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nuqDaq ‘oH puchpa”e’

Mike didn’t know where he was. All was dark, and black… but it wasn’t really frightening. He wasn’t in water, or anti-gravity, as he could still feel his feet firmly on a floor…even if he couldn’t really SEE a floor. His arms and legs felt unnaturally light, though, even for his skinny frame. Who knows, he thought, maybe this is what it feels like when all the blood’s pulled out of you.
He tried to take stock of his surroundings, but it was odd to walk in such a light body. More times than others he tripped and fell… but it didn’t hurt. He had touched a ground, or a floor, or carpet or something, but he just picked himself up and kept walking. After a cursory examination, he realized he was indeed in a small room. There were limits, walls, if you will, but is featureless, it hardly stands to figure.
For the moment, all of the excitement of the past hours had faded from Mike,  and he couldn’t think of why. The Khitomer Conference, the terrorist plot, the Catalina, the warp drive, Humak, Cynthia, Mom, Dad, all of it… why wasn’t it important anymore. For some odd reason, it all seemed so far away and long ago. The warm, velvety surface that was all around him was like a drug. It soothed him, relaxed him, but still… he didn’t want to forget…
It was at that moment that Mike heard a sound. It wasn’t much of a sound, but in this place where there was almost an absence of sound, it was as clear as the shriek of a Anglyvian Avios. The sound continued, a low hum of activity that was almost a godsend in what had become a rather comfortable, but boring place. As Mike continued to listen, he tried to meter his breathing… until he realized he didn’t technically have to breathe. Still the sounds grew, and Mike began to detect distinct sounds. Instead of a low hum, the tone of it went up and down. Rather than being nearly constant, he began to pick up breaks and inflections. As Mike had spent so much time studying languages, he could tell the basic whispers of speech, no matter how unintelligible. Most importantly, though, was that the sound was getting louder.  Eventually, he thought he could make out words, or sentences, but the room suffocated and muffled all, as if he was trying to listen to Humak with a pillow tied around his ears. Mike was busy contemplating how effective such a strategy would be with Humak that it finally took him by complete surprise when he did start recognizing words, close words, loud words.
“I know, I know, I know I’m late. You’d think I’d be better at planning things down here, but I still fall behind. Oh, well, better get ready to do this right.”
Suddenly, the far wall erupted in a small shaft of light, and a slim figure walked through what appeared to be a recently opened door. Though Mike had been able to see himself through some strange sort of bio-luminescence, he had been unable to distinguish or understand any other shape or form up til now, when what looked like a skinny man had just opened a door that, presumably, contained the core of the sun on the other side, for how bright it was.
“Good God!” Mike found himself spitting out the words despite himself, “Could you close that, please?!”
“Oh!” the voice said, clearly now, “Sorry. I guess you’re not used to the light after being in here so long. Sorry about that, too, by the way.”
Once again, the two were left in complete blackness. Mike tried his best to rub spots away that danced in his eyes, blurring his vision. He knew he was talking to another man, or at least another human man by the sound of his voice. Sure, it could have been a Klingon, or an Andorrian, but the accent wasn’t quite right. The way this man spoke was very colloquial, but still far away. He ventured a guess to say the American East Coast due to the his nasal drawl on the words “being in here” with the last word sounding more like “heah.” Mike fumbled around in the darkness, but the blurriness quickly melted away as a warm, golden light began to shine from where the door had so recently pierced his corneas. Blinking heavily, he took stock.
The man was indeed skinny, wearing an old-fashioned Terran suit that was impeccably kept, but hung in the way an off-the-rack model would, not a custom tailored job. He had a black necktie and deep red shirt, which glowed in the golden light that was given off by the simple tallow candle he held in long, deft fingers.
“Mike Smith!” the man said with a genuine smile, “Or, should I say… Seamus Q. Pyke? I’m a big fan of your work, pal, I gotta say. The bit with the spacesuit and the rockets? Simply fantastic. I’m not afraid to say you got more guts than I ever had. You jumped out of that airlock like a man, I was curled up in a ball on a dirty Boston sidewalk.”
His hair was a brassy shade of red, but not bright. It did not have the smooth appeal of auburn or the arresting notes of scarlet. It fell very disappointingly in the middle, which was ironic as he also parted his hair there.
“Yes, sir,” the man continued, walking around Mike as if he were a heifer at market, “Although I don’t much care for your outfit. Is this really what they’re wearing in the future? I was never a fan of purple, and the one-piece look? No, thanks.”
“Um…” Mike spoke finally, his voice seemingly quiet within the infinite black confines, “can I ask a question?”
“No,” the man replied, grinning, “You must ask more than one. Everyone else does.”
“Okay, then…” Mike began feel a little more comfortable, “Where am I?”
“Oh, you are everywhere and nowhere and inbetween where here and there share the air!”
The skinny man made a twiddling motion with his fingers. Mike looked unimpressed.
“No, but seriously,” the man in the suit continued, putting his hands in his pockets, “you’re not technically anywhere.”
“You said this is how we dress in the future,” Mike looked down at the uniform he himself disliked, “Have I traveled in time?”
“Not exactly.”
“Are you going to give a substantial answer to anything I ask?”
“…Maybe.”
“Then who are you, then, keeping all the answers?”
“Ah!” the man in the suit laughed then, “Now that’s a question I can answer! Technically, I’m Satan.”
“Excuse me?”
“Well, more like my title is Satan. It’s a long story. I used to be a person just like you… although without the crippling alien disease… nasty stuff.”
“So should I be asking who were you?”
“Nah,” the man waved the question off, “I’m still me, just with more…stuff.”
He turned and shook Mike’s hand enthusiastically, looking him square in the eye, brown to blue.
“My name’s Steve Waterhouse, Mike, and like I said… I’m a big fan!”

GEEEORRRRGE LUUUUCAS!

The following entry should be placed somewhere shortly after Sara’s introduction to Hell.

“So!” Steve was almost annoyingly chipper, “What do you think?”
They had returned to his office, a fairly normal looking affair… despite the location.
“Well, it’s much nicer that I thought Hell to be,” Sara replied, strolling around the office. Steve’s diploma was on the neutral colored wall, along with his Bar certification, and pictures of his family. Sara made a mental note that, now in the afterlife, they should have some sort of big family reunion so she could learn all the embarrassing childhood stories about Hell’s new master.
“Well, the thing of it is,” Steve plopped into his ergonomic chair and plopped Chuck Taylors onto his desk, “It’s not exactly Hell… per se… anymore… technically… as you would think of it.”
“They had to bring in a lawyer,” Sara smirked, “What are you calling it, then? Post-corporeal rehabilitation? Soul Restructuring? A calculated effort of Fire & Brimstone on the eternal and ethereal?”
“You’ve been working in government too long,” Steve smirked right back, “No, actually, it’s a pretty long and complicated story.”
“Well, I’ve got all of eternity now and it’s…” she glanced at a watch that didn’t exist on her wrist, “Tuesday, so I think I’ve got time for a long and complicated story. Go ahea–”
“IT’S TUESDAY?!”
“Uh, yes…” Sara replied quizzically, “That demon in the miniskirt you call a receptionist had a big ol’ calendar on her desk.”
“IT’S TUESDAY!”
Still paying little attention to her, Steve leapt up from his chair and very nearly skipped to the office door. He turned back to Sarah, grinning madly.
“I love Tuesday.”
“Would you like to tell me why, Steven?” Sara asked, arms folded across her chest as the new Satan stood at the door, bouncing like a Cocker Spaniel.
“Come on! You’ll see.”
“What about the ‘long and complicated story,’ huh?”
“I can explain on the way!” he was nearly twitching now, moving his arms in little motions to simulate running, “Let’s go!”
“…Fine.”
They exited his office and briskly made their way through the main section, where succubi and hellspawn occupied desks along with normal, everyday folk. A fishnet-clad demoness swiveled her chair around as they headed out, but Steve cut her off.
“Hold my calls, Barbara. It’s Tuesday.”
Her black lips parted in a fanged smile that wrinkled the red skin of her cheeks in a way that was almost endearing.
“I wondered when you’d be heading out, boss.”
Sara wasn’t exactly pleased with the reception her former boyfriend was getting from his, well, receptionist.
“I think Barbara has a thing for you, Steve.”
“She’s a succubus, Sara,” Steve rolled his eyes and lead her out of the secretarial pool, “She does that to everyone. Want to try it?”
“Hunh!” Sara felt a slight bit of heat rush to her cheeks, “When are you going to get to that story? What did you mean that it’s not really Hell anymore?”
“Well, this place wasn’t always all Lake of Fire and whatnot,” Steve began as they headed down almost identical beige corridors, “Way way back, before the Angel Wars, this was gehenna and sheol: the first a place for the wickedness to be burned out of people so they could enter Heaven, and the second, well… that was the realm of the dead. Exile from God at the fundamental level, completely without the presence. You didn’t want to go there.”
“When did it change?”
“Well, I’ll answer your question with a question,” he said, flashing ID to a demon guarding a door. They stepped through into a corridor that was a different shade of beige, a bit darker with some burgundy accents.
“What do you remember about the book of Daniel?”
“Steve Waterhouse!” Sara replied, taken aback, “After all we’ve been through, and all your self-imposed ignorance… you’re quizzing me on the Bible?”
“World turned upside down, I know,” he replied with a grin, hands in his pockets as they strolled down the hallway, “If you’ll remember, there’s a bit in Daniel where the angels says that he was delayed in getting his message to the author. Now, what on Earth… or, rather, not on Earth would cause an angel of all things to be late for an appointment?”
“You mentioned the Angel Wars earlier… those really happened?”
“You betcha,” Steve nodded, “and it was the result of those wars that created the Christian Hell. Lucifer, fresh off his exile, decided to throw a great big temper tantrum and got rid of gehenna entirely, choosing instead to just punish everyone because, well, he’s a bit of a jerk that way.”
“Why didn’t God stop him?”
“God gave him Master down here, first and foremost,” Steve shrugged, “and second… I think the Big Guy wanted to see if he would, given enough time, wise up a little.”
“Sympathy for the Devil,” Sara shook her head. It was still beyond her comprehension to understand the nature of God, even after meeting him face to face.
“Instead of fighting jerk with jerk,” Steve continued, “God decided to try a different way, attempting to nip things in the bud before they even got to the Afterlife. And there’s your New Testament.”
“Jesus?”
“And more: Muhammad, Buddha, the whole Nine Yards. God really pulled out all the stops trying to keep people away from Lucifer’s little playground. Of course, after Lucy decided to take on the throne AGAIN, God finally decided that solitary was the best thing for him. The Big Guy wasn’t pleased about it, either, from what I heard… and that’s when they hired me.”
Sara let out a long breath as they reached another door, another demon, and another checkpoint.
“You’ll forgive me if I doesn’t make 100% sense,” she sighed, shaking her head.
“Yeah, it doesn’t for me, either,” Steve smiled. They stepped into another corridor now, completely different from the others. In here, it was black: the walls looked to be covered in black velvet that shone in the slightest of light like it was studded with tiny stars. The carpet was black as well, featureless but comfortable, and very little light emanated from tasteful brass sconces on the walls. It was very dark, but not necessarily uninviting.
“Let me guess,” Sara crossed her arms, “you designed this room.”
“How did you know?”
“You always wanted to decorate our apartment in dark colors,” she muttered, “makes the room look so small.
“Well, don’t worry about this one,” Steve said, striding down the corridor, “It’s just a hallway. It’s supposed to be small. It’s what’s beyond these doors that’s where the action is!”
Sara shook her head at Steve.
“I don’t think I remember you being this giddy the entire time we’ve known each other.”
“Sure I was!” Steve responded, feigning offense, “Remember that time you bought that skimpy outfit, and we–”
Steve!”
The New Satan tried hard to stifle his laughter until tears flowed.
“Oh, shut up,” Sara hissed, trying to hide a smile of her own. Steve seemed so much more relaxed now, and HERE of all places.
“Are you going to tell me what all these doors are for? I’m guessing we’ve reached the end of our little journey, so this must be what makes Tuesdays so exciting.”
“You hit the nail on the head, Donlon,” Steve gave a smile and gestured down the hall. There were about twenty black doors on either side of the corridor, “this is why I love Tuesdays?”
“So… you like to spend Tuesdays re-enacting scenes from Scooby Doo?”
“You’re hilarious,” Steve shot back, “Through these doors are… celestial, ethereal holding cells for almost every human religion that has ever existed or will ever exist. The dearly departed, if they are of a certain… criteria, wind up there for their judgment and processing.”
“Oh, God!” Sara exclaimed, “You’ve made it like the DMV! Truly, this is Hell!”
She slapped both palms to her cheeks in an exaggerated show of horror which quickly fell into deadpan boredom.
“And you’re trying to tell me that you only need twenty doors for this?”
“Eh, there’s a miscellaneous door at the end of the hall,” Steve said with a wave of his hand, “I think you can see at this point that it doesn’t matter all that much.”
“I know so many people who would punch you for that.”
“And you’re one of them.”
“Yep!” Sara responded, not pleased, “So, are you gonna show off your magic waiting rooms in Hell?”
“I suppose so… but you’re kind of ruining the scope of all this.”
He swung open a door into a room that was utterly devoid of everything except for a mysterious light that illuminated the room full of people, all standing about and looking absolutely confused. Steve stood in front of a black podium and addressed the masses as Sarah shut the door.
“Okay, folks, so here’s the deal. Y’all are listed as dyed-in-the-wool Atheists: no God, no Architect, no Flying Spaghetti Monster, nothing. Obviously, you’re wrong, because… you’re here.”
“Who says?” An angry voice from the back piped up.
“I says,” Steve replied, rolling his eyes.
“And who are you?”
Steve gave a little sigh and snapped his finger. In a trice, he was replaced by a towering, winged, horned monstrosity, its maw dripping acid from thousands of needle-teeth. The beats clicked its fingers again and returned to a gangly redhead with a Boston accent.
“I’m the guy in charge down here, capisce?”
There was general agreement.
“So, you got two options: option one, you keep to your Atheism: we wipe your memories of this event, and we put you in the special Atheist section where you can enjoy absolute nothingness for the rest of eternity. Sound good?”
“Not really…”
“Who is the peanut gallery in the back?” Steve asked, exasperated.
“My name’s Steve… sir.”
“I’m Steve, too,” the New Satan gave a smile, “not sir. Anyway, Option Two: we forgive ya, and you’re free to go into Heaven. Option One, stand over there, Option Two, over there.”
He gestured to opposite sides of the room and continued speaking in a very businesslike fashion.
“Those of you who have enough sins will need to be sterilized for a period in Hell, but don’t worry. It’s standard procedure: you do some stuff that you hate for a while, it sucks, you feel bad, then you’re good to go. I had to listen to a lot of Britney when I got here, and watch a lot of reality TV. A demon will be by shortly to take your decisions. His name is Harold, and he’s a Sox fan, so he’s not all bad. I’ll be seeing some of you guys soon, feel free to say hi!”
And with that, he ushered Sarah out of the room and closed the door. Once the door was closed, his glee was almost overwhelming.
“Now… wasn’t that awesome?!”
“A lawyer’s wet dream, I would assume,” Sara sniped back, but couldn’t keep from smiling, “come on, devil-boy, let’s go mess with the Fundamentalists next.”
“Oh, you’re gonna love them!” Steve beamed, “Some of them still refuse to believe me. I even got Jesus to vouch for me once, still nothing, so we created a little walled in section upstairs so they can be blissful alone.”
“That sounds like a bad joke.”
“It is.”
“How about the Jews?”
“I can’t tell you how many Rabbis I’ve freaked out,” he said proudly, “I get them all worried with the whole ‘you chose the wrong Messiah’ thing, then I totally let it drop and they just wanna kill me. It’s hilarious.”
“Buddhists?” Sara raised an eyebrow as they walked by a door emblazoned with the appropriate logo.
“You don’t wanna open that one,” Steve noted off-handedly, “It leads to Nirvana.”
“What’s that like?”
“You ever stare at a really pretty screensaver for too long? It’s kinda like that.”
“And you do this every Tuesday?” Sara asked, almost incredulous with it all.
“Yep.”
“And I come along with you?”
“Well, you are my personal assistant,” Steve replied, trying not to seem too forceful, “so if I need someone to accompany me…”
They walked past a few more doors, their footfalls padded on the black floor. Sara finally replied to put Steve’s mind at ease and affix an almost permanent smile to his face.
“…Can I do some of the scaring sometimes?”
Steve stopped dead in his tracks. Worried, Sara did too. They both stared into each others’ eyes for a moment before Steve snatched Sara up in a massive hug, whispering in her ear, powerfully and emotionally.
Thank you!
He put her back down, trying to banish tears from his eyes. Sara’s smile certainly helped as Steve turned back down the hallway and kept on walking.
“Come on, Donlon. Let’s go send the Westboro Baptist guys to Haight-Ashbury for a few millenia.”
“They get their own door?”
They get their own door.”

The Battle

Lucifer stumbled back and regained his balance, his hands still shaking as if he had struck the thick trunk of a tree with an iron rod. He raised his cruel black sword to meet the glowing steel of Jesus Christ, grinning crookedly.
“Oh ho, I see we’re really playing with fire now…or is it a Burning Bush, maybe? Either way, I bet that pig-sticker of yours’ll do the trick and put the kibosh on me if I go down, eh?”
Jesus said nothing, only standing firm with his sword at the ready.
“Right. Of course,” Lucifer rolled his eyes, “you pick NOW to finally shut up. Great. Well, I guess we’d better get to it, then!”
He charged at the Son of Man with the sword, which clattered harmlessly off Jesus’ shield. Trusting his feint, Lucifer threw his other arm round, bringing the massive trident on a collision course with Jesus’ face. Jesus slapped it away, almost idly, with his glowing, cross-shaped sword. And so the battle went, Lucifer always on the offensive, Jesus constantly on the defensive: the former beginning to sweat and strain and bellow with exertion, which the former stayed cool under pressure, never making a sound and deflecting every blow almost effortlessly. With all of the world’s evil forces joining together inside Lucifer’s bulky, monstrous form, the army of Good was left to simply sit and watch. Jesus made sure that the battle never got too close to his soldiers, constantly parrying the blows of Lucifer farther and farther away. For a long while, there was no sound on the blood-red plains of Megiddo but Lucifer’s haggard breathing and bellicose howls. The army of All Gods sat in reverence, not believing their eyes in the spectacle that they were seeing. Even the angels themselves were silent and reverent before this, the Battle for All Creation.
Suddenly, at his left, Steve Waterhouse, Lucifer’s Replacement, heard his assistant and former love Sara Donlon singing softly to herself the words to “A Mighty Fortress is our God.” As he looked around, he noticed that several of his troops, and particularly his angelic counterparts, were deep in prayer for the success of the forces of good. This was not a Christian fight, or a Muslim fight, or a Jewish fight, but a fight for the good people of the world, less now more than ever, to succeed over the forces of evil.
But for the life of him, Steve couldn’t figure out what to do. He had never been a religious man, and hardly a spiritual man, but he had been told right from wrong at an early age. After working six days a week, his parents were content to sleep in on Sunday mornings, whilst Steve and his sister Mary would “play” communion along with the services on television. When Steve was still a boy, he was away at a summer camp, a camp that he had begged his parents to go to, when Boston gang violence erupted in the hot streets and left his mother, father, and sister dead. Steve could never bring himself to trust a god until he met one, and even then he was given a charge by the Almighty for being not a good Christian, but a good person. He had fought for what was right, without a particular spiritual streak, because he simply believed it.
So, what was that man, the man who had rejected God until he met him, the man who hated God until he worked for him, the man who didn’t even think God existed until he met him face to face, in the guise of his own kid sister to give him his charges… what was that man to do in this situation?
He sat, and he watched. He watched how Jesus, a man who arguably believed more than any other, who endured such pain for his God that he was given the dominion and the task of humanity’s survival, a man who was the only thing standing between a vengeful God and the disintegration of the world as all on Earth knew it… he watched that man fight the condensed essence of all that was evil and never strike, never wound, never kill, but wear down and harass, blocking every attempt to be wounded with a mask of a face that flitted just between a scowl and a smile. He watched as Lucifer grew more and more tired, and as bits of him began to die off. He watched the horns shrink, the tail wither and fall, the blackening of his veins bleed out of him the more he fought. Finally, he was nothing but a Fallen Angel once again, and the essence of evil, by its nature an essence of cowardice, slithered and slunk away, never again to truly threaten creation, but merely existing to test the created and balance the good. Human beings could not tolerate paradise, and it was for this reason that the dilution of sin was free to escape…but not Lucifer.
The beautiful former angel lay crumpled on the ground, thin and worn, his armor no longer fitting him. His gaunt face looked up at Jesus who stood triumphant above him, his pale skin drawn tight around his bones, his eyes bleeding blood from sunken pits, his black hair now thin and plastered to his scalp, yet he was defiant to the end.
“Go ahead. Do it! Kill me now, you know you want to. You’ve beaten me, Christ, like you always said you would. You arrogant son of a bitch, KILL ME! Cut me into pieces and scatter me over Las Vegas! I tried, and I failed, and I won’t go back to serving under you and your Father, you can be sure of that! You’ll have to kill me, Christ. You’ll have to gut me like a God-damned fish, right here in front of God and everybody!”
He threw his thin, pasty arms out wide. The armor clattered off his arms onto the hard, dusty earth. The black clouds that roiled in the sky above began to rain, a hot, unforgiving rain. Jesus sheathed his sword, and slung his shield across his back, his armor reverting to comfortable robes. He picked up a stone from the ground, and offered it to Lucifer, turning it into bread. He held out his other hand, catching rainwater in it, and turned it to wine, which he also offered to the fallen angel. Lucifer took what remaining spittle he had and spat in Christ’s face.
“Fuck you.”
Jesus smiled, sadly, and blinked it away, turning another rock into a chalice for the wine. He put both bread and wine on the ground and began to walk away. Lucifer picked up his weapons, by now horridly heavy for him and attempted one last assault at the Messiah’s unprotected back. Jesus spun quickly, using the hilt of his sword to neatly snap the black blade in half, and sending both parts spinning off into the distance. Now fully enraged, Lucifer aimed one last shot with the pitchfork at Jesus’ eyes, only to have the Son stop the prongs with the upright palms of both hands, blood trickling down his wrists in an act of pacifism. Jesus quickly brought his arms down, shattering the trident as if it were made of thin crystal.
Lucifer had lost. He fell to his knees again, though not in repentance. He would never be sorry. Jesus, as if nothing had happened, turned around again and walked back to his soldiers, calmly wiping his blood on his robes.
“Wouldn’t you know it, eh?”
His smile was so gentle and warm that even the scorched plains of Megiddo seemed like Eden. He turned to his angels, and nodded, and in a trice they were gone back to Heaven. He turned to his soldiers, who most of which fell to their knees, but Jesus bid them stand up, and with another nod, they had returned to their proper lives and times. He turned to the demons who had stayed loyal, who had found redemption, and with a nod they, too, became angels and went up to Heaven, leaving only Sara, Steve, Jesus, and the defeated Lucifer where once the giant battle had waged.
“Nice job, you two,” he said, grinning now. Steve smiled nervously, not knowing what to expect, as Sara looked behind the Son to the fallen one.
“What will happen to him?” she asked, “Will he… die?”
“He is, at his basest, and angel,” Jesus said, “and therefore he cannot die. My Father would not want to destroy any of his creations, even those who hate him. His love is…hard to understand by mortals. I still don’t fully understand it, but I like to think I get that from my mother’s side of the family.”
He winked. Steve laughed. Sara didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, or both.
“He’ll be taken up to Heaven with the rest of us,” Jesus continued, “My Father has ordered that Hell will no longer be below, and will no longer remain separate from his jurisdiction. He is confident now that He, along with others like I and yourselves, can keep dominion completely from Heaven. Hell will now be constructed side-by-side, where the fallen and those seeking redemption can constantly be reminded of what lays in store. He said that… He had grown out of touch with Hell, and it was wrong of Him to do so. He’s always like that though, thinking everything is his fault.”
He waited for the joke to take. It didn’t. Jesus coughed uncomfortably and went again.
“Lucifer will be put back in charge, but he is under my Father’s eye, now, and He will be broken by my Father before he can return to his services. Who knows, maybe we will even find cause for redemption deep within him.”
“Redemption?” Steve cocked an eyebrow, “Even for him?”
Jesus shrugged.
“Why not?”
“You’ll never take me, I won’t go,” Lucifer whined from behind, “I’d rather kill myself right here, right now, just gimme that big mammer-jammer sword of yours…”
He reached for it, but it burned his hand. The black clouds above opened up, and a single shaft of pure light cut through, illuminating the fallen angel, who began to shriek as it touched him.
“No! No! Stop! I don’t want it! You can’t! I won’t! Aaaaaagh!”
And in an instant, he was gone, save for his shrieks that echoed through the plains.
“Yes,” Jesus said with his head bowed, “Redemption even for him.”
Sara and Steve couldn’t be sure, but they thought they saw tears on the face of the Son. Jesus turned from them, shaking his head and putting a laugh in his voice.
“I guess you could say I’m promoting you. Father wants you two to be in charge of a new Redemption movement. He says that He doesn’t want this to happen again, for people to feel so alone, so without His presence… and He’s not close enough to humans to do it. He was impressed with the work you two did so… it’s really an offer you can’t refuse!”
He turned back around and was radiant, grinning and laughing as the black clouds rolled away to reveal a gorgeous pink sunset. Sara looked at Steve, who looked at Sara.
“After all we’ve been through: alive, not alive, war, death, rebirth, Heaven, Hell, everything in between… and I’m still so sorry. About Nelson. About Me and my foolish pride. About everything. So, so sorry,” Sara said, her tears sparkling in the newfound sunlight. Steve took her into his arms and kissed her gently, brushing away the tears.
“You don’t need to be,” was all he said.
“I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
“Come on now,” Jesus grabbed a hand of Steve’s and of Sara’s each, and immediately they felt all burdens lifted from their shoulders, and all of their flesh seemed to melt away until all was made of glittering gold. Jesus, shining now like the morning sun, smiled again and took them with him to Heaven, to work forever in the service of the Almighty.
“Let’s Go Home.”

Steve Waterhouse – The End.

I am so going to Hell for this.

The first wave of the army for good, a massive wedge made from the Judeo-Christian alliance, slammed into the terrified and confused ranks of evil, scattered their opponents like ninepins. Steve and Sara were at the head of the roiling spearpoint, hacking and slashing with their blessed weapons at everything dark and twisted that lay before it. Wicked demons and demi-devils fell before the surge, which had surprised the forces of evil with their sudden coalescence and team strategy. Once the Alliance hammered into the front lines, pincer formations from the Islamic and Asiatic leagues would swoop down to cripple each of Lucifer’s flanks, hopefully ending the battle in three swift echelons.
Speed was a necessity, and the key to winning at Megiddo. With Thrones providing medical care on one end, and cruel necromancers doing the same for the other, this was not a war that would be won with a body count. Each of the dead would be brought to the back lines as soon as possible and resurrected, ready to fight again in a matter of minutes. The rules of Earth held no sway in the battle known as Armageddon, where the divine and the defiled fought for supremacy over the mortal realm. After the initial tidal wave, the forces of evil managed to rally back and form a skirmish line, halting all progress of the battle due to their massive numbers. The element of surprise lost, the smaller forces of good fought with all their hearts to hold their position, hoping to somehow win enough captives to force the vain and self-centered warriors of evil into surrender.
But the battle carried on. Time lost all meaning. There was no day, no night, only the reddened sky of war and the browned crust of the Earth. Everything had stopped, the fate of creation hanging in the balance. Sara and Steve fought on, not knowing hunger, not knowing thirst, not knowing fatigue, held up by the spark of the Divine that carried them into battle time and again, injury after injury, death after death. And still the battle raged on.
“There’s! Too! Many! Of! Them!” Sara shouted, punctuating each word by slaying another evil one, which dissolved into ashes on the breeze, “Don’t we have any reinforcements?”
Steve dispatched a snarling creature with his own flaming sword. His armor was still flawless and burnished as the day it had been wrought.
“We’ve called up the faithful from every religion in the world, from tribes of five to congregations of billions. Every being that has ever existed has joined this fight. We must keep faith that good will prevail.”
“EVERY being?” Sara ducked a leaping demon and neatly eviscerated him as he flew by over her head.
“Save God and the Prophets,” Steve said. A foe had crept up on Sara in her momentary disbelief and was preparing to strike. Using the powers granted him, Steve thrust out his free hand and, with a whiff of brimstone, burned out the enemy’s eyes.
“And why aren’t THEY here?!” Sara said angrily, grinding the adversary’s dead skull into the dead ground in a cloud of dust.
“It is not their way,” Steve said grimly as he plunged his sword into a screeching villain’s chest.
“How nice for them,” she gritted, slaying five with out sweeping arc… but it never did any good. There were always more, always more wicked in the world than good, and they seemed to be fighting a losing battle. On and on it raged until the evil had cornered the army of the righteous, from Catholic to Buddhist, and was moving in for the kill. Lucifer stood at the forefront, cackling and taunting the overwhelmed forces of the Divine.
“Where are your Gods now, hm?” He sneered, leaning on his blackened sword, “Oooh, I’ve waited so long to say that! And look! Ol’ Deus was even nice enough to throw in my half-assed replacement among the captured! Oh, this is just too rich!”
“I’d tell you to go to Hell, Lucifer,” Steve said, brushing ginger hair away from his lightly freckled face, “But I think you’re headed for somewhere much worse than that.”
“Oh!” Lucifer giggled, “Oh, that’s wonderful, the old ‘you’ll never get away with this’ malarkey! How classic!”
“You really think you’ll win, don’t you?”
“Of course I do! Fuck, if you’re the best they can send me, I can see why!”
He cocked his head skyward and began to bellow.
“Do you hear me, God? Allah? Buddha? You great, merciful cocksucker? Where are you, huh? Why aren’t you here to save your little fucking pet project? Aren’t you merciful and all that shit, huh? Where’s all this fucking mercy? Well, you little suck-up, aren’t you going to say anything?!”
He turned to Steve and dug the blade into the shoulder of the new Satan, between the plates in the Heavenly armor. Thought it caused him great pain, and the wound hissed as if on fire, Steve gritted his teeth and laughed.
“Go fuck yourself, Lucifer. I know that my Redeemer lives!”
“Ooooh, look who learned a Bible verse!” Lucifer mocked him with a high-pitched shriek, “Aren’t you going to show that good really does conquer, Yahweh? Or is this just part of your stupid little plan, eh?”
His head cocked downward, hand to his bearded chin.
“Maybe I’m supposed to ravage the world, and maybe then Old Man Creation will step in and wipe the slate clean,” He returned to shouting at the blood-red sky, “Gonna remake the world after this, eh? Gonna quit, you pussy?”
“SHUT UP!” a voice shrieked from the captives. Lucifer was taken aback by the shrill intensity, which gave Sara the time she needed to continue.
“You just don’t get it, do you Lucifer? You’re evil, even an animal can see that. You want to hurt, you enjoy hurting and being hurt, you do things that hurt yourself. Anyone can tell you that you are aberrant, you are wrong. There is no gray area here, and you will pay for what you have done.”
“Wowee!” Lucifer smacked a hand to his cheek in mock surprise, “That was a good one! Did you teacher her that, Red? Really poetic. Must be something about fighting for God, turns everyone into a walking fucking proverb book…”
He raised his sword into the air, ready to cleave their heads from their shoulders.
“But it’s not going to help. I’ve captured all your Thrones, There’s no one here to save you.”
He wound up the sword with both hands, like a major league slugger looking for a grand slam, but as he brought the sword round to cleave both Sara and Steve’s heads from their shoulders, a bolt of lightning split through the bloody clouds, striking the ground between Lucifer and his captives and throwing the Prince of Darkness back into his collected troops, eyes wide open in a momentary fear that was soon replaced with his customary arrogance. As the lightning dissipated, a figure stood in the way of Lucifer’s black sword, halting the blade his his naked hand, holding it perfectly level as he stood with his back to the armies of evil. As the light faded away, the visage of Jesus Christ: trimmed beard, medium-length brown hair, slightly swarthy skin and kind, compassionate smile shined down upon his captured army.
“Nice job, you two,” he said with a wink to Steve and Sara, then turned to face Lucifer. He cast the black blade aside, allowing it to thud dangerously between Lucifer’s sprawled legs. The Adversary sprang to his feet and, with a few tugs, wrenched the sword from the ground and leveled it at Jesus.
“Ah, the ultimate prodigal son, Daddy’s favorite. You finally got Poppa’s permission to play with the other kids?”
“In a way,” Jesus said calmly, spreading his arms out at his sides and instantly swapping his robe for glittering alabaster armor.
“Very nice,” Lucifer snorted, “Very Sailor Moon. But tell me…can you do this?”
He threw his hand upward to the sky, and each one of his army flew into his beings as if they were simply mirages, giving their powers to him as he grew stronger and stronger as billions of blackened souls fortified his own. When all was finished, all that remained of Lucifer’s army was Lucifer himself, with thick, towering horns of black, whiplike black tail and vicious looking black trident to match his onyx sword. He smiled, and with pointed fangs hissed at Jesus.
“Well, Son of Man, what do you think of us now?”
Jesus laughed. He put his head in his hand and laughed quietly.
“You never got it, Lucifer, did you? You never figured it out. You absorb all the other facets of your evil, you seek to dominate them and lord yourself over all… and it’s a foolish venture. You arm yourself with sword and spear, but you have no shield and your weaknesses are too easily seen.”
“I suppose you have something better?” the monster cackled.
“Yes, I do.”
He held out his right hand, and in a trice every crucifix and cross from every installation through time and space flew to his fingers, whirling and wheeling in a heavenly chorus before coming together, forming one giant cross that became one terrible, swift sword.
“I arm myself with the word of God.”
He held his sword high in the air, and a Muslim moon spun forth from Mecca to land upon the cross, forming a glittering and impenetrable hilt.
“I protect myself with the words of Muhammad.”
He held out his left hand, and a massive Star of David glittered into view, covering his hand, wrist and forearm as a shield.
“And I shield myself with the ancient teachings of Yahweh. My armor is the strength of each good and righteous soul that fights here today, of every creed, race, and gender. I am their strength, the strength of the righteous personified.”
He gave the sword a test, swinging it round and round in a glittering arc. The blade sang beautifully in perfect harmony as it cut through the stale and tepid air. Lucifer guffawed.
“That’s all you’ve got? That’s all your gang of super-friends can do?”
Jesus shrugged, still smiling.
“You are the Christian devil, and as such I, the Christian savior, am held responsible. The time has come for the Divine to enter the fight, for the Prophets to take up arms.”
He struck his shield, and all three sung up a beautiful three-point song. Jesus raised the sword above his head, pointed the hilt at the Adversary, and held the shield before him. His smile had faded, and his eyes were cold and hard set.
“Now it ends.”

Hark!

The plains at Megiddo were scorched to a brown husk by Lucifer’s armies, leaving absolutely nothing of value in their wake. Everything that could have ever been anything was looted or destroyed, and a few fires still burned in the distance as the wicked of the world sat about, toasting their success. It was a grisly sight, with demon almost indistinguishable from human, each with blackened or blackening skin and hideous deformations, a mark of pride for evil ones, all clothed in the same charred, warped, Hell-wrought armor that only served to enhance their ugliness. However, to an evil person, what is evil appears good, and what is ugly appears beautiful. Thanks to the magic of Lucifer, and those like him, each member of the army thought themselves beautiful, deceived to the very last of their own superiority and right in their wrongdoing. Beneath a pile of defiled bodies, on which were perched several more awaiting, desiring the same treatment, Lucifer and the evil powers of the world sat and waited for the battle of Armageddon.
Lucifer was there, still as handsome and charming as ever, his magic powefurl and his illusion complete. He sat in warped splendour in his armor, a massive, two handed onyx blade at his side. He gorged himself with one hand on food and drink, casting most of it away for those crushed beneath him to fight over. With his other hand, he gorged in the flesh, taking and ruining men, women, demon, and all kinds in depravity before casting them aside too, as easily as he had cast wine and meat. Around him sat similar thrones of similar evils: Ahriman, from Persia; Iblis, the denier of Allah, Loki, from the old Norse, Shiva as the destroyer, Ancient Greece’s Demoness of Envy, and many others. All were foretold in different ways, on different lands, but all had reached the same conclusion.
The world, as we knew it, was to end.
“But of course,” Steve Waterhouse shrugged as he, Sara, and the rest of the Judeo-Christian alliance, the first echelon against the forces of evil marched on Megiddo, “That doesn’t have to happen today. Lucifer’s trying to force his hand, trying to bring something about ahead of time…or possibly bring something about twice.”
“Twice?” Sara said, readjusting her armor. Unfortunately, it was proving rather binding in the chest.
“Some believe that Armageddon already happened, and that we’re already living in the 10,000 years of darkness, or the reborn world, or we’re just a dream of a previous shattered reality. Whatever it is, Lucifer doesn’t know, and I suspect no one knows except the big guy. Personally, I wonder if the whole thing didn’t go down after Rome fell, and this is the new world.”
“Lucifer doesn’t know?”
“Nope,” Steve shifted his sword on the fly.
“But he’s trying to do it?”
“Early or late.”
“And you’re awfully flippant about this, Steve,” Sara’s eyes fell under hooded lids, “You’re doing that thing you do.”
“What thing I do?” he smiled innocently.
“You’re not telling me everything,” she hissed, “Just like when that priest checked into level three. What was his name…Heller, Henster…”
“Hensler,” he offered an answer, which only frustrated Sara more.
“See? You know all this stuff, Mr. Super-Devil-Man, so why don’t you let me in on some of the fun, huh?”
“Sara,” Steve said, a little worriedly, “It’s not that I know something. It’s that I believe something. I’ve got faith. I’m not all that worried about what will happen today because I know, somehow, it’s God’s plan and everything will work out all right. I know I can’t die, because I’m technically not alive, and I know that the rules of life and death are a bit skewed at the moment, anyway. I know I’ll probably get hurt, but with Thrones manning the med tents, and Seraphim guarding the Pearly Gates. I’m not too worried. It’s all a question of faith, Sara, and I can’t believe I’m saying that to you, of all people.”
“Faith is tough to keep going when you’re confronted with the unreal.”
“Nothing unreal exists,” Steve winked at her as they rounded a hillock.
“What book is that from?” Sara cocked an eyebrow, “Something from Buddhism?”
They came to a full stop.
“Star Trek IV,” Steve whispered to her.
“You’re awful!” She hissed back. There was a pause while the army readied itself. Pipers and drummers, and fife players came to the forefront.
“Nice touch,” Sara muttered out of the side of her mouth, “Was that your idea?”
“It’s easier to know that your redeemer lives if you’ve got the right music to back it up,” Steve answered back, “I was told to find an appropriate song for the army of Heaven to march on, and this kid from Wisconsin hooked me up.” They looked down at the massed enemy below, like a plague or a hill of vermin crowding around an ill-gotten scrap of food.
“There’s a lot of them,” Sara said.
“More than us,” Steve sighed, “But making the choice for good is not something everyone, or even most people, can do.”
“We’re gonna get help, right? From Jesus and all those guys?”
A stiff wind kicked up to ruffle Steve’s ginger hair. He shook it loose and smiled.
“You’ll see.”
Sara’s face turned red as a barn as she fumed, but dared not break formation.
“You’re a real ass sometimes, Steve Waterhouse.”
Another wind blew by, one of those strong winds that would often surge through the streets of Boston in late spring. It was one of those brisk winds that strengthens every fiber of one’s being and almost seems to whisper that indeed, there is some higher power behind it all and you will be protected by it, and all of the problems of this world will pass you by as simply as the wind.
“Sara?”
“Yeah?”
“I’m glad you’re with me.”
Down the mountain, and across the plain, the armies of evil were startled by a sudden noise that split the darkened, smoky sky like an axe. From atop the hill, each of the soldiers of Good sang out in voices that were amplified by faith, striking the first blow of Armageddon straight to their blackened, hardened hearts.

Hark, I hear the harps eternal
Ringing on the farther shore,
As I near those swollen waters
With their deep and solemn roar.

Hallelujah, hallelujah,
Hallelujah, praise the lamb!
Hallelujah, hallelujah,
Glory to the great I AM!

As the second verse began, the soldiers found they still somehow had the breath to continue singing with all their strength as they took broad steps down the hill in time with the fifes and drums. Before them, the armies of Evil scattered and stumbled to regoup.

And my soul, though stained with sorrow,
Fading as the light of day,
Passes swiftly o’er those waters,
To the city far away.

Hallelujah, hallelujah,
Hallelujah, praise the lamb!
Hallelujah, hallelujah,
Glory to the great I AM!

The voices of the angelic choirs continued the song now, Cherubim, Powers and Dominions lead by Archangels, all singing from above, leading the air assault.

Souls have crossed before me, saintly,
To that land of perfect rest;
And I hear them singing faintly
In the mansions of the blest.

Hallelujah, hallelujah,
Hallelujah, praise the lamb!
Hallelujah, hallelujah,
Glory to the great I AM!

The forces of Heaven, Heaven of all religions and paths that follow the belief in what is right, crashed into the forces of Evil as the same came to a close. The battle for creation had begun.

Gather Man

After those loyal in the afterlife had been assembled, it was time for those still loyal in living life to take up arms. After explaining again why those in Hell and in Heaven are fighting side by side, Sara and Steve surveyed the recruits.
“This is amazing,” Sara marveled, “All walks of life, all faiths, all genders…everything!”
“Well, Armageddon will do that for you,” Steve answered as one of the troops broke formation to turn away from him. Steve stopped in his tracks and regarded the young soldier.
“Something wrong, sir?”
“I do not want to look on you,” the young man replied with an edge of disrespect.
“And why is that?” Steve smiled and crossed his thin arms, eagerly awaiting the reply.
“You are the ruler of Hell… it is not right for one of the righteous to look upon you.”
Steve scoffed at this.
“And I suppose you disapprove of the demonic army’s presence here as well?”
“I do.”
The new Devil’s eyes flared as he grabbed the man’s face and pulled it forward, forcing him face to face.
“You see this? Are you burning? Of course not. I’m not evil, I’m just doing my job, you got that? The evil ones are out there, across that burning plain, waiting for us. Focus on them instead of your own satisfaction, because I can guarantee that they’ll do a lot more than just make you uncomfortable. And when one of those ‘unrighteous’ demons saves your pompous ass, I hope you’ll realize that we’re all fighting on the same side. Got it?”
He tossed the man’s face away with a grunt.
“Idiots. The world’s about to end and all they can think about is their exclusivity.”
Steve and Sara continued their inspection, noting anything missing, or anything needing to be reinforced. This would be no battle of tanks and bombs, but of flaming swords and lances; planes would instead be angels and flying minions of Lucifer, and guns would do no good against Heavenly or Satanic armors. Each threw their all into the allegiance of their camp, and prayed that their faith and devotion, to either side, would see them through.
“Sir?”
Steve stopped an inspection to address a nervous looking young recruit.
“Yes, soldier?”
“You are the ruler of Hell, correct?”
“More or less.”
“You have certain…powers?”
“Yeah?” Steve was growing impatient.
“That’s very good to hear,” the young man continued, “But…what of the others?”
“Others?”
“I heard of others joining in our fight, those who would bring their celestial power and those who would only fight for the most holy of circumstances.”
“Ah,” Steve nodded, “The Big Boys. Don’t worry, they’re on their way.”
“Is the Lord with them?” the recruit turned his frightened face to Steve.
“Metaphorically or literally?”
The young man gave a nervous laugh.
“Literally, if possible?”
“Sorry, Charlie,” Steve clapped him on the back, “That’s not how the Almighty works these days. Remember what happened when he got directly involved? Yeah, thought so. The thing is…God is God, he doesn’t understand us and we don’t understand him. It’d be like teaching trigonometry to a toddler: neither one is particularly wrong because neither one can understand the other, know what I mean?”
“I…think so…”
“So God isn’t here. To be frank, he hasn’t been here for almost 2,000 years. He’s been up there keeping an eye on everything, vowing never to interfere again, instead sending the best representatives he can think of: his Son, and all the prophets, near and far.”
Steve smiled and tousled the kid’s hair.
“Now, does that sound as bad as you thought?”
The recruit snapped to attention.
“No, sir!”
Steve and Sara kept walking, Sara diligently calling out every soldier’s name and waiting for a reply. Part of her thrilled at the charges she was given, but other parts of her were terrified, because she knew that soon, the battle for all creation would begin.

Rally the Demons.

“How could he have done it?”
Sara and Steve were busy inspecting a regiment of loyal demons for the upcoming conflict. Each horn was polished to a gleaming luster, each fang was sharpened to a deadly point. The troops stood stiff at attention in straight lines, very much in order and very perplexing to the new Satan.
“I was never much of a military man,” he confessed to Sara as they walked through, “Got almost no idea what I’m doing here. Do they look good?”
“They look good,” Sara muttered distractedly, but something weighed on her mind, “Steve, how did he get out?”
“Lucifer?”
“Yeah.”
“Well, sources are saying,” Steve pulled out the official Heavenly memo and scrutinized it, “That it is believed to be a group job. Somehow, Satan got in touch with his counterparts of the other major religions, the baddest of the bad guys, so to speak, and between all of them they managed to spring him. Now, they’ve got a tenuous alliance on the promise of a world split between them after the fall.”
“Counterparts? You mean the Devil has peers?”
“For every one good in a religion, there exists a bad,” he said, nodding to a sergeant. Soldiers of the regiment began mobilizing at rapid speed as another came in for inspection, “All from the same cloth, drinking from the same cup. but selfish and petty bullies through and through. It was the Christian Evil, Lucifer, that managed to convince them all that by working together they could rule over this world.”
“And that’s how American Idol started,” Sara said with a groan.
“Here’s the kicker, though,” Steve said with a little laugh, “All of the Evil weren’t expecting all of the Good to put aside their differences and ally themselves. In typical fashion, the Evil are spiteful and hateful of the good, and think very little of them. Though I have to admit, even I’m impressed that all these guys are working together. If only the mortals could realize…”
“That there’s always a chance for peace, even with religion?”
“Religion is the problem, Sara,” Steve began looking the demons over, “Religion is what kills, what tortures, what decides right and wrong away from deities or universal truths. Religion is a creation of man, but faith is a creation of a God. Faith is what you feel, right inside, in the bottom of your heart, that warm feeling of knowing you did what is right instead of the cold and icy pit you feel when you do something wrong. It’s faith that has demons fighting on the side of the saved, and it’s for reasons of faith I argued that forgiveness should come to those in Hell when their souls are clean and their faith is true.”
“Innocent until proven guilty, eh Steve?”
“There’s only been a few in the History of Man that have been truly guilty,” Steve said, his jaw setting and his eyes turning like stone, “Heinrich Himmler, leader of the SS and mass murderer. H.H. Holmes, founder of Chicago’s Death Hotel. Vlad III, known as the Impaler. Some people are simply beyond reproach, and they burn for it. But never, ever is the Good lost from you if you can see the difference.”
“And that’s why they fight,” Sara said softly, as a revelation, “That’s why these demons fight. They know the difference, they know good and evil, and they know that there is still hope for them, despite all they’ve done?”
Steve looked down at her with eyes that were no longer stone, eyes that were alive.
“There’s always hope, Sara.”

Here it comes…

It appeared that Nelson was right.
After what seemed like a small eternity of drudgery and paperwork, reconciling souls and running Hell like a well-oiled machine, all Hell broke loose…literally. The best guess from topside was that Lucifer had been biding his time, winning over some of the condemned souls and rallying his old loyal friends from the old days, eventually pooling his power and staging the biggest jailbreak of all time. Once out, he collected those who once rallied around him, mustered more dark troops from the wicked of the living world, and set his evil army up in a base near Megiddo. To all who knew, it seemed as if there could be no mistaking it.
“Well,” Steve said as he began gathering his papers into neat piles, “At least he’s got a soft spot for the classics.”
“And the dramatics,” Sara muttered as she watched him dilligently organize things, “is he really doing what I think he’s doing, Steve?”
“He’s trying to,” Steve said with a grunt as he yanked a drawer open and stuffed file folders into it, “He thinks if he forces God’s hand, he can bring around the final battle a little early.”
“Armageddon.”
“Exactly,” he slammed the drawer shut, “He’s really going all out this time: the first was fallen angels, the second was him alone, and now this…he’s got every weapon he can possibly think of. He’s just itching for a fight, he’s trying to see if I can get God to react.”
“Is he going to?”
“You tell me,” Steve clicked the latches shut on his briefcase, “everyone still loyal to God, above and below, is being called on. He’s mustering his own troops, including those loyal here in Hell, and that’s where we’re going today.”
He stood up from his chair, slid it under his desk neatly, and walked around the mahagony structure to face Sara.
“We’re being called to pledge the support of Hell. If this isn’t the end of the world… I don’t know what is.”
Sara saw then that he looked a little scared. Her eyes flitted to the desk momentarily, and she thought about how meticulous Steve had been about organizing it. Was he just nervous? A little panicked? Or maybe…was he leaving it that way for his successor, should he not come back? She would have asked him, but he gripped her hand suddenly and they were both transported in the blink of an eye to a very energetic and mobilized heaven, sitting before a tribunal the likes of which creation would probably never see again.
At the tribunal sat Jesus Christ, the prophet Muhammad, Abaham, Buddha, Shiva, and a number of other deities representing every religion the world over. One by one, different grounds of faithful or celestial beings would be called upon to plead their case and offer their services to the fight. After the Elders of Zion were approved, Steve’s case was the next heard.
“The tribunal calls forth Steven Ambrose Waterhouse, steward of Hades and its inhabitants, and Sara Donlon, executive assistant to Mr. Waterhouse, both representing the Christian underworld.”
“Thank you, Hermes,” Jesus said with a nod, and the willowy looking man flitted back to his place. Despite it all, Jesus’ face was still warm and gentle, though he lacked his usual smile, wearing instead a mask of a face that bordered on grave.
“I do not believe I have to tell you the situation,” he said, “and you are not blamed for the incident. The truth behind the escape of Lucifer is one none of us had anticipated, but it is one we must now be ready for. We call upon those in Hell still loyal to the the Light, who understand Hell’s purpose and its place, who know of the necessity of right’s triumph to join us in the fight against a collective evil. Do you, Steve Waterhouse, speak for all still in Hell when you answer the call?”
“Yes.”
“And do you,” Jesus turned slightly and fixed his eyes on Sara Donlon, the act of which would have given her a heart attack if she was still alive, “Vouch for those remaining in Hell that they know the purpose of Hell, the imperative for good to succeed, and the reason for their incarceration so that they will fight loyally for the Light?”
Sara gulped audibly as millions of eyes, the entire future of creation hinged on the word she would utter next. She closed her eyes and sought peace. The face of Mr. Drake appeared to her, smiling and nodding slowly, gently. She re-opened her eyes, and found the word for the world.
“Yes.”
“Excellent,” a hint of Jesus’ familiar smile played back upon his features, “You will repair to your chosen domain, as have all the rest, and await orders. You will know when and where to report, and when to move out to Megiddo. We cannot understate our appreciation for your strength and sacrifice, and I speak for all assembled when I thank Our Father above,” he spread his arms to include all present, “When I thank you from the bottom of my heart. The time has come.”
And with that, Steve popped them back into Hell, where a fresh, lumiscent memo lay on his desk: marching orders.
“Well,” he said, snatching up the paper and scrutinizing it, “we’d better get to work, hm?”

So you think you’ve got me figured out…

Sara had lost herself in all of those old thoughts as she was going through her paperwork one day, and noticed one particular name up for what could be equated to a parole hearing: Nelson Foy. Her first thought was pleasant, glad to see he got what he deserved. Her second thought was violent, where she said no torment they could devise would be fitting. Her third thought, which came much later, was one of panic, even of fear.
How could she deal with this? This was a man who had badgered her, annoyed her, defiled her, and fought tooth and nail to say he hadn’t. This was the man who ruined any semblance of a normal life Sara could have had following her parents’ death, the man who, to his dying day, believed he had done nothing wrong. How was Sara, in all reasoned judgment, supposed to make this call?
“We’re in Hell, Sara,” Steve said with his jaw firmly set, “not all the same rules apply.”
She had brought the file to his desk and raised her questions like a good employee. The minute Steve caught sight of the name on the form, he would say only that. Despite her protests, it would seem that Sara would have to face this despite the massive conflict of interest.
“Conflict of interest?” a demon guffawed as he escorted Sara to the hearing, “Miss Donlon… if I may?”
“You may,” she smiled, always thrilled by the politeness of demons for the good and decent.
“Well, Miss Donlon,”
“Call me Sara.”
“Erm…” his low, rumbling voice seemed ill at ease, “Miss Sara…if you don’t mind me saying…”
“I don’t mind, already!”
She had heard that the demons were kept in line pretty harshly during the old regime, and it was one of her goals to see that they loosened up a little. She’d had enough of military bric-a-brac at the Bureau.
“You have an awful lot to learn, is all,” the demon smiled embarrassedly, his lethal-looking tusks curling upwards from his lower jaw.
“I hope I never stop,” Sara smiled back. They reached the interrogation room and, after the demon insisted on opening the door for her, Sara sat down across the table from Nelson Foy, whose face immediately contorted into a mask of fury and hate.
“You bitch,” he hissed. No sooner had Sara sat down than she quickly reshuffled her papers and stood back up.
“Well, that settles that, no-”
With a snarl, Nelson made to leap across the table at her, but made it only halfway before being clobbered into the adjacent wall by the large, red fist of the demon. Sara backed up instinctively, a little shaken, and glanced over to her bodyguard. The demon gave her only a small nod and the tiniest bit of a smile before both of their attentions came back to Nelson, now bleeding heavily from the mouth and spitting out his words with his teeth. His voice was nasal, puerile, and challenging, just like the boy Sara had so often rebuked in his youth.
“You idiots,” he whined, clawing up to a seated position, “You’re all a bunch of fuckin’ idiots. You really think you’ve got things under control here? You think you’re really running the show? Let me tell you something, I was here in the old days, the nasty days, and Lucifer… there’s no way he’s just sitting down there feeling sorry for himself. He’s planning something, and you’ll all be the first to pay. I’d watch my backs if I were you!”
He began to laugh, not because it was entertaining, but more because he felt something had to be done to keep him from vomiting from the pain. Sara turned away from him, her face showing cold antipathy under hooded eyes.
“Do it.”
She said to the demon, and walked out. The moment she shut the door, Nelson Foy’s screams pierced through the heavy metal, finally ending his nervous laughter and seeking to knock the door of its heavy hinges. Rather than walk away, Sara leaned back against the door and drank in the sound, finally knowing that he was being right and justly punished and maybe, just maybe, he was feeling one one-hundredth of the pain he caused her. Steve appeared beside her, as was his custom, in a small puff of sulphorous red smoke. He was always one for tradition. With a click of his fingers, he placed a fuzzy pair of rabbit earmuffs on his head to drown out the screams, grimacing slightly as they did very little good.
“You did it,” he said plainly, leaning against the door with her and looking at the craggy, lava-rock ceiling.
“It did itself,” she responded, her voice a little husky. She felt no guilt for what she was hearing, what she was enjoying. She was a human being, and human beings are petty things that at their core beg for a semblance of reason and balance, no matter how brutal. It is only in their striving to move beyond such animal tastes that they truly become something more, something…human. Steve turned and looked at her, seeing a face that was not sad, nor happy, nor angry, but deeply moved to a point beyond one simple label of emotion. Tears streamed down her face, and her body trembled, but it was the most wonderful and intense feeling she had ever felt. Here, in Hell, in a land of death and fire, she felt more alive than she had in years. Steve gave a proud little smile and ran a hand over her thick, brown hair.
“Well done.”

DRAMA.

And so it was, for what seemed like years, that Sara Donlon worked as Steve Waterhouse’s special consort for the Damned in cases regarding the recognition of redemption. Try as he might, Steve just couldn’t help but see everyone as innocent and deserving of a second chance, often arguing at great length, like any good lawyer, as to why the person should be set free. It fell on Sara, more often than not, to play the voice of reason to Steve’s misguided idealism, and he thanked her for it, but could never quite see it her way. When it came down to that, Sara would usually say something along the lines of:
“You never understood why I went to church every Sunday, either, and look where you wound up!”
Steve would then point out that Sara was in here with him, too, but Sara was ready.
“Ha! You think this is Hell, being able to tell you you’re wrong all the time? This is my Heaven, Steven!”
She never talked about her “death” not even to her family in Heaven. She never even read her obituary. Something about it just didn’t seem real, so she didn’t see the point in it. Besides, she kept herself busy enough. Hell has a rather high turnover rate, after all. She eventually got used to seeing red-skinned, horned demons in business casual, hunched over desktop computers and filing their weekly Torture Permanence Study Reports, and seeing scantily-clad succubae answering the myriad of phone centers. All in all, it came to resemble her old job more and more, just with a bit less mysterious boss in the Lord Almighty. Processing souls was no different than processing case files, and both still came with that feeling of accomplishment, that good was being done and somewhere, someone was being helped.
Of course, that was what Steve had always wanted, to, but they had both gone about their dreams differently. Steve believed that people needed to be coaxed with the carrot on the stick, while Sara believed that the stick should just be used upon their heads. It wasn’t that she was malicious, she was just very strict and lived her life by a very stringent moral code, a code enforced all too well by herself and the guilt she felt over what she had done to Steve all that time ago.
His name was Nelson Foy, and he was a young paper-pusher at the Bureau who had a serious inkling for the paranormal. Sara told him several times that the Paranormal Department was not for people who wanted to live out their fantasies, but just another branch of the Bureau trying to keep the world safe. Nelson, being the socially stunted youth that most FBI recruits are, was so tickled that a woman was talking to him that he promptly set out to annoy Sara at every turn, often asking for dates. Each time she would mention that she had a boyfriend, Nelson would respond childishly that he was in the Bureau now, and he could have him killed, and Sara would roll her eyes and walk away, only strengthening Nelson’s resolve. In her heart of hearts, Sara never even entertained the idea of liking Nelson, but as Steve grew more and more interested in his work, and started having less and less time for her, Sara became jealous of people she’d never know. Her own loneliness came between the love they both shared for their common cause, and by that extension their love for each other, and in a moment of weakness, she gave in to Nelson.
He raped her. Sara felt there was no other word for it, and would correct others who sought to skirt the issue. There was no skirting this and, even though everyone in the Bureau advised against it, she fought Nelson.
She got Steve. She had to. He was the best. She told him everything, how she had felt, what she had done, and what had been done to her. For the first time in her life, Sara saw that passion she thought had always been absent in Steve as he ransacked his own pitiful apartment in a fit of rage, hot tears flying from his eyes as he kept asking “Why didn’t you just tell me, Sara?” over and over again. Sara had no answer. She was too terrified to speak. It only occurred to her then that Steve had always loved her, and always would love her, and had worked himself to the bone to make a life for her, only to have her repay him in this way.
From that point on, both Sara and Steve became fairly emotionally dead, committing themselves to their jobs one hundred percent. They couldn’t get back together. Steve’s pain and Sara’s pride wouldn’t allow that, even after all these years. Nelson was tried, convicted and condemned thanks to Steve’s brilliant full-court press. Mr. Foy was drummed out of the naval service, dishonorably, sent to jail disgraced, and eventually killed by one of the people Sara had helped put in jail as well. His reason? She had never done him any harm. She had been kind. She did what she had to do.
Steve never charged Sara for the months-long trial. Sara always knew, however, that she would pay for it forever. Steve was always a very passionate man in everything he did, and a wound so deep, from one he truly trusted and confided in, was not easily healed. Steve went on to become the premiere fight-for-right lawyer in Boston while Sara toiled away in her entry-level job in Virginia, shunned by the rest of the staff for fear that they would fall under the gavel next. Had Sara ever taken the time to read her obituary, she would have found out that it said more about Steve and his court case than it did her, but that was how it had to be, especially with the Bureau. Besides, Sara would have liked it that way.
And so it was that Sara and Steve worked together, yet stayed apart. They were cordial, they were friendly, but every time Sara thought she was making an in-road, Steve would stop it and find something else for her to do. For a man who’d lost his family at such a young age, it was only necessary that he made sure to protect himself first and foremost. Sara understood this, but she was stubborn, and she hadn’t planned to stop any time soon. In fact, if it hadn’t been for all the trouble that happened, she may have still been trying to this day, truly showing no sympathy for the Devil, and refusing to give him his due.

Friday Nights are busy…

It was a few hours later, and Sara was sitting at her desk a few yards away from Steve’s, filing paperwork. In a way, it was almost as if nothing had changed from her work at the FBI. Despite what TV would have you believe, most of the paranormal unit’s function was sifting through pages and pages of papers, debunking the nutjobs and sending agents to further investigate the particularly curious ones. She was only called into service when things got really weird, and they needed an expert on the stuff outside of shooting and shouting. Even then, she could only remember going on a handful of assignments in her almost ten years at the bureau, and most of which involved someone speaking an alien language (or a made up one) that she had the ability to translate. For most people, learning Klingon was a hobby. For Sara Donlon, it was just all in a day’s work.
So there she sat, filing again, this time applications for redemption, recommendations for temporary incarceration, level transfer packets, and the occasional complaint form. Oddly enough, it appears that people will still complain even if they are in Hell. An especially curious one came from a man who deemed his torture not effective enough after he had spent his earthly life lusting after women. Apparently, he had found salvation near the end, but had to pay for his misdeeds, and some of his suggestions were…upsetting. Other than that, it was fairly run of the mill, and nothing she couldn’t handle. Outside of the office, however, when Steve called her into the field, it was quite a different story.
“I’m not much for field work, Steve,” she glowered as they headed down to Level Five.
“Sara, do you know why I chose you?”
“I don’t know,” Sara said with a smirk, “Maybe this is my torment?”
Steve laughed a bit at that, and opened one the door to level two.
“You’re a good judge of character, Sara. I’m all good at figuring out who is guilty and who is innocent, but when it comes to redemption, I draw a bit of a blank sometimes. After all, we’re in Hell, wouldn’t some people want to lie to get out of it?”
“That doesn’t sound like something a super-powerful Devil like yourself would say,” Sara replied, “Can’t you just get inside their heads or something?”
“Sadly, no,” he sighed, “Most of my powers are strictly for show, I’m a figurehead and an organizer. The Big Guy decided that the replacement shouldn’t have as much power as the original did, sort of a dividing of powers, I guess. I’m afraid most of the evil stuff: temptation, jealousy, envy, et cetera…we still farm that out to Lucifer. It’s another reason why he’s a little sore about the whole thing.”
“You’re basically relegated to making sure things run smoothly and parlor tricks?”
“Seems that way.”
“Figures,” she shook her head, “I never really had you pegged for an evil kinda guy.”
“Thanks, I guess,” Steve rolled his eyes as they entered level three.
“I mean that, you know,” Sara said as the door closed with an ominous boom, “you’re a good man.”
Steve stopped and gave a sad little smile.
“I know.”
“That’s certainly modest of you,” Sara pulled a face, “Here I was trying to be nice.”
“You were never not nice, Sara,” Steve kept walking. Sara was really beginning to get frustrated with all of this damn walking, because she knew it was his way of distancing himself from a problem.
“Bull, Steve!” she chased after him, “That’s bull and you know it. I was mean to you, probably meaner than the thugs that killed you, and this is why! You always run away, you always avoid the conflict and hide in your work! Even when I…”
She stopped. She didn’t want to say it.
“Even when I… went to another guy… I didn’t want to, but I remember hearing something in the back of my head hoping to God that this would actually get you mad at me…but it didn’t. You always hide, you always run away, just like you’re doing now, Steve! You–!”
There was a flash of light, and Sara was back in the office. Furious, she tore out of the executive space and into the sea of cubicles. Making her way to the far side of the room, and the old, medieval looking wooden door that would lead back to the Levels of Hell… but she found it locked. Her fists hammered the ancient structure and she pounded on the door, seething.
“Only parlor tricks, eh Waterhouse? Can’t zap out of the Levels of Hell, can you? Oh, you lying little runt!”
She gave up the pounding because the thick, spiky nails were beginning to hurt. Apparently, in Hell pain was still an option. She sunk down next to the door, sitting on the floor and nursing bruised and bloodied knuckles. The moment she had calmed down, and unbeknownst to her, Steve Waterhouse had materialized behind her. His voice was low, and even, and still infuriating for Sara Donlon to hear.
“Now you know, Sara, that I do have some power, but that I try not to use it.”
He placed his hands on hers, which made her wince.
“But as a devil, I can’t heal you. I can’t make you feel better,” he pulled her up to her feet, and she gasped a little at the pain, but he held firm and smiled a little.
“Then again, I was never really good at that, was I?”
Sara could feel her face flushing. She started to remember all the memories: good, bad, and otherwise, and everything Steve had been to her, had meant to her, and all that he was continuing to be. She didn’t want to move ahead, she wanted to sit and to pout, but her sense of duty, that sense that had always been so strong, kept her level.
“Well, you’re certainly enough of a jerk to fit the job description sometimes,” Sara muttered darkly. Her eyes flitted about, trying to avoid his gaze, but were eventually drawn upwards and caught his, and they both smiled.
“So I’m the Devil, and you’re my ex-girlfriend,” Steve said in an unbelievably casual fashion, “Big deal, right? Business as usual.”
“Sure thing, boss,” Sara nodded with conviction, even though the words seemed odd when applied to the lanky, red-haired clod she knew.
“So can I count on you? Can we do business when it’s time for business and… other things when it’s time for other things?”
He blushed a little after saying that, and in those words he didn’t speak Sara saw what she had really been looking for. She plucked the Wayfarer sunglasses from his breast pocket and put them on herself. tossing her hair and adjusting the lapels on her sensible, Bureau-acceptable suit. With a scowl that had been taught to her by years of television forensic dramas, she gritted out what she hoped was a catch phrase.
“Let’s go.”
They both re-entered the Levels, but they had gone only three steps when Steve had snatched the sunglasses back and replaced them on his own face.
“Awwwww, come on!” Sara whined, snatching for the shades.
“No way. I’m the Devil, I get the sunglasses.”
“But they look stupid on you!”
“Well, your face looks stupid on you!”
Sara responded to that last barb with a gasp, and immediately gave Steve and elbow to the ribs. They continued down the hallway in this manner, laughing and joking, just as if they were still back on the streets of Boston, one FBI agent and one pro-bono lawyer, heading out to a long lunch. In fact, for a few of the demons who passed them by in the hallway, it would have seemed as if a messy breakup had never occurred between the two, but the relationship of Sara Donlon and Steve Waterhouse had always been one that could not be understood from a simple glace or a passing encounter, and things weren’t about to change any time soon.

See? Toldja.

“I passed?”
“Yup.”
Steve Waterhouse kept right on walking, up and out of the rings of Hell, but Sara Donlon held her ground.
“What do you mean I ‘passed?'”
“What do you think I mean?” Steve said, turning around and tucking his hands into the pockets of his blazer.
“Don’t get all mysterious on me, buster,” she sneered, “I’ve seen you without pants.”
Steve heaved an exasperated sigh.
“You won’t let this drop, will you?”
“No.”
“Even though I’m the ruler of Hell?”
“Uh-uh.”
“All the powers awarded to Satan?”
“Nope.”
“And to think, they told me people would fear me when I took this job,” he said bitterly, “Fine. Let’s get out of here, and then I’ll warp us up to a coffee shop topside and we can talk. Sound good?”
“You try to run away, Waterhouse, and I’ll track you down,” Sara grinned and waggled a finger at him. Despite his frustration, Steve pulled a tight-lipped smile.
“Where would I go, Sara? New Jersey?”
“Huh.”
They kept on walking past the rows and rows of doors where people met their celestial punishment. Sara, however, was never one to let anything drop.
“You know, New Jersey’s not all that bad…”
“Oh, hush, would you?”
“Nah.”
Steve turned red, but this time it had nothing to do with his occupation.
“I’m supposed to be the devil,” he muttered to himself, “But that does that change anything? No, she’s still just as bossy as ever.”
“What are you muttering up there, Grumpy?”
“I’m just remembering all over again why I never took the initiative in our relationship. No matter what I would have done, you probably would have criticized me for it!”
“I would not!”
“You told me I was spreading butter wrong on my toast!”
“You were sloppy!”
“See?”
“Oh, bite me,” Sara wrinkled up her nose, and the two finished the walk in silence. They emerged from the door, blinking in the bright flourescent lights of Waterhouse’s business-inspired offices Hell. At a nod from Sara, Steve clasped her shoulder (even though she had offered her hand) and the two were immediately whisked to a bright, Tuscan-styled coffee shop in Heaven. The place was fairly secluded and, apart from a table full of beatniks in the corner, it was silent.
“This place is almost never empty, but it’s quiet enough,” Steve said as he sat down, “Just leave Ginsberg alone over there.”
“That’s really Ginsberg?” Sara asked, “I would love to talk to him.”
“Why? So you can tell him that ‘Howl’ inspired generationd of insipid college students who thought they were deep?”
“You know, you’re an ass sometimes,” Sara said, a little hurt.
“It’s part of the job description, Honey,” Steve smiled back, “what do you want to drink?”
“Erm,” she scanned a menu quick, and then made to say her order, only to find that Steve had said the same thing at the same time.
“Just plain espresso.”
“You’re as predictable as a sundial, Sara,” he said, relishing in her small victory. Sara, while a little perturbed, was secretly impressed at his amount of fiestiness. Maybe it WAS part of the job description. A Throne waiter zoomed by and took their order (everything always seemed so prompt in heaven), which left them alone and left Steve with no more recourse.
“So tell me, Ginger,” Sara said, leaning forward with a wolfish smile, “Why did you tell me I was being tested, or some such nonsense?”
“Standard operating procedure asks that the new recruits are not informed that they are tested, lest it change their attitude toward the test. Every new recruit, Heaven or Hell, has had to sit before Lucifer and deny temptation. It used to be his favorite part of the job, but now he just finds it annoying. Anyway, what happens is that sometime during the basic tour, the recruit is taken down to be tested, and if they can refuse it, like you did, they can get approved to work.”
“But what if they fail?” Sara said almost immediately. Steve gave a little smile and spoke in a low, gentle voice.
“Failure up here isn’t exactly what it is down there, Sara. Think about it: if you fail in your mortal life, what’s the worst that can happen? Eventually, you could fail yourself to death. Not so much a problem up here. As such, failure really isn’t seen as a bad thing, more like a chance for improvement. Those who don’t pass the test, but still want to work, have a little time to prepare themselves and try again. I don’t quite know how to say this, but the Big Guy’s kinda big on failure as a teaching tool.”
“Makes sense to me,” Sara sat back and stretched on the iron cafe chair, “Humans are basically a study to see what they do and don’t screw up.”
“If you only knew,” the red-haired Devil said with a shake of his head. As usual, Sara couldn’t let it drop.
“If I only knew what?”
Steve looked panicked for a moment, then swiftly pulled out a red and black cell phone with two little horns functioning as antennae. Sara snickered at the phone’s design as Steve placed a hurried call.
“Yes, VP of HR, ASAP. Hi, yes, it’s Steve. Little question for you: can I tell my new EA about 666?. I can? You sure? Okay, sounds good.”
He flipped the phone shut with a sharp “clack!” and a small puff of sulphorous smoke.
“I wish you wouldn’t interrupt our dates on the cell, Darling,” Sara said with mock-malaise, “who was it?”
“Vice President in charge of Human Relations.”
“You mean Jesus?”
“Yup.”
“Cute name. Was all that your idea?”
“Mostly. It’s also a way to keep the Type A, business personalities busy up here. Some people’s personal heaven involves coming up with acronyms for everything.”
“Yeesh,” Sara pulled a face, but tried to pull it back as the handsome young angelic waiter returned with their drinks. The Throne smiled and was immediately off, half walking, half gliding on his wings.
“What did you get?” she asked, her curiosity getting the best of her embarassment.
“I call it a Goober Mocha,” Steve said proudly, stirring a swizzle stick around a veritable mountain of whipped cream, “It’s your standard chocolate and coffee drink with some peanut butter dropped into it. It’s greasy and gross-looking, but it sure tastes good!”
“Steve, you’d put peanut butter and chocolate on and old boot and say it’d taste good.”
“Because it would,” he responded with a fair bit of petulance, scooping the gob of whipped cream off in deft motion and jamming it into his mouth.
“Crimony, how old are you?” Sara scoffed.
“Sebbeh,” the new Satan gurgled around a moutful of goo.
“Well, swallow that mess and tell me about 666, as if I can’t guess what it already is.”
Steve did as he was told and continued stirring his drink.
“It is Lucifer, you’re right,” he said, still stirring, “But it’s probably not what you think. You see, God is, well… God. We can’t really understand his thought patterns, but basically God has talents. God is an artist. Any talented artist feels one compelling thing: to create. When you have the power God has, you create existence.”
“I knew some artists in college who thought they were God,” Sara said with droll groan.
“So, first things first, he creates something out of nothing. Hard work, right? Takes millions, billions of years. And once he’s got it, he needs someone to live there, right? Now keep in mind that at this point, in a manner of speaking, God is still young, and fairly idealistic. He decides that his creation should be idyllic, perfect, without the ability to do wrong so as better to serve him, the creator. After all, you don’t just create something and let it go, you put your mark on it, you like to still be involved.”
“Do you have to stir that thing constantly?” Sara asked irritatedly, as Steve was still animatedly swishing the swizzle stick back and forth.
“Yeah, actually,” he replied, “Or else the peanut butter will settle out. So anyway,” he took a drink and sighed with the ecstasy one does when one gets what one wants, “God creates the angels. They’re perfect. They do exactly what he wants to do. He’s happy with his creation… but not for long. Just like every artist, God feels the need to evolve his work, and he has the ultimate canvas in front of him…but where to go next? These angels are amazing, spectacular, absolutely flawless…but they don’t have that panache, that chutzpah, you know? Suddenly, around the time he’s got plants and animals on the Earth, it hits him. Brainwave. Something so amazingly creative, something so revolutionary, it’ll be the kind of project one can really hang their hat on. Do you know what he creates?”
“Humans?” Sara said with a shrug.
“Close!” he fired back, now very excited, “He decided that he will create the idea of humanity. Not blind obedience, not clear, unadulterated goodness, but the idea of free will, the idea that people can choose to do right or wrong, even to believe that he, the creator, does not exist. You’ve gotta understand, Sara, this is like showing a TV to Cro-Magnons, it’s something no one has ever done before. He’s breaking the rules, sort of. The idea of creation is to make something that can pay tribute to you. You don’t paint a painting no one will buy, know what I mean? But God, he’s there, he’s totally thinking outside the creationary box. So, he takes what he knows, and he tries to improve upon it: he makes an angel that can THINK. He makes his Most Beautiful Angel: Lucifer.”
At this point, Sara put down her cup and regarded Steve with a mix of disbelief and awe. Steve, in response, slowly nodded and continued.
“This was an angel that could feel things like pride. This was an angel that could see how things were done, and form his own opinions. Most importantly, this was an angel that could speak his mind, and convince other people. Lucifer looks at God, looks at the world he’s created, and thinks he can do better. Through this, we get the Angel Wars, and Lucifer’s first incarceration. At this point, everyone wonders one thing…”
“Why didn’t God just destroy him?” Sara burst out, a little too loudly. The Beatniks over in the corner scoffed as Steve answered.
“Exactly. That question, of course, brings about the issue of fallibility, and whether God can make a mistake. If it makes sense to say so, God’s only mistake is being perfect. He created Lucifer to have the best of both worlds, and it was too much power. God basically did too good of a job, a job he’d later have to make purposefully worse to create some other creatures: muddy, mortal little things who often do horrible things, but can also be redeemed so easily…”
“You’re kidding me.”
“No. Lucifer was God’s overclocking the system, and he had to scale things back to make sure his whole idea didn’t literally go up in smoke. But still…Lucifer was his creation and God, being something we can never understand, loved him in that way God loves everything, and would not destroy him, even rewarded him in a way. Lucifer wasn’t a mistake, in effect he was necessary to create the duality in which we humans live our lives. It’s almost as if God knew what would happen with Lucifer, and planned it all along, sacrificing his most beautiful creation to create the world he so wanted: a world unlike his own, a world where mistakes can be made, a world where people can be good and turn bad, or bad and turn good, unlike his ever-unchanging world. We are God’s masterpiece: we are perfect because we are imperfect. Anyone can put together the pieces and make something that works, but we as humans still can’t create something that works and yet doesn’t…and we never will. Because we are not God, and neither is Lucifer, no matter how much he wants to be. He can’t understand, Sara, he can’t understand why a perfect world would be imperfect, he can’t understand how the human factor, the ability to be wrong, the ability to feel and to think freely works into making the world perfect BECAUSE it is imperfect… which is why he fails.”
“And we know that God likes it when we fail,” Sara finished her espresso with a curious glint in her eye, “because he knows that we can learn from it, and he’s hoping some day Lucifer might come back to the light?”
“Some day,” Steve finished his drink in one chug, “but it won’t be soon. When someone is that perfect, and realizes that they are perfect…it’s a hard road to admit that anyone’s better.”
“Oh,” Sara snorted into her napkin, “Like I’ve never encountered that before, Mr. ‘The Controller must be broken, I never lose at Mortal Kombat!'”
Steve Waterhouse smiled and flicked his swizzle stick at her from across the table.
“I still say you cheated,” he stuck out his tongue, “You simply can’t freeze people while they’re blocking!”
The two went back and forth like that, sniping at each other like they always did, but they found this time they were laughing a lot more as they did so. Of course, this ruined the atmosphere for the Beatniks, who angrily threw down their napkins and left the little coffee shop, in search of more dreary places to decry the state of things. It seemed that, even in Heaven, some people found their bliss in complaining.

Wherein Sara meets Satan

It was black. Sara could find no other description for the Tenth Level of Hell other than that it was black. Somehow, Steve Waterhouse seemed to know where he was going in the absolute absence of light, and as they walked a bit Sara began noticing that it was more than an absence of light, but almost all sensation. Sound seemed to die as soon as it occurred, the once persistent smell of brimstone was nowhere to be smelled, and the black was all around them, seeming to muffle aand kind of feeling.
“Steve,” she began, feeling her words fall to death in the heavy atmosphere, “What is this place?”
“It’s the newest part of Hell,” he replied, guiding both of them through what seemed like absolutely nothing, “Did you ever read about the Angel Wars?”
“A little,” Sara muttered, wanting desperate to grasp at Steve’s sleeve, but finding its black fabric just as invisible in the void, “I saw that movie about it, with the funny-talking guy and that guy from Lord of the Rings…”
“Well, that’s basically what gets called the Dark Ages down on Earth. Basically, humanity fell into a bit of a pit because God was busy fighting off the armies of Lucifer. Lucifer lost, was banished to watch over Hell, and God came back to things in time for the Renaissance. There was a bit of a tiff over whether or not Heaven should call a do-over on the Dark Ages, but the eventual decision was that it wasn’t God’s style to fix things, particularly human things.”
“So Lucifer was banished to Hell, I remember that part,” Sara furrowed her brows in concentration, “There’s that famous line… ‘better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven, right?'”
“I see someone paid attention in Lit class,” Steve said with a smile, his pale skin almost glowing in the lightless area.
“Well, after nearly a milennia of human progression, but not essentially progress, Lucifer decided it was time to try again. This time, it wasn’t an all-out war, because he knew he would lose. Lucifer had been an angel himself, and he knew how they thought. He tried to undermine the organization from the inside, saying that God was making mistakes.”
“Can He…it…make mistakes?”
“Frankly? No,” Steve made a right turn, not that Sara would have been able to tell, “But Lucifer thought he was doing the wrong thing, letting humanity move closer and closer to its inexorable destruction. He tried to make the case that all of God’s prophets had failed, and that humanity would turn away from any kind of Divinity entirely and destroy itself soon. Rather than see all the work go to waste, Lucifer argued, it would be better to create a more idyllic world where something like the Holocaust wouldn’t even be thought of.”
“A reset button?” Sara scoffed a little.
“Effectively,” Steve shook his head, “Naturally, this didn’t go over well with most of the top brass, but Satan is Satan, and he managed to convince a few and even wound up breaking into Heaven and into God’s sanctum, with the intent of killing him.”
“Killing God?!” Sara’s eyes goggled at the thought, “How is that…”
“It’s a nightmare even for the Divine to contemplate,” the red-haired devil rubbed the bridge of his nose to avoid an oncoming headache, “but let’s just say that Lucifer wanted the throne, because he thought he could do better, and…well…he failed.”
“You make me sound like a bad guy.”
In an instant, the dark realm was filled with a smooth and calming voice, and a handsome, well-dressed man blinked into existence in front of Steve and Sara. His hair was dark, and looked well combed under a New York Yankees baseball cap, and his tanned skin was punctuated by two piercing blue eyes with strikingly dark lashes, and a small, well trimmed, pointed goatee. Sara gave a yelp and stumbled backwards, but Steve held his ground.
‘Hello, Lucifer,” Waterhouse said with unwavering calm.
The handsome man smiled, opening his arms in welcome.
“And the Replacement. How are things? It’s been too long, you know, I get lonely down here.”
Steve remained calm and uninterested with what Lucifer had to say.
“Things are well, thank you, but I’m not here for me this time. This is my new assistant, Sara Donlon.”
“Oh, REALLY now?” the former Satan beamed, poking his charming face around Steve’s shoulder to regard the woman, “Bringing in the ex to work for you? Seems awful spiteful, doesn’t it? Degrading?”
His smile was at once smug and endearing. Steve paid it no heed.
“Not really. She’s the best around.”
“She cheated on you, you know.”
“I’m aware,” Steve’s eyes remained hooded and lifeless, while behind him Sara turned a bright shade of scarlet and rose to her feet.
“Aw, come on, Stevie! Show a little bit of something, won’t you? You haven’t even said anything about the hat,” he gestured to the insignia, “I figured a Bostonian like you would hate something like this.”
“I’m more of a hockey fan,” Steve’s eyes slowly drifted to the left.
“Bah!” Lucifer clicked his fingers and the hat disappeared, exposing well shellacked black hair with two red horns protruding near the forehead,
“Well, you’re no fun,” Lucifer pouted, turning instead to Sara, “and that story you were telling, what hogwash! Saying I failed, I didn’t fail, did I, buttercup?”
Sara couldn’t help it. She knew who he was, and what he was, but he was charming, so charming, so comforting in his voice and mannerisms. Her mind danced with a million of manufactured images of her getting what she always wanted: her parents and grandparents still alive, that little cabin in Idaho, a pug and an Irish Wolfhound, even if she lost a few pounds, and always Lucifer was there, smiling gently, being by her side, making he feel good, helping and goading her on. He was offering her a paradise, but his presence was constant, and unpleasant. She kept her face straight as Lucifer continued.
“I chose not to win. I saw everything that ol’ Yahweh had to deal with on a daily basis and decided it wasn’t for me. But then God, ALWAYS overreacting, said that I wasn’t even fit to rule in Hell anymore, and created this extra level just to teach me a lesson, isn’t that unfair?”
His eyes were arresting, but Sara held firm. Her FBI training was still ingrained, but she supposed Quantico never expected an interrogation like this.
“Unfair would seem to mean trying to kill someone, I would think…”
“Oh no, not both of you!” Lucifer pulled a face and pouted some more, “I never get visitors, and usually it’s just like I’m in some zoo for people to gawk at. ‘Lookie, kids, don’t do what he did, that’s why he’s all chained up down here!’ Bullshit. I’m chained up down here because I wanted to change things for the better, and the regime didn’t want to lose their spot. I’m the victim here, I’m a political prisoner! I was going to make things better!”
“Then why didn’t you?” Steve’s voice showed a little bit of emotion, the Lucifer immediately began to feed on it.
“Because, I told you! Too much work. I don’t want what He has, that’s for sure!”
“That’s not how I heard it,” the ghost of a smile flitted around Steve’s lips, “I heard that God showed you once second of what he experiences every day since creation, and it nearly drove you mad.”
“Lies!” Lucifer shrieked, “All lies! I would have made things better! I had a plan! No more suffering! No more death! No more hunger and starvation and genocide! I would have created a better world, a world in a perfect image, my image, not a world in the fractured image of that Impostor! I would have done it right, it would have been perfect! It–!”
“It wouldn’t have been human.”
Sara’s simple declaration stopped all activity that Lucifer had previously been up to. For a beat, there was once again no sound, no touch, no taste, no sight beyond themselves, not even the smell of Lucifer’s expensive cologne. Then, with the roar of all his fury, Lucifer disappeared in a cloud of smoke and fire, and silence reigned again. Steve’s shoulders slumped, his eyes closed lazily, and he drew several heavy breaths.
“Ugh. Thank God that’s over.”
With a wave of his hand, the exit appeared beside them, and they made their way out, but not before Lucifer, in a voice that sounded tailor-made for Hell, called out one last jibe.
“I’ve still got on more in me, Waterhouse! You’d better watch it…third time’s a charm!”
Steve closed the door on the ranting, maniacal laughter of Lucifer as it pealed through the empty dimension The two began their long walk back up through Hell, and for a long time there was nothing but the sound of their feet on the stairs and the odd scream or desperate plea from the eighth or ninth circle. Then, after what seemed like an eternity, Steve spoke in a low, weary voice.
“Congratulations.”
“Congratulations?” Sara blinked, confused, “for what?”
“You passed.”

one weekend’s worth of Waterhouse!

"I don’t suppose you could install an elevator?"
Sara and Steve were descending a massive, ancient looking staircase, on their way to see the one who originally had had Steve’s job…Lucifer. The winding way was constantly flanked by wooden doors that seemed to be impossibly placed directly next to, and on top of, each other. As they walked, it became obvious that this was not going to be a short trip.
"The idea was raised at a few meetings," Steve looked back over his shoulder, "but ultimately it was decided that the stairs helped keep a sense of gravity to exactly what you were doing and where you were going. Putting in an elevator would seem to trivialize, marginalize exactly what we do here."
"No Drive-Thru Hell-o-Matic, then?"
"Basically," Steve smiled a little bit, and kept walking, "we’re around the fourth or fifth circle now. It’s still technically Upper Hell, but these are the absolute worst you can get before we really start dropping the hammer."
"Or the pitchfork," Sara commented.
"The key here," he stopped next to one of the doors, "is that Upper Hell is for the self-indulgent. If you do stuff for your own gratification, with knowledge that what you’re doing is wrong, you’ll probably wind up here. Mostly petty stuff, a lot of repeat offenders, and a high turnover rate. We like to really drive the point home in Upper Hell by giving the subject exactly what they don’t want. Since most of these people are here for being selfish, we like to find a way that not only educates, but prevents further selfish episodes. For example…"
With a click of his fingers a clipboard appeared on the door, not unlike a patient chart at a hospital. Pulling it off a peg on the wall, Steve studied the various papers before reporting.
"The guy in here was rolling in dough, bought a six million dollar house he never even used, and refused to give to charity. After a week or so being homeless on a simulated New York streetcorner, he’s usually ready to admit his faults."
"And then what?" Sara cocked an eyebrow. Steve shrugged.
"It’s usually good for a few weeks topside. Either they can have some shore leave up in Heaven, or they can take care of any unfinished business on the living plane. You know, ghost, poltergeists, what have you."
"Are you kidding me?"
"Now Sara, why would I do that?" Steve smiled innocently and went back to walking, "You see, the Big Guy’s smart enough to know that people, that is, human beings, wouldn’t really know what to do with themselves in a truly flawless paradise. Humans are never happy. So instead, your afterlife is basically whatever you want it to be…but the rules still apply. Sure, we get some people that still want the old-fashioned, sinless harp & lyre existence, and they can have that, but most people just want to sit and have a beer with their friends again, you know?"
Sara thought about it a minute as her steps moved involuntarily down the stairs.
"Makes sense, I guess. So Beethoven had broken the rules, I guess?"
"Oh yeah," Steve chortled, "He does it more often than we’d like to admit, honestly. Once he heard the Christian version of Ode to Joy, he went on a bit of a vulgarity kick, and that’s definitely enough to earn you about a week’s worth in Level One. Although sometimes, I can’t blame him. A lot of praise music sucks. I mean, what was wrong with the old stuff?"
"They’re just trying to put it in a new, more modern perspective, Steve."
"But it doesn’t add up. Back then, the praise music was the top 40 hits, know what I mean? Guys like Bach or Handel were rock stars…especially Liszt. Today, instead of taking the classic and popular stuff of the old days, the real cream of the crop, they’re trying instead to imitate the popular style, which ends up watering down both the product and the message something horrible. I mean, why not use the stuff when it was a world standard?"
"You’ve had a lot of time to think about this, haven’t you?" Sara gave a grin, letting it slide, "So where are we now?"
"Around six or seven, and here we’re getting into violent sins. There’s a much lower rehab rate down here, because when someone’s just violent by nature, it’s a lot tougher to try to break them from it. Believe me, we’ve got some of History’s best thinkers paying constant visits to the ward, and even they’re stumped."
"I’m sure Freud would probably just say it’s all tied back to our mothers or something." she said with a roll of her eyes.
"He’s gotten better as time’s gone on, from what I hear, but the best one was apparently Nietzsche. Imagine his surprise when they called him up to the Big Guy…"
"I guess he found out he wasn’t dead, eh?"
"And then some. It’s kind of hard to be an atheist in the afterlife."
They chuckled a little and kept walking. After a few minutes, Sara broke the silence with something other than their feet hitting cobblestone.
"Cripes, Steve!" she suddenly blurted, "How much further is this damn thing?!"
Almost immediately after she had said it, her eyes grew wide and she clapped both hands over her mouth. Steve stopped and turned around when he heard Sara’s footfalls cease.
"Don’t worry," he said with a placating smile, "we work in Hell. Essentially, we can be as depraved as we want."
Her eyes lowered, and she slowly peeled her hands back from her mouth.
"Really?"
"Really."
"Aren’t we still technically working for…"
"Yep. But being in the positions we are, it’s almost expected that we let fly now and again. Gotta love those loopholes, right?"
He began walking again as Sara hurried to catch up, muttering under her breath.
"Damn lawyers."
They walked for a while longer, forever downward and to the left. Sara tried to read a few of the doors as they passed, but they were all too numerous to keep track of…especially at the speed Steve was walking.
"We’re almost in Level 8 now," he announced, "There’ll be less rooms, but let’s just say things might get more intense. This is where the malicious get punished, and the best way to get something across to the malicious is, well…to be more malicious. Rehab rates here are almost nothing. If you start to hear screams, don’t worry, they deserve it. These are the people that really and truly deserve what they get. They’re almost not human."
"So is that where we’re headed?"
"No," he said as the doors on the wall began to look darker, ravaged, possibly burnt, "We’re headed to Level 10."

Joyful, joyful

Steve Waterhouse was at home. That, of course, means he was at work. A sentimental and rather old-fashioned soul, he had taken to checking in the newest arrivals to Hell by means of old, library-style ink and stamper. Fortunately, having the celestial powers given to him by the Almighty allowed him to convert them to whatever format he deemed necessary as the New Devil… but the old stamper just had such a feel of purpose, of tangible meaning. Condemning an adulterer to three months of torture seemed to really stick if you stamped “PROCESSED” on it with blazing red ink. Somehow, it just wasn’t the same when those words glowed red on a computer screen. He was merrilly humming “Ode to Joy” in rhythm with his stamping when Sara Donlon, Steve’s ex-girlfriend and executive aide, exploded into his office with a belching gout of flame.
“I see you’re getting the hang of transport,” Steve said distractedly, returning to his humming without looking up, “The brimstone is a nice touch.”
Sara grabbed him by the collar of his deep red shirt and hauled him up to face her. She wore an expression of supreme anger and frustration.
“What are you trying to pull, Waterhouse?”
Steve knew that tone of voice before. However, unlike the other times, he didn’t know why she was so upset.
“What? What’d I do?”
“What did you do?” She shoved him back into his chair, sending papers, both stamped and unstamped, fluttering everywhere, “You lied to me, Steve! You weren’t coming back here to lock up Beethoven, were you?”
Steve looked absolutely perplexed.
“Actually, I was, and if you’ll listen…” He tapped the call button on his desk intercom and immediately the office was filled with ranting and raving of the most vehement kind, completely in German. Sara was not impressed.
“So that’s him?”
“That’s Ludwig.”
“So you were here locking him up the whole time?”
“It wasn’t easy. He bites.”
“So…” Sara’s voice was still nonplussed, “You wouldn’t know anything about the Karamazov family, then?”
“I think I learned enough of them in my living life, Sara,” Steve groaned and set about picking up the papers.
“Steve,” she said his voice firmly, and tore his gaze away from the papers to look him squarely in the eye, “I can deal with a lot of things. I can deal with working in Hell. I can deal with you taking me out of my life on Earth, no problem. I dealt with a lot of really nasty stuff when I was with the FBI. But I can’t deal with you lying to me.”
Steve blinked twice and smiled gently.
“Well then, you’ll be glad to know I’m not…” he offered placatingly. Sara could no longer disguise her disbelief.
“Oh, honestly! The whole family burned to death from flaming rain, how could you not be a part of that?!”
“What?” his eyes opened wide and he looked straight at her.
“The whole family’s dead, Steve. Did you call in a favor with the Big Guy or something?”
Although still shocked, Steve gave a sigh and a chuckle as he picked up the stamp.
“Looks like you’re still not used to the way time works around here. You have the option to see all of the past, present, and future here in the afterlife, and more often than not you see what you want to see. My guess is either you wanted to see some justice done after reading my file,” he shot her a sidelong glance, “and ask next time you want to do that, please…or, you wanted some reason to yell at me. And if I learned anything from our time together, it’s that you’d gladly want either one.”
“Oh, don’t be so smug,” Sara groused and flopped down into a chair, “I’m new at this, okay, and I just thought…I thought that, you know, you’d be hiding things from me, like we used to…”
“Sara,” Steve put the stamp down on the desk with a dull clunk, “You worked in top secret FBI files and I defended Mafia snitches. We had reasons to hide stuff back then. Now…well, to Hell with it!”
He grinned. She groaned.
“Do the bad puns come with the territory?”
“Nah,” he grinned, “They actually made me build this office because I was annoying the demons too much. Apparently they weren’t used to having a new boss, you know…the Devil’s in the details…”
“Oh, stop!”
“Come on, give the Devil his due.”
“Aaaagh!”
She snatched the stamp from the desk top and was about to launch it at Steve’s head when a new manila folder seemingly blinked into existence and dropped gently into the “IN” basket. As she watched him read it, Sara knew what the folder contained.
“Well,” Steve said, putting it back into the basket, “Certainly doesn’t have the piquancy it would have…”
“Sorry.”
“Nah, it’s okay,” he leaned back in the chair, plopping black Chuck Taylors onto the desk, “I really wasn’t in the mood to see them again, so I wouldn’t have been dancing or anything.”
In the baffled silence that followed, Sara clocked that Beethoven’s rants were still echoing through the intercom.
“Is that still him?”
“That’s still him.”
“What’s he saying?”
“Nothing pleasant.”
Sara sighed heavily and did something she never liked to do: apologize.
“I shouldn’t have gotten so angry with you. For all I know, you can’t even do things like that. I’m sorry.”
“Rains of Fire are definitely the Big Guy’s Department,” Steve turned his gaze upward at the ceiling, “I just process the product. If you have a suggestion, you can give it to the Human Resources head, but very rarely does God take suggestions. It’s kind of his way or the highway as far as events go.”
“Who runs Human Resources?”
Steve busied himself trying to stick a pencil in the ceiling tiles, “Jesus, of course.”
“Of course,” Sara rolled her eyes. She knew working here would take some getting used to.
“So how did things work during the, uh… old management down here?”
“Not well, from what I’ve heard,” he tossed another pencil and watched it clatter to the floor, “Apparently the time before I was hired was NOT a good time to be in Hell…and that’s saying something.”
“Yeah, so what ever happened with that?” Sara leaned forward in her chair, “How did the old guy get the axe?”
Steve finally managed to lodge a pencil in the ceiling. With a victorious hiss of “Yesss!” He removed his feet from the desk and propelled himself forward, palms slapping onto his desk. He smiled across the mahogany surface with a childlike glee Sara usually equated with him discovering a new sandwich at Arby’s, or when he had just won a particularly difficult case and was going to take her out to dinner…at Arby’s. If the Mafia hadn’t killed him, all that roast beef would have.
“Say,” he continued smiling past his ginger hair and freckled cheeks, “You wanna meet him?”

Welcome back, Waterhouse!

“Well, I’d say you’ve had a devil of a day,” Steve said, cracking his knuckles nervously as the walked down a Heavenly office corridor.
“Ha ha,” Sara laughed drily, still a bit poleaxed by everything she’d seen. One question threw itself against the forefront of her mind, until she couldn’t help but let it all tumble out.
“Steve, how did all of this happen, anyway?”
Steve stopped in his tracks, and the reality around him seemed to flicker a little as he heaved a heavy sigh.
“That’s a long story.”
Sara stopped herself, a few steps behind, hands on her hips and a furrowed, unimpressed brow.
“Steve, we’ve got all of eternity. Spill it.”
“You know, I have taken most of today off for your orientation,” he tried to change the subject, “I do have to work around here.”
“I’m sure they’ll call you if something comes up,” Sara’s voice was still deadpan and dripped with sarcasm, “now tell me.”
“Sara, I-”
“Steve!”
“Okay!” he started to remember why they broke up in the first place. She was always so demanding, just had to know what was going on all the time, anywhere and everywhere. She never knew when to take it easy, and you know there’s a problem when a lawyer tells you to relax.
“I don’t particularly like talking about this, all right?” He began to pace, hands shoved firmly in the pockets of his black slacks, “I mean, the whole thing starts with me getting beaten to death by the Russian Mafia…does that sound pleasant to you?”
“Stop being such a baby,” Sara smiled just a little bit, trying to walk the line between good-natured curiosity and a shrewish browbeating, “I’m genuinely curious, all right? This isn’t like working the fryer at White Castle, Steve, you happen to be in control of an entire celestial realm!”
“Not exactly,” he said, hesitantly, “I answer to the Big Guy. So consider me Execute Vice President of Pitchforks and Lake of Fire Cabana Boy.”
He smiled. So did she. But that wasn’t going to stop her.
“That’s very cute, but you’re not getting out of this, Steve.”
“Oh, come on!”
“Come on yourself, I know how you are!” She waggled a finger at him half-threateningly, “I ask you a serious question, you say something cute, and soon we’re both laughing and the whole damn topic’s been completely derailed!”
“Well, you can’t blame a guy for trying…”
“You’re doing it again!”
“Sorry,” Steve hung his head momentarily, looking upward from underneath his sideswept bangs of ginger hair, “I missed you, you know.”
“Blah blah, whatever. Start talking.”
He gave a little chuckle, shrugged, and began.
“I angered the wrong people. Their names were, and I kid you not, the Karamazov brothers. I guess getting teased about that all their lives made them tough. Anyway, they were leaning on some guy not to spill the beans, or borscht, or whatever Russians don’t want spilled, and likewise leaning on me to stop representing his case. Me, having that lovely reputation of not giving up, told them they could stuff it, and they beat the ever-living stuffing out of me in one of Boston’s back alleys. Funny, I could think of a thousand people who said they owed so much to me, but in the end I was all alone…well, apart from the six guys wailing on me…” he laughed nervously, uncomfortably, and went on, “I fell funny, hit my head, and everything went black. When I woke up, I was standing before St. Peter (really nice guy, by the way) en route to the Christian wing of Heaven. I was put into an initiation group that included a old lady, a cancer patient, a formerly-drunk teen, and a few other “Naturals,” meaning they hadn’t died in any particularly spectacular way. Well, before I could even get my complimentary tote bag, I was whisked away by a few seraphim up to the Big Guy himself, who said that he liked my style, and the Hell needed a little bit of renovation. I said yes, of course…I mean, it’s God, what else are you going to say… and then I decided I could use a second in command, ergo you. Happy?”
Sara still didn’t look satisfied.
“A little short,” she sniffed, “I wonder if you’re leaving something out.”
“Well, I’d give you a longer version, but we’ve still got a few more things to worry about and…”
He was cut off by a cell-phone version of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” Scooping the phone out of his inner breast pocket, he answered it.
“Waterhouse. Yep…okay…yeah…sure, go ahead, I’ll be there in a minute.”
He hung up the phone with the speed and skill of a lifetime businessman, and turned sheepishly to Sara.
“Turns out I have to run a few forms. Beethoven heard that the church changed ‘Ode to Joy’ and lost it. Someone’s going to need a time out, methinks. Er…” He started to look rather uncomfortable, “Sorry, but we’re going to have to cut this short. I’ll finish it up later, but until then…why not visit some of your relatives while you’re up here? I’m sure Gramps and Gran would love to hear from you, and they’re only one concentrated thought away…”
Sara smiled despite herself. Steve, always putting work ahead of everything. Some things never change.
“You know what?” she shrugged, “That sounds like a good idea. When would you like me back at work then…boss?”
Steve couldn’t help but feel the blood rushing to his face as he blushed furiously.
“Bah. I’m not the boss. Not even Springsteen’s the boss up here, not when…y’know…He’s around.”
“That’s awfully spiritual of you, Mr. Waterhouse,” Sara chided him with a grin, “And here I thought you cast off your vestments with your home-made Mass.”
“Well, working in the direct employ of the Almighty will do that for you,” Steve grinned back, then added clumsily, “See ya.”
He was gone in puff of red smoke, a dramatic touch, but it fit, and Sara was left alone. Immediately, the austere office setting began crumbling around her, replaced once more with Sara’s Catholic version of heaven, with everything from clouds to cherubs. Catching one of the passing little angels by a chubby leg, she flashed what used to be her FBI badge, now of course altered to say “Department of Hell.”
“Excuse me there, Roly. Any chance you could get me the file on Steve Waterhouse?”
The cherub gurgled and giggled and zoomed off, returning almost instantly with a simple manila folder. Sara immediately skipped to the back.
“Subject was accosted by several members of Karamozov crime family. Subject allowed family members to walk and talk with him, past several bystanders and a police dispatch unit until reaching a secluded alley, whereupon the ultimatum was issued to the subject. Subject, convinced all harm for others was out of the way, denied to cooperate and was beaten. Subject was struck in the head, and ceased life on Earth.”
Sara wiped away a tear and sniffed loudly. The cherub offered her a handkerchief, which she politely denied.
“You idiot, Steve. Just like you, not wanting to get anyone else hurt,” she paged ahead and noticed a new file had begun on his time since arriving in the afterlife. However, as she was about to close the file, one more piece of paper, seemingly hastily typed, popped into the folder. Sara picked it up and read it.
“Earth Life Addendum: Following death of subject, funeral held in Boston, Massachusetts. Funeral attended by thousands, including past clients, their friends, family, loved ones, et cetera. Largest non-military or non-political funeral in Boston to date. Three days after funeral, headquarters of Karamozov family burned. Though suspected to be arson, eyewitnesses report seeing fire seemingly ‘fall from the sky.’ Karamozovs immediately interred in Hell, and seen to personally by Subject, now new master of Hell.”
Sara slammed the folder shut with an angry slap.
“Beethoven…ha! Ode to Joy, my ass!”

Do you say “file” or “filing” cabinet?

“Hey, you now what?” Steve said as they passed yet another colossal column of cabinets, “Why don’t we get there a little quicker?”
And in an instant, he was flying, hovering gently about ten feet off the ground, his hand extended downward toward Sara with a gentle smile on his face.
“Care to join me?”
“What in the hell are you doing?” She shot back in disbelief.
“Heaven, actually,” Steve countered before Sara could take it back, “And we’re in Heaven, remember? Not only that, but we’re employees, the world’s basically one big celestial oyster for us. Come on, flying’s not that hard. Really, all you need to do is think of things that make you happy and your spiritual buoyancy will carry you up. I’m thinking of cheeseburgers as we speak. Remember those ones we used to get at O’Sullivan’s? I still like taking trips down there from time to time…come on, think!”
Sara hadn’t moved from the spot and, although her eyes were scrunched up tight and her fists were clenched at her sides, she just couldn’t get an inch off the ground.
“This can’t be right,” Sara said with a pout, “I was thinking of Christmas with Gramps and Gran…I can’t think of anything happier!”
“Okay, I lied,” Steve said with a giggle and a roll of his eyes, “actually all you have to think about is flying for it to work.”
She floated up to his level with her arms crossed, and a sour expression that couldn’t hide the grudging admiration she felt for the joke.
“You jerk.”
“Shouldn’t that be ‘you devil,’ Sara?”
“Oh knock it off, Tinkerbell. Now where do we fly to?”
“Take my hand,” he extended it once more, “and I’ll show you.”
She did so silently, looking into his face, but immediately went on the defensive and squeezed his hand like a vise.
“Don’t start thinking this is going to go anywhere, Buddy,” she sneered, “Just because you got me a job and all doesn’t mean we’re gonna have a chance again, got it?”
“Understood,” Steve whined, and immediately made his hand pop like a balloon. Sara, still new to the situation, was surprised enough to fall a few feet, stopping herself and raising again to see Steve blowing in the one thumb he had left and effectively “reinflating” his spent hand.
“You enjoy this job way too much, Waterhouse,” she said with a roll of her eyes. Steve took Sara’s hand once more, without complaint this time, and they were off. They zoomed across the cobblestones of the way, which beneath them began to buck and swell until they were a beautiful blue river, perfectly reflecting the two flying figures above. On they flew, the wind brushing by their faces in a wholly exhilarating experience that made Sara’s heart sing and her spirit soar along with her. Just think, all those people dreaming of flying, and here she was…living it!
Well, sort of.
They touched down gently in a corridor that looked identical to all the other corridors they had passed up, over, around, left, right, and through. However, on this one, each of the cabinets was marked with different combination beginning with the letter W. As Steve pored over the cabinets (sometime hovering up to see the top rows) he began to speak to no one in particular.
“Put it in English, of course. I tried putting everything in its original language, but to memorize all of that! The Cyrillic, the Hiragana, the Kanji, the Arabian alphabet…woo! Just a little too much. As such, all the Wus and the Wangs and the Wallaces and Watals and Wagners and, well… whatever! A-ha! Here we go…Waterhouse!”
He gave a file, one certain file in a list too many to count a small tug and it immediately shot out hundreds of yards across the rematerialized cobblestones, with Steve riding the whole thing like a bizarre rollercoaster, cackling with glee. When the cabinet drawer finally stopped, it was not an inch from the other side and the adjacent cabinet, almost like it had been designed that way.
“Man, that is my favorite part!” Steve chuckled, and began walking on the files like a tightrope, looking for exactly the right one. He went down to his hands and knees and poked his head over the side, his ginger hair dangling into his eyes.
“Well, what are you waiting for, Sara? Float on up, I’ve got something I want to show you!”
Sara did as she was told, more out of curiosity than anything else.
“This” he said, lovingly patting the file that stretched before him like an anaconda, “is an account of everything I ever did in my life, and everything I’ve been doing here in the afterlife. I put them in files like this because, well, I like it. And besides, what’s cooler? What’s more heavenly? One single computer database, or all these cabinets? Up here, I like to think we work it old school, like they would have back then. The scope, the enormity of it all, the-”
“I get it, Steve,” Sara said, settling down next to him, “so what’s the big deal? Obviously, you didn’t want to show me just a big honking file cabinet… right?”
“Ah, that’s Sara Donlon for you,” he laughed and began ticking through files, “Not even a filing cabinet the size of Loch Ness is going to impress her. Always more with you, isn’t it? Never satisfied, never happy…”
He stuck out his tongue in such a manner that Sara decided to be kind, and hit him on the top of his head after he had put the tongue away. After another giddy little laugh, he found the file he was looking for. Sara couldn’t help but notice that Steve seemed a lot happier in this current life than his past one. The phrase “better off dead” seemed to apply, but somehow she figured it was something more than simply being able to turn the world into chocolate on a whim.
“Ha! Yes! I knew they’d have it. Here, take a look.”
He thrust a file into Sara’s hands and, with a sigh, she started to read. So much mystery, Steve, couldn’t you at least tell me what I’m looking for?
“Sunday, April 4th, 1982. Subject wakes, 8:04 AM…you got up at Eight AM on a Sunday?”
“I was a weird kid, okay?”
There were a few more entries, of disturbingly intimate nature, but Sara decided to skip them.
“Subject wakes parents, 8:26 AM. Subject asks parents to go to church, 8:26 AM. Subject is immediately denied by parents, 8:27 AM…you used to go to church?”
“I wanted to,” Steve laid back on the massive drawer and sighed, “Thought it was important when I was a kid, but Mom and Dad never seemed to think so, so by the time I grew up, I’d gotten into a bad non-habit, you might say. Keep reading.”
“Subject engages in makeshift Mass in parents’ kitchen with younger sister, 8:48 AM.”
“Me and Mary,” Steve smiled, a far away look in his eye, “I grabbed a little grape juice, a few pieces of bread, we sang a few songs we knew, said a few things we’d heard in catechism about God being great, ate the bread, drank the juice, and went and watched cartoons.”
“That was what you wanted me to read, Steve?” Sara asked perplexedly as she handed back the file.
“Pretty much,” he said with a shrug, “Part of me wanted you to know that I wasn’t always a godless little heathen,” Sara rolled her eyes a little and smiled, “but I also wanted to tell you a little story.”
The two of them hopped down from the massive file cabinet as it snapped shut with a clang. They began walking back the untold miles to the entrance of the room at a surprisingly leisurely pace.
“”Technically, according to some believers of some faiths,” Steve said, hands in his pockets, “what I did with my little sister that Sunday morning was a direct violation of God’s will, that I was impersonating a priest, and that was enough to warrant me a trip to hell, only as a tenant and not the concierge.”
“Oh, Steve,” Sara shook her head, “You were just a kid, though…”
“I knew what I was doing, Sara,” Steve’s eyes were suddenly hard and serious, “I was old enough to know that. I did it anyway, I did it for myself, I did it for Mary, not because it was right or wrong in the church’s eyes, or in some people’s eyes, but because it was right in my own eyes. You can call me an idealist, but I think God put us here with enough sense to know when our eyes are telling us to do something good or bad. We’re not just little automatons that fall into lock step. If we were, what would be the point of it all? Humans are meant to make mistakes, Sara. We’re meant to go against God, we’re meant to screw up. If we don’t, we’re not human, and that’s where you truly begin to violate God’s plan. Those who go around saying that they know what’s going on, they know what God is thinking, they know more than another human… to me, Sara, they are the real sinners.”
The metal door suddenly flashed into existence, as Steve had willed it into being.
“We can’t hope to understand what God is thinking, but he gave us enough sense to know right from wrong. All we have to do is listen to ourselves, what’s really in our hearts, and keep faith that He will understand, and all is forgiven.”
He opened the door and walked back out into a corridor that now resembled a moderately priced chain hotel’s hallway. Sara was held in a lot of silent thought as she followed Steve, her former boyfriend, effectively the new Devil, down the hall. She began to think of all of her transgressions, and she began to think of her faith, and she couldn’t help but notice that Steve was walking tall, straight and upright, with a purpose she had never seen in him before. This was more than simply being “better off dead,” she thought. For Steve Waterhouse, this was finally being able to accomplish the dreams he had talked about for years, the dreams he had talked about ad nauseam while they had been dating, the dreams that seemed too ridiculous and out of reach that she had eventually chided him and sent him away for it… Suddenly here, it seemed, Steve could do what he always wanted to do, and she, Sara Donlon, was there to help him.
And in spite of herself, in spite of her own hard, calculating, FBI agent nature, she smiled.

Happy Anniversary, Waterhouse!

Steve met Sara as she came out of the celestial bar, her eyes shining with amazement. She was walking as if she’d drank too much, although she’d barely had any.
“I just met…Jesus…”
“Yep,” Steve grinned and helped support her.
“And…the Apostles…with Mohammad…”
“He keeps them out of too much trouble.”
“And I met…well, kinda met…GOD!”
“He’s not much for conversation, but you can argue with results!”
Sara turned a sour face to Steve, as if to say, “quit making jokes, this is important!” Steve relented with a smaller, but still radiant, smile.
“Sorry,” he shrugged, “you just get used to it after a while. I mean, I meet up with Jesus, Mohammad, Buddha, and so on every third Wednesday for a team meeting. We try to see how we can make the world a little better place, and see if we can’t try to anticipate what the big guy does next. We do a good job…sometimes. Those hurricanes and tsunamis, though…he’s tricky with those…”
“But they’re necessary, right?” Sara tried walking on her own again, “I mean, God doesn’t want us to have a perfect life. That’s what heaven is, isn’t it?”
“You’re catching on,” Steve turned to her with a wink, “It’s not so much maliciousness, it’s just automatic, what has to be done. If we had all lived perfect lives down there, heaven would probably seem like a step back. On top of that, the whole human experiment is to see how we cope, more or less…”
“Experiment?!”
“Well, God doesn’t think of it as an experiment, per se,” Steve shrugged as they passed what was probably a replica of Eden, “but sometimes I think we are. You know, just to see what can happen, if we can survive, and most importantly…if we can still keep the faith.”
He had stopped at what appeared to be an unassuming metal door. This was strange, at first, because they were still in Sara’s concept of heaven, and they were walking on clouds beneath beautiful azure skies, and passing various sets of golden, wrought-metal gates.
“What’s this door doing in the middle of a cloudbank?” Sara asked, ready for anything.
“Hm?” Steve looked confused for a moment, then understood, “Ah! You must still be projecting your view of Heaven. Neat, huh? You can go on believing whatever you want heaven to be, and each person can go forever in their own personal little place. I suppose, these days, we’d call it iHeaven, or something stupid like that, but hold on a minute, let me see if I can force my perception over yours. It’ll be hard, though, because you’re new and your preconceived notions are still running pretty high. Just…let your ideas go, just for a second…”
He began to fiddle with the metal door, and suddenly Sara’s cartoonish view of Heaven began melting away like the snows in April, until they resembled a very well-appointed, high functioning office building. Sort of like one a high-powered lawyer would rent in a landmark, art deco skyscraper.
“Steve!” Sara huffed indignantly.
“What?” Steve asked as the door, and Sara’s perception, finally gave way.
“Your ideal heaven is back at a stupid lawyer’s office?!”
“Well, for right now, yes,” he shot back defensively, “I’m at work, aren’t I? So why shouldn’t work look like work? Here, if I wanted the world to be made of nothing but chocolate and peanut butter, I could…is that what you want?”
Almost immediately the sky began to turn two shades of brown: one dark and rich, the other tan and creamy. Steve broke off the door handle, which now resembled a chocolate peanut butter cup candy, and offered it to Sara?
“Doorknob?”
“No! Turn it back, turn it back!”
“Oh, all right,” He sighed as he stuck the peanut butter cup back on the door, which immediately reverted to its boring, metal state, along with everything else.
“See what I mean? I’m working, so I make it look like work, only a NICE work. I never had an office like this when I was alive, remember? Remember that awful, drippy broom closet? So I consider this my reward.”
“And Reese’s Land?” Sara put her hands on her hips, scrutinizing him.
“Well, that’s for my coffee breaks,” Steve giggled, opening the door the rest of the way, “You should see the trouble we have when the Muslims die, there’s perpetual virgins running around everywhere!”
They stepped inside the room, and once again Sara was not ready for what she saw. It was your average, gray concrete filing room, completely unadorned and lined with filing cabinets…only it seemed to be about the size of the Rose Bowl, and was completely lined with rows and rows of filing cabinets, alphabetically arranged, with not a punctuation out of place.
“This is how I keep things organized round here,” Steve said as he began walking down a path that looked like the Great Wall of China, “I don’t have to have all these cabinets, I could just beam it all into my brain, but…old habits die hard, eh? Now come on, we’ve got a long way to go, all the way down to the W’s.”
They began walking down the path, cabinets watching over them like silent metal humonculi.
“So what exactly are these things?” Sara couldn’t help but asking, all the time feeling like she was on some bizarre field trip.
“Files.”
“Thanks, you ass.”
“You’re welcome.”
“No, really. What are they?”
“Like I said, they’re files. Files on people. On their lives. Their deeds, their misdeeds, their loves, their losses, their hates, their fears, all the way down to whether they like crew socks, or those ridiculous ankle kind. I’ve got to know everything about everyone that comes through here, good or bad, so I can properly prosecute them at their hearing.”
“Hearing?!”
“Another one of my ideas. Basically, we let them argue their case before the most impartial judge of all, but they at least get a say. Now, for people like, say, Charlie Manson, it isn’t going to matter, but the formality makes people feel a lot better about a period of torment in Hell.”
“Only a period?”
“Yeah, don’t you remember?” Steve knocked Sara on her head lightly, “Another part of the new system I implemented is reconciliation. Basically, since there’s no Purgatory (and never was, by the way), I thought it didn’t seem fair that a guy who cheated on his taxes once got burned for life, while the same punishment fell to, say, Jack the Ripper. So I put everyone through a newly devised screening process, and reorganized the levels of hell, offering time off for good behavior, so to speak. Now, the baddies don’t ever really get to leave, but for the minor offenders, it offers them a little bit of respite and, by the way… seeing Heaven and having to go back into Hell is often a better punishment than anything I can do down here.”
Sara didn’t know whether to smile or cry at that last remark. Her head still throbbed with so many questions.
“Punishment, you said? What do you do down here? Still got the lake of fire and the pitchforks and stuff?”
“Well, sort of. The former is used to heat the place (at government-regulated room temp, naturally) and the latter are almost purely for show. You see, as I was screening people, and composing these files, I learned that you can only have your intestines lit afire so many times before it gets boring. So, using people’s fears, people’s annoyances, even things that people love, we’ve been able to create a more wholly horrible experience that gets inside the person’s head and, actually…”
He produced a line graph, a pointer, and a tripod easel out of thin air.
“Offers us a better rate of true repentance and reconciliation, along with a far more efficient way of getting the point across, helping people come to a realization faster, improve efficiency, and greatly help our bottom line.”
Sara stood amidst the monstrous cabinets, stock still, her mouth agape.
“You made Hell…a business?”
“Of the most noblest cause, my dear,” the props disappeared in a puff of smoke, “we are saving souls.”
They continued walking, Sara shaking her head and chuckling softly to herself.
“What’s all the giggling about?” Steve asked over his shoulder.
“Only you…” she sighed, “only you would take control of Hell itself, and make it so damn geeky…”

Sara has a liquid lunch

Sara Donlon wasn’t quite sure if she was about to accept this.
She was going to have a drink with Jesus Christ.
A liquid lunch with the Son of God.
Unreal.
“If you think this is nuts,” Jesus smiled as they walked down a marble hallway, “just wait ’til you meet the rest of the gang.”
“Gang?”
Jesus just smiled. Sara noticed he did that a lot. A smile of complete warmth and gentleness, a smile of someone who just has nothing on his back.
“You’re awful…chipper for being Jesus.”
“Beg Pardon?”
“Well,” Sara scratched at the back of her head, “I just expected you to be more, you know… holy.”
“And there’s nothing holy about being completely free of worry?”
“You got a point there.”
“What good would it do me to sit and moan all the time? That’s something I never got about you Catholics. At what point did I ever say, ‘get up early on the weekend, go to a building you can’t stand, hem and haw half-heartedly through a service, and torture yourself because you think it signifies faith?’ That doesn’t sound like faith, it sounds like stupidity.”
“Because God’s not listening?” Sara thought back to her chat with the Almighty.
“It’s not that he doesn’t listen,” Jesus began, “it’s that he can’t. It’s one of the reasons I was sent down, to give a human nature to the big guy. I did my bit, I got the point across, and what do people do a few centuries after I get done? Completely take it the wrong way. Just go about your life being happy and, the best way I’ve found, is by making other people happy. That’s it. No prayers, no worshipping, no flagellation of the mind or body…just be good. For Christ’s sake, be good!”
“That sounds egotistical coming from you,” Sara grinned.
“Do you know what the definition of madness is, Sara?” Jesus was smiling again, “It’s someone who does the same thing over and over and expects a different result. Why go to church and pray to God and beg him for forgiveness…and wind up being 99% disappointed? Do it for you, don’t use God as some crutch or headmaster who is going to keep you on the straight and narrow. On an individual level, he couldn’t care less. He’s got all of creation to mind, for cryin’ out loud, he doesn’t have time to watch over everyone. I swear, I tried to get these points across…something got lost in translation.”
“Yeah,” Sara said as they turned left off the hallway and opened a solid oak door, “My Aramaic was never all that good.”
The bar was open, and when I say that I mean that it basically had no ceiling, but your usual clouds and sky. You know…”Heaven stuff.” The interior was still all marble and fresco, very classical, reminding Sara of the photos she’d seen from a friend’s trip to the Venetian. There were angels working the bar and the floor, identifiable from the others only by the wings being sported on their backs. The wingless, of course, were patrons, and as Sara and Jesus headed toward the big booth in the back, she saw folks like Benjamin Franklin, Socrates, Marie Curie, William Faulkner, Franklin Roosevelt, Elizabeth I, and various others having drinks and chatting each other up. Strange as that seemed, Sara could not prepare herself for the fourteen individuals who sat in the monstrous back booth.
“Sara,” Jesus smiled that smile, “this is the gang.”
“…Apostles?”
“Mostly,” one of the swarthy looking men said, rising and shaking her hand, “Peter.”
“Hi…” Sara mumbled back, still a bit shocked.
“She’s taking it pretty well,” Peter smiled.
“Better than some,” Jesus smiled back, “remember when we messed with Falwell?”
“He had it coming!”
And the banter continued as Sara was given a seat on the end of the circular booth.
“Not quite the Last Supper,” one of the apostles joked.
“Yeah,” another one winked back, “I never did get why they all made us sit on one side of the table.”
“S’okay,” a third said, “we stiffed ’em on the tip!”
And all at the table broke into good-natured chuckles.
“Wait!”
Sara’s voice finally erupted into the merriment.
“Yes?” Jesus said, cradling his head in his hands.
“There’s fourteen Apostles here.”
“I said we were mostly Apostles,” Peter patted her shoulder.
“But that still only makes twelve.”
“Thirteen,” Jesus corrected her.
“You mean?”
“Yes,” a thin man toward the middle of the booth sighed exasperatedly, “It’s me.”
“JUDAS?”
“Ugh,” he sighed again, “This ALWAYS happens,” but his smile belayed any real frustration.
“Sorry. I just didn’t, you know…”
“Expect to see me in paradise? Thanks,” he stuck his tongue out and giggled.
“Do you mind if I ask how?”
“Well, miss, let me let you in on a little secret. That guy over there… yeah, him… he happens to be the Son of God, y’know? Heal the sick, raise the dead, fish and loaves, yadda yadda yadda. As God’s manifestation on Earth…don’t you think he may have known this was coming?”
“…yeah…”
“In fact, did he not mention it during the Last Supper?”
“…yeah…”
“So, if he knew it had to happen, because it was a way to keep the balance, which his Dad is SO big on… don’t you think he might have understood why I had to do it?”
“Because it had to be done.”
“Exactly. Sure, it drove me pretty much bonkers and I killed myself over it…and yes I did do a nickel in the joint, so to speak…” he jerked a thumb downward, “but Dr. J over here knew it had to happen, so I was forgiven. He’s the Son of God, remember, not the son of Satan.”
“I guess…that makes sense,” Sara smiled, “How often do you have to tell that story?”
“A lot,” the other apostles sounded in unison.
“He’s got it worked out to a science,” said one.
“Yet it’s still so darn entertaining!” said another. They all exchanged another good-natured laugh.
“So who’s the last guy?” Sara continued on doggedly.
“Matthias?” Jesus asked.
“No, I know who Matthias is.”
“History’s greatest backup,” said a man with a smile toward the other end of the booth, which Sara assumed was the man in question.
“I meant the fourteenth. One of you isn’t an apostle.”
“Or Jesus.” Jesus said with a wink.
“I was not an apostle,” said one man sitting next to Jesus with a more serious look on his face.
“So who are you? Joseph? Lazarus? Don’t tell me Pilate got forgiven too!”
“No, no…” Jesus shook his head, “well, yes, he did, but he usually hangs out with the other Romans. This, Sara… is Mouhammad.”
“REALLY?” Sara said, stars in her eyes.”
“That is me,” Muhammad said, the ghost of a smile playing on taciturn features.
“What are you doing here?” Sara couldn’t help but ask.
“He’s the DD!” one of the apostles joked.
“He’s a prophet of God, just like all the rest of us,” Jesus smiled, “we all like to hang out once in a while and sort of shoot the religious breeze.”
“We all have the same purpose,” Muhammad said, “I just wish some people down there would realize that.”
“You and me both, brother,” Jesus commiserated, but only briefly, “Say, I’m parched. Anyone else?”
There was a general murmur of agreement.
“Hey, Dionysus!” Jesus asked a passing angel jokingly, “can I get a whiskey?”
“Whiskey?” Sara was aghast.
Jesus looked back at her and smiled that smile again.
“Honey, if they had had Whiskey at Cana, it’s what I would have made.”

Sara finds Jesus

Was this as it was? Or merely as she wanted it to be? Sara couldn’t tell as she stood in a gloriously lit corridor, flanked by fluffy cumulus clouds, patches of blue sky, and rays of lovely sunshine. Before her stood a stone dias, which in turn held a marble throne, which is turn held a tall, handsome man, with stylishly short blonde hair, a taupe sweater, a leather jacket, and dark colored jeans.
Sara swallowed uncomfortably.
“…God?”
The man, whose blue eyes seemed fixed on an unknown point of the horizon, responded automatically.
“You will call me that.”
“I dunno, I feel like I should call you Mr. Drake. You look like my old high school guidance counselor.”
“I take a shape that is most pleasing to the person addressing me. For you, it is Allan Drake. He was the closest thing to a father figure you ever possessed, and also your first love.”
“Great, makes me sound like a pervert,” Sara grumbled. Her eyes suddenly became worried. “Steve doesn’t know about him, er, you, er, Mr. Drake? About my…crush?”
“It is not pertinent for him to know that, so he does not know that.”
“You’d be surprised what is pertinent when you love someone,” she shrugged, looking a little ashamed.
“I do not understand love.”
His simple reply seemed to suck the air out of the “room.” Sara took a deep breath and began again.
“How much else do you know about me?”
“I know everything you have ever done, or will ever do,” his reply was emotionless again, his eyes constantly fixated on nowhere. It tainted her memory of the energetic Mr. Drake just a little, seeing what seemed to be him seem so…not like him. Before she could ask another question, he raised a hand and said politely, flatly:
“One moment.”
Another person suddenly popped into the chamber, and the man on the throne suddenly turned from the handsome Mr. Drake to a rotund old woman with a full head of curly gray hair and a flowered apron. The room turned into the interior of an old Catholic Church.
“Grandma?” the man stuttered.
“I take a shape that is most pleasing to the person addressing me.” He answered again.
“…God?” the man’s eyes grew wide.
“You will call me that.”
The man immediately fell to his knees, tightly gripping a crucifix that hung around his neck. He began reciting every prayer he could, frantically: The Lord’s Prayer, The Apostle’s Creed, the Hail Mary, even the grace before meals. When he realized nothing was happening, he slowly got to his feet, where his grandmother was waiting patiently for him.
“There is no need for you to engage in prayer, David Bonner. Your life’s experience is sufficient for entry into Heaven.”
“Grandma, that doesn’t sound like you, what’s happened to you?”
“It’s not your Grandma,” Sara shattered the reverence of the moment.
“Oh is that so? And who are you supposed to be, God’s Secretary?”
She wanted to respond with “actually, Satan’s” but she held her tongue. God spoke again.
“Mr. Bonner, you have passed into the next plane of existence. I will send you to a processing center where everything will be explained. Enjoy your stay and make sure to obey the rules.”
And with that, David Bonner popped out of the room. Suddenly, Mr. Drake was back sitting on the clouds.
“The…rules?” Sara said, either oblivious to the sudden change or expecting it, “I thought this place was paradise.”
“Humans cannot cope with paradise,” he began, still looking out into the distance, “and still keep their humanity. The human animal is not built for a world without danger or hardship. In cases of absolute bliss, a human being will often break down, resulting in insanity. Rather than convert the human beings to angels and negate their previous existence, they are allowed to live a relatively problem free life, with statistically enough problems to keep their minds intact. As such, there are instances in which one can upset the system, and rehabilitation is required.”
“Steve.”
“Yes.”
“What kind of rule did he break to get the job he’s got?” Sara asked, knowing that no one would give up the opportunity for an ultimately perfect life.
“Waterhouse broke no rules, he was assigned to the task by myself when Beelzebub became no longer effective. He was removed from the previous plane of existence, and all of his potential energy dispersed.”
“So you mean you took his future?”
“Yes.”
“Why?”
“To restore the balance.”
“I bet he wasn’t happy with that,” She smiled, remembering Steve’s words from earlier.
“He was not.” God replied as flatly as ever.
“So what was the rest of his life supposed to be?”
“It is no longer to be and such is has been wiped from the records. The only possibility left is speculation, which is a task I have no time allotted for.”
“Right, you have to stare off into space and control the universe,” she said sarcastically.
“Yes.”
“I was being sarcastic.”
“I have no concept of sarcasm.”
“But you created it!”
“I created humanity. I maintain the balance. Everything else is humanity’s own creation.”
“I suppose you can’t be very happy with things right now, eh?”
“When the balance shifts too far, I resolve the conflict.”
“Resolve the conflict? What does that mean?”
“He means me.”
Sara turned to the sound of a kind baritone voice. It was a man in his thirties, dressed casually in a white oxford shirt and khakis, supported by simple sadals. His eyes were rich and brown, and his hair and beard were both of medium length. Sara decided to roll with the punches and keep ridiculous.
“Jesus Christ?” She said, pointing animatedly at the man.
“That’s me,” he smiled gently, “I was a catalyst, a tool created and used for one purpose: to restore the balance. Rome was becoming too decadent, there was too much corruption, so my actions set about to reverse that, eventually toppling it.”
“But that created the Dark Ages.”
“The balance was restored. Ironically, the people of the Dark Ages kept praying to the person who had given them this life, while the balance shifted to Muhammad in Persia.”
“Another tool?”
“Another catalyst, just set about to make sure the entire experiment doesn’t go completely in the trash.” he turned back to look at God, still on the throne. “It’s a kind of care and love that we as humans can’t comprehend. It’s a care that allows him to kill millions in a minute, it’s a love that allows him to let them die a horrible death. There’s a reason why he’s running the show…he knows.”
“Too bad I can’t crack a smile out of him. You think he’d say anything if I flashed him?” Sara smiled, toying with the hem of her blouse.
“He created them, Sara. It’s nothing he hasn’t seen before.” Jesus smiled.
“Sheesh, look at you. I can’t get him to twitch, but you smile like a jackass.”
“What can I say?” Jesus shrugged, “I’ve got just a little bit of him in me, so I guess I just love to love.”
“Is that the line you used on Mary Magdalene?”
“Very funny. Would you like to meet her yourself? All the apostles are getting together for lunch, I’m sure they’d be curious about some inside information on the New Satan…”
“Wait,” Sara cut him off, instantly feeling bad for doing so, “ALL the Apostles?”
“Yes.”
“Even?”
“Even.” Jesus smiled again.
“But…”
“He did what he had to do, that’s all. Sure, he was punished a little for suicide because, well, it’s against his own way of life, but after a little while he was let in. There were a few sheepish apologies, a few awkward dinners, but mostly it’s all right now.”
“So who’s really down in the final circle of Hell?”
“Oh, lots of people, in and out between relapses. Cassius. Brutus. Reinhard Heydrich. Vlad the Impaler. Pol Pot. H. H. Holmes. Mostly just Lucifer, though. I guess he finally out-lived his usefulness.”
“Must have.”
“I really am impressed with you, Sara,” Jesus said, “Apparently your boy is better at punishment than old Lucy. How do you put up with him?”
Sara sighed. “He’s allowed horrible things to happen to people, but his motives were always just. He’s never fought for, lied for, or helped someone who was in the wrong. Really, he’s perfect for the job…but he’s not the easiest to get along with sometimes.”
“Hm. Reminds me of someone else.” Jesus said, looking back at God.
“You know what, you’re right,” Sara smiled, feeling a little bit better, “so…where’s that lunch?”