A Writer’s Hell

It was a frightful dark and uprooting stormy night
when The Muse woke me with a start. The
clock struck three when she commanded,

“Follow me.” With her pixie face, light colored curls,
and luminous eyes, I was more than happy to
comply. The lightweight filmy material

of her dress danced around her body as the winds
blew through my bedroom window, first
hugging the dress to her body, then

pulling it away only to flutter and swirl around her
legs some more. She has fetched me many
times before. At first, I thought our journey

would be of light and merriment, maybe another trip
down the fragrant but mindless primrose path
we’ve past journeyed. Instead, I was led to

the edge of the sea where waves crashed repeatedly,
pounding the rocky cliffs, reducing rock to
gritty sand in the milieu of time. The

Muse forged a trail weaving among the rocks. A
virtual maze; there was no way back alone for
me. A huge gaping hole in the rock, like

the mouth of a giant snake with its jaw unhinged to
swallow its prey whole faced me. I trembled
in fear. When we crossed the cave’s threshold,

the ocean’s roar disappeared, replaced with a constant
rumble that tightly coiled itself around my
nerves. I glanced at my guide. I stumbled and

fell against the craggy wall. I didn’t care for this
experience already. Fear gripped me tight,
squeezing the air out of my lungs. The Muse

sensing I was no longer behind her, stopped,
turned, and looked back. I gasped at the
transformation. Her beautiful dress was

now a heavy, dark cloak that covered her so
completely that she was now a mere shadow.
When had she turned from a delightful,

playful creature to one who looked like the epitome of
Death? Gaunt bones, white skin, and dark
hollows where bright eyes should have been

stared at me vacantly. “Where. . .where . . . where are
we?” stuttered I, afraid to hear the answer.
“The Hole of Death.” Her voice was now

raspy, a harsh whisper. “Where all writers must
come.” “Must?” I shivered. “The price of
participation.” Her lips thinned into an evil

smile. “You think any of you can write without me?
I am your window of light, the door that
allows you entry into the New World where so

few are allowed, but the door so many want to enter.”
“But why me?  Here now?” I asked. “I’m not
yet dead in body.” “So you will know what’s

to come,” she replied. I learned all writers are given
the tour, but never a cure. Could I ever stop
my use of Her, I wondered. Did I want to?

She turned, knowing I would follow. The further we
traveled through the tunnel—the snake’s
body—the steeper became the downward

slope, the more stagnant the air. A sharp turn. The
assault to my ears and eyes unbearable.
Screams, insane laughter, shouts, and

an overall din of babble bubbled forth like hot lava.
There was no escape. A huge abyss, deep into
the earth yawned before me. What

should have been darkness was lit instead. Across the
hole was a catwalk that led to the other side.
On the other side was an elevator—

totally glassed. And around the rest of the hole was a
rail. While I noticed there were other
people—writers I was told—it took me a

moment to realize that each writer was accompanied
by their own Muse. All The Muses were
clothed similar to mine. Suddenly, at my

side was the Marquis de Sade, tears running down his
face. “Why are you crying?” I asked. “Because
I can’t be down there, being punished. I’m

forced to remain here, to act as host. Worst of all, I
have to keep my clothes on and I have no
feeling in my hands!”  In between racking

sobs, he guided me to the rail. There I could easily
look down into the pit. I saw a multitude of
levels, thousands of writers, and various

activities taking place on each level. As more
writers—partnered with their Muse—entered the
area, the Marquis sobbed. “Is there

anyone who doesn’t want to write?” he moaned,
guiding us into the elevator. The Muse pushed
the only button. Down. The glass box

 stopped at the first level, but I noticed there was no
door to open. A wall of glass for viewing only.
The Muse told me that the residents reach

their different levels by a one-way slide. “Once you are
in The Hole, you are there to stay. ” “There is no
redemption?” I asked. “None.” I quickly

learned those on this first level were librarians,
bookstore owners, writing conference
attendees, English teachers, and students

who never wrote. They lay on the floor, side-by-side
and stacked, tight like sardines in a can, but on
their stomachs, chins pointed down, close

to the edge of the wall where it dropped off, their
mouths sewn shut. “Their sin was in the desire
to know writers, but to never do the work of

one. They bragged of their famous writer friendships,
too. Forever and more they are forced to look
upon that which they can never know or speak

of again.” The Muse pushed the Down button again.
We dropped down to the second level.
Immediately, I recognized many. Lewis

Carroll, Dr. Seuss, e.e. cummings, and A.A. Milne
among them. There was a table and chair and
an old typewriter on the table. “These are

children’s writers,” said I, “but why is cummings
there?” “Because he wrote small.” It was then I
noticed that they were all only one quarter their

normal size and that no one could sit on the chair; it
was too tall. To do so meant they’d have to
work as a team to boost someone up there. It

appeared, however, that they were squabbling, pulling
anyone away who got remotely close to
reaching that destiny. We moved down to

the third level. There were the drinkers and lover,
who indulged themselves every way possible, and
followed the fun. I recognized Poe and

Hemingway but couldn’t determine who the others
were by their weary and tired expressions.
They were forced to stand without aid,

without leaning, gulping ice water after every poem
read from the gentle poets, the likes of Robert and
Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Robert Frost,

Lord Byron, Longfellow and so many more. For all
eternity the poets read aloud works to those
who didn’t want to hear. At the fourth level,

Oprah’s authors, and others like Michener, Burroughs,
Clancy, the big volume, best-selling authors,
heavily were ladened with their tomes.

Bookshelves circled the room, but there weren’t nearly
enough for all these books, so they were
carried, not to be put down as more books came

They fought for the shelves, never succeeding. At
the fifth level blood flowed freely. Plagiarists!
All covered in ink and unrecognizable. There

was only one bottle of ink and everyone hacked each
other with sharp instruments—deadly pointed
quills—as they tried to dip tips into the bottle.

At the sixth level, Truman Capote received paper cuts
from Margaret Mitchell, Wm. Faulkner,
Tennessee Williams, and Mark Twain. His

high-pitched squeals made the blood run cold. Conan
Doyle, Earl Stanley Gardner in the following
level continuously told O’Henry synopses of

their tales with O’Henry crying piteously with his ears
covered, “Don’t tell me the ending!” On
another level, teams of writers, like Virginia

Woolf & Mary Shelley, Ralph Ellison & Boris
Pasternak, Anna Sewell & Oscar Wilde, were
slugging it out with the Bronte sisters, forced to

learn the sisters’ manners. The ninth level was the
romance writers. Chocolate hung from the
ceiling just out of reach, tempting, teasing,

tantalizing them to a bloody frenzy as they climbed
over each other. The floor was littered with the
sharp points of their author giveaway pens. The

tenth level contained the critics, forced to drink ink,
and stab themselves relentlessly with #2 lead
pencils. The Muse then told me there was only

one more level, but that we could continue no further,
for the flames were unbearable and would roast
me as I was still alive. I could see flames and

feel the heat rising from below despite our glass
enclosure. “Writers of erotica—they like it hot,
so now they get to feel the heat,” the Muse

declared. “No more,” I wept. “I can’t take seeing
anymore!  This is a nightmare.”  She cackled
with laugher. “This is no nightmare.

This is but the dream. For creation continues here. In a
nightmare, there is no writing. Only writer’s
block. The only way to avoid this future

of hell is to put down your pen.” The Muse assured me
my salvation was guaranteed if I walked away
from The Word. I vowed my promise. A

vow I was determined to keep. I awoke, sheets wet
from the nightmare, frantic at the unbearable.
No hell for me! To the computer, I went,

resolved to delete my files. It automatically opened to
Word, and the last words I had saved flashed
back at me. I screamed. My fingers

trembled, unable to delete, poised to add more. In
black and white horror, the page read: “It was a
frightful dark and uprooting stormy night. . .”

Diana Stout © 2004

About Diana Stout

Screenwriter, author, former English professor
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