Archive for May, 2010

Lost in contemplation over the fate of my fellow humans and friends, I did not notice that Astley had stopped short until I ran into the back of him, stumbling as I went.

“Why did you stop, poet?”

“This you must see. Look, Kaos.”

Annoyed, I followed his gaze to see what he was looking at. My jaw dropped as I stared ahead into what seemed to be nothing. A tremendous gorge ahead of us made me quickly realize that we were standing on a massive cliff that overlooked the Eighth Circle. Winds whistled around us as I snuck forward a bit to stare into the abyss. A rough hand on my shoulder pulled me back and Astley looked at me, disapproving.

“I wouldn’t. Come with me. Our transport is here.”


“Yes. You did not think that we were going to climb down ourselves, did you?”


“Good. Barkoff! We are ready to go.”

A drumming of giant wings tore through the sky as a massive creature landed on the cliff in front of us. Its face was normal, if a bit off-puttingly human but its body was covered in dried blood. The tail of the creature, on the other hand, appeared to be made of another human excretory substance that I would rather not think about. According to Astley, this was Barkoff, our method of reaching the Eighth Circle. He represented – in his words – the entirety of the circle, being made of humanity but also of violence and of excretion. Gingerly, I hopped on his back, hoping that my clothes would remain pristine. It was not to be. A long glide later, we landed at the gate of the Eighth Circle, my outfit grimy with brownish-red. Astley simply thanked our guide and led me to the entrance.

“And what now, guide?”

“We are about to enter the Eighth Circle, though it is known by another name. The Tortoanneli, or ‘twisted rings’. Those who are guilty of deliberately and knowingly frequenting unsavory websites are condemned to these rings, separated into ditches by their most prevalent site. The lack of value that these creatures placed on human lives is why they are down here so low in this kingdom. Yet our journey is aided by the presence of bridges linking the rings. All we must do is pass through them all. Let us not tarry. The bloodlust here is quite high.”

We entered the first Anello – as Astley called it – with much trepidation. There before us, misery ran not free, but in one long line. Hundreds of thousands of souls walked in a circle, with faceless, hideous creatures whipping them unceasingly. Aside from the cries of the damned, there was no sound. The creatures holding the whips said nothing, only used their weapons well.

“These souls here in the first frequented the site known as Stile Project. Dedicated to simple lack of morality, the site used human misery to drive traffic from a sick corner of the Internet to their site, providing them money and ad space and even merchandising and a forum later on. So then must their punishment be equal: they will be driven by those souls that were not given a face or a voice that they exploited. To the next ring, friend.”

The second Anello made me wince as I entered. The rank stench of human excreta was overpowering. Even Astley, shade though he was, used a handkerchief to cover his nose. To my horror, I could see what this ring entailed. Every soul there was standing, roasting in the filth, bemused looks on their faces. They could not speak, could not laugh, could not cry. They were allowed, it seemed, no facial reaction whatsoever to their plight.

“These here indulged their taste for human waste through their patronage – and forwarding – of the video known as ‘2 Girls, 1 Cup’. I am beginning to feel a tad ill, so may we continue on without examining why they steep in waste?”

“And why can they not react to what happens to them?” I asked, fearful of the answer.

“Many of them used the video to shock and horrify friends and loved ones. They are thus denied in eternity the ability to create those reactions they once lusted for. Let us continue, please.”

The bridge to the third Anello was rickity but we made it across without a problem. In this ring, all the souls were placed headfirst into what appeared to be solid stone. Yet, blood seeped from the stone and their cries of pain were unending. Upon closer examination, the bottoms of their feet were sliced to ribbons and salt was rubbed into the wounds, never melted, always grinding away.

“Rotten dot com, my friend. They froze their faces in amusement as they looked upon the death and pain and sorrow of so many other souls. They did not allow themselves to see the humanity in the bodies, simply revelling in the gore. Worse yet, the pictures on the website were taken from many private sources which gave these creatures the ability to feed off of the pain of the families, amplifying it through the knowledge that the Internet had such personal material. Thus their feet are slashed – the familial anguish in physical form – and salt rubbed into the wound – proper amplification in themselves. Let us walk, friend.”

The fourth Anello was filled with those who walked around the ring backwards, their heads violently twisted backwards, their spines unrealistically warped and bent. Even with their walking backwards, they ran into each other, refusing to acknowledge the presence of others. They simply walked in a foot or so of blood, ignoring all that occurred around them.

“Similar to those from Rotten, these who loved Ogrish suffer as well. They turned their heads away from the realism behind such videos as those released showing the murder of various Americans or foreigners on-camera by terrorists or even the death of the wicked Saddam Hussein. They turned from acknowledging the humanity of those in the videos, instead seeing such atrocities as entertainment or even water cooler talk amongst other violent friends. They will not see another human being down here, though they will run into them as they walk forever in the blood they so loved in life. Such is their fate. And may we move on?

The fifth Anello, friends, was much different. As we crossed the bridge, we were met by a troop of winged beasts, their leader sneering at us as it towered over us.

“Welcome travellers,” the monster hissed, “I am Tortocuore, the leader of the Tortomento. You are in our realm now.”

“We understand, Tortocuare. We only wish to pass through,” Astley spoke, no trace of fear in his voice.

“Ah yes. We have heard of your travels and wish not to detain you. I shall send some of my finest with you to provide you safe passage to the sixth Anello. I insist. It would be our pleasure.”

“We accept your offer. Let us continue, Kaos, lest we remain here longer than we must.”

As we walked the path, the beasts flying lazily above us, I noticed that the souls in this ring were covered with and thrashing in pools of what looked to be boiling tar. Their screams bubbled forth from the tar and made me a little queasy. I spoke as quick as I could to Astley to ignore the sounds and begged him to reveal these sins.

“These here are as bad as the others, yet they committed greater sin. You see, they were the damned that would purchase – actually purchase – the videos known as ‘Faces of Death’ and host them on websites for the world to see. They not only paid money for human suffering on video, but paid money as well to spread and disseminate such suffering around the world. For these transgressions, they boil forever in the tar, which symbolizes how their hands are sticky with human blood, having made it more prevalent across the Internet. Ah, we have arrived at…there is no bridge.”


Astley was quite correct. There was no bridge to the sixth Anello. We seemed to be trapped. A laugh erupted from the sky as Tortocuore swooped in, his teeth now bared and sharper than physically possible.

“What is the meaning of this, demon?”

“Oh, a thousand apologies, travellers. We have decided that we would in fact be more our pleasure if you would stay here, damned for all eternity, your flesh flayed from your bones daily by my poor, hungry soldiers. You would not deny them a fresh meal, would you? That would simply be selfish of you.”

“This treachery will not remain unnoted, monster.”

“But it shall, poet. But it shall. You are free to attack now, my friends.”

In what seemed to only be a mere moment, Astley shoved me as hard as he could towards the edge of this ring. I felt my body tip and begin to roll – out of control – down the hill. Yet after a few minutes, I reached flat ground once more and stood up shakily. Astley was there. He looked at me, sighed and gave a small, tired smile. For the moment, we were safe.

My eyes began to focus slowly as I was gently helped to my feet. Astley was there, looking a little annoyed at me. Without a word, I shrugged. With a sigh, he explained what happened. Evidently, when I had become overcome by noxious fumes, as would any living soul, Astley had actually carried me over his shoulder down the monstrous slope from the Sixth Circle to the Seventh before – in his words – throwing my irritatingly weak body to the ground.

“Are you able to journey further, friend?”

“Yes…yes. I just…the fumes were so…strong. I could not maintain my senses.”

“Of course. Gas does tend to do harm to those with weak constitutions. I am glad I was there to keep you safe. Let us continue. The entrance to the Seventh Circle is just ahead.”

And indeed it was. Unfortunately, our progress was somewhat hampered by the presence of the massive beast standing in front of the gateway to the circle. The creature stood quite tall and hideous brays erupted from its mouth, teeth large, blunted and wide. Large horns tore holes through the dirty blonde mane of the creature and, worst of all, its entire upper half was covered in the same dirty fur. The lower body, however, was that of a man, feet filthy and bruised, genitalia swinging free like a pendulum.

“This…what is this?”

“Pay it no heed, Kaos. The Buseytaur serves no actual purpose here other than to welcome us to this Seventh Circle. You may walk by it unmolested. Or rather, unharmed.”

“I am not sure I like that change of phrasing.”

“Just walk quickly and ignore anything you might feel.”

We sped by and I cannot say with any certainty to this day that I did not feel a breeze pass by my backside. However, we were past the monster and through the gates of the Seventh Circle. I was surprised to note that once we passed through this particular gate, there was not the characteristic blast of loud, horrific noise nor that of flashing, gaudy lights. Instead, there was only another smaller wrought-iron set of doors with a large “1” emblazoned upon it.

“What is this, poet? I was expecting an influx of confusion and pain. Not…a simple door.”

“Peace, friend. These doors merely act as walls between the three rings of this circle. Each group has its separate sins and must be punished accordingly, unable to interact with other groups. Through this door is the first of the three.”

“And who dwells in these three rings?”

“The first group is made of those who find sexual pleasure in violence against other people, consensual or not. The second are those who find it in violence against themselves. The final group is made of those perverts who achieve stimulation through violence against nature itself. By these crimes, they are judged.”

“And we must enter?”

“We must.”

“Of course. Lead the way.”

As we passed through the door, a curious bleach-like smell struck my nostrils. Looking around, I was horrified at what befell my eyes. A long winding river twisted and turned through the entirety of the ring, yet none but Censors – large, hooved creatures wearing crisp white shirts and black ties – stood upon the shores. The damned souls of this ring were instead immersed in this river to varying depths. Those that attempted to leave the river – I cannot call what they sat in water as it was more akin to the color and texture of male emissions – were struck down by what appeared to be arrows by the Censors on command of their leader, Clintahn.

“Their punishment?”

“These are the beings that prowled the Internet for much of the worst pornography. They not only delighted but demanded violent sex. Choking women was a favorite. As was their gagging due to deep, forceful face-intercourse. As was faked – or not so faked – rape scenarios. Ultimately, consent did not take as a concern. The sex was not their end-goal. That was the debasement and humiliation of anyone else. The sexual aspect was just – in their terms – a form of gravy. They will remain in this river of seed – the River Phlegizzthon – drowning in sticky at a level equal to their sins forever. This way. Our ferry awaits.”

Just up ahead, a Censor waited for us. Astley informed me his name was Naysus and he would lead us to the second ring. Carefully, I entered the ferry and within a few minutes, he had moved us down the river and across a ford that had been set up further down the course of the flow. Right beside the ford was the entrance to the second ring, which I walked through quite quickly, as the concept of what was occurring in this first ring struck me fully and nauseated me. Through the door, though, was an entirely different sight.

We emerged into a great forest, the branches high and choking out the sun. As we walked, the forest was deathly still. No sign of life anywhere could be heard or seen. Nothing but tree after tree surrounded us.

“I see no souls here, poet.”

“Look closely. They do not dwell in the forest.”

“…they are the forest.”

“Yes. These that have become the trees have given away their bodies through self-harm. Many ways did this take place. Take this first tree. This used to be a famous actor, David Carradine. Beloved for his portrayal of the Tarantino villain Bill. However, through the Internet, he was taught the ways of auto-erotic asphyxiation – choking oneself to achieve a more powerful orgasm. Unfortunately, his life left his body when he failed to adhere to warnings provided.”

“How horrible.”

“Truly you are correct. Look ahead. The forest is ending. There is a clearing.”

“But the clearing is not empty.”

“You are correct. Do you see those shades running back and forth, being chased?”

“Why yes. They look…they look as if they have mental problems.”

“Correct once again. They are those that populated the Internet and dedicated their presence to glorifying the travesty known as Twilight. Their cries and insistence on being noticed crippled dozens – if not hundreds – of Internet forums. Their fly-by-night grammar and bombastic refusal to accept any form of criticism for either themselves or their demigod created tears in the structural integrity of not only the Net, but the universe itself. For their transgressions, they are damned to be chased forever by werewolves – that which they despised – as they burn in sunlight as true vampires – their heroes – should. Let us pass them quickly as they deserve none of our attention.”

“But their howls?”

“Not pain. The first shrieks and cracks of puberty. Forward, friend.”

Soon enough, another door appeared before us and, afraid of being consumed by the rabid fanatics behind us – growing steadily in terror and number, we moved through it into a new plain, this one a vast landscape of fiery sand and desert, flames falling from the sky in flakes. Groups walked around, crying and weeping while others sat on the sand, moping and looking morose.

“The violent against nature?”

“Yes, friend. Those who sit on the sand took advantage of the least of us on earth – the animals – using the Internet to arrange such encounters and even to open websites and forums dedicated to such a foul activity. The worst of them even videotaped their perversion and posted the results online. These beastialists must now sit on the sand, their genitalia buried and roasting, unable to move or obtain an erection for even brief relief.”

“And those that wander aimlessly?”

“They are those who searched high and low on the Internet for some way to relieve their lust for sodomy.”

“But videos with that particular fetish stretch across the entirety of the Net! Many normal humans wish to engage in that activity. Look! There on the horizon. There is Pred3000! And there is Raybestos! Are they damned as well?”

“They necessarily must be. They have committed – or wished to commit – violence against nature. With active sex lives, they surely could have become contented with simple normal intercourse in various positions. They unfortunately became too greedy and now must wander the sands aimlessly, as their emissions wandered unfamiliar territory within their partners.”

“Let us leave this place, poet, for I am aggrieved at seeing those close to me in this Hell.”

“Hell is not pretty, my fellow traveller. It is a place of the damned. But yes, we shall leave. Our journey is not yet completed.”

The door out of the Seventh Circle came upon us quickly and we went through it just as quickly, though I must admit I looked back one last time upon the wandering forms of my friends and fellow writers. My heart broke but I knew I needed to continue. I would not forget what their presence did to me, readers. I never shall.

Lightning sundered the sky above us as the walls of the city, cracked and filthy gray, created a jagged horizon. Vents dotting the ground spewed noxious gases, the cores of the vents glowing a malevolent red. The path on which we walked wound serpentine through an obscene mockup of what appeared to be city streets. I walked more closely to Astley than before, concerned about some shade reaching from the shadows and pulling me into nothingness. I wished to quiz my guide on this Sixth Circle but fear locked my voice deep in my throat. He, as usual, needed no word from me.

“We have entered the City of Diss, friend. As we walk, be mindful of our surroundings. A false step could lead to an eternity of plummeting through this place. Stay fast to me. I will be careful. We have now entered the Sixth Circle, though only near the entrance. Let us go deeper so that you may experience the true depth of this level of sin.”

I am not proud of what I did, but it must be said. To ensure my safety, I softly held onto the sleeve of my guide, as if a small child frightened in a shopping mall or a zoo. A quick, amused glance from Astley was all I saw before turning away, ashamed. Stifling a laugh, he motioned forward to me.

“Look, the first members of this circle are up just ahead.”

“Who lives in this circle, poet?”

“Those who in life were desperate for attention.”

“As those in the earlier circles were?”

“No. Those wished only that people would notice them, say good or bad things to them. A weaker, less intense form of attention. These that dwell here wish for…personal attention. Less verbal and more…physical attention.”

“As in fighting?”

“As in sexually engaging.”

“Ah, well surely this circle cannot contain ALL those who are desperate for sexual attention. Nearly…all of the planet, really, are in that frame of mind much of the time.”

“Yes, but not all of the planet prowls the Internet like rabid beasts seeking it from strangers.”

“Point duly noted. Who are those then?”

I gestured to a massive pile of grotesque naked flesh writhing and pulsating near the edge of the path. Muffled moans and grunts emanated from the inside of the pile. The more clearly I looked, the more horrified I became. The pile was not just random. It was a conglomeration of legs and lips and breasts and behinds and other less savory body parts. Attached to the occasional breast was a suckling child. I heaved involuntarily.

“Those are the online daters. They are less reprehensible than the rest, normally. They ache for sex, yes, but also for companionship and love. Unfortunately, their life choices to the point where they signed up to date online were what we shall call poor. They would get married and pop out their brood before being divorced two years later by their rurally-based Marine high school boyfriends. After a few years of raising their children alone, they miss the touch of a man and thus enter the online world to find some person that will accept her and her child as a viable partner, making sure to mention in every essay that they are not looking for a father for their child, though they surely are. Their sheer desperation has warped them and drawn them together into one giant mass, never to be alone again for the rest of time.”

“And what of the males who join online dating websites?”

“Sexual predators all. Let us move on.”

We walked a little further and found before us a giant conference room filled with large men and women staring at each other, all seeming very uncomfortable. Occasional coughs and sniffs were the only sounds to fill the air. The overwhelming quiet created an atmosphere of supreme awkwardness.

“Poet,” I asked, careful to keep my voice to a whisper, “who are these that stand here so silent?”

“These are the Craigslist perusers. While those who date online have low standards, those who search for intercourse on Craiglist have those that much lower. Of course, they lie as well when describing their physical attributes, creating a cycle of untruth. This could not stand down here. They cannot hear or see us, so we may depart quickly. They are doomed simply to wrestle with their deflated and unmet expectations forever, unable to broach the subject of the lie they see for fear for exposing their own. Come. We have one more group to see.”

That last crowd of damned souls were just a few steps down from the last, but were noticeable as soon as we left the first. Their screams pierced the air, making me wince. As we entered their area, I could see why. Every one of them, every single one, had his or her crotch lit aflame, the fire never dying or subsiding.

“What are the sins of these poor souls?”

“These have lacked the subtlety of even Craiglist in their pursuit of sex. They plainly went for those oh-so-prevalent groups online that promise nothing but random sex with random strangers. Their lack of decorum has damned them to have that which they valued so little licked by tongues of fire, an appropriate metaphor as well. If I may also have one more moment of your time, friend?”

“Of course.”

“What we shall experience in the final three circles is much different than what we have seen so far. The last three are made of components – three, ten, and four, respectively – and are darker in tone than what we have been through. While these six have been the realm of the self-serving, the last are…malicious. They seek not to serve their own needs but to hurt others. What they wish is pain and agony, not simple affirmation of their selves. These are the ones that do harm on the Internet. We must be careful. We must be wary. We must watch over ourselves lest we be pulled down into their worlds. Be warned, traveller. You now remain in constant danger. Now, let us depart.”

With a deep breath to calm my nerves, I followed Astley as we began to descend. The smell was overwhelming. I was overtaken and felt my senses leave me. There was nothing.

After briefly indulging our more base instincts – entirely away from each other, mind you – Astley and I continued our venture onwards towards the Fifth Circle. Though I asked of Astley numerous times what we would be seeing, he ignored me, content to walk in silence. Annoyed, I glanced around me. A long, gray expanse greeted my vision, studded occasionally with broken, desecrated monuments. I opened my mouth to ask what they were but Astley interrupted me before I could begin.

“Look, traveler. We hasten towards our next encounter. Stay steadfast.”

My stomach twisted and turned, a snake inside me, as we walked towards the long and winding river in front of us. Lightning seared the sky above us as blackness surrounded all that existed. I looked ahead and was afraid. There, standing on the shore, was another boatman, grasping his oar – curiously similar in appearance to a golf ball retriever – and looking sullen and bored.

“Poet, what do I gaze upon?”

“Have peace, Kaos. The vast stretch of water that you see is the mighty River REO Speedwagon. That is, my friend, in fact the Fifth Circle as you soon shall see. And the boatman who shall take us across, Ghyslain Raza, is…we shall call him competent at best.”

“He looks quite familiar. Ho there, boat man?”


“I have seen you on the Internet, have I not? Your portly exterior seems to trigger a memory from long ago. Perhaps from the year of our Lord two-thousand and two?”

“Oui. I am, how you say, ze Star Wars Kid.”

“My gracious! You are! I laughed for ages at your awkward, stumbling acrobatics.”

“I see. Well, I do not wish to ferry you across the river now. My feelings are so gravely hurt.”

Astley gave me a withering glare and I shrank back, a bit ashamed. He pushed me roughly out of the way and began to speak quietly to our ferryman. Feeling unwanted, I peered into the river, curious at what I would see. To my horror, souls thrashed deep beneath the surface of the river. What flowed to and fro as far as I could see was not water. To the best of my knowledge, it appeared to be a mixture of printer’s ink and pen ink. Worried, I attempted to speak to my guide.

“Astley! What is…”

“Kaos! Mind your tongue, friend. I am attempting to curry this young man’s favor so that we may cross this damned place. Stay out of it for now, please.”

He turned back and I stared back into the water. From time to time, sheets of paper would float to the surface. The next time one appeared, I swiftly grabbed it from the flow of the river and began to read. What I saw – thankfully only a sentence fragment or two – was terrifying beyond belief.

n den da Denver Bronces pinned Harryy Potter 2 da floor and began 2 slowly remov his cloths. ‘No no’ Hary cried, but dey woudn’t lissen. Frm they’re shorts they pulld out there pen wan DIKS and startd 2 rub dem on him

Horrified, I threw the paper back into the ink, my hands soiled with wet blackness and unimaginable talentless shame. Astley called to me and motioned me over.

“He has agreed to take us ‘cross the REO Speedwagon, albeit reluctantly. Come, let us depart before he changes his mind or you let loose your tongue once more.”

Slightly offended and cowed, I stepped onto the boat – watching my feet this time – and sat down. Astley and our ferryman soon followed, the boatman pushing off from the shore with his oar. Our boat slid quietly through the blackness below us. Troubled, I watched the figures below the surface gurgle and fight.

“My friend, what troubles you so?”

“I do not know what the sins of these souls are, but I have seen what they produce and it weighs heavy on my heart.”

“Ah yes. I have not explained to you as of yet what those in the Fifth Circle have done. Kaos, those that wallow beneath the swirling ink are what were known in life as fanfic writers.”

“Fan fic?”

“Fan fiction. These writers – for lack of a term less verbose than ‘rapists of canon and the English language’ – have transmitted all their darkest fantasies onto countless reams of paper and gigabytes of Word and Notepad documents. They see all media as their personal literary playground. No character is safe from the terrible penstroke of the fanficker.”

“What do you mean?”

“An example, if I may. You are in life a self-proclaimed geek, correct?”

“Yes. I am not ashamed.”

“As you should not be. You, though, as a geek, would never have pictured in your most violently unpleasant dreams a scenario where, say, Chewbacca has forcible intercourse with Han Solo’s cavities as Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker fornicate on the burned and bloody corpse of Darth Vader, yes?”

“That is a vile idea to even conceptualize!”

“It exists in the minds of fanfickers. They not only can imagine such a horrid situation, they not only write down such awfulness, they in fact use these mental images as fodder for their most secret and deplorable sessions of inserting their overweight, grubby fingers into unmentionable personal regions.”

“Lord Almighty, give me strength.”

“The Lord does not exist in the lives of these miserable creatures. They wallow only in their pursuit of the almighty Mary Sue.”

“Mary Sue?”

“Self-insertion, not of the physical kind such as with produce and overly expensive clear purple phalli, but in a literary sense of the writer into the canon of a series. Star Trek, Star Wars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Harry Potter, Twilight, The Crow, WWE, True Blood, any superheroes you can think of. The list runs as long as you would dare to imagine. If it exists in the world, it has been Mary-Sued by someone.”

“And their fate?”

“They are damned to suffer beneath the surface of all the collective ink that has been shed due to their indiscretions. Though you cannot see from above them, all they see is the object of their greatest desire – oftentimes Captain Kirk – sitting just outside their grasp, just sitting and waiting for them to be touched. They never shall be.”

“I cannot feel bad, I am afraid.”

“As can nobody that has a sense of moral judgement, friend. You are not alone.”

The rest of the boat ride was met with quiet contemplation. What sins had I committed? Were they worse than these? Lost in thought, I did not notice we had reached the other shore until Astley shook me out of my thoughts.

“Kaos, we have arrived at the City of Diss. Come. We must depart.”

In front of our eyes was a tremendous wall, reaching upwards into the sky, tearing a hole in the atmosphere. The gates of the city stood before us, massive stone and iron-wrought, the faces of thousands of demons carved intricately into the surface of the material. Surrounding the city were thick, watery marshes, unmentionable stench emanated from them.

Quietly, Astley whispered in my ear.

“The Stablyn Marshes. Do not set foot in them. They will consume you. Come, friend.”

My groin clenched in terror but Astley led me forward, a kindly hand on my back. In front of the gates stood dozens of figures, all fallen from favor on the Internet. We approached and their spears moved quickly to attention. Astley attempted to speak.

“Fallen soldiers, let us enter so that we may…”

“No!” the multitude echoed in unison, “None may enter the City of Diss who live on Earth! In here dwell those sins that require active thought! Begone poet! Begone Kaos! Leave this place for you are unwelcome!”



The roar from the crowd was deafening. I stumbled back, my balance teetering. Approaching me, threatening me, were horrid spectres. Angry random YouTubers – Furies – and Tila Tequila, her hair now naught but a mass of snakes, moved towards me, hissing and spitting, their foulness menacing my very being. Then, from on high, a figure clad all in white floated down, a flaming sword in her gnarled hand. She landed between us, white light pouring from her. When she spoke, the very ground rumbled, though the voice itself was quieter and craggy.

“I am Betty White, darling of the Internet and one of God’s angels! You creatures! You beasts! Move aside and allow these travellers to pass through the gates of the city! You have no right – no power – to prevent such a holy journey! Stand down!”

Reluctantly, the crowd parted and the angel – sword in hand – reached the door, touching it with the sword which greatly resembled a TV remote. The gates swung open, the angel looked at me and smiled, and in a burst of light, she disappeared. Quietly and quickly, Astley and I moved through the grumbling crowd and through the gates of the city.

I was now in the City of Diss.

Resolving myself to not being surprised upon entry to the Fourth Circle as the other three had been, I queried Astley on the long, dusty road between that which we had left behind and that which we were moving towards. He seemed a tad uncomfortable, which was rare from what I had see from him. Usually, he was gregarious and happy and perhaps a little cheesy, but still wise and comforting. Thus, his behavior struck me as odd yet I did not waver in my questioning.

“Poet, what may we expect as we approach the Fourth Circle?”

“Friend, we are encountering – in the next four rings – those who are obsessed with that which the Internet provides in such immeasurable quantity: sexuality.”

“Four circles dedicated thusly? That hardly seems to be an appropriate number, especially when one circle alone could suffice.”

“It is not up to me – or you – to judge. Circles Four and Five – the former which we shall enter soon – hold those with passive sexuality. Six and Seven – located within the City of Diss – hold those with active sexuality.”

“The difference being?”

“In time, Kaos. In time it will be explained. For now, less us enter the Fourth Circle. Squint your eyes, friend. I do not wish you to go blind.”

“Why would I?”

“Do not question me on this. For your own sake, do so now.”

I determined that my guide was not being facetious or merely wishing to see me appear as if I were French Stewart or a racist caricature of an Asian. I squinted and Heaven help me, I was glad I did. As we walked through the entrance, the room around me virtually exploded in violent purples and pinks and greens and neons of every conceivable shade – including black which unto that point had remained a mystery to me. Loud throbbing techno muffled all but the most high-pitched squeals, all of which emanated from the corridor in front of us. Lining the corridor were a multitude of glass windows, all containing women – and a sparse number of men – in various stages of dress and undress. They writhed and moaned and ground their perfectly purchased breasts and behinds and genitalia against the glass in front of them. Standing before all the windows were thousands upon thousands of men, all weeping quietly.

“Why do these men weep so, poet?”

“Gaze upon them. Do you notice what they are lacking?”

I could not but upon further review, the sight was horrifying. All the men had had their hands and feet removed and their mouths sewn shut.

“How horrible!”

“Indeed. The Fourth Circle contains those who would indulge in pornography to an enormous extent. These men you see before you dedicated their lives to the pursuit of pornographic pleasure, setting aside all else and spamming the Internet with their low-grade smut. Their punishment is to be faced with the very objects of their desire, right in front of their eyes. Yet, they have no possible way to masturbate. Not with their hands or feet. Not setting aside their homophobia and using their mouths on another. Even their excretory cavities have been closed off to the world. They sit, projections quivering, but release shall never come.”

“Eternal indigo of their groins. How awful.”

“Truly a horrific fate. Come, we must go deeper. You have yet to see the others that populate this circle, the yin and the yang. The polar opposites. The wasteful and the hoarders.”

“Those sound like actual sins, Astley.”

“Indeed they are. Look. See the two sides of the purchasing coin.”

In the middle of the room we had entered stood two large groups of men, one pushing the left edge of a massive credit card through a scanner, the other pushing the other way. I attempted to speak to them but none responded.

“Why can they not acknowledge my presence?”

“They cannot hear you. They are caught in an endless struggle. On the left, those who had money in life, yet still insisted on downloading or torrenting pornography from pirate programs such as Kazaa or Limewire. They intentionally deprived the industry and the professionals of their hard-earned money. Those that gave them so much pleasure had their livelihoods damaged by these thieves who refused to give up money for paid content. On the right, those who had no money to spend on such frivilous things, yet subscribed to dozens of paysites, foregoing food or diapers for their young or even a water bill in order to feed their lustful cravings. Even in the face of mounting poverty, they paid hundreds of dollars a month for pornography. Nobody would begrudge THEM a download or two. Yet still they paid all they had. For their sins, they are damned to swipe – or prevent from being swiped – the credit card for all eternity, neither side bending, neither side relenting until it has been moved. It shall never be moved.”

“Such strange fortunes these men suffer.”

“Fortunes they may be. Lady Fortune is a fickle creature. In the span of weeks or months, she may bestow upon a website clip after clip of wonderful, brilliant, high-quality pornography. Asian, interracial, lesbian. It matters not. The quality will be impeccable, the downloads swift, the buffering instantaneous. The site shall become the Mecca for those who wish to masturbate. Entire aisles of Kleenex will be bought and sold on the back of the site. But then she will turn on them. There will be no reason involved. Suddenly all that will come across the site will be grainy, amateur and filled with BBWs. Men will recoil in horror at the vast expanse of chest hair on the males and will click away to a different site. Soon, the few remaining good videos will be removed due to copyright violation and the site shall die. From bits they come. To bytes they die. And so does Lady Fortune weave her tale across the Internet. So it shall always be.”

“That was quite eloquent.”

“And so it should have been. Come. Let us enjoy the fruits that this circle has given us. Though the damned may not indulge themselves on those women in the windows, there is nothing that prevents us from doing so.”

And so it was. And so we did.

Flames whipped the air as Astley and I entered the portal to the Third Circle. The air around us became foul and hot, oppressive in its magnitude. Sweat beaded on my brow and began to pour in small rivulets down my back. Astley maintained his stoic expression, the only movement of his face a small twitch in the corner of his mouth. For whatever reason, this inflamed my temper, some dark, violent corner of my heart perking up and fueling my action.

“Poet, do you take pleasure in my heated agony? How dare you?”

“Welcome to the Third Circle, Kaos. Calm your anger well, hold fast to a cooler persona, or this circle shall swallow you whole, your journey remaining forever incomplete. Here, in this damned place, dwell those whose rage ignites the Internet. Those who infect message boards and various other websites with their unwarranted vitriol. Those who tread not lightly on common decency in their pursuit of attention. They want nothing but others looking at them, uncaring whether it is in a positive or negative way. They are the assholes.”

My heart sank as we began the trek up the hill in front of us. I had encountered men and women such as these on my travails before. They were miserable people, only interested in gaining the notice of others. They destroyed videos and message boards and websites in that search. They remained only concerned with what they could gain, not the feelings and desires of the rest of the Internet. “Self-centered” was too soft and weak a phrase to describe them. “Asshole” only barely covered it as well.

“How quickly may we pass through this place, Astley?” I queried. “I have been here before, on Earth, and I care not for it.”

“Soon, friend. We must first pass the Great Beast.”

“The Great Beast. You have mentioned this Beast before. What is this creature? Is it more fearful than the shades we will experience?”

“Yes. The Great Beast guards the path into the Third Circle. It has been tasked by God to separate the innocuous attention-seekers from the malicious. Its three heads bark at all those who enter, devouring those who deserve not the punishment of the lower circles. Stay fast, traveler. We have arrived.”

As I began to respond to Astley, we crested the hill and my words caught in my throat, frozen in terror by the monstrosity in front of us. Terrible and awe-inspiring, the creature stood thirty feet tall, its paws the size of Buicks with claws like broadswords, its tail a massive thrashing snake. Most horrifying of all were the three heads anchored on muscled necks, the left small, screaming and effeminate, the right pink-haired and obnoxious and the middle a shrouded black mass, the only features being flashing eyes – as if lightbubs – and a slavering, foaming mouth constantly pouring what appeared to be libel made liquid. I sunk to my knees, afeared.

“Behold. Cerebraless.”

“What manner of evil is this leviathan?”

“To the left, the head of Chris Crocker, no longer male or female, but a gibbering mess of androgyny and heterophobia. To the right, that of Perez Hilton, always judging and condemning those with a modicum of taste and civility that pass through here. And in the middle, the most terrifying of all and the most powerful, the horrifying visage of TMZ made flesh, libeling and blinding all for eternity. This creature we must pass to further our descent into Hell.”

“But how, poet? How may we defeat Cerebraless, so daunting an obstacle?”

“We must fill its mouths to prevent it devouring us. Stay here, Kaos. I shall return.

I watched Astley as he approached the creature. All of its eyes were on him. I could not hear what he said but the inflammatory nature was immediately clear as the creature bucked, reared and began to belch a thick, muddy brown substance at Astley. More quickly than I could barely recognize, he projected a shield that diverted the material back into their mouths. Cerebraless began to choke and cough and thrash about. Astley called to me, gesturing wildly to the now open path behind the monster.

“Quickly, my friend! We must depart before the creature clears its throats!”

With wild abandon, I ran, knowing my fate if I failed to reach the path in time. When all appeared clear, I stopped to breathe, bent over, my body unused to such strenuous physical labor. Before I could stand upright, Astley appeared next to me, smiling a small grin.

“What did you make happen, poet?”

“I simply ignited their rage with a certain ‘f’ word and, when they began to spew their usual fecal emissions at me, I redirected the output back into their mouths, choking them with hypocrisy. Cerebraless will survive, but it shall be cowed for a few months. More than enough time for us to leave this circle. Come. We must quickly move through this place before it is discovered what we have done.”

“What WE have done? Poet, you…”

“Yes, what we have done. Come. Just over this rise is the expanse of the Third Circle.”

I held my tongue, unwilling to let Astley provoke me. I stewed silently until we reached the top of the next hill in front of us. In front of me was a vast plain filled with anguished souls screaming in futile rage.

“Who are these that live here? You mentioned the assholes, but there are so many in so many places throughout the Internet. Surely they cannot all reside in this place. Not when there are so many others.”

“No. Three primary groups dwell in the middle of the plain, soaking in a pit of liquid fire. The rest, scattered all over, are unimportant as they sparsely populate all places. Those in the pit are concentrated. Let us see them now.”

We weaved our way through the myraid of souls fighting around us, throwing punches that did not connect with anything, yelling into the aether. The pit, as Astley has labeled it, was exactly as he has described. Fire swirled around the groups mingling far down below us, all furious, all hating.

“And these groups? Where did they reside on Earth?”

“This mass consists of three groups: those that lived on YouTube, those that lived on IMDb and those that played online video games, primarily Xbox and PC. The YouTubers are damned to becoming the focus of their hate on Earth. The racists are now black, Asian, Latino, or Caucasian, unable to condemn others for the color of their skin. The homophobes have become homosexuals, thirsting for the genitalia they so scorned on Earth. The extreme politicizers have switched parties and are made to endure slanted speech against their beliefs. The atheists are forced to listen to church services on end. And so on.”

“And yet I see two redheads that I favored on Earth – Meekakitty and Ella Morton – thrashing down there as well! They did no wrong on Earth!”

“So their fans are, so shall they be judged. Ignoring hate speech damns you as much as those that speak it.”

“And the IMDbers?”

“That depends on their outlook. Those that flooded the boards with concern over the morality of clearly violent or sexual or controversial movies are forced to watch them with children of pre-pubescent age. Those that took to boards only to destroy or trash movies now are only able to watch those very movies and feel the same anger at their perceived lack of quality. And those who so crudely threaten sexual abuse on celebrities now are given the chance but the total lack of wherewithal to follow through.”

“The gamers, then. What suffering must they go through, deserved though it is?”

“They suffer the worst fate of all. They only may play video games on servers that contain naught but bots. They cannot play against another human. They cannot talk to another human. They cannot brag to another human. They must suffer their accomplishments in utter solitude. Tears pour from their eyes at this realization.”

“I see. It is no less than they should suffer. Come, Astley. Let us continue our travel into the Fourth Circle. I am beginning to feel my heart warmed with these souls being punished and schadenfreude does not become me.”

“Wise words.”

As we left the Third Circle, I allowed myself one small smile of pleasure at the fates of those that suffered here. I could not help it. After seeing the destruction they had wrought on the Internet, it was an enjoyable moment to see them hurt. Astley shook his head sadly as he glanced and saw my smile. That, however, was not what was to later trouble me. That was to be understood the further I descended. For truth, though I could not recognize it at the time, somewhere below me – I believe – I heard a quiet laugh.

Friends, as we two – the poet and I, your faithful narrator – passed through the tunnel, we came upon a monstrous room, the height of which I could not determine. There, in the center of the room, lounging on an oversized computer chair, a massive keyboard on his lap, was a morbidly obese man, skin flecked with acne scars, his shirt tight across his breasts, fingers stained an orange hue from the snacks in the bowl that rested on his giant hip. The room, save a thin walkway leading to the man, was filled with souls clamoring to hear their fate, laptops and mice chained around their necks. His voice, curiously high and reedy, echoed off the walls as he sent the souls to their fates. Bidding the next creature draw near, he gazed through thick lenses at the trembling soul, his nostrils flared to more readily absorb and classify the smell of their sins. Within a moment, his judgement was decided. As he announced the circle to which the soul would be sent, he pressed a button on his keyboard and the unfortunate soul plummeted down to their eternal hell.

“Fourth Circle. RedTube,” he bellowed. Seventh Circle. Second Circle. Eighth Circle. Second Circle. Second Circle. Fifth Circle. Ninth Circle. As the “ninth” was called, the other souls voiced their displeasure at the doomed one, a soul so wicked it forces even the damned to weep. To be damned to the Ninth Circle is to have previously renounced any sense of good or humanity one has. A surge of fear in imagining what terrors I would face there curled a cold wind around my spine.

“Who is this creature, poet?” I asked Astley, my voice cracking as if a burgeoning pubescent.

“He is Adminos, Judge of the Netdamned. Once a powerful king of one of the most mighty message boards on the Internet, he now sits on his velvet throne, doing in Hell as he once did on Earth. With a press of that button, he bans the person to the most fitting circle, entirely dependent on their Internet sins. He is bound to this place, unable to use his own discretion or biases or personal vendetta to alter the future of others. He only is able to sense what they have earned and to send them to the proper circle. This is his punishment. Eternal power over the souls of others yet powerless to do other than press a button.”

“Can he not damn us, as we are here?”

“Our time has not yet arrived. Come. We must descend. The Second Circle awaits.”

He gestured to a jagged hole in the far wall. Moving quickly through the morass of waiting souls, we exited through the hole out onto a cliff. My legs nearly failed me as a cursed wind whipped our faces with icy lashes at great speed. A tremendous din, though not all wind, poured around us, deafening us. My eyes widened as I surveyed the sights in front of me, still vainly trying to hold my balance. A vast caldera met my gaze, spanning as far as I could see. Clouds and fire masked much but I could discern the various rings and in the very center, still far, far away from my guide and I, was a city with walls that jutted high into open air. Somehow I knew that it was not my time to know of the city.

Slowly, carefully, we descended the treacherous cliff via a small, winding path. Several times my heart grew tight in my chest as we traversed the path that seemed to disappear at points, yet soon enough we reached level ground. I bent to kiss the earth, but Astley stopped me, cautioning me against such reckless and unsanitary behavior. With a nod forward, he gestured me onwards, onwards into the Second Circle.

As I entered the circle, a large enclosed arena that appeared as if it were a terrarium at some hellish zoo, a blast of stimuli greeted me, forcing me backwards. Dings and chimes and screaming surrounded us two as reds and oranges and popup windows flashed and disappeared and flashed again, all in an instant. The influx of sensory input overwhelmed me. Staggered, I fell to one knee.

“Astley, what is this place? What have we entered?”

“This is the Second Circle, my friend. This circle and the next are of the Attention-Seeking Sins.”

“The Attention-Seeking Sins?”

“Yes. In these circles exist those who treat the Internet not as a place of learning and growth, not as a place to build relationships with like-minded individuals, not as a place to stay abreast of the current events de jour, but simply as a sounding board where they can be louder and more obnoxious than the rest. Think of these circles, if you will, as users screaming as loud as they can to be heard above the rest.”

“That presumably explains the screaming.”

“Indeed. This circle, the second of nine, is the Circle of Social. Those who reside here do not wish harm on other users. They simply demand that they be paid more attention. Three primary groups make up this circle, though they do intermingle. Near the ceiling, aching to break free of the constraints of this place, are the Twitterers. There in the middle, surrounding their false god, are the Facebookers. And there, buried deep in the myraid closets that line this circle, are the Myspacers. All damned but all in different ways.”

As I looked, I grew puzzled and desired nothing more than to learn more. I wished to understand the groups, learn why and how they were punished. With a sigh, Astley acquiesced and led me first to a platform where I was affixed with small blue wings that carried me high up into the Twitterers. All appeared morose and sullen, frustrated.

“What is their punishment, poet?”

“Those who are damned for Twitter are cursed to a life of no followers, their thoughts and jokes and musings lost into the aether. No matter how many others they follow, they will never receive a reader. Their updates only rarely go through as well, the service failing just as they attempt to post something, anything. They have been promised respite from their torment if they reach a state of being entirely caught up on all updates, yet just as they are reading the last Tweet, thousands more pour in. Finally, every hour on the hour, all the work they have done, all the posts they have managed to push through, is erased when the Fail Whale erupts from the great blue expanse of the sky, consuming all that has been said. For the Twitterers, they are relegated to a life of obscurity and wasted time as they were when they lived.”

An excited cry came from my left and I looked to see a joyful man, clad in a trucker hat, exult. Curious, I called to him.

“Man, why do you laugh? Are you not condemned?”

“Totally, dude! But check it, I just got my first follower! I’m the most followed dude on Twitter, dude! CNN can suck one! Ashton Kutcher wins!”

Just then, a monstrous white whale, a creature that Melville saw in his nightmares, tore through the sky and swallowed the man whole. On his screen, a lonely zero appeared. Concerned at this monster’s presence, I flew back down to Earth. After a brief moment to regain my land legs, I walked with Astley over to the Facebookers. In the middle of their giant circle sat a smug man, casually waving to everyone, assured of his brilliance.

“Who is this that towers over these poor souls?”

“That is Zuckerberg, creator of the god they worshipped, their Facebook.”

“He is damned, yet he does not suffer?”

“On the contrary, he suffers as his people suffer. Their punishment is twofold. For every misspelled word, for every instance of text speak, for every high school age drama laid bare for the world to see, they are burned by Grammar Nazis until their sins are corrected. Every sin they ever committed on that site is punished. Most remain eternally burned. As well, Zuckerberg is forced to change completely every day the site they hold so dear . The design of their love is malleable and serves only to anger and frustrate its users. To them, he is a power-mad dictator, unconcerned with the concerns of those who worship him.”

“Does he yet hurt from their insults?”

“Not outwardly. He is – in the vernacular of the time – a douchebag. Inside, though, he cries tears of anguished blood.”

“And the Myspacers? What becomes of them, Astley?”

“See for yourself.”

As we walked, music began to swell, louder and louder, until it became nigh on earpiercing as we approached. As I winced, I tried my best to ask of the poet what they were experiencing.

“My friend, they are trapped in their closets, unable to enter the real world. I dare not open one, but inside, they are bombarded with horrifically gaudy and flashy colors, terrible laughing and screaming icons and wave after wave of abominable independent music that sounds more akin to a human child with colic being fed feet first into a blender than any semblance of music. Worst of all, they toil in their closets, unnoticed by the world at large. There was once a time where these were kings among the Internet, but their time has passed, faded idiots in a world of idiots born anew.”

My stomach clenched, horrified at their fate. I had to leave. I could not experience this anymore.

“Take me, poet, to the Third Circle. I can no more stomach this place than I can accept Jedi as a world religion.”

“Then come, friend. We shall face the Great Beast together.”

I dared not ask what the Great Beast entailed. I would know soon enough.