Sin and Death are guarding the gates of hell when Satan arrives. Sin remembers how she got there, and Satan orders her to open the gates.
– Paradise Lost, Book II
“My babies, oh it hurts!” I cry, as the little hell hounds burst out yet again. They swarm past my face and fly up among the smoky vaults. They dive-bomb my son Death, who swats at them with his sweeping reach. Death, my stupid son, my rapist. Mute and faceless.
Now my little ones the flying hell hounds squeeze back inside me and gnaw my entrails.
We are here suffering punishment for our deeds. We guard the Gates, but I am the one who has the key. The One Above himself gave me the key and made me Portress of the Gates of Hell. I am Woman-to-the-Waist, the Snaky-haired Sorceress. In heaven they called me Goddess-arm’d and Athena-like because I sprang from the forehead of my father who was Lucifer the Prince of Light.
Daddy said I was irresistible. He said he had to have me. They all wanted me, those shining sexless angels, but only my father pursued me across the golden fleecy fields of Heaven. He loved my resistance. Only he, said he, could conceive a goddess who struggled so deliciously!
He was so strong, I assumed our side would win the Battle of Heaven as he had overcome me. But instead, The One Above, He-of-the-too-bright-visage, swept us away as if we were crumbs on his table cloth. We plunged across aeons through worlds, and by the time I and my big belly landed by the Gates, I had a different form, and I was in labor.
I gave birth to Death, who unfolded his gaunt self still wet from his passage, and, like his father, began to pursue me, only now it was across the tar pitted brimstone plain, and I was dragging my fish tail and tentacles. There was no chance of escaping Death either. And Death begat on me the restless litter of hell hound puppies my children my grandchildren.
I am still sitting at the Gates when Daddy comes floating down, unmistakably himself even in jet and onyx, screwing down through the clouds and vaults on raven feathered wings. Death runs toward him, and they begin to posture, threaten, beat their chests, then grapple.
“Oh stop it!” I shout. “You are father and son and grandson! Cease and desist!”
Death hesitates, not understanding, and Daddy uses that hesitation to overthrow him, end over end, wedging him between two enormous boulders.
Daddy shows his teeth. “My family! What bliss! You’ve lost your freshness, Lady Sin, but still– divinely attractive for one so slithery!”
“You have lost your light,” I say.
“Not true!” He sweeps his jet bejeweled wings, and they reflect the fires around us. “See me,” he says. “See the brilliant dark I bring? And much more, my Lady. I bring good news. I bring tidings of great joy. Listen, Lady Sin, listen my scion Death. Listen oh denizens of Hell beyond the gate, locked inside! We shall be monarchs of a better place together! Who has the key to the Gates of Hell?”
My snaky hair hisses. I say, “I have possession of the key. Only I.”
He smiles seductively. “And whose are you, my Lady? Who made you, and who will set you free?”
I say, “If not for you, I’d still be in Heaven.”
“But not goddess of a world.” He speaks softly at first, then increases the volume of his voice, sends it echoing through the halls, through the Gate where the denizens howl and listen. “In my long passage through the worlds,” he shouts, “In my endless fall, I saw more than any other eye has seen. I saw a realm, a globe of sapphire, pulsing with life, suspended by a golden chain beside the moon. A world where we shall reign. In that new world Lady Sin and Lord Death will range rampant among sweet breezes and bright skies, and all things will be their prey. Open the Gates, my Lady, that I may call up our allies the Hosts of Hell.”
He swells to vastness as he speaks, in gleaming darkness even more beautiful than he had been when he was garbed in light.
Inside the Gates they growl, snarl, rumble, hoot, and howl.
“Listen,” he cries. ” Chaos! War! All my allies! Anarchy! Chance!”
I say, “In your new world, will I have legs again?”
His arms and wings outstretched, his eyes on the Gates that pulse with the effort of the Host to break out. “Legs?” he says. “Why speak of legs? If you want them you will have them. You will have anything and everything. You will indulge your voluptuousness then be transformed into a virgin, over and over, as often as you like.”
“That’s your idea of a good time, not mine,” I say.
He says, “You will have wings, legs, scales, feathers, lightning from your fingertips–anything you want! Open the Gates so we may commence.”
And of course his proposal sounds far better than this place. And, of course, it was determined long, long ago that I am his. There was never a choice, there is only what is determined. Daddy is hot and glittering, and he promises pleasure. Who could choose the Cold Commander Above even if choosing were possible? Why not open the Gates? Why not go to that new world of light and bliss where I can shed my snakes and labor pains?
I drag myself through rings of fire and unlock the three-fold Gates; the brass, the iron, the adamantine. And Father Son and I lead the Hosts of Hell in triumph toward that little sapphire globe across the universe.