“Hell, ” answers Scoop, “is what keeps us good. It’s something that spurs us to greatness. Like jaguars. If you’re afraid of jaguars, then you’ll be good so they don’t eat you in Hell. But if you’re not afraid of jaguars, then maybe they’re in Heaven!”
“What if you’re ambivalent about jaguars?” Meredith asks.
“Then they will chase you in Purgatory,” Scoop says, “while you make yourself ready for Heaven.”
“Two thousand quatloos on the jaguars!” an alien voice cries out.
“It’s more of an example,” Scoop declares.
Scoop is a challenger. He’s going to challenge the American Gladiators on Monday. He’s firm in his purpose. He walks to the street corner. There’s a sandwich wrapper on the ground by his feet. There’s an evangelist in a feathered trenchcoat standing on the corner. There’s a sign across the street that says, “Don’t Walk,” so he doesn’t.
“Have you heard the good word of Quetzalcoatl?” asks the evangelist.
“I gave at the office,” says Scoop.
“He’s not a charity,” says the evangelist. “He’s a feathered serpent god. I have been moved to testify in his name.”
“No,” says Scoop, “but thank you.”
“You have to listen,” the evangelist assures him. “Otherwise, jaguars might fall from the sky and eat you!”
Scoop hurries out into the street. A car races towards him. Scoop is distracted by doctrinal matters. The car hits him and he dies.
There is a fuzzy time.
“Am I in Heaven?” Scoop asks, when he wakes.
“You’re on American Gladiator!” says the announcer.
Scoop is hesitant. Then he realizes that it’s true. He’s standing on top of a fifteen foot tall platform. He is holding a magnificent giant Q-tip. Facing him on another platform is the inscrutable Gladiator known as Iron Claude, holding a Q-tip of his own.
Scoop wins. Iron Claude plummets screaming to his doom.
“I’m all right!” Iron Claude says, after a moment, from fifteen feet below.
“Yes!” exclaims Scoop. “I really am in Heaven!”
“Five hundred quatloos on the newcomer,” whispers a distant voice.
“One thousand quatloos that he cannot beat the maze!”
Scoop shakes his head. Such alien voices have no place in Heaven. He ignores them and makes himself ready for the Maze. In this event, Scoop races through a giant maze. Gladiators leap out from behind corners to stop him. They’re dressed in brightly colored uniforms and have many muscles. While he admires the uniforms and muscles, Scoop does not fear them. He dodges around them. He ducks and rolls. He reaches the end of the maze.
“I win again!” cries Scoop.
And so it is with Swingshot, with Skytrack, and even with the Gauntlet. Scoop is subtly disturbed.
“It seems almost too easy,” he says.
At the end of the day, he rests. He is in his room. One of the Gladiators comes to see him. Her name is Meredith. She is comely and dressed in a colorful uniform.
“I have been assigned to you,” she says.
“This can’t really be American Gladiator,” Scoop says. “I’m dead, and I’m always winning. It has to be Heaven.”
“What is Heaven?” she asks.
“It’s . . . a place of happiness and peace,” says Scoop. “Run by the Trinity. With beautiful girls like you.”
“Then this is Heaven,” she says, and walks into his arms.
Days go by. Scoop continues to win every event. Even when jaguars fall during Hang Tough, Scoop proves triumphant. He grows uncertain.
“Where is the challenge?” he asks Meredith. “Where is the true gladiatorial spirit? This string of victories palls. And there are always voices bidding quatloos on my victory or failure.”
“They are the Trinity,” Meredith says. “Powerful brains that live beneath the gladiatorial arena and serve as the epistemological source of existence.”
Scoop sulks. “Just admit that it’s Hell,” he says.
“I cannot do that,” she says. “I do not understand your words. Tell me, Scoop.”
She touches his lips, his arm, his hand.
“What is this alien thing called Hell?”