Just a few miles north of Cairns, on the eastern fringes of the Daintree rainforest, there are some mangrove swamps. Almost primeval in their simplicity and yet ecologically amazing in their eco-systems, they remain a memorial to the eons past where their origins first saw the light of day.
They are a complex realm; brackish water for a few hours and then the turn of the tide and the salt water rushes in and all life that would survive there must evolve to cope with these varied conditions or face extinction.
Some did evolve – of whom we shall soon speak. Others did not and their fossilized remains may one day be displayed as a later version of the caution to the triumphing Roman General "Remember that you too are mortal".
But to our story...
In a pool, at the very interface between fresh & salt water, there lived a sand crab and a mud crab. They had shared this strange environment for many years and had become fast friends, seeing no reason for enmity in their different cultures. Indeed they were drawn closer by their differences rather than provoked to irrational responses by a slightly varied biology.
But, one terrible day, after a long and satisfying life, the sand crab died, in the company of several generations of his offspring and his great friend the mud crab. A veritable pall descended over the mangrove swamps as all the inhabitants strove to come to terms with the passing of the great patriarch.
However, as the grieving in the mangroves was reaching its climax, a different climax was happening on another plane of existence. Like all entities, the sand crab was undergoing evaluation as to the worth of his life and, alas for him, the scales of justice came down on the side of the unworthy and he was condemned to hell. His final thought before sentence was executed was: "Oh shit, I dodged the barbeque for all those years & it's finally got me in the end!"
But, when he awoke and found himself in the lower regions, it was not what he had been led to believe. No fiery furnaces, no red hot gridirons, no demons with pitchforks! Instead, there was this uniformly grey landscape, gray sky, grey people – nothing to relieve the monotony at all. Even the greeter was in a grey suit and resembled a failed Accenture Consultant who had failed to achieve an adequate billing ratio but was being kept on to help meet ageist quotas.
But greeted he was and told that his fate was to exist forever under these gray skies and rue the day he had not chosen a more selfless life. And then he was turned loose to cope with his fate as best he could.
But our hero was not to be deterred by what he viewed as "the slings and arrows of not only outrageous but unreasonable fortune" and he set out to explore his new habitat and see how his lot could be improved. Surely there had to be an angle he could latch onto and exploit!
The philosophy behind the place was (to coin a phrase) diabolical. All the basic human drives had been removed or made irrelevant. The climate was temperate if unvarying, no food or drink was needed so none was offered and the endless procession of identically grey indistinguishable beings quelled any thoughts of sex much more effectively than any cold spoon. There was nothing to talk about so no-one spoke, nothing to stimulate memories so these faded into grey oblivion and even guilt (and with it repentance) had dwindled without the spur of knowledge of missed opportunities and selfish acts.
But as the sand crab took all this in, he came to realize two things:
1/ He had only a limited time to find an angle before his mind faded like all the rest into endless apathy
2/ The absence of guilt was almost certainly not what was intended by the CEO
So, caring little for the other inmates but greatly for himself, he cast around for a way to reintroduce guilt into the Underworld and incidentally spice up his own life. And, necessity being the mother of invention, he came up with the Mother of bright ideas; nasty, exploitive and cruel but definitely workable.
Losing no time, he found his way back to the Greeting Area and demanded that the greeter get him an interview with the Boss! The greeter pondered for a while over which would inflict more suffering; a contemptuous refusal or letting him feel the full weight of the displeasure of the Chief. But eventually he took the easy way out and kicked the problem upstairs (for modern bureaucratic practice is modeled on the diabolic paradigm). And the sand crab got his interview with the Boss.
Things certainly weren't grey and featureless in the Boss' office. Computerised, airconditioned, carpeted and luxuriously furnished, it resembled the executive suite of thousands of big corporations. And the Boss looked like a typical CEO as well – Armani suited, New York haircut, California suntan and that big sincere conman's smile that could be turned off and on like a switch. Unfortunately for the crab it was off when he appeared before the presence and his welcome was anything but warm.
"It's been several hundred years since I had a crab BBQ. You have 30 seconds to dissuade me from grilling you!!"
The crab was equal to the challenge though. "I know how to reintroduce suffering into their lives", he quickly said, "and what's more they'll thank you for it!"
The Boss was intrigued. He indeed knew that his grey monotonous hell was essentially self defeating but had been unable to find a work around that kept headcount (of HIS staff) to a minimum & suffering (of HIS clientele) at an acceptable level.
"All right", he growled, "Let's hear it. But don't for one instant forget that the BBQ is still an option".
And so the sand crab laid out his dastardly plot.
"We need to start a Saturday Dance", he said.
Suddenly there were a pair of tongs in the Boss' hand and the crab hastened to add "Let me explain. We need to reawaken human needs, desires, lusts and rivalry in Hell's denizens to really make them suffer. As of now, it's all dull & boring and the epitome of Same Day Same Shit. We need to show them (briefly) just what they are missing and then take it away! How does that song go:
You never know what you've got till it's gone
To taste Paradise, put up a parking lot
We give them an 8:00pm till midnight dance once a week, let them eat pizzas, drink beer and compete for someone to screw and then send them back to their monotony for the rest of the 164 hours in the week. Their suffering will be exquisite!!"
The tongs had gone and the Boss looked both interested & dubious.
"OK, the ideas fine in theory but how do I facilitate this thing? You've seen the standard of help I've got around here. That CPA running orientation is the best of a bad lot and he needs to be reminded to unzip before he takes a leak!"
"Ah", said the crab. "That's where I can come in. Give me limited access to your executive powers and I'll organize the construction, install the PA, recruit a couple of bands from your staff, line up the cardboard pizzas and the horse piss beer and some curvaceous entrants for the wet T-Shirt competition and the show can be on the road by next weekend. What do you say?"
And the Boss, slightly bemused, fell for the bullshit & let him do it.
So, after 6 weeks, Sand Crabs Saturday Dance was the joy and despair of Hell. For 4 hours each week, the joint rocked!! The music was LOUD (how not, the amplifiers volume dial went up to 12), the "beer" was cold, the pizzas were hot and there were NO inhibitions to be seen. But when it was over, there were hangovers, memories of dances from long ago, and a thorough air of gloom, guilt and suffering all over Hell.
The Boss was very pleased.
And the crab was pretty pleased too. He was the absolute top of the food chain as far as the staff of Hell were concerned. He booked the Bands, hired (and fired) the DJs, auditioned the wet T-Shirt contestants & generally did exactly what he wanted. Hell had never looked so good.