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.”