By The Prophet
"Gentlemen," the Philosopher said. "Can we take it as read that none of us accept the simplistic, Christian notion that Hell would be a place of eternal pain?"
"Oh, absolutely," the Second Philosopher replied. "After all; all tortures can be borne, and given time, any pain can be acclimatised. For eternal torment, you would need an infinite variety of tortures - of pains - and there can only be a finite number of ways in which to inflict pain on the human body."
"Well, pain certainly," said the Third Philosopher, nervously. "But not any discomfort. A burning, a cuts; these are pain and dull with time. But an itch that you can not scratch just keeps growing on your mind. Or an ache you can not soothe."
"Or an idiot who won't shut up," snorted the First Philosopher, derisively. The Third Philosopher flushed angrily. "If it grows so much, it becomes a pain, and we have already established that pain can not be eternally prolonged." The Third Philosopher's frown deepened, but he did not answer, merely settling in sullen silence into his seat.
"Well, what about annoyance of the mind then," suggested the Fourth Philosopher. "Perhaps Hell would be a chore? A tedious chore with no end, that had to be repeated ad infinitum; much in the manner of Sisyphus."
"No, no, no," the Second Philosopher replied. "Repetition leads to routine; an eternal torment would have to absorb your whole attention, or you could flee into fantasy.
"A puzzle then," the Fourth Philosopher said. "A puzzle or riddle that you can never solve, but are always on the cusp of cracking."
"Hell is other people," the Third Philosopher piped up, sagely.
"It is if they crack trite aphorisms like that," the First Philosopher retorted, acidly. With a squeak of rage, the Third Philosopher lunged across the table at the First Philosopher, who fell backwards off his chair in his struggle to get clear. The Fourth Philosopher grabbed the incensed Third Philosopher and tried to pull him back to his seat, while the First Philosopher drew himself to his feet, glowering with rage.
"Here y'go gents." The four philosophers tried to look nonchalant as the pretty barmaid sashayed over and handed out their drinks. She flashed them a smile that quite took their minds off their argument, then turned and sauntered back to the bar.
"Um...Where were we?" The Second Philosopher asked.
"I'm not sure," the First Philosopher replied.
"What is the meaning of life?" The Third Philosopher ventured. His suggestion was met with a chorus of approval.
The barmaid leaned against the bar, watching the four men in the snug as the landlord poured another round of drinks for the philosophers, and set them on her tray.
"Have they ever realised?" She asked. "Even for a moment." Over at the table, the First Philosopher was becoming angry at another of the Third Philosopher's ideas.
"Not while I've been here," the landlord replied, as the voices began to be raised. The barmaid watched for a few minutes more, as the Fourth Philosopher began to brood. Then she heard the words, 'life is like a box of chocolates' drift across the barroom, and knew that was her cue. She lifted her tray with practiced ease, and swept quickly across the floor to break up the fight.
The landlord watched her go, watched the tensions cool, and the four philosophers return to another debate that would reach no conclusion, achieve no end, and had no purpose, and that would be broken up by yet another fight. As he poured the next round of drinks, he rubbed the base of his horns meditatively, and gazed out of the front windows, across the harsh, dark landscape of Hell.