Down, down, down I went. Lights on the wall of the elevator car flickered as the floors registered: a hundred, a thousand, a million. Shortly after the lights indicated I was more than 2 million floors down, my conveyance began to slow.
Clunk! It stopped, and a voice informed me: “You are now 4,000 miles down. Please watch your step.”
I walked out of the elevator into a huge cavern. In all directions were snarling flames. The smell was sulfur and what could only be brimstone. Still, the air was pleasantly cool.
“What are you doing here?” asked someone holding a computer pad.
“No idea,” I said. “Have you seen a couple of little dogs?”
“We don’t take dogs here,” he said. “Cats, yes, but not dogs. I don’t have you on this week’s list of paying customers, so I’ll have to ask you to leave.”
I was shocked at his lack of Southern hospitality.
“I wouldn’t mind staying awhile,” I said. “To tell you the truth, the air here is a bit cooler than what I’m accustomed to back home.”
He punched some buttons on his computer.
“That’s impossible,” he said. “Do you have any idea where you are? We take great pride in having our guests stoke our fires day and night to keep the atmosphere nice and toasty.”
I waved him aside.
“Nevertheless, it’s kind of comfortable here,” I said. “Let me catch my breath and I’ll be glad to get back into the elevator.”
“Catch your breath? Why, nowhere is hotter than here. Unless, of course” – he punched more buttons – “oh, I see. You’re from the Augusta area. You’re used to all this and more, aren’t you?”
“Yes, especially lately,” I said. “Summer just started, but it’s already become unbearable.”
My host turned off his computer.
“Computer glitches!” he said. “Believe it or not, it could be worse. Augusta is – ugh! – blessed. We opened a bureau recently in the Colorado forests. Along the Gulf Coast, we sent a storm named Debby in to flood out the folks. And just look at what we’ve done to Oklahoma with tornadoes.”
I admitted he had a point.
“Despite our sweltering heat, my area has been lucky in the natural disaster department,” I acknowledged. “I’ll try to stop complaining so much about it. I guess I’ll even work up the courage to mow my grass despite this heat wave.”
“That’s the spirit,” he said, “but don’t get carried away. Remember what British playwright Noel Coward wrote: Only ‘mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.’ Don’t overdo it. We’re not going anywhere, so we’ll be ready when you are.”
I said farewell and stepped back into the elevator. As the door closed, my host smiled warmly and said: “I’ll catch you later.”