I am inside Mulciber’s maze, a simulacrum of mechanical starlight, winding stairs and turrets and buttresses woven together by Lucifer’s unholy sword and Beelzebub’s cicada songs.
Cogs turn, churning ores, and mills grind down bones as wan fake sun peters in through the slit windows. I race up the stairs to follow the infernal husbands Beelzebub and Lucifer, who beckon to me on a tower ledge. Suddenly, I am in their arms, sick of the churning luminaries of Hell, an MC Escher painting of Mulciber’s genius.
I sway unsteadily as the walls clang and the automaton staircase switches impossible upwards. Lucifer and Beelzebub laugh.
“Isn’t Mul a genius,” Lucifer says as an aside, preening Beelzebub’s dragonfly wings.
“Enough to confuse Alci even,” Beelzebub burbles like a brook, his ruby red eyes fixated on the fake star, Astrum, whose sickly shine is like nuclear winter.
“What is this place?” I ask, sneaking into their embrace as my stomach upsets and the walls shift into impossible proportions, the city dancing around me. I look down from the tower ledge, and Hell’s weak trees almost turn upside down, yet are still right side up.
“I read about the country of nowhere yesterday,” I said. “From Persian mystics. the mundus imaginalis. Fancy I would be seeing the imaginal realm that makes me ache from its strangeness yet familiarity,” I murmur, looking to Lu for answers.
Lucifer kisses my brow, and the two infernal husbands embrace me and hold me steady as the country of nowhere grates to a sudden halt.
“Welcome to the imaginal realms, then, Alci,” Lucifer says. “You are beginning to see the heart of Hell, its true form, devoid of your trappings. Mulciber is the architect of the country of nowhere. The mundus imaginalis of mystics, I suppose.”
“He certainly is,” Beelzebub adds, plaiting my hair.
“Downwards.” Lucifer spreads his wings.
“Upwards,” Beel cheerily disposes, and suddenly they both take each one of my arms, and I am split like a nuclear bomb atom by two opposing forces, immovable object and unstoppable motion. I go both up and down, sideways and forward, backward and inward, and the atomic blast sends me fissioning to a new reality.
We are in the fires of Hell, where the reality machinery of nightmares and imaginings runs deep as a vein of gold into Earth’s crust. Underneath the MC Escher city, its foundations are melting into lava, then emerging in piano key played walls, supports, and staircases anew from the pits of Hell. It is Athena springing full formed from Zeus’ head, Hell constantly rebirthing itself. No one is here save us three, and Lucifer spreads his wings wide to reflect the infernal heat, fanning me.
“What is this place?” I ask with trepidation.
“Where we are reformed, and Hell is renewed,” Beelzebub says.
A labyrinth beckons with Grecian carvings on the wall, Ariadne and Asterion. I know this library, having worked for Mulciber before in it recording souls. The Athenaeum.
We walk in circles until we reach the center of the towering MC Escher shelves of the library – books and cases flying, fairy lights shining and leading our way: in the bull’s center is Mulciber with ink on his face, starry eyed, youthful brunette with curls, and excitable, smiling with joy as he inks more fantastical, odd, country of nowhere designs!
“Hello!” I say, remembering fondly my time with him in high school, though short, but beautiful.
“Alcifer!” Mulciber calls, and Lucifer and Beelzebub sit in chairs that extend into settees then back into couches and keep shifting like sand. All this strangeness is giving me a headache. Mulciber pulls out the one solid thing in Hell, a chair, with gold gilt on the polished oak, and bades me sit.
“I have missed you!” Mulciber tells me. I look to see figurines and mechanical nightmares and daydreams dancing off his grimoire and taking shape as walls and torturous curves and edges of the belly of the simulacrum beast given life, buildings forming above the pit of the labyrinth, then rising like Sauron’s castle. Mulciber blushes as I study his work. “You like it?”
“It’s incredible, Mul,” I breathe, trying not to vomit at the heart of the country of nowhere.
“Here, let me speed the simulation down,” Mulciber soothes me, hand on my shoulder. He looks like a bird at seed at his drawings, then at the Athenaeum entrance, snaps his fingers, and the churning of the universe of Pandemonium licks shut. Suddenly, everything is in place, the mundus imaginalis available to the bird’s eye human viewer, and I can somewhat comprehend a library and bastion of design and study.
“Jeeze Louis, thank you,” I murmur, clutching my belly. Lucifer and Beelzebub are feeding each other grapes on the settee – err, couches? Love seats? And preening each others wings, reposed like kings. “This place is wonderful but terrifying.
Mulciber smiles gently and places a lock of my hair back behind my ear. “It’s important not to become a resident in the country of nowhere, just a happy visitor. You can never stay, Alci, this is the kingdom of bone. You are full of flesh, pleasure, and light, look at the Astrus!” he implores, pointing up at the portico. I do.
The wan mechanical starlight, false light, is fractals of rainbow oil spills down here on the dais.
This fake star, this fake sun. “I built it,” Mulciber glistens.
“I know, Mulciber, I know,” I say, standing up.
I dance in the false shades of sun, Mulciber sings, and as the churning, cosmic, country of nowhere swallows me whole, I am Seven Veils away from claiming Dumuzi from Ereshkigal.
Lucifer and Beelzebub sing. Sing like angels, sing like devils, and with Mulciber’s honeyed Vulcan voice, as I spin and plie and jump for joy, the buildings and underground supports and dirt and dread and stone walls and labyrinth and fires of Hell, they are my symphony.
My symphony in the country of nowhere.