Listen to this story
I would recognize him instantly. I’m assuming many things, of course, like he’d be wearing the skin he wore as a man. He was famous when alive: a shadowy fixer for kings and then, later, the dark boss of a political propaganda war machine. He made some people rich and ruined the lives of others. He was a father, a husband, a friend, and an enemy. He was, most certainly, powerful and the powerful always think the world is ordered into master and slave, no matter society’s fashion at the time.
I’m also assuming a medieval hell of open fire pits and public torment instead of what I suspect hell actually is: cold, lonely darkness with only your past sins for company. I’m pretty sure I don’t believe in hell. My parents were people of faith, so late at night, mostly, I wonder if they were right about invisible people in the clouds.
At least, if you ask me if I believe in hell at a dinner party full of educated people I’ll deny belief in any afterlife. I am a sophisticated city dweller. One cannot believe in anything but dinner parties at a dinner party. But sometimes I find it comforting that there is justice awaiting us all. And, I guess, that’s why I imagine recognizing a famous person during my introductory tour of hell.
While the aesthetics of lakes of fire really appeal to my Catholicism, I think I prefer a hell that’s based more on cruel irony. If Sartre were alive today he’d probably write hell as Brooklyn, New York. The Ancient Greeks had the best afterlife: dreary self-reflection and if you were a real dick-in-the-eye during life you were cursed with unbelievable hunger and spent eternity grabbing for mischievous grapes that cannot be grabbed. I don’t know which is worse: being gutted by a trident or being forced to Tweet about my suffering forever to no followers, or faves, or retweets.
After the human resource meeting, which resembles an actual mortal human resource meeting, I’d be shown around Satan’s infinite re-education camp for the dead. Like I wrote, I’d recognize him instantly.
I’d want to ask him how things are going, all things considered. The stories are all the same in the abyss, however. Probably. I don’t know. I’m just guessing. So it would be a pointless question, if I were to be able to ask it.
One thing about hell, I imagine, is it’s a place where there is no forgiveness, but you repent anyway. I don’t think he’d be as defiant in death as he was in life. Perhaps he’d understand, finally, why he was despised. How he was responsible for his own earthly fall. I can’t fathom hell is a place where you remember being loved. And he was loved. There were so many who saw him as a hero. A principled warrior. A warm mentor and loyal ally.
He also preyed on the weak like a wolf. And man is not a wolf. Unless you’re talking about a wolfman. But we’re not. Hell doesn’t care if you were kind AND cruel. That is not how sin works. You earn your wages.
In hell, and I’m just speculating, there is only self-pity. But since this is a simple exercise in what awaits us all I allow myself to pity him for a moment. He could be my father. I certainly grew up in the world he and his generation built. A world that favors sons — white sons — over all others. A world where women are trophies meant to be mounted.
There is no love in Hell, save for the devil’s love.
Don’t quote me on that. And his love is passive-aggressive as all, well, hell. If there is a hell it is run by someone deeply, deeply disappointed that his father’s most beloved children squandered all that they were given. All they had to do was get along. Not eat each other. There was plenty of food and space and love. But then they invented gold and the sword. Well, the devil wants us to regret wasting his father’s gifts. He is mean because he cares.
I know some people think there are circles in hell. I may not even be allowed into the circle for the truly wicked. After all, the reach of my sins were limited. I simply wasn’t powerful enough to tell millions that they’re tiny prejudices and lazy malice were noble and worthwhile. Maybe there were circles once, back then, before there were so many of us. It seems inefficient though. Flat hierarchy really would be the optimal way for hell to scale.
I wonder if I’d be allowed to stare at him for a spell. He could be chained to a giant television broadcasting lies spoken by beautiful blonde anchors with blood red lips. Those his hot whispers had hurt would be interviewed and laugh about how such a squat, bald, ugly man could think his life could ever matter. So much opportunity to give but all he did was pout and wound and grope.
The torments are limitless, of course. There’s plenty of time for them.
Heels could grind into soft spots. Put him in a skirt and let the demons leer. White hot branding irons could crash into his flesh and spell out “greed,” and “pride,” and “idolatry.” A giant frog vomits up Richard Nixon, naked and shivering and screaming, and then swallows him again. Hitler and Caligula kick at each other dangling from hooks. In this version of hell you will eventually meet everyone you ever knew. Some will be shades invented to torture — a disappointed mother, a betrayed lover, a friend who asked for help but who you ignored — but most will be there, with you, in hell, because man and woman cannot follow simple instructions — love thine enemy, comfort the weak, open your heart.
Hate is more powerful than love except in the end.
I’m not an expert in infernology but I doubt hell is a place where the damned can complain. Scream, sure. But no lamentation. No apologies. No questions. He’d endure in silence. Our eyes would lock. He mouths the words “I am guilty.” I mouth back “I am guilty, too.” He will understand what we all must understand and that is: we are responsible for each other. But it will be too late for him and too late for me and we will both burn.
But this is just a demented fantasy. I have time, less than I think, to ask for forgiveness of those who have suffered my thoughtlessness before I’m pulled into the darkness. Whether or not I meet fire or darkness doesn’t matter, really. Likely, it is just nothing. Like the lightless eternity before birth. When you die all that’s left of you are the hot whispers. They say never to speak ill of the dead and that’s because that’s all that is left.