Bewildering Stories

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Eaten by the Overlords

by Michael C. Hansen

“Gnart Moves Up in Hell” appeared in issue 107.

To say that Gnart was awestruck would be an understatement. Just weeks ago he had been staring at his poster of Melbranche on the wall of his dingy hovel. Today he stood by his side, issuing horrendous beatings to the damned. Melbranche, or Mel as he preferred to be called, was once the most intimidating player on the Phledgethon Heretics, Gnart’s favorite beheaded-bawl team. With seven undefeated seasons and over a hundred deaths under his belt alone, Mel was a force to be reckoned with. The day he lost his arm and had to retire, was the day beheaded-bawl lost its wind.

“You see Gnart, it’s all about your technique.”

Mel flicked his wrist and the flaming whip cracked expertly across the damned soul’s back.

“Here, you try,” He handed the whip to Gnart who took his place behind their subject. He had plenty of experience with a whip and could flay with the best of them. However, the added pressure of a legend critiquing your performance is enough to make any fiend more than a little nervous. He began to swing the whip and managed to land a few decent blows. Mel looked unimpressed. “You’re still too stiff, loosen up a little. Let the whip do the work for you otherwise you won’t maximize your stroke.” Just then, the banshee wailed, signaling that it was time for lunch. The damned heaved a sigh of relief.

“Don’t get too comfortable” Gnart said to him, “we’ll be back before you know it.”

The feeding hall was dark and crowded. Fiends from every level of Hell were gathered here and had the most delightful stench of rot and death. Gnart and Mel looked for an empty seat and found one next to Pierce and Kreegan, the two-headed demon from accounting. Pierce bared his fangs amiably as they approached. Kreegan, on the other hand, seemed to ignore them completely as he stuffed his swollen face with whatever slop Hell’s kitchen had concocted today. Gnart preferred to bring his own lunch.

“How goes it, fiends?” Pierce asked as they began to eat. “Are you showing the new imp the ropes Mel?” Mel grunted in reply. Pierce jabbed him in the ribs, “Be wary if he starts talking about himself, Gnart, most of it’s all lies.” Gnart snarled politely and looked over at Kreegan, who had somehow managed to swallow his fork, yet continued eating.

The difference between the two heads was painfully obvious. Pierce was intelligent and well spoken, yet had a gleam of deep malice in his eyes. His voice was smooth, almost spellbinding. Kreegan, on the other hand, was filthy and disheveled, even by Hell’s standards. His only vocalization seemed to be the guttural noises of his belching and flatulence.

“So, do you share the same stomach?” Gnart asked. Pierce nodded.

“Yup, he does all the eating and vomiting and I do all the talking.”

“I never would have guessed that,” Mel retorted sardonically.

“So I’m more verbal than other demons, what can I say? I have a gift for communication and I utilize it. Just as you would be utilizing your physical prowess in the bawl arena if Cerberus hadn’t taken your arm and...” Mel slammed his fist on the table and glared menacingly at Pierce.

“One of the things I am proud of is that I have never killed or eaten a coworker, but you know what?” He leaned in close and bared his razor-sharp fangs. “I’m willing to be proud of something else today.”

Pierce put up a hand in defense. “Oh please, must you always resort to threats of violence in the face of opposition? You can’t just go though your afterlife killing and eating all of your problems.”

“You can’t?” Gnart asked through a mouthful of kitten.

“Answer me this, what would happen to you if you spoke out against Bloodfeast?”

“He would eat me.”

“That’s right. And if you demanded better working conditions or higher pay?”

“He would eat me.”

“What if you accidentally lost a soul?”

“Then Bloodfeast would eat him and probably a large portion of his relatives. What’s your point, Pierce?” Mel growled.

“That is my point, my colossal comrade. If you do one thing contrary to the Overlords’ will, you get eaten. No discussion, no trial, nothing. We are controlled and kept obedient purely by the fear of being eaten by the Overlords.”

“That’s the way it’s always been and the way it always will be, and when I become overlord, the first fiend I’m eating is you.”

“Oh really? You’re going to be an Overlord, are you, Melbranche? Well, what would you do if your entire work force refused to obey your orders?”

“He’d eat them,” Gnart chimed in.

“Damn right I would! Then they would know who is boss.”

“But Mel, they’d all be dead. You would have eaten them all. Who would work the chambers? Flay the damned? Could you do all those things?”

“Well, no. I suppose I would have to bring in some new recruits from the 7th or 8th.”

“And if they also refused to work? I assume you would eat them, too. And the next crew and the crew after that, until every last fiend in Hell has been devoured for disobedience. That would leave only you and a handful of overlords to tend to every last detail here in the inferno. It would only be a matter of time before the damned found a way to overpower you and escape, and without their pain and agony, Beelzebub would be completely powerless. I suppose at that point you could claim the throne for yourself and be king of an empty cavern, but what would be the point?”

Gnart hated to admit it, but Pierce was making sense. It was an issue he had pondered for years. He couldn’t help but to be amazed at how different things were a few thousand years ago, when there weren’t so many condemned souls to tend to. The Devil personally oversaw every level of Hell. Of course, that was before the great wars began in the realm of Earth. Since then Hell’s occupancy had more than doubled and was getting larger each day.

To cope with the rapid influx of new souls, Beelzebub appointed Overlords to govern each level. They were his most loyal demons, ruthless and cruel, although not very bright. They immediately instituted a zero-tolerance policy for failure or lack of productivity.

And, for the last millennia or so, it had worked. But after he graduated from Magog Academy, Gnart began to see that their plan was fundamentally flawed. No one spoke out against it for fear of the obvious consequences, but Gnart had a feeling that was all about to change. More and more jobs were opening up in the lower levels; things were beginning to fall apart. Gnart was a perfect example, a lesser imp working on the 9th? Even if he did gain Bloodfeast’s approval, it was almost unheard of. Something big was about to go down. It smelled like a rebellion, and Gnart had a feeling that Pierce and Kreegan had a hand in it. Well, maybe just Pierce. Gnart was pulled from his thought by the sound of Kreegan gagging.

“Uh, I think he swallowed a fork earlier,” Gnart informed his other half. Pierce shrugged.

“It wouldn’t be the first time.” He leaned closer to Gnart. “Listen, I’m holding a little meeting tonight at the Bloody Knuckle. Why don’t you come by after your shift ends.”

“What kind of meeting?”

“The secret kind,” he said, followed by a very conspiratorial wink. Gnart nodded. He would be there, but perhaps not for the reasons Pierce wanted him to be.

Kreegan managed to dislodge the fork in his craw and coughed it out onto the table.

“There! See? Problem solved!”

* * *

...Meanwhile, at the Department of Infernal Demon Affairs...

“Take a look at this, tell me what you think.” Chief Inquisitor Flarg dropped a rather large report on agent Magus’s desk. Magus picked it up and began to leaf through it.

“What exactly am I looking at here?”

“That’s this month’s disciplinary report for levels five though nine. Notice anything strange?” On close inspection, Magus did indeed notice something out of the ordinary. The number of devoured workers was almost triple its normal level. He grunted.

“The number has been climbing steadily for the last year or so,” Flarg continued, “but it’s never been this high before. What’s your take on it?”

“Smells like a rebellion,” Magus said. “Do we know who’s behind it?”

Flarg nodded in response. “I assume you’ve already showed this to Legion?”

“Of course, they’ve already ordered the hit. It’s scheduled for this evening.”

“Who’s carrying it out?” Magus didn’t really have to ask. He was the obvious choice. Of every agent in the DIDA he was by far the most sadistic. His assassinations were rarely anything less than a gruesome spectacle, and each one added to his nefarious reputation.

Flarg handed him a sealed black envelope. “Here are your instructions. Be sure to make it public, otherwise it won’t have the desired effect.” Magus broke the envelope’s wax seal with a bony finger. He read the name and blanched.

“Is this going to be a problem?” Flarg asked.

“Of course not, don’t be ridiculous. Now, where did I put my scythe?”

Copyright © 2004 by Michael C. Hansen

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