Aug. 13th, 2011

The line snaked back as far as the eye could see. Naked, dispirited men and women stood closely spaced, almost touching, in an uneven queue that stretched back along the dusty trail. The landscape of the bleak, treeless wilderness wasn't perfectly flat, and there were dips and rises for the trail to flow over. At the first rise back, the individual people in the line were still distinguishable; by the second rise they were so far distant as to be faceless and featureless, swimmy images in the hot air; at the third rise back one could see only a continuous pale stripe crawling over the horizon.

Every so often the line crept forwards. Step by step the people moved up the line, usually only one shuffling step every minute or so. Pulses of movement slithered back along the line, waves semi-regularly spaced along its length. Most of the people in the line were entirely numb, and they only moved when the person ahead of them moved. A few type-A personalities looked forward impatiently, craning their necks to see around those in front, trying to gauge how long it would be before they reached the gate.

The gate was a simple archway, a classic pile of fitted stones, shaped and joined in the Roman way, without mortar in the joints. It was surprisingly simple and economical for such an important entrance, for this was the gateway to Hell, as reported with moderate accuracy by Dante Alighieri. When a person passed through the archway they disappeared from sight, although the bleak wasteland seemed to continue on the other side. All persons knew very well where they were headed, but there was surprisingly little resistance and no balking of the line. Nobody cried and sobbed and refused to go; nobody broke ranks and ran. Where was there to run to? This was moving on, something the dead were generally eager to do.

Nevertheless, the dead were not entirely obedient of all the rules. For this reason the gate was staffed by the grey men, and it was their ministrations that kept the line from moving more quickly. As efficient as they were, never has more human energy or ingenuity been expended than on the movement of contraband, and never has that been more true than after the mortal coil has been abandoned.

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September 2012

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