Throne of Hell
Abaddon slithered into the chamber where his master sat viewing the world. A cold and bottomless dark surrounded the dark hermit, making its rock the focal point of fear. Above them, through the bowels of hell, were stacked the various levels of torment. Once, long ago, a poet named Dante had put these levels to verse. But nowhere in literature was this spot mentioned. It was not the place for a serpent used to constant heat. There were stalactites dripping as icicles from the ceiling. A dank feeling pervaded the air. For a moment, as he scanned the chamber, he noted its ugliness and complete lack of warmth but was not surprised. There were, he remembered, no internal lights here and no trace of brimstone to mark the trail. There was only endless blackness and dampness covering the floor and a silence so deep and so pervasive, compared to the tumult above, that it conveyed to his mind a feeling of utter majesty, as if he were approaching the throne of hell.
There, shining on its upturned face below the Porthole of Styx, the light of earth cast down, in cold shafts, images that were pleasing to its great eyes. As Abaddon watched, an eerie flicker within the blackness grew, a figure appeared and became fixed, enlarged, and focused: the future being created from the fuzzy background of the past, another one of Satan's plots. But
as yet it had no meaning because it was nameless: a vast mind focusing upon one tiny soul. From millions of other men and this moment in time, he was plucked--one single, insignificant mortal with nothing to recommend him but Satan's whim.
For a moment the man vanished as the eyes were turned his way. He could see himself approaching: dark, slimy and horribly ugly. He did not like his reflection, especially in Satan's eyes. But he held still, waiting for Satan to speak, as if his snapshot would soon be taken, captured for all time.
Slowly now, by increments, it raised its great eyes, the serpent's reflection sliding from view. Blackness and then patches of light returned as it probed the depths above. Through a honeycombed maze of bodies it searched. Layer by layer the damned of hell were seen in separate torments, including murderers, thieves, traitors, politicians, and whores, in utter agony, without hope, without a future--all condemned for eternity and sharing a timeless sense of despair. Rising passed the Inferno, higher and higher, its great orbs returned, the eerie flicker within the blackness growing, becoming fixed again, until the man reappeared much more clearly than before.
“Look,” it murmured, “and tell me what you see.”
“. . . A man,” replied Abaddon slowly. “. . . He’s holding something. . . a steering device
. . . He’s driving a motor car.”
After this acknowledgement, its anomalous mass moved in a gesture of approval, the black crystals letting the illusion fade, disappear, and his own terrible reflections return as he looked down.
“Yes,” Satan nodded, “he’s in an automobile; that’s obvious serpent, but what kind of man do you see?”
“I can see by his collar,” answered Abaddon, “that he’s a man of the cloth--a minister of God
After a long pause in which its gaze slowly rose again, the orbs once again changed. It had, as always, a captive audience. The serpent's body coiled with expectation. Higher and higher he raised his head, his furtive eyes drawn to its orbs. This time, however, Satan waited several moments until something else appeared: two points of light as distant stars in blackest night.
A new picture was developing that had some relationship to the first, but there was a period of mystery added now for effect. Captured in the shadow of time, the lights rolled murkily around in the orbs: twin beacons in Stygian night, coming closer and closer to meet its gaze. Swaying back and forth, Abaddon flicked his tongue in and out, faster and faster as the images took form.
Somewhere in the dark picture there was movement and faint noises that sounded like groans. At first, the shadows lingered with only those pinpoints of lights to identify the scene. Then the pinpoints grew larger and an outline took form, until finally, familiar objects appeared in each orb. Slowly now the serpent slid forth to view the scene, curiosity drawing him on.
“. . . Eyes,” he murmured finally. “Eyes within eyes.”
“Yes,” Satan nodded, “what next? . . . Come on, serpent, look closely.”
The eyes, deepest of blues, receded in Satan’s great orbs, until an outline of a head appeared in the shadows. As the image receded further and further, a body, an almost perfect hourglass shape, stood silhouetted against the light. Through a doorway, in the near background, as daylight streamed into the room, stood a burly man, who was buttoning his shirt. In back of him, the serpent could see a disheveled bed. It was obvious to him that the man and woman had been making love. The woman, who was still a shadow against the light of the room, reached out and took several pieces of paper from the man, which the serpent recognized as money.
“She’s a prostitute,” observed the serpent, “he just paid her money. Now the man is exiting the scene and the woman is moving into the light. . . She’s naked, with a bottle clutched in one hand. She’s putting the bottle up to her mouth and drinking it straight. How prosaic, master, you must have seen this a zillion times before.”
“This woman is different,” replied Satan. “You’ll understand soon enough.”
The scene switched momentarily back to the minister, who was still holding his steering wheel with one hand. He had another object pressed to the side of his face and he was speaking into it with great irritation. Suddenly, the scene shifted again to a phone ringing in a shadowy corner of a room. A metallic sounding voice now replaced the ringing: “We are unable to answer the phone. After the tone please leave a message.”
“Cora,” the minister said with great vexation, “I know you’re home. Answer the goddamn phone!”
After shouting more unchristian oaths into the receiver, which made Satan chortle softly to itself, the answering machine grew silent. Satan’s eyes remained dark and silent too, while the serpent hovered expectantly in front of the orbs. By now, Abaddon was certain, the imbibing woman should be thoroughly drunk.
As the minister’s dual images appeared again in the hermit’s eyes, he could hear him say with forced calmness into the object by his face, “I’m very sorry. If you get this message in time, please accept my apologies. My wife is sick. I must hurry back home.”
After a long pause, it almost appeared as if the hermit had fallen into torpor or sleep. Satan looked back down at the gate master of hell and, as would a great toad on a lily pad, sat motionless awhile wrapped up in its infinite thoughts. In slow increments it looked back up through the bowels of earth, and recaptured the woman’s image.
The serpent slid forth again, stopping a safe distance away. “I see the outline of a body,” he squinted, “. . . a woman's shape. . . She is dead. . . No, she’s alive. . . Her eyes blink. . . The woman is moving master, crawling on all fours. . . It is the same woman; the one I thought was a prostitute. She’s quite ill.”
“She has drank too much Jack Daniels,” Satan explained frothily. “She has a virus, probably the flu, which should make her condition worse. To scare her, her husband told her she is getting cirrhoses of the liver and lung cancer, but, believe me, she’s a healthy drunk and, unless things change, will outlive him.”
The serpent found this hard to believe. For several moments, her limp arms cradled the commode. Rising onto the seat afterwards, she sat there mutely, staring into space. For awhile, her illness seemed to be over as she sat back shakily on her throne. A strange light caught patches of her anatomy: dark hair, blazing eyes, and large, freckly breasts. As the light was brought up repeatedly to her lips, however, she began coughing again. Her fulsome lips became momentarily bloodless, and her long lashes suddenly dropped as another paroxysm tore from her chest. An uncommon patience gripped Satan as the woman coughed. Why, Abaddon wondered, was it interested in this wench?
For Abaddon, who had seen millions of people in torment, one more nondescript nude was not exciting. And yet, because of Satan's interest in her, he was curious. He had not seen his master this interested in a mortal for a very long time. Already Satan was beginning its amorphous change, which was only precipitated by climactic events. A more appropriate response seemed in order, therefore, something profound or at least flattering for the dark hermit of hell. . . But what did one say to something that continually changed. . . something that was far more interesting than the images it conveyed?
From its normal toad shape, it transformed into various stages leading up to a dragon-like and then a gargoyle’s shape, until it reached the traditional stereotype devil of Medieval lore. Sensing that Abaddon was not impressed with these stereotype images, Satan moved backward down the evolutionary scale from humanoid, through lizard-like, amphibian, fish-like and then slug-like forms, all the time retaining the images in its eyes. As it transformed, its sound effects also changed over a spectrum of noises, so that Abaddon not only saw evolution in process but heard it as well. From a bubbling mollusk to a hissing reptile it as quickly moved back up the evolutionary scale, into the higher levels of insectivores, prosimians and monkeys, never quite reaching the level of man.
Remaining momentarily as a brutish simian, it stared at the serpent, its large black eyes holding the images still for Abaddon to view.
The menagerie of shapes and sounds then shifted into reverse again into the lower forms of life. Satan's eyes were his main concern: the only reason why he was here. But his sense of awe continued as it moved once more down the evolutionary scale. Fish-like, slug-like, and then ultimately blob-like creatures paraded before his eyes. A hideous bubbling and gurgling followed until he reached a likely spot.
As something at the far edge of madness it froze. After the imprint of this latest horror filled his mind, Abbadon's interest shifted reluctantly back to its eyes.
Unable to speak now, the great glistening glob motioned to him in that characteristic amoeba-like movement seen beneath microscopes. Knowing he must continue, the serpent groped passed the sublime for meaning in the mundane: “The woman is smoking now. . . She is still very drunk and, judging by the way she is wobbling now, ready to pass out.”
Unable to respond yet, it gurgled excitedly while its mouth formed. Watching the woman tilt precariously, the serpent suspected she would soon fall off the toilet onto the floor. Unimpressed by the woman, herself, though, Abaddon emitted a tired yawn. As she looked into the darkness, her blood shot eyes seemed to search this corner of hell in a complacent, uncaring way. While hovering close to unconsciousness, her large azure pupils nevertheless appeared full of mischief and malicious delight. But Abaddon had seen this look in billions of eyes, billions of times before. It was what was going on around these fixed orbs that intrigued him now.
Slimy green stalactites, resembling the columns in back of the throne of hell, dripped down from Satan's jaw. As Satan tried to speak, though, they gradually evolved into primordial teeth in a primordial head, as part of a creature once again resembling a toad. This, its most common form, had been its shape when the serpent first entered the throne of hell, a far cry from the stereo-typed fork carrying fiend.
“. . . Come closer serpent,” it finally uttered, “so you'll have a front row seat. . . That's right, close enough to look right in.” “Now tell me,” it coaxed him gently, “what do you think of her?”
“From what you've shown me so far,” Abaddon replied carefully, “it's hard to say.”
Always cautious when he spoke, Abaddon listened with a patient ear as Satan described her history. She had been a model wife once, until the hermit won her soul. After explaining to the serpent how she had fallen and turned from God, it enumerated her many escapades with neighbors and other strange men. Her addiction to alcohol was now complimented by a craving for marijuana, and her present illness was, he reminded the serpent, exacerbated by a bout with the flu. As yet, however, there was no connection made between the woman and the minister; the hermit would make its point in its own good time. As he had done in situations before, therefore, Abaddon waited quietly for the proper time to speak. He did not care what Satan was up to just so long as it did not effect him. Although it made no sense at all yet, he would play along until it did.
What interested him, at this point, was the direction this might take. During the introduction of the woman, Satan had introduced her to him as a useless and uninspired slut and yet, at the same time, treated this subject as if she was the most important matter in hell.
“I've spent a lot of time on her,” it said. “She has made it easy for me by becoming a lush. Because of her love of alcohol and drugs, it would seem that all of her time would be occupied. But she has still found time to have fun and make money on the side. Because of her rundown condition, her immune system functions poorly; that is why she currently has the flu.”
“I understand her condition, master?” the serpent cocked his head. “. . . But why a misbegotten wench like her?”
“Because,” the hermit chortled softly, “she’s part of my plan.”
“Plan,” Abaddon murmured incredulously, “this wench is part of a plan?”
“Yes,” Satan nodded “a very special plan.”
“Special?” Abaddon murmured with curiosity. “. . . She can barely move, let alone think. . . . From what you’ve said, she’s on her back most of the time, when she’s not drunk. This is interesting master. Is this a riddle? . . . Is there a puzzle for me to solve? Am I to guess the meaning or identity of this wench?”
But the hermit, absorbed in its dark thoughts, remained silent again, as it stared at the earth above. As the serpent looked at its great orbs and compared them to the scenes before, a whiff of brimstone seemed to enter the cave. First a minister had been shown. . . now this woman. What could it mean? What was the master up to now?
To meditate upon this mystery, the serpent drew into his most characteristic position: a tight coil. Because of Satan's enthusiasm, he was becoming intrigued but not with her. He had millions of bodies to play with, anytime and in anyway he chose. What could be so special about one misbegotten wench? Who was she to monopolize Satan's eyes? And yet the subject was important to the serpent because of the eyes in which she appeared. . . What could it mean?. . . What was the connection between the minister and this wench?
“To begin with,” he slithered forth finally, “even in the darkness, with no soundtrack, I see a woman on the dark side of thirty, rundown, but having the remnants of an attractive shape.” “She has,” he enumerated, “large breasts, a baby face, the bluest of eyes, but a rear end that has seen better days.”
“Master,” his eyes narrowed methodically, “. . . I know what she is and what is wrong with her. . . Now perhaps you can tell me who this woman is.”
After a pause, the answer came to Abaddon, but it was given visually, an image appearing in each eye. While the minister was seen driving home in his automobile, the woman sat smoking on the commode. “Why of course,” he guessed finally, “she’s the minister's wife!”
“You are slow, serpent, quite slow,” Satan mumbled dryly.
Interest now registered on the serpent's face. This was beginning to make sense to him. Satan began displaying segments of their married life, but with greater detail than its brief introduction. From happy newlyweds to estranged spouses, the segments flashed quickly, illustrating the decline of their nuptial bliss. Themes of a wedding, an erotic honeymoon, and normal life were soon replaced by arguments, the wife's infidelity, and her drunkenness and use of drugs.
Slithering very close, Abaddon looked thoughtfully at the scenes. At first glance, compared to most of the women in hell, she was not that bad. When matched up with a man of the cloth, however, she was out of place. The master had obviously devoted many hours to this wench; her defects were the results of its success. It was the minister's goodness versus her evil, on the most trivial and insignificant scale. But it dominated the master's eyes and, for some reason, had captured its interest as well.
“A plan? A plan indeed!” Mumbled the Serpent.
Drawing back into his coil, Abaddon considered the facts, which ran deeper than they appeared. The wife was a hopeless drunk, married to a minister, and yet she was part of Satan's plans. How could such a soul influence anyone, let alone a man of God? Upon closer inspection, she was even more dilapidated than before. A zombie-like expression was fixed in her eyes. Dark lines marked her face, and fatty tissue outlined her frame. And yet, now that Satan was explaining her background, her countenance began growing in the serpent's esteem.
Audibly now, as a summary to what Abaddon witnessed, the tempter explained loftily her fall from grace, her turn to alcohol, and resulting decline. It enumerated her many faults and how they effected the minister's career, from embarrassing him in front of his congregation to ruining the peace of his home. The great battle being fought was one of love: his love of God, which was weakening, against her love of alcohol, drugs, and sex. He tried to appease her, but it was not enough. An entire army would not be enough. So, leaving him telltale signs of her infidelity here and there, she sank lower and lower in his esteem to become the dreg she is now. As a result of her moral decline, another emotion had begun to grow in the minister, slowly displacing his love: hate, the flip side of love and dark side of reason. It was, the serpent knew, the emotion the tempter used most to corrupt the world.
As Satan looked down, its eyes became vacant, black orbs, its gaze reflecting symbolically the color of hate which was, the serpent guessed, what the minister felt now.
“So that’s it,” he concluded thoughtfully, “darkness will replace light as hate replaces love. Evil will triumph as Satan fills the minister’s soul. Such is nature, the feral outlet for sin.”
Satan nodded with approval. Abaddon responded with a dubious look. Was this the puzzle and punch line it sought to achieve? Was this, a theme which occurred billions of times before, the reason why he was here? How perfectly banal, thought the serpent, rising from its coil. The corruption of but one mortal soul!
Swaying to-and-fro, his forked tongue darting in and out of his mouth, Abaddon again spoke, but this time hesitantly, as if the answer was but one glimpse away. In spite of the excitement growing in his mind, his throat was constricted with fear. An inexplicable foreboding grew in his mind. “Master. . . what do you have planned for this man? Is this one of your games? Do you simply want his soul? . . . Or is it something else I have not yet seen?”
“. . . It is, in deed, something the entire world has not seen,” it admitted flatly. “This man will be my prophet. He, like the woman, is part of my plan but only the beginning, for there will be another, one of my own.”
“Master, oh master,” Abaddon protested delicately, “this is unwise. It’s foolhardy. Here, as the hermit of hell, you can tempt men and women, but up there you will be alone against Him!”
“Whom serpent?” Satan now studied the gate master of hell. “. . . You’re thinking it; why not say it--the forbidden name in hell. Come on, serpent, I give you permission to say His name.”
Abaddon, who did not want to say the name, thought a moment. “Yahweh, . . . Elohim, Jesus Christ. What difference does it make? Have you forgotten what happened master? He expelled us from heaven--all of us who rebelled? Do you not think He will also expel you from earth!”
Satan reflected upon what the serpent said. Abaddon fell silent, muttering under his breath, flabbergasted by what Satan had in mind. Instead of showing irritation at his lack of trust, it seemed to be amused with him now. For the first time Abaddon could remember, the dark hermit reached out with a slimy hand and patted his scaly head, whispering icily “Serpent, faithful serpent, have you forgotten my minions on earth? Do you not remember playing the tempter, yourself?”
“Be patient and vigilant, serpent. Wait and watch,” Satan counseled, looking up through the Porthole of Styx. “You now have a front row seat; you are my special audience. . . . The show is about to begin!”
Abaddon shivered uncontrollably. His tongue remained quivering outside his mouth. A deep and unfathomable silence fell over the throne of hell. The light of earth shone in Satan’s great eyes.
Without further adieu, the master's amorphous mass gathered itself up, and rose up through the Porthole of Styx, passing each level of torment on its way to the earth above. Left below, in the darkness and quiet, Abaddon slid forward, his eyes still focused above, but his body now squarely on the throne of hell. It was, for the time being, his throne. For some reason, he could not yet fathom, Satan had abandoned its post in hell. The long exile was over. For the first time in his life, Abaddon would, as Satan promised, have a front row seat: to what he was not sure and how long he could not know. But a mixture of excitement, anxiety and fear now gripped the serpent as he watched his master depart. To sit beneath the Porthole of Styx was the greatest honor in hell. . . . So why did he feel as if something terrible was about to begin?