“So, what do you think, Bub?”
“What do I think, sir?”
“Of the pit, Bub. How does it look?”
Beelzebub surveyed Hell’s main pit. The rock walls oozed with some brown rusting substance. The lines of damned souls trudged wearily, carrying huge heaps of coal taken from infinite piles, turning spits suspended over fierce flames, their misery obvious on their wretched, soot-blackened faces, while demonic beings in charcoal grey pinstripe suits jabbed at them cruelly with white-hot pokers and prongs.
“…Looks very impressive, sir?” Beelzebub ventured, twirling his pen nervously between his talons.
“Impressive, Bub? Impressive?” His voice began to resonate, a sure sign that he was angry about something. Beelzebub tucked his palmtop computer into his satchel, ready to run if necessary. “You call this ‘impressive’?” Small chunks of rubble fell from the gory cliffs, and a couple of nearby spit-turners began to edge away cautiously. “This barely deserves to be called a hell-hole!” Beelzebub coughed nervously and raised a finger to make a point, but he wasn’t given a chance to speak. “This isn’t torture! Carrying coal and turning spits! The air isn’t even sulphurous!”
“Um, technically sir, that isn’t my fault. See, the guy shovelling the sulphur and … various other odorous material, well… his appeal went through.”
“We lost another one?” Satan cursed and the spit-fires flared briefly, eliciting fresh screams from the souls of the damned. “Ever since Peter let that damned lawyer in…”
Beelzebub nodded, making his best ‘yeah, Peter, that goody two shoes’ face.
“So, how do you plan to rectify this sorry excuse for a torture chamber, Bub?” Satan’s voice was dangerous now, and Beelzebub gulped, scratching anxiously behind one of his horns.
“How do I…?”
“Yes, Bub, you. You’re not in charge of recruitment and decor for nothing. See if we have any designers with ideas along the right lines.” Beelzebub retrieved his palmtop and began scrolling through the records, using the point of one talon as a stylus. This new computerised system was so much more efficient than the paper-based system of old, not to mention safer; there was little chance now of losing an entire page of lawyers just because some lackey hadn’t paid attention in hellfire safety class.
“Joyce has some creative ideas, sir,” Beelzebub ventured after a moment or two of scanning names.
“Irish bloke, didn’t like the Church… his books were banned for blasphemy or heresy or something like that. But he had some great ideas about Hell.”
“Oh, him. No, leave him where he is. Where is he?” Satan asked, turning away from surveying the pit in disgust for a moment to frown in curiosity at Beelzebub, who quickly opened Joyce’s file.
“Er, he’s in the Listening Room, having his books read to him. Currently on Ulysses. Should take another couple of days, then he’s onto Dubliners again.”
Satan considered it, stroking his pointed goatee as he thought.
“Mm, no. I think I talked to him once, didn’t like him. Pretentious. A bit too big-headed. Find someone else.”
“I don’t think there is anyone else, sir. All the other designers are either Victorian or Art Deco. Not really very hellish.” Beelzebub winced as he spoke, anticipating an angry rebuke at the very least.
Satan fumed silently for a moment, grey-black smoke curling from the cuffs and collar of his tailor-made crimson suit.
“Fine. You can do it.”
Beelzebub looked up, startled. “Me, sir?”
“Yes, Bub, is that a problem?”
“Problem, Boss? No, no problem at all! It’ll be a cinch!” Beelzebub replied, trying to sound breezy and confident.
“That easy, hm?” the Devil said, looking down at his second-in-command with a slightly amused smile. “Well then, I expect it to be done by tomorrow.”
He vanished with a curl of smoke and a clap of thunder, something he saved for intimidating his subjects, or when he felt that progress was being made. Or when he knew that Beelzebub was developing a headache from the fumes and he just wanted to annoy him.
“Just great,” Beelzebub muttered to himself as he carefully traversed the rocky path up to the highest cliff. “‘Send out the welcome wagon for Rasputin, Bub! Zap that spit-turner for me, Bub! Redecorate Hell, Bub!'” With a huffy sigh, he sat on the edge of the precipice, dangling his short, stubby legs as he perused his list once more. He couldn’t think of any suitable designers currently residing in Hell. The living were strictly off-limits, of course. There was only one person he could think of who might be able to meet the Boss’s expectations… The problem was getting hold of him. Relocating a soul, even temporarily, was not easy.
Feeling rather as though he’d been given the short end of a very short stick, Beelzebub cursed angrily. As an afterthought, he glanced down at the spits. None of them had flared.
“Satan always gets them to flare up,” he muttered sullenly, kicking at the cliff with his hooves. Cries of protest rose up from the spit-turner directly beneath the cliff as he was showered with hot stones. Beelzebub picked up a rock about twice the size of his fist and dropped it casually over the edge. There was a thump, followed by a thud, and he watched a new spit-turner take over the duty without hesitation. Beelzebub wore a tiny smile until he looked back at his palmtop, cursed again, and pulled something small and black from his satchel.
His very own personal data link, transmitted through a device not unlike a mobile phone, had been made for him by the former deputy head of Microsoft. He pressed one of the large buttons with his stubby thumb and waited, listening to the howl of the dial tone.
Only one person could be contacted through this phone. Over the millennia, Beelzebub and Saint Peter had established a rapport, of a kind. They had come to realise, after an interdepartmental conference many aeons ago, that their roles in the cosmos were actually quite similar: both were undervalued, both were forever having boring and unrewarding tasks delegated to them by their respective employers, yet both were perceived by the general populace of both Heaven and Hell to have much more glamorous jobs than they actually did. Although they had never been the best of friends, Beelzebub had the feeling that Satan’s Public Enemy Number Two was rather fond of him.
“What is it this time, Bub? I’m rather busy.”
“Hey, Peter! Listen, I was just wondering, y’know, if you and I might be able to negotiate a temporary relocation.”
“Bub, if I’ve told you once I’ve told you a thousand times: you are not allowed to move up here!” Peter sounded edgy and exasperated; probably an influx of doddering pensioners from that bus crash earlier in the day.
“No, no, I don’t mean me!” Beelzebub reassured the saint. “I was talking about a saved soul. Up your way. Any chance I could maybe have a loan…?”
There was a shocked silence on the other end of the line, and Beelzebub tapped his hoof impatiently.
“Absolutely not!” came the angry reply. “An innocent in Hades? Out of the question.”
“Pete, Pete, I don’t intend to keep him! I’d just like to borrow him. For a day at the most.”
“Why?” Peter sounded suspicious.
“Well, the Boss wants me to redecorate, and -”
He was cut off suddenly by a burst of laughter, which dissolved into staccato giggles.
“Sorry, I just had a sudden image of you with rolls of wallpaper and a rickety ladder. Couldn’t help myself.” Beelzebub could hear him continue to snigger over the data link.
“You’ve been talking to Stan and Ollie again, haven’t you?”
“Shut up. Who is it you want to borrow, anyway?” Peter asked. “Not that you’re getting anyone, but who is it?”
“Well, the Boss turned down James Joyce – he doesn’t like him – so the only other person I can think of who has any idea of a Hell that’s different from what we have now is Dante.”
“No, the volcano. Of course the writer! Who did you think I meant?”
“I don’t like your tone, Bub.”
“Oh, shush. Can I borrow Dante, then? Just for a day? We can have him wiped before he goes back up; he won’t remember a thing.”
“You don’t have to tell anyone, Pete, just slip him past security somehow. Your new lawyer guy keeps sneaking people out of here, why can’t I do the same?” Beelzebub wheeled down the phone. “Come on, Pete.”
There was a drawn-out, resigned sigh, then a slightly smug, “What’s the magic word?”
Beelzebub didn’t like his tone at all. He hated when Saint Peter had the upper hand; it was humiliating.
“Oh, Peter, do I have to?” he grumbled.
“If you want Dante, I need the magic word, Bub.”
He gave an angry, defeated growl, just to let Peter know how unhappy he was about this.
“Come on, Bub.”
“Please,” he conceded through gritted fangs.
“That’s more like it,” said Peter with a smug, self-satisfied smirk that Beelzebub could practically hear over the data link. “Now, what do you say?”
“Thank you, Peter.”
He terminated the connection with a growl. “Conniving, manipulative, antagonistic, condescending little goody two shoes,” he grumbled as he headed towards the Arrivals gate, vaporising an unsuspecting spit-turner on his way down.
Beelzebub’s knees were almost shaking. He was anxious for his interpretation of Dante’s ideas to be approved, because if they weren’t, he might be relocated. Halfway through renovations, the Devil had dropped in to inform him that if the work wasn’t satisfactory, he could find himself losing his idyllic location overlooking the cliffs, which was a prestigious spot for any demon to hope for. He knew for a fact that Apollyon had cast many a covetous glance at it.
“You think so, sir?”
“Yes, I like the idea of levels…” the Devil mused, half to himself. “And do the souls move down these levels?”
“That is my understanding, sir, yes. From what I could make out… My designer was a little hard to understand; I’d had to numb his brain for a while.”
Satan stopped surveying the decor and looked down at Beelzebub with the familiar expression of contempt and confusion.
“What?” he said eventually, horned brow furrowing.
Aware that he was straying into dangerous territory, Beelzebub shifted his feet nervously and looked anywhere but at Satan as he spoke. “Well sir, he couldn’t quite get his head around Hell.”
Satan pinched the bridge of his nose with his taloned thumb and forefinger and set his teeth.
“You got him from … up there, didn’t you?”
Beelzebub nodded reluctantly, tensing in anticipation of his reprimand. Nothing happened, however, and Beelzebub glanced up to see the Devil looking rather pensive.
“Saint Peter’s getting lenient, hmm? That could be useful. Don’t get in his bad books, Bub.”
“Sir, I’m already in his bad books. I’d be up there if I wasn’t.” Beelzebub risked a small grin.
“Don’t get clever with me, Bub; you know perfectly well what I meant.” Flames flickered irritably at the corners of his mouth, and Beelzebub decided quickly that grins were far too risky.
“Yes sir, sorry sir.”
“Why did you need to look up there to find a decorator, anyway?”
“Well, sir, I couldn’t find anyone else suitable for the job. It had me quite discombobulated, I can tell you, so I called up -”
“Bub, I’ve told you before about making up words.”
“I can assure you, sir, ‘discombobulated’ is a real word.” Satan scoffed contemptuously. “I could find Webster for you, sir, I’m sure he’d be able to verify -”
“Of course, sir.”
“Now, explain to me how this system works. The unbaptised go in there… And the sinners?”
Beelzebub recalled the rather garbled explanation Dante had given him which had formed the template for the new version of Hell. Attempting to explain it second-hand shouldn’t be too difficult, seeing as he’d had to elaborate on most of the mechanics of it himself. He pulled out his palmtop and paraphrased from his notes.
“They descend through the other eight circles, depending on their sins, Boss. Once they’ve passed through a circle, that’s them done their punishment. Of course, some take millennia on just one sin; it depends what they did and how often they did it.”
“I see. What happens when they reach the ninth circle? Oblivion?” The Devil rubbed his clawed hands eagerly.
Beelzebub scuffed his hooves on the ground, considering his reply. He’d interpreted the concept of the ninth circle as best he could from what he understood of Dante’s description, but he’d had to alter it a fair bit. Satan wouldn’t take too kindly to being encased in ice up to his waist, so he’d left that part out of the design.
The part that caused the most trouble was that, according to Dante, the next stage was Purgatory. There was something about a mountain as well, but it hadn’t been terribly clear. Purgatory was not something the Boss wanted to hear. Purgatory was one step down from Heaven, and if Beelzebub revealed to his boss that the souls would eventually escape Hell and be purged of their sins, he’d lose his cliff-top apartment for sure.
Well, what the Devil didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him.
“You’ve hit the nail on the head, Boss. Oblivion. That’s where they go.”
“Perfect!” Satan chuckled evilly, pleased with his new dominion.
Beelzebub let out a small sigh of relief and tucked his palmtop away in his satchel. “Yes, sir. Perfect.”
This is a piece of original fiction I wrote roughly six years ago. It may not be duplicated or archived anywhere without my permission, but links are strongly encouraged! 🙂
- I, For One, Welcome Our New Demon Bat Overlords (neatorama.com)
- Devil to offer Groupon (coverboom.com)
- 69. Speaking in Foreign Tongues (stuffmonsterslike.com)