What’s Hell?

The April Sherman Series follows a young girl growing up in a small town, fundamentalist Christian family.

*Please note: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

A Short Story by Bekah Ferguson.

1996

“Here’s a coloring sheet for you, April,” the Sunday School teacher said in a sing-song voice, handing me a piece of paper before moving on to the rest of the children at the table. “Next weekend is Easter, so today we’re going to learn all about why Jesus died.”

I reached for the basket of crayons in the center of the table, rooting through to find a handful that weren’t rubbed down flat or broken in half. I studied the picture. It was a simple cross with a spiky halo draped over top and some smiley-faced flowers in the grass below. (If I hadn’t been going to Sunday School since starting kindergarten last year, I might have mistaken the cross for the letter “t.”) In the top right corner was a beaming sun, smiling like the flowers, but something was missing from the scene. Feeling inspired, I did my best to draw a bunny rabbit next to the flowers, along with some eggs. I was very careful to draw zig-zag lines and polka dots on the eggs in even patterns, sticking my tongue out of the corner of my mouth a bit for added concentration.

“Are you having an Easter Egg Hunt next weekend?” I asked the girl beside me, glancing at her sidelong.

She blinked a few times, pausing with a purple crayon poised mid-air. “We don’t do that in my house,” she said. “My mom says Easter is for Jesus, and it’s not about eggs. She says the Easter bunny isn’t real.”

“Oh.” I thought about that for a moment, resuming my coloring; the subtle scent of crayon wax in the air. So she didn’t get to eat any jellybeans and chocolate eggs. I felt a twinge in my tummy. Did she at least get to have a chocolate bunny?

“Do you get any chocolate?” I stared at her side profile as she hunched over her paper.

“Uh-uh.” She shook her head, ponytail swishing.

The Sunday School room was warm, dust particles dancing in the sunbeams from the windows. But I felt a tad cold.

“Who here knows why Jesus died?” the Sunday School teacher began, standing at the head of the table. She smiled and made eye contact with a few of us.

A boy named Noah raised his hand. “Jesus died so that we could, um, get ta heaven.”

“That’s right!” She beamed.

I put my focus back on my artwork, pausing to peel some of the paper back on a worn-down crayon and getting some of the red wax stuck under my nails in the process. The teacher was telling us a Bible story now but I was too busy trying to finish my coloring to pay close attention. I’d even taken the time to color in the sky blue. Signing my name at the top of the page in all capitals, I sat back and held the paper up to examine it. I smiled to myself, feeling pleased, and a surge of excitement swelled in my heart. I couldn’t wait till next weekend, it was going to be so much fun. Not only would I get lots of chocolate and jelly beans, my grandparents were gonna come for a roast beef dinner; that was gonna be the best part of all.

“And because of Jesus’ loving sacrifice for us on the cross,” I heard the teacher saying, “we get to go to heaven one day—just like Noah said. Heaven is a wonderful place with no tears and no pain and everyone is happy. But those who don’t accept God’s free gift by asking for his forgiveness and inviting him to live in their heart,”—she lowered her voice slightly—“will go to a place called hell . . . which is a very very bad place.”

I glanced up then. The teacher had a solemn look on her face. Some of the children were still coloring or fidgeting, giggling, oblivious; but at least half of them were staring up at her with rapt attention.

She brightened, smiling, voice lifting again. “But we don’t ever have to worry about that because we know how much God loves us—he loves us so much that he sent his son to die for us!—and all you have to do is accept his free gift.”

“What’s hell?” I asked.

She lowered her chin, considering. “Well, it’s a place where people go who haven’t accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior.” I must’ve looked confused for she continued: “It’s a place where people are separated from God for all of eternity—that means forever!—and because God isn’t there, there isn’t anything good there either. The Bible says it’s a dark and fiery place.” Her eyes grew increasingly wide as she spoke.

I felt my mouth hanging open a little. “There’s fire there?”

“Mhm! But like I said, we need never worry about that place because all we have to do is accept God’s free gift of Salvation and we can go to heaven.” A big smile, eyes twinkling. “And that’s why we celebrate Easter—to remember how Jesus died on the cross to save us.”

I looked down at my coloring sheet. My hands felt cold in my lap. A touch of nausea filled my throat.

“Okay children, how about we sing a couple of songs before we go?”

I pushed the drawing away slowly, then flipped it over. I wasn’t sure if I was going to bring it home with me after all, though I’d been eager to show it to my parents and brother.

I thought about the coming weekend and how much I’d been looking forward to the celebration; all the pastel colors, the treats, the joy. But in an undercurrent to these anticipations, like the tugging sensation around my ankles when I once stood in a shallow, fast-moving stream, were visions of orange and yellow flames climbing, hissing, snapping within a black canyon.

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Bekah Ferguson

Hey there, I'm a Christian fiction writer from Ontario, Canada, and the author of the contemporary novel, A White Rose, available on Amazon. :) I post short stories on my blog, and you can follow me on Facebook & Twitter.

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