Hell is Empty and All the Devils are Here

Hell is Empty and All the Devils are Here

Thunder roared as the rain had poured down on our heads. We dashed to our destination. The patter of rain hit the concrete. Dripping wet, we entered one of the theatre world’s most spectacular gems, the Nanjing Poly Theatre. We had come to watch Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

After the play, there would be no time to interview the actors, so making my way backstage, I had hoped to find someone free to answer my questions. Goosebumps covered my arms as my feet began to feel heavy. I shouldn’t be there, I knew we weren’t allowed. If anyone caught me, I would be in huge trouble.

What I saw next made me wish I had never seen the advertisement for my favorite play, and beg my parents to take me to the opening night. On the ground before me was a young man with a knife through his heart. In the shadows, looking at the body with his head held up high, was a shadowy figure. Holding my breath, I closed my eyes and told myself, “This can’t be real. This sort of thing simply doesn’t happen to normal people like me.” But he was still there when I peeped through my eyelashes. I blinked. I could have sworn the shadowy form walked through the wall and disappeared.

Ignoring any sense of logic, I walked through the wall after him. Instead of a sharp pain in my skull, I was in a village, or at least I thought so. Glancing around me I saw huge houses, each with two stone lions outside the gate. My view of the house was blocked by a wooden screen, decorated with images of dragons and temples. Paying little attention to the scenery, I approached the nearest house. Hitting the copper door knocker, I waited. An old man opened the door and looked at me strangely. Pointing towards the red lanterns decorating his gate and house I said, “What are the decorations for?”

“We celebrate the start of a new emperor’s reign. Hongzhi Emperor’s son, Zhengde, was made Emperor yesterday,” said the old man, eyeing my Nike’s suspiciously. Meeting my eyes, he reached towards his sword.

“Many strangers do not come at this time, what is your business here?”

Sweat covered my brow as I tried to think of an excuse. Stuttering somewhat, I added, “I was told the beauty of China is there every day, so I chose to come now”.

Although his hand hadn’t left the hilt of his sword, I could see as it loosened its hold. Letting out a sigh, I thanked him for his help and left.

His words echoed in my head. Emperor Zhengde had been a famous emperor in Chinese history. In history. How had I come here? Glancing around I had tried to find a clue, but the wall had disappeared. After what felt like hours, my eyes fell on the same figure that had melted through the brick wall in Nanjing, where I should be settling down to watch Shakespeare’s most thrilling tale. Picking up my pace, I shouted, “Stop! Who are you? Where are we? I demand that you send me back.”

Turning to face me, I watched as he looked at my hoody, my jeans, my dangling earphones, and realisation dawned on him. Slowly his mouth turned into a smirk and the words he spoke paralyzed me.

“I am Prospero, the greatest sorcerer ever, boy! If you wish to return home, I demand payment. Kill the Zhengde Emperor and I will send you home unharmed. You have until tonight. Meet me here when you have finished the task.”

Just like that he disappeared once more. Prospero, the sorcerer from the Tempest. What was going on?

I couldn’t kill someone, but I also needed to go home. I sat down on the dusty roadside and put my head in my hands. Finally, an idea struck me. I spent the next few hours searching the field and gardens until I found a small plant covered in small pink flowers. I also found another plant; it was a purple flower with strings of dark blue coming out of the center and surrounding it. Both these plants used together could make a sleeping drug. This way, Emperor Zhengde would seem dead when he was actually alive.

With only 2 hours to go, I stood at the servants’ entrance of the palace. I had exchanged my clothes for a Changshan I had borrowed from a washing line. I would have preferred to wear my clothes but it would have drawn too much attention; attention I couldn’t afford. Taking a deep breath, I pushed the door open and stepped inside. I almost laughed out loud with relief. I had entered the kitchen, one that was clean even though it was so big. There were red lanterns hanging on the walls and Chinese symbols on the doors.

It must have been nearly dinner time as everyone was bustling around with not a second to spare, or to notice me. As I wove my way through the rows of thick oak tables, I spotted a cart filled with trays of food. All the food was the same except one plate. It contained white rice with fried noodles. Chunks of seafood sat on the side of the dish, covered in sauce.

Curiosity getting the better of me, I turned to my right and asked the young serving girl, “Whose food is this?”

Sighing with disbelief, she had looked at me as if I had lost my mind.

“Emperor Zhengde’s of course; he always has this…”

Before I could question her further, she rushed off, her cheongsam flapping behind her. I approached the cart. Slowly slipping my hands in my pocket, I took out the folded paper. The satiny blue powder inside was my only hope of getting back home. Putting it behind my back I unfolded two of the four folds, and waited.

I thought of my mum and dad waiting for me, worrying now, crying even. Doubt left me. I poured the powdered drug into his food, just enough, not too much. I didn’t want to hurt him; all this would do was put him to sleep. The moment I was out of the palace walls, I broke off into a sprint, not slowing down until I was far away, and the hill where it all began became a dark smudge on the horizon. I saw Prospero, with his back to me. As I neared, he turned to face me.

“Well done! It seems like you carried out your half of the bargain, I might as well fulfill mine.”

He raised his hands in the air and began to chant, so quietly I could barely make it out. Gradually a portal had begun to form, my way home. His voice faded and he gestured me to walk through. Cautiously, I walked to the portal. One foot in front of the other, I walked forwards, hoping against hope that he would not notice my trembling. In the far-off night, alarm bells broke out. I turned and blew the rest of the powder into his face. “Sleep!” I yelled, and then I sprinted away with the last of my energy. He would not wake from that indigo cloud for a lifetime of Sundays.

All of this, just for a school paper.