The Number 192: Inside the Floor

in which we encounter a vision of Hell

’Twas on the 192 at Tottenham Hale,
It happened not so many years ago,
A certain Mr. George Arbuthnot Dale
Experienced a bout of vertigo.

While standing on the lower deck as usual
He thought he saw a face inside the floor.
Though others present claimed he’d been delusional
The truth of this account he fiercely swore.

The face had stared at him in utter sorrow,
Revealing an infinity of pain;
The bus’s floor indeed it seemed was hollow,
And this was Hell he’d steadfastly maintain.

He’d looked behind the face and seen a stairway
Which seemed to spiral endlessly below.
The stairway acted like a kind of causeway
And all around he saw a sulphurous glow.

As far as he could see the way descended
To ever deeper realms of hellish fire,
And on and on it went and never ended:
A world compressed in space and yet entire.

And as he looked, he saw there other creatures:
Some human, others of a different kind,
And these possessed bizarre and hideous features
The which he’d never seen among mankind.

They seemed to gaze at him with quiet interest
As though examining an alien being;
And all were Hell’s inhabitants he witnessed
And spirits of the damned he now was seeing.

Then one began to move in his direction
And offer him a friendly scaly hand:
It seemed to signal kindness and affection,
Inviting him to try this hidden land.

At this the human face appeared to panic—
It stared and seemed to shake its head in warning!
And in its eyes he noticed something manic
And something else resembling endless mourning.

But what occurred next seared his mind forever.
Its gullet now the demon opened wide,
And there he saw what caused in him such terror
As words could never properly describe.

It showed a world of utter desolation
Where only hopelessness and sorrow breathed:
A world outside this beauteous Creation
For which eternally it longed and grieved.

Foul tortures worse than humans have invented
And things more terrifying than Man has seen
The gaping demon then to Dale presented,
That witnessed once could never be unseen.

Machinelike structures of colossal size
It showed being filled with throngs of rotting souls,
Which, loudly grinding, these would liquidise
Before excreting them through jagged holes.

And in this form the damned would rot together
In Hell where all are dead and no one cries;
Now all as one and one as all forever:
A heaving soup of torsos, limbs and eyes.

Yet even while it showed him this it gestured,
Still motioning him to join it there below,
While yet more multitudes he saw there festered
As still more horrors yet it put on show.

But suddenly the awful vision vanished,
And George Arbuthnot Dale saw nothing more.
He woke distraught, all joy forever banished,
And lay a stricken figure on the floor.



Paul Martin Freeman is an art dealer in London. His recent book, A Chocolate Box Menagerie, is published by New English Review Press on whose website an earlier version of the current poem first appeared. “The Number 192: Inside the Floor” is from The Bus Poems: Tales Sacred and Profane, currently in preparation.

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The Society of Classical Poets does not endorse any views expressed in individual poems or commentary.

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17 Responses

  1. Cynthia Erlandson

    This is an excellent word-painting — as visual as a Hieronymous Bosch painting! What amazing imagery— “torsos, limbs, and eyes.” Wow!

  2. Roy Eugene Peterson

    I will make certain never to take bus #192. You know how much I enjoy your excellent poetry and prima use of the English language in your rhymes! This is good timing for reading this just before Halloween that comes in a few days! Thank you for such a stimulating visual treat.

    • Paul Martin Freeman

      Thank you, Roy. I’m always glad when I see your name in the comments. Your support means a lot.

  3. Paul A. Freeman

    To paraphrase. ‘When you stare into the bus, Iblis stares back.’

    You’re putting me off public transport, Paul!

    Nicely done. Thanks for the read.

    • Paul Martin Freeman

      Hello Paul, and thank you. If Evan publishes my next one, you’ll meet the old boy himself.

  4. Joseph S. Salemi

    Visions of Hell are always soul-shaking. The description of the Fatima children about their short glimpse of Hell will chill you to the bone.

    • Paul Martin Freeman

      Thank you for this information. I described a different kind of vision by children in The Outing.

      Here’s Lucia’s description of theirs of Hell:

      “Our Lady showed us a great sea of fire which seemed to be under the earth. Plunged in this fire were demons and souls in human form, like transparent burning embers, all blackened or burnished bronze, floating about in the conflagration, now raised into the air by the flames that issued from within themselves together with great clouds of smoke, now falling back on every side like sparks in a huge fire, without weight or equilibrium, and amid shrieks and groans of pain and despair, which horrified us and made us tremble with fear. The demons could be distinguished by their terrifying and repulsive likeness to frightful and unknown animals, all black and transparent. This vision lasted but an instant. How can we ever be grateful enough to our kind heavenly Mother, who had already prepared us by promising, in the first Apparition, to take us to heaven. Otherwise, I think we would have died of fear and terror.”

  5. Margaret Coats

    It would seem Mr. Dale was scared to death, but you do say he woke distraught and lay stricken. Perhaps we will see more of him. The idea of hell being under the floor of a bus implies that it is moving. Here in California, one image for hell is never being able to exit forever moving freeways. You give an effective description with the human and demonic inhabitants helping to illustrate the nature of hell, and your well-chosen words doing the rest.

  6. Paul Martin Freeman

    Hello Margaret. I’m always glad to read your informed and informing comments. Yes, Hell is inside the floor of every London bus. It’s a non-spatial world.

    You won’t see any more of George Arbuthnot, but if I can persuade Evan to publish my next poem, which I am trying to do at the moment, you’ll meet the Devil himself. He gives his version of the story of Adam and Eve and what really happened in Eden.

  7. Ruth Aitman

    So impressed by this poem’s structure and imagery. Now I will always tread carefully when taking a bus

    • Paul Martin Freeman

      Thank you, Ruth. That’s very kind. Having written that Hell contained worse tortures than humans have invented, the challenge was come up with them. And there’s a lot of competition these days.

  8. Paul Martin Freeman

    Open Resignation Letter

    Dear Evan

    This is very disappointing. I wrote to you a second time asking you to return my donation. But again you have chosen not to respond. It appears you are intent on keeping the money but know you have no right to. Hence the silence. This is discourteous and shameful, once again exhibiting a lack of principle.

    Here is the story. I joined the SCP at the beginning of the year with a subscription of $500. In late August, I sent a donation of $500.

    Within a matter of days, you rejected the latest poem I had sent you. To justify this you made a series of extraordinary arguments. Among these, you claimed my story failed the test of “historical realism”, even though you had got the date wrong by two thousand years, and even though such a test is never applied, for example, to Shakespeare’s classical dramas. You muddied the water further by appearing to fail to understand the plot. You appeared to be ignorant of Jacobean and Revenge Tragedies, even of the nature of revenge. Most astonishingly, you claimed that “normally” a woman like my character wouldn’t behave in the way she does, as though your views on how women behave could possibly be relevant.

    In response to my pointing out these and other crass errors, you claimed the poem needed a “back story” to explain the actions of the female character, even though no one criticises Shakespeare for not supplying one to explain why Hamlet’s mother marries the man she suspects of murdering her husband, or why Lady Anne allows herself to be seduced by Gloucester who has just killed both her father and husband. Etc. etc.

    As a consequence, I accused you of disingenuousness and using a double standard to reject the poem in order to hide your real reason. You didn’t respond.

    A short while later, you rejected a second poem. As with the first, it was clear the actual reason was that it didn’t accord with your views.

    Once again, repeated emails about the poem were ignored. Losing all confidence in you, I offered my resignation and asked you to return the donation, explaining how you were not entitled to keep it.

    Your wrote back but avoided the subject of the donation. Instead, you repeated the claim the first poem needed a back story, but offered to publish the second even though you had previously written one stanza “would not be publishable.”

    After you had ignored three emails on the subject, it now looks like the purpose of this unprincipled shift was to hang onto the money that I had just asked you to return.

    For the record, the first poem has been published elsewhere with no one complaining about the lack of a back story.


    I leave the Society with much diminished respect for you. I admire your website. It is without question very attractive, well organised and educational. But I see in you a narrow intolerance of difference, and that is not attractive. Whatever your right as editor to reject a poem, to do so employing patently false arguments that no educated person would use in order to hide your real reason, shifting your ground when convenient, is unworthy and discreditable. But it is also censorship, precisely what you correctly criticise the CCP for, although in your case attempting to hide the fact makes your position doubly hypocritical. And all this is made worse by your refusal to return the donation.

    I am posting this here to explain publicly the reasons for my resignation.

    I offer my thanks to Mike and all those who have given my work encouragement this past year.

    I look forward to writing again here that you have returned the $500.




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