Letters From the Damned

From Cro-Magnon Woman in Hell:

You always hear about Cro-Magnon Man, and I just want everyone to know there were women too amongst us Cromies.

All of us Cro-Magnons, the men, the women, and the children, are here in hell. Not a one made it elsewhere.

When I say 'men' and 'women' I mean what you would call late teens and young adults--few of us Cromies lived very long. Not a white hair upon a Cromie head.

I was eighteen with four children when I died of exposure. I had wandered off in a heavy sleet, searching for one of my ambling children, the girl I etched an aurochs-bone necklace for. I slipped into a hole, knocked my head and slept under the floating snow.

That was where you'd call Britain, up near what has been named Liverpool, where one of the latter Lads is from, late of Pablo Fanques' faire.

Since my death, it has been a rough forty-five thousand years in hell. But with that kind of time you get used to the inconveniences. And you can counsel the newcomers.

I think men take it hardest, but there have been some women who've been crushed by damnation--absolutely crushed. And the children? They're inconsolable for ages.

Like any captive, it helps to protest your innocence. And that's what I tell folks to do. There isn't one person in five hundred million who believes he or she deserves this anguish.

And think about me. What did I do that was so wrong? I didn't wilt at the name of some invented deity? A deity no one heard of until thirty-thousand years after I lived!

Doesn't ignorance excuse? Doesn't mercy espy the mitigating feature of unfamiliarity with law?

My life topside was already nasty, brutish and short. And now this?!

From Cro-Magnon Man in Hell:

It would have been fair if we had been made aware of the rules.

But to fling us onto this bonfire for disobeying laws we were unaware of--that isn't what I'd call justice.

How did an illiterate man like me become knowledgeable about a concept like justice? Well, let's just say I've been schooled by the best in these here nether lands.

First I had to learn to talk, and that took a thousand years. After the talking, ideas sort of came naturally to me. But it required teachers.

Ari is here. He got here not long ago by my standards. I think on the topside he was called Aristotle or Aristutor, or something.

Anyway, he has a way with words and a way with ideas. And this justice notion he talked about--retributive, by name--is my loophole, I think.

If I can only get a chance to make my case. I don't even know the rogue judge who threw us into this stink hole. He's probably beyond reason.

From Cro-Magnon Child in Hell:

I was what you'd call ten when I died of a cough. I awoke to the fumes of this place, and though I was not alone, though indeed there were many others here engaged in grunts and groans and flailing gestures, I knew no one here until my brother arrived, and then my father and then my mother and then my sisters arrived, in that order.

Not my brothers, not my sisters, not any of us, have aged these forty-five thousand years, though our torments have been such that, topside, we'd long ago have painted white hairs, and creased and drooping faces.

I heard this place is called 'hell,' a word that might have been beautiful if used for another thing like a riverbank flower. "She picked a bunch of hells to sell by the dell" might have been a child's pretty ditty.

Too late for that.

'Hell' is the worst, most wracked word in the list, a damnable word.