By J. T. Hilltop
This is my homage to one of the greatest poets and creative minds that has ever existed, Dante Alighieri. Its not meant to mock his incredible work but rather celebrate it in my own dark way taking my own creative liberties. I don’t profess to have an iota of Dante’s talent but the best way to honor an artist is to allow their inspiration to flow through your own soul, which is what I hope I did .
Part 1 (The Inferno)
Out Of The Frying Pan Into The Fire
One more for the road. Unfortunately for me that was my mantra, my raison d’etre. My mission statement was to always have one more to bring me closer to total oblivion. One more toke, one more beer, another shot another pill another tab, everything to excess. Maybe it was a design of mine to dull my mind and make my life seem more livable, or maybe I just couldn’t say no, but no matter, over indulging and sinning have always been concentric to my world. I enjoyed living on the edge, and I took Mr. Joel’s advice to heart, I laughed with the sinners instead of crying with the saints. But I am a storyteller and ever aware that every story has an end. Dying is something we all do, both sinner and saint, so I guess that’s why this ex sinner is here now, to relay my story of the afterlife according to JT, as interpreted by the poems of Dante Alighieri. Truth is I didn’t even realize I was dead at first, I thought I had passed out from my many over-indulgences on that night. I mean I truly believed I was only halfway along life’s path when I had woken from a stoned and drunken stupor in the dark wood. I mean really, a lion, leopard, and wolf in Crab Hollow? Please. However, when the three beasts began howling, growling and coming for me like I was an all you can eat buffet I decided they were not delirium tremors or hallucinations but something I better run like the wind to escape.
Shaking off a hangover is not an easy task it normally involves some coffee, a water splashing, and a few aspirin just to start but I had to make do with a quick self slap, intense head shake back an fourth and feets don’t fail me now attitude. I ran deeper into the wood with three mean ugly beasts hot on my trail.To the best of my recollection there was a charging hungry lion, a mouth licking fast leopard, an a bug eyed howling wolf with sharks teeth. They were coming fast si I had to act quickly. I needed to choose which path to take, hope that my choice was one of the paths would lead to salvation. But I was never known for my smart choices so its no surprise the path I took was not the straight way, but rather the twisted path along which the sun becomes silent. With each rapid lurch forward my lungs pounded and burned in shorter and shorter spurts. The muscles in my legs protested to the extreme work out and threatened to form a sit in but my mind overruled their objection so the running continued driven by primal fear. The path was littered with obstacles, logs, small boulders, and thickets but I negotiated them with the grace of a wildebeest. When my foot hit an unseen tequila bottle the pain shot up my shin, cracked my knee joint, making my entire lower right side numb. I remembered back to all the nature shows I’d ever seen realizing the wildebeest, graceful though it is, never fare very well but was more often the fodder of every predatory animal around. What else is gnu? At any rate it seemed appropriate that it would be a tequila bottle that ended my last hope of escape. I normally took things with a grain of salt an tequila was no exception. A kind of Karmic retribution. As I crashed to the ground my shoulder bravely led the foray into the next wave of pain that would likely precede the final pain of being torn to shreds by a trio of very strong jaws fitted with sturdy and sharp incisors. Mercifully the smashing of my cranium into a large stone put my lights out just as the hot anxious breath of the three beasts sprayed a layer of soft anticipatory saliva across my body.
To say I was confused when I woke up a second time is an understatement. I was downright flabbergasted. Did I die twice? Am I hallucinating about a hallucination? And the most perplexing question I pondered out loud, “Where the hell am I?” Believing I had asked myself a rhetorical question I was taken aback when a reply came, “No, you’re not in Hell yet JT.” I squeezed my temples together expecting some clarity to pop out but it was an unsuccessful attempt at sorting things out. Before answering this foreign voice I needed to apprise my situation by rubbing my eyes and taking a big long breath. Well the fact that I was able to take that breath was encouraging, but the voice was still a bit perplexing. I looked in the direction of the diction and sitting cross legged by a small fire was a skinny Buddha or something. At second glance he looked more like a short thin Roman wearing traditional robes if one is headed out to the local Roman bathhouse or perhaps a geeks orgy. “How do you know who I am, and who are you?” He sneered at me condescendingly, “I know who you are because I’m your guide. My name is Publius Vergilious Maro, but you can call me Virgil. I’m here to lead through the paths of death and salvation, and trust me JT, I didn’t ask for you. Your history seems somewhat self indulgent and self destructive if you ask me and I believe my time would be better spent with a plethora of other dead people.” His biting remarks were overshadowed only by the fact he called me a dead people. “Wait, what? I- I’m dead? So what are you saying Virgil, you’re my hell master? Damn man, do I need a safe word or something” I was sorry I had placed such a sarcastic inflection on his name the moment it slipped past my vocal chords. “Look JT, you showed little regard for life while you were living so don’t act so surprised to find out no one cares you’re dead. Deal with it. I could have left you with the three beasts to get chewed to death but I didn’t, I literally snatched you from the jaws of massive pain to take you through to the next stage. We have a lot to see so I suggest we get started. First things first, we will begin at the gates of Hell.”
A lot for me to digest. This Virgil dude said we were going to the gates of hell and I’m a bit concerned that’s where I’ll be left. Is that what he meant by the next stage? Am I doomed to spend all eternity with a major sunburn up to my ears in a world of defecation and rotting meat? I made the decision at that moment that hallucination or not I will apologize to Virgil and be cool with him from here on in. If there’s any possibility I can skate past Hell that’s the way to do it. But to skate, Hell will have to freeze over. “Hey Virgil, I’m sorry man, I’m a bit confused. Its not everyday you die and its taking me a while to shake off all this crazy stuff happening to me. You lead and I’ll follow, just try to keep me in the loop, okay?” Virgil smiled as though he had won some rappers beef battle or something, “No worries JT, in fact once we enter the gates there are nine loops I’ll keep you in.” His smirk left me uneasy.
I followed this scrawny Roman cynic along a dark twisted path deeper in the wood until we reached a clearing, the path leading to a huge mountain with ebony black smoke flowing out the top and fire red lava-like ooze dripping out like hot strawberry sauce cascading down a vanilla ice cream mountain. It caused my stomach to growl with envious hunger pains until I saw what was at the end of our path. A huge cave with heavy ornate wrought iron gates straight out of Transylvania. An emo’s dream come true, there were little sculpted ogres and gargoyles across both doors with hideously adorned door handles. Etchings of death heads, skeletons, monsters of all types were literally everywhere I looked on the gates. Just inside the gate was a huge statue of a three headed half man half goat kind of creature with blood dripping from all three mouths. I shivered at the sight. The stench coming from the mouth of the cave was of rotted flesh and spoiled milk. There was a pulsing dull red glow surrounding the doors. Above the doors was a plaque held by the ugliest monster any child could have imagined from under their bed. The plaque read “Lasciate ogne speranza, voi Ch’intrate” I looked to Virgil, “What’s that say, lactate on sperm you chinstrap? Is that some kind of weird Satan punishment or something?” Virgil showed his first sign of accepting me as he chuckled lightly, “No JT, that’s not what it says. You need to start taking this more serious son, the plaque reads “Abandon all hope, Ye who enter here”. This my boy is the gates of Hell where we are about to begin our voyage. Look around the outside here, see all those people?” I looked around, everywhere around the cave were people wandering aimlessly, swatting at the air and wincing in pain. They all looked confused and purposeless, with vacant eyes. Some had their heads on backwards unable to see where they were going, other had their eyes plucked clean out of their heads, an many were carrying their tongues in the hands in front of them. All of them looked lost and hideous, “Who are they, the ones that abandoned all hope?” Virgil wasn’t smiling now, he was very serious, “No JT, those are the ones stuck neither in heaven or hell. They are the souls of those who chose to do nothing when they were faced with a moral crisis, ones who could have made a difference but chose not to lift a finger, or say a word. Rumor has it that Pontius Pilate is among those souls as well as those who did not fight on the side of the angels during the Rebellion Of Angels Conflict. These souls turned their backs when asked for assistance, or guidance. Pontius could very well have kept Jesus away from Caesar but disregarded the dream sent to him into damnation from the Romans. He and all the others are assigned the punishment of an endless quest to find and save their souls, while constantly being stung by wasps an hornets. Maggots, ticks and mosquitoes eternally suck the blood and tears of their consciences. They gaze upon their faces all swollen and welt ridden to constantly remind them of the repugnance of their actions, or inactions. And these guys aren’t even in Hell, this is merely the outskirts of Hell my boy. You and I are about to descend down the nine levels of Hell. That’s where the real horrors exist.” TBC