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. Virgil
“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.
Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch’entrate. (Abandon hope all ye who enter here.) Dante
The darkness thickens as Morgana and I descend even further into the depths of Hell. We halt in a claustrophobic stone chamber lit only by a dim yet lurid phosphorescence on the clammy walls. The temperature drops perceptibly and I shiver as Morgana gazes at me sternly, stonily. “Souls you would call serious sinners go to the Dungeons. Please be clear we are not talking about the natural enjoyment of sensual and worldly pleasures, nor even about being rude to your parents or mean to your best friend. Such minor peccadilloes are part of the rough and tumble of life in which we are all sometimes unkind, angry, lazy, vain and all the other myriad faults and failings that human nature is prone to. Taken too far these actions may incur karma…”
I desire to go to Hell, not to Heaven. In Hell I shall enjoy the company of popes, kings and princes, but in Heaven are only beggars, monks, hermits and apostles. Machiavelli
“Do you have any questions?” asks Morgana, formerly Merlin’s apprentice and now my guide in Hell.
“Well, you’ve reassured me that there have been major improvements since I was frightened half to death with stories about this place. Even so, I’m curious. You say that people come here of their own free will, but why would anyone choose to go to Hell? I’ve heard people joke about how in the great hereafter they’d rather have fun with the sinners than sing hymns with the saints, but I’ve never taken it seriously.”
How can I describe my vision, the air of Hell is too thick for hymns! Arthur Rimbaud
“And now I’m gonna get medieval on yo’ ass,” says Morgana, my guide in Hell. She laughs uproariously at my look of alarm. “Not really, things have moved on a lot since the Dark Ages, when nobody cracked jokes about the Spanish Inquisition because you did expect them to come knocking at your door. Such excesses helped cause a backlash of unbelief that has frankly lifted a great burden from the hearts and souls of suffering humanity. At one stage we were almost closed down as numbers were diminishing so rapidly. Indeed, your compatriots ‘dismissed hell with costs’ two centuries ago in earthly time.
As I open my eyes, the mist clears and I find myself in a monumental spa, fully covered with black marble. Basins with gold taps line the sides, and I can just make out the labels, recognizing some of the finest Bordeaux vintages. My eye lights on an artisanal Black Forest gin, while my nose picks up the distinctive peaty aroma of a Talisker whisky.
I step out of the Olympic-sized pool, cosily wrapped in a fluffy black bathrobe, my feet shod in jewelled slippers. A figure in a dapper black uniform with slicked-back black hair glides up, wheeling a gold-plated drinks trolley. With a fixed blank smile, he proffers a huge triangular glass filled with vivid red liquid and two black olives on a cocktail stick. I eye it dubiously and he bows slightly. “Demon’s Blood & Balls”, he rasps metallically, “everyone’s favourite down here.”
I hate to be so rude as to refuse a drink, so I raise the glass to my lips and sip cautiously. “Not bad, you must give me the recipe for my next Halloween bash.”