by Mark Eller
Part 1 appears|
in this issue.
Three thousand and five hundred years later, Yesermin silenced the broken, flat cacophony of Hell’s bells by closing the double French doors on the crowd of miserable beings who had waited to see Bill for the last few thousand years. He triple locked the doors, checked the sensors to make sure all the alarms were set, and tried not to look at his surroundings when he traveled through the Manse.
Despite all of hell’s best efforts, Bill’s home was a horrid thing to see. Instead of dangling entrails it had crystal chains. Instead of dim candlelight to bring forth dark, haunting shadows, it had chandeliers holding electric bulbs. Bill was devilishly clever at deciding what needed to be invented or created next, and though they could not imagine these things on their own, many of the hell-born had proved adept at creating new things when Bill yelled loud enough.
The ghoul muttered angrily while it dusted the pictures decorating the walls. It tugged irritably on the tiny skirt clasping its almost hips and daintily flicked a small duster.
“I’ll torment his soul for ten thousand years,” the ghoul muttered. “I’ll make him wear this ridiculous outfit and then I’ll tell him to dust all of hell.”
“Bill’s soul is mine,” Yesermin protested. “I’ve earned it.”
The ghoul snorted and pushed back it’s skull hugging white cap. “You better see how the kitchen’s doing. You know how he gets if his dinner is cold.”
“There’s no dealing with him for days,” Yesermin agreed. “I just wish he’d decide who gets his soul. I never knew humans were so confused.”
“They always were an indecisive lot,” the ghoul said. It flicked its duster once more, looked at the painting before it, and grimaced at the peaceful sight of two demons hugging each other beside a meadow stream. “At least I’m not the one who has to paint these damn things.”
Shaking his head, Yesermin walked out of the receiving room and turned down the first hallway. He paused to look out the window when he reached the solarium, and shuddered at the sight of what Bill called his back yard. That yard consisted of thousands of miles hell rock turned into dirt that was blanketed by pale grass and tall yellow trees. The entire thing was — restful — and restful was enough to make any hell-born shudder, especially this deep into hell. Unfortunately, Bill had decided that hell’s environs were better real-estate than the still molten earth.
“No no no,” a voice screamed somewhere in the house. “The fungus always goes on the outside of the plate. Proper presentation gives the meal ambiance and color.”
Walking across the solarium, Yesermin stopped to scratch his claws down a polycarbonate door. He heard a scramble of noise from within, and then the door slowly swung open.
Grinwalda wore only a thin robe.
“Please tell me he’s converted,” Yesermin begged.
Sadly, Grinwalda shook her head no. “We try converting him at least twice a day. He does well enough, but he says he still prefers men.” She sniffed back a tear. “I’ll never get to take his soul.”
Yesermin frowned at the unlikely sight of a succubus crying. Suspicious, he pulled apart her robe. “Are you pregnant too?”
Sobs ripped from her throat and a flood of water struck the floor. Pulling her robe back together, Grinwalda shoved Yesermin to the side and raced for the nearest bathroom.
Yesermin stamped his foot in her discarded tears. Water separated under his foot, raced for the closest wall, and seeped into the paint.
“Yes Man, is that you?” Bill called from inside the room.
“Yeah,” Yesermin said angrily, stepping inside. Bill lounged in his bed, a succubus hair pillow propped beneath his head and another supporting his feet. A very pregnant Helphatia massaged his toes while Bill strummed a guitar. At the other end of the long room, several minor demons performed The Little Shop of Horrors. A Kraken shouted ‘feed me’ and a grinning devil shoved two gnomes into its mouth.
The beholder carefully held dozens of stage lights in its tentacles. Other beings laughed and joked from where their heads filled the mounting frames on the wall. One empty frame had a hole in the wall behind it. Yesermin was supposed to shove his head through there when he wasn’t on duty. He made sure he was always on duty.
Bill’s features were smooth and unlined, unlike the way they appeared when Yesermin first saw them. He lifted an imp impaled on a stick
“Grinwalda brought me this little fellow,” Bill said. “She found him when the trolls ate the old arena stands. I’m thinking of keeping him for a pet.”
The imp mouthed frantic pleadings and tried to reach down to grab the impaling stake. Unfortunately, its arms were too short to reach its bottom.
Yesermin held out his hand. “I’ll see that it’s taken care of.” He accepted the imp and studied Bill. “We need to talk. You’re cheating, and that makes everybody miserable.”
Looking puzzled, Bill swung his legs over the edge of the bed and stood up. “How so?”
“You got us hell-born doing things we ain’t never been meant to do,” Yesermin said. “We’re designed to rip and tear, to rend and grind, and to eat souls. You got us cooking and painting and eating rock so we can poop dirt. We used to be a happy lot, we did. Sure, we had our scrabbles, but that was a good part of the fun. Where we used to argue about who got to eat whose liver, now we argue over whose meadow has the healthiest grass. I’m telling you, Bill, it has to stop. Hell is supposed to be hellacious, not a community park. You’ve had thousands of years. Make your decision or I’ll just up and kill you myself.”
On his last words, Yesermin grabbed hold of the stake protruding from the imp’s butt and yanked it free. The imp’s delighted squeal cut short when Yesermin popped it into his mouth and chomped down. Helphatia threw horrified eyes at him. Yesermin caught them in his hand and threw them right back.
“It’s my imp,” he said. “I paid two good cockroach souls for it.”
A dreamy look crossed Helphatia’s face. “I remember cockroaches,” she said, and she put the eyes into a pouch tied around her waist. “They tasted good.”
“You won’t get my soul,” Bill warned. “I haven’t sold it yet, so it’s likely to go straight to heaven.”
Yesermin snorted. “Guess again. God spent so much time waiting for you to make up your mind that he washed his hands of the entire matter. He packed up heaven a hundred years back and moved the whole she-bang to a better neighborhood.”
Bill raised an enquiring eyebrow. “He vacated too?”
“He left a note,” Yesermin said. “Time’s up, Bill. Make up your mind now because I’m feeling cross.”
Bill shook his head no. “Sorry.”
“Me too,” Yesermin said, and he threw all of his considerable power into stopping Bill’s heart.
Bill stood before him, a faint smile on his lips.
“I’ve charged every visitor a fee for seeing me,” Bill said. “Not much. Just one tenth of one percent of their power. All those little bits added up. You can’t hurt me.”
Yesermin shook his scaled head and walked towards the door. Once there, he paused and turned back towards Bill. “Maybe not me alone,” he said, “but all of us can, and that means your death is really going to hurt.”
“Oh.” Bill’s face fell. “I didn’t think of that. Can I change my mind?”
“I don’t see why not,” Yesermin answered. “You’ve been changing it for the last several thousand years. One more time won’t make that much difference.”
“Then call them in,” Bill said. “I’ll meet them out front in an hour.” He looked to Helphatia and a gave her a small leer. “Guess what? I feel converted.”
“Ooooo,” she squealed, and flung herself on the bed.
Hell’s bells called. Broken clappers struck cracked shells and every hell-born gathered at Bill’s House in the next hour. Millions shuffled and flew and burrowed and morphed at their quickest pace so they could be close to the French doors when they opened. Trolls stood on the shoulders of genies. Sprites nestled in the highest branches of the tallest trees. Ogres, eating dirt and rock, dug tunnels beneath millions of hell-born feet and surfaced in the front line.
Yesermin stood before them all. He raised his hands. “You all know who I am!”
“YOU ARE THE YES MAN!” all of hell chanted. “YOU ARE THE WALL MOUNT.”
Yesermin lowered his hands and cleared his throat uncomfortably. “Um, yeah. I just wanted to say that Bill has finally made up his mind. He’s ready to give up his soul.”
“BILL BROWN. BILL BROWN. BILL BROWN,” they chanted. Their voices were a cacophony that shook hell’s firmament. The chant grew in volume until a monitor lizard rose into the air and pointed a commanding finger at a sound meter that had pegged out.
The chanting quieted.
“Please use restraint,” the monitor lizard ordered. “Remember that the hearing you lose today can never be regained.”
The French doors opened and, guitar in hand, Bill stepped out.
“The devil came down to Georgia,” a Hell Angel chanted. It was promptly pelted with three uprooted trees.
Bill struck a chord. “It’s time for me to pay my due,” he sang off key. He played several more chords and broke a string. “I’m ready to release my soul.”
“Nooo!” Grinwalda’s voice rang out. “My baby needs its father.”
“Mine too,” replied several others. One of those voices, Yesermin noted, belonged to a pregnant satyr who was very male.
A rumble of hungry interest sounded through the crowd. Cerberus pressed one of its noses against Grinwalda’s belly. She poked a finger in its closest eye.
Grumbling from all three of its throats, Cerberus backed away.
“The soul,” a new chant started. “Who gets the soul?”
“You all do,” Bill sang while he played on his four remaining strings. He spread his arms wide and the guitar hummed. “If my soul is what you really want, then come get a piece of me.”
“That seems a little pitchy,” a ghoul noted.
“Who cares,” a troll on the front line yowled. It leaped forward, grabbed Bill, and lifted him high. The broken guitar thanked to the ground.
The troll tilted back its head, opened its mouth, and shouted, “The rest of you can take your leavings from what I spit out.”
Millions of hell-born surged to their feet and pressed forward. Yesermin did not worry. The troll was not nearly powerful enough to eat all of Bill. It might manage a finger or two.
“I’m going to be so bored,” one small and insignificant voice protested.
Bored? The word became a whisper that raced through the crowd faster than a cat with its tail on fire. Looking puzzled, the troll set Bill down and rested a heavy hand on his shoulder. “Don’t run away,” it told Bill.
“Wasn’t planning on it,” Bill answered.
“Who said that word?” Yesermin demanded. “Who said bored.”
“I did.” A fawn stepped out of the crowd and stumbled up to Yesermin. Its normally timid expression was defiant. “I said it and I don’t care who knows. When Bill’s gone I’ll be bored. Who’s going to tell us to chew rock or plant grass? Who’s going to order us to design trees or build statues?”
“You can’t tell me that you like working?” Yesermin demanded. He pointed at an ogre. “You! Do you like eating rocks to poop out dirt?”
“Gives me bum a rash,” the ogre complained. It scratched vigorously at its behind. “Still, it’s something to do, and when I see a tree growing tall in soil I made — I feel — good.” The ogre glared around. “You heard me. It makes me feel good. Anybody want to make something of that?”
“Nobody’s going to be in charge when Bill’s gone,” the fawn said.
“What about me?” Yesermin demanded. “I’ve been passing out orders for a long time now. There’s no reason I can’t keep doing it.”
The troll holding Bill snorted. “You just a little squeak-pip,” it said. “You nothing without Bill’s ideas.”
A new shout filled the air. A happy shout. Helphatia rushed through the crowd, shoving trolls and dragons and devils out of her way. Her clasped hands clutched protectively against her chest. She shoved those clenched hands before Yesermin’s nose and opened a small hole between her fingers so he could peer inside.
“Look! Look what I did.”
Yesermin looked and was not impressed. Helphatia’s hands held nothing but the illusion of a tiny cockroach. Angry, he shoved her away and stepped towards Bill, flexing all of his claws. “Everybody focus your power,” he shouted. “Teamwork, people. I need teamwork.”
He was grabbed by a dozen carpenter gnomes.
“No bored,” the largest gnome said. It looked back to Bill. “Tell us what to do.”
“Um, go back to work,” Bill hazarded.
And they did. First the gnomes, then ogres and trolls and dragons and wyverns went back to their duties. Ghouls and grunts and demons and devils and sixteen cats went back to work. Before long, less than a dozen beings remained.
“I’ll kill you,” Yesermin said, but he could not. Bill was too strong. Besides, without Bill’s authority, Yesermin would only be one more face in the crowd.
“You didn’t look close enough,” Helphatia insisted. She held the illusionary cockroach between two of her fingers.
Yesermin looked, and he realized that the thing she held was no image. It was a real cockroach, and they had not lived for over six thousand years.
He looked closer and released a gasp. The cockroach contained the trace of a soul, and only the ensouled could create another soul.
He reached out with his senses, and yes, Helphatia’s child had a complete soul, but he sensed another soul, an almost hidden soul. It was a small thing, withered and gasping for breath, but it was a soul, and it was hers.
“I have my own soul,” Helphatia said. “I can create things without being told.”
Stunned, Yesermin stared unbelievingly at Bill.
Seeming to realize what she had said, Helphatia hunched defensively in on herself. “The soul’s mine. I made it and nobody else can have it.”
“I don’t want your soul,” Yesermin said enviously.
Bill’s hand rested on his hunched shoulder. “Do you want one of your own?”
“Yes,” Yesermin pleaded, and for the first time in life, he knew he would live once he died.
“Then I’ll bud a fresh one from my own,” Bill said, “but you have to promise me that you’re done with the kill Bill thing.”
“I promise,” Yesermin said, imagining what hell would be like when all the hell-born were finally souled. He toed the guitar’s remains. “I could never kill the Father of Souls.”
And high in Hell’s sky, the blinking sign changed to read “Vacancy filled.”
Copyright © 2007 by Mark Eller