The Devil, You Say
“Think about it,” the soot-blackened imp urged his Dark Master. “Go into the upper world and see the changes that have taken place. Your messengers have been busy and the place is ready for the taking.”
“Didn’t you tell me that in the past?” Satan eyed his servant narrowly. “What they call their world wars were fought to defeat me and they did.” He pointed at the imp. “You didn’t do your job.”
“You’ve never given up, Master
. I think this time they are ready for the picking. There are wars and genocides raging over the world. The young ruin themselves with their stupidity.” The imp gave a wide grin. “Just think of all those souls to torment.”
“I’ll think about it.” Satan turned away from the imp to check the industry of those souls already in his keeping. Their endless labors of feeding the fires of hell and shrieks as the flames jumped at them to singe hair and skin pleased him. Good thing they weren’t flammable, and could only feel the fire. If they burned, he’d soon be out of victims.
He considered the imp’s suggestion. About every fifty years some part of mankind would come under his sway and let unreasoning hatred boil over. He wished he knew for sure the formula to make it more successful. Leftovers from the previous fifty-year span kept hate alive and made sure to infect the next generation but alone hate wasn’t strong enough. However, he thought, hate was still his best tool.
Might there be a way to help it along? Greed, perhaps? Or Envy? Always good too. He wondered, tapping his talon-shaped fingers on his four pronger. Perhaps, now was time to venture beyond the stone bound gate to Hades and see how things were in the human world. Use a personal touch as it were. If the young were as brainless as the imp said, Satan was sure he could at last declare his victory over his creator.
“Malevo,” Satan thundered.
“Yes, Master?” a cringing creature sidled up to him, fear in its dull eyes. To think this being had once ruled a large part of the world.
“I’m going up to the world of men for a while,” he smiled nastily at his personal slave. “I’m leaving you in charge.”
The light that flared in the creature’s eyes made him add. “I don’t want you to overdo the torments. The last time all that black smoke made the humans think a new volcano was forming and before you could say ‘I’ll be damned’, there were hundreds of them creeping around trying to find the source. What do you think would have happened if they’d found the gate to Hades?”
Malevo shuddered. “Master, it won’t happen again.”
Satan glared at him, red eyes glowing. “It better not or you’ll be demoted again.”
Malevo twitched, his anxiety showing. “Please, Master. I don’t want to spend another five hundred years married to a nagging wife.”
“You wouldn’t.” Satan leered at him. “Next time, you’ll be the nagging wife married to the useless drunk.”
The imp was stunned. “No, please,” he stepped back from Satan. “I’d get laryngitis.”
“Then you’d know how your wife suffered. You never listened to her.”
“She was the reason I drank. You know that.” Malevo cried. “Five hundred years of that horrible croaking about get a job, buy her a bigger house, a new car, trips...” Huge tears ran down his face. “All that time I had to keep trying to satisfy her. Horrible.” He wept. “It was horrible.”
Satan laughed, a hoarse, grating sound that shook the walls of Hell and made the flames jump. The stench of suphur rose from black wisps of smoke.
“Yes, it was. Ezilia told me all about it. She said you were thoroughly cowed.” He smiled, fangs showing. “Just as you are now.” He leered at Malevo. “Perhaps, you’d prefer five hundred years of solitude on some mountain.”
Malevo failed to repress the shiver that coursed over his body. “Please, Master. I hate the cold.”
“Then remember that. They say the Matterhorn in winter is cool and breezy with lovely snow and avalanches.”
With that, Satan wrapped himself in a long black cloak, gave a twitch of his rather long tail and shifted himself onto the surface of Earth.
The air was nearly unbreathable. He coughed. Soot and ashes rained from his mouth as he cleared his throat. I can’t stay long. Already, he missed the heat and smells of Hades, the shrieks of pain.
The unlit alley in which Satan found himself smelled of humanity at its worst. Its silence was like that of a cemetery on a cold wet day after a funeral. It bore down on him like a weight.
He knew what the weight was. His own fear. He could feel goodness vibes emanating from the old stone church nearby. His old creator still had a strong presence in such places. Even when they looked abandoned as this one did.
His scaly skin began to itch beneath his cloak. Scratching, he hurried toward the other end of the alley where the stench of humanity and its offal strengthened. The itching ceased and Satan found himself more comfortable in this environment. He watched calmly as two teenage males beat an old drunk, then robbed him. He knew them. They were his. Or would be soon.
Satan passed quietly into the rear of The Hoppin’ Spot. The pounding noise they called heavy metal made his ears hurt. He pulled the hood of his cape up around them. Just as well, he thought, since they were so big. No reason to attract attention yet, though it wasn’t likely he would in this dark.
Almost like home. He smiled, pleased.
A girl was flung into him. She bounced off and grabbed the nearest person, a heavy shouldered youth whose unshaven face had a mean expression. Perfect, Satan thought. He hates the world. Women in particular. Doesn’t hide it well.
“You groping my woman?” the boy sneered, assuming possession of the girl.
Satan pushed his hood back. “No, young man. I don’t want her.” He cocked a long red finger at him. “I want you.”
The boy stared. “Me?” he asked. “Don’t be stupid.”
“I offer you a position with power,” Satan told him. Power was something most men responded to.
“Naw. I don’t want no stupid job.” The boy shook his head and moved away, towing the giggling girl after him.
“That’s the trouble with these kids,” Satan muttered. “They don’t want to work. No ambition.”
“Why should they, man?” a tall thin man in black asked. “They got everything they want. Parents support most of ‘em.” He swept the room with a hand.
Satan grunted. “Lazy, eh?” They’d come to him too, but they were troublesome in Hell. Always going on strike and sending him lists of demands. And nothing he could do made them amend their ways. They had no feelings in life, loved nothing but themselves. And if he threatened to deprive themselves of themselves... He shook his head. They always confused him.
“I’m looking for a new assistant,” he told the newcomer as they took seats at the bar. “Someone to represent my interests here.”
“What type of business is it?” the man asked without appearing interested. He took a long gulp from his glass of beer.
Satan tasted his gingerly. The last time he’d tried to drink some human concoction, he got boils all over his behind.
“You’re not much of a drinker,” the fellow observed.
“I don’t usually drink, but I don’t mind if others do.” Alcohol wasn’t his invention, but it brought him lots of souls.
“You know,” his companion said, “I have the feeling I should know you.”
“Maybe you do,” the dark master said with a smirk. Then he shook his head and sneezed loudly. Some bimbo among the dancers was wearing feathers. Damn things. Reminded him of the wings he’d lost when he chose to make his own place.
He sneezed again. His nose began to itch a little.
“What about this job?” his drinking companion asked.
“I need someone with the gift of gab.” Satan told him.
“My name’s Adamis and I have a fine gift of gab.” the man said.
“Are you willing to lie to achieve your ends? To cheat and connive?”
“I happen to be searching for a job that pays well. I require certain perks however.” Adamis said.
Satan noted he hadn’t answered the question. Evasion—a good indication this man could be the one he could use. “I can guarantee you any perks you desire—money, women, power, paid vacation as long as you like.”
“I’m not interested in those things. I have something more intangible in mind.” Adamis told him.
“Isn’t that everything?” Satan was surprised that he might have forgotten something humans, especially males, desired. He sneezed again. The itching was getting stronger.
“No. I want to build a following. Like my employer has. People hang on his every word. They believe everything he says.”
Satan considered this. A following, eh? This could be his chance to collect souls more quickly. Humans would believe anything if the right person said it. Like Hitler or Lenin or Napoleon. All they had to do was say the words and people followed blindly. Look how these personality cults were started. Why how many of those leaders and their minions had he residing in Hell? And their followers—only a few had repented before he got to them. If Hell weren’t expandable, it would be overcrowded.
He smiled broadly. As if that could even happen. The nether plane went on for infinity and it was his kingdom, the whole of its boiling, flaming, sulphurous eternity.
He studied his companion at the bar. He was the type of man who’d be able to disappear into the crowd and never be noticed. He didn’t possess any traits to draw people to him. He needed a trained speaker with an actor’s flamboyance.
“I don’t think you could do the job,” he said. “I need someone with a strong personality who can follow orders.”
Adamis frowned. “I’m very good at following orders. I’m here tonight because my employer told me to find him some recruits, some who could become true believers.”
Satan frowned in turn. He tapped the bar with a claw-like fingernail. “Your employer is building a cult?” he asked.
“Not quite,” Adamis said, “But it would be a following.”.
“Ah,” Satan said. “This might be just the situation I’m looking for.”
He did some quick thinking. “I’ll give you time to recruit people for your employer. When you have a large enough group, I’ll give you the power to take over.”
His companion smiled. “I thought I knew you. Just wanted to be sure. You’re the Devil, aren’t you? Those pointed ears and that thing in your hand...”
Satan nodded. “If you know me, then we’ve done business before.”
“Yes, we have,” Adamis said. “A long time ago.”
It wasn’t important where or when they’d met, only that they had. Satan knew humans. They all had a weakness that would lead to their downfall. The more often he met them, the more likely they were to join him in Hell.
He sneezed several times in growing violence. The stench of sulphur filled the air around them. He peered through the darkness to the crowded dance floor. Feathers! What idiot female would wear them. Ever since he’d lost his wings, he’d had a violent allergy to feathers and all things that flew. He couldn’t even eat chicken for pity’s sake.
Satan shook his head to clear it and produced a contract. He touched it and his name appeared at the bottom in blood-red letters. The paper scorched around them. “All you have to do is sign this and we’re in business. I’ll grant you anything you wish.”
“Not so fast,” Adamis produced a set of folded papers from his pocket. “I have a contract you must sign first.”
Satan was momentarily flummoxed. He’d never been asked to sign a contract in return. “Very well,” he said. “I’ll sign it.”
What could it contain but a lot of human legal speak? Probably, some guarantee that he wouldn’t take Adamis’ soul or that he’d live forever. Things like that always had ways around them. No matter how tightly the contract bound one, there was always wiggle room when dealing with humans. They were such fools. Made him wonder sometimes why he wanted their souls.
He affixed his signature with a single sweep of fire. “There. It’ s signed.”
“You didn’t read it,” Adamis said. “Don’t you think you should have?”
“No. I don’t have the time and humans never write contracts I can’t break.”
“Well, you may find this one different,” Adamis said, handing Satan a copy. “Just to keep things honest,” he added.
As he held the document in his hand, Satan felt a terrible itching start. He began to cough. That meant only one thing. His old master had an emissary here, someone with enough power to start his allergies again.
His sinuses ran, his eyes watered. Sneezing and wheezing, he peered around the room. Where was he? Was it this ordinary looking human?
“I’m here,” the old familiar voice said in his ear. His creator!
“You tricked me,” Satan gasped.
“No. You tricked yourself. In your arrogance to believe yourself all powerful, that all men could be brought low, you signed a contract you should have read first,” the voice said.
Satan unfolded the papers and, barely able to see through his tearing eyes, began to read. Party of the first part...bah... Party of the second part...
He turned to the last page where the full impact of what he’d signed hit him. The itching was intolerable. He sneezed and coughed.
“You can never return to Hell,” the voice continued calmly. “You have given your spirit back to me.”