Satan's Secret Circles

When Virgil first led Dante Alighieri on his fabled journey down through the Medieval circles of hell, actual construction on the series of concentric rings channeling down through the earth was just completed. At the time, each of the nine rings represented some of the most prominent sins of the era, and each space starkly observed sins on the Earthly plane with a series of devious and specific punishments. At the deepest center of this downward spiral was, of course, Satan himself, otherwise engaged as the pivotal link in a never ending chain of torment.

We are all aware of the most familiar of sins. We know of the deep scars left by the fiery grip of gluttony. Lust, in its fiery embrace, steals our breath and leaves us aimless in a sea of unholy fire. Wrath and violence send us down red hot tracks of violent self-obliteration. Treachery and avarice burrow dark holes in our hearts that possess our egos and over time, take us from ourselves, forcing us to watch our actions as if through a diving bell mask. Fraud and heresy go hand-in-hand more often than we would like. Those engaged in deceptive practices, particularly on behalf of a God they claim to know, have earned their thrones lined with razor wire. Limbo surrounds its denizens in a fog of false hope, as they scramble to atone for their sins, deprived of any vision that would give them a clue as to their destiny.

What few people realize is that in the centuries after Dante's visit, Hell had to sub-categorize itself in order to make room for the increasingly frantic clumps of lost souls plummeting from the thunderous skies overhead. There simply wasn't enough space. What followed, over the course of numerous centuries, was a kind of hellish server re-organization, a kind of satanic disc de-fragmentation. This infernal patching re-ordered the rings and spread out pathways from their centers that led to other rings. Not only was this unholy re-sequencing necessary to accommodate Hell's increasingly cramped quarters, but the nature of human sin, over time, grew more complex and more self-referential. Steaming, bright orange tributaries branched out from the lake of fire to create rings that at first gleamed polished and sharp grey, but quickly grew worn with the stamping of millions of bare, dirty, torn feet. Only rings could be formed, for the biological processes in the hard stone, even after the centuries since Dante's visit, all followed a geological and ecclesiastical imperative. The only possible shape is the ring - a shape inferring continuity and infinity.

Before long, the new circles changed the shape of hell to match the contours of sin in the world above.  New categories made space for permutations never before imagined. So, as we venture down through the winding path, surrounded by horrors, we see arches etched out against the wall which lead to other chambers, some vast and bright, others suffocating and dank.

The processes of the modern inferno advance as technology advances. In Hell, all denizens, regardless of sin, are forced to read celebrity tweets from up above. There is no escaping the media frenzy. Loud, angry commercials are everywhere, playing in an endless loop. Perky, lobotomized housewives and their lazy, sports loving husbands grin out from huge screens just for the inhabitants of Hell, and the message is: you are like us whether you think so or not, and you need our product. You need are product because you are us.

The new levels of hell employ a variety of techniques to usher their inhabitants through as slowly and painfully as possible.

Monied, image conscious gluttons who shove their plates away disdainfully, still piled high with food, are forced to deprive the plates of their contents, wash the plates with their tongues, and repeat the process again and again.

Dilettantish brats who snap their fingers at the hired help, and those who expect unconditional fealty from those same, must act out a life-sized version of the game 'Diner Dash,' only they must serve demons, and punishment for dropped plates or slow service is too horrific to describe here.

Lustful predators who only see their own desires, even after rebuked, must engage in nonstop conversation with the dullest, most banal, most drunk, most depraved souls that hell can find, only then fending off their advances for eternity, and through it all, they cannot avert their gazes or shift the conversation.

Ponzi scheme perpetrators, predatory snake oil salesman, and all those who forget vital rules of decency in commerce may only learn a vital lesson in torment. These awful, grinning hyenas are forced to listen to long, rambling sales pitches from demons, have demands thrust into their faces, and their mouths are sewn shut so they cannot reply, only listen, and only nod their heads, and the torment goes on forever. They are forced to share their darkest secrets to the demons, and have those secrets echo in the walls up around their heads, for all others to hear, for eternity.

Internet message board commenters, for the ignorant, hateful, intolerant words that spill from their mouths like a sickness, all have their tender bodies stretched out over a giant computer keyboard, and huge devilish fingers poke and prod their nether-regions like computer keys, occasionally drooling on them.

Unrepentant bullies, those who never grow up and never learn the error of their ways, who continue to prey on the weak to fulfill their own sense of inadequacy, are fast-tracked to their ring of servitude. We are all bullies at some point, but many of us see the errors of our ways, in time. Those who do not, those who employ a bully's tactics well into adulthood, are administered they worst sort of punishment. These unrepentant brutes are made to live inside the heads of their victims and are antagonized by disfigured wraiths who bear the grotesque mockery of their own visage. They suffer the torment not at the hands of anyone but themselves, and for this, they learn to hate themselves as they hate no other.

The Phelps clan. There is an entire subsection of the Inferno dedicated solely to the very worst of these abominable devils. Unlike the fiery infernos on the floors above and below, these hateful, sarcastic, bigoted monsters are made to march forever in a sparkling, garish, gorgeous Pride Parade, covered in emblems they despise. Their mouths are clamped shut and they cannot speak or gesture. They can only march, circling the cavernous hall for eternity. In what is perhaps the worst torture imaginable for them, these hateful beings are forced to carry signs espousing love and acceptance.

This advanced sprawl settles into the marrow of the original concentric nine rings. It is a kind of sickness that belies the austerity of a once stark primeval poetry. It stretches down to the very center, where Satan himself feels the shackles of ice melting away with the force of the sins above. They threaten to unseat him. Past the epicenter, where the pole of gravity spins around to face the other way, is still a vast shimmering star field, quiet and beauteous. The occasional spark spins up to touch the sky, but the stillness tamps it down from whence it came.


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