Between heaven and hell

summary / translation of the 1924 short story “Ο Κάτω Κόσμος” (The Underworld) by Andreas Karkavitsas

A sailor comes back to his native island after many years on the sea, sporting a brand new suit, and as he’s walking home it starts to rain. He doesn’t want his new suit to get wet, it’s all he has. So he looks around, sees there’s nobody else on the road, strips naked, puts the suit in a bag, and keeps walking. He’s a sailor, he can handle some rain on his skin.

When the rain stops, he takes the suit back out and puts it on, and at that point he meets the Devil. (Technically it’s a devil, as in one of many demons.) The devil marvels how this man’s clothes are dry after heavy rain, out in the wilderness and with no shelter in sight. The sailor says “I know a trick”, the devil says “teach me your trick!”, the sailor says “only if you let me shag you”. The devil balks at that, since mortals have tricked him before. One time he transformed to a donkey to scare some children in a village, but the children caught him, rode him, and since there were too many of them to ride on his back, they shoved a stick up his ass and climbed on that too. Darn kids. But in the end the devil agrees. So the sailor shags the devil, and then tells him what he did to keep his clothes dry: he put them in a bag. That was all? The devil is furious but of course there’s nothing he can do, a deal’s a deal.

Years pass and the man dies, and since he’s a sailor, he naturally goes straight to hell. In front of the gate, there’s scores of people waiting to get in, all the fine society, lords, gentlemen, bishops. Behind the gate, there’s fire and brimstone and demons with pointy instruments. And on guard duty that day is that particular devil, who sees him and starts yelling “noooo, don’t let that one in, send him away, he’s the one who shagged me, he’ll shag us all!”. So the devils kick him out of hell.

The sailor then goes to heaven, Saint Peter wouldn’t let him in but he slips in anyway. It’s nice there, but it’s boring, so he starts stirring some shit up. He tells one saint “hey, it’s none of my business, but why aren’t you sitting next to Jesus? that Saint Anthony who got the seat of honour, methinks he suffered a lot less than you for our Lord!”. He keeps spreading discord like that, and soon there’s murmurs and complaints, and finally a huge brawl breaks out in heaven, saints pulling each other’s beards, harps breaking on heads, it’s a mess. God wakes up and he’s pissed, he grabs a bullwhip, whips them all to shape and then bellows “WHO STARTED THIS?”. Everyone points at the sailor, and god kicks him out of heaven.

So now the sailor is banished from heaven and hell, and he can’t go back to the land of the living because he’s dead. Now what? He scratches his head and says “you know what? fuck the lot of you”. He plucks all the hairs off his body, head, arms, chest, everything (he is apparently a very hairy dude), and he weaves them to a sail. He cuts off a tree branch that was hanging outside the wall of paradise, fashions it to a pole and sticks it to the ground. Then he pulls the sail over the pole, and pitches his tent right there in the void, between heaven and hell, fearing neither god nor devil.

And though I don’t know his name, I’ll pour one out for that man who showed us the way: when I die, I’ll be heading straight for my tent. So fuck heaven, fuck hell, and long live all the sailors!

[originally posted on tumblr; please note that this retelling is exceedingly liberal, and there’s not a single instance of the word “fuck” in the original]

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