LAST OF THE DAMNED • by Harding McFadden

“Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav’n.”
— John Milton, Paradise Lost: Book I (1667)

Lucifer was sitting alone at a rear table in the least horrible coffee shop in all of Hell, sipping something that was only slightly like thrice-warmed dog shit. He was contemplating the first total silence he had heard since the invention of the place when he became aware of the person before him. Anger reared itself within him, strong and pure, as it always did in the presence of the Old Man, but for the first time since the Dawn, he pushed it back.  He would control himself. The Old Man visited so infrequently that the mere mention of His name sent murmurs throughout the Pit. Besides, given what had just happened, he was admittedly curious as to what the Old Man had to say.

“Mind if I sit?” the Old Man asked. Always so polite, damn Him. Even here, in this forsaken place, He observed the pleasantries. The Morningstar wanted to hate Him, so he did.

Motioning towards the seat across from him, he grunted noncommittally. Sit if you damned well like to, he seemed to be saying. See if I care. But, he knew that the Old Man could see right through him, knew that he wanted — needed — Him to sit, just to be in His view again,to be warmed by His light in this cold place, and it made his hate a physical thing. Damn, damn, damn! He wanted to curse and to spit, but he would not. He wanted to look the Old Man in the eyes for the first time in ages, but he could not. He simply eyed his coffee instead, clenched tightly in his red-knuckled fist.

“Something to drink, Old Man?” Lucifer asked angrily, cocky as ever. “Everything tastes like piss, but it’s what I’ve got.” He took a large mouthful of coffee for emphasis and grimaced inwardly. He couldn’t even remember what “good” tasted like anymore.

“Thank you, I’m fine,” the Old Man replied, taking the offered seat. “I’ve just come to talk, if I may.”

Taking another gulp of coffee, Lucifer could see the Old Man’s hands over the rim of the cup, and the sight hurt him, like phantom daggers to the eyes and soul. Embracing a small bit of his anger, he growled, “Well, go on then. It’s not like I have all day, now is it?”

He could feel the tolerant smile spreading itself out upon the Old Man’s face without having to see it. Always so understanding and forgiving, even of His most hotheaded and outspoken of children. He could spit.

“You know why I’m here,” the Old Man started.

“Yes,” Lucifer interrupted. “After their ‘Big Crunch,’ I had them, nearly all of them if my numbers were to tell. You couldn’t just let me have them, though, could you? You had to let them earn their way out. ‘Another level of penitence,’ or some such nonsense! The last of them left today. For the first time since the Dawn, there are no Damned in Hell. The impossible has finally happened. Even the worst sinner from my deepest, darkest pit has paid their price, been redeemed and forgiven. Even the rest of the Fallen have gone back to you, and you wanted to come down here and rub it in.”

That damned smile again. He’s forgiving me that tirade. Curse his mercies!

“No,” the Old Man said, his voice smooth and soothing, like velvet from the lips. “I’m not here to rub anything in. Not my way. And the last of them isn’t gone, yet.”

The Old Man made a slight gesture with his fingers, and between them appeared a cup, the inviting smell of hot chocolate emanating from it so wonderful and powerful as to even make the master of this place salivate. He would not drink it; would not allow himself to drink it. In pure spite, he would leave it where it sat, and finish his own foul drink .

“Why are you here?” the Lord of Hell growled around the mouthful of bile the coffee brought up. A worm wiggled in his guts, and all of his hate was refocused at himself. All of his pride and surety fractured within him, because, try as he might, he found within a slight flickering ember of the rarest commodity in all of Hell: Hope. In the burned-out, wretched hulk of his soul, he knew what was coming, and he found himself wanting it more than anything in all of Creation.

And then the Old Man said it: “I’ve come to bring you home. If you want to go.”

So simple a statement for so mammoth a gesture.

His breath caught in his throat, and the Morningstar found that he could not even think straight. Home. The Light. It was nearly too much to contemplate, too much to take in, even for someone like him, who could imagine the boundaries of infinity.

Good G–…

“No,” he croaked out, his voice strained, painful. Home. He sighed slightly, too full of his downfall to even acknowledge the pain that he felt.

“I think you’d better go now, Old Man. I’m not ready to apologize yet.”

As quickly as the words left his mouth he was alone, with a cup of ignored hot chocolate and an aching in his heart the only evidence that anyone had been there at all. For a long time he sat there, sipping his coffee, king of an empty kingdom, cold and alone with his Pride.

— for Naomi and Eleanor

Harding McFadden is a milkman who lives in PA with his family and thousands of books.

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 average 4.5 stars • 2 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • I am afraid that the core idea here, that true perdition – being lost forever without hope of redemption – is impossible, actually denies free will (think about it). Imagine some other story, written as some are with huge dollops of feel good schmaltz (this one isn’t like that, although it does imply that without falling into the trap of ladling it on). Such stories are all icing and no cake, and irritate me just from their attempts to push my buttons. In the same way, a moral universe without the possibility of failure is vacuous.

    On a technical theological matter, fallen or any other angels have no souls to save in any meaningful sense. Theirs is a spiritual nature with no other element or component.

    By the way, there’s a genitive that’s missing an apostrophe up there.

  • Lavender

    While I too have a problem with a ‘punisher’ god of the ‘here’s some free will now do as I say with it’ variety I did like your story. The writing was well done and the characters (as mere characters) worked for me. I was interested enough to read the whole story and felt sad for the character (he could be anyone) who let pride stand in the way of happiness.

    Its not easy to convey a character in so few words but the character of the bitter, angry man who becomes the author of his own misery was well executed.

  • I enjoyed it. I did not feel the need to delve too deeply into the characters of a story that is meant to be light-hearted so I simply enjoyed it on face value.

    Well written, made me smile, and had a very interesting premise. What more could I ask from a flash?

  • Jennifer Campbell-Hicks

    I didn’t worry about the religious aspects so much as I just enjoyed a well-written story. Thanks for the good flash over my Sunday breakfast.

  • Roberta SchulbergGoro

    I thought it meant God, being all powerful, can redeem lost souls by his power to reach their minds in order to cause their understanding penitence.

  • I thought this was simply a brilliant piece of writing. I can’t contribute anything to the religious aspects, and frankly I wouldn’t want to. I was simply entranced by Lucifer – his anger, his bitterness, and even his love which is buried under the other emotions. He yearns to go home, and yet he still makes the choice to stay in his misery. It made me wonder if there is even more to the story – is he truly not ready to “apologize” or could he in some way believe that he is not worthy of the “choice”??? Brilliant. Keep writing!!! 😀

  • Michael Stang

    Yes, yes, simply brilliant. The nail on the head. The power of God scared me.

  • JenM

    What a funny story! I love the way you so easily thread the real substance in with the humour.

  • Anna

    Loved the characterization!

    One picky point: I believe the Milton quote is “than serve in Heaven”, not “then”, unless you are intentionally playing with the quote, given the content of your story.

    Thanks for a fun read.

  • I just realised that the “typo” in the quotation from Milton at the head of the story – “then” for “than” – isn’t a typo at all but a reworking of the quotation into just precisely what the God in this story is proposing. However, there really should have been a comma inserted there too, before the “then”, to make it flow better.

  • John Brooke

    Wonderful imaginative told story. Humanizing deities risky concept at best. I congratulate you on the adroit handling of the meeting, between God and the Devil. Neatly imagined and rendered to paper/digital form. Admiration for your courage and the compelling read. 5 stars from me.