One night while closing up the ice cream shop in Hell, Michigan, Sally stumbles upon a social media hashtag of people sharing photos of portals connecting to other cities with the same name. Curious, she leaves work to see if there is a portal in her town.
Mark diligently pushed the mop around the floor. At the same time, Sally Wilkerson was locked in focus to her phone as she scrolled through Instagram while simultaneously turning off the open sign for The Creamatory of Screams. As far as summer jobs went, the two teenagers enjoyed dishing out ice cream in Hell, Michigan. Sally especially enjoyed dressing up in a witch’s costume for work, which her boss didn’t require, but loved the enthusiasm. Mark preferred to stick with brown khakis with a black t-shirt and apron.
“Mark, you need to check out the Twin Cities hashtag,” Sally insisted.
“Why?” Mark questioned as he ringed the mop in the bucket.
“Because there are these portals that have started appearing around the world, connecting cities with the same name.”
“What? You’re joking.”
“No, there are pictures of people in Paris, Texas, visiting people in Paris, France,” she scrolled through her feed for another example. Most of the photos featured a neon green portal in the background. Of course, there were food pics too. “Here’s another in Portland, Maine, and Portland, Oregon. Oh! Memphis, Egypt, and Memphis, Tennessee.”
Curious but skeptical, Mark carefully leaned the mop against the wall and opened the app on his phone. “All under the hashtag, Twin Cities, right?”
“I don’t see anything.”
“Let me see,” Sally grumbled as she yanked Mark’s phone out of his hand. “Weird. There are tons of photos on my phone.”
Mark gently pulled his phone out of her hands and returned it to his pants. “Let’s just hurry and close.”
Sally looked at her phone. All of the photos of the portals were gone. “Huh. They’re not showing up on my phone anymore.”
“Maybe it’s a government cover-up,” her co-worker teased. “Or maybe you got hacked.”
Sally ignored him. “I wonder if there is a portal here. Maybe it leads to Hell in Norway or the one in the Cayman Islands. Hey, Mark. You won’t mind if I skip out early to check?”
“Thank you! You’re the best!”
Sally grabbed her purse from the back counter and bolted out the door while Mark sighed and continued mopping. The tiny unincorporated town had a few shops, all with a tongue-in-cheek names like Hell In A Handbasket and Hell Saloon. Sally’s parents owned Charon’s Landing where her mother did tarot card readings and her father sold paintings. If there were a town portal, she wouldn’t have to cover much ground to find it. As she jogged over to her car in the gravel parking lot, a red glow off to the side caught her attention.
In the center of the mini-golf course stood a neon red portal the size of a large door. Except for the color, it looked like the other ones she saw.
“No, way,” she muttered. She pulled out her phone and took a video clip. “I wonder where it goes.”
Sally jumped over the fence to the closed mini-golf course and ran up to the portal. A warm, tropical scent drifted out from the portal. She looked over at the shop and debated if she should get Mark. She turned back to the portal, having decided that the portal would disappear if she went to get him. Her heart raced as she stuck her arm through the glowing red gateway. Her arm felt warm like she was on a beach, and it didn’t hurt either. She took a deep breath and walked through.
Red lights shimmed all around her as she took a few steps through the gateway. The lights washed behind her as she stepped out onto a colossal library with gothic architectural themes. Several dogs with happy wagging tails scampered up to Sally, demanding love and affection.
Out of curiosity last month, Sally researched all of the other towns named Hell. None of them had a library as grand as the one she found. The more she looked around the mountains of books, the more she felt like the library itself was larger than any of the towns.
With no one else showing up to greet her besides the dogs, she finally decided to call out. “Hello.”
In response, a drill of flames erupted from the floor several feet in front of her. The fire dissipated to reveal a tall, slender man in a dark purple suit with red pinstripes. His skin was crimson red with the face of a grizzled movie-star while his hair consisted of a blue flame. Sally couldn’t explain the feeling, but a woman’s voice whispered the name, “Hades,” into her mind.
“How did you get here?” chided Hades as he studied her. Sally opened her mouth to explain, but Hades held up a finger to stop her. “Don’t answer that. You probably don’t know. I’ll look you up.”
Hades snapped his fingers. A brown leather book with Sally’s name written on all sides in gold lettering flew off a bookshelf and into Hades’ hand. He flipped toward the end and began to read. “Of course. This is all one of those experiment pranks by Loki and Raven.”
Hades snapped the book shut and tossed it over his shoulder. The book bounced and returned itself on the shelf.
“Wait. Am I in Hell Hell?” Sally stumbled to ask with excitement.
“Yes, that’s one name.”
“And you’re Hades?”
“Yes, that’s one name.”
“Woah. This is so awesome. Can I get a selfie with you?”
Hades sighed. “Fine. But if only you promise to leave. You shouldn’t be here.”
Hades kneed down so both their faces could be in the shot. Sally snapped a photo of her smiling while Hades made a silly, scary face. Hades shifted his face back to serious as he stood up.
“Thank you!” Sally beamed.
Sally ran through the portal, with it collapsing on itself as she exited.
Hades reached down and petted a golden retriever. “At least she wasn’t constantly crying like the kid from Norway this morning.”
This week’s short story was brought to you by the following writing prompt: “One day, every city that shares a name has a portal open up, connecting them all with each other. Paris, Texas has a great time with it, and many cities celebrate their new neighbors. You, however, live in Hell, Michigan, and things are starting to get strange.”
I laughed out loud when I read this prompt last night. It made me think of my time in Hell in the Cayman Islands. I gave the story some thought and wrote it today. Since this takes place in my universe, I explained the portals around the world that Sally saw on Instagram as something that didn’t really happen. It was all a trick by Loki and Raven. With the corkiness of Sally and Mark working at an ice cream shop in Hell (which does exist as I researched it this morning), I think the setting would lend itself for an indie coming of age movie.
Thank you to Mikael Marchan and Janine De Guzman at Design Pickle for bringing Sally’s portal discovery moment to life.