“He’s going to let this continue?” Satan asked. The giant red-skinned man sat in his cavern office behind a large obsidian desk. In front of him sat a young woman with sea-green curls and olive skin. Isla nodded an answer to his question.
“He wants to see, ‘how it plays out’,” she said. Her exasperated eye roll gave away her true feelings on the subject. Satan sighed.
“I feel like he’s losing interest in the whole thing. Between this and letting Ballisea run wild,” Satan gestured at Isla with his hand. “He didn’t even come in person.”
“He has been doing it for a while,” Isla agreed. “Some of the Middlemen think he’s following your example. He might be considering a successor.” Satan’s eyes went wide in shock; but, he couldn’t say he was surprised.
“You can’t mean…,” Satan paused looking for the right words. “She’s a Zero! She was at least. now she’s -,” Isla interrupted him.
“Now she’s running her own afterlife. After being just you two for so long, the big guy thinks a third competitor could spice things up. He thinks she couldn’t possibly make any headway this late in the game,” Isla shook her head. “We’ve been trying to convince him he’s underestimating her.” Satan nodded vigorously.
“If there’s one thing I’ve learned,” he chuckled. “Even if the bossman said, ‘I have no doubts Dana Sharp will win this round’; that would still be underestimating her. He sees everything, but he doesn’t notice everything.” Isla nodded.
“We know. The scarier part is; she’s found somewhere to hide.”
“What?!” Satan asked. “That’s… that’s impossible! Where?” Isla rolled her eyes again and giggled.
“If we knew that she wouldn’t be hidden.”
“And he’s still not going to step in and stop it? That’s cheating.”
“Big man says it’s not cheating if we can’t catch her doing it. Which, we can’t.”
Satan grumbled under his breath for a few moments, the finally shook his head.
“You know what I just realized? It’s not my problem anymore,” he said. “Julie’s almost done with her quest, then I’m out of here. If he’s not going to worry about it, I’m not going to either.”
“That’s what the Middlemen decided too,” Isla nodded. “It’s business as usual, just a bit slower,” Isla said. She stood from the chair. “Was there anything else you wanted to bring to his attention?” she asked; a black portal opened to her side. Satan shook his head.
“That was everything. Thank you, Isla,” he said. Isla nodded, waved, then stepped through the portal.
“It’s not uncommon for a boy growing up with a single mother to hear that his father belonged in Hell,” Eric began his speech. A gentle laugh ran through the small crowd of familiar faces. Despite being a very lavish wedding, the guest list was kept to a minimum. “Though, it is more rare to learn that your dad is Satan,” Eric turned and smiled at the giant red man sitting next to his wife: Eric’s mother. The red man in a black suit smiled at Eric and held his wife’s hand.
“What can I say about my dad? He’s an evil, conniving, snake of a man that left his wife as soon I was born. But…,” Eric smiled at his dad to let him know there were no hard feelings. “…He’s also a man that learns from his mistakes. A man that learned how to keep his job and his home life separate. A man that is giving up his limitless power to get back together with the woman he loves because he now knows what’s important to him. Because of his example, I know what’s important to me.” Eric reached down and grabbed Arthur’s hand to encourage him up. Arthur stood next to his husband proudly.
“You showed up kind of late, but you’ve been the number 1 dad ever since. You’re Satan,” Eric chuckled. “Everyone has something bad to say about you, but you don’t let what others think get in the way of you doing what you have you to do. You taught me how to be happy with who I am and I wouldn’t be standing here next to the man I love if I never learned that lesson. Even on my Earth people are a little backward about things like this,” Eric leaned over and kissed Arthur on the cheek. A soft cheer ran through the crowd. “Not a lot, but enough to deter me, if I didn’t have the role model I did. Thank you, dad. For being the most loving demon ever. This may be Arthur’s and my wedding, but we’re celebrating you too.”
Satan gawked at the opened photo album on his obsidian desk. He had high expectations going into the meeting; Ms. Sharp’s personal assistant had to be organized if nothing else. But flipping through the photos shattered all his expectations. He expected to give her some notes, maybe a helpful hint here or there but she left him nothing to critique.
“Are they okay?” Melody asked. She sat across from him in her black suit. Satan got a kick out of the question; it wasn’t an unusual question, but it somehow sounded insecure. It was the first time Satan ever talked with Melody alone; he now realized Ms. Sharp’s presence gave Melody her usual self assured demeanor.
“Your ideas are better than anything I could ever come up with; your work is honestly very impressive,” Satan replied.
“Let me ask you,” Satan closed the photo album and slid it to the side. Then, he leaned forward on his desk. “Why do you want this job?”
“It was Ms. Sharp’s idea,” Melody replied. “She wants me to report back anything I think she’ll find interesting. However, aside from that; it’s always been a hobby of mine. A passion, you could say.” Satan blinked at her candor.
“I suppose Ms. Sharp told you to tell me all that?” he asked. Melody nodded.
“Ms. Sharp thought it best to not try and slip a lie past Satan himself.”
“She’s a smart woman,” Satan chuckled at Melody. Her expression didn’t change but she nodded.
“Yes. She is,” she replied.
“Well if it were up to me, you’d have the job already based on your handiwork alone. But it’s not,” he chuckled again. Melody gave a faint smirk that Satan decided was a laugh. “I’ll hold on to this,” he patted the album,” to show off what you can do.I’ll get back to you with an answer by tomorrow.”
“Please inform Ms. Sharp of the decision. She may have changed her mind or have additional stipulations by then,” Melody stood and gave a curt nod to Satan. Then, she turned and left his office.
When she was gone Satan grabbed the album again and sat back in his chair to admire the photos. Bright whites and chocolate browns dominated the decor. An elegant centerpiece decorated each table in the picture and Satan couldn’t help but smile at the 9-tier wedding cake.
“Mr. Satan, there’s an ‘Arthur’ here to see you. No appointment but he says he knows you?” Debbie’s voice came over the intercom. Satan sat alone in his cavern-like office. His obsidian desk was covered with several short piles of paper. He was in the midst of moving papers from one pile into another; he paused to try and think of an Arthur he knew. Only one came to mind; but, he doubted that was his visitor.
“Kind of busy. What about?” he asked through the intercom.
“Eric,” a young man’s voice replied. It was the Arthur he knew!
“Send him in!” Satan said. He jumped out of his highback leather chair. He ran around the desk and reached the door just in time to see a young man walk in. He wore a coffee brown suit that went well with his short, light brown beard. It was the first time Satan had seen him so dressed up; and, it was odd he was visiting Hell alone.
“Arthur! What a surprise!” Satan extended a hand and was relieved when Arthur shook it. “What brings you down here?” Satan showed Arthur to a seat in front of his desk, then returned to his own chair.
“I won’t take up too much of your time..,” Arthur started to explain. Satan immediately regretted saying he was busy. He didn’t know Arthur very well at all; but, Arthur was his son’s closest friend. If he needed something, Satan would do what he can.
“Don’t worry about it,” Satan leaned forward and placed a burly, dark-suited arm on the desk. In one smooth motion, he swept all the stacks of his desk and onto the floor. “I’m Satan,” he winked at Arthur. “I can finish things at my own pace.” He instantly regretted the action, he put himself quite a bit behind schedule. Fortunately, he did see Arthur relax a little.
“So take your time,” Satan smiled. “What can I do for you?”
“Well, first I wanted to apologize to you…,” Arthur bowed his head. “…for hurting Eric’s feelings. You were kind enough to give us a tour of Hell and I reacted…,” he sighed and his head dipped lower. “…poorly. I couldn’t take it out on you, so I directed my frustrations to Eric.” Satan grinned broadly and shook his head.
“Don’t worry about it! All things considered, you handled it pretty well. And, you’ve made up since then; something Eric’s very glad for. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him so happy,” Satan said. He caught a slight smile on Arthur’s face that he tried to hide.
“Me neither,” Arthur said. “I mean, he makes me happier than I’ve ever been too,” he clarified, then, he took in a deep breath and released it in a heavy sigh. “Which is why I’m here,” Arthur said. He stood from the seat and took a step closer to Satan’s desk. Even seated, Satan towered above Arthur; he looked up and into Satan’s eyes.
“Your son means the world to me, and I’ll never hurt him like that again,” Arthur said. “So, please..,” he clasped his hands together as if begging Satan. “…please.. will you give me permission to marry Eric?”
Arthur stared into Satan’s eyes. Their usual red glow faded leaving inky black spheres; Arthur held the uneasy gaze. He felt like he was staring into an abyss, but he would stare into forever for Eric. After a few silent moments, red liquid gathered in the corner of Satan’s eye. It overflowed, ran down his cheek and landed on the obsidian desk with a hiss as it tried to ignite the stone. Satan chuckled. He reached up, wiped away the rest of the red from his eyes, then blinked a couple of times.
“Well, It’s a good thing I cleared those papers,” he said with a broad grin. “I was not expecting to cry today. But…,” he nodded at Arthur. “…I’m definitely expecting to cry at the wedding.”
“I’ve had better ideas,” Robert thought to himself. The 29-year-old English teacher started to worry a bit too late. The situation started to sink in as he looked around the office waiting for Satan. ‘Office’ was a loose term; it looked like the interior of a black cave. The impossibly dark floors made him feel like he was walking on shadows. A few tasteful portraits hung on the dark walls. One was of a giant, imposing red man in a dark suit. Thick, obsidian steer horns jutted out of each side of his head. The same demon was also in another portrait with a trio of humans. “That’s definitely Satan,” Robert’s nerves started to flutter in his stomach.
Robert jumped in his seat when the office door opened. He expected to see the devil coming through the door towering over him. Instead, a short red-skinned woman with a bright orange faux-hawk walked in. She wore a dark suit with a short skirt instead of slacks. A pair of thin twisting, onyx horns sprouted out of her head; they reminded Robert of impala horns.
“You’re a brave one,” she said with a smile as she crossed the room. “I like that,” she stopped by his chair to extend a hand. “Nice to meet you, Mr. Guzman. I’m Satan.”
“You!?” Robert stood to greet her. He was not a tall man at 5’7″, but he couldn’t help but notice how short she was as he shook her child-like hand. The tips of her horns were taller than him, but her head-height only reached to about his chin. “I thought.., I mean,” Robert disengaged the handshake and pointed at the portrait. “Who’s he?” Satan smiled and walked around the obsidian slab that resembled a desk.
“He’s retired. ‘Satan’ is a title for the ruler of Hell, currently, me. Now that I’m in charge, I’ve got some changes planned. Which is why I’m in search of an assistant. Why are you here, Robert?” she asked.
“Uh, I found a portal, and curiosity got the best of me. Once I was on the other side some random demon ran up to me asking me if I was here to apply. Then-,” Satan shook her head.
“Robert,” she interrupted him. “I’m Satan, I know how you got here. I want to know why you let yourself end up sitting in my office.” Robert shrugged but remained silent for several seconds.
“It seemed like an adventure, I guess,” he finally answered.
“Perfect,” Satan grinned. “The bad news is, you aren’t remotely qualified for the job. A) You’re not a demon and B) You don’t know enough about how the universe works. The good news is, I do have a job you are qualified for, if you want to take it.”
“Uhuh,” Satan’s petite size made it easier for Robert to feel at ease enough to get sarcastic with her. “What job is that? Being tortured?” he asked. Satan burst out laughing, and somehow it made Robert more comfortable. It sounded like genuine laughter. It wasn’t obnoxious or sarcastic. Despite himself, he was starting to like Satan.
“I suppose you could say that; but, it’s torture you’re already familiar with. I happen to know of a high school desperate to fill its staff. Robert narrowed his eyes.
“You want me to teach for you?” he asked. Satan shook her head. “What, like telling them that Hell is a great place and so on?” Satan shook her head.
“Of course not, we don’t need you to do propaganda for us. It’s a special school for Unique Souls; think of it as a school for heroes. It was founded with my predecessor’s permission. If you accept the job, you’ll keep an eye on things and report directly to me.”
“So you want me to spy?” Robert asked. Satan surprised him with an eyeroll.
“Why are you pushing to make everything so negative?” she asked. “It’s not spying as much as we have the right to know what’s going on. You’re not doing anything covert. Just teach; and, if you think something needs my attention, tell me.”
“What’s the pay look like?” Satan smiled and winked at him.
“You’d be working for Hell. Anything you need or want is yours. Interested?” she asked. Robert thought quietly for a moment, then nodded.
A plume of yellow, sour-smelling smoke erupted under the bridge. Allen scooted back in fear along the dirty ground until he hit the wall behind him. A short, plump, red-skinned demon in a navy blue suit walked out of the smoke. He glanced down at Allen and smiled.
“Hello,” the demon said. He sounded surprisingly pleasant, like a call center employee on their first call of the day. “Let’s bargain. What do you want for your soul?” he asked. Somehow, the demon’s smile eased Allen’s mind. He found the strength, with the support of the wall, to push himself up to his feet.
“Food, friends, a nice house and a healthy, lucid, long life. Give me a few decades like that and you can take my soul to Hell when I die.” The demon nodded and snapped his fingers, an obsidian clipboard appeared in his hands.
“Happy to help,” he said. “Let’s get to it. Name?” he asked. Allen narrowed his eyes.
“You’re Satan… don’t you know it?” he asked. The demon sighed.
“Of course I know your name, Mr. Allen Lopez. I need you to tell me your name for the paperwork. Surely you can understand the need for bureaucratic procedures in my line of work. And for the record, I am not Satan; he only handles important deals,” the demon said. Allen gave a slight nod of understanding and waited for the next question.
“NAME?” the demon repeated.
“Oh, sorry. My name is Allen Lopez,” he replied.
“Thank you. Favorite number?” the demon asked.
“47. That’s a weird que-,” Allen was interrupted by a heavy sigh from the demon.
“Damnit, I thought I finally got one,” he mumbled, then looked at Allen. “Wait here,” he said. Before Allen could ask why the demon disappeared. Allen waited for half an hour before another plume of yellow smoke filled the underpass. This time a much larger demon stepped out of the smoke, still in a navy blue suit and carrying a wicker basket. This demon was more than twice Allen’s height, his thick black horns scraped the bottom of the bridge.
“Allen!” the demon said excitedly. “Good to meet you,” he dropped the basket at Allen’s feet. “This is yours. No tricks, bargains or anything, just a straight gift. I heard you were hungry.” Allen knelt to peek inside the basket. He saw fresh clothes, an envelope full of cash and a bucket of fried chicken. He shook his head and forced himself to close the basket and step away from it.
“I haven’t sold my soul yet, I can’t take that,” he said.
“Here’s the thing, Allen. Hell can’t buy your soul, but that doesn’t mean we can’t work out a deal.”
“Wait. What do you mean you can’t buy my soul? Why not?” As he asked his eyes widened. “Is it protected by God?” The demon burst into booming laughter that echoed in the short tunnel around them.
“Protected is a strong word. Let’s just say the universe runs on certain rules. One of those rules is I can’t buy souls like yours.”
“Oh,” Allen said. “So.. how can we make a deal?”
“Well, I can’t buy your soul, but you can join my team. And the people on my team are very well taken care of.”
“What do I have to do on your team?” Allen asked, then he realized something. “Your team? Are you Satan?”
“I am,” Satan smiled. “And you don’t have to do anything. Just agree to be on my team, then live your life the way you see fit. Wait, actually, there is one thing you have to do,” Satan corrected himself. “Get a tattoo with the number 47 on it.”
“And then what?” Satan shrugged.
“Then you live your life however you like. You’ll be able to contact us if you find yourself in need of anything.”
“And I don’t have to.. hurt anyone? Or like get followers or anything?” Satan chuckled; it rumbled the air around Allen.
“We’re not a pyramid scheme, you don’t need a downline.”
“But what happens to my soul when I do die? How do I know I’m not going to Hell?”
“Because if you could, we would have bought your soul. I have to cut this short, I interrupted another meeting to talk to you. However, I don’t want you to feel pressured to make a decision now. That basket is for you, no strings attached. Get back to me if you decide you want to be on my team,” Satan said.
“Wait!” the demon’s kindness made Allen’s decision for him. “I’ll do it! I’m on your team!” he shouted. Satan nodded.
“Wonderful. I still have to go, but I’ll send someone with a welcome package. Enjoy your meal until then, by the time you’re done you’ll have a home waiting for you.” Satan disappeared in a puff of foul-smelling smoke. Allen ignored it and grabbed a chicken leg to start eating.
After finishing a couple of pieces he noticed a minty scent fill the air. He looked up to see a tall man with a white beard in a green suit.
“So, tell me about your dream home,” the man said.
“Who’s she?” Mortimer paused at the entrance to Satan’s office. The old, silver-haired billionaire expected to have a private meeting with the devil. A stern, pale woman in a white suit sat across from a large slab of obsidian that served as a desk. She did not turn to acknowledge Mortimer or his question of her.
“Witness,” the giant, red-skinned man in a suit said. He smiled a sinister grin, “among other things.” Mortimer sighed and rolled his eyes. He was about to take charge of Hell; his first order of business would be to boot out the devil and his probable girlfriend. The old man made his way to the seat next to the woman and sat.
“What do we need a witness for? All the paperwork is in order, and a matter of public record. I own Hell now,” he smiled at the demon but ignored the woman sitting next to him. Even seated, the devil’s red form towered over the two humans.
“Yes, you do,” Satan nodded; the motion caused his twin, thick black horns to scratch the stone ceiling. “But, do you even know what we do here?”
“Torment souls?” Mortimer gave a half shrug. The truth was he did not once stop to consider what he’d do with Hell once he owned it. He saw a chance to own something no one else could and went for it.
“That can be part of it, but it’s not the whole picture,” the woman directed her response at Mortimer.
“Who are you?” he asked her.
“This is Ms.-” the devil began to introduce them but Mortimer interrupted.
“Nevermind. Nobody,” he said looking straight into her eyes, then turned his attention back to the devil. “So, you’re gonna give me a tour before I take over or what?” he asked.
“You won’t be taking over,” Satan said. “You own Hell, and you’ll earn profit as a result. However, you are not eligible to take my job. My successor is already in training.” Mortimer’s anger spiked; he clenched his fists to help him calm down.
“HER!?” He pointed at the woman in the white suit. “That’s why she’s here, because she’s the next Satan?” Mortimer’s words were coated with disappointment, rage, and jealousy. Despite his near-screaming volume, the woman and Satan shared a chuckle between themselves.
“If you knew anything about her,” Satan said while smiling. “You’d know that she would never settle for this job; her sights are set much higher.”
“So why am I not in charge?” Mortimer asked.
“You can’t handle it,” the woman said. She gave Mortimer a broad, patronizing smile.
“BullSHIT!” Mortimer yelled. “I worked my ass off to build my company. I started from nothing and now,” Mortimer narrowed his eyes at the woman. “I. Own. Hell. Don’t tell me I can’t do the work.
“She’s right. It’s not about a workload, it’s about the nature of the job. There are things that, if you were to learn them, would snap your mind like a wishbone.” Mortimer glared at the woman in white.
“Oh, but she can know them?”
“I’m not weak,” her eyes sparkled as she answered Mortimer.
“RGHRA!!” Mortimer lashed out. He jumped to his feet and swung a heavy, open palm at her face. He watched her as he swung; he was eager to see the moment she realized what was coming.
Her smile never wavered. Mortimer’s hand never connected; something stopped his wrist before he slapped her.
“What the hell?” Mortimer looked at his hand and found another pale woman holding his wrist. She was chubbier than the woman in white and wore a black suit instead.
“Thank you, Melody,” the woman in white said. Melody threw Mortimer’s wrist back at him and glared.
“Sit down, Mortimer,” Satan said. The old man did, but he gave the devil a cold stare.
“I bought Hell. I want to run Hell,” he said. He had hundreds of questions about who the second woman was and where she came from. However, no one else seemed surprised by her sudden appearance. That was probably the kind of thing they were talking about and Mortimer did not want to appear startled.
“That is your right,” Satan nodded. “I was only trying to guarantee your safety. But,” Satan shrugged, “it’s your risk to take. Though, you do understand that if you’re not mentally fit for the job you forfeit it. And should something happen to you, I assume all control of Hell again.
“Is that a threat?” Mortimer asked. Upon asking the question, Mortimer realized there was nothing he could do if it was. Luckily, Satan shook his head.
“Not at all, but remember what I said about your mind snapping?” Mortimer nodded. “Well, it’s happened a time or two. Sometimes, when someone finds out what we do here, they don’t know how to process it. In a panic, they look for the… uh… quickest exit.”
“He means that they’re so weak-willed and cowardly,” the woman in white spoke up. “That they’d rather kill themselves than deal with reality.”
“I’m no coward,” Mortimer said through gritted teeth.
“Very well,” the devil nodded at the woman in white.
“Melody, wait outside,” she said.
“Yes, Ms.Sharp,” Melody replied and turned to leave the office. The young woman stood outside the office door for about 45 minutes before she heard a single gunshot. Shortly after the bang, the office door opened.
“Melody, dispose of the weak man’s corpse,” she said.
“Thank you for your time Ms. Sharp,” Satan said. He sat behind a large obsidian desk in a wide-open cavern interior. Large windows behind him gave his guests, Ms. Dana Sharp and her assistant, Melody, a view of the Hellish landscape. “I know how busy you are.”
“You’re claiming to be Satan,” Ms. Sharp said. “I had to find out why.”
“I understand your skepticism but I am Satan,” he said. The giant red-skinned man deliberately refocused on Melody standing behind the seated Ms. Sharp. “I know what you’ve done to her and all her Zeros,” then he looked into Ms. Sharp’s eyes. “You too for that matter. Satan is a title; a position in the organization that runs the universe,” he said.
“Which one?” Dana asked. “There are so many.”
“All of them,” he grinned.
“Then why am I here? I assume you didn’t make an appointment to damn me to the inferno,” she said. She was willing to accept that he was the actual devil; but, he asked for her time. The demon shook his head; his horns scraped the stone ceiling.
“It’s somewhat embarrassing, but I trust you’ll be discreet. You’ve developed a certain expertise that I could make use of.” Dana smirked.
“You’re asking me for a favor?” She asked. Satan nodded almost imperceptibly.
“What’s in it for me?” she asked.
“You haven’t heard what it is yet,” he said.
“I’m not going to waste time listening if the reward isn’t worth it,” she replied.
“Fair enough,” Satan chuckled. “My usual offer for Zeros is turning them into Unique Souls but-,”
“I’ve made other arrangements,” Dana interrupted Satan with a matter-of-fact tone. He nodded again.
“Indeed. In exchange for helping me, you get to help me.”
“Melody, we’re leaving,” Ms. Sharp said. She stood from her seat as Melody wiggled her fingers at the air to open a tall black portal.
“It’s probably for the best,” Satan shook his head. “There’s no telling what secrets of the universe you might accidentally learn,” he said. Dana stopped before she entered the portal and looked at the towering demon.
“What’s the favor?” she asked. He grinned and gestured at the seat in front of his desk again. Dana sat again and the portal disappeared.
“I want you to help me cheat,” his grin grew into a broad smile
“This is your last chance to back out,” the giant-red-skinned man said. He stood between a group of three college kids and an enormous obsidian gate that dwarfed the 10-foot tall demon. “There is no going back after this.”
“Wait,.. but that’s just for Julie, right? I’m just here for the ride,” a young man with a light brown beard asked. He was holding hands with the third one of the group; a lean, dark-haired man. The tall demon looked down at him.
“Yes, Arthur,” he said with an exaggerated eye-roll. All three kids chuckled at his playfulness. “You and Eric can go off and neck or whatever it is kids do on your Earth if you get bored watching her kill people.”
“Daaaad..,” Eric whined at the devil with a raised eyebrow; he lifted his hand to show their intertwined fingers. Satan flinched out of embarrassment then cleared his throat. “
“Right! No, sorry,” he shook his head. “They’re not people, they’re Zeros. Julie’s going to kill-,”
*AHEM* Eric cleared his throat. The devil shrugged and gave up.
“Forget it; the point is Julie’s the only one in any real danger. You guys can quit or join her any time.” He looked down at Julie. The short girl with a bright orange faux hawk was less than half his height; she stared up at him with a defiant smile.
“Start cleaning out your desk, old man,” she said playfully. “I’ll be back for your job real soon.” The devil grinned.
“Don’t worry too much it if you’re not. You cut to the front of a long line; there are more and better candidates after you.” Her smile turned into an annoyed scowl.
“I’m ready,” she said. Satan dropped a pitch-black dagger; it buried itself in the ground in front of Julie. It was as large as a claymore compared to her petite frame.
“Whooooaaa.” Arthur and Julie marveled at the sword. The weapon looked like a shadow trapped in a blade. The outer edges gleamed like steel in Hell’s red sunlight but the interior was an impenetrable black. The hilt was made from the same black material wrapped with red leather. Julie grabbed the handle with both hands; it immediately shrunk to a size that was easier for her to manage. She waved the black bowie-knife around to get used to the weight.
“You must get the kill-,” Satan glanced at Arthur, then back to Julie. “You must eliminate all your Zeros with this weapon. If you make even one mistake, you fail. Eric can show you how to use it.” Julie looked up at Satan. She stabbed the air in front of her several times.
“I think I got the hang of it,” she said. Satan shook his head. “Eric can show you how to use it once you get going. For now…,” the devil stepped out of the way to let them see the black gate. There was a young woman that looked exactly like Julie strapped to the bottom of the bars. “…get going. There’s your first Zero.” Julie sprinted across the short distance to charge at the bound girl.
“By the way,” Satan said offhandedly. Julie did not slow down to listen; she was on her way to ruling Hell. She plunged the shadow knife into the girl’s chest. “It’s going to hurt,” the devil finished his warning. Julie screamed in pain. Her voice matched her victim’s and overtook it once the Zero slumped forward in silence. Julie let go of the dagger and fell to her knees. She hunched forward holding her head and screaming at the ground.
After almost a minute of nonstop screaming and writhing her voice began to quiet. It happened slowly at first; then all at once. Julie sat up on her knees and looked around.
“Whooooaaa…” she said and stood up from the ground. She walked toward the three men.
“Whoooaaaa…” Arthur repeated. He was surprised that her smooth pale skin was now slightly red. She had two black baby horns growing out of the top of her head. He pointed at her, then excitedly patted the top of his head with both hands while laughing. Julie reached up and her eyes went wide when she touched the horns; she giggled.
“What did it feel like?” Arthur asked.
“What color are these?” she asked and pointed to her head.
“Black,” he said. “Like portal black.”
“Okay, touch one,” she grabbed his hand and brought it to one of her stubby horns.
“Hey, it’s not smooth,” he said. “It feels like…,” he rubbed his finger up and down one of them. “…like it has spirals or something. Like a screw.” Julie nodded.
“Yep, that’s what it felt like; they were screwed out from the inside.”
“One down, several thousand to go,” Satan said. He pointed to the gate; it was open now. The woman’s corpse was in the process of being dragged away by a three-headed dog. The black dagger lay on the ground in front of the gate. “Step through the gate to find the next you.”
The giant, red-skinned, dark-suited man squeezed into the booth across from the sullen young man. His enormous body molded itself to fit in the small confined place. He stared patiently at the young man focused on his burger; both of them ignored the screams as the patrons rushed out.
“I’d rather be alone,” the man said without looking up.
“I know,” Satan said with a deep, low chuckle. “That’s why I scared everyone off.” The young man sighed and rolled his eyes; the corners of his mouth almost tugged upward. He almost smiled but instead refocused on moping over his untouched burger.
“Why..?” he asked aloud. Satan did not speak, he felt the young man wasn’t finished with his question yet. After a few quiet moments, the college student looked up, quite high up, to meet Satan’s dark red eyes. “Why do you do it?” The red giant made a show of shrugging with exaggerated motions.
“That’s not the issue, is it?” he said. “You’ve known for a while now; it’s never been an issue before. It’s only an issue now because your boyfriend-“
“We had one date,” the boy corrected him. “He wasn’t my boyfriend,” he said coldly; trying to convince himself.
“It only became an issue because Arthur…,” the devil decided using names would help. “… can’t handle the truth about the universe. It has nothing to do with me or you; it’s all on him. Julie’s fine with it. She’s talking to him. He’ll come around.”
“And what if he doesn’t?” he asked. “What if I want to live a life with him instead?” The devil grinned broadly and chuckled.
“I can’t guarantee Julie isn’t trying to talk him out of it for that exact reason. I’m pretty sure she wants the job; and, I’m a little bit scared to give it to her,” both men at the table laughed at that. The mood shift put the young man enough at ease to reach for his food.
“You’d really be okay with that?” he asked before taking a large bite. The devil nodded and answered while he chewed.
“I already made the mistake of choosing work over family once. It won’t happen again. If I try to force it on you not only will it push you away; you’ll do a shitty job out of spite,” Satan said. “You’re the rightful heir, but,” he shrugged. “It’s not Hell if we can’t change the rules for our own benefit every now and then,” he smiled. “All kidding aside, Julie would make an excellent Satan. She’s smart, quick-witted, and completely okay with how the universe works. But you need to be sure about your decision. I get the feeling she wouldn’t give up the power all that easily if you changed your mind.” The young man smiled with bulging cheeks while chewing. His eyes sparkled with appreciation as he stared at the giant red-skinned man. He swallowed.