An anthology from bestselling author, Janet Morris
Shakespeare said “To be wise and love exceeds man’s might,” and in Lovers in Hell, the damned in hell exceed all bounds as they search for their true loves, punish the perfidious, and avoid getting caught up in Satan’s snares. In ten stories of misery and madness, hell’s most loveless seek to slake the thirst that can never be quenched, and find true love amid the lies of ages.
Love Interrupted – Nancy Asire
Lovers Sans Phalli – S. E. Lindberg
Calamity – Michael E. Dellert
Love Triangle – Michael H. Hanson
A Hand of Four Queens – A. L. Butcher
Devil’s Trull – Andrew P. Weston
Withering Blights – Joe Bonadonna
Excerpt from Hell Gate – Andrew P. Weston
Never Doubt I Love
Janet and Chris Morris
“Doubt that the stars are fire,
Doubt that the sun doth move,
Doubt truth to be a liar,
But never doubt I love.”
–William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act II
“Love in hell makes beggars of us all!” Cheeks flushed, Shakespeare reproved Kit Marlowe, scorning today’s woes and fears with a paraphrase from Antony and Cleopatra.
“I’m the beggar here, not you. Lest you forget, those words rang truer as first writ: ‘There’s beggary in love that can be reckoned.’ I’ve had my reckoning from your Archfiend while you stood by, besotted.” Kit glowered at Will.
Overhead, Paradise snubbed them, unattainable, smug, as they surveyed Christopher Marlowe’s demolished Rose playhouse. Kit pulled his slashed leather jerkin tight over doublet and linen he’d worn far too long. Ever since flood and tidal wave sent his Bankside audience diving for cover, he’d shirked a codpiece, girding on his stabbing sword instead.
Marlowe meant to wound Shakespeare’s fragile pride, dismiss him and drive him off. Will mustn’t be here—not now, when Kit had an appointment scheduled, one both sensitive and secret. At this most inconvenient time, the Bard of Avon appears, unexpected, unbidden, and unwelcome. Kit must send Will packing well before the rendezvous.
Trembling with ire to his lacy cuffs, Shakespeare waggled a finger at Kit. “You yet think Satan creates your misfortune? ’Tis not the devil but your sylphic savior, the famous J, who turns your fate foul with her Bible verse and her big doe eyes.”
At the mention of J the Yahwist, Kit drew back, boots crunching hazelnut shells on muddy cobbles. Basta. Enough of this. He’d try another tack. “Look you long at my flattened Rose, and tell me how J caused such devastation.” A mere stone’s throw from Shakespeare’s Globe, Kit’s Rose Theatre lay in splinters. Lost to looters were its seats, its every curtain, its rigging, props, and treasures.
The choosy tsunami that destroyed the Rose had preserved Will’s Globe entire. These days in the theatre district only the Globe stood tall by the river, a house owned by Shakespeare, run by Shakespeare, and favored by every fiend and demon in New Hell’s vast domain. For Kit to stage any play henceforth, he must kiss Will’s arse to wheedle a pittance for acting or directing whatever Shakespeare’s patron devil chose.
“Did J not return your words to you, Marley? I liked you better without them. And without her. J stands for jade, that’s certain.”
“Leave off, Will,” Marlowe warned, truth sticking in his craw. “Go home.”
But Shakespeare was yet warming to his subject: “How long didst thou profess to love me, you flesh-monger, committed fornicator, buggle boe, meddler in my doings, before your callet J showed her face? Is it her pie you’d rather eat? Her saddle you’d rather ride? I’ve yet to ask Abbadon to rot that rod right off your crotch.”
Go, Will. Stomp away. Must I affront thee further? Get thee gone before you learn things you’ll regret. “Your eyes are far too green for me, Will Shakespeare. I told you long ago: ‘love me little.’ Now I need a friend, not a lover, even if that friend is Satan’s favorite prick.”
“Marley, I . . . Someone’s coming.”
Too late. “I forgot to mention, I’m awaiting visitors—here at the grave of the Rose, not at your Globe where adverse fates stage their revenges. Sleep at the Globe I may. Nest in its attic aerie with you, the devil’s toady: why not? But business thereabouts is Satan’s business, too tangy for my taste. Feign no surprise, Will. This upshot’s long overdue. We need a twist of plot, when humanity’s Accuser drives the narrative.”
“Forgot to tell me what?”
“What this way comes. Something more wicked than your Macbeth.” Kit waved at those approaching. “I meet here, where all ideals are set at naught, with powers greater than ourselves. I ask thee plain: put aside all questions. Leave or learn. But balk not at what scheme takes shape. When providence beckons, only a greater dupe than I would run the other way.”
“Kit, if you need a loan, I can help. Buckle not with the Adversary.”
“The wrath of love burns hot in me. ‘My swelling heart for very anger breaks.’” Marlowe quoted his own King Edward, but no line from his work or Will’s, or those they’d penned together, could quell his distress. Shakespeare yet stood beside him, upending all plans. “You’d not leave when I asked, so look you there,” Kit said and gestured downhill.
Up the Bankside they came, eight figures made of self-engendered light. Tall they were and more than human. Wingless, they walked, or Kit would have called them angels. Seven wore cowled cloaks to the ankle. The eighth amid them shone brighter than the rest in raiment spun from rainbows.
Marlowe’s mouth dried up, as if no words would out—an all too familiar feeling. He’d suffered this malady before, until J restored his voice. These approaching newly struck him dumb. They trod wet streets, yet no mud or dirt besmirched them.
What could Kit say to these emissaries from on high, with the Bard of Avon listening? Surely not the truth; not the words he’d intended. What could he propose instead with Shakespeare here, a most importunate witness?
Kit counted himself an accomplished liar, a bold betrayer, a brash blasphemer and committed rakehell. He’d thought to spy against Will’s devil and profit thereby. An infamous intriguer while alive, Kit meant to offer himself, body and threadbare soul, to these heavenly auditors. He ached to foil the Adversary’s every plan. How else release his beloved Will from Satan’s grip?
Dare he broach his nascent plot aloud with Shakespeare listening, make Satan privy to every word? No. Instead, Kit must concoct a likely story. Craft a new purport. Reimagine his tale. Spin these avengers a fable. Falsify his motives. Deceive with all his skill.
Whilst mortal, none bested him at twisting truths into unlikely shapes. A familiar strength crept o’er his bones. Anticipation thrilled his limbs.
Straight to Will and Kit marched these agents of godhead. As they did so, the seven made way for the eighth. Coming to the fore, this eighth adjudicator appraised Marlowe till Kit shivered. Then that unforgiving stare found Shakespeare—and dwelt there.
“Marlowe, what have you done?” Will gulped.
“Brought a god to bear,” whispered Kit. “Let the Father of Lies chew on that.”
At those words, gimlet-eyed, all eight regarded Kit. Should he kneel? Should he speak first? His lips felt numb, unwieldy.
“I am Erra,” said the largest of the eight, to whom even the dark deferred, “plague god of Akkad, lord of Emeslam, come from Above with my Sibitti to audit the plaints of the doomed and damned. And you two?”
“William Shakespeare, playwright.”
“Christopher Marlowe, ghostwriter.”
“Which of you called for Justice? Speak. Or shall I turn your world upside down, and with it your ugly underverse? Speak now.”
Kit swallowed hard. So long afflicted by Will’s jealous devil, Marlowe meant to offer Erra his services. Spying on Satan suited Kit, and he sore needed aid from any quarter. But when Will happened by and they fell to bickering, all chance dissolved of a clandestine bargain. And now? He’d breasted fiends and demons, but this Erra represented another octave of being, a conduit even to those Above. He managed, “I called you.” Enough truth for their ears and nearly too much for Will’s.
To Erra’s right, one cowled figure stirred and stepped forward. “I am First of the Sibitti; we are the Seven. You claimed to seek Justice for another, not yourself. You bade us come alone. Yet this ‘Shake Spear’—what kind of name is that? doth he presume to be a weapon?—stands here beside you. Why?”
“Shakespeare? It’s his pen name. I help him with his writing. He merely happened along. Sorry.” Chance favored Kit: “I asked you here in behalf of J the Yahwist, who is unjustly trapped in perdition by Satan’s wiles,” he lied. “I’d hoped you and Lord Erra might free her. ’Tis more than I can do alone.”
Shakespeare muttered, “Kit, this isn’t the Privy Council. Be you careful.”
For advantage in life Kit had reached too high above his station until he died thereof. These phantasms were avengers sent from Above. He’d known how Erra, Babylonian god of plague and mayhem, toured infernity with his Seven. He’d heard of trials where they presided, where damnation might be undone or at least curtailed. But then he’d not realized that the Sibitti were literally what he now saw: personified weapons. This ‘First’ had flinty eyes fit more for annihilation than adjudication. No salvation lurked therein, but cold suspicion.
Kit feared his last-ditch ploy to free the Yahwist sounded naïve, an innocent’s conceit. He took one step toward Erra; another; and heard metal rasp.
The Sibitti advanced on him, cowls falling from their heads. All seven unsheathed swords of metal, ice, flame and lightning and pointed them at Will and him.
“Come no closer,” said the nearest of Erra’s weapons.
Instinctively, because for so long his only purpose in hell had been to protect Shakespeare, Kit stepped bodily in front of Will. As he did, the nearest blade of lightning spat blue sparks. Kit recalled he wore a blade on his own corse and without a word spread empty hands far apart.
Then Erra said, “State your case. If warranted, we shall set matters right. If not, you will learn not to waste My time.”
From behind Kit, Will said, “Lordly Erra, forgive my friend Marlowe. And I ask you, as I asked once in Macbeth, ‘Who could refrain, that had a heart to love, and in that heart courage to make’s love known?’ J the Yahwist does Mercy’s work among the hells and surely has atoned for any wrong-doing. Long trapped here by Satan, she deserves to regain her place on high. And as for my friend Marlowe, he’s a passionate soul. And like all fools in love, he’s prone to overstep.”
Up beside the First of Seven came another personified weapon. Facing Shakespeare, this one said, “What she deserves? What any deserve, Erra decides. We dispose. I am Second.” Its voice sounded kind to Marlowe, if a weapon could know kindness or possess a soul.
But Kit knew danger when he faced it; he’d stabbed when occasion served, and been stabbed in return. His love for Will and J had made him undertake too much. If wherefrom he lost either or both among the manifold hells, he’d never forgive himself, here where never was a long time indeed.
“Let me explain myself, noble Erra and mighty Sibitti,” Kit said.
Satan convened his council of fallen angels, the haughty stalwarts of perdition’s host. A third of the angels who’d rebelled against heaven still stood by him: “Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven,” wrote the devil’s biographer, John Milton. Whilst Milton lived he suffered blindness, penury, and the burning of his epic Paradise Lost as his blasphemy’s result.
Today Milton served as a special envoy of the damned to this infernal convocation. Dressed all in black, he’d arrived early in Pandemonium, Satan’s lofty seat of walls and towers surrounded by the burning river Phlegethon.
In Milton’s wake lurched velveted George Gordon Byron, the sixth Lord Byron, whose infatuation with Greek heroics had bought his passage to the afterworld.
At Byron’s side wagged his piebald Landseer dog, Boatswain, howling incessantly at the fires of Phlegethon, warning all and sundry of the inferno beyond adamantine walls. Of those gathering at Satan’s command, only Boatswain was an innocent. The dog roved the underverse of his own accord, impassioned to pass infernity at Byron’s side. And for this occasion Satan needed one innocent, a witness to give force of law to rulings made this day.
The devoted dog’s yowls and howls joined the moaning from ten thousand unrepentant damned begging for obliteration. Pandemonium lived up to its name, its power, and its black purport. Its chaotic fanfare resounded far and wide, rising even unto the highest heavens.
Now, the trio waited.