Born of a class at The University of Texas At Dallas as I was finishing up my Bachelor’s degree back in 1993 this story eventually saw the light of day outside of a classroom in October 1995 when it was published in print in Starblade. It then appeared as a reprint in the May 96 issue of Lost Worlds. Sadly neither magazine survived much longer, but both are special to me as they gave me my fiction start with this piece…..
Hell, Here & Now
I am Dantelus, the many-generational grandson of Dante. I have received special permission in the past to visit Hell in the hope that my works would bring a message to a world bent on self-destruction. Unfortunately, the message does not seem to be working on society. It is once again time to journey through the dark wood to the gates of hell.
My only restriction was to not write movie sequels. While limiting my works in one sense, I can safely say that the sequels, “Lethal Weapon 16, A Time to Die” and “Batman12: The Frogman Strikes Back” were not mine. I could have made millions. Instead, I am trudging through the dark woods back to hell for more ideas after yet another box office disaster.
I came around a dark corner and, as always, the lion, the leopard, and the she-wolf sat waiting at the entrance. The lion yawned and sat back and presently went to sleep. The other two seemed to think that was a good idea and settled down then. Really, good help is so hard to find these days. This wouldn’t happen if my great-great (etc.) grandfather was still alive.
With a nod to tradition, I gave the creatures a wide berth as I stepped around them and Virgil appeared. Virgil has absolutely no sense of humor so I call him Virg. He hates being called Virg which is half the fun. It must be that old-school background of his.
“Hey, Virg! How’re they hanging, buddy?” He hates that question. I mean, he really hates that question.
Virgil looked at me coldly. “As I have told you numerous times before, Dantelus, I hate that question. As a shade, there is nothing left to hang. We are only shadows of our former selves. There are no physical bodies and therefore nothing can hang anywhere. I would suggest you save you witty repartee for your screenplays. Now, are you coming? I have a lot of work to do and I really don’t have time for this nonsense. By the way, how much did the last movie lose?”
“You already know that, don’t you? After all, this one was a bigger failure than that stupid futuristic water movie. At least my leading man didn’t try to direct.” I was annoyed and it showed. Virg had won that point and he knew it. “Let’s go.”
I fell in step behind Virgil and entered through the massive gate. We passed the banner and the line of people in the entranceway. These shades were doomed to circle behind the banner for all eternity for their failure to make a choice between good and evil during their lives. Amazingly, there seemed to be even more politicians and judges in the group than the last time I was down.
We crossed the river with the surly Charon into Hell proper and soon stood on the rim of the valley. We had entered the first circle. When we started down the winding road in the valley I noticed there was a portal in the wall along the road with closed doors.
“That appears to be an elevator, Virg. What’s going on?"
“Well, Dantelus, the state of the world has caused massive construction in Hell. We put in the elevator shaft so that the construction shades could move directly to the work areas and avoid delays and interference by going through each level. Come, get on and watch your step. Some of the rock around here is still loose and liability coverage is so expensive.”
We stepped on board and Virgil punched the button for the first circle. “But Virg, if you need more space, then why doesn’t Satan – or God, for that matter—just create it?”
“Dantelus, my friend, God and Satan are just not hands-on management anymore. Thanks to your modern society producing so much managerial talent with their MBAs and what not, God and Satan now take things pretty easy. Most days you can find them in the park, drinking beer and playing chess. Of course, God always takes white.”
“But what about the construction?”
“Well, the MBA shades decided that it would be cost-effective to put the shades that had done construction in their previous lives to work. That way, everyone works a little closer to heaven.”
As the elevator drifted downward, Virgil turned toward me. “Remember, all of this was originally created to save souls. Once his or her time is served and the proper remorse for past actions is shown, then a shade can begin the long journey to heaven. It is something like your prison system without the mockery of the accompanying justice system. We don’t have to worry about good-time, early release, et cetera. In fact—“
A thunderous roar shook the elevator suddenly. Alarmed, I asked, “What was that?”
“That was Satan, slamming the table, Dantelus. God won again, so Satan pays for the beer.”