It was late afternoon. Through a high, stained glass casement window of the Hacienda La Scala, a dust-flecked shaft of pale citrine sunlight fell upon a half-filled page of careful blue script. With an audible sigh, LilthyEtta Saqueth Klatchbustle tossed aside her ink-stained quill and stirred uncomfortably. She’d been composing in dactylic hexameter for hours and exhaustion was overtaking her. What’s more, it’d been over a year since a vacation in Old Habanero, longer still since her last one.
There was about her an air of the traveler, of a sojourner on the verge of departure.
LilthyEtta (“Lil”) Klatchbustle
Slowly, deliberately, LilthyEtta arose from the chair and took several steps forward. Then she made an about-face and pulled herself erect as though commencing a springboard dive. Bending her knees slightly, she leaped toward the writing chair in a graceful arc, her body spiraling like an arrow in flight, condensing, contracting, until finally reduced to mere miniature, she plunged headlong into the inkwell with scarcely even a splash (a 9 at least)!
Enigma of Arrival
The lengthy transit that followed, though cosmic in its dimensions, lasted barely a moment or so.
LilthyEtta at once found herself in an odd desert landscape suffused by muted pastel light. In the distance, a narrow line of Italian cypresses on the crest of a verdant hill seemed to march off into thin air. Nearby, a sign, like an ersatz icon of this strange ambient, said “Surreal estate for Sale” – some of the yellow text protruding spookily beyond its edges.
“Where the hell am I?” shouted LilthyEtta. “Am I dead? All I really wanted was a quick dip before dinner.” (Apropos this last, the discerning reader might be excused for a little skepticism.)
“Hiya, LilthyEtta – and welcome!” said a voice behind her. “You’ve landed in THERE. I’ll be your guide, cicerone, docent, and companion for the next little while.”
LilthyEtta turned to see a squat, rotund little demon with (the obligatory) stubby horns, stringy musculature, pointed pig’s ears, pug nose, and large bloodshot eyes. Bare-chested, he was otherwise outfitted in glossy black-and-white checkered trousers and outsize, pointed, black patent leather shoes that looked like pods of sweet peas. As he stared unblinking at LilthyEtta, his full, voluptuous lips curled into an egregious, faintly demonic, gap-toothed grin.
"Checkered Demon, at your service,” he continued expansively. “You can call me Checker. But befo' yo axe me, lemme just ‘splain that I gots ‘dis name of mine ‘cause’a my somewhat check’red past!”
So saying, the demon burst out in a shrill giggle, vastly amused by his own corny humor and faux patois.
LilthyEtta was less amused. “Not a swimmingly good start for the checkered one,” she thought grimly, “but perhaps he’ll improve. I doubt anything stays the same for long around here.”
“How did I end up with you for a guide, anyway?” she asked a little peevishly, as though her trip might’ve been planned all along. “Are you by yourself here in – what did you call this place? 'THERE'?
Oh, and my friends call me Lil.”
“Well, who’d ya expect, Lil? Virgil? Beelzebub?” returned Checker.
Checker let out another unsettling giggle, this time betraying a degree of unease.
“Where is this THERE, by the way?” LilthyEtta persisted. “Is it, like, the afterlife or something? Can there really be a THERE here – or there, as some might say?”
“THERE is right here – where everything starts and ends,” explained Checker. “Here (THERE) is the source of all energy – well, most of it – what you'd call the EMS or electromagnetic spectrum. You start out in the spectrum and sooner or later you return to it in the form of EM vibes or waves. The section of the bandwidth you return to depends on your personal wavelength and energy – that's right, man, your aura!
Empyrean Magnificum Supremus
Take'a look at this diagram,” he continued, showing her a chart of the spectrum. “Notice that, ‘cept fo’ the ‘old school’ inferno, it looks a lot like the scheme cooked up by Dante Alighieri, the I-talian poet. Remember him?"
“Sure, but 'electromagnetic spectrum' sounds so dry and scientific,” objected LilthyEtta, “as though you need physics to appreciate the hereafter.
Whatever became of Dante, anyway? Where did he fetch up on your so-called spectrum when he ‘returned’? Or did he end up in that hell of his own?”
Dante Alighieri understood as a particle/wave
By the way, for your information, before this demon gig, I was head strobe light in a Soho disco!”
Checker interjected this latter a bit bumptiously as though it were some sort of achievement.
Unimpressed but a little apprehensive, LilthyEtta said nothing. Poets, it seemed, might be at some particular risk in the spectrum. On the brighter side, Checker’s diction seemed to be improving.
"Abandon all credulity, ye who wouldst believe"
“How on earth does that make sense?” she asked. “How can you believe something – anything – if you abandon all credulity?”
“The message just encourages you to empty your mind of preconceptions,” Checker explained. “Encounters here in THERE can end up changing you in unforeseen ways. But if you wish to roll with that possibility, you must start afresh from square one. That’s why I wear these checkered pants! Get it? Square one? Checkers?”
The demon's ridiculous non sequitur was followed by yet another earsplitting giggle.
“Or contrariwise, on your way out,” he went on, “you could simply retrieve all the information you came in with and be done with it. Black holes, you see, have a lush infinite head of supertranslation ‘hair.’ You can think of this ‘hair’ as the information you sort of placed in escrow near the event horizon as you came in.”
LilthyEtta, a little confused, looked askance. “Seems a bit racy, if you ask me,” she replied wryly. “You make black holes sound like cosmic vaginas. Are you sure about all this?”
Checker, sucking on his third can of Tree Frog beer, made no reply.
“So is that it for the spectral, um, spectrum tour?” LilthyEtta wondered out loud.
“Not quite,” said Checker enigmatically as he tossed away the Tree Frog empty and booted up an iPad Pro. “Since you’re a poet, there’s a special zone of the visible spectrum you really ought to see. It’s known as – hold on to your seat! – Poets in Hell!”
The scene that emerged on the computer display, a tableau of appalling carnage and debauchery, took LilthyEtta completely aback.
“How could a poet end up in there, uh, there?!” she exclaimed in agitation. “And what does it mean? Was Dante right all along?”
“Many of the hapless poetasters you see there were simply not well-versed in their craft,” explained Checker. “Others might've been counted among, say, the wickedly virtuous or virtuously wicked – like Ezra Pound. That’s him, impaled with pencils and fountain pens.
e e cummings was consumed with the idea of the lower case, and for a poet there’s no case lower than this.
So you see, they deserved it.
Actually, Lil, you yourself could be at risk,” Checker continued (a little too seamlessly), “but luckily, today only, I can offer you a discount broadband insurance policy that…”
“Never mind, I'd prefer not to,” interrupted LilthyEtta, fixing him with a critical gaze. “I know digital manipulation when I see it. Mother always warned me Photoshop® was an instrument of the devil.
Besides, its time I was getting back. Please call me a cab.”
Checker looked sheepish and a little deflated.
“Charon will run you up to the cosmic shortcut,” he said. “He drives an Indian motorcycle these days instead of the boat. And don’t be put off by his Cheyenne war bonnet — he’s been sporting it ever since white folks colonized North America.”
Enigma of Departure
“My pleasure,” replied Checker, reprising his devilish grin. “Here in THERE it’s always a nice day for somethin’.”
With that, up roared Charon – vroom! vroom! – and LilthyEtta shortly found herself back at the hacienda next to the writing chair.
Neatly stacked on the tablet arm was the completed draft of the chapbook she’s been working on.
“Not bad!” she said to herself. “How many writers can stay put and write, yet at the same time be somewhere else altogether? Maybe one of these days I’ll figure out how to be even more places at once – it’d be sheer poetry!”