Chapter 1

Part One: Testing the Water

Chapter 1

In which our hero, Lucifer, must deal with a clerical error that should have been handled by the mindless minions damned to hell just to take care of the minutiae that made  them suffer eternally through the very frustrations that caused them to utter the very comments that got them condemned to everlasting damnation in the first place

His Satanic Majesty Lucifer of the Morning Star; Ruler of the Lower Dimensions of Darkness; Proprietor of His Satanic Majesty’s Hall of Everlasting Damnation, Torture and Never Ending Decay; and Sovereign Lord of the Devoted Knights of His Satanic Majesty Lucifer of the Morning Star (or so he referred to himself informally) stared at the two quivering masses of jelly who called themselves his palace guards.

      

“What do you mean he’s happy?” he asked.

      

The guards kowtowed in his fiberglass carpet. Their prisoner sat between them, locked in a porta-kennel for the damned. One of them mumbled through the fibers, “He’s happy, your most unforgiving. We flog him, burn him, pull out his toe nails one-by-one…”

      

The other guard pitched in, “…curse him, spit on him, slap him silly, and stick iron hot pokers in his ears.”

      

The first guard finished, face still buried to the back of his neck in fiberglass, “All he says is, ‘You guys are really good at this.’”

      

Lucifer grabbed them by the napes of their necks and pulled their faces level with his own. “No one can be happy in hell. Don’t you have any brains at all?” He turned their skulls inside out and thumped the cavities. “Nope, I didn’t think so.”

      

He dropped the guards back onto the carpet, changing the fibers to bull nettles and sticky thorns. “Now listen carefully. Hell runs on a few simple rules, and if you simply follow the rules, you’ll become the horrible examples no one would dare follow.”

      

Lucifer leaned in so that his nostril was only inches from their faces. “Instead of the miserable, kowtowing, ass-kissing toadies you are now.

      

He slipped a forty-foot thick parchment scroll from his sleeve and sliced the seal with a razor sharp nail. The scroll rolled across the carpet, across the guards and across the room. “Here’s a simple rule. Number 2759.85.d: ‘Abuse the soul at every opportunity. Pile on the abuse with layer after layer of confidence reducing adjectives designed to make them feel even more worthless. Then make them grovel in their lack of self-worth by heaping larger and larger piles of malediction and invective onto the piles you already heaped there.’

      

“Now how can a rule be any more simple than that?”

      

He pulled his hardcover copy of How to Win Friends and Influence People from the other sleeve and pounded them about their heads. “Or could it be that you’re too ignorant to know what malediction and invective mean, you quarter-witted, empty-headed, totally clueless, numbskulls who make single-celled organisms look like the pinnacle of evolution by comparison?”

      

“We did all that sir,” the first guard said as he tried to twist his head back into position. “We used every abusive word we knew, in every combination…”

      

“All twelve of them,” his partner added.

      

“When we ran out of those we used a Thesaurus and spelled out the words we didn’t know. But it didn’t do any good.”

      

The other guard said. “Instead he taught us new words that worked even better.”

      

“’Wind eggs,’” the first guard said.

      

“That means ‘farts,’” the second guard added. “And don’t forget ‘phlegmatic.’ I still don’t know what it means but it sounds real bad.”

      

Lucifer inserted three fingers, nails extended, all the way up each of their nostrils and yanked their faces toward him. “I know what a wind egg is you phlegmatic, spasmatic, grammatically clueless cretins.”

      

His nails curled out their ears and around their throats. “Perhaps you should have tried a more simple rule.” He dropped them and unrolled a scroll twice as long as the first one. “Let’s try rule 298759.4397090.z: ‘Never forget to apply intense unbearable physical pain at every opportunity. This includes flaying, flogging, skinning, beating, pounding, biting, burning, searing, scorching, scratching and liberal doses of itching powder.’”

      

“But, your most treacherous,” the first guard protested. “We boiled him in oil until he melted away. He said he’d taste even better in a beef broth with potatoes and carrots.”

      

The second guard added, “We ripped his internal organs out and soaked them in a solution of Tabasco sauce, salt and jalepeño peppers. Then we sewed them back into his body. He said chipotle peppers would be hotter.”

      

“We pulled his teeth out one by one and stuffed them root first into his…”

      

“Enough!” Lucifer let a slim sliver of flame roll from his tongue across their faces. He snapped the scroll closed and tucked it into his pants, adjusting it to bulge against his thigh. “How do you expect to earn promotions if you can’t punish a single difficult soul?”

      

“We can get promotions?” they asked in unison.

      

“Stick to the point,” Lucifer lashed at them. “Are you saying that this soul is happy not because of your total, absolute, unquestionable incompetence, but because my well-crafted and easy-to-follow rules don’t work?”

      

He turned up the flame from his breath, scorching their eyelashes and eyebrows. The two guards peed all over themselves, Lucifer’s clean white carpet, and the port-a-kennel for the damned.

      

“Struggles,” Lucifer yelled.

      

Struggles, his Victorian era English valet, sporting a starched collar and morning coat, dashed over to wipe up the mess with one of the many meaningless Middle Age popes.

      

Struggles kneeled to clean the prisoner’s kennel. Lucifer snarled, “Just clean the carpet. Let the prisoner soak in his situation.”

      

Kennels for the damned comfortably fit a twelve-pound cat; the soul inside weighed considerably more. A dozen red-hot filaments ran the length of each inside wall. The prisoner’s skin, fingers and the occasional toe popped through the seams between the bulging kennel walls.

      

The prisoner inside said, “Thank you, sir. I was getting a little parched in here.”

      

Lucifer felt his skull pop through the skin on his head. He caught it with his left hand and tucked it back in. He pulled the hapless imps across his desk. “Why is that prisoner grateful, you five watt, burned out, long ago discarded for useless dim wits?”

      

Two lions’ heads reared up from his jacket buttons and gnawed on the imps’ cheeks and eyebrows.

      

“We told you, your most miserable. He likes it here.”

      

Lucifer banged their head against the ceiling, the bookcase, the mantle, picture frames, the desk, the wall and any other surface he could reasonably expect to inflict pain.

      

“Do you really expect me to believe this prisoner enjoys hell?” He grabbed a laser saber from his collection of exotic weapons, swords, lances, spears and Swiss Army knives. “Hell? Where souls suffer worse than this when I’m in a good mood?”

      

He set the beam to dull, and hacked at both imps with a faint beam of light until nothing remained but wriggling green pieces of demon flesh on the floor, the walls, and occasionally the ceiling. Lucifer particularly relished decapitating and dismembering his denizens because, when he finished, they still had to pick up the pieces and report to their next shift.

      

“Excuse me,” the prisoner said, “but don’t you think you’re being a little hard on them? I mean, I’m the problem. They did all they could to make me miserable. Can they help it if I always look for the bright side of things?”

      

Lucifer dropped his third jaw.

      

“Excuse me?” He blasted the kennel and the prisoner’s skin with a withering whirlwind of heat coughed up from the bottom of his lungs. “Excuse me? Who are you to tell His Satanic Majesty how to treat one of his imps? You pretentious, ignorant, ill mannered, speak out of turn, festering son of an unwanted, uninvited, should have been aborted busybody.”

      

He hurled the kennel against the fireplace. It smashed into a thousand metal and plastic pieces and spilled its prisoner onto the floor. Lucifer lifted the prisoner and hanged him by his ankles from a pair of gryphons on the mantle.

      

“You might want to watch that temper,” the prisoner said. “All that anger can be really negative. We’re talking major league bad karma here.”

      

The prisoner weighed more than two hundred pounds, and stretched down to five feet six, with long curls of kinky black hair, olive skin and an enormous hooked nose. Lucifer figured him for a Palestinian goatherd who spent his life dodging Israeli missiles, or a New York cab driver dodging cars and traffic cops.

      

Lucifer snapped his fingers and banished both Guards to the Hell of Insubordinate Sub-creatures and Bureaucrats Condemned to Grovel Eternally Before Supervisors with the Vision, Charisma and Intelligence of Oatmeal. They disappeared in a puff of neon gas. Struggles appeared with a vacuum to sweep up any remains.

      

He turned his attention to the prisoner. “Who exactly are you?”

      

“Just a pilgrim, sir,” the prisoner said as he massaged each muscle one-by-one.

      

The lion head buttons popped off Lucifer’s jacket and began to gnaw on the pilgrim’s cheeks and neck. To Lucifer’s amazement, he picked the tiny creatures up, and began to tickle their bellies. The lions purred, and rubbed their faces against his fingers.

      

“These are cute little guys,” Pilgrim said. “I bet you have a lot of fun playing with them in your free time.”

      

Lucifer’s brain boiled over with a rage he only felt when dealing with the Lord It Over You himself. He stormed to his stereo and turned up “The Ride of the Valkyries” until the screaming soprano voices bounced off the walls and shook the ground beneath them.

      

Pilgrim looked around, “Cool office,” he said. “Like the Penthouse Suite. I bet you throw some kick ass parties.”

      

“We do not party in hell,” Lucifer reprimanded him, gathering his robe about him and sitting with one cheek on the corner of his desk. “We beg for mercy, we plead for forgiveness that never comes, we scream in pain, but we don’t party.”

      

“At least you get to scream in first-rate surroundings,” Pilgrim said.

      

Lucifer nailed him to the fireplace with needles from his eyes. While Pilgrim pulled them out, Lucifer opened his armoire.

      

Eons of experience with treacherous souls taught Lucifer that a carefully chosen wardrobe helped him control any interview. With the proper dress and attitude, he could entertain a fire breathing, battle-ready demon and send him away whimpering and promising to be a bad little boy.

      

He skipped over his battle armor, pushed aside his imperial robes, and shook his head when he reached his business suits. This Pilgrim looked too clueless to be intimidated by an open display of power. Lucifer would have to tweak his subliminal fears, stir up some monsters from the id.

      

He dropped his skin-tight, vinyl, Gene Simmons outfit, complete with bass guitar and prosthetic twelve-inch tongue, to the floor. He pushed aside the Fifteenth Century velvet jacket with twelve inch round epaulets, leotards, jester hat and curly-toed shoes with silver bell. He tossed his Zen Mistress robes, his false perfect master tunic complete with blind third eye, his Krishna costume with six sleeves and thousands of false teeth, and his televangelist outfit with hand painted pompadour and rhinestone studded black velvet jacket.

      

While Lucifer pondered his wardrobe, Struggles pried open the gryphon’s claws. Pilgrim tumbled into the carpet then stood and massaged his calf muscles. He began to tap his feet to the music playing over and over again on Lucifer’s Hi Fi.

      

The worn LP skipped, popped and cracked. The better to torture music lovers with, Lucifer smiled to himself.

      

The tone arm lifted and dropped back to the beginning of the record. “The Valkyries” soared from the speakers again. For an instant, Lucifer thought he heard the prisoner mumbling. He popped an ear loose and stretched it around the armoire’s door.

      

Pilgrim sang, “Kill the wabbit, kill the wabbit, kill the wabbit, kill the wabbit.”

      

Lucifer stepped into the open. “Did I give you permission to sing?”

      

“Sorry,” Pilgrim said. “There’s this cartoon? Elmer Fudd thinks he can kill Bugs Bunny and sings ‘Kill the Wabbit’ to the Ride of the Valkyries. It’s a pretty good bit. Bugs disguises himself as Elmer’s love Brunnhilda, Elmer thinks he accidentally kills her. They even toss in some music from Tannhauser: ‘Goodbye my wuv. La da da La da, la da da….’ I forget the rest of it, but it’s even funnier because Elmer can’t pronounce ‘r’ or ‘l’.”

      

“Did I give you permission to speak?” Lucifer turned to his Victorian era desk and commanded, “The buzzer, Byron.”

      

Lord Byron, his secretary and desk caddy, reached from the middle desk drawer and pushed a button on Lucifer’s desk. Each push sent a gigawatt of electricity surging through Pilgrim’s body.

      

      

Lord Byron’s eternal sentence as desk caddy may come as no surprise to some, especially the more legalistic left-brained souls who suffered through his poetry in British literature survey courses. It may, however, explain the inner workings of hell to those less familiar with the politics of eternal damnation.  

      

When Lucifer designed his office, he told the decorators that he wanted a Victorian writing desk. Because competence doesn’t stretch far in hell, the decorators interpreted that to mean a Victorian era desk that could write. And who better to embed in the desk than a notorious bisexual adventurer and romantic poet who believed he could take on Lucifer face to face?

      

During his short life as a poet, Byron believed himself a super man, several cuts above the ordinary drudges who populated the planet. Like Milton’s Lucifer, Byron preferred to rule in hell than serve in heaven. It never dawned on him that there might be a third alternative.

      

      

Lord Byron tapped the buzzer and sparks popped from Pilgrim’s earlobes, fingertips, toes and hair follicles. He opened his mouth to speak, but sparks arced from one tooth to another, lighting him up like an amusement park.

      

“That’s better,” Lucifer said. “Down here the damned imagine dead rabbits. Picture their little paws being cut off, and their fur being skinned away before they’re dropped into a boiling pot screaming, ‘Help me, help me.’ We want each soul to realize the exact same thing will happen to him.”

      

Lucifer pulled his royal black Nazi SS uniform jacket with fractal lightning bolts branching down both arms from its hanger and held it next to a pair of red spandex toreador pants. He took the pants as well.

      

“I don’t mean to sound presumptuous,” Pilgrim said, “but maybe you’d take more pleasure from the afterlife if you didn’t listen to Wagner all the time. He’s incredibly pompous and self-absorbed, don’t you think? All trumpets, tympani, piss and vinegar. No wonder people seem so tense around here. It’s like every soul in hell is a big shoulder blade sorely in need of a massage.”

      

Lucifer caught a nail in the Spandex. “I don’t need to explain myself to some white-bread Pillsbury doughboy just off the docks and clueless about the real world.”

      

Pilgrim drifted across the room to study Bosch’s Last Temptation of Christ in the Wilderness, a painting completely unknown outside of hell. It depicts Christ leaping from a mountain with an arm full of bread and the keys to every kingdom. In the background, Lucifer collects a bet from God.

      

“Wouldn’t Mozart make more sense than Wagner?” Pilgrim prattled on as though Lucifer hadn’t said a word. “He relaxes and prepares you for the daily minutiae. Did you know that studies link listening to Mozart to the production of neural pathways? Boosts your I.Q. as it were.”

      

Lucifer felt his blood begin to boil. “You don’t get it, do you, you opinionated, ill-mannered, speak-without-being-spoken-to lout with no more couth than an oaf hogging the hors d’oeuvres at the governor’s ball?”

      

Pilgrim stood on his tiptoes, and ran a finger across the top of the painting’s frame, touching off an avalanche of dust and vermin. “Couth isn’t a word, is it? Wouldn’t it be more correct to say ‘an uncouth oaf hogging the hors d’oeuvres at the governor’s party?’”

      

Lucifer stepped around the wardrobe door wearing his thong, teddy and stiletto heels. His crepe blouse dangled from his fingernail.

      

“Listen here, you participle parsing, dictionary reciting, self-appointed Commissioner of the Grammar Police. You’re in hell, and I run hell, and I’ll use any hell-blessed words I hell-blessed well want to use whenever I hell-blessed feel like it. Am I making myself hell-blessed clear?”

      

Pilgrim looked down, and crossed one foot behind his ankle. “I just thought you might want to avoid a grammatical miscue in the future.”

      

A vein popped at the base of Lucifer’s brain, fortunately nothing more than a minor aneurysm. His millennia of experience with flunkies, toadies, yes men, brown-nosers and souls with marginal talent angling for promotions left him completely unprepared for a display of penitence.

      

He dropped into his office chair, draping a leg over the arm and dangling a high heel from a gnarled hoof. Pilgrim remained standing. Fresh, bleeding welts covered the deep purple older welts over the bruises that covered every inch of his body.

      

Lucifer stretched his arm across the desk and touched the welts with his finger. Pilgrim winced. “My, my. Doesn’t that look simply nasty?” He extended the nail on his index finger toward a corduroy chair with deep fabric ridges. “Sit down. Take a load off your feet.”

      

Pilgrim studied the chair for a moment. “I’d rather stand.”

      

Lucifer’s eyes turned yellow and his voice turned to gravel. “I don’t care if you want to dangle by a nipple piercing. Sit down.”

      

Pilgrim eased himself slowly into the chair, trying to keep his skin from rubbing against the fabric.

      

Lucifer loved these moments, playing both good cop and bad cop. He smiled his best good cop smile. “See. Isn’t it so much more pleasant when we cooperate?” He pulled a silver flask of fine unblended single malt Scotch from his desk drawer and filled a shot glass. “Have some.”

      

“No thanks.” Pilgrim said. “Alcohol makes me thirsty.”

      

Bad cop voice: “Of course it makes you more thirsty, you twit. That’s why I’m giving it to you.” He pushed the glass toward Pilgrim.

      

“Thank you, sir,” said Pilgrim, taking the cup and tossing down its contents. As if caught in a seizure, he leaned forward and coughed several dozen times. He coughed so hard he nearly collapsed to the floor. After several minutes, he regained his composure enough to hyperventilate.

      

Good cop voice: “So how did you end up in hell?”

      

“I don’t have a clue. Maybe God has something good he needs me to do.”

      

Lucifer choked on his own liquor. Until this moment, he thought he knew every excuse in the book — it was someone else’s fault; it was a mistake in the records; someone else was supposed to be here, not me; the devil made me do it. If they didn’t have a ready made excuse, the newly damned inventoried every decision they ever made, blaming themselves for crimes that weren’t even misdemeanors in the infinite scheme of the universe.

      

Never before had anyone thought they were doing God a favor.

      

“Really.” Lucifer said.

      

“Really.”

      

Lucifer stared at him, making it clear that he wouldn’t accept “being good” as a reason for eternal damnation.

      

Pilgrim studied the living mural of Twelfth Century Moslems and Crusaders hacking each other to bits on Lucifer’s ceiling. “Has anyone ever been sent here by mistake before?”

      

“Never,” Lucifer assured him. He opened a jewelry box filled with powdered bat guano, raked it into three lines onto a mirror with his fingernail, and snorted one line into each nostril.

      

“Then it might be a statistical anomaly. With all the souls wandering around in the universe, sooner or later one of them could be misplaced. Maybe I fell within the universe’s margin of error.”

      

“Really?” Lucifer repeated, shaking his head. Then he said, “Really?” stretching the vowels for emphasis.

      

Pilgrim nodded.

      

“Let’s see where we stand then.” He counted Pilgrim’s answers on his fingers. “One. Do some good in hell. Two. The laws of probability.” He leaned across his desk and thrust his face into Pilgrim’s, tiny grains of guano tumbling from his Fu Manchu moustache onto Pilgrim’s chin. “Oh, wait. How about this one?”

      

His nose touched Pilgrim’s nose, the hairs from his wart leaping out and tickling Pilgrim’s cheek. “You belong here. You screwed the pooch. Pissed the All Moldy off. You woke up with coal in your stocking. In short, you were bad.”

      

Pilgrim mulled it over, drummed his fingers on the chair arms, bobbed his head to the side a few times. “No, I don’t think so.”

      

“You don’t think so?” Lucifer shrieked.

      

“In fact, I’m pretty sure of it. I led a good life, sought enlightenment, worshipped God as I understood him, or her, helped everyone I could. So I’m probably just a clerical error.”

      

“Sought enlightenment. Worshipped God,” Lucifer mocked him with a whiny teenager’s voice. “Sounds like you’re the perfect little saint. The thirteenth apostle. Buddha’s spirit guide. I bet everybody just loved you, and loved every little thing you did.”

      

Pilgrim took a moment to answer, which in eternity can seem like a second or a million years. “Actually, I pissed people off all the time. I didn’t mean to. I always tried to make it up to them. But sometimes I just pissed off the kind of people who get pissed off about things, and I couldn’t make it up to them no matter how hard I tried. So, no, I wouldn’t say everybody loved me.”

      

“Really?” said the devil. This time he stretched the vowels as far as he could: “reeeeeaaaaallyyyyy.”

      

“Really,” Pilgrim said.

      

“Well why don’t we check your records and see what they have to say?” He punched the intercom button. “Dross, you presumptuous, self-aggrandizing, pompous, stuffed shirt of a middle administration moron. Pick up your phone.”

      

“Yes, your sp… sp… spitefulness,” the demon on the other end of the speakerphone sputtered.

      

“I’m here with prisoner…” Lucifer leaned forward to read the processing number branded onto Pilgrim’s forehead. “…X7Ygen2471AR59788422 to the power of 12. Look in the field for probable cause. We need to know why he’s here.”

      

Contrary to popular belief, the devil doesn’t know every person living. He can’t even remember the names of the damned. Nor does he spend his time trying to recruit every soul. Most people sort out their priorities fine without him, and most of the few that don’t find their own way to hell are beyond damnation anyway. As a consequence, he kept records on every soul who arrived in hell should he ever need to find out more about them.

      

Lucifer listened as Dross ruffled through hundreds of pages of printouts. “It doesn’t say, sir,” Dross answered.

      

Lucifer banged his head on the desk. Byron patted a horn sympathetically and Lucifer knocked him away. “What do you mean it doesn’t say, you sub-moronic, couldn’t pass a thought from one synapse to the next, so clueless that you can’t see the answer painted on the wall in letters seventy-two feet high, skull full of cat litter idiot? He isn’t allowed through the gates if that field is empty.”

      

“I just process the forms, sir, I don’t fill them in.”

      

“Didn’t you look before you checked him in?”

      

“Nobody really checks these forms, your unreasonableness. It’s not as though the border is teeming with illegal immigrants waiting to sneak over.”

      

Lucifer drummed his fingers on his desk. Byron drummed his fingers in time. Lucifer pulled a ruler from his desk drawer and slapped Byron’s fingers. “Fine, just read his name field. We’ll track him down that way.”

      

“A. Pilgrim, sir,” Dross answered.

      

Lucifer pulled Dross’ printout through the speaker and stared at the entry.1 “A. Pilgrim?” he repeated, as he stared at the name. He glanced over to Pilgrim. “What kind of name is ‘Pilgrim’?”

      

“American?” Dross suggested.

      

Lucifer rolled up the seven-inch printout and beat the speaker until it began to bleed. “I didn’t mean what kind of name is that as in German or Danish or Bengali, you half-an-eighth-wit. And I wasn’t even talking to you.”

      

“Do you want to fix it, sir?” Dross asked.

      

“Come to your senses, Dross. A file you can fix has no business in hell.”1 Lucifer snatched the receiver from its cradle and smashed his intercom until nothing remained but powder.

      

He pulled a snot-covered handkerchief from his blouse and offered it to Pilgrim. “There really has been a mistake. Who would have guessed? I’d like to help remedy the problem, but I can’t. Once the Big Kahuna dumps you, you stay dumped.”

      

Pilgrim shrugged his shoulders. “Shit happens.”

      

“That’s all you have to say? ‘Shit happens?’ Not ‘God help me?’ “Have mercy?’ ‘Please, please, I’ll do anything, just get me out of here?’ All you have to say is, ‘Shit happens?’”

      

Pilgrim seemed puzzled that Lucifer didn’t understand. “What do you want me to say? Shit happens. Once it happens, all you can do is clean up the mess.”

      

The devil clasped his hands on his desk and toyed with his Class of the Big Bang school ring. “Well there you go. The All Misty Eyed sent you here because of your swearing.”

      

“I don’t think so,” Pilgrim said. He tried to pull his arm up from the chair. Hundreds of purple fuzzy threads of fabric stuck to his welts, which was probably less gross than the little bits of his welts still stuck to the corduroy.

      

Lucifer breathed on his fingernails and rubbed them against his blouse. “And just why not?”

      

Pilgrim rolled several pieces of lint threads between his fingers and dropped them in a tiny ball onto Lucifer’s carpet. “Why should I end up in hell for using a perfectly good word?”

      

The devil cast his neck across his desk, winding it around Pilgrim’s neck like a noose. He slowly breathed across Pilgrim’s face, letting his halitosis rise like a cloud. “Come now, Mr. Pilgrim. Didn’t your teachers tell you ‘shit’ is a bad word?”

      

“Sure they did. And my mother too. But I figured out a long time ago that teachers and moms make as many mistakes as the rest of us. Thinking that ‘shit’ is a bad word was just one of those mistakes.”

      

Lucifer leaned in like a prosecuting attorney about to demolish the defense’s expert witness. “So you’re right and all those mothers, teachers, nuns and priests are wrong?”

      

“Wouldn’t you admit that there are times when things just spin completely out of control and create this huge mess? And when all these things happen, the only thing you can do is wait for them to end and then clean up the mess or leave it lying around to annoy you?

      

“I mean a really nasty mess. Something stinking and obnoxious. But you can mean it metaphorically too. You can’t deny those situations happen, can you? I mean, you might say my being here is one of those situations, couldn’t you?”

      

Lucifer drummed his fingers on the desk.

      

“Think about what happened to you, sir. You think God should maybe give you a little bit bigger piece of the pie, right? Maybe stop acting so high and mighty, right? So you share your opinion with a couple of other angels, and BAM…”

      

He slapped his hands together, startling Byron who dropped a pen which, in turn, spilled ink on the rug.

      

Pilgrim didn’t skip a beat. “… Before you know it, you’re cast out of heaven and left to run this shit hole. I mean, wouldn’t that be one of the situations I’m describing?”

      

“You could be right,” Lucifer admitted as he imagined a list of new hells he could create just for this soul.

      

“Well, there you go, sir. If those situations exist, then we need a word to describe them.”

      

Lucifer didn’t like where this was going. He rolled his eyes and waved his hand at the pitiful soul to get on with it, to get to the bottom line.

      

“Shit’s that word. And it’s a pretty good word when you get right down to it. Short and to the point. You get it out right away. Then you’re done with it.”

      

“Are you coming to a point? Or do you intend to endlessly endorse the efficacy of excrement?”

      

“That was my point.”

      

Lucifer continued to drum his fingers. Wisps of smoke drifted from the desk where his fingertips hammered at the surface.

      

“How about this then?” Pilgrim suggested. “Is it a sin to use this perfectly good word to describe those perfectly awful situations? Or is it a sin to have all these awful situations and also have this perfectly good word to describe them, but send everyone to hell when they use it?”

      

Lucifer stared at Pilgrim. He imagined Pilgrim’s pink flesh oozing through the meat grinder’s holes. He found himself totally unable to answer.

      

“Does that mean you see my point?”

      

Lucifer snapped out of his fugue and kicked his desk at Pilgrim, toppling him from his chair. “See your point?” he shouted. “Of course I don’t see your point. That has to be the most half-assed, cock-eyed, ill conceived, pinheaded idea I’ve heard in an eternity of listening to half-assed, cock-eyed, ill conceived, pinheaded ideas.”

      

He ripped a whip from his exotic weapons collection and flayed Pilgrim with it, over and over again, laughing maniacally as the flesh and blood splattered on his carpet like paint on a Jackson Pollack canvas. “What do you think of your half-assed, cock-eyed, ill conceived, pinheaded idea now?”

      

Pilgrim brushed himself off, picking off some of the larger, looser pieces of skin with his finger, and said, “I think you’re afraid to admit I’m right, so you’re punishing me to save face.”

      

Lucifer cracked the whip against the desk and shouted, “Afraid to admit I’m right?”

      

“It’s not a criticism, sir.”

      

Lucifer felt veins three through twelve pop. Then he blew his carotid artery. “I’ll show you saving face,” he said. He spread his wings and hurdled over his desk, grabbing Pilgrim between his claws. He lashed Pilgrim with his tail and kicked him with his hooves until Pilgrim parts lay scattered across the floor and his own fury sated.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

      

He took a moment to catch his breath and flipped the intercom key. Two members of the Place Guard stumbled into his office dragging a wheelbarrow behind them.

      

“Take him to the Hell of Being Suspended in Bowels Teeming with Flatulent Toxic Gasses and Poorly Digested Food Particles for the next few thousand years.”

      

“Begging your pardon, your most pernicious, sir, but there’s no such hell.”

      

Lucifer cast his tongue across the room, wrapped it around the guard’s neck and reeled him over to the desk. “There is now,” he snarled.

      

The guard backed away, bowing and begging forgiveness. He and his partner kneeled down to collect the Pilgrim pieces.

      

“Might as well feed him some beans to clear the atmosphere,” the second guard whispered as he picked up Pilgrim’s legs and tossed them into the wheelbarrow.

      

“Does this make him a little fart?” the first guard snickered.

      

“No, a ‘wind egg.’” They struggled to keep from laughing as they shoveled the rest of him from the floor.

      

“Get him out of here now, or I’ll sentence both of you with him,” Lucifer demanded.

      

They wheeled Pilgrim out of the office, choking on their laughter. As they passed through the door, Pilgrim lifted his head from the rubble and said. “I hope we meet under better circumstances.”

      

Lucifer kicked his desk. “Shit,” he shouted. He kicked it several more times, shouting, “Shit! Shit! Shit!” He thumped his tail on the floor several times, shaking the paintings and the books on the shelves. Then he remembered he was wearing his good toreador pants.

      

He slipped them off and found a huge split down the back seam where his tail sliced through. “Shit,’ he shouted, throwing his pants into the fire. He kicked the bookshelves, shouting “Shit! Shit! Shit!” until every book in the shelves fell out, pounding him on the head, shoulders and wings.

      

Dazed, Lucifer finally managed to get a grip on his temper. He inspected the pile of books on the floor and his cracked cloven hoof. He could think of only one word that would truly express what he felt at that moment. “Shit,” he said to himself.

      

Then he said it again.

      


        

1 Until this moment, doctored books provided Lucifer with a double pleasure. He introduced them in the fifth century Tang Dynasty. Given a little nudge, Ching Xhai Tau, an administrator in one of the Southern Provinces, doctored one entry in one book. Five years later Ching’s head rolled, as well as the heads of a Prince, three concubines, and twelve advisors. In some places this would have served as a deterrent, but since this was China, where heads at court rolled with an amazing frequency, people believed Ching’s trick of doctoring books kept them alive five years longer than they should have been.

        

As a result, book doctoring slowly caught on world-wide, and since then millions of souls forged their path to hell in accounting entries. Once they arrived in hell, they thanked Lucifer for giving them their old jobs as accountants. At least, they thanked him until they found out that hell’s books could be lost, erased and even completely wrong, but they couldn’t be cooked. Lucifer loved to wander through the accounting offices. The anguished cries from bookkeepers, accountants and CPAs forced to produce honest, authentic ledgers cheered him more than the pleas for mercy from priests and nuns sentenced to the Hell of Formerly Celibate Clerics Watching Clean Cut and Attractive Young Men and Women Dressed in Unintentionally Provocative Clothing and Bent Over in Prayer on the Other Side of a Transparent but Impenetrable Window.back

        


      
          1 Until this moment, doctored books provided Lucifer with a double pleasure. He introduced them in the fifth century Tang Dynasty. Given a little nudge, Ching Xhai Tau, an administrator in one of the Southern Provinces, doctored one entry in one book. Five years later Ching’s head rolled, as well as the heads of a Prince, three concubines, and twelve advisors. In some places this would have served as a deterrent, but since this was China, where heads at court rolled with an amazing frequency, people believed Ching’s trick of doctoring books kept them alive five years longer than they should have been.

        

As a result, book doctoring slowly caught on world-wide, and since then millions of souls forged their path to hell in accounting entries. Once they arrived in hell, they thanked Lucifer for giving them their old jobs as accountants. At least, they thanked him until they found out that hell’s books could be lost, erased and even completely wrong, but they couldn’t be cooked. Lucifer loved to wander through the accounting offices. The anguished cries from bookkeepers, accountants and CPAs forced to produce honest, authentic ledgers cheered him more than the pleas for mercy from priests and nuns sentenced to the Hell of Formerly Celibate Clerics Watching Clean Cut and Attractive Young Men and Women Dressed in Unintentionally Provocative Clothing and Bent Over in Prayer on the Other Side of a Transparent but Impenetrable Window.

        

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  1. Trackback: Is ngmoco:) getting kickbacks for a movie tie-in? « We Rule: The Hidden Grimoire

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