I died screaming. That happens when a three hundred pound hell-cat eats your face. But, I woke up, so it was a little anticlimactic.
I always thought I’d be awed by what I saw on the other side. But, nah, the last couple years of apocalypse-level jackassery beat it out of me. Maybe Heaven would have changed my opinion, but this place, definitely not Heaven.
The landscape was a ruin of smoldering trees and blackened ground. Not a shit-ton different from Earth. The only big difference was the fire-red tint to the faraway sky. Earth was still a gray-blue horror.
The humming of a harmonica vibrated through the still air. It could have been the blues or hillbilly rock. I didn’t keep up with either.
I strolled across the barren landscape. It didn’t look like there was much to worry about. No people. No demons. All the demons were on Earth wreaking havoc and eating people’s faces. The humans were… well, they weren’t here.
I followed the music to a man in a fine suit sitting on a stump beside a fire. I didn’t think it was cold enough for a fire, but I was a little out of my element.
But, I knew that this guy, right here, sucked at the harmonica. Like really sucked.
I wasn’t the type to just chill in misery. “Dude, could you not?”
The man stopped playing and glanced at me. His eyes smoldered like dying coals. Seeing the devil up close and personal might put the fear of God in you for a second, but I was pretty run around the bush by that point. Fear wasn’t something I felt.
“You don’t have to stay.” The devil pointed a pale thin finger. “Door out is that way.”
Lo-and-behold, there was a door ringed in blue fire and emitting a bright warming light. Something ethereal pulled me toward it, but I like to make bad decisions. I dug my feet in.
“Why are you still here then?” I asked.
He frowned and poked at the fire with an iron rod. “I can’t leave. I’m here for eternity.” He sighed, and the ground seemed to sigh with him. “They found a loophole. Too much torture. Too much anger. Too many lawyers. They found a way out. Everything left. The souls went to Heaven. The demons…”
“Went to Earth. Yeah, that kind of fucked us too.” The world ended in an earthquake and an annoying amount of trumpeting. I was too busy drinking away my divorce those first few days to pay attention. Once my instinct for self-preservation kicked in the world was in shambles and demons were running the show. Though, if I knew I would be chillin’ with the deposed king of Hell after my untimely death, I wouldn’t have tried so hard.
The devil grimaced. “I noticed.”
A scream cut through the still air. The devil chuckled and pointed up. A small figure fell through the sky. I stared in abject horror as the figure got closer to the ground. It wasn’t going to end well. The body hit the ground and splattered like a busted garbage bag. I wondered if I arrived the same way, screaming like a bitch and splattering like putty.
“Yikes,” I said. It didn’t even begin to cover it.
The devil with the deep coal eyes shrugged.
The mass of tissue muck crawled back together and solidified like a bowl of gelatin. Watching the whole process in reverse was somehow worse. I needed a drink.
The devil held up a flask, and I didn’t even ask how he knew. It burned going down, and it burned in my stomach. I had a sneaking suspicion it was going to be even worse coming out.
It didn’t take long for the mass to solidify and turn back into a fully formed man. The wholly solid man scrambled to his feet and looked around the desolate hellscape. I would have passed him the flask, that shit had to be traumatizing, but he took off toward the bright portal and threw himself through. Gotta say, he was a smarter man than I.
“That happen a lot?” It had to hurt the pride a bit. New friends show up and run off the second they get here.
“Every day. They usually don’t fall from so high though. He must have been on a building.”
“And you just sit here and watch them reform and leave?”
“Dude.” I slumped down on the stump beside him. “You gotta stop torturing yourself. That can’t be good for you.”
He glared at me with flame sparked eyes. “We are in Hell.”
“Yeah, but you don’t gotta sulk.” I gazed at the miles of crumbled nothing. “Don’t you have a castle around here or something?”
The devil stood, towering over me with a supernatural air. He grew taller and larger into a great beast of a man with horns and claws on his hands. “I am the Prince of Darkness. Lord of the Flies. God of the Fire. And Most Feared in the Universe! I can create anything I need.”
I had to admit I was impressed, but really, hell-cat to the face ruined me for all the other monsters. “Well, right now, Prince, I’m your only subject. So, ya know, relax.”
The devil deflated, literally, and looked around dejected. I couldn’t blame the guy. After he’d run his very own hell house theme park for thousands of years, the tourists just weren’t interested anymore.
“Come on, bro. Let’s go to your castle, and I’ll show you how to make a sandwich. You could probably use a hot cocoa too.”
Satan sighed. “You are a strange soul. Alright. I don’t have anything better to do.”
I clapped him on the back. Hell wasn’t going to be that bad. Comparatively. “Oh, yeah, toss the harmonica. The only instrument for post-apocalypse existential angst is a guitar.”
Ceeley S Mack lives and writes in Maryland.