Dante was wrong. There are ten circles of Hell.
A foretaste of this last, and deepest, darkest circle, is vouchsafed to those who venture out at this time of year… From years of such observation, the full extent of the nightmare can finally be made known.
Beyond Limbo, beyond the city of
Above the door, an archaic sign reads ‘Lucifer, Asmodeus and Beelzebub, licensed purveyors of wines, spirits, beer, tobacco, despair and game. Abandon hope all ye who enter here.’
The Door is guarded by a demon, who does not try to keep out the poor damned souls clustering at the entryway; rather, it forces upon each a torturous device of metal, wheeled and cage-like, and hastens them through the portal. Barriers swing wide of their own account, drawing the damned deeper into that which lies beyond. A hot, burning wind blows over the damned souls as they enter, a foretaste of what is to come. Eyes wide, the souls behold a huge cavern, stretching on for eternity, and find in their hands a piece of parchment, a list of such length as to take almost forever to glean from the serried ranks of razor-edged shelves that line the endless aisles…
And thus they set out upon their futile quest – to gather everything on the list in their trembling hands. For if they succeed, and gain the FinalCheckOut, they will be released from this torment, and will forever rest in peace – or so they believe, for none has ever succeeded in escaping. For many are the trials and tribulations that lie ahead, and loud is the Infernal Muzack playing all around.
The wheeled devices go not where the damned direct them, but follow a path of their own that takes the soul not past the cool Havens of the Frozen Foods but onwards to the Sprouts of Doom. A cry of woe rings the Vegetable Department – for Lo, there are no leeks until Tuesday! The hot breath of the mighty Heaters increases. And the damned are forced to loose their collars, and sweat breaks out on each face. One soul reaches the Infinite Shelf of Baking Products, but alas – there are raisins, sultanas, dried apricots, dried apple flakes, sunflower seeds, self-raising flour, self-deflating flour, organic flour, inorganic flour, gluten-free flour, flour-free flour – but no chocolate chips. Perhaps they have been relocated?
The damned soul beseeches a passing imp, pallid and be-spotted, which calls to its brood mate, ‘
The imp Sharon scratches the tips of her horns with her tail, tilting the festive baubles hung thereon, and responds, ‘Aisle 134,237,901, with the biscuits. Been there since the new EU regulations came in.’
The soul sinks its head in its hands and weeps.
In Seasonal Goods, a fight breaks out as one damned soul pounces on the last roll of wrapping paper and bears it off in triumph.
They cannot leave until their list is fulfilled, precisely As It Is Writ, with no substitutions or alternative manufacturers, for Our Dad will only eat a certain brand of beans. Which are currently out of stock. And no item shall be Past Its Sell By Date, for this renders it invalid. Should a persistent soul, after many millennia crawling the aisles, finally see ahead the haven of the FinalCheckOut, it is certain that the queue will stretch to the rear of the Great Cavern, beyond even the Bread Counter. And it will not proceed, for there will be those who try to substitute items, or who have forgotten the frozen peas. Or have cartons of milk that have split. And if by some chance the damned soul finds itself at the end of the eternally halted conveyor belt, the demon at the till will close the checkout as the soul starts to empty the trolley’s contents onto the conveyor. And there will be a wailing and a gnashing of teeth.
And ‘Mistletoe and Wine’ will begin again on the loudspeakers…