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My View of New Hell, by John Manning

June 10, 2011

The hell that I envision when I’m writing in the Heroes in Hell is an evolved Dantean or Christian hell. It is ruled by Satan (Lucifer, His Infernal Majesty, His Satanic Majesty, His Infernal Eminence, et al) with the aid of a hierarchy of imps, lesser nameless demons, demons, and arch demons following the magickal principle of “as above, so below.” It is a continental mass roughly the size of Australia which is an oversimplification. The surface turns and twists in upon itself like a Mobius strip made from a double helix DNA strand excised from a Salvador Dali nightmare. While not visible to each other, hell has planes and layers adjacent and above and superimposed on others, yet none accessible to the other except by extraordinary supernatural means. Although every modern culture and country (anno domino) is represented, my stories center on places reminiscent of the United States of America. My character’s adventures (so far) take place in New Hell City, Brimstone Arsenal, and Port Royal, Jamaica, just southeast of the continent of New Hell.

This is a fairly new hell, as afterlives go, that sprang into being approximately 2,000 years ago as an offshoot of the Hebrew Sheol, which the Christian priesthood evidently found too tame to use as a threat to keep their flocks toeing the party line. Although the foundation consists of the fiery pools and mountains with millions of damned souls wailing and moaning and gnashing their teeth, some dynamic few (relatively speaking) having the strong personalities that they do, got bored with the status quo and started carving out their own little niches, trying to make hell suit them and their ways of life. Satan finds it amusing that these beings would have the audacity to think that they could change hell for their own comfort and convenience. Since all intelligent entities (and, let’s face it, ego notwithstanding, HSM is an infernal genius) get bored with the same old routine, he chooses to allow them a little leeway, a false sense of freedom. The resulting Sisyphusian existence that these misguided damned souls endure provides Satan and his minions endless amusement and diversion.

As each generation of new damned arrived hell evolved or adapted to fit each new vision. The result is a hodge-podge of architecture, technology, style, and taste. Weathered clapboard structures stand (or lean) among brick buildings and glass and steel skyscrapers. Flint-edged concrete walkways give way to mud tracks or Old West style planking. Gasoline-driven automobiles travel among Roman chariots, medieval two-wheeled ox carts, and horse-driven Hansom cabs and buggies. A soul traveling from New Hell City to Lost Angeles could go by stage coach, Hellhound Bus Lines, Trans Hell Dirigibles, Hellfire Airways, or DamnedTrak rail.

New Hell City consists of the mainland city, Moanhattan Island, Damnation Island (with a Statue of Lucifer, commissioned by Satan, designed by Frederic Bartholdi shortly after his arrival in hell, and built by Alexandre Gustav-Eiffel), and Hellis Island (one of the reputed locations for the Undertaken although never proven and the arrival point of both the Hughes Damnation Elevators and the original Stairway to Damnation). The Burnt William’s Bridge connects the southernmost tip of Moanhattan Island to the mainland. Bloodway travels from the middle of New Hell City across the bridge and runs the length of Moanhattan. It passes through the theater district, a roughly twelve square block area housing a number of venues for plays and other shows. On the mainland is the rough and tumble area of Bloodfort Styvescent wherein the Golgotha Gardens Retirement Home and Assisted Living Center sits like a festering sore amidst the squalor.

Brimstone Arsenal is located in the southwestern part of the continent just inland from Tiamet (the world ocean). It is managed by Samuel Colt. It is a vast armory and foundry that has known a number of overseers, Mr. Colt merely being the current one. There is a massive steel mill designed and run by Henry Bessemer wherein all manner of stabbing, cutting, and bludgeoning weapons undergo their first stages of creation. Two nearby shops – one run by Mr. Hashimoto Nakatoya and the other by Mr. Achmed bin Assar – produce the finest in Damascus and Japanese-style blades. Mounds of rounded earth cover underground munitions bunkers where any style of firearm ammunition or explosive ordinance ever produced is stored. In a nearby long factory building Mr. Eliphalet Remington turns out all manner of pistols, rifles, and shotguns. On the northwest portion of the massive complex lie several acres where aircraft of every type and nation sit idle. The vagaries of hell being what they are, few souls are daring enough to pilot these machines and wager their abilities against the inevitable certainty that the machine they are flying will – for one reason or another or just the whim and amusement of HSM – fail bringing them to the Undertaker’s slab for repair and reassignment.

The southern part of Brimstone Arsenal is littered with partially and totally destroyed buildings and unrecognizable wreckage. These are the remains of the former Research and Development Division. Upon the arrival of Dr. Werhner von Braun, the operation was moved offshore to Hellimundo Island where he also initiated a subdivision devoted to rocket and guided missile research and development. So far this program has yielded mixed results with no lasting successes.

The westernmost part of Brimstone Arsenal houses Lost Alamos, a secret installation dedicated to building and improving nuclear weapons. To date they have only had one success, a single stage fission weapon about the size of a bread box. They continue to work and test, however, hoping to work out the kinks for a two-stage fusion device which they hope will please HSM enough to let them leave hell.

Port Royal, Jamaica, is a mix of modern and late 1700’s architecture. The population here is mainly pirates from all over the globe and the bawdy houses and infrastructure to support such. Also, there are British and American government types who try, with limited success, to bring order to “the wickedest city in hell.”

And, this is the hell wherein Aaron Montgomery (Monty) tries to ply his trade and survive being a pawn of the Babylonian faction led by Pazuzu that is trying to usurp Satan’s control over hell and supplant it with themselves.
Heroes in Hell © 2011 by Janet Morris, all rights reserved.

Lawyers in Hell snippet, June 1 2011

June 1, 2011

Erra’s wings bore him straight and strong, with his vengeful weapons beside him, until they reached Lost Angeles, swathed in its pall of vainglorious excess that turned the air stinking and yellow.

There they alighted on black-paved ground, between buildings high and long and gleaming with glass and sinners festooned with every sort of bauble: painted and perfumed and covered in silk and furs: men and women, clutching at each other lewdly, entwining and kissing and sucking on each other’s bodies, copulating in the middle of the street. Erra waved his own mighty hand and the paint on each face puckered into running sores; silk turned wormy; furs came alive and sank toothy jaws into their wearers, tearing out throats and hearts before scampering up the blazing sky to heaven. Men ejaculated scorpions and spiders who ate their screaming partners from the inside out. Women selling sex sold torture now, and ground the members of their partners in gnashing teeth amid in their nether parts.

Down Hellywood Boulevard did Erra and Seven drive their judgment: pointing here, and there, and everywhere; bringing first fire and ice and lightning, then pestilence and tempest and quake and disease. Erra raged on, with his terrifying weapons, carving up the very belly of this Satanic beast, Lost Angeles.

Whimpering sinners stumbled and ran. The Seven cut down soul after soul, broiled them, boiled them, shattered them where they ran, and opened the ground to receive the detritus. Meanwhile, behind them on either side, buildings tottered and toppled, showering glass and mortar and stone upon the fleeing hordes.

Then Erra heard sounds he’d never heard before: deep roaring; booming in the sky so that the vault above seemed to shake; deafening thunder from the middle of the air: the sound of Satan’s forces, come to meet him in battle at last.

The seventh and the second of the Seven looked up and raised their arms. Huge metal darts swooped at them: some with souls inside, some not. Erra’s two Sibitti spat lightning and incandescent plumes, and caught the flying machines and piloted contraptions hurtling down and dragged them from the air. These crashed amid the tenements and high-rising buildings with an awful banging noise.

Then the third of the seven looks at Erra and smiles his icy smile. Erra nods, and freezing cold quenches the fires where the metal birds and darts have crashed, and all the mechanisms of modern man’s destruction fall away to glittering powder.

Satan, where art thou? Come face me.

But Satan does not come. Instead, a deep growl wells up: the tramp of marching men; the thrum of great wheels turning. Now come the tanks and the soldiers of the new dead, a vast army marching down the wide roads of Lost Angeles, crushing trees and people underfoot.

“Enough,” Erra says aloud.

This one word frees the rest of his Seven, weapons beyond mortal comprehension: the fifth of the Seven spins himself into a whirlwind of bladed retribution, and goes among Satan’s troops and death machines. Beside Erra, the first of the Seven opens chasms to the deepest underworld in the path of Satan’s warriors and their tanks. The front ranks tumble into the abyss, victims of the unstoppable momentum of their own forces coming on behind them.

The fourth of the Seven blows his hurricane winds and deflects every projectile, every missile, every weapon aimed their way.

The sixth brings his torrents, to clean the streets; the third freezes armies in their tracks. Now the fourth calls forth a plague upon all the soldiers and all Hellywood’s onlookers, voyeurs of death who hide among the rubble: those who could have run, but didn’t, will learn their lessons too this day.

The torrents clean the streets of corpses; the chasms suck down all the wreckage and accoutrements of war, and the city is silent: ravaged, ruined. No building stands. Sobbing and moaning and groaning fill the air with deserved songs.

From ‘Erra and the Seven’ by Chris Morris, in Lawyers in Hell ((c) Janet Morris 2011, all rights reserved.)

Lawyers in Hell snippet, May 27, 2011

May 27, 2011

“We’ll take your case,” Draco interrupted, looking past Lysicles and up, where three men were peering at them over the dung pit’s rim.

“Crap,” said Hammurabi under his breath. “Not them.” And, louder: “Yes, Draco and I will appeal your sentence. It is decided: we are the best in hell; we shall win your release if the Seven have souls.”

The three newcomers above elbowed each other. The tall, bonynosed one said, “You don’t say? ‘The best in hell?’” He wore khakis, motorcycle boots, and had bound a scarf around his head. He looked to be in his late thirties. He assessed Lysicles with a warrior’s precision … and something more.

The short, even prettier one in flashy Macedonian armor put a hand on his hip and said, “O wise Aristotle, let’s help them. At the least we can be character witnesses…. I fought against Lysicles. I know his rage, fierce; his bravery, unquestionable. And my word still means something.”

Then Lysicles stiffened where he sat, realizing the identity of this handsome youth. Bastard. Liar. Fool. Alexander, you little fop, you know no such thing. You fought on the Macedonian left that day, on horseback, behind daddy’s crack hoplites, surrounded by daddy’s best generals, and never risked a hair of your beautiful head.

The balding old man in robes said, “Alexandros, you mustn’t mix in where you’re not wanted.” But Aristotle slipped and slithered his sandaled way down into the dung pit and the other two followed.

“Shit,” said Aristotle when they reached the bottom, hiking up his skirts.

“Best place to meet, if it’s something like this,” said the tall, pale-eyed man from the legions of the ‘new dead.’ “Offal’s just food and water.”

“We know, T.E. Gentlemen, as you heard, I am Aristotle, and I fancy myself a bit of a tutor. This is my student, Alexandros – he tells the truth: he fought in that battle against Chares and Lysicles.”

“So … who’s the soldier?” Lysicles asked, pointedly ignoring Alexander and looking past him to the man in khaki.

Alexander frowned. “I’m Alexandros Philippou Macedon, called ‘Alexander the Great’ by history.”

“Not you, Alexandros,” Draco said, tapping his wooden triangle on which the laws of Athens were written. “You, tall one – who are you?”

“Thomas Edward Lawrence … I fought in the desert for queen and country.”

“Queen?” Hammurabi wanted to know.

“Queen of England.” The newcomers squatted down in the muck, extolling their curricula vitae, until Lawrence asked, “Lysicles, do you believe in the Card? Wouldn’t it make sense to send out operatives to try to find it, if you want out of hell so much? Although I could show you some places and people that might make you decide this place isn’t so bad.” Lawrence smirked suggestively.

“Ssh,” said Hammurabi with a shake of his curls. “This place is bad enough. Don’t tempt the gods.”

“Card?” Lysicles asked.

Before the new-dead officer could answer, Draco told Lysicles: “It is said there is a Get Out of Hell Free Card somewhere and whoever finds it … gets out of hell free.” Draco snorted. “I wouldn’t waste time trying to find it. No one knows what it looks like, so how could you know if you have the real one? It’s a cottage industry, buying and selling these so-called cards, along with relics from every age – holy water, shrouds, grails, what have you. Let’s get back to the matter at hand: if Lysicles can be saved by anyone, then we’re the men to do it.”

From ‘Tribe of Hell’ by Janet Morris, in Lawyers in Hell ((c) Janet Morris 2011, all rights reserved.)

Lawyers in Hell snippet, May 20 2011

May 21, 2011

Satan was fuming, literally, when I was escorted into his office on the top floor of New Hell’s Hall of Injustice by Marilyn Monroe in a tight red knit dress.  Aside from the devil and his desk, the huge place was empty from corbeled, cobwebby rafters to filthy marble floor.  The whole office reeked of smoke.  Wisps of gray smoke curled upward from his big black leathery wings, his wide maw, and leaked between his glittering fangs.  His yellow eyes burned into whatever soul I have left, and hurt.

“Sire, this is William Safire, from the New Hell Times Sinday Magazine,” Marilyn breathed throatily.  “For your interview.”  She teetered on red patent leather heels with six-inch spikes toward the son of the morning.  “Here is the list of pre-approved questions, YSM.”

“That will be all, Marilyn,” said Satan in a cultured voice, taking the list between his diamond claws.  The list ignited as he held it, curling to char in his hand.

Marilyn brushed past me and swished her way out of the office as if I didn’t exist.  There was no chair for me.  I had to stand.  On my belt was my mini audio/video recorder; I tapped it.  Now we were recording video, against all the rules.  How few among the damned souls sent to hell had ever seen the notorious devil, up close and personal?  What I did, I did as a public service.

Mephistopheles sat on his desk, not behind it – looking at my crotch, it seemed.  His tail lashed.  He crossed powerful arms and said, “Safire.  I do like the name.  Just who were you, again?  Before you came here to my domain?”

“I was Richard Nixon’s speechwriter.  He was an American president, you might recall.  ‘Nattering nabobs of negativism’:  that was my work.  I wrote that line, sir – for Nixon’s vice president.  Later, of course, I was a columnist for the New York Times.  And now, for the New Hell Times….”

“‘Sire’, not ‘sir,’” said the devil.

“What does YSM stand for … Sire?”  It was difficult to call anyone ‘sire,’ but I have interviewed my share of kings and queens and self-styled tyrants.  And now, the most dastardly overlord of them all.

“‘Your Satanic Majesty.’  Can we get to your questions?  We have windows to replace in here today.”

HSM was using either the editorial ‘we,’ or the royal ‘we,’ I didn’t quite dare ask which one:  I might be the most famous etymologist of the twentieth century, but my interlocutor is the devil (from the Middle English devel, from Old English dēofol, an early Germanic borrowing from the Latin diabolus, in turn borrowed from Ancient Greek diábolos).  “Sire, I’ve heard those windows always need replacing….  Howard Hughes built this building from Frank Lloyd Wright’s design, correct?  My readers want to know details like that:  what your … life … is like.”

“Immaterial.  No unapproved questions.  Get on with it, Safire, or I’ll call in some demons to string you from my flagpole and eat your liver for a few hundred years.”

From ‘Interview with the Devil’ by Chris and Janet Morris, in Lawyers in Hell ((c) Janet Morris 2011, all rights reserved.)

Lawyers in Hell snippet, May 18 2011

May 19, 2011

“Why don’t we go see for ourselves what Wellington’s doing?” Napoleon asked.

Marie shrugged her shoulders and led the way down the drive and around the hedge.  Wellington was now nearly flattened on his lawn, his posterior much higher than his head.  So engrossed in whatever he was doing, he didn’t seem to register he had company.  Napoleon crossed his arms on his chest.

“Wellington, what the shit is going on?”

Wellington jumped nearly a foot, his head snapping around and a startled expression crossing his thin, long-nosed face.

“Damn, Napoleon!” he got out.  “You really shouldn’t sneak up on someone that way.  Heart attack and all that.”

“I wasn’t sneaking.  I walked here like any normal person would.  What is it you’re so focused on?”

“My grass!”  Wellington stood, brushed stray green remnants of his lawn from the knees of his white British officer’s breeches.  “Look at it, will you!  It’s beyond belief!”

“What … the grass or you, butt to the sky, examining it?”

Wellington drew his chin back and assumed a hurt expression.  “You needn’t act that way.  I’m trying … really trying to obey the rules.  And it’s impossible!  Bloody impossible!”

Napoleon studied the grass.  “Looks fine to me.  You just cut it yesterday.”

“Precisely my point.”  Wellington held out a ruler.  “The Home Owner’s Association says my grass can only be, at the very most, two inches tall.  And, believe me, I measured the entire lawn.  Every last part of it.  There wasn’t a place where the grass was taller than an inch and a half.  And now look at it!”

“I’m looking and I still don’t see the problem.”  Napoleon glanced sidelong at Marie, who was trying her absolute best to hide a smile.  “I’m no horticulture specialist, but it can’t be much over two inches tall.”

“Then check it out yourself, since you’ve got the bloody eagle eye.”  Wellington offered the ruler, his face going red with frustration.  It was obvious he only now realized Marie stood next to Napoleon.  “Good day, my lady,” he said, bowing slightly.

She smiled at him and nodded back.

“Eagle eye, is it?  Let’s see.”  Napoleon knelt, placed the ruler down to where it touched the ground.  “Merde!  What’s happening here?  Your grass is two and a half inches tall!”

“That’s what I’m trying to tell you!  It couldn’t have grown an inch in a night!”

“Huhn.”  Napoleon rocked back on his heels and stared at the ruler.  “Marie,” he asked, “could you bring me the ruler I’ve got stashed in my desk?  For comparison’s sake,” he finished, looking up at Wellington who was still red-faced and the picture of exasperation.

“Damned Home Owner’s Association,” Wellington grumped.  “If it isn’t one bloody thing, it’s another.  And that new HOA president … he’s, well –”

“Quiet.” Napoleon hissed.  “You don’t know who’s listening.”

Wellington made a show of looking to the left, the right, behind his back and across the street.  “No one, that I can see.”

“How long have we been in New Hell, Wellington?  Long enough that by now I’d think you’d know ears don’t have to be attached to a body to hear.”

“Oh, you’re right.  It’s just so frustrating!”

From ‘Tale of a Tail’ by Nancy Asire, in Lawyers in Hell ((c) Janet Morris 2011, all rights reserved.)

Lawyers in Hell snippet, May 15 2011

May 15, 2011

“You’re a failure, Guevara,” said the man who’d kicked open the door to the shanty where the rebel leaders slept.  “You failed as a doctor, you’ve failed as a revolutionary and you couldn’t even die well.”

Slowly, Guevara looked up.  “Who in hell are you?”  Che Guevera took a final swig from his beer and threw the empty at the pile on the floor, where it hit a full bottle.  The full bottle exploded with a punctuating bang, showering the shack with foam and glass.

“William Walker.”  Walker ignored the bang and the spray.  “Get your ass up and listen for three seconds.”

A hairy man in a filthy tie-dyed shirt sat upright on his cot, pawing shards of glass from his beard.  None of his snoring compatriots so much as moved.  “Who does pint-size, here, think he is, boss?”

“Yeah,” echoed Guevara.  “Who do you think you are, Walker?”

“Ask the Hondurans.  Ask the Nicaraguans.”  Walker’s eyes scorned the shanty, jabbing disgust at empty bottles and empty souls passed out on furniture or on the floor.  Rusty, half-assembled, hell-made AK-47s were nearly buried under rum-stained leaflets on a coffee table.  “Ask the Sonorans or ask a Vanderbilt.  Who I was, and who I am, doesn’t matter.  What matters is that you’re no longer in charge of the revolution, you over-the-hill sot.”

“Wha’ the?” the hairy man asked.  “You tryin’ to take us over?”

“This bunch of losers?”  Walker gave a harsh laugh.  “Who’d want you?  What I said is that you’re no longer in charge of this so-called revolution.  Now I’ve said what I came for.”  Walker turned on his booted heel and left.

The man in the tie-dyed shirt turned slowly to Guevara.  “Wha’s that all about?”

“I don’t know,” said Guevara.  “But I guess it means we got a problem.  Americans.  Again.”

From ‘Revolutionary Justice’ by Leo Champion, in Lawyers in Hell ((c) Janet Morris 2011, all rights reserved.)

Lawyers in Hell snippet, May 10th 2011

May 10, 2011

Snip.  Snip-snip.  Snip.

Partly overcast in hell, a few spots of rain – but the job had to be done, and when jobs of a less elevated nature had to be done in Augustus’ villa, there was a question of rank involved.  Augustus wasn’t going to do it.  Neither was Caesar or Cleopatra, nor Sargon of Akkad; nor was Hatshepsut.  The villa had Roman rulers and Egyptian pharaohs, but no gardener, and that elected the two Renaissance refugees who’d found the villa a comfortable berth in hell.

Dante was dithering around in the basement about some research project.

That left one Niccolo Machiavelli to be dragooned into the job, when Augustus came out of his office in a dither – not about the flood downtown, not about the Audit of Injustice proceeding in the Law Court, but about two young fools, both Julius’ sons, who’d decided to burgle Tiberius’ villa, over across the greenspace and a good hike beyond.

The lecherous old goat, the Emperor Tiberius, had them dead to rights.  And was suing Augustus for instigating the permanently young fools in the invasion of his premises.

It was not a good time to have a lawsuit questioning the peculiar status of any Roman in hell, not that one could explain that to the syphilitic old fool, Tiberius, who’d died insane and who’d not improved in the process.

That was why Machiavelli was out there trimming roses into shape … in a light rain.  With an extensive flood spreading over the greenspace.  Cardinal Richelieu’s place had half the lawn underwater.  Tiberius had a regular canal behind his mansion.  It was a lawn-rimmed grey sheet beyond the gate and the hedge, and it might get beyond the gate tomorrow, but for now, the garden had to look its best, old roses, Roman roses, cuttings from Paestum, Augustus swore, a little bit of earthly paradise, around the beautiful statue of weeping Niobe, mourning her lost children, symbolic of the rain, and more than appropriate today.

Bailing the boys out was the mission.

Getting that old sybarite, Tiberius to settle.

And with every high-level Roman being, in essence, a lawyer, representing his house, his clients, his sympathizers, voters, and connections, in whatever court – there was still a time to call in the experts.

Tiberius had, on his side, the law firm of Stalenus, Dolabella & Crassus, the most unprincipled law firm in hell.

That was a bit of a problem.

So … up against scoundrels, potentially pleading in front of antiquity, go for the headliner.  The Dershowitz of his day, Marcus Tullius Cicero.

From ‘Out of Court Settlement’ by CJ Cherryh, in Lawyers in Hell ((c) Janet Morris 2011, all rights reserved.)