by Beverly Forehand
part 1 of 2
Did you ever have a job you really hated? I mean really, really hated. The kind of hate that sets you to thinking “I hope blow a tire or that I plow into that wall before I have to punch in?” The kind of hate that makes you think things like, “I could just throw myself in the compressor — a trip to the hospital is sure to get me out of a few hours of work.” The kind of mind-numbing, stomach-curdling hate that keeps you awake at night thinking about suicide or homicide — but mostly homicide?
Believe me, I know what I’m talking about. I hate my job. I hate it as much as any hamburger-flipping sophomore who ever spit in the grease fryer right before he dipped out your french fries. I hated it so much that one day I just walked out, mid-day, right after lunch. And I didn’t give any notice. I didn’t turn in my name badge or the company car. I didn’t give a flying flip about my health insurance coverage or how vested I was in my 401K. I just quit.
And like any bad employee, I made sure to loot the supply cabinet and carry away a few goodies right before I hit the road. The problem is that, well, there’s really no contingency for quitting my job. You see, my name is Chuck, and I’m a Demon. And the small, really inconsequential thing that I pocketed, was a Soul.
I know what you’re thinking. You just can’t steal a Soul. Well, buddy, you’re wrong there. Hell, people are practically giving them away. The average pack of copy paper probably has more value than the Soul that I lifted. But the thing about that is, you don’t even get away with stealing a sheet of copy paper in Hell. You think Heaven is big on rules? Well, you haven’t seen anything until you’ve spent some time with the Rules and Regulations guys in the Nether Regions. What do you expect — we have all the best lawyers.
Here’s the thing, that job that I hated, the one I ran out on — well, the gist of it was that I picked up Souls. You know, just like in the movies, when this guy says “I’d sell my Soul!” and then there’s some dark, disturbing music and a puff of smoke and then this Demon appears. That Demon, that’s me. Only really it’s nothing like that. I mean, there’s no music or smoke or fiery contracts written on human skin. Sure, once we used to do things all medieval, but that was only because it actually was the Dark Ages. Back then, people used to complain and say, “Don’t you have stone tablets or flaming runes or something?”
You can’t please anybody, ever. Take it from me. I’ve been doing this for thirty-seven hundred years (and sixty-one days, and seventeen hours, and so on... you see, I really do hate my job). Everyone is the same always. A farmer in the middle of the Amazon and a CEO on Park Avenue want pretty much the same thing — more than the next guy. Everyone wants to be on top. But what about me? Us? Demons, I mean. I don’t know about the other guys — they seem to want what the average Joe wants. It’s a dog eat dog, or rather, a Demon eat Demon sort of world. But as for me — I want what the other guy didn’t want: his Soul. Sure, it was just lying around. He gave it to me, didn’t he? Of course, I was supposed to turn it in at the end of the day. But, hey, what’s one less Soul in Hell, right? They’ll probably end up getting it back with my luck anyway.
So, I did the big pinch and grab and got the Hell out of Dodge. But, here’s the thing — you can’t really outrun my Employer. I mean, you think God is omniscient: He’s a busy guy and he has his hands in a lot — and I do mean A LOT — of big pies. But, as for the Other Guy, he’s got just one thing on his mind: staying on top. And he has a million snitches, stoolies, and yes-men to do all the work for him. Sooner or later, someone, somewhere, some Underworld bureaucrat is going to see that one column doesn’t add up, and who do you think they’re going to trace that missing Soul back to? Sure, the guy that didn’t show up to punch the clock. It’s just a matter of time. I knew that from the beginning, but I’m not letting that slow me down. The way I figured it, I only had a snowball’s chance in Hell anyway. So, hey, why not take that chance? What are they going to do to me anyway? I’m a Demon. Send me to Hell?
My only chance is to hold on to this Soul for just as long as I can. If I can do something really, and I do mean really good, then just maybe I have a chance at Redemption. I’m thinking that my best chance is to do something to screw the Other Guy. The Other Side has to be pretty keen on that, right? And, well, being really good isn’t exactly up my alley, but screwing people over comes second nature to the Damned.
After all, I wasn’t always a Demon. I was an Angel once. Maybe not the shiniest one, maybe my halo didn’t exactly glow with virtue, but I was an Angel just the same. I sort of suck at being a Demon most days, and I figure I was exactly the same sort of Angel. I did Fall, right? Stupid, so stupid. You know when your Mom says things like, “If everyone jumped off the bridge, would you do it, too?” Well, I’m a prime example of the guy that would. So, see, kiddies, listen to your Mom, or else, well, you’d probably rather not know.
Here’s the other Ace I have up my sleeve. Hell is full of incompetents, layabouts, and people who frankly don’t give a damn about their jobs. So, there’s a pretty good chance that I won’t get noticed for a while — not a hundred percent, of course, because those number-crunchers live for finding something in column A that should be in column B (See my note on lawyers above — we get the best of everything down here — how do you think they got to be the best?).
Or, here’s the better chance, that they’ll send someone just as piss-poor and disgruntled as myself for the Repossession. That’s something I can deal with. Bribery is not unheard of in the Regions of the Damned, as you can imagine. And frankly, since being in Hell sucks so much, Demons aren’t too hard to bribe. I know guys that would sell their mothers for a bag of chips, let alone chips and a nice frosty beverage.
So, here I am, just waiting. Waiting to be caught and hoping against hope that the Repo Guy they do send is someone I know or at least someone I can deal with. I’d pray if I could, but I’m not really sure who to, and, well, I’m sure that’s a way to get noticed. I mean, I’m not exactly going to send up a few hopeful wishes to my ex-Employer and I don’t exactly think that I have a long-distance calling card for the other Guy.
They say there’s forgiveness for everyone, but, let me tell you, that’s not exactly true. That’s one of those pleasant little lies people like to tell themselves — like the truth always outs, good always triumphs, and there’s someone for everyone. Give me a break. The truth and good are so subjective that half the time I don’t know whose side I’m playing on; and, well, someone for everyone — have you seen some of the people in this city? They say there’s faces only a mother could love, but I doubt that these guys’ moms have left their scrapbooks out on the coffee table if you know what I mean.
So, here I am waiting — expecting — and making my own sort of plans. But, like most things in life, it doesn’t happen the way I expect. I’m sitting in the coffee shop, my favorite coffee shop — you know the one — they have perfect lattes and a guy can just sit for hours. Anyway, I’m just sitting drinking a nice mocha something when I feel a shadow on me. It’s hard to feel a shadow under fluorescent lights unless the shadow-caster is really, really working at it. And this guy was. He had “working at it” practically tattooed on his forehead. I looked up and watched him watch me watch him.
He stood very still, like a cat, letting me take it all in. The perfect suit, the Italian loafers, the haircut that cost more than most men make in a week. Then, he smiled, the perfect smile — the kind of smile that’s the last thing that small furry creatures see right before the paw comes down. He glides over to the table in a way that makes everything else seem graceless and stale and he sits down all in one motion. He smiles again with his tiny sharp teeth and reaches into his pocket. I’m expecting, I don’t know what I’m expecting, but all he pulls out is a Blackberry.
“Nice Blackberry,” I say.
He smiles again, “It’s not a Blackberry,” he says while he delicately fingers the keys on what looks and sounds exactly like a Blackberry. And then he says something that I couldn’t have, wouldn’t have expected not in a thousand years. He smiles, leans forward in that confidential and utterly charming way that some guys have and whispers, “Chuck... congratulations.” He smiles again and leans back folding his perfectly manicured hands on the table. The not-a-Blackberry makes a small humming noise beneath his fingers. And for the first time in a very, very long time, I find myself at an utter loss for words.
I’m the kind of guy that lives by his wits, so to speak. And I tend to pride myself on my ability to think on my feet. But, here I am dumbfounded. Completely and utterly struck with silence, and believe me that’s not something that you want when you have an Agent of the Nether Regions sitting across from you smirking in his oh-so-continental way.
You’d think that at this point in my life, I’d have learned to live without hope or even without the need for it. But, that’s the thing — the really, utterly and improbably thing about us all is that you never stop hoping. Not even when it is completely and totally hopeless to even let yourself hope. Take Hell, for instance. From the PR material, you’d think that it was all fire and brimstone, desert-like landscapes, and moans of the Damned. You couldn’t be more wrong. That kind of Hell would be a helluva lot more exciting that the actual thing. People, after all, thrive on drama — good or bad. The thing that really, really makes Hell, well, Hell, is the monotony.
Everything in Hell is tepid except, of course, the personalities. The water, the beer, the food — are all as bland in a way that not even the English have managed to perfect. You can even order a pizza in Hell. But, you can be sure that somewhere in the moment between opening the lid and taking that first exquisite bite that the cheese has gone from perfection to that slightly clammy, rubbery consistency that only pizza cheese can manage. Ninety-nine times out of hundred. But, then, there’s that once in a millennium perfect slice. Even in Hell, there’s that little bit of comfort, the chance meeting, that one moment when you actually forget just where you are and just how you got there. Hope. There has to be hope. Otherwise, it wouldn’t really be Hell at all, now would it?
So, here I am, looking across from a guy probably one or two steps down from the actual GUY and thinking that there’s some possibility that things could get better for me. You’d thought that at this point in my life, I’d have known better. But, go figure. So, I smile back at him, and clear my throat.
Copyright © 2005 by Beverly Forehand