by Mark Eller
part 1 of 2
“How long we been sitting here now?” the afreet asked. It slapped a hand at the imp dancing an Irish jig on top of its head, but the imp dodged away. “I’m bored.”
Yesermin chewed idly on a talon and gave the question some thought. He had seen Wesdir, the devil who had destroyed most of humankind, tortured and healed sixty thousand and fifteen times. In between shows the Damned Choir had sung The Devil Came Down to Georgia so often that its words had become a seething jumble in Yesermin’s brain. He hated that song.
“I don’t know. Earth’s been gone three or four thousand years, I suppose,” he finally answered.
“That explains why I can’t feel my ass,” the afreet complained. It gazed longingly at a ticket in its hand. “It’ll be worth it if I win.”
“I didn’t do it,” Wesdir screamed from the arena.
The afreet snorted. ”Yes he did.”
The imp, Yesermin saw, had shoved several ten penny nails into the afreet’s head. Further down the row, a Hell’s Angel glared at them. The silver-studded pattern across its face was broken, so Yesermin knew where the imp’s nails had come from. The afreet slapped at the imp once more.
“Doesn’t that hurt?” Yesermin inquired, but his attention suddenly focused on the hint of a cardboard stub sticking out of the imp’s pocket.
“Not anymore,” the afreet answered. “This imp has been plaguing me so long that everything is sort of numb.”
A cacophony of hellacious noise rose up from the arena below when the Choir began singing THAT SONG again..
Feeling vindictive, Yesermin gathered together the last reserves of his demon ire and spat it at the miserable group. Unfortunately, his tongue was not as strong as it had been a thousand years ago, and so his missile fell short. It landed on a creaky jointed were-wolf sitting in the front row. A cloud of flying fur momentarily obstructed Yesermin’s view of the silver casket resting in the middle of the arena’s floor.
“Looks like you gave it mange, “ Helphatia, a minor succubus, observed. She sat in the seat directly below his.
“Imps on a stick,” a beholder shouted as it made its way through the crowd. “Get your imps on a stick.” Almost all seven hundred and three of its waving tentacles grasped a short stake.
“Over here!” the afreet shouted.
“Ha,” the imp sneered, spraying Yesermin with spittle, “You’re broke.”
The beholder worked its way over to them. A free tentacle lashed out, wrapped itself around the imp, and held its captive over a ready metal stake. “Two souls,” it said.
The afreet’s purple face fell and its belly rumbled. “I ate the last one a century ago,” it admitted. “I was hungry.”
“Knew it,” the imp chortled.
The beholder’s eye glowered. “No souls, no stake,” it said.
Yesermin wiped the last of the imp’s spittle from his face. “Wait,” he said. “I have a few left.” He searched inside himself, hawked up a lugi, and wiped the yellow fluid on the beholder’s eye. “There. Two souls.”
The beholder’s skin throbbed with barely contained anger. “Cockroach souls!”
Yesermin shrugged. “All I have. Take ‘em or leave ‘em.”
“I’ll take them,” the beholder growled, and it shoved the stake up the imp’s butt. The imp yelped protest just before the stake exited out its mouth. Yesermin accepted the stake and grinned at his prize. Eyes glaring, the imp’s hands grasped the stake and tried to pull it from its mouth.
“You’re a pal,” the afreet said. “That was really kind.”
Offended, Yesermin stripped the imp’s clothing away and chuckled. Just as he had suspected, the imp had several stolen lottery tickets hidden beneath its shirt. Gloating, he held the tickets up.
“Hey!” the afreet shouted. “That’s my imp.”
Cracked bells clanked from the arena. Slowly, the cacophony of the crowd settled. Most of the Damned Choir clunked to a stop, and even Wesdir quit complaining about having his eyes plucked out — again. Excited whispers rumbled.
“My tickets!” The afreet glared. Smoke puffed out its ears and twin spurts of fire spouted from its nose.
Helphatia reached up and lit a pipe from the flame. “Thank you.”
“Silence,” a monitor lizard called from overhead. “The chamber is opening.”
Across the entire arena, three million and sixty four damned mouths stilled. Two creatures continued singing THAT SONG for a few extra bars but were soon silenced when the Choir shoved the big creature down the little fellow’s mouth.
The afreet clenched its crumpled ticket tightly. “Oh God,” it begged, “Please let me win.”
Lightning shot out of the sky and incinerated the fellow on the spot. Disgusted but thinking fast, Yesermin grabbed the afreet’s charred ticket.
The ungrateful imp struggled to reach the tickets Yesermin held, but Yesermin paid it no mind. Below him, the cryonic chamber’s lid slowly swung open. There was a long pause, and then a gray headed, wrinkle faced human slowly sat up. He blinked confused eyes, blinked again, and then looked at all of Hell’s creatures who watched him from the stands. He looked at the Master of Ceremony, a thin legged, pale skinned ghoul. Shock filled his face.
“I expected things would look different when I woke up,” he said, his voice amplified so all of Hell could hear, “but this is a bit much.”
“You’re in Hell,” the ghoul explained. “Earth’s surface is molten. You would have died as soon as your chamber opened if we left you there.”
“I don’t know how it happened!” Wesdir shouted miserably when a choir member leaned over and whispered the words of THAT GEORGIA SONG in its ear. “I didn’t destroy earth!”
The man looked at the tortured demon and shook his head. “You’re blaming him for it?”
The ghoul lowered its hands and stood erect. “We think Wesdir did it, but he ain’t telling. He was the only one of us not taking a nap at the time.”
“I was asleep too!” Wesdir protested.
“A nap?” The man shook his head and looked confused.
“Hell-kind gets tired,” the ghoul explained. “We have to nap every ten thousand years. “ It searched in its clothes, pulled free a thick book, and opened it to a dog-eared page. “See, it’s in our day planners. We took a nap between six and three a.m.”
“Well he didn’t destroy earth,” the man said. “Missy Wedker did.”
“Who the blessed being was Missy Wedker?”
“My grandniece and General Wedker’s four-year-old daughter. He was giving us an illegal tour of a nuclear missile base when she pressed a big button and I threw myself into the cryonic chamber.”
“See,” Wesdir shouted. “I told you I didn’t do it.”
“Guess not,” the ghoul admitted, “but we had to torture somebody or there wouldn’t have been any entertainment.” He gestured towards the man. “Now you just stay there because I have to raffle you off.”
“Why do you want to raffle me off?”
“Because you’re the last human soul we have. Even the dead ones have paid their penance and moved on. You’re priceless.” It spat a piece of paper out of its mouth. “The winning ticket is E-1,072,001.”
Violent unrest ran throughout the stands. Monitor lizards lashed the crowd with electric eels until the protest died away. Yesermin stared morosely at his five losing tickets.
A quarter mile from him, a female pushed her way through the stands. An even larger groan rose when all the Hell-born saw it was Grinwalda. She was the most famous succubus of all time. She had entrapped more men’s souls than any other devil or demon in all of Hell’s long history.
The man pulled himself out of the chamber and studied Grinwalda when she approached. She swayed invitingly. Her pheromones became so powerful they filled the entire arena. Yesermin felt his senses begin to reel.”
“You get five minutes,” the ghoul warned.
Grinwalda’s long blond tresses stirred, reached out, and caressed the man’s face when he pulled himself out of the chamber. Her long nails ran enticingly across his chest, and her lips formed a smile that had once made aircraft fall from the sky.
“What’s your name,” she asked with a voice that shamed a cat’s purr.
“Bill Brown,” the man answered. “I was a musician.”
Grinwalda allowed her dress to fall to the floor. Her body made voluptuous seem mild. She leaned closer to Bill, set her lips to his right ear, and whispered, “You can have me for a year if you give me your soul.”
Bill’s face twisted. “Please Lady. I’m gay.”
Yesermin laughed and tossed the staked imp away. Throughout the stands he heard the despairing wails of every remaining succubus.
Grinwalda pulled on her dress and stalked away. Her hair snapped and hissed with every step.
The ghoul spat out another number. “The next winner is CZ946,353,” it said.
Yesermin frantically searched through his gathered tickets and released a happy cry when the afreet’s charred ticket matched. He levitated into the air, spread his wings, flew down to the arena’s floor, and shoved the ghoul out of the way.
“I suppose you want to bargain for my soul too,” Bill said. He ran a wrinkled hand through his gray hair.
“Of course,” Yesermin answered. He waved a careless hand, indicating every creature in the stands. “We all do, but you’re better off going with me. I’m a powerful demon. I can give you anything you want.”
“I own the last living human soul — right?”
Yesermin nodded and wished he had planned his approach better, but he had never really expected his number to come up, and besides, he was young as demons went. He had never corrupted a soul before. “So what do you want more than anything else?”
“I can’t be the last soul,” Bill said. “If I was, your boss would be speaking to me instead of you.”
“Unavailable,” Yesermin instantly said. “I can give you fame.”
“I can’t get more famous than I already am,” Bill said. “Every other human is dead.” He ran a thoughtful hand over his chin. “Why is Beelzebub unavailable?”
“Unimportant. How about riches. I can give you an ocean’s worth of gold and jewels. I won’t hold back. You can have it all.”
Bill chuckled. “And do what with it? He ran out on you, didn’t he. Everything went poof and he abandoned you.”
Yesermin hung his head and scuffed a foot. “I’ll tell you if you promise me your soul.”
“I’m not that curious,” Bill said. “But I’ll stop talking to you if you don’t answer.” He rested a hand on the chamber and shakily sat down on its edge. “I’m old and my heart feels funny, so you better hurry because I don’t think I have more than a minute left.”
Panicked, Yesermin cast loose a surge of power. It settled over Bill, infused him, and changed him at his core.
Bill held up an unlined hand and studied it with suddenly clear eyes. “Hey! I feel good,” he said. “So, what’s my answer.”
“She vacated,” Yesermin admitted. He gestured towards Hell’s sky where blinking lights spelled Vacancy across its expanse.
Yesermin nodded. “She ran off with Odin. We tried to run things after that, but nobody could agree on what to do, and then there was the nap.”
“Time’s up,” the ghoul said gloatingly. “I get to call a new number.”
“Wait,” Yesermin protested. “I haven’t tried everything yet.”
Bill stood up and patted him companionably on the shoulder. “You’re my new social secretary,” he said. “It’s the least I can do after you went and made me young again.” He looked long at the ghoul. “I won’t talk to more of you soul suckers until you get me a place with some privacy and comfort. I don’t like being all out in the open like this.”
“I know of a comfortable cave,” the ghoul hazarded.
Bill shook his head. “I decide things best when I’m in a house. I want a nice big one with three floors and six bathrooms because a man my age needs a bathroom nearby. Shade trees. I’d really like some shade trees.
“But those could only be found on Earth,” the ghoul protested, “and there’s nothing up there now except molten rock.”
“When’s the last time anybody looked?” Bill demanded.
“You’ve all been sitting here, staring at me for the last several thousand years. I’m sure the place must have cooled down some by now.”
The ghoul scratched its head. “I suppose that’s possible.”
“Well go send somebody to look. Until then, build me a temporary place. Any further interviews will have to pass through my secretary.” He looked at Yesermin. “What moniker do you go by.”
“Yesermin,” Yesermin answered.
“There you go then,” Bill said. “Everything has to get past my Yes Man before it gets to me. Now I’m just going to lay down for a bit until you get done with my house.”
With those words, he lay down in the cryonic chamber and closed its lid. The readout on its monitor changed briefly, and a despairing groan sounded in the stands. Wanting to cry, Yesermin stared at the changing numbers. He raised a hand for silence.
“It’s set to open in five hundred years,” he shouted. “Some of us better get started on that house. The rest better go see what happened to the earth.”
The groan became a grumble, and then the stands began to empty when millions of beings rushed to accomplish their first assigned task in almost four thousand years.
“And learn how to make trees,” Yesermin called after them.
Copyright © 2007 by Mark Eller