Welcome to Hell
by “Bad” Billy Pratt
(Terror House Press, 2021)

Welcome to Hell, indeed. The almost-prosaic Welcome to Hell navigates you through the Stygian waterways of the dating world in a neoliberal hellscape told by our personal gondola, our Charon-esque author, who recounts his own personal anecdotes as a cautionary tale. Told in the first person in short stories, interspersed with ample rock and pre-Bush Era pop culture references, you are taken on a gloomy journey that interrogates nihilism, ontology, and authenticity. Everybody wants something; but the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is nothing but a mirage. The meaningless procession of flings that were promised to bring you joy took you down a path of degradation and emptiness. Sartre referred to hell as being other people; Kill to Party extends this to the ceremonial song and dance of chasing endless dopamine hits, followed by a soothing release of endorphins that strictly adheres to a law of diminishing returns. Then it’s on to the next one.

By regaling us with his old anecdotes, the author indulges in a warm-and-fuzzies-inducing form of nostalgia—because, ultimately, all you’re left with are fleeting memories after each conquest. The memories you’ll cherish the most are of the ones that got away or where you failed to seal the deal, so to speak. A future within Hell is uncertain, but the past always looks better. The endless conveyor belt of needing human connection on both a physical and emotional level never comes to a grinding halt. But, alas, times have changed; the dating pool is rapidly evaporating and your pickings are now slimmer than a Milanese runway model. Even once you’ve been helicoptered out of Hell, such as in the biblical tale of the Onion—where a woman was plucked from Hell by her guardian angel who dangled an onion for her to grab onto—only to be sucked back in by hopelessly shaking off your fellow tormented souls, you may look to break back in. Like the wizened old criminal who can’t survive outside the joint, such as the old man who commits suicide in Shawshank Redemption, some cannot survive on the celestial plain. The way out of Hell is akin to a bucket of crabs. Divorcées voluntarily plunge back into the dating scene when, for them, marital greener pastures cease to be enough.

Hell’s magnetic power tosses cruel reminders of what could have been had you not genuflected to the flashy allure of the underworld. Run-ins with old loves force you to consider alternate timelines, the ones where those mired in a self-deprecating dating scene could’ve had the white picket fence, a golden retriever, and 2.5 kids. Instead, you’re day drinking with a divorcée on SSRIs or a teenager with daddy issues…who is also on SSRIs. What’s certain in and out of Hell is the initial scintillating buzz of emotional and physical connection fizzles over time; the difference is, when you’re married, that connection turns into a bond, but in the superficial dating scene—Hell—there’s no reason to continue playing the charade before it’s time to move on.

Welcome to Hell is an enjoyable read. Its philosophical message and rock references uplift the otherwise nihilistic undertones throughout the short stories. Whether or not you can escape Hell is irrelevant; you are doomed from the start.

We hope you enjoy your stay.

Click here to buy Welcome to Hell.