Across the globe, large gashes in reality began appearing above people’s houses, in public parks, out in the country, under the sea, and even at airline altitudes, each brimming over with morbid sights and ghoulish sounds. On occasion, it seemed like an entity would try to come through an opening, only to vanish in a tremendous burst of energy. Hashtags such as #HellOnEarth, #AndIFeelFine and #GayMarriage trended vigorously for days on end. Facebook groups named Friends with Satan and Let’s Play with FIRE!!! amassed hundreds of thousands of Likes in a matter of hours. Buzzfeed counted down the 22 most awkwardly placed portals, complete with pictures superimposed with “FAIL” and “WTF”.
Talking heads argued vehemently back and forth across television, newspaper columns, and YouTube vlogs. The hellholes, some said, were obviously a warning sent from the Almighty to repent for our sinful ways. Some argued they were an attempt from hell to stage a coup against the Earth, whilst the more sympathetic analysts suggested that the souls were seeking to find refuge from their eternal damnation. Others dismissed the entire charade as a David Copperfield-esque stunt, as an overwrought advertising campaign, as a political ruse by religiously conservative parties to bolster support. Comments sections were heavily moderated.
Within a week, United Nations reports estimated that virtually all of this world’s population was, at any given moment, within a hundred miles of a hellhole. After several days more, the British government swept into action, evacuating all properties within three hundred yards of the hellholes before turning fire hoses on them, with no discernible effect. The Guardian accused the government of heavy-handedness, while the Daily Mail insisted on the holes being boarded up to prevent any lost souls coming into the country. The Americans, having fired bullets into a few with no discernible effect, decided instead to set up marquees around the most accessible ones, and charged ten dollars apiece to punters wanting a first-hand glimpse of the afterlife, though some complained of an overly religious tone to the tour guides. The French protested their government to remove them, unsuccessfully. The Russians placed warning signs in the vicinity of most hellholes in the country. North Korea’s supreme leader denied there being any in their nation, insinuating they were Western creations.
Neverthetheless, for all their grotesque fascination, the portals were mostly harmless. The tortured cries put people off their lunch at bistros, the heat stifled the air in office interiors and made work difficult, and they caused inevitable traffic delays when they appeared at the roadside. But otherwise, people just started ignoring them, absorbing them into the decor of their everyday lives.
#Hellgate rather turned the tide of public favour for the worse. Brooke Forsyth, a young and attractive college sophomore from Massachusetts, had been trying to take a selfie with the Boston Hellhole™ attraction, when the unprecedented happened. A ten-foot daemon, black scales and dripping with brimstone, abruptly lunged from the rift, plunged multiple razor-sharp claws through her torso, and hauled her impaled body through the opening into the other world.
Chaos ensued. #Justice4Brooke raged across Twitter. Police in practically all nations cordoned off hellholes. Fox News demanded the daemon be extradited to face trial. The US military aimed artillery rounds at the Boston Hellhole™, with no discernible effect. Almost 2.7 million people signed a petition calling for an invasion of hell, followed shortly by a 650,000-strong petition for solving the issue via more peaceable means. A Boston Hellhole™ spokesperson criticised the media backlash, explaining Ms Forsyth should have taken reasonable precautions, should not have stood so close to the portal, nor with her back turned to it. Barack Obama refused to step down even as Anonymous concluded that he WAS, in fact, the Antichrist, and riots broke out across the United States and throughout the developed world. Some argued Brooke Forsyth might have been kept alive as a hostage, though for what ransom they couldn’t say. Others dismissed the entire charade as a David Copperfield-esque stunt, as an overwrought advertising campaign, as a political ruse by religiously conservative parties to bolster support. Comments sections were heavily moderated.
Within hours another daemon stole away an elderly man in Japan, prompting limited coverage. “Dear Batman, please fight these demons for us” (102,000 Like this). #Conspiracy, #CIA. Whole families were consumed as rifts widened in sub-Saharan Africa. “Use hellholes 4 capitol punishment” (315,000 Like this). #Illuminati, #Scientology. Swathes of the populace in central Asia succumbed to hellfire. The Western media kept 24-hour vigils on these tragic developments, between the latest Bond premier and the unnaturally warm weather everyone'd been experiencing. “Is this truly the Apocalypse? Click for more…” Some argued we shouldn’t have directed heavy artillery against hell to begin with. Others dismissed the entire charade as a David Copperfield-esque stunt.
The last living human sat at her iPad, composing playlists. There was a rushing sound and a wave of heat behind her. Panicking, she rushed to her Twitter feed. “lol think am bein kidnapped?? #hellonearth”.
Adam Learmonth, University of Dundee. Adam was born and raised in the Scottish Borders, but left upon realising he is neither a farmer nor a tradesman in the making. He can juggle quite well, though sometimes makes poor choices in terms of objects used. When not writing, he can be found in a poky studio flat in Dundee’s west end, humming along to ‘80s synth-pop hits as he endeavours to achieve the perfect mushroom risotto.