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Famous Fantastic Mysteries, June 1953

Bernie had always written his own ticket—but this time he was up against the Devil himself.

BERNIE GOES TO HELL

By Arthur Dekker Savage

DYING didn’t seem to affect Big Bernie at all. Of course, our deaths hadn’t been like any of us expected, but by the time I, was able to think halfway straight Bernie was lighting one of his hoarded cigars and looking over the strange new terrain with a wary eye.

Due to its trajectory, we’d had a chance to see the bomb coming at us, and had known it ,was curtains. I remembered it was the first time I was really scared bad.

Bernie squinted up at the sun. Yeah, there was a sun, but it was damn different from what we was used to. In fact, the whole hilly, shrub and tree covered country was different.

"Well, boys,” said Bernie, taking the cigar out of his face and looking at it instead of us, "it looks like we made the Trip.” There was no doubt what he meant.

Strangler Hazlitt cleared his throat. "Sure funny we come through with our uniforms and stuff, ain’t it? And nobody hurt.”

Bernie laughed deep in his chest. "Just goes to show how things are different from what people think. My poppa used to say, ‘Don’t believe it, Bernie, until you got your hands on it.’ ” The muscles of his- big jaw knotted a couple of times. “But don’t think we ain’t hurt-where we just come from, there’s parts of us still failin’ to the ground.”

It was kind of hard to get used to, at first. We stood around, just thinking, until Bones Melton began to make screwy noises in his throat. We looked at him. The poor guy was white and kind of rigid, staring into space.

Bernie went over and put his arm around him, then slapped him once, fast. Bones snapped out of it. and Bernie helped him sit down on the ground and sort of squatted beside him. Bernie’s sort of big through the middle, too, and squatting isn’t so easy for him, but he got Bones to feeling better. Finally Bernie looked up' at the rest of us. "All right, you dumb dopes,” he said, “siddown and take a rest while you got a chance—we don’t know what we’ll run up against here!” After a while Corporal Bernie Hynes called a huddle and we counted noses. Strangler Hazlitt, Bones Melton, Tex Radicke, Hod Morelli, Johnny Kusevic and me—Slim Prater. There’d been a lot of other boys in the vicinity, of course, so we figured we was the only ones who’d got the complete business. By now Bernie had his cigar worked down to a nub. We’d tried to dope out this death business and figure where we were. “Listen,” said Bernie at last, “any of you guys religious?” No one said anything. "Okay,” continued Bernie, “I’ll tell you what l figure—I figure we’re in Hell.” ,He spit out a piece of tobacco.

Hod Morelli didn’t like that. “Whadda ya mean—Hell? You don’t know no more about it than the rest of us!” Strangler Hazlitt scratched an itchy spot and nodded agreement.

Bernie kind of bristled. “Look—you guys are all so damn stupid you couldn’t tell which end was up if you didn’t wear a hat. You leave me do the thinkin’ for this outfit!”

He’d told us that other times before and I believed him, but Strangler had other ideas. “Jest a minute, Bernie—where do you get off givin’ orders now? We’re dead, ain’t we? Who give you your rank here?” Strangler was a pretty hefty mug himself, and wasn't afraid of man or beast. Or even of Bernie. Most people would take a look at Bernie’s wide, battered face, with its mashed nose—which he’d gotten in the ring—and let him write his own ticket.

Bernie stood up slow, pulled in his stomach a little and hung his thumbs in his belt. He looked at all of us before he opened his mouth and removed the cigar butt. “I can whip anybody here,” he said, “but I don’t see no sense in it. I got more brains than all the rest of you put end to end, but we’re going to, run this outfit democratic. We’re gonna vote for the boss. You got any objection to that, Strangler?”

Strangler doesn’t think very fast, but when he gets hold of a guy he turns him every way but loose. He seemed to get -Bernie’s idea, though. “The votin’ part sounds good,” he said, “but I’d whip you just for the hell of it if I hadn’t damn near busted my wrist crankin’ that jeep this morning.” We all knew Strangler wasn’t backing out. He was just being reasonable—and he wasn’t mad, which made a lot of difference.

Bernie chuckled like he was sure of himself. "Okay, Strangler. But lemme tell you somethin’. There’s nothin’ wrong with your wrist now—feel it and see.”

Strangler worked his wrist and blinked a few times. “My God, there ain’t!” he said.

“’Course there ain’t!” said Bernie. "If you get here at all, you get here okay.” He pouted out his chest some, which made his belt looser. "And I’ll tell you why this is Hell— everything’s red, ain’t it? Look at the leaves on them bushes and trees—even the grass!”

"You’re right,” I said. “It looks something like the color of poison oak leaves.”

“Yeah,” said Tex Radicke, “and the dirt’s something like red sand, only it’s dirt.”

“But I don’t see no fire,” protested Johnny Kusevic. “It’s kinda hot and dry, but I don’t see no flames.”

“You gotta forget what you heard about Hell,” said Bernie. “That’s just propaganda. Look at that sun if you wanta see flames.”

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