Fancies and Goodnights by John Collier an Excerpt

Fancies and Goodnights (1951) won the International Fantasy Award. The stories are beautifully constructed and strikingly memorable. Here's an excerpt from the short story, Half Way to Hell.

Louis Thurlow, jilted by his girlfriend takes an overdose of sleeping pills and finds himself dead in his suite at Mutton's. He rises, invisible, and begins to roam the streets of London when a fiend takes him in charge, for he is to go to hell.  The fiend shows him the escalator in the underground that leads to hell.

For the rest of it, it was made just like all other escalators, except in matters of details. Its sides were adorned with pictorial advertisements of temptations, some of which Louis thought might be very interesting. He could have stepped on, for there was no barrier or ticket collector, but, as we have seen, he liked to take his time.

Now and then, he and his companion were jostled by other fiends and their charges. I am afraid some of the latter were behaving in rather an undignified manner, and had to be marched along in a sort of policeman's grip. The effect was rather degrading. Louis was interested to see, however, how tremendously the escalator accelerated once it felt the weight of these infernal policemen and their victims. It was a tremendous spectacle to see this narrow moving chain, dimly lit, roaring, rushing down, looping the distance between Earth and Hell, which is greater than one would imagine.

"What did you do before this sort of thing was invented?" asked Louis.

"We had to leap down, like chamois, from start to star," replied the fiend.

Having developed a cold waiting for Louis, the fiend agrees to go to a bar for a drink of Quetch which tastes like liquid fire.

The fiend disdained a glass, and put the bottle to his lips, whereupon Louis saw, to his great amazement, this powerful form of brandy was actually brought to the boil. The fiend appeared to like it. When the liquid was gone, he sucked away at the bottle, the melting sides of which collapsed like the skin of a gooseberry sucked at by a child. When he had drawn it all into his mouth, he smiled, pursed his lips, and blew out the glass again, this time more like a cigarette smoker exhaling his first puff. What's more, he didn't blow the glass into bottle shape as formerly, but into the most delightful statuary piece, most realistic, most amusing. "Adam and Eve," said he laconically, placing it on the table to cool.

"Oh, very, very good!" cried Louis. "Can you do Mars and Venus?"

"Oh, yes," said the fiend. Louis immediately commandeered several more bottles of Quetch.