stuck to her shirt. She scowled.
“Yeah, and what’s your stupid new name then?” she countered defensively.
He tapped at his name tag which still read ‘TBD’, the lettering a bit smudged from over the years. “Don’t tell Eugene, but I’m starting to like it,” he grinned and clinked his glass against hers.