Not many books are able to change your views on the afterlife. This one does.
Michael F. Stewart tackles some pretty weighty subject matter in THE TERMINALS. Euthanasia. Suicide. Torture. Despite the presence of such heavy topics, my attention was diverted elsewhere. Because when I look back years from now and think about this book, what I'm going to remember is its portrayal of hell.
It's disturbing. It's scarring. It's something you won't soon forget. I have to admit it was hard to read at times. No one likes to contemplate what hell might actually be like, but Stewart is brave enough to go there and wholeheartedly wrap his brain around the concept. He fathoms the most grotesque punishments imaginable and some I don't think I'll ever be able to fully comprehend, they're so gruesome.
Our guide is Brother Charlie, the Gnostic monk we follow into the depths. Why would a member of the clergy be going to hell? Because he witnessed the murder of his friend and did nothing to stop it. At the time, he was confused, afraid, but now he's on a quest to right that wrong as he tracks the killer through the seven levels of hell. What he doesn't know is if the killer learned all seven passwords for the Archons who guard the gates. If the killer passes all seven tests, he'll be able to undergo reincarnation and resume his cycle of terror back on Earth.
But Charlie must undergo each test as well, and they are excruciatingly painful. The talons of a giant eagle cook the flesh off his bones before snapping his spine and ripping out his entrails. Bats engorge themselves on his skeletal frame, sucking the marrow from his bones. He's left to swim in an ocean of barbed hooks filled with venom that almost disintegrate what remains of his corporeal body, only to survive and be ripped apart by wolves at another level. But the true torture is psychological as the recriminating voice of his mother beckons to his downtrodden spirit from the darkness that he's unworthy of forgiveness.
It's a heady trip. It's unsettling to think about what might actually happen to us when we die. Will our flesh be stripped from our bodies until we're nothing more than a spark like Stewart hypothesizes? It's thoughts like these that we usually shove to the background. They're too traumatic to ponder for more than a second or two. But here, Stewart does the heavy lifting for us, cultivating a take on the eternal that's too frightening to ignore.
If nothing else, THE TERMINALS will scare you into being a better person. Trust me, it's so frightening you'll fall to your knees and pray that not even your worst enemy ends up in hell.