The cracking sound of a gavel falling is never pleasant, and when the gavel in question is forged of the thunder, flame and fury of heaven, it sounds beyond grating on the ears. Particularly since said gavel was used to sentence mortals to hell – definitely not a good omen during my trial.
Voice booming across the chamber spoke the Archangel of Contrition “Ari Havenmark, you have been charged with the defamation of the twelve and one virtues, three counts of cardinal sins and pouring the poison of the demons below upon the ears of heaven. Thus charged, how do you plead?”
“I plead guilty, your angelicness, however in my defense, the twelve and one virtues are way outdated and if we want to recruit more high value mortal employees, we need to make our job postings more accessible. As for the three sins – come on, since when did healthy self-confidence count as pride? Who cares if I like getting laid? And finally, “poison of the gods below.” Really! Is that what we’re calling sarcasm these days?”
“Hersey” thundered the Angel of Judgment. “We should never have let this filthy specimen of degraded pond life through the door of souls. Let us cast him in hell for eternal damnation.”
“I assure you hell is only the second-worst holiday destination I’ve ever been offered. I wouldn’t want heaven’s travel agency to get a bad rep after all.”
“I assure you hell is only the second-worst holiday destination I’ve ever been offered. I wouldn’t want heaven’s travel agency to get a bad rep after all.”
“Silence, impertinent mortal. I cast my vote in favor of forgiveness. Let us offer him a chance at redemption” said the Angel of Mercy.
The Archangel of Contrition stopped the ensuing argument between the representatives of mercy and judgment pertaining to my fate, just before they could finally do something interesting, like incinerate one another.
“Charges have been made, a plea of mercy heard, as the representative of the Hashmallim I execute the will of the gods above. Ari Havenmark for your sins this tribunal casts you out of heaven. You are damned to roam the mortal plain till you know contrition. Only then will you be recalled to the city of silver. As I will it so mote it be.”
For an awkward moment nothing happened. “So about that rebranding…” and just before I could finish my pitch the world exploded in flame.
Truly the punishment of heaven knew no bounds.
The Mortal Plain
Predictably, I woke up near a chapel. Specifically, in the sewer behind it. Because of course I did, it wouldn’t do for the tribunal to send me some place interesting, like in the middle of an ongoing bar fight. I strode inside the chapel where the altar had the visage of the Archangel of Generosity clearly branded upon it.
“They’re making their point abundantly clear,” I murmured. To return back I would have to help mortals claim the aforementioned hard-to-obtain job postings at least three times.
“Helping others, it’s like they’re already trying to sabotage me” I grumbled as I left the chapel right after washing my face using the rosewater from the altar and smearing as much mud on the floor as I possibly could. Just so the gods above knew what I thought of their idea of using my punishment to get free recruitment labor.
A short twenty-minute walk took me to the nearest town just before the city gates were snapping shut for the night. My plan was to get to work immediately, find a couple of poor souls to help.
A passing fellow gave me directions to the most popular tavern in town. If the laws of sorrow had not changed since the last time I had traversed the mortal plane, my quarry was inside, drowning itself in liquor.
Looking across the dimly lit taproom of the Newt’s Nest, I strode over to sit at the table that had a lone occupant; a strapping, broad-shouldered gent with a broadsword as tall as me strapped casually across his back and morosely sipping his ale.
“What do you want?” He spoke tersely.
“To help you of course, my dear unhappy chap. I’m here to aid poor unhappy souls in reaching the heavens, and you simply looked to be the most despondent of this sorry lot. So what’s the matter? A decaying marriage, a princess that needs saving?”
“Tomorrow at sunrise there will be a summary execution for captured deserters who fled the battlefield last week in the skirmish between the Tettaren cavalry and our legion. My brother is among the deserters and as a legate of the legion, it is my duty to preside over his hanging.”
“Indeed” said the legate drily.
“Well, why don’t we free your brother, kill the executioners, and take all their stuff, the last part is just for personal satisfaction I assure you.”
“There lies my dilemma. I have a duty to my lord but my brother is my blood” said the legate.
“In my expert opinion, we should save your brother. Not to mention that I’ve never helped jailbreak a prisoner on death row, and I do have a plan in mind”. I rose from the table with a flourish. The mortal too rose from the table, his hand gripping my shoulder “if we are to do this you must know my name, Legate Gustav Farrowspear at your service.”
“Ari Havenmark, in service to the angels and now yours as well!” I smirked back.
The next morning Gustav – or Gus as I had begun to call him much to the taller man’s annoyance – and I set out for the garrison. A tall, fortified structure made of polished granite, it looked like an ugly toad squatting over this otherwise charming town.
We were led inside promptly, once the legate flashed his badge, my presence explained away with a vague “he’s a family member”. Once inside, Gus turned to me and whispered “Can you brief me on the plan now?”
Ah! The plan. The one I had mentioned last night but had no inkling off.
“Of course you may, dear man. It’s simple. Kill them! Take their stuff!”
Gus’s face was study in outraged dismay! “I’m going to hell for following a mad man.”
“Now now, no need for such testiness. Be a dear and distract the guards while I go inside and free your brother. And we definitely aren’t going to hell. It’s a terrible vacation spot, as I keep telling people.”
When we reached the prisoners’ tent Gus ordered both guards to follow him, waving aside their protests while I, ever the rogue, slipped inside. Within the tent lay four men chained to posts hammered into the ground. I knocked out three of the prisoners, and freed the man who could be no one but Gus’s brother with the same broad frame and pale skin. Now here began the first hitch to my near-perfect plan. One of the guards had returned to check on the prisoners, and taking in the three unconscious men, he promptly charged me with his sword.
Back in my mortal days before I hit the bucket I favored myself to be quite the martial artist. Imagine my surprise when I got stabbed summarily. Clearly three centuries in paradise had dulled my reflexes. The last thing I remember was Gus rushing into the tent and stabbing the guard in the back.
“What happened?” The legate asked while tightly binding my wound.
Back in my mortal days before I hit the bucket I favored myself to be quite the martial artist. Imagine my surprise when I got stabbed summarily. Clearly three centuries in paradise had dulled my reflexes.
“What? The plan is working!” I announced before I went limp in his arms.
I woke up next lying in what looked to be a cot in an abandoned hovel. Astoundingly enough my perforated heart was still beating, nary a scar marring the skin above it.
“You were truthful when you called yourself a pallbearer of heaven, no human could’ve survived that wound,” said my saviour, tear-stained and dirty, squatting in the corner of our hovel.
“Ah Gus, why would I lie to you? What of dear brother? I see no sign of him?”
“Can you tell if a soul has made it through the gate of souls and into the paradise beyond?” my friend asked in a voice so despondent that it broke my already stabbed heart.
“He died didn’t he? Oh Gus I’m so sorry. But let us shake off this despondency and prepare so that we can leave at first light.”
“Where is there left to go? You need to help more poor souls?” He asked scathingly.
“No dear man, we’re journeying to hell. I am clearly not cut out to help mortals. I intend to finish all my tasks in one fell swoop and aid the devil himself,” I announced fervently. And if we find your brother’s soul in the devil’s grubby hands, then make no mistake, we will take it from his cold already dead hands on our way out. This I swear to you. ”
“Besides the best part about going to a horrible holiday destination is the withering Yelp review you get to write afterward”.
“So explain again, why are we digging a hole in a sewer behind the chapel?” asked Gus as we both dug a hole in the very sewer where I had landed.
“This is where I first touched the mortal plane. I can open a gate to one of the lesser hells through a simple ritual. Now stop asking questions we need the hole to be exactly thirteen feet deep.”
The Hellish Holiday
A ball of mud and limbs, we arrived into the first hell. In every direction that the eye could see, it was a flat desolate wasteland. We could see the mouth of a dark cave visible in the mountain in the distant horizon. Clearly it was the entrance to next hell.
“If this is the best their travel agency can offer in terms of sightseeing no wonder the thirteen hells get such terrible reviews.” said Gus, the first between the two of us to recover.
“Before I could correct Gus that it was the undead food that caused the negative stars that hell regularly received, he had already begun walking towards the cave in the distance while I swiftly chased behind him. The flat plains of the hell of apathy were not in fact as bare as our initial look suggested. Populating it were myriad tormented souls of the lost. Their cacophony of screams as a concert really did not cut it in pleasing the acoustics department.
The flat plains of the hell of apathy were not in fact as bare as our initial look suggested. Populating it were myriad tormented souls of the lost. Their cacophony of screams as a concert really did not cut it in pleasing the acoustics department.
This was the hall of screams where souls are repurposed to musical instruments for the devil in an endless music festival for the damned. We trudged unmolested past the endless orchestras with appropriately death metal names like “Chorus of the Damned” until we started closing in on the cave. A demon of apathy, long-necked with the head of a goat and the body of a man, blocked the entrance to the cave.
“Ooh little mortals, think they can pass through can they?”
Staving off Gus’s attempt to brandish his sword with a whispered “I got this” I approached the devil and spoke at my most imperious.
“Are you the guide the lord below has assigned us? Good. Take us quickly, servant, we tire of this mockery in the name of entertainment.”
“A godling in hell with a mortal retinue. Come envoy of heaven, I shall lead you to the uncrowned lord.”
While the devil ushered us through, Gus hissed, “I can’t believe that worked, you wretch! He could’ve killed us.”
“Ah but he didn’t, I have it on good authority that the last time the Choirs sent an envoy to the underworld, they wrecked three plains of hell. All the gatekeepers are now ordered to take an envoy to the lord Devil directly.”
Our conversation was cut short by the cave opening up to the world’s most polluted ocean. We were swiftly loaded into one of the many barges docked on the shore. Filled with corporeal souls and manned by two ogre ferrymen who turned to us as we left the black shore to traverse the polluted waters. “Lord envoy, welcome to the hell of Acedia! We shall travel swiftly across the sea of greed and reach the uncrowned lord’s palace within the hour.”
This cruise clearly was not rated highly for a reason. Between the mumbling spirits of the damned, who were clearly sub-par as conversationalists, and the giant mountains of garbage consisting of the lost possessions and dreams of souls thrown overboard, the scenery was a downer and certainly would not merit a rating higher than a one.
An hour later, stinky and sweaty (apparently hell cruises don’t offer much in the way of ventilation), we made our way off the barge and on to the shore. Led by our demon guide, Gus and I were taken to possibly the most comfortable place in all of the thirteen hells. The palace of the uncrowned lord – large and obsidian, it was as Goth as you would expect the devil’s home to be.
We were ushered into the throne room by undead soldiers who all but pushed us onto the floor in what was clearly terrible customer service. We rose to behold the uncrowned lord. So far this place had truly been … well, ‘unappealing as hell’ – “as exciting and fun as watching other people’s holiday pictures on Facebook”. But the Devil did not disappoint. Tall, lean, menacingly dark with a pitchfork resting on his lap and a pointed tail curled around his throne.
“What do you mean boring as hell? Why is that even an expression? You enter my realm unannounced and then dare disparage it? I should smite you now and get some variation in this unending diet of goat sacrifices.”
“Forgive me, Carrion Lord, but pray off the idea of adding me as a fresh side dish to your weekend banquet and hear my ideas on how to end hell’s unfortunate financial situation” I said, pointedly ignoring Gus’s slightly flabbergasted expression.
“Indeed? Go on” said the Prince of Darkness leaning back on his throne.
“Well, to start with, I am going to stop people from trying to sell their souls to you. Hell is macabre enough”.
“I can clearly surmise the financial difficulties this most splendorous realm must be suffering. Saddled as you are with the cost of imprisoning every damned soul in the history of humankind, hiring torturers for said damned souls and all the other costs ranging from maintenance of all the 13 hells, to fixing the barges in the Hell of Acedia, it is clear that hell is in financial purgatory.”
Now at this point the uncrowned lord, to Gus’s horror, had put on his reading glasses, taken out a sheet of parchment and was avidly taking notes.
“It’s all well and good, mortal – but how do you propose to go about it?”
“And, while you are at it, make them stop the animal sacrifices too. What do they think? I am trying to run a zoo in here?”
“I’m glad you asked my lord, I speak of a comprehensive rebranding of hell and cleaning up your un-profitable travel agency.”
“How do you propose to rebrand hell?”
Savouring the moment, I finally was laying out the plan I had been hatching in the vast specimen of intellect I called a brain since I’d been cast out from heaven.
“Let us begin my lord, with the issue of customer service…”
Six months later, after multiple reforms in hell and a partnership deal between the silver city and the underworld as well as clear bans on all filthy cruises and damned choruses, the travel agency was a prosperous enterprise. I watched the two brothers Gus and Sam laughing together in the Garden of Gold. As I lounged on my couch, I could not but admire the brochure in my hands advertising Under-wonder land – an all-new theme park where you can not only get a better tan but visit the world’s scariest haunted house and the most successful business overhaul in the history of creation.
We hope you have enjoyed reading Fundamatics, the award-winning ezine published by the IIT Bombay Alumni Association, envisioned as one that is by IIT Bombay alumni, faculty and students, and for the same vast community. And, the best part of Fundamatics is that it is completely free and can be accessed by thousands of our alumni who are spread all over the world. But this does not mean that we do not incur any operational costs in bringing the ezine to you. Your financial support can mean that we can continue to remain in circulation and “free” to you, our readers.