The story concerns a businessman who goes to Hell and is tortured for an eternity until he becomes a demon. The story ends with the demon who tortured him disappearing, and a businessman entering, implying a time loop.


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Sounds like Other People by Neil Gaiman. It was first published in the November 2001 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.

Here's a relevant excerpt from a review:

In Gaiman’s “Other People,” the secret is that the demon at the beginning of the story is not really a demon, but a regular man who had been sent to Hell, and that the protagonist that we follow is soon to become yet another “demon.” The story points to this outcome with certain phrases such as “time is fluid here,” and “flayed at some point in the distant past.” The plot conveys these, yet still keeps its secret until the end because, first off, these references are vague, but also because they are revealed out of order.

“Time is fluid here” is spoken by the demon at the very beginning of the story, in fact, it is the very first sentence. This phrase, which refers to two things: first that time means nothing there, and second, that our protagonist will eventually morph into a part of this place, is said before the reader knows anything about the world of the story or its nature. Since we have no background and have not yet witnessed the protagonist being tortured for thousands of years, this statement means nothing to us at the time that we read it, and we are not likely to revisit it until we have finished reading the story completely. Likewise, when Gaiman refers to the demon as “flayed at some time in the distant past,” it is referring to the fact that each person sent to hell is tortured and flogged, just as we are about to witness the protagonist being. That is just the problem though, it hasn’t happened yet, and so the reader does not connect the two in his mind.

Even the comment uttered by the protagonist when he says “that’s inhuman” in response to the demon heating the cat of nine tails in the brazier has a foreshadowing aura. Once the reader has reached the end, he takes it to mean that the experience endured in hell turns each man into a man no longer. This concept is further accentuated by these descriptions of the demon:

“’Now,’ said the demon, in a voice that carried with it no sorrow, no relish, only a dreadful flat resignation, ‘you will be tortured.'”


“It stared at him with expressionless eyes, and he was forced to look away.”

The ending is executed in a succinct and effective way, merely mentioning that the man is now alone, and that another walks into the room before the first utters the familiar words “time is fluid here.” This repetition serves to explain to the reader who the protagonist has become, and it is shocking to realize that he must now fit the description of the demon at the beginning:

“The demon was rake-thin, and naked. It was deeply scarred, and it appeared to have been flayed at some time in the distant past. It had no ears, no sex. Its lips were thin and ascetic, and its eyes were a demon’s eyes: they had seen too much and gone too far, and under their gaze he felt less important than a fly.”

And here's a YouTube video of Gaiman himself reading the story to a live audience:

  • 2
    "Hell is other people."
    – Buzz
    Commented Mar 30, 2021 at 18:57

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