Wednesday, October 29, 2014

On Sentencing

“I don’t get it,” Jaelin said.  “Hell is supposed to be eternal.  That’s what it’s for—eternal punishment.”

“Apparently that wasn’t the way it was designed,” I said with a shrug.

“Well that was a pretty stupid design,” she retorted.  “It’s a good thing we got that fixed.”

“No, I think it’s broken,” I said.  “We need to fix it.”

“Why would it be broken?” she asked.  “Bad humans die, they go to Hell, they get punished for being bad.  End of story!”

All humans die and go to Hell,” I corrected.   “You guys torture a lot of different people.  Serial killers, rapists, unfaithful spouses, tax evaders… but most of these people don’t actually deserve to be punished forever.  You think a guy that cheated on his girlfriend once when he was nineteen deserves the same duration of torment as a guy that cuts people up into little pieces?”

“That’s why he’d get a lighter sentence,” Jaelin reasoned.  “So his punishment doesn’t involve as much agony as the murderer’s punishment does.”

“Come on, help me out here, guys,” I appealed to Talamur and Sylnie.

Talamur cleared his throat.  “I kind of agree with him, Jaelin, I have to admit,” he said.  “But then again I’ve been living among humans for a long time now and I might have gone a little bit soft over the years.”

Jaelin snorted.  “You think?”

“I guess it make sense, in a way,” Sylnie said slowly.  “I mean, you’d have to do something really bad to deserve endless torment.  At some point, you have to have lived stuff down and paid the price for your mistakes, right?”

“Thank you!” I said.  “That’s what I’m saying!  Don’t get me wrong, God’s plan has its flaws or whatever, but it’s better than keeping every single person trapped down there forever.”  Jaelin seemed unappeased.  “Don’t worry,” I told her.  “There will still be a steady incoming stream of assholes for you guys to sink your teeth into.”

“We should be assuming that last bit was figurative, yes?” Talamur said with a grin.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Back to School

I returned the the gutted high school and found it completely devoid of demonic activity.  Human firefighters were dousing the buildings with water and seemed to have extinguished the majority of the blaze.  Demon corpses littered the ground leading from the gymnasium into the parking lot.  I spotted Azraal’s body if only to reassure myself that he was, in fact, out of my hair for good.

I looked around for any sign of my cohorts but found none.  As I was about to give up and return to Hell, Talamur appeared about six inches in front of me. 

I flinched instinctively.  “Geez…you scared me!”

“Sorry.”  He gestured toward the school’s football stadium.  “We’re over there,” he explained, putting a hand on my shoulder and whisking me away.  We arrived on the twenty yard line.

“Welcome back, sir!” Sylnie said excitedly, providing an eager embrace and pressing her big soft body against me.

“Did you actually meet with God?” Jaelin asked.

I nodded.  “Yeah, God and Lucifer.”

Talamur’s eyebrows went up and let out a low whistle.  “Lucifer?  The original?”

“I think so,” I said.

Puzzled, Jaelin asked, “They were together?”

“Yeah.  Apparently they’re best buds.”

“What did they say?” Sylnie prompted.

I sighed.  “Basically that there’s a tunnel from Hell to Heaven that damned souls are supposed to be sucked through once their punishment is finished, but that some devil a really long time ago blocked it up and God wants me to blow it back open with a spell so that people aren’t stuck down in the pit of fire for all eternity.”

The three of them stared at me in a stunned silence for a few moments before Talamur hesitantly said, “Well…at least that will be solving the problem with overcrowding, then, right?”

Friday, October 24, 2014

Salabas's Rationale

I sat silently for a minute or two, still in shock at the overwhelmingly underwhelming conference I'd just had with God and his buddy Lucifer.

Realizing that I'd probably never really collect my thoughts, I got up and wandered out of the store.  Salabas was leaning casually up against the side of the building, his arms crossed.  "Howdy," he said simply.

"Howdy," I returned.  "So you actually work for those two idiots?"

He grinned good-naturedly and cocked his head to the side.  "Technically, I only work for God, but those two are like peas in a pod.  I sometimes forget I don't work for the both of 'em."

"How do you guys get anything done?" I asked incredulously.  "I'm serious.  After meeting its creator, I'm honestly starting to think that the universe is held together by duct tape and paper clips."

"Perhaps you just don't understand them," he reasoned.  "Their ways are higher than ours.  What seems like madness to a layman is really just the only rational approach an enlightented master can take to an infinitely chaotic world."

I narrowed my eyes.  "Stick with the folksy stuff.  Getting all philosophical really doesn't work for you."

His grin was unwavering.  "As you like it, son," he said.  "Sometimes when I try waxing profound it makes me look like a bullfrog in a bowtie."

I sighed and shook my head.  "You know what?  Maybe the folksy stuff is a bit too much after all."

"Beggin' your pardon, sir," he responded instantly.

"I'm gonna teleport back to my friends at the high school," I told him.  "You're welcome to join me if you're tired of hanging around outside a burger joint looking like a fashion-deficient pimp."

"That is what I believe they call a zinger, sir," Salabas replied.

"Whatever," I said.  "See you around." 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Exeunt Creators

"Great," I snapped.  "So I just have to whip up this spell and free the billions of souls trapped down in Hell, but first I have to find the door myself?  That should be a cakewalk.  Do I have any clues to go on?  Is it next to that big rock by the other rock?  Do I hang a left at the lava and keep going until I hit more lava?"

"Second star to the right and straight on 'til morning!" God said cheerfully.

Lucifer nudged him.  "He's actually pissed, brother," he whispered.  "You're not helping."

God winced.  "Sorry.  I thought you were being funny."

I sighed.  "Well, this has been an enlightening meeting," I grumbled.  What does it say about a god when he seems to have lost control of his own universe?

"Took a bit longer than I expected," Lucifer said with concern, looking around the restaurant for a clock.

God glanced at his calculator wristwatch.  "Zounds!  Look at the time!"

"What time is it?" Lucifer asked.

"It's almost six!  We'd better get going!"

"You have somewhere to be?" I asked dryly, expecting another disappointment.

"It's league night," Lucifer explained, sliding out of the booth and stretching.  "We gotta get over to the bowling alley before our team has to forfeit."

"Bowling?" I said.  "Seriously?  Bowling?"

"It was good to meet you, Jason," God said sincerely, pumping my hand excitedly.  "Really, really good.  I know you'll do us proud."

"Yeah, knock 'em dead, kid," Lucifer agreed.  As an afterthought, he added, "Well...they're already dead, of course, but you know what I mean."

With no warning other than a slight wave, the two of them shimmered brilliantly out of sight.  Nobody else in the restaurant seemed fazed by the fact that two celestial beings had just beamed themselves up.

"Good thing you told me how I can contact you in case I have any questions later!" I raged to an empty booth.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Spell Specifics

“Okay,” I announced hesitantly.  “I guess I’ll do it.”

“Fantastic!” God exulted, leaning over the table to give me a way-too-enthusiastic two-handed handshake.  “I’m so glad to hear it!”

“I mean, with billions of souls at stake, it seems like it would be pretty selfish of me not to do it, whether I have to sacrifice myself or not, right?” I reasoned weakly.

“That’s a good call, kid,” Lucifer said appreciatively.  “You’ll be doing us a huge favor, and we definitely won’t forget it.”

“Yeah, sure,” I said, impatient to get out of there and away from these two supremely powerful doofuses.  “So…you guys have a list of ingredients for the spell or something?”

“Ah!” God said.  “Yes, here you are.”  He produced a small Tupperware container from the seat next to him and set it on the table in front of me.  “We kind of got you started,” he explained.

I stared at the thick, reddish-black liquid sloshing around beneath the pale green lid.  “Uh…that’s great, thanks,” I said.

“Lots of good stuff in there,” Lucifer told me.  “The human blood, of course, a little volcanic ash, ground up petrified wood….”

“Don’t forget the brimstone and the blood of a firstborn lamb,” Lucifer added.

“Right, that too, and the angel hair,” God continued, adding with a self-indulgent grin, “not the pasta, of course.”

“And all that random stuff just gets mixed together and it will somehow blow open the door from Hell into Heaven?” I said.

God furrowed his brow as though I’d asked a particularly dense question.  “It’s magic,” he explained.

“Right, of course,” I said. 

“Here’s a list of the ingredients we haven’t been able to procure,” Lucifer said, handing me a small piece of folded paper.  “You shouldn’t have too much trouble finding this stuff down in the pit.”

“Okay,” I said, shoving the note into my pocket.  “So now I just need to know where the door is, right?”

God and Lucifer exchanged their signature glance of uncomfortable embarrassment.  “We don’t know where it is,” God confessed.

“Are you kidding me?!” I exploded.  It seemed more and more like the universe had been designed by a couple of bumbling godhood-school dropouts.  It’s a wonder the Earth had gone this long without bumping into Mars or Venus…or the Sun.

“To be more accurate,” Lucifer offered, “He doesn’t know where it is.  I just don’t remember.”

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Staying on Point

I sighed.  I felt like I’d been doing that a lot since I walked into the Burger Baron and started chatting away with the joint creators of my universe.  It was some pretty heavy subject matter, and the fact that I seemed to be the focal point of all of it made it that much more difficult to process.

“Okay,” I said carefully.  “So let’s say I agree to this.”

“But you have to!” God interrupted earnestly.  “You just have to!”

Lucifer put a calming hand on his shoulder.  “You don’t have to,” he told me.  “We’re not going to force you to do anything.  But you’re the right man for the job and a lot of planning went in to getting this far.”

“Let’s say I agree to this,” I repeated.  “So you’ll give me this spell, I take it back to Hell, walk up to the sealed entrance of the tunnel to Heaven, cast the spell on it, and it pops open?”

They both nodded.  “Pretty much,” they chorused. 

God gleefully called out, “Jinx! You owe me a Coke!” 

Lucifer scowled.  “Oh, grow up, man.  You’re revered around the world as a creator and a source of goodness.  You can’t act like this.”

“Who says a god can’t be fun?” God said defensively.

“That wasn’t fun so much as cringe-tastically dorky,” Lucifer shot back.

“Can we, um, stay on point, please?” I asked.

They turned back to me attentively.  “Sorry,” God said.  “Of course.  Do go on.”

“So I open this door,” I continued, “and then what?  Do souls just go flying out on their own?”

“Once both ends of the passage are clear, the previous parameters of Hell should kick in immediately,” Lucifer told me.  “Once the required length of a sentence has been reached, the soul will be sucked out of Hell through one of the tunnels.”

“Sucked?” I said.

He grinned.  “They go flying across Hell like they’re magnetized to it and then they get sucked up to Heaven just like one of those pneumatic tubes they use in bank drive-throughs.  It’s really something to watch.”

Monday, October 13, 2014

Blood Demon Content

"Great," I said weakly.  "And why can I survive this if Conrad couldn't?"

"He tweaked the spell when he made you the devil," God reminded me.  "You still have more humanity in you."

"And being human will help me survive something that being a demon wouldn't?" I summarized.  "That doesn't make any sense."

"Sure it does," Lucifer said.  "The passages between Hell and Heaven were guarded.  We didn't want demons having access to Heaven, so the tunnels induce telekinetic weakness, pain, brain damage…all kinds of things go haywire.  But it only affects demonkind."

"So a human could pass through easily," God pointed out.  "I mean, that's what the passages were designed for."

"Conrad, as the devil, had enough demon blood in him that he almost definitely would have died had he tried to open the door himself," Lucifer explained.  "You should be able to accomplish the task, but if we're right, you'll merely suffer weakness, mental confusion, extreme pain, and a few other things."

"Merely?" I said.

Lucifer shrugged.  "Merely, as in, it sure beats the alternative."

"So because Conrad couldn't do it but he sympathized with your goals," I said, "he chose me to take over Hell because I was the least evil of his descendants?"

God nodded.  "And when he performed the succession ritual, he made sure to give you a little protection against your eventual objective."

I sighed.   "Why couldn't any of you explain this from the beginning?"

"Conrad wasn't sure you were a suitable candidate," Lucifer admitted.  "We didn't want to put all our hopes on you because you weren't exactly the best option, you were just the option that was least likely to be, you know, utterly and completely terrible in every conceivable way."

"Oh, thanks," I said, rolling my eyes.

Lucifer grinned at me.  "Your grandfather simply advised us to wait and not put our plan into action until we'd seen a little more evidence that you were up to the task."

"Don't worry," God told me, stretching across the table to pat me on the forearm.  "You've proven yourself.  We're all on board now."  As he reached, he dipped his elbow in a spot of barbeque sauce that had dripped onto his tray a few minutes earlier.  It didn't look like he'd noticed.

Even though God, Lucifer and my great grandfather were "on board," I wasn't sure that I was.  "What about me?  What if I don't want to do it?"

God waved his hand like he was swatting away a fly.  "You have the chance to free billions from the fate of eternal torture.  I know you've been selfish at times in the past, but I think we all know you're not going to refuse something of this magnitude."

Lucifer tried to give me a warm, reassuring smile.  "And don't forget," he told me, "we're ninety percent sure you won't have to sacrifice yourself."

Friday, October 10, 2014

Conrad's Contribution

"I thought you were working with the old devil," I said.  "You know, my great grandfather?  Isn't he in your little circle or whatever?"

"Definitely," Lucifer nodded.  "Conrad was essential.  He was the first devil we'd had any kind of positive relationship with in…what…a few hundred years?"  He glanced at God for confirmation.

"A long time," God agreed, nodding solemnly.  "Long, long time."

"Centuries, at least," Lucifer said.

"Eons," God added.

"Yeah," Lucifer continued.  "None of this would have been possible without him.  This is the first real shot we've had in…well…you know, eons."

"Long, long time," God repeated earnestly.

I sighed.  There was no way to get a straight answer from these people.  There was too much hemming and hawing and beating around the bush.  I tried to speak calmly.  "Okay, I'm not trying to whine about anything, I'm just trying to understand…why couldn't Conrad do it?  Why do you still need me?" 

"Oh, no, Conrad couldn't do it," God said abruptly.  "It would kill him."

"Okay," I replied thinly.  "I didn't know that."  I paused before asking the question that I wasn't sure I wanted an answer to.  "It won't kill me, though, right?"

The two cosmic buddies shared a nervous glance.  God cleared is throat.  "Well…I don't want to lie to you, Jason," he began.  "Luce and I have gone over this very carefully and there is a lot of risk involved.  It could kill you."

"But we're pretty sure it won't," Lucifer amended swiftly.  "Like, ninety percent sure."  He shrugged.  "Probably."

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Limits of Omnipresence

I blinked.  "What? Seriously?  Pasta is an ingredient in the spell that can open the door to Heaven?"

Lucifer cracked a smile.  "Naw," he said, breaking into a hearty chuckle.  "I tried to keep it going, but I couldn't.  Pasta in the spell would be ridiculous.  Get your head on straight, man!"

I sighed.  "Okay, so if you get me a list, I'll try and get the ingredients."

Lucifer glanced at God before saying slowly, "You can help with that if you want, but the ingredients aren't the main problem.  That's not what we need your help with."

"Then what do you need my help with?" I asked for what felt like the hundredth time.

"The spell has to be worked from both sides of the passage," God explained.  "We need you to do it from the Hell side."

"And you need my help for that?" I asked.

"Unfortunately, yes," he replied, glancing downward.

"But there are two of you," I said.  "Why can't each of you take one side?"  Lucifer and God exchanged a shameful look and I suddenly figured it out.  "Don't tell me," I guessed dryly.  "You're not omnipresent, either."

God shook his head and threw his hands up in exasperation.  "Honestly, I don't even know how that rumor got started."

"You guys can't get into Hell," I said.

"It's been sealed off," Lucifer replied sadly.  "That devil worked a spell beyond what we realized was possible and no creature from Heaven can get in.  You either have to be a dying human or a demon, unless you get a demon to give you a lift."

I scoffed.  "Come on…all these thousands of years and you've never been able to convince a demon to take you to Hell?"

"I did a good job creating their kind," Lucifer said.  "They really don't like us Heaven-folk."

"That's why we need an inside man," God added, pointing at me.  

Monday, October 6, 2014

Angel Hair

Now God thought he was being clever. I couldn't help but roll my eyes. 

"I saw that," God said, but he didn't seem offended.

"Okay, so the devil betrayed you and now Hell is sealed off and people don't go to Heaven after they're punished," I summarized impatiently.  "I still don't understand what you need me to do."

"Well, we think we've figured out a spell that can blow the passages back open," God explained.  "It's a pretty complicated one, too, with a whole bunch of different ingredients."

"So you need me to get ingredients for you?" I guessed.  "Like what?"

God frowned as though trying to remember.  "Oh, you know…stuff.  Um, there's some basics, you know, like some human blood, of course, and uh…."  He trailed off, snapping his fingers in Lucifer's direction like that would jog his buddy's memory.

"It's all written down somewhere," Lucifer assured me.

"Some brimstone is involved, of course," God added.  "I don't remember how much, but it's probably not a whole lot."

"Angel hair," Lucifer supplied.

"Angel hair, yes," God agreed.

"Angel hair?" I echoed.  "I guess I would have expected an angel feather or something."

God chuckled.  "Oh, heavens, no!"  He turned to Lucifer.  "Angel feather pasta, can you imagine?"

"Disgusting," Lucifer agreed sagely.

"Wait, you mean angel hair pasta?" I said incredulously.

God busted up laughing, leaning over to wheeze out his glee from his millennia-old lungs. He slammed the tabletop with his fist a few times.

"Oh," I said sarcastically, "you were just messing with me.  Well, you got me!  That was a good one."  I waited for God to recover so we could get the hell on with it.  I even started mentally counting to ten to try and calm myself down.

Lucifer was staring at me somberly.  "It has to be uncooked," he told me.  "Straight out of the box."

Friday, October 3, 2014

The Limits of Omniscience

Oddly enough, despite my implication that God was at fault, he seemed happy to explain while Lucifer sulked in shame.  “After we created the universe and the human race,” God said, “Luce and I took certain personas upon ourselves.  We agreed that, although we were equals and like brothers, I would play the role of God, the benevolent advocate of goodness, and he would take on the identity of the Devil, the corruptive advocate of evil.  It was helpful for our fledgling race to have some kind of personified representation of both sides of the coin.  You know, a devil to blame and a god to pray to.”

“Wait, so you’re both God and you’re both good?” I said.

“Pretty much,” God replied.  “But the problem was that my role was much easier to play.  Lucifer here got pretty tired of pretending to be a horrible person all the time.  He was the first devil, the initial ruler of Hell, but after a while he convinced me to allow him to choose a successor.  We drew up plans and parameters for installing a system of succession and he was able to step down.  Or step up, really, because he joined me in Heaven as soon as he retired,” he amended, snorting a little bit at his own bad joke.

“The problem then was,” God continued, “that his chosen successor was—”

“—was a lying dickweed, that’s what he was,” Lucifer interrupted sourly.  “That asshole took everything way too seriously.  He pretty much method-acted so hardcore that he became convinced that he was actually at war with God and humanity all at the same time.  Before we realized what he was doing, he’d managed to seal off the exits to Hell and trap all of its inhabitants indefinitely.”

God patted Lucifer on the shoulder reassuringly.  “Poor Luce blames himself.  I keep telling him that he made a good choice and that I’d have selected the same successor if I’d been in his shoes.  It’s not Lucifer’s fault.  Nobody could have seen the devil’s betrayal coming a mile away.”

I frowned.  “But aren’t you supposed to be omniscient?  You know, all-knowing?”

He chuckled softly in response.  “I like to think that I’m just all-knowing enough to understand that I can’t know everything.”

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Limits of Omnipotence

“And you need my help?” I asked incredulously.  They both nodded.  “Aren’t you supposed to be omnipotent?  You know, all-powerful?”

“Well,” God blustered humbly, “I mean, sure, I’m pretty powerful, but I can’t exactly operate outside of the rules of my own universe.”

“That’s true,” Lucifer confirmed.  “I can build four-dimensional objects in theory, but if I tried it here, most of it wouldn’t exist because this universe doesn’t have a fourth dimension.  What I built would be entirely useless.”

“Thanks,” I said.  “That’s very illuminating.  It’s all so much clearer now.”  Either my fear of Lucifer was waning or I was just getting stupider.

Lucifer’s eyebrows shot up in surprise.  God grinned and shook his head.  “I guess it comes down to this:  the way this issue has been tied up, the loopholes that have been used to block off the routine entries to Heaven from Hell are such that the only way I can think of to solve the problem myself is to destroy the universe and start over.  But that just seems like throwing the baby out with the bathwater, so I’ve opted to be patient instead.”

Very patient,” Lucifer emphasized gravely.

“Yes,” God agreed.  “We’ve waited millennia for the right opportunity and here you are!”  He gestured toward me joyfully, as though he were about to scoop me up into his arms and give me a big wet kiss on both cheeks.

I shrank from him.  “I don’t understand how this happened,” I said.  “How can a god lose control of his own universe?”

Lucifer rolled his eyes and leaned back in the booth.  With a heavy sigh, he said, “And there it is.  The most embarrassing question of all.”