Beyond the Gates of Hell

Raph al Guul

They tell you that you can’t come back from hell. They have a point, considering that hell is supposed to be an eternal punishment and that eternity is a crucial element to the nature of the pain that this metaphysical realm inflicts. One would think that you need to stay there forever to know what it is. There’s no in-between and no quitting. You can’t come back from hell. Or so they tell you.

There was a time when I believed them. Today, things are different. I have died many years ago and I had not been eligible for heaven, if you know what I mean. So I was damned to go to hell forever. You can’t imagine hell until you’ve been there. And you can’t accurately describe it after you have. Many people picture hell as a big, big fire. That’s not too far-fetched.

Hell’s fires are of ice, burning both hot and cold without ever numbing your senses. They are dark fires, fires of shadows that consume the light like air, turning it into everlasting twilight. Burning and freezing at the same time, hell is a place of extremes, darkness, and utter despair. Passing the gates of hell, I heard the screams of an infinity of lost souls. I couldn’t see them and I didn’t quite know what was happening to them, but I felt their remote presence somewhere in the glooming mist of this strange place. And I felt forgotten in crushing helplessness and fear.

Fear: the evil counterpart of hope. The grim future materializes in your mind. Already, you experience the entire eternity of pain that is yet to come and last forever. And that’s when your spirit breaks. There is no hope for the damned, only fear and despair. One might say I deserved it, and it was the only way for me to think of it. Hell is a place of hatred.

To know that I brought this on myself was enough to generate bitter hatred. What started out as self-loathing, quickly led me to realize that I hated everything. I hated the fires, I hated the shadows, I hated the massive, dark gates, I hated eternity, I hated god. There was nothing cheerful, nothing good about hell. It was my final resting place of unrest. And then there he was: the devil.

In all of hell, there isn’t a more impressive creature or thing than the devil. Just like me, he had been sent to hell for eternal damnation a long time ago. You’d think that age would not matter in hell. But it does. The devil’s spirit had been broken, just like mine, but yet, even on first encounter, I knew that this spirit still carried the scars of the entirety of time in a timeless place. A hideous, frightening, immobilizing creature that nonetheless seemed much more like a weary old man than the master of relentless torture.

The devil approached, slowly. I wasn’t aware that I knew the reason why he was moving so slowly and it rather puzzled me. But the devil was an old, ancient being. Just like god, he had been before anything I knew. He had been there for the creation of what I thought was the world. And now, at this moment of agony, he was still here. And I had just been introduced to this. He had been here since the dawn of time, and even before that. Time, as I knew it, was indeed something that the devil did not understand – could not understand. For him, every human life was but a vanishing dot on an infinite multidimensional spectrum.

The devil. The daemon. The one to banish them all forever. There is one thing everybody forgets when trying to imagine what the devil really is. The devil is pure hatred against god. The only reason why he hates human beings is that he envies us for our chance to redeem ourselves, a chance that he will never get. The devil’s presence is in itself torture, but it’s not because he hates us. It’s because he has grown into what he is.

I was speechless, immobilized, fully and completely incapacitated. The devil’s eyes were like a gaping void of everlasting, cyclical pain. The utter hopelessness that those eyes scream out is too much to bear. It crushes your most inner spirit, the very essence of your soul. Damned and tortured for the better part of an eternity, the devil is the most broken spirit of them all and I knew that the very instance his eyes met mine. And yet, he cannot die, he cannot rest. The worst part about the devil’s damnation is that he is forced to relentlessly hate his creator. I knew that the devil was tired.

The devil’s voice is unexpectedly feeble. It sounds weak and weary, broken and cracked. Do not be fooled, though, a single sound breathed by the devil would instantly kill any living man if he were able to hear it. The weakness of his voice is its power. And I froze and singed at the same time when the devil spoke to me: “Run, fool. Leave!” It’s all he ever said. I was incapable of thought, yet somehow able to move. And I turned around and ran.

I passed the gates of hell and climbed the stairway of eternity. It is not possible to describe this link between eternity and time and space. Somehow, it’s a stairway in a spaceless space. It’s the materialized image of an idea that mankind has never known or long forgotten. The stairway of eternity is the place where you can taste words and feel thoughts. And yet, it is not a single place, it is the plurality, the entirety of all places and none altogether. And it is where I regained my body. At the very end of the stairway, which is also the very beginning, I reentered the world of the living.

Only much later, my mind was able to think about the happenings in hell again. To this day, I still don’t quite understand why they occurred. But I think the devil knew that once you have been damned by divine verdict, you will never get a second chance. Redemption is no longer available to me, just as it is not available to the devil. And this is why his envy vanished in favor of a strange combination of mercy and insurrection. Denying me to receive my just punishment was the devil’s final act of rebellion against the one he hates with all that he is.

And me? I was left with a burden. The burden of knowledge of things that my words must invariably fail to describe accurately. But with every burden comes a blessing, even if its inception had been in hell. I have been to hell. I have seen things so horrible no living creature can imagine them. It opened my eyes for beauty. Because it’s not about finding beauty, it’s about recognizing it. Total loss will make you see true beauty. I have hope. Hope for mankind, hope for the world – and who knows? If it is actually possible to come back from hell, maybe I should have hope for the devil? Maybe I should have hope for myself?

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