Alright, so now that I’m back to blogging again, I thought I’d try to up my writing ante by participating in this week’s Flash Fiction Challenge by Chuck Wendig over at Terrible Minds.
I want to write more fiction, and I think the last time I committed myself to something weekly like this, I was forcing myself to come up with original ideas on my own. But now that I know that there are weekly challenges out there, I figure I should exercise my creativity and display it this way.
This week’s challenge is to take three sentences from the comment section of last week’s challenge and write a 2,000-word story with them. So, wherever you see somebody’s username or link in parentheses next to a sentence, I didn’t write it. Another awesome writer did, and I’m just borrowing it. I’ve also taken the liberty to make some slight alterations to punctuation and tense in the sentences, but I don’t think they take away from the power they have. If the authors decide they want me to change it back, they’re free to contact me.
And as a warning, I would not say this is story is for young kids. There’s no language, but there are cigars. And demons. And talk of religion. Naked silhouettes. Those sorts of things.
Anyway, hope you like it! Constructive criticism is welcome.
A few weeks in Hell, and the Devil decides I don’t belong here (katemcone).
When I crossed over, St. Peter’s helpers crammed me and a few other sinners into the humid Elevator 100. We rode it all the way down to the black bedrock of the Earth’s core.
Once out, red-eyed shadow demons, shaped like bats or even horned dogs, chirped at us and barked our assignments. They stripped us and gave us only three things: a red jumpsuit, a pickaxe, and a cot that smelled like iron. A few of them snickered when they heard I was given Quadrant One, a.k.a. Diamond City. Where the most powerful of demons mingle with the weakest.
And sometimes get devoured by them.
As expected, Hell is blazing. Scorching. Blorching, if you want to call it that. My skin somehow manages to stay on my body. The calluses on my hands threaten to peel away. And, with all my nerdy strength, I’d swing my pickaxe like one of the Seven Dwarfs and get paid some five or six “silver pieces.” Two gold pieces, if I’m lucky.
Apparently, there are shops and restaurants in Hell. Really good ones like Eye Ballin’ in Quadrant Five with its bittersweet Sinner’s Souffle, or even Rock n’ Racism’s stuffed chicken with garlic on a bed of cockroaches in Quardrant Seven.
I haven’t gone to them. Only heard about them. I haven’t been that hungry, anyway, and most of the entrees seem catered toward actual demons.
Not me. I’m still very much human.
Plus, I don’t want to make that trek.
But a few weeks into my assignment, I’m summoned to the Devil’s office. All I’ve ever heard from the Devil are the same things my co-miners and I hear from him. It’ll be whatever he’s written on his generic, white feedback cards distributed to us at the end of the day (though, not sure you can call it days down where there’s no sun, can you?). All that’s been ever written on mine are “Good job” and “Nice work.”
Something changed, though. Maybe St. Peter and The Man Upstairs have had a change of heart and want me back. Maybe they want to reward me for creating so many war heroes and angels that populate Heaven nowadays. Maybe even though I managed to get the nuclear launch codes from President Clinton’s secret service, sell them to Syria, and start World War III just because I thought it would be fun and cure my ennui, I’m still not bad enough for Hell. I don’t drink excessively. I don’t lust for a whole lot. I don’t get wrathful easily.
In other words, Lucifer’s description of his ideal bad girl does not include the words “antisocial,” “cup size A,” or “likes solving Rubik’s cube in her spare time.”
I know he’s decided I don’t belong here, but he won’t say it. That’s got to be why he’s called me into his crimson-walled, crimson-carpeted, crimson-chandelier office. But in the same passive-aggressive way a toddler stares at one of his parents for taking away their Wii U privileges, he keeps leaning further and further into his red leather recliner. He keeps taking drag after drag of his cigar and staring at me with his glassy gray eyes.
That seems to be the one thing that the Bible got right about Lucifer — that he was a baby-faced, fallen angel who would never know what it was like to really be at the top. Ever. The only way, as far as I saw, that he coped with this realization was by wearing pinstripe suits and playing “Take Five” on his gramophone record player constantly in the west corner of the office.
You think I’m kidding, but I’m not. It’s taking every ounce of whatever dignity I have left not to snort in front of him, or tell him that the song was written in 1959 and not 1929.
‘Cause, well, you don’t snort at the King of Hell. You just don’t.
The smoke he exhales curls to the ceiling and takes the form of a naked woman (Susan K. Swords). She flips her hair behind her back, walks behind his chair, and strokes his chest.
My eye twitches. Perfect, some misogyny.
And then, he sighs. Slowly. “I really don’t want to do this.”
I blink. “Do what, sir?”
He groans, slouching over his mahogany desk. His cigar nearly singes his forehead as he jolts back up, pouting. “You see? This is exactly why you’re making this so hard! You’re calling me ‘sir’ and ‘boss’ and all of these wonderful addresses of obedience, and you clock in and out of the mines on time, and you’re just so — ” He snaps his fingers. “You’re too good.” Leans in his chair again. “I mean, not ‘good’ good. I mean, the good like — like diligent. Respectful. No one understands respect these days.”
Of course they don’t understand. Of course he can make a naked woman appear from smoke while he has a meeting with one of his female Quadrant One miners. There’s absolutely nothing disrespectful about that.
“And there needs to be some level of obedience around here if I’m going to keep you and the other workers in line,” he continues, “and I certainly don’t want Him to have one of the best sinners I’ve got. I already gave Him Sheila, and she had so much potential.”
He waves his hand. “Tor-nay-doh, tor-nah-doh.”
The naked smoke woman frowns, then sits in his lap. She nuzzles him, trying to comfort his poor, tormented soul.
“What is He offering?” I ask, lifting my chin.
“A two-week trial. If you like it in Heaven, which I don’t believe you will, you stay there. Permanently. If you don’t like it there, you stay here. Which is what I would much prefer. If I let Him have you, you’ll be tortured by all the angels that died as a result of your World War III stunt. You’d do worse over there, and you’re clearly not Purgatory material. You should clearly be with others like yourself — Bin Laden, Wilkes Booth, Caesar —”
As he rambles, I consider his argument. Sure, I’d be surrounded with other terrorists and dictators and revolutionaries if I stayed here. But I’m not that social of a sinner, so what else? I could keep doing grunt work mining diamonds for him for the rest of my afterlife, then play with my Rubik’s cube when I’m done.
But what exactly does the Man Upstairs want with me? Does he think really think I’d be a better fit? Does he think I’d be good for reincarnation? And why only two weeks? Why not a whole Christian year?
If He can’t be straight with me in Hell or on Earth, taking His offer is not in my interest.
Looks like staying with the Devil’s my only choice.
I open my mouth, but he jabs a finger into the air and continues his speech. “You know what it is? I know what it is — It’s finally happening. He’s finally looking to put me out of business. He’s preaching a more tolerant message that’s getting all the millennials and gays to his side and leaving me with the runts of the litter. Well, to that, I say no. I’m not letting Him win. Runts have hearts, too.”
“Hmph.” I roll my eyes. “Who would’ve thought the most feared man in Hell could be such a kind, matronly saint?”
The room’s temperature climbs. Naked smoke woman vanishes. Ultraviolet heat radiates his entire body. His black nails sharpen, and his glassy gray gaze turns a deep ocher. His cigar vaporizes to ashes. The “Take Five” record threatens to melt into black smudge on the gramophone as the saxophone solo slows to a dirge.
My blood goes cold.
He straightens, forked tongue enunciating each word. “That’s right – I am kind, and my kindness is why you should be afraid (jakashadows). Very, very afraid.”
Ash tickles my nostrils. I stay still.
Then he smirks. The temperature dips back to normal. “However… I have to thank you for that little… aside just now. It reminded me why I really wanted to keep you here with me.”
I swallow. “And why is that, sir?”
He chuckles. “You’re smart. Wicked smart.”
I raise my eyebrow.
“You like to lie low and play dumb, then spring from the brush.” He stands, pocketing his hands and grinning. “Do you know why I assigned you to Diamond City when you first came?”
I shake my head.
“To see how well you’d work under pressure.”
The urge to roll my eyes at his diamond joke comes and goes. I’m not doing that again.
“See? You almost did it again. Right there. And you did, when you got me hot and bothered. Most sinners can’t steel themselves in my presence — even when they hate my guts.”
If he makes another metallurgy or geology pun, I swear I’m going to —
His grin widens. “Yes, dear. You go from opossum to fox in a flash. We need more demons on the surface like you, not more of His angels!”
My lips part. The surface? “Wait, what?”
“Starting tomorrow, you’re my newest demon-in-training. And you’re going to learn how to tempt souls right under my wing.”
My throat clenches. I step forward. “Wait, no! I — ”
His fangs recede.
I take a deep breath. What would I even tell him? That I like working in the mines because I like the stability? And that the stability keeps me from having nightmares? Keeps me from seeing my friends’ brains splattered along the concrete after the snipers took them out? Keeps me from re-living — as ironic as that it — my death at the very same hands of those snipers? That I don’t want to go back to Earth and see the aftermath and destruction I caused, or the peace that blossomed from it?
I just called the Lord of the Underworld a matronly saint. The last thing I want is to look like a wuss.
He lifts his hand. “Say no more.” He reaches under his desk drawer, pulls out another cigar, cuts it, and and lights it with a tip of flame on his other hand. “You’re clearly still shaken up by earlier display, and for that, I apologize. You can stay in the mines, if you really wish.”
Ah, the nice act. I get it now. I shake my head. “Something bad happens to people when you’re being too nice, and I’d rather not find out what it is. I’ll take the promotion.”
He takes a drag. His lips curl around the cigar’s body, forming another smirk. “Monday. Elevator 69. Eight-thirty sharp. Formal attire.”
My brow furrows. I look down at my red jumpsuit. “This is all they gave me.”
He blows a smoke ring then rolls his eyes. “Well, then, you’d better go find something nice. I don’t pay you sinners for nothing, you know, unlike Him.”
“But… why the formal attire, though?”
He glares, as if I asked him why “Take Five” is the best song in the universe. “Because if I’m taking my up-and-coming apprentice out to dinner and she does well on her first assignment, then I want her to look nice.” With another drag and another slow exhale, the smoke curls into a silhouette of me, winking back at myself. She’s wearing a dress so see-through you’d think it was some red fishnet poncho. “And yes, even something like what you see here would be considered formal here in Hell. Chastity is not an option.”
As quickly as the silhouette of me appears, it disappears. Is this supposed to be his way of helping me, flattering me, or intimidating me? Or is it a way he just entertains himself when things on Earth aren’t going well for him?
I silently chuckle to myself. I let him see my smile.
And this time, I insult him on purpose. “Whatever you say, Lucy.”
Before he has the chance to reply, I stride out of his office.
Did you like this flash fiction piece?
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