• An Atheist’s Guide to the Afterlife

    by  • November 7, 2016 • Fiction • 0 Comments

    An essay by Dr Quintum Magnamaby, as provided by J. R. Hampton
    Art by Luke Spooner


    For this report, I have implicitly assumed that there is an afterlife. This may not be so. There are three possibilities:

    1. There is an afterlife.
    2. The afterlife exists as a hypothesis based on infinite impossibilities, which can be regularly tested and proven by repeated lack of evidence.
    3. There is no afterlife. The arbitrary observations are evidence of a deluded mind, and anyone encountering such should immediately seek medical attention at once.
    Cover for Mad Scientist Journal: Autumn 2016
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    In this account, I will share my observations on my own pesonal experience of the underworld and describe for the atheist the correct protocol, should they unexpectedly find themselves there.

    I clambered and skidded down the path, too afraid to know or care what I was doing, and before I knew it, I found myself standing just a few feet from a large beast. It regarded me with little interest, having plenty already to chew on. A length of dripping intestine was hanging from its gnashing jaws, and its face was glistening with blood. Its pink gums displayed a rack of stained teeth, and its rancid breath, together with the hot fetid air of the chasm, combined into a stench so overpowering that my eyes were streaming, and I was overcome with nausea. I reached into my pocket and slowly took out my camera. Testing the angle, I pressed the button. Click, a selfie with the great mythological beast, Cerberus.

    ~

    1. Check the Expiry Date

    In which we learn how to respond appropriately to the dead.

    It was now almost impossible to comprehend that only hours before, I’d been sat in the living room of a student’s house, invited by someone I vaguely knew, attending what could only be described as an unsuccessful attempt at a New Year’s Eve party.

    The New Year had arrived as unceremoniously as I had departed. Unable to catch a taxi and unwilling to accept a lift from a bearded economics student, I took a shortcut through the woods.

    The entrance to the underworld is as unspectacular as it is frustrating. I don’t know whether it was the three shots of jellified vomit, out of date cocktail sausages, and soggy pretzels that I had consumed previously, or the overwhelming cordiality thrust upon me by a man who insisted that I called him Leo, which made me agree to go. I followed him through a small burrow and stumbled down a stone spiral staircase, which cautiously reminded you to “Mind your head” when the surface was uneven and “Uneven floor” after a brick had hit your head.

    Leo guided me into a room that resembled the cellar of an abandoned 1960s hospital and disappeared through a door. The white painted walls were snaked with copper pipes that seemed to carry the hissing and gurgling of a distant un-serviced boiler. After a few uneventful minutes, a man dressed in blue overalls looked in on me, decided that he didn’t like the look of me, and then disappeared back behind the door.

    Moments later, he returned. He stood a few short feet away from me, wearing a face that resembled one that had just discovered that his reserved seat on a train had been occupied by an idiot. I pulled out my book and tried to hide in its pages. He asked me if I had a ticket; I said I hadn’t. He then disappeared back through the door again.

    After another few uneventful minutes, Leo returned and informed me that I was in the wrong place and led me through a corridor to another small white walled room. He asked me if I had a ticket, I said I hadn’t, and he left the room.

    Just as I was starting to get into my book, I was rudely interrupted by a man dressed like a bus conductor ought to. He asked me if I had a ticket; I said I hadn’t. Shaking his head, he told me that I was in the wrong room and led me back to the room from which I’d previously been sent from.

    My reading was once again rudely interrupted by a commotion from the corridor. Leo burst into the room, followed by the other two gentlemen. Leo asked me if I had a ticket; I said I hadn’t. He grabbed my book from out of my hands, removed the bookmark, and passed it over to the bus conductor. The conductor clipped my bookmark and returned it to Leo.

    An atheist should recognise that many people are not aware of an atheist in the afterlife. Therefore, such an atheist does not exist. These beliefs are strongly held as they help people to cope with their innermost basic neurosis. To respond appropriately with the dead, it is advised that the atheist keeps an open mind to what is not apparent to as much as what is … such as an expiry date.

    As we were ushered down a second corridor, Leo explained to me that I had made the men very upset, and we should try to move as quickly as possible. He also explained to me that my bookmark was the ticket and that I’d inherited it when I had borrowed this particular version of The Divine Comedy. He also explained to me that it was a promotional offer from Dante’s Tours, the leading tour operators in the underworld.

    I explained to him that it would have been a lot less troublesome if he’d explained all of this to me earlier.

    ~

    2. Don’t Lose Sight of the True Meaning of Death
    In which we explore the commercial exploitation of being dead.

    “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”

    The gates to Hell are something altogether much more interesting. It was here that I first met Dante. In appearance, he was the complete opposite of what you would expect a 14th century Florentine poet to look like.

    He paced anxiously to and fro under the gateway. His eyes lit up as they caught sight of Leo and me approaching, and then pushing his way past the crowds, he quickly informed me of the arrangements.

    “You’re late! You’ve cocked everything up!”

    He told me that because I was late, we’d have to wait for the next ferry, so I took the opportunity to take a look around. The porch to the underworld reminds one very much of a gothic cathedral. Ivy clings on to the old stone and spreads along the ancient crumbled walls in which occasionally a gargoyle will peep. One gets the impression that in the absence of the countless merchandise stalls, customary beggars, and piped recordings of howls and wailing, previous generations would have trembled in their boots at the sheer malevolence of the place.

    Of course, it is not only the atheist who has difficulty with the idea of an afterlife. In 1985, upon witnessing the underworld, the American televangelist, the Very Reverend Reginald Dwight-Webb, immediately renounced his belief and converted on the spot to disbelief. He now runs one of the most successful apostasy services in the afterlife, helping thousands of souls find a new conviction of uncertainty, all, of course, at an ever increasing profit.

    Dante directed me down an embankment through the crowds. After displaying his pass to a centaur, who insisted on checking it twice, we clambered on-board the ferry. The boat was crammed with a recently deceased group of Japanese tourists. Dante left me at the port window as he rushed off to find out why we hadn’t been upgraded.

    As we made our way across the Acheron River, a flurry of cameras began to excitedly flash. With my sleeve, I wiped away the condensation, and squinting, saw through the mist an old man gripping onto the sides of a small wooden boat. The waves of our ferry rocked him violently on the river’s choppy surface, and his long white beard fluttered in the wind as he desperately tried to recover his oar.

    “That’s Charon,” Dante informed me as he returned with two hot coffees in polystyrene cups. “For hundreds of years, he used to ferry the deceased across this river.”

    I watched with incredulity as Charon attempted to steady himself before a final wave knocked him off his feet, which duly followed the rest of him overboard in one great splosh.

    “He still insists on doing it, even though everyone takes this ferry nowadays,” Dante continued. “Says he was here first. Stubborn old fool.”

    ~

    3. We Don’t Talk About It
    In which we recognise people’s rights not to be recognised.

    A short walk after disembarking from the boat, we came to the edge of a precipice. Looking down, the land is twisted and fractured on such an immense scale that your mind is completely at a loss on how to process it. Jagged mountain peaks and fiery clouds stir above vast rivers of ice, which crack inch by inch through unfathomable ravines.

    For many centuries, the exact geographical composition of the underworld has been hotly debated. However, a simple trick can be applied. If one is to hold out a pencil at arm’s length in any direction, and close their left eye, then one will see the actual curvature of the pencil against the background. Many atheists use this fact as incontrovertible proof that the afterlife is the creation of a warped mind.

    I followed Dante along a gritty path to a station. Obediently, I stood in line behind him.

    “We have to take the cable car down to the First Circle of Hell,” he explained. “It is here that we will see Limbo–the place reserved for the virtuous heathen.”

    As we descended, I took in the view. Only metres away from the cable car, huge cataracts thundered and roared down into the narrow valleys below. I watched with unease as a small child clung onto its mother’s hand whilst the car shuddered and trembled under the rickety cables. It occurred to me then that this was the first time I’d truly felt scared since descending into hell.

    By all accounts, Limbo is a rather pleasant place. A field stretches out in all directions, surrounding a castle ruins. Trampling our way through the tall grass and thistles, Dante took to a bit of celebrity spotting. Enthusiastically, he pointed out a plethora of historical figures. Here was Socrates, there was Plato. Ptolemy, Euclid, Orpheus, Hippocrates, and Democritus, he boasted. I have to confess, I could not distinguish one toga clad oddball from another.

    Whilst we, or rather I should say I, was puffing and panting up a small hill, we encountered a dear friend of Dante’s.

    After a brief introduction, Dante explained to me how it was Virgil who first suggested the idea of a tour company. Checking his watch, Dante told me that I could take a few minutes to have a wander as he and Virgil had some important paperwork to attend to. They disappeared together into a portacabin, so I headed toward the ruins.

    Whilst I was perched upon a mossy stone watching the cable cars moving up and down the cliffs, I was approached by a tall and quite friendly gentleman who was handing out leaflets. He explained to me that he was a member of the Atheists’ Camping and Caravanning Club and asked me if I believed in God. I said I didn’t, so he handed me a leaflet.

    The leaflet included, amongst other things, a five step plan on how to deal with the afterlife and a helpline for those who just couldn’t get their head around the whole dying and waking up again thing.

    It is important to note that for the atheist that resides in Limbo, there are some topics that are considered socially taboo. Although the situation appears to present evidence of a theist’s point of view, an atheist’s existence in the afterlife is still to be scientifically proven. Therefore, an atheist will not acknowledge their or anybody else’s existence without firm empirical data. It is not up to the atheist to disprove the existence of an afterlife, but on the theist to provide a rationale for what the hell is going on.

    From out of the smoky haze of a nearby barbeque, I saw Dante beckoning me down. In my haste, I stumbled right into the path of an elderly gentleman, passing right through him.

    I turned to apologise and was met by an inquisitive wriggle of his moustache. It wasn’t until sometime later that it dawned on me just who that man was. It was none other than Albert Einstein himself.

    ~

    4. The Seven Hundred Year Itch
    In which we learn that when something gets stuck in one’s mind, it’s hard to get it back out.

    The Second Circle of Hell is reserved for the carnal sinners. We’d made our way down a sodden gulley and sheltered under a corrugated roof to escape the lashing winds.

    Dante was negotiating for a discount at the booth and was becoming increasingly agitated. Exasperated he turned to me. “Bloody bureaucracy!” he raged.

    He went on to describe that this was the true beginning of Hell, and the miserable git attending the booth was King Minos. Minos had once enjoyed his job as a judge in the underworld. For centuries, he’d assigned the fate of the damned by using his tail to show them in which circle of Hell they were to reside. This had brought him much joy, but now, under mounting legislature, mostly from the unceasing amount of lawyers descending into Hell, he was pinned down to his desk and was not in any mood to entertain us.

    After a further few hours of negotiating, Dante managed to get us a pass into the Second Circle. Along the walk, Dante kept his eye on his watch, whilst I kept mine on the scenery.

    The physics of the afterlife are very complex due to the fact that the majority of its residents are spectres. This causes a lot of frustration, particularly for physicists, and a great deal of embarrassment for everyone else. This can be summarised in Newton’s fourth law of motion, published posthumously, which states that “for every interaction, there is an equal and opposite overreaction.”

    Below rows of red streetlights, parts of naked limbs illuminated from out of the darkness. Under the flickering neon lights of Cleopatra’s Pleasure House, leather-booted women erotically danced behind glass windows. Gyrating men and latex clad centaurs jigged for multitudes of stirred souls beneath the doorway of Dido’s Speakeasy. And masses of spirits clambered into one another for the thrills awaiting at the next phantom peep show.

    Considering the obvious physical constraints of sex in the afterlife, one’s insatiability for it actually intensifies when it becomes clear that it is no longer available.

    It has been reported that some souls remain perpetually frustrated in this circle for their entire deaths; however, on average, it takes approximately seven hundred years for a soul to finally distract themselves with more spiritual pursuits, such as incorporeal crossword puzzles or spectral Sudoku. This is commonly referred to as the seven hundred year itch and is a cautionary tale to all living beings that engaging in more intellectually stimulating activities now can be of great benefit and relief in later years.

    Whilst Dante considered which way to proceed, we temporarily stopped outside of Casanova’s Nightclub, from which a poster advertised tonight’s evocative show staring the beautiful Marilyn Monroe. Sensing my hesitance to continue, Dante ushered me through a darkened alley.

    Somewhere through the passageway, I lost my guide and with hands stretched out before me, I slipped and skated along the sodden ground searching for something to steady myself on. I came to an opening. A hard driving rain made the path before me a treacherous one. To avoid the downpour of hail, I clambered and skidded down the path, moments later to be confronted with the great mythological beast known as Cerberus.

    A sudden upwind alerted the beast to my presence. Its nostrils sniffed feverishly at the air. From its three heads, six devilish red eyes set themselves upon me, and a deep growl rumbled from its foul gut.

    Gingerly, I let one foot after another trudge backward through the putrid sludge and silently edged my way out of sight. I ran aimlessly in any direction other than the one I’d been.

    Art for An Atheist's Guide to the Afterlife

    To avoid the downpour of hail, I clambered and skidded down the path, moments later to be confronted with the great mythological beast known as Cerberus.

    ~

    5. Thought for Food
    In which we learn that it is all just a matter of taste.

    The human mind can consume over a whopping 80 pounds of processed meat in under twelve minutes. The flavours of this feast are manufactured by an array of mental stimuli which include the colour, shape, texture, and brightness of the imaginable food. The biological process is irrelevant to the deceased.

    This explains why there are so many restaurants throughout the afterlife. Many years ago, lamb and beef were very popular, and therefore many gods would insist that these animals should be offered as gifts so that they could gorge on their spectral goodness. Nowadays, the taste buds of the dead are a lot more sophisticated, and a top dead chef will have to search far and wide for the latest discarded tofu or chicken tikka masala. Contrary to popular belief, hamburgers are in fact very difficult to come by. This is because many of the fast foods we consume lack moisture and therefore refuse to decompose.

    The menu at the bar and grill is considerable. The fat waiter stood over me impatiently before recommending the burgers. Who’d have thought that only minutes earlier, I’d been face to face with the front end of a 1960s British Leyland coach, and now I was being served burgers by none other than Elvis Presley himself!

    The coach had recently been acquired by Dante’s Tour Operators after it had hurtled fifty metres over a cliff in North Wales whilst crammed with sightseeing pensioners on a retro holidaying package.

    Recognising the face I was wearing was not one that was enjoying itself, along with the discomfort my buttocks were experiencing from the coaches lack of suspension, Dante suggested that we visit Presley’s Bar and Grill.

    It was with a mouthful of French fries and a blob of ketchup on his chin that Dante explained to me, between bites, that we were now in the Third Circle of Hell. “This circle is for the gluttons,” he spat.

    ~

    6. Check the Small Print

    In which we discover why bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people.

    Back on the coach, we tumbled and bundled down the steep twisting roads and entered a valley of rocks that rose from the ground like enormous skyscrapers. The coach screeched to a halt at the foot of one rock where a casino had been erected.

    Exiting the coach, Dante guided our eyes upward and, using a pair of rusty coin operated binoculars, I watched swarms of bankers ascending the rocks. They scoffed at great sacks of money at the top of the towering mountains. As they choked on the loot, some bankers would regurgitate coins. At the foot of the mountains, gamblers tore at each other for the fallen bounty to spend in the casino.

    The odds of winning in the casino are very peculiar. Whilst observing a group of souls around a roulette wheel, I noticed that the ball fell in black 26 times in a row. The souls instantly began betting against black, assuming that a red streak was immediate. Moments later, they were again fighting one another for the sickly coins spilled along the ground.

    “This is the Fourth Circle of Hell,” Dante explained. “This is reserved for the hoarders and squanderers.” After consulting his watch, he hurried us back onto the coach.

    Before leaving this circle, we passed the financial quarter of Hell.

    The Demonic Bank of Hell was founded in the 11th century by Pope Benedict IX. The bank offers the recently deceased an opportunity to pass on their sins to their descendants. For example, someone who has committed fraud in their lifetime can secure an exchange rate of poverty for a nominated descendant. This in turn will increase the descendant’s chance of committing larceny, thus increasing the bank’s soul assets.

    If no direct descendant is viable, a spectre can select any living relation. Due to a limited range of ancestors, this clause allows one to freely select any living human being. This explains why bad things happen to good people.

    This is known in the afterlife as Demonomics.

    An alternative is available. Afterlife insurance, also known as Afterlife cover, is a way to help protect your loved ones spiritually after you have died.

    It could be important if they have any broken promises, outstanding karma, or were in the midst of an extramarital affair upon your death. Afterlife insurance could help pay off these sins before they die, or it could help your family with everyday death costs. It could even help cover reincarnation expenses too.

    A person can take out insurance for as many people as they like; however, exclusions may apply, such as the policy becomes null and void if the insured commits suicide.

    An afterlife insurance company calculates the premiums to fund claims, costs, and profit. The cost of insurance is determined by the probability, likelihood, and opportunity of the occurrence by the insured for an event such as larceny, blasphemy, murder, or adultery.

    Interest rates vary, and so it is advisable to check the small print before taking out a policy. Payments can be returned in many ways, such as being poked in the orifices with hot irons, being tied to a burning wheel, having one’s innards eaten out by hungry birds, or being called insulting names. This explains why good things happen to bad people.

    Of course, the modern atheist does not believe a word of this. Demonomists warn that if the modern atheist rate continues to rise, a crash in the Demonomy is unavoidable.

    ~

    7. Don’t Take it Personally
    In which we learn that it’s their problem, not ours.

    The coach navigated its way through the valley for a few hundred metres, jolting down the narrow winding roads, before coming to a stop next to a jetty. Whether it was from the swishing purée of greasy burgers in my gut, the sweltering heat, or fusty stench of the swampy water, I accordingly threw up.

    As we waited for the boat, I took a moment to make some sense of my surroundings. There must be some logical and rational explanation. Was the world I found myself in the result of some sort of mental breakdown, was this merely a very lucid dream, or was I essentially witnessing some kind of astral plane? It even occurred to me that I may have somehow accidentally entered into someone else’s head.

    Suddenly becoming aware of the disgusted looks aimed toward me from the other beings in the queue, I immediately stopped thinking.

    Thinking out loud is considered extremely rude in the afterlife and highly unorthodox. It is preferable to keep such things inside of one’s own head and completely unacceptable to impose it on others.

    Dante hurried me onto a waiting boat. The rest of the passengers shot me rather irritated glances as the boat slightly sank under my weight.

    The captain of the boat, Phlegyas, commenced with a commentary through a screeching microphone. I managed to ascertain that we were on the River Styx.

    Although the afterlife is non-discriminatory toward believers and non-believers alike, many religious followers feel that they have exclusivity in the underworld. This is not the case. It is important for the atheist to assert their rights.

    Belief is not a prerequisite for being dead and nor should it be. In fact, many of the longest inhabitants of the afterlife outdate even civilization itself and most certainly any concept of religion, and so found their passing no more bizarre than we’d find leaving a public toilet to arrive in Luton airport.

    The motion of the boat was beginning to take its toll, and I found myself once or twice accidentally swaying into the middle bits of other passengers, to a condemnation of huffs and titters.

    Precariously clutching my stomach, I huddled over the side of the boat to throw up into the foul Stygian marsh and was shocked to see an angry face scowling back at me through the musty water. Captain Phlegyas broken commentary explained that this was the Fifth Circle of Hell, and those condemned to spend eternity within the sludge of sanitary products, supermarket trolleys, faeces, and old boots, were the wrathful.

    ~

    8. The City of Dis
    In which we discover how to have one helluva good time!

    Only those unfortunate enough to have been hit full on in the face by a lamp post could truly appreciate the effect that the great City of Dis has on one when seeing it for the first time.

    The brochure describes how Dis is a perfect destination for families, couples, and groups. It is renowned for its exquisite architecture, cobbled streets, mausoleums, and wealth of visitor attractions.

    The flaming sepulchres that surround the old town walls are one of its most popular sights, attracting over ten million tourists per day. With a one day pass, you can receive a 15% discount on selected attractions, including The Mausoleum of Pope Anastasius, The Dis Dungeon, The Demonic History Museum, and an award winning evening ghost walk.

    I eagerly placed a tick next to each attraction as I queued under the colossal gates of Dis. I dejectedly crossed out each attraction as it became obvious that we were not going to gain entrance to the great city any time soon.

    The queue was becoming quickly agitated. The person behind me impatiently huffed, “You spend your whole life trying to avoid coming here and then when the opportunity arises, they make it so damned difficult in get in!” I had to agree. “What’s the hold-up?” he tutted.

    The hold-up, as it turns out, was me! Three hell-bent Furies that attended the turnstiles had noticed that I was not dead, and being “not dead” was something that they took particular exception to.

    Dante, sensing trouble, motioned to me to step back as Tisiphone, flanked by Megaera and Alecto, launched into a furious tirade. Their hideous faces were smeared with copious amounts of eyeliner, lipstick, and blusher, flanked by locks of snakes.

    The anatomy of the Furies is of great scientific interest. An amateur and little known scientist, Doctor Percivility, first proposed in 1880 that they were indeed an evolutionary offshoot from the pterodactyl. Upon discovering the skeletal remains of a Fury during an expedition to Crete, Dr Percivility presented his findings to the Royal Society. He was immediately branded a charlatan, and his specimen was debunked as a forgery. His protestations were dismissed, and the prevailing consensus by his peers was that Dr Percivility had mistakenly mixed up the remains of several bats, snakes and lizards, thus destroying his reputation for life.

    In death however, he is regarded as one of the foremost leading experts in the anatomy of beasts. His paper on the evolution of mythological creatures is the underworld’s highest selling science book of all eternity and well worth a read.

    I studied with interest the crinkly semi-clad bodies of the Furies and their peculiar bat wings and claws.

    “Fetch Medusa!” the Furies wailed. “Let’s turn him to stone!”

    As I stood with my eyes squeezed tight, Dante called in a favour. A Cherubim Officer had arrived on the scene, wagged his finger at the Furies, gave us a lecture on safety, and escorted us through the gates, where Dante agreed that we’d go straight to the hotel and stay out of trouble.

    Ye Old Pandemonium Hotel is not a place one can sleep easily. The small, clammy room emanates an overwhelming odour, which gives the impression that a week old festering Doner Kebab lurks in some hidden corner. The bed frame struggles to hold a cumbersome mattress, the window is clearly distressed, and the kitsch 1970s orange décor invites you to add a splash of colour yourself. After depressing myself further by reading through the list of missed attractions that the brochure boasted, I decidedly left the hotel at once and began to explore.

    Under neon lights, intoxicated centaurs staggered down Sixth Circle Street whilst demonic whores lay face down in pools of vomit. This was more like it!

    In search of a cool drink, I found myself in a crowded bar. Soul upon soul swayed through me as I clutched onto my beer and looked for a quiet corner. A quiet corner was hard to find as thunderous music boomed from a little stage.

    From my table, I gained a clear view of the ragged band, and oh what a band! The psychedelic twangs and riffs that whizzed around my skull were being shaped from the Stratocaster of none other than Jimi Hendrix! The crashing and rhythmic walloping beat of the skins were coming from Keith Moon’s drumsticks, and the deep holler of Jim Morrison thundered through my whole being like a juggernaut.

    Stupefied, I turned to the soul next to me to check that I was still, in fact, in Hell.

    I was as shocked as the face staring back at me. The face was exactly the same face as the one that had belonged to my old history teacher from school, Mr Goodenough.

    “What the hell are you doing here?” he yelled.

    My brain was having a particularly hard time today, and by the expression on my face, Mr Goodenough could sense that my brain had now completely abandoned me. Over one or ten more drinks, he explained to me that his new found enthusiasm was no longer for history, but for the future.

    He explained how time was a bit wiggly in the afterlife, and that the dead could see events from the future as clearly as those from the past. He warned me to avoid chicken nuggets, advised me against betting on the New Orleans Saints, reiterated the importance of brushing one’s teeth, and finally, to always beware of a plastic Jesus.

    The next thing I remember, my head was drumming in sync with “Purple Haze,” and my hotel room wall was on its side. The orange décor startled me out of my stupor, and I accordingly threw up.

    ~

    9. Don’t Take it Too Seriously
    In which we discover that death is too short to worry about trivial matters.

    Dante was obviously upset about something. He waited until we were on the funicular descending to the Eighth Circle of Hell until he finally broke his silence.

    “What was all that about?” he said in his stupid, condescending Florentine voice. “How would you like it if I spoke to you in the way you addressed the Minotaur?” he went on. “You totally embarrassed me back there.”

    I wasn’t in the mood for grumpy demons and hot fiery sands today. Was it my fault that I needed to urinate? No one told me that those thorny trees were the souls of those who had committed suicide. How was I supposed to know that Hellhounds shouldn’t be tickled behind their ears? Who wouldn’t ask that question to a centaur? By the time we had reached the Malebolge, Dante had chirped up a bit.

    The Malebolge, Dante explained, have recently undergone a regeneration project. The ditches–or Bolgia–each contain sinners for a specific punishment, and one can now safely walk upon them as they have recently been covered with Perspex glass. As we skidded above the Simonists, panderers, falsifiers, and astrologists, we took photographs whilst pulling silly faces, and soon our moods lifted. In one instance, Dante mimicked one of the sinners who was forced to carry around his severed head like a lantern. I almost died of laughter!

    It quickly became apparent that the demons who patrol the Malebolge didn’t share the same sense of humour as us, so we hastily made our way to the centre, where we would descend to the ninth and final circle of Hell.

    The modern sceptic may have considerable trouble in believing the next passage, and so is advised to skip to the last passage of the story … now.

    ~

    10. Last Orders
    In which we learn that we shouldn’t waste our time.

    Vexilla regis prodeunt inferni

    When going to meet the Prince of Darkness, nothing beats arriving by helicopter with Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” blasting from a loudspeaker. I have to admit, Dante had really thought of everything. No wonder he was a poet!

    The blades of the helicopter rotor spun mere inches from the towers of rock that encompassed us, before the pilot skilfully landed upon a sheet of frozen ice on the Cocytus River.

    Dante and I fought against the icy gusts, and then, as if seeing a mighty mountain appear from out of a blizzard, I set my eyes upon Satan.

    From three ugly faces, three revolting mouths gnawed upon the bodies of Adolf Hitler, Judas Iscariot, and Joseph Stalin. Their ripped and shredded torsos spilt down his chins like chewing tobacco. His body was buried waist deep in the ice. His black skin, cracked like old leather, wore gigantic withered wings.

    An announcement rang from a Tannoy, “5 minutes ’til closing, would all visitors please make their way to the exits. Thank you.”

    As Dante and I approached the red rope barriers, I could taste the foul stench of Satan’s breath. His sad eyes rolled down and made contact with mine. It occurred to me then that if anyone needed an Atheist’s Guide to the Afterlife, it was him. I reached over the barriers and handed him the crumpled guide that I’d acquired in Limbo. Taking it between his weary fingers, he paused for a second, signed it, and then passed it back. It was then, in that moment, that I truly discovered what hell really was.

    ~

    11. You’re a Long Time Alive
    In which we learn to make the best of what we have.

    The human mind has a complex way of processing such an unimaginable sight … it shuts down.

    As I regained consciousness, Dante guided me to an elevator. “I hope you enjoyed the trip, Doctor.”

    I had.

    The elevator had an unimaginable number of numbers, the topmost being Heaven and several numbers down, Purgatory. I asked Dante if I might visit these next, but he kindly pointed out to me, that as an atheist, there was nothing for me to see there. And so I returned to the surface of the Earth.

    The elevator doors opened to a shower of bright sunlight. After the torment and savagery I had witnessed, this world felt surprisingly familiar. This world of fast-food restaurants, nightclubs, angry motorists, traffic wardens, and betting shops, this world, where bankers, beggars, corporate whores, and drunkards flood the pavements.

    This world, of loans, mortgages, interest rates, and credit cards, of instant mash and celebrities, high speed fibre optic pornography, reality TV, gratuitous violence, corrupt politicians, and cheap commodities.

    This world of dental plans, spy-cams, advertising slogans, and email scams, of fried chicken, secret societies, chewing gum, and nuclear bombs, of cocktail sausages, fur coats, pyramid schemes, cocaine, and anti-wrinkle cream.

    To find my bearings, I searched for a sign. Stepping forward, I was instantly hit by an oncoming truck. The last thing I remember seeing was, steadily perched upon the dashboard, the face of a plastic Jesus looking back at me.

    ~

    12. Conclusion
    In which we ask ourselves whether the afterlife is worth pursing and speculate what comes next.

    It is reasonable for a reasonable person to ask whether future examination into the afterlife is worthwhile. I would argue that further research would lead to very tangible benefits. It is hard to quantify these exact benefits without first experiencing some personal symptoms of death; however, if we were to invest in a rigorous scientific analysis now, it may result in a better world for the next generation.

    As an atheist, I concede that this report may test the non-beliefs of others. It was written with the sole purpose of examining the mental, physical, and social implications of an afterlife and certainly has no intention of offending anyone’s disbelief.

    “An Atheist’s Guide to the Afterlife” is available, should anyone require it, at the gates of the underworld.


    Dr Magnamaby is a theoretical physicist at the London College of Hypothetical Science. His papers on the tangled cosmic helix, swirly black bits in space, and the social habits of muon neutrinos have been widely praised and published in peer-reviewed journals. The smallest object in the asteroid belt, Magnamaby B4C1, is named after him.


    J. R. Hampton is a writer based in Coventry, United Kingdom. His stories have appeared at Tethered by Letters, Flash Fiction Magazine, Hoot, and The Flash Fiction Press. He writes sci-fi, humor, and mysteries.


    Luke Spooner a.k.a. ‘Carrion House’ currently lives and works in the South of England. Having recently graduated from the University of Portsmouth with a first class degree he is now a full time illustrator for just about any project that piques his interest. Despite regular forays into children’s books and fairy tales his true love lies in anything macabre, melancholy or dark in nature and essence. He believes that the job of putting someone else’s words into a visual form, to accompany and support their text, is a massive responsibility as well as being something he truly treasures. You can visit his web site at www.carrionhouse.com.


    “An Atheist’s Guide to the Afterlife” is © 2016 J. R. Hampton
    Art accompanying story is © 2016 Luke Spooner

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