SPOTLIGHT: ‘Virtually Damned’ by John Tinney

First 10 pages

Sent to Hell on a Technicality

Hitler explodes in his shorts, and the rain tastes like piss. I really should stop sticking out my tongue.  It’s Hell. It won’t be tongue-friendly, will it? ‘Digging a hole to fix another one,’ Bobby says, pounding his flabby chest with a clenched fist. ‘Thought my heart problems were gone after I died on the toilet. That would’ve been too easy. These sick shits down here have me pencilled in for a heart attack every week.’

Just dream of sex, a seat and a hug. Ignore the poisonous tar, scoliosis and broken clock. That’s easier said than done when Bobby’s bending over in front of me with that hairy, sweaty crack on widescreen. At least he’s not farting mushroom clouds again. The bastard nearly boiled my eyes yesterday.

‘Aw these holes look the same,’ I say, distracted by the pointless drudgery. Still, it’s better to focus on the soul-crushing monotony than the invisible force drawing my bloodshot eyes to Bobby’s revolting farter.  

‘They’re meant to. Every road’s identical as well … It’s all part of the punishment extravaganza!’

I feel massive jackboots dancing on my grave. It should be warmer in Hell than Scotland, but it’s perpetual drizzle of the kind that always keeps your hair damp even with a hood or an inadequate umbrella. The cartoon clichés and apocalyptic descriptions are all shite. Hell isn’t a burning cesspit filled with sadistic demons dying to sodomise you; it’s more of an endless grey industrial estate filled with utilitarian buildings designed to stifle any creativity.

What have I done to deserve twelve-hour days of a job I hated in life? Drank too much? Took too many drugs? Masturbated in the church toilet when I was thirteen? I’m guilty of a lot of things. We all are. But this is disproportionate punishment. What was the technicality? How can they get away with sending people here on technicalities? The cunts could at least give out coping skills or practical solutions on how to escape this shitehole.

I stop shovelling pieces of dirt to savour the acid rain drenching my beautiful, aching head; just don’t taste it again. ‘You been taking stupid pills?’ Bobby asks me.

‘Ah’m hiving a breather.’

‘Get your shovel moving before Hitler sees you. You don’t want to be one of the jobless bastards.’ He has a point. Unemployment in Hell consists of laborious days of nothing. No books, no phones, no internet. You don’t even get ITV 4 on the tele.

‘There must be a way oot ae here,’ I say, looking at a stray cat regurgitating a piece of a dead pigeon. Art is everywhere.

‘I’ve told you before the only way out of this is a bit of jury duty, and that’s torture as well. It’s always about some bureaucrat not filing the correct documents.’

‘It cannae be much worse than this.’ Bobby’s face turns.

‘Get back to work. Hitler’s coming.’ 

We call him Hitler on account of his haircut, strict disciplinarian attitude, and because everyone would bet their left ball, this is the same vegetarian who all but retired the name Hitler. ‘Back ta wok,’ Hitler says. The bogus Scottish accent doesn’t help either.

‘Where’s he from now?’ Bobby says. 

‘Bangkok via Joe Pesci,’ I say. ‘That Nazi bastard shouldnae be in control of anything.’

‘Yeah … But his manager’s Herod the Great now, or Herod the Area Manager as he’s known down here. He calls himself Henry but mention anything about Jesus around him, and he breaks out in cold sweats.’

‘That disnae mean anything. Jesus is the last cunt you namedrop doon here.’

‘Well, Jerry went in his office one time, and he was speaking Hebrew in his sleep.’

‘Jerry’s Jewish?’

‘No, he’s one of those protestant ones … Episcopalian? Well, he was. You tend to lose your faith about here.’

‘How does that dickhead know Hebrew? He cannae even speak English, and he’s fae an English-speaking country.’

‘How do I know? Ask him yourself.’

‘Nah. Jerry wouldnae know the square root of fuck all even if it came up and lamped its jaws roon his cock.’ 

The vibrations from the jackhammer tearing into the road rattles my cavities. Just as well every dentist down here is a sadistic butcher, and my masochism’s in short supply. I take my mind off the latest agony by obsessing about escape. There must be a way. We’ve all heard the rumours about overpopulation. Fuck, it’s obvious even if you’re half-blind and still daft from a drunken stupor.

‘Look at that mental bastard,’ Bobby says, pointing at Jerry goose-stepping behind Hitler. Hitler turns round with the old blitzkrieg eyes.

‘Back ta wok, ya fuckin prick!’ Jerry does what he’s told and returns to shovelling dirt and throwing it behind him at passing pedestrians.

‘Have you still not found out how you ended up here?’ Bobby loves to laugh when he asks me this. Like that, and the anthrax spewing from his arsehole is meant to be endearing.

‘Ah think there were too many problems in the holding area. Naewhere seemed tae want me.’

‘Yeah, overcrowding. You’re just another number. If it’s any consolation, the other place isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.’

‘It must be better than Hell. It’s Heaven.’

‘That’s just a marketing tool. Call any place Heaven, and you get people in. Strip clubs, hookers, casinos, nightclubs. They’re all at it. I guarantee you any strip club called something Heaven has a club up the road that’s better.’ 

‘You’d know better than me.’

‘What was it they said again, a technicality? What technicality?’

‘They didnae elaborate oan that bit.’

‘Jesus … Over a year, you’ve waited, and that’s still the reason. They really must be fucked if they can get away with sending people here without proper excuses. At least I actually robbed those houses and took a shit in their sinks.’

‘Whit aboot assignments?’

‘Don’t take anything to do with that shit,’ Bobby says, wiping sweat from his big blister head.

‘It’s supposed tae be a way oot.’

‘Heard it. There’s also pills and booze and pretending you’re somewhere else. I’m telling you, the best you can hope for is jury duty. But that’s only temporary. And I’ve never had one day of jury duty in this shithole.’

Hitler checks his watch and savours every morsel of his power. Flashbacks to his disgusting, genocidal glory days must be slow motioning like a movie reel in front of him. ‘Whit would happen if we killed that bastard?’ 

‘The same thing that happens everywhere,’ Bobby says. ‘Prison.’

‘It’s already eight o’clock!’ Jerry shouts. ‘Fuckin fascist cunt.’ The second part’s whispered. Hitler keeps a watchful eye on his counterfeit Rolex.

‘You may go … now!’

‘Good riddance, ya Nazi bastard,’ Jerry says, throwing his shovel behind him.

I insist on running for the bus I always miss and stand there waiting for the next one with fragments of my lungs coughed up on the uneven pavements. The rain flattens hair to my skull after seeping through the hood of my sweatshop jacket. There’s a price to pay for such cheap clothes  – namely the constant colds and guilt over the exploited workers that sew them just to remain malnourished.

I’m too busy daydreaming about a comfy mattress and a beer to notice there’s pish meandering towards my Swiss cheese boots. ‘Fuck sake. Stop pishing in bus stops!’ An archduke laughs and runs off, playing with his shiny medals.

‘It’s a constant struggle with these chinless, upper-class cretins and their disgusting habits,’ says a wee bulldog looking guy beside me.

‘Aye, they’re out of order.’

‘You can say that again … Do you want to watch me have a wee tug?’


‘Come on, mate. We think alike. We hate those rich bastards, and I can tell you want to know what’s under my raincoat.’

‘Get tae fuck before ah stick ma boot up your arse.’

‘What else you gonna do, big boy?’ I kick the creep’s shin, and he hobbles away. People say violence never solves anything. Those people need a good slap. 

‘Nutter!’ he shouts at me. ‘You wanna kick this piece of ass again?’

‘Piss off, ya weirdo!’

My bus is rammed, and the heaving breasts of four obese fishwives surround me again. Everywhere I turn, there’s no escape. I pray for them to get off the bus, but they keep on stinking like freezer failure in a morgue and ranting to each other all the way to my stop in Central District 15. 

The lift still says, Fixed in FUTURE!!! I complain about this vagueness to the apathetic caretaker who merely grunts, shrugs, and keeps walking while laughter filters through from the CCTV camera. I’m sure the laughter is outside my head, but attacking an inanimate object isn’t worth it, not after the last time when I destroyed it with a brush and got a kicking off a gang of cunts in police uniforms.  

That brat pissing on the Level 14 backstairs is becoming less endearing with each passing day. And the grumbling, unkempt maniac on 17 calling me a heretic has grown ancient. ‘You never think you’re a heretic tae?’


‘You’re in Hell.’




I’m officially brain-dead and resorting to giving my legs a pep talk after scaling the piss-soaked backstairs to my grotty landing. Horrible choking pollutes the air. Flickers of light from a failing light bulb illuminate the culprit: it’s the bilious cat from next door. I recoil after stepping on another dead pigeon. Are you any good with murderous cats?  Nah?  Leave it to me then, eh? I throw a stone to entice it to fuck off. Who doesn’t love a good stone?  This pigeon-murdering bastard doesn’t even blink. I work around it and put key 21 in the door, but it doesn’t budge. The sinister doorman has changed the lock again. There are twenty-six possible keys with tiny if perceptible differences on each one. I find the correct one after my seventh attempt working backwards from key 13. What a life. 

The freezing flat stiffens my nipples and shrinks my scrotum. I notice I’ve smeared shite over my letters, and the caviar turd of a shiftless Etonian has invaded the sole of my failing shoes. ‘Fuckin rich fuckin cunts!’ Calm down. Take a few pills. They might work this time.

The letter is a summons from the Department of Evil to appear tomorrow at the Supreme Court of Lower Level District 1. But there’s no information beyond that, and I have a few questions: Can this get me out of work? Will there be women? And more importantly, why is there a drawing of a matchstick man fucking another well-hung matchstick man?

I’m on another jam-packed bus, gripping my letter and staring at a sweaty cleavage. Their defiance of gravity and trajectory towards Hell’s inner core is strangely captivating. I shimmy around and focus on a female pair, which are almost identical to the obese man’s, but marginally preferable due to the lack of monkey hair. Don’t worry, I’m not exactly falling in love here.

The bus coughs me into the damp, stinking street, and my umbrella collapses under the wind and drizzle. Usually, one more raindrop would crush my delicate spirit, but the letter is my calling card, a sniff of the unknown and possible respite from digging myself another hole.

‘Looks like ye caught a break, aye?’ White noise and a soundtrack of disgusting Nazi propaganda fill my head as I watch sentences leave the freshly snipped upper lip of Hitler. In a certain light, you can still see the moustache. He gives me a smug grin as I leave the yard. Hitler probably knows something. It stands to reason that cunt would have a direct line to Satan. 

The Department of Evil is an enormous phallic symbol stretching above the grey clouds pissing on my face. The automatic doors have people pushing to and fro and stepping into mayhem. I launch myself into the lobby where armed security guards wait impatiently to fondle me.

I watch heartless security guards chuckling as they summon the terror-stricken downtrodden.

‘This one needs a mint …’

‘This one needs a better wipe …’ After watching a guard eject an emaciated man for daring to bring in a water bottle, I almost leg it. The words open and wide have never been so horrifying. 

‘Let me see your documents,’ says a guard, without making eye contact. He pretends to read the letter upside down. ‘Mouth open.’ I loosen my rigid jaw; the guard grunts and writes something down in hieroglyphics. ‘Open your bag.’ The guard coughs and turns his back to spit in it before feeling me up.

‘Trousers off.’ Public nudity on a Baltic cold day. What could go wrong? I slowly remove my belt to get myself to a place of pure defiance.

‘Quicker! Boxers off!’ A man beside me breaks down after two guards laugh at his understandably frightened dick. I’m a bit more blessed than the poor, unhung victim of callous subjugation, but a self-assured striptease is not in the post. I close my eyes and sigh. The cold air hasn’t helped, but my dick is not inspiring merciless ridicule. As far as compliments go in Hell, I’ll take it. A guard with hard sausage fingers lifts my floppy dick, and another looks for The Holy Grail. My crack frowns at the assembled crowd behind me.

‘Spread cheeks.’ An imminent fart makes me hesitate. Will it be interpreted as biological warfare if I release this gas? You never know with these bastards. They’re just looking for any excuse to prolapse your rectum with a foreign object. ‘Hurry the fuck up!’ He jabs at my tender stomach with a steel baton. I wince, and a silent fart escapes. That’s it. I’m about to die. I spread my hairy, pasty cheeks like I’m finally ready for a new phase of sexual exploration. Just as I suspect, nothing falls out, at least nothing visible to the naked eye.

‘Right, move along!’ he says, standing up like Apollo 11 heading off the tarmac in Houston.

‘Ah can go?’

‘Are you still here?’

‘Where dae ah go?’

‘Just get the fuck out my face, you stinking bastard!’ I gather my clothes and feel a friendly jackboot kick me towards belt barriers.

An irritating coke-head shuffles beside me at another queue that snakes across the lobby to dots in the distance. How did this prick get through? And why do I always get lumbered with them? ‘Ye see the price ae sausages, man? Inflation, man. It’s aw inflation! That’s why ah cannae afford sausages; a basic human right, unless you’re vegan, which ah’m no. That’s no fir me. Fuck that. Checking the back of packets aw day? Life’s too short, man. Life’s too short!’

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