The latest thing keeping me awake o' nights is character fragments. This is Hell.
Hell is a woman. This will come as no surprise to those of you who have ever lived with one of the fairer sex.
Hell is a woman in a tight red dress. She perches on the edge of a big wooden desk, her brown curls falling over her shoulders as she leans forward. Sizing me up.
Yes, yes, that’s all been done before. Hell is a woman in a tight red dress, indeed. How about we try that again… She pushes herself off the desk and proceeds to pace the floor. Her eyes are black, and fixed on me.
Tunk, tunk, tunk. Her boots strike the wooden floor with a satisfying resonance. Long brown boots, of sensible leather, with just a hit of an up-turn in the toe. Hell is a woman in long brown boots, with black eyes as sharp as a raven. Her brown hair is pulled into a tight plait, and it swings behind her as she walks.
Hell is a woman in long brown boots, light fawn breeches, and a white shirt, which she wears tucked into her sensible brown belt.
Much better. She nods once, in approval. You stay here as long as I have, doing the work I do, and you’ll wear sensible clothes too.
I think about making comment on the work she might do in the tight red dress, but her stern gaze says she’s thought of that already, and she doesn’t find it funny. Instead, I ask her to tell me about her work.
Now, she shrugs, looking almost abashed. I hold the gate, she says. She cocks her head toward a pile of equipment in one corner: some gloves, a crowbar, a pot of oil. And I open it. If necessary.
This, then, is Hell. Mistress of the abyss. She turns, and walks to the window. Leaning out a little, she beckons me to join her. We peer into the dizzying depths of the void. Blackness, blackness, and far below, a small constellation of moving red dots. The Hosts of Hell, she says, with a wry smile. I’m not sure whose misconception that was. They’re not my host. They are, first and always, his host.
This place is at once infinite and bounded. Here- she passes her hand over my eyes- this might be more to your liking. Now, the gatehouse window looks out over a wide path, which falls steeply away behind a screen of trees. The trees are my doing. I would rather not have my window look out on… them. Come. This is the Wall. It is, sure enough, a wall, much like any other wall, but with space for two to walk abreast along it. Within a few minutes we reach the point where the Gate rises over our heads, a massive, mouth-like structure stretching back at an impossible angle. Looking up, I can see the great teeth, carved out of stone. The whole mouth is illuminated by an impressive beard of flames. Very intimidating. The actual gate, however, consists of a highly sophisticated steel grille, spanning the underside of the mouth. I suppose viewers on the outside are too busy looking at the flaming beard to notice. Hell shows me the winch mechanism, and the contraption for feeding the flaming beard.
It doesn’t look like much to do, I suppose. But his lot are coming and going at all hours. And people die all the time. Those raven eyes regard me, as if to see if the idea frightens me. It doesn’t, particularly.
I turn around, and wide path is gone, replaced by dizzying blackness again. Hell is speaking into my ear as I move unsteadily back from the edge. This was all my domain, once. It wasn’t terribly interesting, but it was mine. Now, of course, it is all his, and he has his host and the souls of the damned and so forth to occupy him… and I guard the gate. It keeps me occupied.
Hell shows the flicker of a smile. He is good enough company. A pleasant change, after years on my own.
Sorry the formatting's a bit screwey.
Canon notes: I read the Anglo-Saxon translation of the Gospel of Nichodemus. I can't tell you if Hell is a woman in the Latin verion, but she's definitely a female creature of some sort in the AS.
You can find a translation of both the AS version and its immediate Latin source in 'Two Old English Apocrypha' edited by J.E. Cross.