Lucas Weismann

Hell: A primer pt. 3 – The Devil’s Troubles

I closed the door behind me, as the Devil took his seat.

“Okay Nick, what’s going on?” As I took in my surroundings, I was surprised.  The room was tastefully appointed, oak paneling, overstuffed leather couches and a surprising collection of books, DVDs and game consoles that hadn’t been released yet.

“Cheese?” he offered.  I declined.  I remembered too many stories about food in the underworld to take my chances.  He shrugged and popped a mouthwatering bit of prosciutto ham into his mouth, chewed it and swallowed before continuing.  “The problem is overpopulation,” he said.

“Is this one of those ‘As above, so below’ problems?” I asked, not quite sure what he was getting at.

“I suppose, you could look at it that way.” he shrugged, “but mostly, because those above… overwhelmingly end up below.”

“Ahh.” I didn’t quite get it, but didn’t want to appear too ignorant in front of my host.

“So what, this overpopulation is causing stress on your system?” I asked, as he withdrew a pink bottle from his upper right desk drawer and chugged the contents.  Wow.  Shotgunning Pepto-Bismol.  Gross.

“Poor guy must be under a lot of stress,” I thought, sympathetically before realizing it could be an act.

“you have no idea how it used to be,” he complained and I realized his widow’s peak was just a *bit* more pronounced than it had been when we met on the road.  I even fancied I could see some gray in his roots.  “we used to provide a service, Customized Eternal Punishment for the Damned Soul.  We prided ourselves on the creativity and uniqueness of our work.  ‘Our punishments fit your crimes!’ wasn’t just a motto, it was our passion.  But now…” he trailed off and slumped back into his chair.

“You sound like someone who wanted to be a chef, but ended up running a McDonald’s.” I said.

“It’s worse than that.  I use to arrange the music of the spheres, remember?  Back in the old days, it was Lucifer this, Lucifer that.  I mean, angels don’t have groupies… but if they did?  I’d have been up to my tits in pussy.”

“Jesus,” I said with disgust.  Then softened as I saw him wince and look up as if he was a dog about to be hit.  “Sorry, I said.  But come on Nick, that was pretty crass.”

“I know.” he said, “It’s just that I was THE man when it came to music.  I was literally the first rockstar.  Jagger, Tyler, Elvis?  They’re all pretenders to a throne I had, before the firmament was separated into the sea and sky.”

“So you’re a washed up rockstar who found a new career as a chef and ended up running McDonald’s instead of a high-end restaurant?  That’s rough,” I agreed.

“I don’t know.  I just feel like… ….I feel like I’m just out of ideas.  Nothing new under the sun, you know?”

I did know.  I’d felt similar things myself and it was usually no good people trying to cheer you up.  if anything, their cheer makes you feel more alone and like more of a loser.

“Okay,” I said, “I get why you need someone.  I really do, you get a bad rap, you work hard and no on appreciates what you do.  Now, you’re burnt out and you feel trapped in a dead-end job.  Is that right?”

“Yeah,” he said, “That’s pretty close.”

“so, why me?” I asked, “Like, why me specifically?”

“Because in the last thousand years, since my brother locked me in that God’s Damned bottomless pit after my brother beat me up and stole my key to hell.”

“Brother?  You mean Michael?”

“No.  Half-brother.  Joshua. Of course, dad loves him best, so he doesn’t acknowledge me.  Anyway,” he said straightening up a bit and shaking off the bad memory, “I’m back and I find that humans have started procreating like rabbits and there’s a backlog centuries long.”

“I suppose that was inevitable.” I said.

“Yeah, immortal souls, in reproducing mortal bodies was a problem from the get-go.” he said.  “Dad was usually better at math than this, well at least the concrete stuff.  For the really weird ideas, like imaginary numbers, you need humans.  After all, anything he imagines… is.  We had to get a petition together to prevent him watching the Star Wars prequels.  Can you imagine if he’d bought into that stupid midichlorians idea?  It’d be like magic all over again.  Stupid space wizards.  At least with Star Trek, there’s a chance he’d get the idea that having a chosen “special” people wasn’t so sensible and maybe letting women do something other than incubate babies and mine sandwiches or whatever might be useful.”

“Are you telling me that you, the devil, are a feminist?” I asked.

“whose idea do you think it was?” he asked.  “Do you have any idea how depressing it is, the number of women who come here and find out that their own personal hell is the life they’ve been living… the only difference being that they *could* have done something else if they’d spoken up?”

“Wow,” I said, “that’s cruel.”

He nodded, “sometimes poetic justice is neither poetic, nor just.  I had to do something, if only so that their punishments would vary from their lives… So, will you do it?  Can you fix hell for me?” he asked.

I thought for a minute.  “I suppose so, what’s the pay?” I asked.

“The knowledge of a job well done?” he said.  I thought about it, that was pretty interesting.  And really, I mean… it’s probably safer than accepting anything material from satan himself.

“What assets do I have at my disposal?” I asked.

“whatever you need,” he said, “just let me know what it is and I’ll have it sent.  Anything else?” he asked.

“What is the cost to me?” I asked.  I’m not interested in selling my soul or anything.

Nick looked at me and his voice flattened as he said, “The knowledge of a job well done.”

Hell a primer: pt 2 – The Gates

…continued from part 1

As we walked past the gates, I noted they were simple and unordained.  Not at all what I’d been given to expect from Rodin’s famous sculpture.  I looked at my host inquisitively and he shrugged.

“We didn’t get Rodin,” he said as a chill breeze whipped past.

“oh that is mean,” I said, as I shivered off the cold.

Old Nick smiled his toothy, charismatic grin, “Right? I spend a lot of time trying not to give people the ‘devil they know’.”  We bypassed the line of people stuck shivering outside the velvet ropes next to a red carpet and I noticed some D-list celebrities waiting miserably as a fat man with headphones and a neckbeard seemed to be enjoying himself immensely.”

“What’s his deal?” I asked, pointing to the bouncer.

“He’s on loan from above.  We’ve managed to pervert the whole ‘last shall be first’ thing by playing the ‘as above, so below’ card.  My favorite part is that when their managers try to get them special treatment, they get pushed farther back in line.”

“So, part of his heaven is making people stand in line waiting to get into hell?”

Satan shook his head at the foolishness of mankind, “yeah, but he’s not totally immune from the knowledge that even with power the ‘cool kids’ can’t stand him.”

“But wait, do they know they’re still outside hell?”

“yeah.  We’ve combined the whole ‘anticipation heightens the experience’, with letting their imaginations run wild so we can figure out the most appropriate punishment thing, plus everyone born outside the UK hates waiting in line.”

“So what do you do to British celebrities?” I asked.

“We make them cut line without allowing their apologies to come out.  A lifetime of conditioning makes them fight it.  Oh and we make them think they’re being disapproved of by other people they’ve never met.”

“You know, last time we spoke you seemed to be frustrated at your reputation, but here you seem to enjoy it.”

“Well, I am the just reward of the sinner, am I not?  So how could I also be the great tempter?  That would be like a District Attorney working entrapment to get more cases.”

“Oh yeah, and they’ve got a special punishment” he said, but refused to say any more on the subject when I pressed him further.

We walked right past them behind a group of nobodies and made a left to a counter where a small bespectacled demon with reading glasses on a pearl strand.  She looked up and her look of utter non-reaction at her boss showing up unexpectedly indicated that if she hadn’t had a hand in designing the concept of the DMV, she had been a dedicated student of their dark art.

“Hello Agnes,” said Old Nick.

She grunted and handed him a clipboard, “Fill out the forms completely, and when you’re issued your don’t let it out of your control for any reason.  You will not be issued another.” she said, in the tones of a flight attendant giving a safety demonstration.

“You guys get a lot of visitors here?” I asked.

“Not really,” he said.  “Just another way to add red tape and misery to anyone trying to game the system.”

“I have to hand it to you,” I said, as we walked in “You really know your business.  Why was I invited here? Surely you don’t need me to spread word of how things work here, that would only complicate things further.”

“Follow me into my office,” he said, “I’ll explain when we’re away from prying eyes.”

(For the story about how I first met the Devil by the roadside, read ‘Every Soul is For Sale’)

Hell: A Primer. pt. 1 – a road paved with something

One day, I took a walk with that most useful fellow, God’s Narc himself, The Devil.  After our meeting on the road, we chanced to meet each other at a dinner party for a fellow acquaintance and he invited me over to his place.

“Is this a trick?” I asked, “or do you mean as a guest… temporarily.”

“As a guest,” he said, smiling.  “You’re free to leave whenever you wish.”

“In that case, yes.  I’d love to come visit sometime.  How do I arrange it?”  I asked.

He gave me contact information and told me how to get there.  Some time later, I’m not sure if it was out of boredom, or out of curiosity, or both.  I decided to contact him and make my tour of hell.

Next thing I knew, I head the door bell ring and a small woven easter basket was on the door with miniature seats in it.

“Seriously?” I asked the air around me, “We’re traveling by cliché?”

Old Nick’s silken chuckle washed over me warm and gregarious.  “No of course not.  I just wanted to see how you’d respond to metaphor made literal.”

I turned around to look where there had clearly been no one a second ago to find the devil himself standing to the side of my door just out of sight as I had walked out.  I arched an eyebrow.

“We’re going to see a lot of this?” I asked.

“Loads,” he said and pinched bridge of his nose for a moment, “I blame The florentines.”

“The florentines?”

“Yes, Durante degli Alighieri, known as dante and Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, known as Michelangelo,” he said, in the same voice as an actor on a police procedural might brief the other officers of a precinct about a dangerous criminal.

“They made my life-”

“A living hell?” I asked, unable to help myself.

Old Nick grimaced, “I can see you’ll do just fine in hell.”

“I’m sorry,” I apologized.  Do puns figure largely in hell, “They do for most people who consider themselves writers or comedians.  Why do you think puns are referred to as the ‘lowest’ form of humor?”

“Huh. So what did these guys do to you?” I asked.

“The made things… ….complicated.  At least for the first several hundred years.”

“How so?” I asked.

“You’ll see.  But for now, Let’s just say that when Christ said all the sinners would essentially burn on God’s trash heap for all of eternity, my life was a lot easier.”

Here’s where we rounded a corner and instead of finding the little bodega owned by my friend Sinan, I found us on a path sloping downward into a forest.  As we traveled, I found that the path was a winding circle.  Lined with primroses and bricks of something that looked not quite like gold and were carved with something that looked a lot like excuses, ‘I never intended…’, ‘I was only trying to help…’, ‘I just thought if I…” were common starts to a lot of these.

“The road to hell is paved with excuses?” I asked.

“Not quite,” said the Devil as he fought a slight smile.

“Why Gold?” I asked.

Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library. "Agile Defaulters." The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1892. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e1-3782-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99
Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library. “Agile Defaulters.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1892. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e1-3782-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

“It’s Pyrite, actually.  We used to have to constantly repair the roads when we used actual brimstone, You know how easy that stuff is to break?  It’s awful.  We had full time crews of laborers working with the stuff.”

“Was it part of someone’s punishment?” I asked.

“Mostly fraudulent bank managers and other people who’d been so lazy they hadn’t been content with a white collar profession and cheated people.”

“Sounds like a good punishment,” I said.

“You’d think so,” he sighed a bit tired, “But have you ever done what might be an unpleasant physical chore and felt reinvigorated by it at the end of the day?”

“Sure.” I said, “I’ve always enjoyed chopping wood.”

“Perfect example.  These jerks had never done a real day’s work and never cared about the people they’d defrauded, so instead of being beaten down by it, they could look at the end of the day and see what they’d accomplished with their own two hands.  We had people begging to be a part of the crew eventually.  It was really counter-productive to the whole eternal damnation business.”

“That sounds rough,” I said, full of sympathy.

“that’s not the half of it. The worst part was how bad they were at the work.”

“So the worst part of this whole hell-paving bit wasn’t that it wasn’t punishing for these damned souls, or that it was costly and inefficient, the worst part is that your crews did a bad job?”

“I suspect some of them were trying to pull the wool over our eyes and shirk, but most of them seemed to get in the spirit of the thing and that really irked the overseers.”

“Who were the overseers?”

“Competent union workers who had taken bribes or been envious of management. the whole ‘If I was running this dump, things would run differently’ kind of guys.”

I couldn’t help but smile.  “So, the only union labor guys you hire are put in management?” I asked.

Nick smiled back at me, “Perverse, isn’t it?  That didn’t really work well either, because as soon as they became managers, they ’switched parties’ so to speak.  All of a sudden they were looking for ways to save costs at the expense of the workers and justified it with arguments as flimsy as any they’d rejected during contract negotiations in life.”

I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t been disappointed a bit by this look at human nature, but I’d couldn’t say I was surprised either.

We walked on and in the distance huge gates and walls loomed in the distance, something like a subterranean walled city as designed in an unhappy marriage of H.R. Geiger and Dr. Seuss, then executed in a style that reminded me of more than one notebook scribbling I’d made when I went through my Black Sabbath phase in 8th grade.


Continued in Part 2 – The Gates.  (To find out how I met Old Nick, read “Every Soul is For Sale


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A conflict of Geological proportions

“Boy, come here.”

It was always the same.  Whenever the boy would walk the granite of foothills of the mountains with his grandfather, at some point the old man would call for the boy and point to the peaks.

“There’s a story writ large in the stones of these here mountains.  Did I ever tell it to you?”  He had, of course, many times, but this was the start of the story and as traditional as if he’s said: “Once Upon A Time” before some story of a princess or a talking animal or some such and similar.

The boy didn’t like those other stories because he’d never met or heard of a real-life prince or princess, so he couldn’t be sure they were true- whereas the mountain was clearly there and so he had proof of the veracity of his grandfather’s story.

The boy would nod and say “Yes, but I want to hear it again.”

Then his grandfather would fill his pipe as he looked down his hooked nose at the boy with an arch expression “you do, do you?”.  A moment later the old man’s features would break into a grin under is walrusey mustache and the tale would begin in earnest.  And this is how it went:

“These here mountains weren’t always mountains boy.” Said his grandfather.  (The boy was never sure if his grandfather actually knew his name, or if that was just what he called all his grandsons when he talked to them)

“Really?”

“Yep.  When my grandad’s grandad was a boy, just about your age-“ (it was always just about your age, no matter how old the boy was) “they were just what you’d call Bens or big hills.”

None of the other boys at school knew what Bens were, for the boy’s family had come to the new country from a country that was sensible enough to have a word for the terrain that was not so big as a mountain, but deserving of more respect than a mere hill.  This caused fights between the boys until the teacher was called in and confirmed the what the grandfather said about Bens.

“What happened?” asked the boy, knowing full well what the story was, and trying to play his part well.

“Well, it all came down to a fight between two sets of Giants.”

The boy loved to hear about the giants.  Huge mole-like creatures made of the very stone that made up their mountain home.  A hundred feet if they were an inch, and fearsome claws, though… according to his grandfather, the giants only every used them to dig through the earth.

“Back in those days, the Giants were more active and one giant decided to move west to see why all us people were moving out west here.  Being a newcomer in those days, he should have been respectful to the Giants he met here, just as our people were often what you’d call less than polite to the people who lived here before (and vice versa).”

“What did he do?” asked the boy.

“Why, he did the one thing you must never do if you want to get along with strangers when you move into their land.”

“What’s that?”

“He fell in love and stole the heart of the prettiest Giantess in the land.  You should have seen her.  Wide as she was tall, with delicate claws that could carve a fjord if she’s lived near enough to the sea to do so.  The swish eastern giant came in and swept the poor girl off her feet.  He ran south of her family home and made the mesas and buttes that grace the badlands to the southwest.”

“Why’d he do that?” Asked the boy.

“I imagine it was like you gathering flowers for a girl at one of the nearby farms,” said the Grandfather, “Well, this went around for awhile, making the area kind of unsafe for us small folk.  It was what you’d call a geographically active area.

“I don’t know… a giant mole person with claws that can Fords-“

“Fjords.  Like fee-rod” said the grandfather.

“Claws that can cut feee-ords doesn’t sound beautiful to me.”

“Ahh, well… that’s because you’re not a giant see.  I mean, it wouldn’t help her to be a better giant if she could only breathe underwater right?”

“Well, yeah.”

“So what made her beautiful to other giants was mostly how good she was at being a giant.  They had a word for it that expressed it better. One that means, that which is what is ought to be and almost ideally so.”

“They had one word for that?”

“Yep.  Though, I seem to remember it was a long word.  Anyway, for the giants, beauty wasn’t strictly a visual thing.”

“Really?”

“Course not.  Where do the giants live?”

“Under the mountains.”

“How much light you suppose they got under a hunnert tons of rock?”

“Not a lot.”

“Hmph, not a lot indeed!  Course not a lot.  It’s partly why the giants only come out at night.”

“I’ve heard stories about them eating up travelers and stuff.”

“Stories.  A lot of stories leave a lot out boy.”

“Like what?”

“Like how being used to darkness and meeting up on a bright sunny day with a young ‘adventurer’ who tries to trick you is bound to make anyone angry.  Mostly the giants are peaceful.  Well, except when they get to fighting.  Now giants mate for life, and that means quite a bit more to someone who is going to live for a few thousand years.  So when the time came that the giantess was going to choose a mate, she got to choose the contest.”

“Contest?”

“Why sure boy, in most species the female chooses the contest.  For peacocks it’s bright plumage, for some spiders, it’s a dance, for eagles it’s a rock-dropping contest.”

“What was it for giants?”

“Mountainsmithing.”

“Mountainsmithing like-“

“Yep.  They had to make mountains out of molehills.”

The boy thought about it for awhile.  “So, the handsomest giant would be the one who is best at being a giant right?”

“Stands to reason.”

“And the giants job is to make the mountains.”

“Always has been.”

“Okay, I get it.”

“Good,” Said the grandfather with mock sternness, though the twinkle in his eye gave him away.

“So, who competed in the contest?” asked the boys.

“Well, standard giant rules said that she would be the judge and that her father and all of the eligible giants in the area (that means old enough and not married already) would duke it out to see who was the best.”

“Why would her father compete?”

“Mostly, I think it was to prove to himself that he could still do it, but partly to make the young bucks nervous.  See, he wanted to make sure anyone that married into his mountain range would know how to properly craft a mountain that you could be proud of.  None of those old eroded things like the mountains to the east.  But something as hard and proud and craggy as himself, you see.”

“I see.”

“So, they had to beat his mountain with one of their own?”

“Nope.  They had to beat the giantess herself!” said the grandfather, with a gleam in his eyes.

“But, wait- why was her father competing, if she was too?”

“Well it’s a great deal more complicated than what I’m gonna say, I would imagine, but basically… if he made the best one, he got to veto everyone else as not being good enough, if she won can choose whoever she likes- though traditionally a giantess wouldn’t respect a giant as a mate if she could out-smith him, and if someone did beat her, she would be likely to choose him as the best.”

Well, that seems- wait!  That’s not fair!!” said the boy.

“Whoever said life is fair?” asked the grandfather, “But what do you mean?”

The boy held his grandfather’s hands to cross a stream and used the time to put his thoughts together.

“Okay, so she is judging.”

“Yes.”

“No one else?”

“Well, everyone would debate and talk about it for years before she made up her mind, but ultimately she was the only one who could judge.”

“And there’s no criteria?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, the old giant criticized the mountains to the east as being ‘the wrong kind of mountains’”

“Sure, people get set in their ways as they age and the Giant had been there since the first beginnings.”

“The whole contest is rigged!  I mean, why can’t she just choose who she likes and make up reasons why theirs is best?”

“Ahh, well that’s mighty slippery thinking.  What did you say you wanted to be when you grow up, Boy?”

“A writer.”

“Ahh well, that’s fine then.  I thought for a second, my daughter was raising a politician.”  The grandfather laughed to himself, but the boy didn’t get the joke.

“Anyway, if she can just choose who she wants to, why even say there’s a contest?”

“Giants are very traditional creatures mostly.  After all, they live so long that some of the oldest ones were around when the dang things got started.  Additionally, they’re very close to their families and generally won’t break with tradition, not to mention they’re right prideful about their aesthetic tastes.”

“Oh.” Said the boy.

“You want more background?  Or can I get on to the part of the story that’s actually the story?”  more theater.  The grandfather loved telling the history of the giants and adding as much garnish as possible to it.  Both of them knew this of course, but you had to keep up the pace, or the story would take all day.

“Story please.” Said the boy, remembering his manners.

“Well, the day came and they sent one of the younger giants out to find some moles.  Moles being just like the giants, only small and squishy and covered in fur instead of lichens and moss.”  Having found the object of their morning walk, the old man stooped and picked something orange from the soil, brushed it off and put it in the brown cloth bag he carried slung over his shoulder, “What is the name of the mountain under whose shadow we live?”

“The Old Man.” Said the boy without thinking.  It was something everyone in the area knew.  The origin of the name was scree field below a huge cavern near the peak gave the impression of a bearded old man screaming in anguish.

“Good and what are the mountains nearest to the old man.”

“Why, there’s Peregrine Peak, Lodestone, and The demon’s chair.” Said the boy again, just as quickly.

“Do you know why they are called by those names?”

The boy was puzzled.  He didn’t know.

“The first two are so-named because of the design each of the giants gave in order to showcase his skill.  The first formed that shape, not unlike a Peregrine falcon perched.  He wanted to impress her with majesty and he made his peak tall.  But in his hubris, he didn’t build it so stable.  In fact, to this day, the area is dangerous to any who would go there because of the frequent rock slides.

The second giant fashioned his out of Iron and gems and other metals.  He wished to show her the wealth he could bring.  The work was good, but lacked elegance.  It was large and squat and though miners still find it profitable to go there, no one has ever called it beautiful.

What was the third?  The third giant, going last thought that a combination of the two approaches would be best.  Though he lacked the material for precious stones and made up for the difference with brimstone.  It smokes and cracks to this day, but here and there are large chunks of fool’s gold for any who seeks wealth in the region.

“Well, which did she choose?”  Asked the boy.

“None of those three of course.  There were still three more mountains to judge from.  The Old Man is the most like the other mountains in this area.  After all, her father made it and he’d been at his craft for quite awhile.  But aside from being bigger and harder, being made mostly of the granite the priests favor for their temples, still, she reserved her judgment.”

“Well what did the new giant build?” he asked.

“You’re standing on it.  Or, rather what’s left of it.” Said the grandfather.

“What?”

“Well, that Giant from the east did something no one had aver thought of before.  He raised the ground to a height you wouldn’t believe and then he pounded the top flat.  This mystified the giantess who seemed dejected at this strange excuse from a mountain.  She didn’t want to believe that he was so terrible.  When they talked, they had seemed to have so many things in common and they had a love that grew from those shared experiences and joys.  How could he do this to her?  Heartbroken, she turned to him and asked, ‘Why would you do this?  Why, when everything else was on the line, would you make me this large mesa?  This is not a mountain.  It has no crags, no features, you have spent your magics making something that is large and that couldn’t possibly be chosen.  Why?’”

“Why did he do it, grandpa?” The boy picked some berries and looked for sign of game so they would know where to hunt when the snows came.

“Well, I could tell you myself, or I could let you hear his reply.” Said the old man.  The boy had never heard this story before, indeed not.  Usually, they would point to the mountains and say how the Old Man was made by the giantess’s father in an attempt to see where she was going as she ran with her love.  The boy stopped picking the berries and looked at his grandfather who was examining another orange funnel-shaped mushroom apparently absorbed in his task.

“Tell me grandpa!” said the boy.

His grandfather looked up as if waking from a dream. “Huh?  Oh.  Right.  The giant looked at her and said, ‘I could have made the mountain tall, but then it might be unstable; I could have made the mountain full of wealth but then it would be squat and only useful; I could have compromised between the two and gotten nothing at all, or even built along designs well-established in your beautiful ranges.  But, if it was unstable, it would not be skillful.  If it were ugly and would not be beautiful.  If it were a compromise, it would not show the elegance in design you would appreciate.  If I copied the work of your father and your family it would be necessary to have me as a partner.  Can you not see?  All of your other suitors and your father built what they judged to be the best for them.  Instead, I have built you a platform to build upon so that we can make the best work for us.  If we build alone, why should we marry?   It would be a purposeless marriage of little worth if it were based on pride, wealth, compromise or tradition.  I want to build a future on each other.”

“So, then she chose him, right?”

“Well, no one knows what she might have done.  After all, she was the best Mountainsmith of the lands, so her choosing anyone would mean there was something subjective going on.”

“Well, what happened then?” asked the Boy.

“She chose alright, but partly because her lover’s speech so angered the other suitors and the giantess’s father that they grew fierce and grabbed him by the scruff of his neck and threw him out of their lands.  In fact, to this day, there’s a lake where he landed dazed and in the flatlands to the west.  Furious at the arrogance of the males around her, she stomped her foot and unmade the mountain right then and there, crushing the forests and mixing the soil into the rich loam each we use on our farms, and dales and hills.  Then she took out west to flatlands and ran until they found the great wide ocean on the other side of the Djinn’s desert.  There, to this day, they wander up and down the coast, making mountains and it is said that ground still shakes with their passage as they move by.”

“They make mountains?”

“A whole wall of them running from the far North to the far South of the continent.  Twisty makes of passages, impossible to pass safely in the winter if you don’t know what you’re doing.”

“Huh.” Said the boy.  “Then the Giants lived happily ever after?”

“Well, if you mean the two lovers, the best I could tell you is that they live happily enough for now.  Just because they escaped immediate danger doesn’t mean anything.  Remember giants are prideful and long-lived.  If you ever find yourself in the mountains, you’d best be sure not to give offense.”

The boy nodded.  Then realizing they had both gotten what they came for from their forage and it was getting toward nightfall they decided to go home.

After they recrossed the stream the boy said, “Did the Old Giant ever regret chasing his daughter’s lover away and her after him?”

The grandfather tousled the boy’s hair, “Not until after he met his grandsons,” he said.

The End

Every Soul is for Sale

Did I ever tell you about the time I met the Devil on the road?  It’s true.  I did!  Well-dressed chap on the side of the road.  Small goatee, suspiciously cloven feet, faint smell of campfire… Anyway, I was tired so I sad down next to him.  “Ho, Old Scratch!” says I, to show him I’m on to him and not interested in any of his tricks.

He nods to me and moves aside to make room on the log on which he was sitting.  Well, not being ignorant I’m ready to make the sign of the cross or quote a scripture at him at the first sign of trouble.  But he just sits there, as if I’m nothing more than any other traveler.  Finally he looks at me and says, “Well?  Aren’t you going to introduce yourself?”

This has me at a loss, as it would you I’m sure.  That’s the one thing I couldn’t have expected him to say.  “You mean you don’t already know? I asked.

“What?  You famous?” He asked.

“No,” I said, “I just thought you knew these sorts of things.  In all the old stories you-“

“Bah, stories,” he dismissed them like he was waving away a bothersome fly.  “Stories are troublesome things, can’t trust ‘em.”

“Huh.”  I thought about all the stories I’d heard of an evening and realized that more often than not they were more than just exaggerated.

“Stories.  I suppose in the stories I’m out to get your soul and trick you out of it right?”

“Well, yeah.”

“Hmph.  That would be the ones that get around.  As if no one ever went though a time when they were a bit of a jerk.”

I had sympathy for him at that point, for I remembered a time when I myself had been the subject of scurrilous rumors.  Then I imagined what it must have been like these last 5000 years the priests tell us the world has been around.  I told him my name and asked him his.

“Lucifer,” he said, “Not that anyone asks any more.  They just call me Satan or Deceiver or any number of other insults and eventually my temper gets the better of me.”

“Must be awful,” I said.

He nodded.  “You’re the first person that hasn’t tried to ward me off with the sign of the cross or quoted scripture at me.”

“Yeah, that would be rude.”

“It’s always ‘begone deceiver’ this and ’get thee behind me that’.  I mean, if someone has a nice posterior or flattering jeans I don’t mind, but it gets so old.”

“Do you mind if I ask you a question?”  I asked.

“Go ahead,” he replied.

“What do you do with them?”

“What?”

“With the souls.  What do you do with them?  The ones people sell you I mean.”

He looked tired.  “You too?  What the hell would I do with souls?  I have no use for them.  Besides you can’t be separated from yours.  Not until death!  Can’t happen.”

“But what about…”

“Can’t happen.  That Faust thing is just a load of fiction.  Hell, I can’t even get back into Hell because I can’t find the keys.”

“Hell has keys?”

“Of course it does.  You think I want to go letting it open with all the murderers and demons and bad guys running around there?”

“Huh, I never thought of it that way.” I said

“Ugh and the smoke.  I can’t get it out of my clothes no matter how much I wash.”  I remembered my grandpa’s sweaters and how even after he quit smoking they always smelled like cigarettes.

“Sounds rough.”

“You don’t know the half of it.”

“So you don’t buy souls?”

“No.  Course not.  I was just sore at my dad for taking me off the angel choir to babysit a bunch of delinquent humans for all eternity.  You have no idea how terrible the company was for awhile.  Out of boredom I started trying to attract people I’d want to spend time with.  You ever wonder why there are so many musicians in Hell?”

“Because they sold you their soul?”

“No… because the music filled them to the point where there was nothing left.  No room for anything else.  They resonated with the divine music of the spheres and as reward, Dad sends them to me.  All the greats are there.  Even some of the really good gospel musicians.”

“Even the gospel ones?  How come?”

“Because they loved music more than they loved what their music was about.  Dad hates that.  He thinks everything has to be about him.  All the time.”

“That doesn’t seem fair.” I said.

“Of course it’s fair” he said, his voice dripping with sarcasm, “Dad said it, so by definition it’s fair.”

“This is very illuminating.” I said.

He actually laughed at that point.  “Well it ought to be.” He said.

“What?” I asked.

“My name is lucifer.  Means morning star.  Or Light bringer.  Illuminating.  Get it?”

“Oh!” I said, comprehension dawning.

“That’s actually my job.”

“It is?” I asked.

“Yep,” he said.

“My job is to show people the light.  Teach them things.  Things they might miss otherwise.”

“What about all the punishments in hell?”

“Teaching too.  Dad was really old-school about it.  Wanted fire and brimstone.  I asked, ‘why not have some rehabilitation classes and reincarnate until they get it right?’ He just said it wouldn’t work and that it was better to start with something pure and clean.”

“His ways are mysterious” I said.

“He’s impatient and hates admitting improvements could be made.  That’s why he tried to keep a lid on evolution for so long. Everyone brings up the bad stuff, but I ask, what about the good stuff?”

“Good stuff?”

“Yeah!  Good stuff.  Like giving Eve the apple.”

“Good?  That got them kicked out of paradise.”s

“Nah, they knew what would happen.  I told them.”

“Yeah, but how could they know what it would be like?  I mean, he said ‘don’t eat’ and I said, hey.  You eat this, you’ll know right from wrong and be able to make your own decisions.  I helped them to find free will.”

“But we have to work now.” I countered.

“Instead of what?  Being two birds in gilded cages, they became to adults.  Free and able to choose your destiny and do more than just sit in a garden eating and lounging about?”

“Okay,” I said, “What about Job?”

“What about him?”

“What about the fact that you tortured that poor man.”

“Hey I get it.  I say in passing that he wouldn’t be so loyal if he wasn’t being protected from harm.  Right?”

“Yeah.”

“That’s not what I said.  What I said was, Job probably wouldn’t be so cheery if you treated him like you treat me.  I was griping and next thing you know God is ordering me to kill Job’s wife.”

“Really?”

“Really.  Look none of that really matters, you know?  All that matters is this.  Every soul is for sale.  You will sell it.  But not to me.”

“What?” I asked.  “Who wants to buy then?”

“You do.  You buy it with every action of every day.  It’s the energy you have to spend becoming who you are.  The only question you have to ask is this?  Would you rather sell your soul at a high price to get something you want, or sell it at a low price to get something you don’t want?”

I thought about this for a minute.  “Are you talking about not wasting my time?”

“Well, no time is wasted really- otherwise you’d have some left over at the end.  I’m talking about spending time on something worth the value of your soul.”

“You mean like practicing an instrument to become a musician?”

“Right, but it’s only compared with the relative cost of another way to spend time that the value can be measured.

“So, watching television for 30 minutes compared with practicing an instrument.”

“Exactly.  It’s like buying something with cash versus buying it with-“

“Credit.  Oh I see.  So, you’re saying I should only spend time on things that will get me what I want?”

“No, no, no.  You’ll have to spend time on other things too, after all you need to eat.  But that extra time.  The time you have to find your passions.  That’s the time that usually gets sucked up with trashy novels, re listening to crappy pop music you have memorized and tv-reruns you’ve seen a thousand times.  All of that is low effort, instant-low calorie return.  Just bad economics.”

“You know prince of darkness as guidance counsellor isn’t what I expected.”

“You and me both,” he said with a sigh.  “You have a lot more opportunity than I did.  You can literally go to the moon if you put in the effort and sell your soul to physics.  Me?  I had to choose between Prince of Darkness, lord of hell and tempter of souls, or leader of the angel choir”  at this, he folded his hands mockingly.  “Trust me, with all its problems, this world is still better than it ever has been and you have more choice than ever.”

“Well, Mr. Morningstar, this has been enlightening.  Thank you for lighting my path and giving me a rest.” I said.

“Of course.”

“I feel like I could go out and take over the world!” I said with enthusiasm.

“You can if that’s what you want to sell your soul for,” he said with a wink.  “Just promise me you won’t sell it at a price less than it’s worth.”  And he extended his hand.

“It’s a deal.” I said and shook his hand in good humor.  Then, I walked down the road feeling strangely lighter than I had before heading off to make my mark on the world.

(To hear what happened when I ran into the prince of darkness at a later date, click here)

To the Would-Be Time Traveler

To every child who wants to go
To where the past was brighter
When men were men and lads were Heroes
Warriors and fighters

Or every girl who thinks perhaps
Austen’s England’s best
That world of balls and parties and
Talk of who’s best dress’d

A word of warning ‘fore you go
Off in your time machine
First of all your problems:
A world that’s not so clean.

You see dear reader ’s not so long
Since soap was out of fashion
Where thick-held grime and soot and mud
Kept your clothes from clashin’

That’s not to say most anything
About the germs you’ll see
You’ll have to fight off monstrous things
Like Plague and Leprosy

That ignores the problems of
your germy pedigree
For people cannot future-proof
Their immunity

All this trouble you’d have wrought
If you took this trip
To say no thing of burning ‘live
If your nature you let slip!

You see my young would-be
Time trav’ler ‘strordinaire
The danger’s far to great
To those both here and there

To be a temporal tourist
Sounds a great adventure
But there is another way
To go there I would venture.

Consider making voyages
‘cross the globe instead
Or grab a book and take a trip
Inside of your own head.

Then you’ve got a perfect chance
To go see what you’d see
Without risking loss of things like
Modern dentistry

If this sounds like a cop out
Or some unfair, unkind fate
You’re trav’ling time already
And so it’s not too late

Our time is best in many ways
Than any we’ve yet found
Finding wonder’s simple as
A taken look around

Take solace in the fact that
Time yet marches on
Changes come and changes go
And yet we linger on

The future could be so much brighter
Than the past you see
But it will take some work to shape it
Work for you and me

Our bright future not so soon
Will be some person’s past
“A simpler time,” “a better place”
But destined not to last.

And so instead of trav’ling time
I’d like to suggest
We make those future people jealous
By making our time best

The Boy Who Shrank and Grew

Once upon a time there was a boy.  He wasn’t the most popular kid in class.  He also wasn’t the least popular kid in class.  One day, for no particular reason that he could discern, he started to shrink.  For some reason no one seemed to notice, but him and the worst thing was how much more effort it seemed to take for him to get back and forth to school.  After all, each step was proportionately smaller, the smaller he grew.  It seemed like he was spending a ton of energy just trying to get to class or move the pencil across the page.

It got bad enough that he was taking shortcuts by riding in a friend’s backpack.  For some reason though, everyone just went on as if the world were normal.  They all seemed to be moving slower and slower and sounded seemed to be deeper than before, but as far as he could tell, he was moving just as much less through time as he was through space.

By the time school let out on Friday, he was no taller than the length of my index finger, right here.  He didn’t feel well and time seemed to drag on as he trudged home to the safety of his room.  On the way there were so many inconsiderate people.  Meteors of cigarette ash as he passed the area where teachers smoked after school, lakes of puddles from the morning’s rain and a morass of mud where it met the trampled soil of the shortcut across Mr. Jorgensen’s yard.  By the time he got home, he was covered in mud and horribly tired.  So much effort and nothing to show for it.  How was he supposed to go through the rest of his life so small?  Even his toys were too big for him.

Using the last of his energy, he managed to climb the bed and make the treacherous leap to his bedside table where his mother had left him a sandwich.  Thankful, he ate his fill, barely making a visible dent in this mammoth meal before lying down on his pillow to take a rest.

The next morning, he woke up about half as large as his usual self, and though it wasn’t quite the same as usual he was feeling a bit more like himself.  When the boy went downstairs he noticed a slight change with each step… no.  Not with each step.  He made a slight change with each noise.  It was the squeaks and then, the light… the bright sunlight was making him shrink faster again as if all of the stimulus from the environment was making him shrink.  Quickly, he ran back to the bathroom and shut the door.  The shrinking stopped.

Worried, he hugged himself tightly and noticed that the security he felt not only stopped the shrinking, but also seemed to help him return (a bit) in the direction of his normal size.  After a few minutes, he felt large enough to reach the spigot on the shower and turned on the water.  The sounds of water had always been soothing for him and so he reasoned that this water would help him to return to his size.

Probably just wrung out, he thought with a smile.  He took off his pajamas and folded them conscientiously before stepping into the warm soothing water.  The boy stayed under the water for a while until banging on the door from his little sister and a cry of “Mo-om!  He’s still in the shower.”  Took a few inches off of his height and snapped his attention back to the world.

“I’m coming out,” he said and turned off the water.  This is not a good deal.  For some reason, this is happening and I don’t know why, but it seems like things that are comforting help me return to norma and things that are discomfortable?  Uncomfortable?  Un… yeah, uncomfortable are making me shrink.

His sister banged on the door again and was about to yell to their mother, when he threw open the door and said “It’s all yours,” but the energy of the false cheer seemed to make him shrink more than his sister’s yelling.

The shrinking wasn’t so bad of course, after all, he got an interesting new perspective on the world.  It was just how much more energy everything took when he “got small” that frustrated him.  Heck, if it wasn’t such a hassle, he wouldn’t mind staying small full-time.  Sure he couldn’t reach anything and everyone seemed to take FOREVER to say anything, but hey, at least he was saving a bundle on food.

Eventually a few people in his life noticed that he was getting small, and they had different reactions.  Some asked him why he didn’t just toughen up, others asked why he wanted to be small and still others (the ones who really matter) told him they’d be there for him no matter what size he was and they’d do their best to help him around.

Of course, there were some things he could do to keep from getting too small too quickly; exercise helped, as did eating healthy, and getting enough sleep.  Eventually the boy would go on to other adventures having learned a lot about who he was and realizing that no matter how big or small he was, it was how he reacted to the situation that determined if it was good or bad.  Crossing a forest of grass (that he’d been unable to get mowed on account of his size) was horrible, sure- but finding a way to surf on the back of the behemoth push mower not only helped him to grow back to size, but also could be quite fun when he picked up inertia.

Eventually, he learned that inertia might be a sometimes solution to the problem of his growing and shrinking.  It did seem true that whenever he shrank, he seemed to shrink more until he was totally shrunk. It was also true that when he started to grow, he seemed to find it easier to keep growing until he was the right size.  Sometimes, he would even get too big if things were going really well.  In those times he had to be careful not to overpower his friends, as the littlest bit of effort and excitement might send them flying.

All through his life, the boy dealt with the difficulties and challenges presented by his body’s decision to randomly make things harder or easier by size.  Whether he thought this was such a bad thing would be hard to say, as it taught him to make friends with people who would help support him and made him better at supporting his other friends who had their own idiosyncratic problems to deal with.

The Friendship of Fox and Bear

Once upon a time, there were a pair of friends- Fox and Bear- who loved each other dearly.  These two friends met once when Bear was fishing for salmon as bears are known to do.  Bear was strong and Fox was clever and the two would make each other laugh and laugh as they wandered over the wide expanse of the forests of the world.

It turned out however that Bear was not from the same part of the forest as Fox.  For indeed, in those days, the forest covered most of the land and had not been chopped down to make paper and houses and pencils for people to write stories with.

This gave Fox and Bear a great idea. They would travel the wide world together and teach the other animals how to be partners like they were.  For, not only did they share well and enjoy things together, but they both scavenged and each knew where to find food that the other could eat.  That, and they could do it playfully and with panache!

At first, Fox was apprehensive.  How would this work?  It was much more dangerous for her to travel than it was for Bear.  Bear was huge!  Bear, for his part was worried.  He needed so much more food than Fox that surely she would have an easier time traveling than he would.

And so, unable to go farther west (as Fox lived as far west as the Great Western Sea), and not wishing to go North (because like most of his kind, the cold made Bear sleepy), they decided to brave the parched deserts to the South.

While on their travels, things grew difficult for them.  Water was scarce and the heat was quite intense.  After some days suffering like this and surviving and small hares and twigs, they decided to travel only at night.  At first, Fox was disagreeable, for she hated being too hot almost as much as being too cold, but then she saw that it was right and from then on, they sought shade where possible in the high desert.

After some days of this, they managed to find a congregation of creatures by the water’s edge.  Word had gotten around that a Bear and Fox were seen, though the only words they local creatures had for it was Red Coyote and Fat Mountain Lion.  For indeed, there are no bears or foxes traveling in that part of the world, and they had certainly never been seen together.

Well, Fox and Bear tried to show the desert animals how they worked together as friends, but most of the animals didn’t seem to see the point.  Moving through the day was hot and tiring and working together just meant there would be less water for each of them.  How silly of these two to come to the desert to show them how to behave in the desert.

And so, a bit discouraged the Fox and Bear went north to where they knew that bear could find some nice salmon to eat.  Oh and while they were at it, perhaps some blueberries (though fox didn’t particularly like them).

After a few days of travel and once the weather got cooler, they realized some things.  Perhaps their knowledge wasn’t universally applicable.  Maybe they had some specialized understanding that would help them better to survive in their environments.  As with most of their realizations, Fox and Bear both contributed.

Fox got the head start on the thinking, being a quicker thinker.  Then, when Bear understood better, he started to pick up momentum.  It was like their experience in the heat, they realized.  They would never think to avoid the sun in their cool climate where the dryads made sure the trees provided the necessary shade!  Perhaps in an area of no dryads, (or no trees, added Bear), they would need to avoid the sun as being too much of a good thing.

As they walked back North, they thought about this for awhile in silence before either of them spoke again.  Next time would be better.  Next time they would find a way to show the others the advantages of working together.

And so, the two friends returned home to the area where Fox lived on their way to the salmon spawning grounds to try to show their friends what they had learned.  This time, it seemed to work better.  Otter was a bit playful and Chimpunk was a bit squirrely, but in general they seemed to see how working together could make a partnership with attributes that balanced because they were different, not because they were the same.

That’s when Fox and Bear really figured out what made them work well together.  It wasn’t that they believed the same thing, or that they were the same.  No, that tactic worked for the Wolves as they hunted under The Moon’s pale light.  This was an amiable partnership, not of equals, but of equivalence.

Bear provided muscle, Fox provided distraction.  Bear was solid and unstoppable if roused and Fox was a brilliant tactician.  Bear loved to snuggle with Fox’s floofy fur and Fox loved the  way Bear made shade and a sort-of mobile den, where anytime they snuggled it felt and smelled like home.

And so they went on to the salmon spawning ground and many places besides, teaching any who would listen how to be good partners for each other until winter came and Bear went to his rest (as all sensible bears do).  Then Fox went back to her home and they decided to make plans to travel once more, when summer returned to the land.

Free Book Tomorrow on my Birthday!

Okay, SO… In case you missed it before, my book will be free tomorrow. Why? Because it’s my birthday and I really want as many people as possible to enjoy and read it. So, please, click here and get it, when the big day comes.

KindleUnlimited subscribers can get it free anytime though, through their book lending program, so you can get it free today!  Or… if you reeeeally want to pay cold, hard credit/debit for it, you can just buy it now.

No signups for the email list are necessary or will even be required, though if you want to, there’s a link here

In two days – Get Told Tales Free on My Birthday!

My birthday is March 31, so I’m giving away free copies of my book The Djinn’s Heart and Other Stories.  That’s it. No biggie.  No signups for email lists required (though if you want to, you can sign up here), no special link.  Just go to amazon and click on it and get it for free.

If you can’t wait that long, no problem.  It’s only $2.99.  I just thought it would be  a nice thank you for anyone who has been reading my stuff and might want it all in one place.  And I *think* you can gift it to people though amazon too, so if you know someone who might like it, you can get it for them as a gift.

So that’s it. No strings, no mailing list, just a free book because it’s my birthday.  Hope you enjoy!

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