Saturday, October 09, 2010
Limbo on the near side of the Acheron river is crowded with buildings. These are the "soul apartments" which house the dead who couldn't afford the boat fare that the dread ferryman Charon charged to carry anyone across the river. The streets wind and twist and are very narrow, and the weather never knows a sunny day. Instead, the cold and damp predominate over a perpetual murky twilight. For the dead souls, amenities in this city are limited. For example, although available in every soul apartment without charge, choices on cable television are confined to only one station, known in the Netherword as KHaDES, channel 86. The dead can tune into no other channels. If they tried, they would get nothing but hissing static.
Neither do the souls in Limbo have flat-screen televisions for watching cable station 86. Every apartment comes equipped only with black and white, cathode ray tube-based TV sets, and these look very much like the boxes the Boomers once watched when Howdy Doody ruled the airwaves back in the 1950s. In their particular case, the Boomers, who were now dying off and ending up in Limbo in increasing numbers, were not altogether discomfited about being forced to watch things once again in black and white. However, there was no Howdy Doody, no Claribel the clown, nor other happy, slappy programming on KHaDES' sole cable station. About the best that can be said about its programming was the Lawrence Welk Show. In fact, there was no escaping the Lawrence Welk Show as it was on a big percentage of the time; in this case, the colorful costumes of its multi-talented cast could only be seen as various shades of grey. Furthermore, the TV boxes in Limbo are not equipped with stereo sound. This gave Welk's orchastra a very tinny sound.
For radio stations, the dead souls in Limbo could only tune into one. Called KDED, it was operated by the same corporation that operated the cable channel, namely HaDES Communications. Broadcasting at FM 86 on the dial, KDED played only the past music of dead rock-n-roll artists, many of whom were now staying in Limbo. However, none of these resident artists produced much in the way of any new music because in Limbo electric guitars and high power percussion instruments are altogether not available. The only musical instruments that could be found were ukeleles, kazoos, jew-harps, and bongos. Because of this limitation, any "live music" (if we dare call it that) sounds pretty cacophonous. At least on radio station KDED—whose hourly byline announces that "we play the dead, only the dead, and nothing but the dead, all the time"—everyone can tune in and listen to Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, et al, over and over and over again. Most of the souls in Limbo have gotten to the point where they have memorized the lyrics of every song played on KDED, and those on the Lawrence Welk Show. It gets old fast though, and the KDED's musical repertoire expands to new territory only when another rock-n-roll star bites the dust.
Wal-Mart's ubiquity astonishes the living, as its big box stores pop up like mushrooms across the American landscape. Likewise, in Limbo there exists big box stores at nearly every street corner where the dead souls can go shopping. Run exclusively by Hecate Enterprises Chthonic Mercantile, Inc., these stores do not include a grocery section primarily because the souls in Limbo eat no comestibles. There's no pharmacy section in Hec-Mart either, since they're already dead and medication would be an unsaleable commodity. When you're dead you don't even catch a cold. You will find nothing but polyester in the small clothing section of Hec-Mart, which is the name that flashes in glaring red neon letters on the front of each big box. Hec-Mart does have modest furniture and hardware sections, where the company does a brisk business since the soul apartments in Limbo are in a perpetual state of decay and often need repairs. The roofs leak, the walls and floors creak, and the doors hinges squeak. But nobody worries about leaky pipes because the soul apartments lack plumbing. Toilets are unnecessary in Limbo for reasons that are too obvious to state. And the dead don't need to shower or bathe. They neither sweat nor perspire.
Some dead souls, when they first arrive in Limbo, make the mistake of supposing there's free beer to be had. Limbo lacks free beer, or any other alcoholic beverage, and the place is more "dry" than some counties in Utah. There's not a drop anywhere to be found, which disappoints some newly arriving souls very greatly. However, there are no taxes, and best of all there are no taxes on tobacco. Many libertarians found this to be Limbo's most delightful aspect. Consequently, the dead can buy a carton of cigarettes at Hec-Mart for a price that barely registers above a mere formality, and a huge percentage of the the dead souls in Limbo have taken up smoking, especially since the health problems associated with this habit don't exist for reasons too obvious to bear repeating. Only one down side should be noted, and that is the lack of variety of cigarette brand selection. The only ones available are Marlboro, Camel, and Raleigh. In Limbo there are no "light" brands, nor menthol, nor filter cigarettes. Tobacco is smoked in its purest simplicity with no frills. However, many of the dead souls have developed a "smokers hack" when they speak, and many soul apartments reek of the musty odor of stale tobacco smoke. As a hobby, the smoking dead do save up Raleigh coupons, which are accepted only at Hec-Mart, and not having much else to do, some have learnt the knack of "rolling their own."
Vehicular transportation doesn't exist in Limbo, at least not the motorized kind. Planes, trains, and automobiles are not available. To travel anywhere, the soul has two possible recourses: either (1) use your own two feet, or (2) learn to ride a unicycle. Souls do not fly nor can they transvect themselves from one place in Limbo to another, and only a few have the poise and balance necessary for learning to ride a unicycle. Most everybody walks. Consequently, because Limbo stretches for tens of thousands of miles in all directions, the dead souls in one part of Limbo rarely see the other parts. One form of communication does exist however, and that is provided by the few souls who have learned to ride on unicycles and who have hired themselves out as letter carriers. Nevertheless, mail delivery in Limbo is very expensive and so slow that in comparison it makes the U.S. Postal Service look faster than the twinkling of an eye. And besides this, the twisty and narrow streets between the soul apartments lack all street signs. No steet maps of Limbo have ever been found, at least none so far, and getting yourself lost on those streets is very easy to do. One wrong turn and you can lose all bearings. Only a small number of letter carriers ever travel more than several dozen miles. And only a few of these have managed to create letter relays, where one carrier can hand off mail to another who is more familiar with the street layout of a particular area. If you see a dead soul in limbo riding a unicycle, likely he or she might be a mail person.
Now if you were to walk around on those dank streets you would also find, here and there, a nodding donkey, its head bobbing up and down at a slow, tranquil pace. These pumpjacks, as they are also called, are owned by HeXXon, the petroleum subsidiary of Hecate Enterprises Chthonic Mercantile, Inc., mentioned earlier, and they pump up crude oil which is then piped to a refinery for processing into kerosene. Without the pumpjacks, oil would start seeping up from the ground into the streets, creating an environmental hazard and a fire danger. The soul apartments use kerosene heating to hold out the chill of the perpetually cold and dreary weather.
At a few places in Limbo, there stand odd, barren structures which have been roped off and marked with warning signs that say "Extreme Danger, Do Not Enter." Mildew, lichen, and moss encrust these mastaba-like rectangular structures, which appear to be very old and to have been made out of carved rock or very hard concrete. They measure at about 100 feet long, 20 feet wide, and 25 feet high. Standing in front of one of these mastabas, all you can see is a narrow opening, about 3 feet wide and 6 feet high, leading into a long hallway that disappears into pitch blackness at the other end. A draft of icy cold air always blows out from this hallway. None of the dead souls in Limbo knows what the purpose of these mastabas might be, although rumors do circulate that many years ago somebody once ran into Cerberus and asked him about them. According to the story, Cerberus said the mastabas provide transdimensional entranceways directly to Tartarus, and that nobody should dare to venture into the hallway. But just being near one of these mastabas gives a soul a shiver and feelings of horrible dread. As a consequence, the souls in Limbo avoid getting anywhere near them. The few who were brave enough to stand next to the entrance say they have heard strange noises and eerie voices coming from the blackness at the end of the hallway.
In Limbo, the dead can sleep, at least theoretically, but in reality most are insomniacs. They will lie in the bedroom of their apartments with eyes wide awake for hours. So to help pass the time, and having nothing else to do, the dead they will often get up and take a stroll to a nearby Starbucks for coffee. Don't ask me how Starbucks managed to have outlets in the netherworld, because I don't know, and if I gave an answer, I would only be speculating. It just does. Drinking caffeine has no effect on dead souls one way or another. You can drink a quintuple espresso shot mocha and it won't make your insomnia any better or worse. Starbucks is open "24/7," and they are crowded with customers, who have plenty of time to kill. Often the music from radio station KDED gets piped in, and the volume is always turned up, making the place very noisy. Filled with talk, rumors and gossip, Starbucks in Limbo truely functions as the "Third Place," mostly because there's not much going about the first two places. And if it is true that the dead souls in Limbo have no hope, at least they've been extended the small mercy of having Starbucks.
Everybody is dying to know the answer to the big question on everyone's mind: "Is there sex in Limbo?" I regret that some people will be disappointed beyond measure by my response and consequently will think ill of me and decry my veracity; nonetheless, I must bear the duty of dispassionately reporting the facts regarding the netherworld, and Limbo in particular, whatsoever they may be. Now some old goats, such as the infamous Hugh Hefner, who's bound to kick the bucket any day now, should they arrive in Limbo will be flabbergasted at the solemn vindication of my report, as well as any Mormons who were exaltedly expecting for all æviternity to beget interminable celestial progeny who would then inhabit innumerable planets as gods and goddesses—much like Mount Olympus on blue pills. I know the news might be shocking, but sex doesn't happen in Limbo, none whatsoever. That's nada across the board I must say, notwithstanding the brickbats I'm bound to receive from pugnacious political activists who prioritize these matters under the category of "orientation" or "identity," and who cannot imagine that things could ever be different.
The process that separates the soul from its dusty, earthy body also extirpates all libido from the soul, much like snuffing out a candle which then produces a bit of smoke. Nothing remains except vague recollections as if the dead were trying to remember the details of a dream that had faded from its memory many years ago. So it is with subject of sex. Nobody in Limbo thinks about it or talks about it, mainly because they feel bored to death about the whole matter. If you were to try to raise up a saucy conversation about sex in a netherworld Starbucks, whoever you were talking with would start yawning and irritably want to change the subject to something more interesting.
On the other hand, in Limbo a dead soul's ears would perk up with acute interest if the subject were about finding gainful employment, for the high unemployment rate in Limbo beats anything in socialist Europe, or the worst imaginable in Recession Era America. The dead are always anxious to find something to do. And at Starbucks, you'll hear plenty about "getting a job" on everybody's lips. Hecate, the short name for the chthonic corporation mentioned before, does run an employment agency whose offices, scattered around Limbo, are always crowded with dead souls checking the bulletin boards for any job openings. Occasionally, an opening will turn up for street sweeping, garbage collecting, roof repairing, oil refining, or grunt work as a cashier, stockboy, or "greeter" at Hec-Mart. And every so often, job openings do become available at the Hecate's "Haunting Fabrication" subsidiary. There the dead, after a period of intensive preliminary training, get work as ghosts haunting various locations up in the Outerworld. The jobs pay well but aren't as exciting as you might imagine. They requires tedious duties such as parading around in heavy makeup and uncomfortable costumes, moaning and groaning at fixed locations and weird hours, and strictly adhering to carefully predetermined scripts and protocols. For example, if you're really lucky, you might get a stint dressed up in a Tudor English costume portraying someone like Sir Walter Raleigh or Anne Boleyn, and trudge around the gloomy hallways of the Tower of London, carrying your head in your arms, and wailing and making a bunch of ruckus. Believe me, such a job is much drearier than you can imagine, and there is a high turn-over rate. But it's more likely, if you do get a job as a ghost, that you'll end up portraying some obscure nobody at a far worse location with awful weather. Hecate does provide the feedstock for various Outerworld "paranormal investigators." But for the dead, spending hours late at night in a cold graveyard, for example, repeatedly jabbering the same stupid things into somebody's EVP tape recorder, gets to be pure drudgery. Most of the dead quit the job after a week or two.