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I am in Hell! Literally. I am a spirit, a ghost, drifting endlessly, aimlessly, from one end of Hades to the other. Well, thatmight be an exaggeration. From what I have seen thus far, Hell is circular. There is a foyer where the new arrivals are processed so that might denote a beginning, but on the whole, the place is limitless. You could spend countless lifetimes here and still not finish the guided tour.
My name is Christopher Algernon Tarleton and when I was alive I fancied myself a bit of a writer; a sonnet here, a play there, a snippet of prose in between. Life was gallivanting along, and there was even talk of one of my plays being staged. You know what’s coming next, don’t you? Providence played its part, and the first thing that blighted botheration did was order a complete rewrite. I was struck by an extraordinarily fast-moving carriage, and spent the next century or so haunting an old castle with occasional visits to Lucifer’s domain. Since the beginning of the last decade I’ve been living here permanently, working as a scribe for him.
The daily routine is deadly dull but we’re expecting a visitor later today; a live specimen! The dead ones who arrive down here are mostly useless. The very first day of their ordeal renders them speechless. I ask you! Gutless wonders, the whole lot o’ them. I, personally, have never ‘enjoyed’ the head honcho’s notion of hospitality. Being a spirit, I’m neither Here nor There.
I was writing in my well-lit yet strangely dismal cell when I heard the faint sounds of a sudden hullabaloo. A few moments later a most savoury aroma drifted in. Piquant and appetizing, it tantalized my senses; the unmistakeable fragrance of freshly baked goodies. Once inhaled, never forgotten.
I don’t think I’ve mentioned this before, but one of the mixed blessings of being in Hell is that the olfactory sense comes alive with a vengeance (It probably heightens the agony of torture). This bouquet, therefore, capable of cutting through an atmosphere so strongly redolent of flaming coals, charred flesh and other unmentionables, was very welcome.
The aroma intensified suddenly and grabbed me by the nostrils. It pulled me out of my cell and into the hallway where I drifted right through Montrose and Oliver who were on their way to the Great Hall. A geriatric specimen was shuffling along behind them.
Montrose shuddered. “Where in damnation,” he grouched, “are you off to?”
“And a very good day to you too,” I retorted.
Monty personifies the word choleric. Tall, wide and bald, he is War, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. That might account for the grimness; no doubt the job description calls for just such a characteristic. Oliver, on the other hand, is an amiable fellow. As humans we had been chums throughout school and university. He had perished in a riding accident some years before my own demise so picture my astonishment when I first received an invitation to visit him. In Hell! It’s a mystery why he’s one of the Horsemen though; looking at Oliver one wouldn’t say that he could bring forth disease and pestilence. Always in fine fettle, he is seldom less than dapper; Savile Row still enjoys his custom. He was the one who had recommended my services to Lucifer.
“Hold on to your hose, old man,” he chortled. “That fire’s meant to blaze that high.”
“Brilliantly droll, Oliver,” I shot back. “You might want to consider a change of career. The other comedians wouldn’t know what hit them.”