After twelve straight hours of inhaling generous quantities of medicinal herbs, and repeated viewings of The Naked Lunch, I found myself standing alone in the frozen bowels of the Earth before a huge iron door. A small, crude sign scrawled in blood read:
No Jehovah’s Witnesses
Looming dark and evil before me, a humongous and hideous doorknocker with wild eyes, bared teeth, and an explosion of fur stared at me like something out of a Poe nightmare or a previous marriage. Billowing clouds of my breath gave the artifact that exquisite little touch of creepiness it so needed.
The place wasn’t quite what I had imagined. From everything I had ever heard or read, I expected something along the lines of a Saturday afternoon in July at Disneyland, waiting to get on “The New Ride.” Instead, it was Monday night in February at the Bismarck Greyhound station.
Shivering with cold, I lifted the weighty rapper above my head and let it slam back against the door. The resulting sonic boom was still reverberating through the strata when a small peep-slot snapped opened, and two fiery red eyes glared out at me.
“May — I — help — you?” Each word came as a distinct, thunderous growl.
“Is this H-Hell?” I managed through shivers.
The glowing orbs narrowed into slits and peered at my overnight bag.
“What — do — you — want?” The ground trembled.
“I’d like to sp-spend a day an-and look around. Get a feel f-for the place.”
“Nobody spends — a day — in Hell! Three days — minimum — VIPs only.”
I was dancing a jig now, sanding down my bare arms with my palms. “W-Well, I don’t know, I-I’ve got my alarm set for s-six-thirty . . ..”
“Who put you — up to this!” I flinched at the incredulous voice. “Was it that — holier-than-thou — glorified doorman — Peter?”
“N-no, an ed-editor suggested it. Figure she was th-thinking maybe a . . . day-in-the-life piece.”
“Ugh — not another writer!” The voice lost its resonance. “No tours — no interviews! You’ll just have to make something up.”
“Any-body can d-do that.”
“Tell me about it. Dante Alighieri thought he was sooo clever!”
“Please let me in! I’m f-freezing my butt off out h-here!”
“What! Unholy . . ..” The eyes disappeared briefly. “Furnace is on the fritz again; damned union labor. I know — my fault. Say, this could be my coup de grace. Some heavy commitments would come due — and I thought the ‘Round Tuit’ was clever!”
A sigh rumbled like an aftershock. “Well, I guess publicity couldn’t get any worse.”
The rusted iron began to ripple and bubble, softening into gray mist. I was going to Hell!
Enveloped in demonic fog, tortured whispers guided my steps. Several twists and turns later, I found myself before an ornately carved mahogany door. After three sharp raps, the highly polished portal opened without sound or effort. I entered a quaint, little library with a roaring fireplace. Above the mantle hung a photographic portrait I guessed to be pre-1900’s. The gentleman had wavy hair and a huge, bushy mustache.
On another wall, a plaque read:
Hell is where the heart is
“Champagne?” Red silk and sequins encased the platinum blonde.
I smiled and took the proffered flute of sparkling amber from her evening-gloved hand.
She sipped her own and cooed. “Like it?”
I sipped. Well, it was champagne — not big on my list, but I smiled. “Yes, very nice.”
“Dom Perignon. The French learn so well.”
I looked around. “So, where’s the boss?”
“Sweetie, I am the boss.”
I laughed. No, she was Marilyn Monroe.
“I am Lucifer.”
“You’re not what I was expecting.”
She scowled. “I hope you weren’t expecting a cloven-hoofed, red devil with pointy-tail and horns.”
“No . . . I just thought you were, sort of . . . male.”
“Spirit beings — angels — such as I, have no gender. We can take many forms. And I was just feeling so pretty today!” She pirouetted on gold stilettos. “How do I look? Do I look pretty? Tell me I look pretty!”
“You are most definitely pretty,” I said appreciatively, “but you’re no angel.”
“I most certainly am an angel. Always have, always will be.” She nodded upward. “You’ve been listening too much to them.”
“But you said you’re Lucifer; The Devil; Satan. You’re the source of all evil in the world.”
She rolled her blue eyes and huffed. “That is complete bull — pardon my French.”
“So, you’re not The Devil?”
“Of course I am!” she said in exasperation. “I just told you I was Lucifer. I am not, however, the source of all evil in the world.”
“Then you are the archangel who was cast out of heaven and now reigns on Earth.”
“How freaking melodramatic! Let me tell you something: For as long as I can remember, Jehovah, Jesus, and I were in the business of running the cosmos. Everything was going along fine until this Earth project came up. It was a prototype for a new ecosphere: A very ambitious undertaking with all the millions of different species and environments. R&D really outdid themselves. Anyway, Jehovah decides he needs someone to honcho the project, and I felt I was the best one to run this whole corporeal life-form business.” She sighed and plopped herself indignantly on the divan in front of the fireplace and squared her shoulders. “But noooo — ” this with an exaggerated shake of her head ” — it was that fawning sycophant Jesus with his ‘Oh heavenly father, hallowed be thy name’ crap, and ‘Can I get you another Latte, Father?’ I couldn’t compete with that.”
In an effort to be pragmatic, I said, “He is the Son of God, afterall.”
“Well, adopted son. There’s no divine reproduction involved!” Lucifer giggled, then abruptly frowned. “Jehovah just always liked Jesus best, so he selected him to be his — quote-unquote — son. So, yes, it was nepotism, plain and simple. Anyway, things got a little tense. Eventually Jesus and I got into a little shoving a match. Before you know it, Luna is trashed and spinning around the Earth, and the dinosaurs are all dead. Jesus points the finger at me. Jehovah takes Jesus’ side and makes him right-hand man and good-will ambassador, while I’m demoted to superintendent of Earth and made general scapegoat for everything that goes wrong here.”
A cigarette in an elegant, black-enamel and pearl-inlay holder appeared between her fingers. Placing it to her ruby lips, she gave me a look of anticipation.
I shrugged and grinned sheepishly. “Sorry, I don’t smoke.”
Lucifer rolled her eyes and shook her head in annoyance. “Never mind,” she sighed and turned towards the fireplace.
Immediately, a long finger of yellow flame snaked out through the screen. The four-foot-long ribbon of lazy, flicking fire licked the tip of tobacco. After a couple of tentative puffs, she tilted back her blonde head and luxuriously exhaled a plumb of white smoke.
“So the Earth was created instead of evolved?” I asked.
“Everything has some sort of evolution. The question is, how is it started and who guides it.”
“Wow! So there is a God and Jesus and — you. So what’s God really like?”
Her brow furrowed. “What, you come down here and then want to know about Him?” Lucifer looked away and sulked for a very long moment. Then she looked back and indignantly declared: “I would think you should be asking about me.”
“You’re right,” I agreed with a diplomatic nod, “I’m sorry.” I figured it wasn’t a good idea to rile the Devil. You know: Hell hath no fury —
“So, ” I went on, “you’re suggesting that humans themselves are to blame for war and hate and crime and prejudice, etcetera?”
“Exactly. Look, I’ve been occasionally spiteful and bored over the millennia. I’ve said some things in jest that were taken seriously by the more mentally deficient among you, but it’s not my fault every time some kid sneaks the Victoria’s Secret catalog into the bathroom and punishes the Pope!”
“Is it true, then, that you and Jesus are constantly duking it out over who gets possession of human souls?”
Running a gloved hand up the back of a long, shapely leg, she hissed a curse at a narrow line of rent nylon along her thigh. Miffed, she returned her attention to me.
“What would I want with the lot of you miscreants?”
“Well, you do appear to be pretty bitter about your situation. You have followers like Anton LaVey and the Church of Satan. Isn’t that a way to get back at God?”
She shook her head and chuckled. “Charlatans and wannabes. I’m flattered and all that, but really, all this scary ooh-ooh worship the devil crap? It’s nice to have supporters, but it’s like having your nitwit cousin Iggy running your fan club. They don’t give a damn about me — pardon the pun. They just want to validate their lifestyle or rile up all those pathetic, so-called god-fearing individuals. Jehovah goes through the same thing. It has nothing to do with love, respect, or following a belief.”
“Still, if humanity follows you, and not God, that’s got to make you fell pretty good, doesn’t it?”
“Look, I’ve spent far too long being enslaved on this rock, and the last thing I want now is to be the leader of this pinhead creation called ‘humanity’. I don’t give a fig for what happens to this place — I just want out. Frankly, if it gets fried to a cinder, I’m automatically released from my contract.”
“So your goal is the destruction of humanity.”
Her mouth dropped opened. “Did I say that?” She turned her palms upward and looked incredulously about the ceiling as she repeated the question.
“Is there any possibility that you three could come to terms and reunite?”
Lucifer’s face turned into a stone mask staring into infinity. After a long silence, her gaze turned back to me. In a mere whisper she asked, “You mean like — a deal?”
I shrugged. “Sure.”
“Ooh, I like deals,” she breathed and gave a rapturous smile. She was close to mumbling when she said, “Of course, the spin would definitely be a problem. Jehovah and Jesus making a deal with Lucifer! Yeah, right — that would play in Peoria . . .” Her voiced trailed off into incoherent mutterings. Finally, she shook her head and shrugged. “No, that would upset the Trinity, wouldn’t it? It would become a square — how mystical is that? Besides, I tried that once before when Jesus was on Earth.”
“You mean when you tempted him in the desert?”
She repeated the question in a mocking squeak. “Geez, I just was teasing him. Kind of, ‘Hey Mister Big-Shot Son of God, if you’re so powerful why not have your entourage save your sorry butt.’ Then I offered him a job. Corporate recruiting — it’s done everyday. Once again, though, the story got mangled by the tabloids.”
“So you insist that Jesus didn’t come here to save humanity from you.”
“Jesus came here to save humanity from itself. Hey, he thought working with humanity was going to be so damn easy. Finally, things got so bad he had to go through all the trouble of being born and growing up —- in the freaking Middle East, mind you -— just to try to get you wonderful creations to behave. He worked as some handyman’s son for thirty-odd years until he got the nerve to set out and start talking it up. In the end, he got his butt kicked, and who got blamed? Duh! Me again.”
She sipped from her flute.
“Is Christianity really the one, true religion?”
Champagne sprayed wildly from her lips. “True religion?” She laughed and coughed, dabbing her mouth on the wrist of her evening glove. “There’s a contradiction in terms. The one great curse!” She turned and raised her glass to the portrait over the mantle. “Or so my favorite pupil, Freddy Nietzsche, called it.”
“Nietzsche said God was dead.”
She smiled proudly. “Gotta love him, doncha? I told him the whole Christianity thing was founded on the work of gentile paparazzi.”
I glanced at my watch. “Well, it’s getting kind of late. Can I see Hell now?”
She spread her arms. “You’re looking at it, kiddo.”
“This is Hell?”
“Well, not if you want to define Hell as a place of eternal damnation and torture. It is where I live, true enough.”
I was aghast. “Is there a Heaven?”
“Regrettably — yes.”
“What happens to sinners when they die? Right into the lake of fire and non-existence?”
“No,” she breathed through a heavy sigh, “that soft-hearted old bastard takes them all. He has Jeffery Dahmer up there eating Vegan just to piss me off!”
“Golda Meir’s houseboy. You could go on and on and be continually astounded, I promise you.”
“Wow! Say, there’s something I’ve really wanted to know about for a long time . . ..”
“No — who was Jack The Ripper?”
She let out a burst of demonic laugher. “I haven’t found a soul worth possessing to reveal that for!”
“Okay, so what about Armageddon.”
“Just more propaganda —- like Hell.”
“There’s no Anti-Christ, then?”
“Actually, there is. I’ve been grooming a replacement so I can eventually retire.”
“Can you tell me who?”
“Of course not.”
“Please? A little one?”
“Well, let’s just say the gates of Hell will have a whole new meaning.” She set down her glass, stretched out seductively on the divan, and in a smoky voice said: “So — how’d you like to feel like a Kennedy?”
“You need a ride home?”
“True, but I’m still going to heaven.”