In desperate times desperate people head here – an online journal of Apocalyptic-themed fiction and commentary.

The Gift that Keeps On Giving: A Fable of Hell

Copyright © 2007 by Jefferson P. Swycaffer. All rights reserved.

There is no thing more distinctly characteristic of Hell than the desire of those who are in it to be out of it.

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Goya's satan

The Gift that Keeps on Giving

     In the deeps, in the lowest fastnesses, in the caverns of red, buttery rock and black pools, the Devil languishes. Here there are crags and precipices, rising up and over-arching, closing in again above this moral encystment.

     But, were one to scale the rugged cliffs, edging up the gore-slick crevices and inching up coarse chimneys, one may find a niche, a nook, an encircling standpipe.

An exit.

Upon his whim, the Devil essays the climb, no easier for goaten hooves than flesh-torn toes. It is a labor of will, not of sinew. The Devil shoves his way in and up, squeezing through the aperture. His head is free, and a shoulder, an arm, chest, hips, and so all. In so far as there is a way out, he is out.

The feat is noted. Pale wriggling souls of men ascend in the following path. In time, the bleachy and grublike shape of one comes up the pipe and makes his painful rebirth.

The Devil seizes him, upends him, and plunges him right back down the standpipe well. Pride ever wars with Jealousy.

Another man, or what immortal part remains after all and all, rises from the pinching tube. The Devil, as always and ever, is irked. He punches the man-soul down again, then, bending over the narrow pit, vomits and voids, emitting such noxious flames and fluids as his great hatred has pent within his body. The acrid effluvium splashes down over those below who would climb to freedom.

Yet the Devil is not the only one of dauntless will. In time, a man, though brutally burned and disfigured, pushes his way up and folds himself over the lip of the pipe.

The Devil plunges him back, and lets spew once more, spilling out the raw black blood and glistening bile, the loathesome humors of his despising. The caverns below are scoured with the bite of worse than flame.

Time passes in the timeless place, and now a shambling, bent, twisted, and deformed thing, only barely recognizeable as once having been a human mortal, grasps at the lip of freedom and pulls himself out and up. Skeletal, cadaverous, scraped as with seashells, scorched and mired with the odium of the Devil’s bowels, it stood in its liberty.

The Devil, enraged beyond words or gestures, gnashes the figure in parts and drops them back within. He tears himself open and spills the reek of his entrails, the musk of his loins, the venom of his brain, and the fire and fury of his eternal despair into the standpipe. Nothing can withstand it; nothing can endure.

Yet Hell endures, and, perforce, those within it.

Now, from the pipe, an inky, twisted, bird-like ruin seeps upward, a man-shade, once a person, having in its judgement been made immortal, and having come through the inundation of the Devil’s most intimate baptism.

This thing — it could be any one at all, perhaps a heretic or a voyeur, perhaps an orgiast or a thief — capers and bounds, lifting its legs and clicking its heels, fluting in glee. Now free, free to do whatever it wishes, it turns, bends over the hole, and spews, spends, vomits, and voids, pouring out its own rage and hatred, spilling its own fire and fury, the fluids coursing down the crags to splash over those who might yet seek to climb after.

The Devil sees and nods, and for one moment among eternity is satisfied. His job has been done. He fills his lungs, and looks for the next crag that wants climbing.

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