The buxom blonde wasn’t in bed with him when he awoke. He arose, tended to his morning rituals, and finally threw on a bathrobe and headed into the living room. The demons were
watching Good Morning Chicago and periodically throwing popcorn, french toast, and ice cream at the entirely too chipper anchors.
“Good morning, demons,” Charlie said calmly. He had long since given up telling them not to throw food at the television. They never listened anyway.
“Good morning, Charlie!” the demons shrieked back. Their voices were horrible, screeching noises that leaped randomly in a single octave at any given time, thus producing sounds that at
times were low enough to cause earthquakes if they were loud enough, or high enough to shatter ever window in the building. Charlie continued towards the kitchen, seeking his eye-opening cup of coffee.
“Hey, Charlie!” He stopped and turned slowly towards a rather small, bat-winged, black-skinned demon that hovered in the air just beside him. The imp’s voice was one of those fingers-on-a-chalkboard tones. The man stared at it for a long moment, his grey eyes glazed and bloodshot and his brown hair in disarray.
“Which one are you again?” Charlie asked. The imp gave a piercing shriek of a sound that did indeed shatter a glass in the kitchen. “Listen, Whistler, what have I told you about talking to me in the morning before I’ve had my coffee?” The imp spun dizzily in the hair, cackling madly.
“I just wanted to tell you we’re out of popcorn. We need some more,” Whistler said finally.
“Fine, I’ll pick some up after work tonight. In the meantime, if you want popcorn, just lick it off the television,” Charlie said. He nodded towards the various kernels that had stuck to the screen thanks to the syrup from the french toast.
“Okay. Just don’t forget,” Whistler said. He fluttered off to rejoin the others, who had gotten bored of the morning show and were arguing amongst themselves over the last piece of french
toast. Claws flashed and demonic shrieks ensued as a fight broke out. Charlie continued into the kitchen.
“Here’s your coffee,” Mary said when he entered. She handed him a mug of steaming black stuff. Charlie accepted it from her with a murmur of thanks. He picked out a piece of brimstone
floating within, and flicked it away, then took a deep swig of his pick-me-up brew. Over the rim of the mug he watched Mary bend over to pick up pieces of shattered glass, affording him a
wonderful view of her nice, tight ass.
Mary was a work of art, in Charlie’s eyes. She was a gorgeous, petite woman with perfectly round, mountain-like breasts that were surely soft to the touch. Her skin was so pale it was almost snowy, and she had icy blue eyes that brought to mind the great glaciers of frozen wastelands. Her angelic facial features were framed by a thick mass of bouncy blonde curls. She had a body like a dream, with the perfect curves in the perfect places. She tended to wear tight leather bodices that did little more then cover her breasts, and a leather thong as accompaniment.
Mary straightened, tossing the glass pieces in the general direction of the trash bin and missing by a mile. Her black bat-like wings shivered in annoyance, and the long red tail that ended in an arrow head flickered in irritation. When she turned her glare on him a moment later, he could see the tiny white horns sprouting through her soft blonde locks.
“What have I told you about staring at me like that, creep?” the succubus said, her small forked tongue flickering out.
“What have I told you about walking around in a leather bikini?” Charlie replied evenly. She growled at him, her long fangs glistening in the morning sunlight coming through the window. Charlie went back through the living room, still sipping at his coffee and thanking God that such a miraculous thing existed, for surely he would be a zombie all day. The demons in the living room had finished their fight and were licking popcorn and syrup merrily off the t.v. Charlie stepped over the bleeding body of the writhing, pitifully mewling imp that had lost the fight.
When next he came out of his bedroom, he was dressed for work, in a dapper Italian suit. He looked around the messy living room, and frowned a little. There were empty beer cans, dripping soda bottles, ripped potato chip bags, moldering pizza boxes, and foul-smelling stains and burns on a previously beige-colored carpet. He sighed.
“I want you guys to clean up this mess before I get home. If not... no popcorn for you!”
The seven imps, and the one huge demon that perpetually sat in Charlie’s old black leather chair and pouted, scowled at him. Immediately the imps took flight, even the wounded one whose
wounds had miraculously healed. They began circling around Charlie, chanting and shrieking and booing his order, demanding that he rescind it. They hated cleaning, but more then that, they
hated being threatened by lack of popcorn.
“I mean it!” Charlie yelled above their raucous protests.
“I mean it!” the imps echoed mockingly. “I mean it! I mean it! I-mean-it! I-mean-it!” It turned into a sing-songy chant in their piercing voices that made him cringe.
“Alright,” Charlie said, and the imps paused in anticipation, believing he was going to rescind the cleaning order. He headed for the door. “No popcorn for you, then.”
Charlie could hear the terrible racket of their protests all seven floors down the elevator and into the garage where his car was kept. When he turned on the radio to listen to his usual morning show, he instead received the imps’s “I-mean-it” chant on every single station. With the sigh of a man long tormented by something entirely out of his control, Charlie shut off the radio and headed off in blessed silence to hell.
'Hell’ was what he called his job, which was the editorial offices of a small local paper. He hated his claustrophobic office with its prim white walls and prim blue carpet and prim oak table and prim view of a dirty back alley. He hated his coworkers including the boss’s perfectly-manicured secretary that had refused to go out on a date with him. Most of all, though, he hated his boss, a broad-shouldered beast of a man that perpetually carried a pen of a demonic red color
which he periodically used to strike at Charlie’s lovingly-crafted brainless features.
Whenever Charlie entered his office, it would immediately occur to him that he would rather be home. Not that his place was a piece of heaven in and of itself. The demons that had entered his life several months ago, quite without his requesting them, made that place a sort of hell too. But Charlie had become so accustomed to their messy, shrieking, clawing ways that he now viewed them as an integral part of his life. He couldn’t imagine not having them whining over his shoulder as he tried to write. He couldn’t imagine not having that clinging, smoky scent of brimstone on all of his clothes and in his hair and throughout his residence. He could not imagine not waking up
without Mary at his side every morning, though he would much prefer go to sleep at night knowing that she did what succubuses were supposed to do, which was seduce men into sin.
“Mary,” he had asked her after several failed attempts to get her to seduce him, “why don’t you sleep with me? You’re a succubus, aren’t you?”
“I’m a succubus. I’m not desperate,” had been the nonchalant reply. Thus shot down, Charlie had to be content with just having the demoness in his bed, with her warm–almost fiery–skin next to his at night, and the biting feel of her arrow-tipped tail whenever his leg ‘accidently’ brushed against her, and the suffocating sensation of her wings periodically covering his face when she flipped over in a dead sleep.
He could live with the imps, the teasing but abstaining succubus, and even the brooding dog-faced, six-clawed, foul-smelling demon that always sat in the black leather chair. Charlie could not, however, come to terms with having to put up with the overbearing and intelligence-impaired head with the devilish pen. But until he found something better, he was stuck in his prim office with the manicured secretary and the burly brute of a boss.
Charlie was frustrated even before he entered his office that particularly day of the popcorn episode. The frustration always rose between his leaving the garage at home and entering the garage at work. He never knew when it came or why. It just did.
Still, today he felt even more frustrated, and indeed, perhaps a little annoyed with life in general. He was most certainly not pleased to enter his office and find that most hated figurehead sitting behind Charlie’s desk, smirking. Charlie might hate his office, but it was his personal work
“What are you doing here?” Charlie asked. His boss looked up in surprise at being addressed in such a straightforward, growling manner.
“I’m here to remind you that you have a deadline tomorrow,” the boss said, rising and frowning. He did not like his underling’s tone of voice at all, judging from the scowl on his face.
“Deadline?” Ironically, considering his line of work, this was news to Charlie. “What deadline?”
“The one that was supposed to be filled by Kate, except that she just went into labor this morning and won’t be able to finish her story.” Charlie’s temper rose at that.
“What?” he asked with a calmness he really didn’t feel. He wanted to reach over and strangle the scowling smirk off the man’s angular face. “What do you expect me to write, in a day?”
“I don’t know, Charles. All I know is that I better see something on my desk tomorrow morning at nine. You can have the day off to work on it.” With that verdict, the boss left. Charlie
followed him out, and then left the building altogether. He took his car out of the garage and drove all the way back home through the typically hellish Chicago traffic. And the entire time he was swearing soundly at the orchestrator of his misery. Not God, nor the Devil, nor even the thoughtless parents that had brought him into this cruel world. No, he cursed the brutish man with his red pen and perfect weight-lifter’s body.
“Where’s the popcorn?” Whistler demanded when Charlie entered his apartment. One look, and the imp wisely fell silent and cowered on the couch. Charlie looked around his apartment and
noticed that there hadn’t been an improvement; indeed, it seemed the demons had made it their particular mission to make things worse. There was more trash scattered about, the carpet smelled
fouler then ever, and though the blaring volume indicated the television was on, one could not see a single figure on the screen because of all the food smeared on it.
“I told you to clean up this mess,” he said calmly as he strolled through the living room, kicking away trash in his path as he headed for his room.
“You’re home early. We didn’t have time to do it,” one of the other imps whined. Charlie waved a hand in the air, dismissing the lame excuse.
“Ah, go to hell, all of you,” he muttered. The demons, even the brooding six-clawed beast in the leather chair, perked up visibly.
“Ya mean it?” they screeched and shrieked and roared in a chorus.
Charlie had long since gathered that they had been sent here by someone they always called ‘The Boss,’ by which he assumed they meant Satan. What he couldn’t understand is why he had
been chosen to host them, why no one else saw them or heard them, and why they wanted but couldn’t go back from whence they came.
Instead of answering their eager question, Charlie retreated to his computer to try and come up with some editorial piece, or some other piece of crud to deliver to the penned demon at his
Charlie delivered the promised crud on time, despite the distractions. The imps whined all day and night about the lack of popcorn. The clawed monster became so angry at one of the irritating imps for whining through the beast’s favorite soap opera, that it finally lost its temper and proceeded to throw Charlie’s furniture at the offending and desperately dodging little demon, roaring obscenities all the while. Meanwhile, the other imps leaped up and down, shrieking with glee and shouting, “Bo-bby! Bo-bby! Bo-bby!” over and over, and at times adding their own obscenities or throwing objects when it seemed the clawed monster–which Charlie had nicknamed Bob since he couldn’t pronounce the demon’s real name–had run out of insults and missiles to fling. Having come out of his room to see what the noise was all about, Charlie decided the demons watched entirely too many talk shows. He also decided it wasn’t worth buying new
furniture for the third time. Now they could sit on the floor.
His boss accepted the editorial with a smile, but later, when Charlie came back from lunch, the boss called him into his own huge office for a chat. With a sinking feeling, Charlie entered, and knew from the man’s leering expression what was to come. Sure enough, it did.
“This is trash, Charles, my boy,” the brute said bluntly when his underling entered. “You’re going to have to rewrite.” Charlie scowled at this news. He knew it wasn’t as bad as some of the stuff the newspaper regularly published by some of his fellow journalists. The boss was just being a jerk, and Charlie wasn’t going to stand for it, not this time.
“The demons I will!” he exclaimed, and immediately regretted it. They always came when they were mentioned.
Sure enough, the imps appeared, and so did Bob the Clawed, and so did Mary in her leather thong bikini. The little fliers immediately began circling the office, shrieking madly and tearing things apart. Bob proceeded to give Charlie’s boss an interesting punk hair cut, courtesy of its sharp, upper crab-like claws. And Mary crouched next to the man, showing plenty of luscious skin, her forked tongue periodically slipping into his ear and coming out the other ear.
“You sure have an attitude, soldier!” the boss barked, not liking it one bit. He seemed not to take note of the chaos occurring in his office. Charlie had a hard time keeping a straight face, especially when Bob snipped the man’s tie with his middle pincers, and began cutting off sleeves and other suit parts at random with his bottom two razor appendices. Mary was busy sucking on the man’s ear, and at times leaving tiny love bites on his neck. The imps continued to tear up the place, and one of them got caught in a spring that came shooting out of the couch at the far side of the room after another imp slashed its prim leather surface.
“If you can’t handle criticism,” the boss was saying while all this madness was occurring about him, “why did you become a writer, god damn you!”
“God damn you! God damn you! God damn you! God-damn-you! God-damn-you!” The imps began singing in their nasal, ear-splitting chant.
“What the hell do you find so damned funny!” the boss roared then. Charlie realized he was grinning nearly ear to ear.
“You, actually,” he said without even thinking about it. The room fell into a dead silence, save for the harsh wheezing that was actually Bob breathing. Something deep within compelled Charlie to plunge ahead, to stick the knife in further. “In fact, I don’t find you funny. I find you pathetic. I hate you. I hate your guts. The devil take you.”
With that rather calm, nonchalant reply, Charlie turned around and headed out. The imps, Bob, and Mary followed him out, now looking upon him with a certain awe and respect that had never been present before.
“Wow, Charlie, I never knew you had it in you. I just didn’t sense that sort of fortitude,” Mary commented as they climbed into the elevator to head out. Charlie grinned proudly.
“Now will you sleep with me, Mary?” The imps guffawed, and Bob rumbled in what one could assume was laughter.
“I’m still not desperate,” the succubus said with cheerful blonde bounciness.
By the time Charlie got home, though, he began to feel sick. The demons sat down to watch–or rather, to listen, as nothing could be seen through all that caked food on the screen–Oprah, and Charlie retreated to his bathroom and proceeded to vomit up everything he had ingested in the last three days or so, judging from the sheer amount. He now had no job, and probably no chance
whatsoever in getting one in Chicago. It would no doubt get around to all the newspapers, magazines, and publishers what he had done; the boss had connections. His writing and journalistic career was over.
Mary was waiting outside the door with a cup of tea to soothe his upset–if empty–stomach. She had always seemed more sympathetic towards him then the other demons. Charlie accepted it with a murmur of thanks, and headed into the bedroom. She followed him, but when he shot an annoyed look at the door through which came the oscillating voices of the imps as they sang along with Barney on t.v., the succubus shut the door. The miserable man sat down on the bed and stared blankly at a wall for a long time. Mary just stood there, silent.
“What do I do now?” he asked finally. She didn’t answer, as she sensed it was a rather rhetorical question. “I don’t have a job. I don’t have a girlfriend and certainly not a wife. I have
demons haunting me. And there is food stuck to the screen of my television. My life sucks. Somebody shoot me.” Mary considered this, then shook her head.
“It’s not worth it,” she said. He looked up at her blankly. She went on to explain. “It’s not worth killing you, Charlie. You’re pathetic. But that doesn’t guarantee you’ll go to hell. And if you go the other way, I sure won’t get any brownie points with The Boss.” Charlie considered that logic and agreed that it wouldn’t be the best possible scenario for the demoness.
“You know what your problem is, Charlie?” Mary went on. He waved a hand at her to continue with her inspiring analysis. “You just don’t know how to take the good with the bad. You’ve got to relax. You would be a lot happier if you thought of this as the best of all possible worlds. I do, and look at me... I’m perfectly happy.” Charlie stared at her.
“Voltaire,” he said after a moment, referring to the ‘best of all possible worlds.’ She smirked.
“Voltaire. Yeah, there was a good fuck,” she said, nodding. “One of the better philosophers I’ve had.”
“Not everyone would consider Voltaire a philosopher,” Charlie pointed out. She scowled.
“Look, Charlie, I’ve told you before, I only do philosophers, except in desperation. So Voltaire was definitely a philosopher.” The succubus obtained a faraway, dreamy expression. “I’ve screwed the best. Socrates, Confucius, Alex Trebek...” She noticed his dubious expression and scowled. “I’ll have you know that Alex Trebek majored in philosophy.”
“Alex Trebek is a game show host.”
“You’re just jealous because you can never get any of the damned Jeopardy questions right,” Mary growled. Charlie waved a hand in the air, dismissing the discussion.
“I would like to take the good with the bad, but I’m having a hard time seeing the good.” Mary shrugged.
“Maybe you should look harder,” she said casually. Her eyes suddenly widened, and she swore soundly and in a very unladylike manner. Charlie gave her a curious look, but the succubus
suddenly turned tail and ran out of the room. He didn’t go after her, because her words–about looking harder, not the cussing–had struck a chord deep inside his soul, and he lay down on the
bed and slowly began analyzing his life.
That night Charlie dreamt he was in hell. He found himself walking through a hot, stinking place. His shoes squelched in the muddy, bloody, disgusting ground that sucked at him, vainly
attempting to lock him into one place. There was a heavy, hanging mist in the air that made him cough, and there was a definite dark atmosphere that was only lit up by the various roaring, sweltering fires that danced periodically throughout the dismal landscape. Oftentimes the eery quiet of this dreary world was pierced by the shrieks of the suffering, the moans of the damned, and the satisfied growling of demented demons. It stank of decay, of burning flesh, and of the sour scents of human waste.
Squelch. Squelch. Charlie just walked, drawn through hell by some intangible force, until he came to a thick field of mushrooms of all shapes, colors, and sizes. Dry fungal husks cackled as various small fires smoldered here and there. And in the middle of the vast mushroom patch was a stone dais upon which was a mushroom throne. And upon that mossy seat of honor was the Father of Sin himself. A huge, muscle-bulging, blood-colored, winged demon was what Charlie had always imagined Satan to look like.
What sat on the throne, emitting a black aura of sheer evil, was a thin scrawny-looking man with a sharp beak-like nose and cold gray eyes, dressed in a dapper Italian suit and with black hair neatly brushed back. The throne was far too big for such a creature; it appeared to be a child sitting upon King Arthur’s seat, playing at being the great medieval king of legend.
“Hello, Charlie,” the Devil said, and smiled a warm welcome. “Welcome to my humble abode.”
A tortured scream cut through the smoke like an assassin’s dagger.
“What do you want with me? I haven’t sinned,” Charlie said, looking around somewhat nervously. Satan scowled a bit.
“No, no, you haven’t. At least, not enough for me to justify bringing you here as a permanent denizen. Actually, I just thought we would talk a bit.”
“T-talk?” Charlie stuttered.
“Yes. Don’t you have any questions for me?” came the quiet reply. Charlie stared at the little man in the big throne, then looked around the hot, vast doom called hell. Something occurred to him then and he became annoyed.
“Actually, I do,” he said, and frowned. His sudden irritation caused him to be bold. “What’s the big idea in sending those damned demons of yours to my place? Do you know how much damage in furniture and electronic equipment they’ve cost me?”
“I’ll be honest with you, Charlie,” Satan answered. “I like you. You intrigue me. You’re so pathetic and miserable. So much, in fact, that I decided to add to it, for amusement purposes. So I sent my minions to harass you. I just left them there, to see how long you would last before either going crazy or offering to sell your soul to me in exchange for peace. Either way, I would have had you, because miserable nuts, the kind that commit suicide, tend to be my domain.” He scowled suddenly. “But then that dumb succubus had to screw things up.” As if on cue, a
woman’s desperate shriek danced through the dense atmosphere, and Charlie thought it sounded a lot like Mary. He forced his thoughts to stay on track.
“Screw things up?” Charlie echoed. “How?” Satan said nothing, and Charlie thought about it. He realized, then, that it was Mary, and her words before running out of the room, that had made him re-examine his life and notice that it wasn’t as bad as some people in the wretched world had it.
“Anyway,” Satan continued, seeing that Charlie had answered his own question, “there’s no reason to harass you anymore. People who see the light tend to be able to shut out annoyances
like demons. That’s why I introduced the Internet. Net Junkies don’t get a big chance to philosophize on their own lives, since they spend all their time downloading crap and talking to
people they don’t even know. It’s easier to bother them later on.” He waved a hand in the air. “You can go now. But I’ll be watching you, Charlie. You were fun to harass. You have potential
for more. And maybe someday I’ll even try to make you sin for real, to bring you here come Eternity.” Charlie scowled.
“Why are you after me?” he demanded. “Why don’t you go down to Georgia and harass a fiddler or something!”
The Father of Sin went perfectly still, as if suddenly turned to stone.
“That,” he said calmly, though his eyes were narrowed and they seemed colder then before, “is a sin in and of itself.” Charlie obtained a panicked look on his face and looked around desperately, seeking a way out.
“What is?” he whispered, afraid of the answer, afraid he had angered the Devil beyond repair.
“Listening to slanderous country music. Get out of my face.”
And suddenly, Charlie was awake in bed. He sat up, disorientated, as the vivid stench of a wretched place faded. It was quiet in the apartment, and he glanced at the clock on his night table. If he still had a job, he would have been an hour late already.
Charlie rose and went into the living room, and stood there for a long, long time. It was perfectly clean, and so was the television. The furniture that had existed before the demons had
appeared was there now; furniture they had destroyed in their fights and that he had replaced twice already. The phone rang, and in a daze, Charlie went to answer it.
“Umm?” he said intelligently into the receiver.
“Charles, is that you? Wow, you sound stoned. Are you sick or something? I wish you had called in this morning, telling me you were sick. I was worried when you didn’t show up.”
Charlie stared at the phone blankly. That voice. It was the voice of his boss, the same man he had pretty much told to go to hell the day before.
“Charlie? Are you okay? Do you need me to call a doctor or something?” Charlie stirred.
“No... I’m okay. I had a rough night. I’ll be in later. Sorry to be late,” he heard himself say, as if from a distance.
“Okay. See you later, then.” Click.
Charlie didn’t have his morning coffee at home as usual. It was simply all too surrealistic. Instead, he headed to a nearby café, and sat down alone at a table to think. He was starting to
think that either he had dreamt all of the stuff with the demons, or he was dreaming now. If the former, thank God. If the latter, please God, never let him awaken. He was pleased with this life, very much so.
“Can I take your order, sir?” The lovely, sweet voice brought Charlie out of his thoughts, and he looked up.
She was gorgeous. A petite woman with perfectly round breasts that were surely soft to the touch. Her skin was so pale it was almost snowy, and she had icy blue eyes that brought to mind the great glaciers of frozen wastelands. Her angelic facial features were framed by a thick mass of bouncy blonde curls. She had a body like a dream, with the perfect curves in the perfect places. She was wearing a flattering and non-revealing blue summer dress with an apron on top. In short, she was a work of art.
“What’s... your name?” he asked the waitress, dazed. She blinked, and smiled sweetly.
“Mary,” she said.
“Mary, you’re a waitress.” She inclined her head slightly at this brilliant analysis of the obvious. “Will you go out with me?”
He almost expected Mary, of the glacier eyes and the bouncing blonde curls, to reply, “I’m a waitress. I’m not desperate.”
Instead, her smile widened and she actually giggled.
“I guess we could go out for coffee sometime. After you tell me your name. And what you want for breakfast.” Charlie grinned.
“Mary,” he said with the sigh of a man content with his life, “you are a blessing in disguise.”