Extract: All the Philosophers in Hell



What follows is an extract from a novel I have been drafting, editing, sharing and forgetting for a couple of years now. 



Futility strangled her wrists: the ropes clung tight, the chair resisted every movement. Sarah did not mean it to end this way.

She had only wanted to ask, what the Professor had meant the other day: a brief, inconsequential comment as the class spilt out of the lecture hall, something barely meant to be heard at all. As he tidied his papers and closed his briefcase, Lucas had said something about angels falling.

She’d thought it strange. She had picked up her bag, considered following Jake and Erin out of the tort lecture; but she had brushed her hair to one side, gathered her courage and her curiosity, and had walked down to the lectern to ask him. Maybe he’d appreciate her inquisitiveness, she wondered: maybe he’d mark her out above the rest.

It was dark, now. Her memory was dark, this chamber was sullen: the amber light only highlighted the shadows which drenched her. And darkest of all, sat opposite her with one leg crossed neatly over the other as a gentleman would, was the Professor.

“Originally, the adversary was precisely that,” he now said, turning some metal instrument between his hands. “The counsel at Judgment who recited the counts against man. He might persuade mankind during life, true, but he couldn’t tamper with evidence, or cause guilt by duress. He was a lawyer, after all. And his major role was as counsel for the prosecution.”

Sarah could just glimpse him through her fringe, but her eyes were barely adjusting to the penumbra. She could nevertheless – which choked her breath, and brought clamminess to her skin – see the Professor lean in with excitement.

“People want to be saved. They do. Even atheists deeply, deeply crave salvation. But do you think angels will save you? Do you know just how few souls have been spared, through angelic grace? Virtually none. Only people can save themselves, from damnation. It is their task to make themselves worthy of His mercy. If you can’t deny yourself sin, if you cannot at first be tempted, what hope is there for you?

“Now,” he continued, breathing quickly (turning the silver instrument obsessively in his hands): “do you know what helps to save people? Hell. Hell was the single most versatile means of securing salvation. Something to rage against, a place to put the unrepentant, and a worst case scenario for everyone else – all the good girls, who put up their hands and want to stand out in class – people like you, Sarah, to avoid. The stick, as opposed to the carrot of paradise.

“Demons are what will save you, Sarah. We will teach you wisdom you could never seek in scripture,” he said, drawing the blade in circles before her unblinking eyes: “and lead you to wonders you could never discover inside yourself, alone. More than His absent love, more than his errant Son, and more than all the prayers those lips could whisper: I will save you, Sarah, from yourself.”


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