Suggested Audio Candy:
 Bob Dylan “Knocking On Heaven’s Door”
 AC/DC “Highway To Hell”
 Limp Bizkit “My Way”
 Survivor “Burning Heart”
Number 47. This has to be some kind of sick joke. I’ve been waiting patiently in line for the best part of three hours now and we’re still only at 32. By my estimations, judging by the speed this queue is shifting, I may well be here until at least suppertime. I only had a flimsy poppy-seed bagel for breakfast and already my tummy is letting out faint growls of disenchantment; what’s it going to be like after another six hours of twiddling my thumbs? It’s ridiculous if you ask me; this place is evidently heaving so I can’t fathom why there’s only one person at front desk dealing with the intake. I wouldn’t mind but she keeps looking down her snooty nose at me in particular; as though I have done something to rile her. I never met the woman in my life or even in death until now. I must have one of those faces. She has been watching me fidgeting and appears to be getting a vile kick out of my discomfort. When I finally get to my appointment, I plan on lodging a formal complaint about Rose. Why she was chosen for front of house is anybody’s guess; it sure as shit bombs isn’t on account of her vapid pool of social skills.
I guess I should elaborate on what I’m actually doing here in the first place when my time could clearly be better utilized someplace else. I could just get up and walk straight out right? Tried that already and didn’t fare well to be honest. Orienteering never was my strong point; I walked around for twenty minutes and, no matter which path I stumped on, all signs led straight back here. For my troubles I was forced to surrender ticket number 43 and ended up pushed even farther back in the queue so I won’t be trying that again. It would appear that there is no other option at my disposal than to sit here and wait it out like a chump. They could at least have laid on an array of glossy trash publications for me to peruse as an alternative to watching paint dry. Even when I visit the dreaded orthodontist to have my teeth whitened, there’s some kind of reading material to stem the banality. Granted, it usually consists of literature on gardening and how much cellulite the stars have on their thighs but at least I would be exercising my cells.
As I already mentioned, I dare not miss my appointment. The reason for this I have negated to mention until now so I guess it’s only right to spill the beans. I’m dead, that is, I’m trapped in the realm between death and final judgement. Earlier this morning I made a rather critical error; taking a brisk stroll to the convenience store instead of driving. It had been snowing through the night and I couldn’t bring myself to spend twenty minutes scraping thick ice from my windshield so I decided it would do me good to get a little oxygen in my lungs. Seemed like a good idea at the time. Unfortunately, I hadn’t banked on hood-rats. There were four of them; all clad in identikit colors, and looking primed for a spot of pre-lunchtime gang-banging. Moreover, they were heading straight for me and there was barely enough space on the sidewalk to pass so I swiftly took an executive decision, followed by two lengthy strides to my left in an attempt to escape any customary busting of caps. Bad move!
I have a two foot patch of black ice to blame for my demise as well as my foolhardy decision to judge these books by their cover art. When I slipped and commenced to impale myself on a nearby fence post, these four unlikely lads sprung into action in a heartbeat. Turns out they had no intention to maim and instead were on their way to the homeless shelter to assist in the soup kitchen. Because of my lack of trust, I inherited an iron girder and it mirthfully threaded itself between my sternum, exiting diagonally through my shoulder-blade. Hood-rat number one and his friends rallied around gallantly; he attempted to make me comfortable while the others ran for help but it was to no avail. The injuries I had sustained were just too severe and I slipped away moments before the paramedics arrived. So that’s it right? Game over you’re thinking. Not quite; you see it would appear that there’s a bit of a tussle over my soul. I figured that I had done more than enough good deeds to cement my place in heaven. Apparently not.
I have somewhat conflicted feelings about the promised land anyhoots. The brochure makes it look all pearly gates and shiny halos but the notion of spending infinity marooned on a vapor cloud plucking a harp doesn’t exactly overload me with excitement. I’m sure, for a while at least, it could appeal and it would be great to learn another stringed instrument; but once the initial fervor has subsided, it just seems rather monotonous. Who is to say that angels aren’t getting their shits and grins some other way up there? I may be selling it short but it is just my observation and it doesn’t appear what it’s cracked up to be. So, while the almighty may well be scratching his beard tufts about my suitability, I’m not entirely convinced it would be right for me anyway. Maybe I would be better off in the basement. Hell gets a raw deal and we’re all warned of our punishment should we not lead lives which enrich and promote kindness. But could it really be that bad? Was The Exorcist really that terrifying? Okay, bad analogy; I wet my bed sheets for an entire month after being made privy to Regan’s revolving noggin. But you can see where I’m coming from. Maybe it has its own set of exclusive benefits.
I know what you’re thinking right now; flaming cauldrons, screaming souls shackled before Beelzebub as he prods them with a pitchfork and watches their skin bubble. You couldn’t be farther from accurate there. Everytime another number is called, I’m on visual recon and, what I see behind that revolving door, is nothing like what we are falsely informed. Sure, the blaring death metal could put you off some, and I’m pretty sure I saw a winged succubus sucking some hapless victim’s eyeballs through a crazy straw but, other than that, things appeared remarkably restrained. Naked women are always a bonus and there were plenty of those already oiled and writhing. The skeletal chap sat watching Little Nicky on Netflix and laughing his coccyx off had me a little bamboozled but at least it looked as though he was having fun. It’s certainly worth my while finding out a little more before coming to any decisions I may later regret.
So what have I got to bring to hell’s table? Well, when I was twelve I spanked my monkey beneath my friend’s divan and, considering there was no light, a rather hefty discharge, and he and my other acquaintances were zipped up in sleeping bags in that very room, I did what anyone would in that situation. I scooped up a handful of ejaculate and spread it evenly across his wallpaper. In my defense, the walls were magnolia and it’s not as if I was smearing raspberry jam anywhere. However, should the Prince of Darkness have been watching, he would have no doubt taken notes. Then, a doomed bout of shoplifting at around the fifteen mark ended prematurely when I got carried away with snatching vinyl and attempted grand larceny. As I waddled out clutching an entire rack of 12″ records under my wing, I felt the cold hand of shame on my shoulder and my stint as a pilferer was unceremoniously cut short. What’s a little petty theft in the grand scheme of things anyway? I’m positive my failed five-fingered folly would do little to persuade Lucifer one way or the other. It’s not as though I went on to become an infamous train robber.
At sixteen I broke my first heart. My only rampart for such a heinous deflowering of innocence was the fact that she hadn’t seen fit to blow her nose. As we sat on our picnic blanket feeding each other Skittles and staring into one another’s eyes adoringly, something unprecedented occurred. She was laying back with her mouth agape, awaiting her confectionery treat, and this provided me with an undesirable vantage of both nostrils at full flare. There were bats in the cave so to speak; a trail of slimy mucus pulled taut from septum to rim like a wind sheet. Had it been a small dry greyish ball tucked away in the darkest recesses then I would likely have let it slide. However, when I ran my eye along its muculent girth and saw my own reflection in its glistening surface, I knew it was time to hit the ground running and did so post-haste. Should Satan have been in the vicinity then he may well have been impressed by my cruelty when supplying no explanation for my sudden change of heart. I left her guessing and, considering how utterly beside herself she was for weeks afterwards, I would envisage my ambiguous exit leading to her questioning herself forevermore and never acknowledging the simple truth. That’s pretty mean right? I may have wrecked a young woman’s livelihood there and on account of what? A wayward booger.
Then there was the cyclist I sent careering to the granite at twenty-one although I never officially made contact so I doubt that would win me any brownie points with him downstairs. I’m hard pushed to think of anything else I could have done to secure my place; for the most part I’ve been a model citizen. If only I had some idea of the criteria; a checklist of evil to see whether I have what it takes to be a devil’s minion. It’s all so up in the air and, although unconvinced that heaven is missing an angel, I don’t want to place all my hard-earned eggs in one basket just yet. Number 46 just got called so it won’t be long before I take my place at the stand and await the jury’s verdict. I love movies and that may well be the clincher. Up there on cloud nine I will probably be restricted to PG-13 fluff to while away the hours. I have no desire to watch Beethoven’s Second, Charles Grodin or no Charles Grodin, and would much prefer the Phantasm box-set or something with teeth instead of slobbering gums.
I think that may just have swung the pendulum in Beelzebub’s favor you know. Who wants to be a goody-goody anyways? I can picture the scene now at heaven’s gate; the first thing I will be asked to surrender is my penis and all its ammunition. Downstairs, it would appear that the sowing of wild oats would be encouraged and that is facilitated by the droves of bean-flicking hell vixens licking their lips while tweaking their tittie ribbons. Pornography without subscription, flaming sambuca on tap, fornication unbounded; it’s beginning to seem like a no-brainer. I know it will require hard work and perseverance; I will undoubtedly be required to start at the bottom, on menial duties like mopping up brain matter, but while I am down there I can lick my new mistresses ten-inch heels and show my obedience. In no time I’m convinced that I’ll make a favorable impression and I’ll commence my advancement through the ranks. I’m not looking to take shit over; he will find me an able right-hand man and that will suit me down to the ground. He simply has to spot my potential.
I don’t think it will be necessary to hail down fire and brimstone or initiate any natural disasters. I’m far more enticed by the idea of fucking with people a bit; exercising my right to extract some black comedy from those who need bringing down a notch or two. I’m more of your impish minion you see. Listen to me getting all carried away with myself; for all I know I’ll be turned down flat and doomed to trundle the earth as a spirit for eternity, after squandering any faint chances of a utopian continuation. Reality check time. Think of this as an interview situation Keeper; that should see you good. I need to be well versed for any potentially sticky questions. He’s bound to ask of my weaknesses and, where once employers would be dazzled by your noble admittance of being a perfectionist, nowadays they see through the ruse as the whole world has perfected the art of the Google search. I think I shall proclaim that I am a technical gibbon and bank on his appreciation of honesty. Whatever transpires in the next few minutes; I plan to have my place on the dark counsel sewn up by dinnertime and earn my horns and dastardly mustache by close of trade.
I’m rather excited about the ‘tache actually; forty years of growth and not a dickie bird. A random smattering of stubble of varying length, none of which form anything of conviction. Suddenly there’s opportunity knocking and I would dote on and respect any facial furnishings donated. As for the horns; I’d rock that shit for fits and giggles alone. I pledge to be the devil you know, you know, the better one. Start a revolution; give hell the post-millennia shake-up it has been in such dire need of. I’ll be kind and hospitable then, when backs are turned, I’ll release the flying monkeys from my rucksack. Nobody will suspect a thing; this face may be bereft of organized whiskers, but it’s one people trust. Ideal to play devil’s advocate. I think I can win his majesty over with my proposed approach. This should prove a doddle.
“Number 47. The Prince of Darkness will see you now”
That’s me. Number 47. Clear as day. I’m up. Wish Keeper luck; I’m going to need all the support I can get and a fair dab of fortitude to boot. I know the Grueheads won’t let me down in a fix; you’ve never done so before. Should I become elected then fret not as my beef will not be with any of you. I’ll be too busy tampering with politicians’ break cables and dropping grand pianos on the heads of tabloid newspaper editors to unleash my fiery wrath on such a fine assortment of people. You have my back and I yours. Let’s do this shall we? I may not have much but I do have you rowdy bunch and thus I am not alone should I walk through the valley of darkness. I shall see and hear evil; that much is a given. However I shall not buckle; not this time. This time I shit and stay on the pot. I’ll even part my legs just to see what has dropped in the water. I cannot run from my destiny as I know that it would find me. It’s time to look fate dead-on in the face. Smoke me a kipper and I shall be back for breakfast.
“Ah. If it isn’t the Keeper of The Crimson Quill. How positively delightful. I’ve been expecting a visit from you. Your reputation precedes you dear fellow”
“All good I hope?”
“We shall get to that…in time. So I have looked over your file and it would appear you impaled yourself on an iron girder. Whoopsy”
“Yeah I slipped and…”
“DON’T YOU EVER INTERRUPT ME AGAIN YOU FESTERING FUCK POD”
“As I was saying before so rudely interrupted, you met your demise with clown shoes on your feet and that shows character in my book”
“You’re very welcome. The truth is young man that I have been watching you for some time now and I have to say that, by and large, I’ve been rather impressed by your meanness of spirit. Let’s have a look shall we. Aha. Here it is. When you were twelve you wiped your grubby little paw on your friend’s magnolia wall after an ill-advised bout of self-exploration. Very good, very good. Then I see you were responsible for breaking a young girl’s spirit after a little nasal discrepancy. This one gives me a kick. You ran off with tail between your legs and left her utterly dejected with no form of explanation. How cowardly. I do like cowardly. That’s not to mention the cyclist you almost knocked off his perch on a busy roundabout. I would have been more impressed had you given him a faint nudge but your decision to flee the scene was admirable. Quite the little firestarter aren’t you?”
“I do what I can”
“Indeed you do dear fellow. I know about the involuntary arson of a liquor store and blowing yourself up during a Physics lecture but alas cannot award points on account of sheer stupidity. It’s mettle I’m looking for in a potential associate and, I have to say, you have shown that on numerous occasions through your otherwise worthless life”
“So I’m in then? That’s what you’re saying right…sir?”
“Not so fast sonny boy and I must remind you that groveling will get you nowhere. I regret to inform you that you have just missed the cut on this occasion. I would love nothing more than to offer you a position here at Hell Inc. but you blotted your copybook around eighteen months ago I’m afraid. It is with regret that I deny your application as I don’t believe you have what it takes when all is said and done. Sorry. Hang around in limbo for a few thousand millennia and you just may be granted another hearing. Until then, there’s nothing I can do I’m sorry to say. But thank you for your interest”
“What…are you waiting for the ground beneath you to open up and swallow you whole? That’s not how it works. You leave in the same manner as you came and it’s a thirty minute transfer to limbo from there”
“You can’t do this. Look, I’ve listened to you rattle on. No offense”
“Anyway. I don’t feel as though I have received a fair hearing”
“Does this look like the set of Philadelphia? There is no appeal here. You can lodge a complaint with Rose in reception but she will throw it in the waste paper basket the moment the door hits your ass on the way out. This is hell. I am Satan. No second chances, no taking punts on unknown quantities, I’m looking for the real bastards as my affiliates. Not some whiny cum-pimple who almost knocked down a cyclist once upon a time. Could I be any clearer?”
“I just want the truth”
“YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH. Okay then mister inquisitive. If it means so much to you that you know where you lost me then I shall elaborate further. Yes, you were responsible for a little light skullduggery and yes, the whole booger incident gave me a few belly laughs but you did something so sickeningly pure during your tenure that I threw up a little in my throat. Just speaking of it now has the bile rising”
“WHAT? PLEASE…WHAT DID I DO THAT WAS SO SACCHARINE?”
“How are those Grueheads?”
“Don’t act like you don’t know exactly what I mean. The Grueheads. Your small family of similarly injured souls”
“I fail to see what the Grueheads have to do with my suitability as your associate”
“They have more to do with it than you know dear fellow. When you put out such a heartfelt plea for like-minded people to join your mini-revolution you created something so vomit-inducingly pure that it makes my dick and balls itch. Everyone’s all lovey-dovey and hearts and hurrahs. It makes me sick. You make me sick. Did you never learn of my cynicism? Love cannot be allowed to exist and that is exactly what you have been peddling. Together we can move mountains and part the red sea. I’ve got news for you son. Moses may well have got lucky once but the next time he attempted it he was torn limb from limb by barracuda. Bible neglected to mention that didn’t it? Just a load of hollow words if you ask me”
“So I’m being penalized for spreading a little hope then?”
“Duh. That is exactly what is transpiring. Now, if you don’t mind, I have a ton of paperwork and a vague migraine. Be gone with you before I show you just how inhospitable I can really be”
“Thank you for the opportunity”
“Blah blah. Bugger off you insignificant little shit bubble”
I knew it. Fucking Grueheads. Thanks a bunch guys. I try and achieve something spectacularly exclusive and you all go and piss it up for me. Now what am I supposed to do? It’s alright for you lot, you’ll probably get over me in a week and appoint some other Keeper but what becomes of the dear departed? Limbo that’s what. I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place here and managed to slip beneath the cracks rather than finding my true calling. Look at it; all swirling nothingness and indifference most unsplendiferous. I appreciate your coming along today and know you had my best intentions at heart but look where it got me. I’m going to step across the threshold now but make no mistake I’m not a happy bunny. Cruel cruel irony.