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.”
“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.
“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.
If you liked what you read here, or though “Hey, this would be great with illustrations from a fantastic Ukranian Illustrator!” Check out my first book “Told Tales Vol. 1 – The Djinn’s Heart and Other Stories” by clicking on the picture of the book. (KDP Select members can read it for free!)