Virgil stood on the shores of the Stygian flow in his new suit, ankle deep in mud that smelled suspiciously like shit. He could see the infernal city of Pandemonium glowering in the distance, huddled underneath the cyclopean vault of some fathomless cavern.
Screams of agony rang out and hell-beasts soared through the air, which shimmered through the haze of heat.
Virgil had lived and died in Los Angeles, the City of Angels. There was symmetry here.
“Looks cleaner, actually,” he said to no one in particular.
Walking down the shore of the putrid river, he spotted a bevy of people dressed in bed sheets. He walked up to a Hispanic looking fellow who had arranged his like a toga.
“Hey José, what are you all standing around here for?”
The man turned to eye him, a scowl already set on his face. He didn’t say anything. Virgil clarified. “WHAT ARE YOU-” he punctuated this by pointing at José, “-STANDING AROUND-” he gestured to his feet and panned a slow circle with his palms around himself, “-HERE FOR?”
The man’s scowl deepened, but he still didn’t say anything.
“Damn wetbacks, still don’t know English, even in hell.”
“The name is Dante, stronzo. I’m Italian, you stupid prick.”
“Well, fuck! Why didn’t you just say so? Name’s Virgil!” He stuck out his hand.
“Your name is fucking Virgil? You’re kidding, right?”
Virgil kept his hand extended. “No. I mean, it’s not common, but that’s my name.”
Dante sneered. “Never mind. Put your hand down, I’m not touching you.”
Virgil frowned. “Fine, be that way. Can you at least tell me what we’re doing?”
“Supposed to be a ferryman coming across. Going to see if we can get across this river. Think that’s him now.”
Virgil squinted his eyes. He saw a little raft making its way towards them, manned by a hirsute old guy sporting an artfully arranged red scarf that billowed all about him while somehow simultaneously (and thankfully) covering his junk.
“Um, hey, why do we want to get across this river?”
Dante looked at Virgil like he was stupid. “Have you seen what’s behind us? It’s a wasteland full of cannibalistic, sadistic demons enacting torture upon lost souls. I got a hot poker shoved into my rectum.”
“Ouch. Honestly, I don’t know what’s going on. I’d assumed I was “burning in hell,” but I literally just got here.”
“Wow. Awesome. I have to trek through a torture gauntlet and you just get your ass plopped right here. Of course.”
Virgil shrugged. The ferryman pulled his raft up to the shore.
“Anyone got the toll to cross?” the ferryman asked in a quavering voice.
The crowd let out a collective sigh of frustration. Of course they didn’t. They were wearing bed sheets.
The ferryman grinned. “That’s what I thought. No one bothers with the coin anymore. Whatever, makes my job easier.”
“Hey, wait,” said Virgil, “Just how much is it?”
“Today’s rate? A denarius apiece.”
Virgil dug around in his suit’s pockets. “I don’t know who Denarius is, but I got a couple of nickels with Jefferson on them.”
The ferryman scrunched his face up. “Those silver?”
The ferryman scrunched up his face further. He gestured Virgil to come along.
Dante tugged at Virgil’s sleeve. “Hey, can I get one of those nickels?”
Virgil shrugged and tossed him the other.
As they crossed the river, the ferryman had to constantly stave off moaning people who tried to hitch a ride on the raft. The river was full of people floating around. Some of them seemed to be lazily fighting one another.
“What are they all doing?” asked Virgil.
“Hm? Oh, these sorry sods? Just some other half-assed punishment that the big guy came up with. Supposed to be symbolic or ironic or something. You ask me, it’s all pretty inconsistent, especially recently. We’ve been getting huge numbers of immigrants and it just seems like no one gives a shit anymore. Used to be proper torture going on. Lakes of fire, gnashing of teeth… you know, the whole shebang. Pardon the pun, but things have gone to hell.”
They reached the other side and disembarked. Virgil thanked the ferryman, but he just poled himself back out onto the river without a response.
Pandemonium’s walls stood tall. Pressed against the city was a sprawling shanty town, built so that it seemed to be crashing up against the walls in an attempt to spill over.
“So what now?” asked Virgil.
“I don’t know what you’re doing, but I’m going to go see if I can find my mom,” said Dante.
“Si, mia madre. What can I say? She wasn’t a saint. Arrivederci stronzo.”
Virgil watched him disappear into the crowded shanty town before heading toward a city gate guarded by a giant demon. He didn’t think he was going to get in that way. Looking behind him, he saw a cart rolling towards him full of what appeared to be flayed skins.
As they say, when in Pandemonium…
He snuck into the cart and heard the exchange between the cart-man and guard-demon. Evidently these were new window drapes for Satan’s Palace. Sounds like a casino. The cart rolled on through the gate and eventually stopped.
“Are these the Bartholomew Collection like I ordered from the catalog?”
“Yes, Mr. Satan, exactly like you asked for,” replied the cart-man.
Virgil peeked out and saw a guy in a red suit sitting on a throne on a big ball thing.
“Good, very good,” he said, before pointing a finger at the cart-man and incinerating him on the spot.
Well that’s not encouraging. Despite this, Virgil extricated himself from the Bartholomew Collection.
“Who the heaven are you?”
“Nice place. You hire a designer?”
Mr. Lucifer Satan just frowned. Virgil pulled out his business card. “Name’s Virgil, Devil’s Advocate. I’m an attorney!”
This was a writing exercise from terribleminds again. I had to choose a random setting, and rolled “Satan’s Palace, Pandemonium,” then had to write 1,000 words. Seems aimless, but some of the dialogue turned out alright.