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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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)

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