It is easy to go down to hell; night and day the gates of Dark Death stand wide; but to climb back up again, to retrace one’s steps to the open air, there lies the problem, the difficult task.
“You will need a passport for your next destination,” says Morgana, my gracious guide to Hell. She hands me a familiar looking document with a gold embossed cover. “Here it is, personally issued by Sir Francis Walsingham, who decides who gets a passport.” I open it, scrutinize the flourishing Elizabethan signature admiringly and slip the passport into my pocket.
“Walsingham gallantly volunteered for service in our realm, thus working off some of the karma he inevitably incurred in the tough job of serving his queen, country and the cause of religious liberty. Now he guards this sad domain of damaged souls. He keeps a low profile, patrolling the borders and overseeing the telepathic network he has developed to catch any miscreant demons hatching nefarious plots. As a result, our realm is so well ordered that he now spends most of his time cultivating the garden of his château in Asphodel Meadows or philosophizing with Dr Dee. John Dee is a magus who could have gone anywhere but has graciously accepted the post of Professor of Defence Against the Dark Arts, vacant since Hekate was promoted to Hella’s deputy. Merlin occasionally joins them to demonstrate the more spectacular feats of high magic. They make a formidable team whose wisdom is gradually lightening the darkness of this realm.
“Your passport may not be inspected, but hang onto it. There are a few people up there who regret turning down a tropical beach in favour of a smarter address, and they’ll have it off you in a flash. Just joking. Of course everyone in the higher realms is in a state of bliss.”
“You will also need a vehicle to transport you from the lower to the upper world. You may choose your mode of transport from our showroom, which may be accessed from any portal in the Otherworld.”
If you’re going through hell, keep going. (Winston Churchill)
At this moment the black wall in front of us slides open and we walk forward into an enormous cavern, every surface covered in black mirror glass. It is filled with vehicles of every type, size and shape you could imagine, chrome, glass and lacquer gleaming in the darkness.
“Have a wander round and see what’s on display. Over here are the latest models of fighter jets, rockets, spaceships, some of them prototypes that have not even reached the design stage on earth. Very popular with the boys, and we have some in pink for the ladies — at no extra cost … Oh sorry, I can see you’re not a girly girl 😉 Alternatively, for a gentler ride, take a look at our aviary. Many people like to fly up on the back of a bird, particularly eagles and owls, while albatrosses are a favourite of sailors.”
“Over here is our stable block where you may find the most famous mounts in myth and history. How about something traditional like this phaeton? – a horse-drawn chariot popularized in ancient Greece by Icarus, another Son of the Sun God. Mind you, he did come to a sticky end, but the later models are much safer. Santa’s sleigh is popular with children, while young riders love Black Beauty or a Wild West mustang like Silver or Champion the Wonder Horse, who will get you there as fast as the wind. Most popular with girls at the moment are our beautiful white unicorns. I would particularly recommend Pegasus; the combination of beating wings and galloping hooves provides a uniquely thrilling experience of powerful motion.” I spend some time stroking and patting the beautiful horses, comforted by their warm breath and soft whickers.
“Over here at a safe distance from the horses is our dragons’ den.” I rush over excitedly, but feel a bit nauseous at the pungent odours emanating from the pit where scaly bodies are writhing and reeling, flames shooting from their cavernous jaws. “Dragons are perennially popular, some asked for by name. Errol is currently our best loved dragon and always fully booked. Drogon and the other Targaryen dragons are fashionable but challenging, only recommended for experienced riders. Back in the day, Merlin was the Dragon Lord and would sometimes take me for a ride on the back of the Great Dragon of Avalon.” She sighs nostalgically, “Ah, those glory days…”
Morgana watches me as I wander entranced, unable to choose. “I think I know what might suit you for your first flight, a vehicle you have often dreamed of but never imagined actually boarding. You do not need a guide for the journey, but will be reunited with a much loved companion.”
At this moment I hear a familiar raucous MIAOW in my ear and feel little paws digging into my shoulder. It is indeed our beloved friend Ra. We have a most joyful reunion, loud enough to awaken the dead.
“Lord Ra is the great shape-shifter, taking different forms throughout the day according to need, tradition or whim. He particularly enjoys transforming himself into a cat in order to fight the Great Serpent, especially as he always wins. But sometimes he gets a bit battle-weary and likes to take it easy for a while. Nowadays he’s happy to let Maat steer the ship, which gets him points with the goddess power movement, leaving him free for new adventures. I’ve heard that nowadays cats are enjoying a rise in status in your world, perhaps not quite back to the glory days of ancient Egypt when they were so widely adored and worshipped. Still, apparently their lordly ways are well tolerated on earth and a cat may enjoy a pampered existence as the centre of attention served devotedly by full-time carers.
“You believed at the time that Ra was a very naughty boy, albeit highly intelligent and full of character. But you both loved him dearly and at moments you had intimations of his great soul. He says he enjoyed his life with you guys, being fed all his favourite foods on demand, snoozing in the sun with no responsibilities, hunting mice for fun instead of battling mighty monsters. Ra retains a great affection for you both and particularly misses Basil, his favourite human. So he would be happy to accompany you in his familiar form (his exalted emanations being too bright for mortal eyes) …
… Onwards and upwards!”
With a sudden crackle and roar, a circle of flames materializes out of nothing and surrounds Morgana. I gasp and gaze upon her, spellbound. Before I have time to recover my wits in order to say goodbye and thank her properly, she smiles enigmatically and steps back gracefully through the ring of fire. There is a puff of orange smoke, then the fire is instantly extinguished and the flame-haired enchantress is swallowed up in the darkness. For a long moment, the silence of endless night resonates.
Then the spell is broken as Ra yowls in my ear and reclaims my total attention.
Ra jumps down off my shoulder and leads the way onto a beautifully carved golden spaceship, blazing brilliantly in the stygian gloom. For a moment I stand there, lost in wonder and bedazzlement, gazing at the Solar Boat I’ve dreamed of for so long. Then I follow Ra devotedly up the stairway and the doors slide shut behind us. Soundlessly the craft lifts off and we are rising fast towards the bright horizon.
Per Ardua ad Astra