An Artist Goes to Hell – Excerpt 9

21 Dec

On the other side was a big room like a theater hall without a real stage. There were five balconies. The five balconies had five balustrades in front of a series of seat-rows, probably a dozen per floor, and in each seat sat a man in a hooded, dark robe. The balcony wrapped all around the room on three sides. As Pensivemo followed the man in monk-garb, he saw what looked like a jury-stand on the first floor. In that stand sat about thirty men wearing red, hooded robes. On their trip across the room, Pensivemo saw that the ground had etched into it a series of hermetic shapes and symbols that he couldn’t place.

Halfway across the room, Pensivemo saw another robed figure standing in front of the jury. It took him a moment to figure out whether or not this figure was a statue, for he seemed far too big to be real.

The man in monk garb turned to Pensivemo and said, ‘Wait in the center.’

The man stood off to the side. The tall robed figure started to move. It wasn’t until he moved that Pensivemo saw just how impossibly tall he was—easily ten feet. His face was pale under the hood of the robe and his eyes seemed discolored—far too bright, the pupils far too small. Pensivemo took a few steps back as the man came close to him, standing nearly twice his height, and looked down.

In an incredibly baritone, freakish voice, the impossibly tall robed figure said, ‘Croce … Like the philosopher?’

Pensivemo looked almost straight up at him. ‘I suppose.’

‘Mr. Croce … You’ve transgressed the law of Lower-Level A. This court session will be your one and only. You will not be represented by your own or by any other party under court of law. This session will commence with a list of your charges, a plea on your part accompanied by any opposing evidence, and a final sentence.’

‘I thought I was already sentenced upstairs.’

‘By another firm, perhaps … But you haven’t been sentenced down here yet.’

‘What will I be sentenced to? Prison?’

‘That will be for the judge to decide.’ The impossibly tall man turned and walked back toward the jury stand.

On the first balcony, off to the left, there sat a great box, like those private booths at the theater, and there an even bigger man arrived, if such a size was possible. He wore a long black judge’s robe with his immense, bald, white head uncovered. His black eyebrows were peaked and his face was stern, his eyes pale, his pupils small.

When he spoke, it was great, clear and amplified. ‘Pensivemo Croce … You’ve been charged with Illiciting a Set of Self-Styled Moralizations in the Presence of a Minor. You’ve been charged with Talismanic Opposition. You’ve been charged with Augerious Amplifications and Exaltation by way of Poetic License. You’ve been charged with Pseudo-Mythic Ironism in favor of but not limited to a Proclivity for Modernist Preoccupations. You’ve been charged with Substandard Mimetic Deficiency. You’ve been charged with Negligence in Light of Recent Contrarian Sentiments. You’ve been charged with Delinquency of Reason in Favor of Capitalizing Non-monumental Nouns. You’ve been charged with Salience in Favor of Arbitrary Minutiae. You’ve been charged with Misdistinguishment and Diffidence in Favor of Impartial Expressionism in Light of Current Culturally Contingent Vulgarities. How do you plea?’

‘Not guilty,’ Pensivemo said.

The gigantic head in the box said, ‘Does the prosecuted party have any evidence for this case?’

Pensivemo looked around, realizing that he was the only one being addressed, and said, ‘Not really.’

‘And what is the jury’s conclusion?’ the big man in the box asked.

One of the men in red robes stood and said, ‘We find him guilty on all charges.’

The big man in the box pounded his gavel and said, ‘Pensivemo Croce, you are hereby found guilty by the Lower-Level A court of the Lower-Level A firm for transgressing the law or being party to the previously mentioned transgressions. I hereby sentence you to a Life of Damnation by way of Torture in the company of the Munch Fiend.’

‘A life of torture?’ Pensivemo said. ‘Munch Fiend? What is this?’

Two men in robes approached him from either side of the room and took him by the arms. He stood there for a moment trying to start sentences and failing with full-hearted, inarticulate noises. He saw that the men were looking above so he looked up to find the source of their attention. From a set of rafters near the dome ceiling, they were lowering down to him some kind of body harness on two wire cables. Once it reached him, two more robed figures approached and leveled it down. Roughly, they strapped him into it by the legs, arms, back and chest and backed away from him when they were finished. The harness tugged at all sides of his body and he found himself suspended in air about five feet above the heads of the four robed figures who’d handled him.

These four men left the center of the room, spread out evenly spaced from one another, to the four corners of the great hall. The cable pulled him upward, slowly, until he reached the height of the first balcony. He continued past the first balcony and on up to the second. The men in the rafters stopped moving him. There he swung lightly, right and left. A great mechanical sound filled the air like gears grinding and moving together.

From this view above, he could better see the hermetic iconography etched into the floor. There was a giant pyramid covering most of its golden center in the middle of a giant circle. At the pyramid’s corners were circles with designs on them reminiscent of the terrain of planets. The ring of fire around the circle at the pyramid’s head indicated its sunhood. At the bottom right was a circle with a slanted ring, Saturn, and in the other corner was a planet with rough, textured skin that seemed to represent continents—Earth. There were a series of symbols outside of the greater circle which encompassed the pyramid but it was hard for Pensivemo to see them in their particularity for how high up he was.

It was evident after a short moment that the great mechanical sounds were coming from the ground itself. The circle around the pyramid acquired definition as though its contours were filling with shadow. Pensivemo realized that the circle was sinking into the floor like a great, movable medallion though how far he couldn’t tell. The circle then separated at the center in a triangular, triptych split. As those three great pieces pulled away, Pensivemo saw a glowing, glazed world below of glistening meats lit by orange flame light. Rubbery substances, like giant pig organs, moved with strained digestion. A wave of heat rushed up to him from where he hung suspended from the ceiling. As the cable began to lower, every shape in that well-lit, subterranean prison was highlighted by greater and greater distinction in his mind, as though he was wiping the dust from a portrait or as though his vision, once black with faintness, was returning to him slowly. The cable reached the first balcony. Pensivemo thought he saw ghastly, butchered faces—gigantic faces—looking up at him from a slop pile of gristle and glowing organs. The faces, if they were really such, had closed eyes and pug noses, bared teeth missing and clogging their swollen, nonworking throats. He reached the barrier between the floor and the world below, feeling the heat with greater intensity, the figures below becoming still more defined though his mind couldn’t fathom what exactly they were or what purpose they served. It wasn’t until he reached that barrier between the floor and the world below that he realized just how much lower that next subterranean level was, which only meant that the strange figures, the organ-looking tissues, the ghastly butchered faces of strange creatures, were all much larger than they already appeared.

To the right and the left were great blowing torches, strictly for light and unpleasant heat, it seemed, which roared in great yellow and blue plumes from the walls of this immense, cave-like cavern in the hollow of Lower-Level A. As he lowered, Pensivemo saw a peculiar shape like a humanoid body lying amidst the gristle and big faces. It was smaller than the faces but surely a giant. Its body was unclothed, slimy and fixed into the greater membrane of those tissues and pumping, bloated organs. Twitching and struggling, like an infant waking, it began to move its skinny limbs around as if to try and get up. The lifting head was covered in long, black hair goopy with the gristle in which it had been resting. The creature seemed trapped by slime, as though it was only just born and had to tear itself from its placental home. A thick, membranous wing tore from under its arm and from between its joined legs.

As Pensivemo came toward it, he realized how immense the strange figure was, probably the size of elephants he’d seen at the zoo. The creature turned its head upward to reveal its long, ridiculous nose, its pointy chin like the lower half of a crescent moon, its open eyes now big and dog-like, its yellow, bloody teeth, its long black hair parted down the middle and hanging in goopy strings below. It lifted its gray, skinny-fingered hands and long fingernails and brushed the bottom of his shoes.

The cables shifted and tilted him down so that he was facing the creature head on. Pensivemo found himself shouting, ‘God no,’ without intending to. The creature opened its immense mouth, revealing its big pink tongue, and clamped its teeth down on Pensivemo’s hanging hair. Audibly, the creature began to munch. Pensivemo found himself muttering and making noises he didn’t know he was capable of making. If he was going to be there for life, he was going to crack eventually. It seemed better to just get it out of the way right at the beginning.

What would be the nature of this ‘torture’ they promised him? Would the creature perhaps eat all his hair first, then his toenails and fingernails? Would it eat everything off of him that would grow back and find some other way to tease him until those parts of him grew back? If this was it for him, if this was going to be his whole life, perhaps he could somehow coax the creature into just killing him.

Rather than coming up with something clever, Pensivemo figured it was worth a shot to make the request outright. ‘Just kill me,’ he muttered.

The creature—with a noise that sounded far too human, far too breathy, too voicey—started to laugh with great amusement, its eyes flinching up with amusement.

The immense, butchered faces resting about the creature—their bodies either nonexistent or fixed somewhere below that membranous sludge—began to open their eyes with looks of great terror.

On all sides of that subterranean cavern, the torches dimmed in flame making everything a shade darker. The gassy skunk smell penetrated the already bizarre smell of Lower-Level A. The faces on the ground closed their eyes, opened their mouths as though crying out, and shook their heads from side to side.

Just below Pensivemo, the Munch Fiend covered its face and screamed with a child’s abandon. The rope pulled Pensivemo upward a bit. His momentary relief was interrupted by a more abrupt jerk. He started to move so fast it felt like he was falling upward. When he reached the very top of the dome ceiling, far above the five balconies, he slapped the ceiling so hard that he felt several joints crunch with the impact before he fell back down, swung left and right from the very top, afraid all the while that the cables would suddenly snap and that he would find himself plummeting back into the gristly tissues below.

All around him, the foundation quaked, thus making the cables rattle while he swung. Pensivemo watched as the thousands of men in black robes tried to file from their seats and rush toward whatever exits were there in those dark places. The men in red robes below were leaping over the edges of the stand to get away. The great big box to the left, where the giant judge sat, rattled and cracked in half so that his immense body tumbled out and, because of its size, didn’t take long to land on the floor, his big, white, bald head bobbing about before he slipped over the edge of the open circle in the floor and landed softly on the giant faces of the tiny Munch Fiend below. The balustrades began to crack and fall apart. The dome ceiling sprouted a network of spider-webbing cracks as well. The shaking of the earth was now audible with a steady hum. The walls to the side of the room from which he’d first emerged began to crack and soon, a whole gold-plated fixture making up that wall toppled over, revealing a network of white offices and the waiting room where he had sat before. Pensivemo tried to grab hold of the cables in order to climb them to the rafters but he couldn’t grip them. The cracks in the ceiling were more tremendous now and he heard the great hum of tension and broken stone about to give way. With a sound like a pop, the ceiling busted open and he found himself falling down again. It all happened too fast for him to consider how he should land as he plummeted past all the breaking balconies, past the barrier into the subterranean pit, and land on the soft tissues of the slimy organs. It hurt but it was more stunning than damaging. The rafters above landed on all sides but missed him. Men in dark robes were falling into the pit. Just to his left, the giant judge was stirring to get up, a giant left boot almost knocking into the rafters and thus into Pensivemo, but he fell back to his side and rolled onto his stomach. There were a series of loud, endless crashes. A beige, camouflage jeep toppled over the side of the circular barrier, connected with the soft tissues and rolled upside-down. A couple more jeeps toppled over, landing on their backs and noses, and down came a dozen men in military outfit. Wooden tables, plates and nicely dressed screaming people all fell to the ground. As the foundation shook, the pile of rubble and the pile of people stacked up, toppled over and rebuilt with new streams of falling debris. As more and more of the soft, tissuey ground disappeared from sight, Pensivemo grew certain that fewer and fewer people would survive the fall.

Soon, the inside walls of that cavern began to cave in, and with it, the golden roof above them with that absent circle unloosened and fell into the next, subterranean level, slantways, hitting the giant judge, smashing through a layer of debris and burying its corner into the tissues underneath.

Pensivemo tried to get a better look at what lay beyond the now ever-widening hole in the cracked, dome ceiling but saw only darkness. Soon, as he strained even more through a mind far too strained already, he saw only darkness and after that, nothing at all.

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