Friday, April 17, 2020

The Red Envelope by Susan Taylor

Unemployed demon Asta Roth starts looking for a new job in Hell; by Susan Taylor.

Job Description:

A long term, team player needed for challenging, permanent work in a highly chaotic environment. All candidates must possess excellent communication skills and work variable hours, which may include days, nights, and weekends. Must be dependable and have a deep-seated dislike for humans. No compassion will be tolerated.

Level Two Positions:
  • Train Derailments (Killing a minimum of fifty humans while maintaining a 2:1 injury to death ratio).
  • Airplane Crashes (No survivors).
  • Apocalypse (Any type).
  • Brown Outs (Must cover at least five hundred square miles).
Level Three Positions:
  • Power Outages (At least one city block).
  • Sewage Backups.
  • Creating new dance crazes like The Cotton-Eyed Joe and The Triangle.
  • Creating and maintaining television shows such as Manimal and The Wiggles (or any other show that will turn humans into sedentary, unthinking creatures).
  • Creating movies such as Tommy Wiseau's The Room, or remakes such as The Amityville Horror, The Fog, and Ghostbusters.
Possibility for Advancement: Virtually none.



Asta Roth sat down on the slick vinyl bench in the lobby and waited for his scheduled appointment. He looked around the small waiting room and smiled at the receptionist, but she paid him no mind. She cackled into the receiver, her high-pitched voice so loud even humans could hear it back on Earth. She was possibly the most unattractive demon Asta had ever seen.

Grimacing, he turned his attention back to the paper and looked through the pathetic listings in the classified. Most of the jobs in the Mephistopheles Gazette were well beneath his skill set, and he thought he'd have better luck down at the Cataclysmic Employment Agency on the five-hundredth floor of the Old Scratch Building.

The past few months had been hard on Asta. He found himself at home more often, mindlessly flipping through the channels on CatastropheTV and getting drunk on Baal Beer. Those nights always turned out to be interesting though and usually ended with him beating off like a horny flesh rack.

Luckily, he'd received a letter from Cataclysmic about a month ago. It took all his will to get his tail down there before he lost everything and ended up a homeless demon panhandling in the park. Asta had an impressive resume, but since employers had been hiring younger, freshly damned demons, he didn't have a shot in Hell of ever getting another corner office.

Loud voices traveled through one of the doors down the hall. A big sign on the wall next to the entrance read DISASTERS: SPORTING EVENTS with a little red arrow pointing in that direction.

"You know, Cresil, we were really depending on you this time," a demon said.

Asta perked his pointed ears in that direction and tried not to be too obvious about his eavesdropping.

"We've been working on this project for almost sixty years! And you decide, a week before, you need a mental health holiday and hire a temp? What in the Heaven could you have possibly been thinking to pull such a stupid fucking stunt?"

"I didn't know the Texas Rangers would win! I swear I didn't. If I thought they were gonna win the World Series, I never would've left! I swear to Satan!" the other voice wailed. "You have to believe me, Moloch!"

"You've had a spotless record so far, but this is unforgivable. Almost sixty years, Cresil! UNFORGIVABLE!" Moloch said. "You're fired! Consider this your resignation. You leave me no choice but to have you reassigned to the Pit."

"Not the Pit! Oh dear Satan, not that! Anything but that!"

Asta winced. The Pit was a literal Hell in Hell. He leaned closer, but not so much that the receptionist noticed him. By the sound of it, she was still deep in conversation on the phone.

A powerful explosion came from that direction, and the aftershocks rattled the benches. Black smoke trailed out from under the door and down the hallway. The receptionist reached under her desk and brought out a can of Pure Sulfur air freshener in an attempt to get rid of the smell. Asta swallowed hard and tried not to imagine the fate of that poor shitstain.

Shrugging it off, he went back to reading the paper that some poor soul had left on the bench. He opened the Classified Section and reread the same crap that he'd read day after day. Nervous flutters settled in his belly when he realized that it had been a while since he'd interviewed for any real job. Over the past two months, he'd been collecting unemployment checks, but those would soon come to an end. He had no idea how he'd sunk so low in such little time. And a month was a long fucking time when each day lasted forever.

He folded up the paper and left it just as he'd found it on the seat next to him for the next poor schmuck. He fidgeted, picked invisible specks of dust from his scales, and tapped his foot. The phone rang again and the receptionist answered it. "Hi, you've reached the Cataclysmic Employment Agency, where there's always an opening. This is Lamia. How can I help you today?" She looked down at her awful orange-nailed manicure, which perfectly matched her awful flame orange bouffant hairdo. She couldn't be any more hideous.

Asta watched her hang up the receiver. Almost as soon as she set it down, it rang again.

"Yes?" she said. "Okay, I'll send him down." She laid the phone back down in the cradle.

"Mr. Roth, Mr. Bach will see you now," she said and sneered at him. He noticed she had a rotten front fang, and he winced at how repulsive she looked. Even for a demon.

"Thank you," he said.

"Down the hall to the right," she said, not even bothering to point.

Asta passed several doors and glanced through one. An older demon sat behind a desk piled high with paperwork. She had a spot heater aimed right at her face. Probably suffering in silence from a cold flash; she looked about that age. Icy drops covered her face, neck, and chest and caused her face to turn a sickening shade of baby blue. Asta momentarily felt sorry for the aging demon, but turned away and steeled himself for the interview with Mr. Bach.

Finally after walking the long corridor, he found the door he sought, looked at the nameplate, and sighed. UKO BACH, SENIOR EMPLOYMENT COUNSELOR. He dreaded this encounter and scolded himself for not being more like the demon he had been five hundred years ago. He smoothed a stray scale from his forehead, took a deep breath, and opened the heavy door.

Mr. Bach sat behind the desk and stood upon Asta's entrance. Asta noted the counselor was rather small for a demon and not at all imposing. Mr. Bach pushed his spectacles up on his snout with a manicured claw before holding it out for Asta to shake.

"Mr. Roth, it's a pleasure to meet you. Why don't you have a seat so we can get started?" he said and motioned to one of the two vacant chairs that sat facing his desk.

"Thank you," Asta said and sat down.

"What type of job are you looking for?" Mr. Bach said.

"Don't know yet. I've been looking through the classifieds and nothing has jumped out at me."

Mr. Bach nodded and looked over something on his computer screen. "I see here that you were in Possessions for quite a few years. May I ask why you are no longer working in that department?"

Asta thought a moment, trying to formulate an answer that wouldn't seem so bitter or outraged. "The Possessions department wanted younger, stronger demons to fill those positions, and they squeezed us veterans out. I'm not a spring chicken anymore, you know? When they let me go, I fell into a depression that lasted eons, and now I'm here. I'm ready to go back to work."

Mr. Bach sighed and took off his glasses. "I'm afraid jobs in Possessions are few and far between. Those are Level One, as you are well aware."

Asta nodded. He knew it would be next to impossible for him to score that good again. Plus, he knew that starting over in a new field had its drawbacks, like starting in the depths of Hell in a Level Three or Four job and clawing his way back up to a Level One executive position.

"With the job market the way that it is, with as many new souls being damned every day, I think we'd be lucky to place you in a Level Three job, a Level Two at the most. I'd rather see you get on Satanic assistance than see you get a Level Four job," Mr. Bach said, the last with some distaste.

Asta was taken aback for a moment because most of the demons he'd worked with in the past from Demon Resources weren't as kindly to him as Mr. Bach.

A Level Four job would be the worst. Most of those positions were in the Pit. He had no desire to work there, a horrible work environment day in and day out where workers weren't even paid a living wage.

"I wouldn't mind Level Two or Level Three positions, but I won't accept anything less than that," Asta said.

"So you'd go for just about anything?" Mr. Bach said.

Asta nodded as the counselor typed up some notes.

"There are a couple of listings that you might be interested in. One is a Level Two position that might go well with your background and experience. You would be creating a new Apocalypse. We haven't worked one in a while and with your KSAs -"

"I'm sorry, what's a KSA?"

"Oh, my apologies. That means knowledge, skills, and abilities for those who work in Demon Resources," Mr. Bach said, snorting. "It's not an outright possession-type job, but it might be down your alley. There's also an opening for a sewage backup specialist, I see. Or would you be interested in anything like train derailments or airplane crashes? If you'd like to apply to these, I can forward your resume to those departments."

"I don't think I'd be interested in the sewage backup specialist position, but you can send my resume off to the first one in the Apocalypse department you mentioned. I think I'd really enjoy creating chaos and havoc on Earth." He tried to sound earnest, hiding how he really felt, but felt it came off, at best, indifferent. "I should mention, however, that I've never tortured or mutilated a human before."

"Do you think that'll be a problem?" Mr. Bach looked over his glasses at Asta. Something flickered across Mr. Bach's face that Asta had seen before: distrust.

Asta shook his head. "No, I don't think so. Unless it's one-hundred percent hands on," Asta said. The thought of hurting a human being - especially if he considered he might be maiming or killing his progeny - left a bad taste in his mouth, but he'd do anything for a paycheck at this point. He had bills to pay. If any demon in hell even had the faintest notion about how Asta really felt about humans? It would be the end of the line for him.

"I don't believe it is. The job description states clearly that most of it will be R&D."

Asta nodded. "Thank you for clarifying."

"You'll probably have to get up to speed on the department's operational handbook."

"Isn't that always the way?"

"Very good, then," Mr. Bach said and began typing out more information into his computer. "I just sent your resume off. I think you'd be a nasty asset to them." He smiled and stood. "It was nice to meet you." He held out his claw.

Asta reached out to shake the demon's claw. "Nice to meet you, too. I appreciate it. When do you think I'll hear back?"

"You should hear back in a couple of days. If you don't, give me a jingle and I'll light a fire under them."

Asta smiled and headed out the door. He walked down the hall and past the poor demon affected by the serious cold flashes. Asta heard voices coming from another room across the hall. EMPLOYEE LOUNGE, the big plaque next to the door said.

"A demon calls up his boss's house, but gets the boss's wife instead. He asks her to speak to her husband. 'I'm afraid he was sent down to the Pit earlier today,' she says. The next day, the demon calls again and asks for his boss. 'I told you,' the wife replies, 'He was sent to the Pit yesterday'," a tall demon said, standing next to a lava cooler with two of his cronies.

"Go on," one of them said and laughed.

"The next day, he calls again and once more asks to speak to his boss. By this time, the wife is getting upset and growls, 'I've already told you twice that he was sent to the Pit. Why do you keep calling?' Are you ready for this? 'Because,' he replies laughing, 'I just loving hearing it!'"

High-pitched laughter followed Asta down the hall, into the lobby, and out the door.



Over the course of the next few days, while Asta waited to hear from the Apocalypse department, he fell back into his old ways, watching Geraldo Ranoran in the mornings and masturbating in the afternoons and through the evenings.

After three days of this and the suspense nearly killing him, he received the phone call about the job he'd had his blackened heart set on.

"Mr. Roth, Phenex Ashford here from Demon Resources calling about a job you applied for. After looking over your resume and the accompanying notes that Mr. Bach sent over, we've decided to hire you. Your background, which is quite impressive I might add, matches our requirements. Would you be interested in working for Apocalypse?" Ms. Ashford said.

After a moment of silence, Asta said, "I'd be honored to take the job." He couldn't believe his luck. He just won a coveted spot in the next apocalypse.

"Could you start tomorrow?"

"I'd be more than happy to, Ms. Ashford."

"We're on the twentieth floor, below the basement. Ask for Mr. Zagan when you arrive."



The following morning, Asta worried about what to wear on his first day on the job. He finally settled for business casual, which amounted to a nice tie around his thick neck, and coordinating loafers. He grabbed his well-worn briefcase off the kitchen table and headed out to his new job.

The Apocalypse department was in the building next door to the employment agency. The further down the elevator took him, the hotter it became. He remembered the days while he worked in the Possessions department. His corner office faced a beautiful lava fall next to Brimstone Park that sat in the middle of the Professional District. The park sat empty most of the time except for a few homeless demons wanting handouts, and then around lunch became packed with working class demons.

The elevator came to a bone-jarring stop at his floor. The doors opened, and he stepped off into the lobby. He walked toward a receptionist at the front desk who was filing paperwork into an already crammed-full filing cabinet. She was more attractive than the one from the employment agency; her blonde scales smoothed back into a neat bun on the back of her head, and her claws were clipped to a modest length and painted an attractive light pink.

"Hi," she said.

"Hello. I'm Asta Roth. I'm here for a job. I'm supposed to ask for Mr. Zagan. Are you Ms. Ashford?"

"Good Satan, no." She looked taken aback but laughed. "I'll buzz him and tell him you're here. Just have a seat over there." She pointed to an uncomfortable looking row of chairs in the corner.

A few minutes later, an older demon came through the doors to Asta's left and spotted him right away.

"Hello! You must be Asta Roth! It's a pleasure to meet you! I'm Mr. Zagan." He had lost most of the scales on top of his head, and those that remained curled outward in tufts of white. He wore a tattered blue and red striped tie and one of his loafers, Asta noticed, was missing a tassel.

"Hello, Mr. Zagan. It's a pleasure to meet you, too," Asta said and followed the demon through the swinging doors and through a labyrinth of hallways that ended with a doorway to a small, dark office.

"This will be your office for the duration. Most of the time you'll be out in the field. It's always good to have someone so well-known working here. It'll be good for the morale," Mr. Zagan said.

"Well known?" Asta said. He dreaded what the aging demon would say next.

"Oh, yes, Asta. Your work with the Possessions department is known far and wide. Especially the possession that made a movie star out of you. The Exorcist has always been a favorite of mine. Don't get me wrong, I loved the book, but I don't think Blatty did you justice. Just my two cents and all... but as I was saying, this is your office. You'll report directly to me. My office is just down this hall. Go straight to the end and take a right. Make another immediate right, and it's the first door on the left," Mr. Zagan said. "Take some time to get settled."

"Will do, Mr. Zagan. I'll be looking forward to getting started."

"Oh and one more thing. Make sure you see Ms. Ashford in Demon Resources. She has an employee handbook for you and has some forms for you to fill out, like benefits forms, your I-13 for immigration purposes, and the W-666 for tax deductions. You'll probably need a blank check for Demon Deposit, but you can bring that in with you when you get back."

After nodding his head, his new boss left him to his own devices, and he settled in behind his desk, a desk so small that his legs barely fit underneath it. Not much else could be accomplished since he had no tasks at hand, nor any supplies to put in the drawers. He'd have to ask the cute receptionist where they stored all the office materials and grinned at the thought of talking to her again.



After visiting Ms. Ashford, his boss came to check on him.

"All set?" Mr. Zagan said.

"Yes, I am."

"Are you ready to get started?"

When Asta nodded, Mr. Zagan said, "Follow me."

Asta followed him to his office. He sat down in a comfortable chair across from the demon's desk as Mr. Zagan talked.

"There's one thing in particular that you should know about Apocalypses and how they differ to Conquests, Wars, and Famines. Under no circumstance are you to enter the body of any human. Is that clear?" Mr. Zagan said. A serious expression crossed his haggard features.

"Yes, sir," Asta replied. "You know I worked in Possessions as a Level One executive."

Mr. Zagan smiled. "I do know that, but it bears repeating. We can't be stepping on the Revelations department's toes. Hell will fine the Christ into us, and we don't want that. I like my job too much to jeopardize it because a demon I hired decided it would be more fun to possess a single human than to turn a mass of them into a crazed, blood-lusting horde."

"I understand completely."

"Another thing that I should mention -" Mr. Zagan relaxed into his chair and continued, "- along with the fines, the demon involved in illegal possession will be imprisoned in the Pit. Forever. It's happened only once in my time, and I don't want it to happen again. You know the drill on possessions. I'd have to sign off on it, and my boss would have to sign off on it and my boss's boss would have to sign off on it." He paused and his countenance softened. "The Pit is not somewhere a demon of your reputation should want to find himself. I run a tight ship here, Asta."

"I don't plan on possessing anyone."

"Good, I'm glad we understand one another! Since you're already familiar with what this position entails, I think you're ready. What do you say?" Mr. Zagan said.

"Yes."

"Also there's the matter of your aide, Forneus. He's a new demon and still learning the ropes. He can speak fourteen human languages and has a real mind for business. An asset all the way around. Be sure to help him out." Mr Zagan looked at his watch. "He should be down any minute."



Asta laid the case file out over his desk, getting the particulars before his scheduled trip to God's green pastures. The problem with working on a new and improved Apocalypse was there were just too many to choose from: Zombies, Plagues, Solar Flares, Robots, Nuclear Wars, Natural Disasters, and Aliens.

He went over each one in his head and made an outline of each Apocalyptic disaster:

Zombies were done to death, and no one would panic since The Walking Dead and The Zombie Survival Guide taught them everything they needed to know.

Plagues were a blast and were gruesome and gory enough, but with the introduction of penicillin, it would be a hard sell to the higher ups.

Solar Flares came every so often but never did enough damage to warrant using one, and besides, how Apocalyptic would interruption in cell phone service really be?

Robots were a contender; however, humans were still in their infancy and just hadn't made enough technological advances to make it worth Asta's while. What would he have to do? Make Xboxes self-aware?

Nuclear Wars were covered by the Wars department and no way and no how did he want to step on their claws.

Asta liked the idea of Natural Disasters; give him a volcanic eruption or a tectonic plate shift any day.

Aliens were out of the question because they simply didn't exist.

He was thrilled at the prospect of planning out a natural disaster from soup to nuts, which really meant nothing more than shifting a few tectonic plates under the US like the New Madrid Fault and maybe the Hayward Fault in the San Francisco area. All he would have to do is utter some ancient phrases and use a few drops of the Son of Perdition's blood, and voilĂ , instant Armageddon.

He wasn't sure about the Hayward Fault, though. It didn't cover enough square miles to make a difference. Plus, it had been run into the ground by demons too lazy to do their research on other more effective areas.

The New Madrid Fault was another story altogether.

His new aide, Forneus, walked into his office and carried a dozen files or more. He wore black horn-rimmed glasses, a bow tie, and a neat pair of sneakers, a status quo changer for sure with this new generation of idealistic demons. Asta smiled to himself as he watched the newbie.

"I'm Forneus, your new aide. I'll be helping you with policies and procedures concerning the Apocalypse. Mr. Zagan wanted you to have these." He plopped the stack of files down on Asta's desk. "I'm sorry I'm late, but I had to pick up a few faxes that came in for you."

Asta loved the zealousness of new demons. They were just so gung ho.

After chatting a moment with his new aide, Mr. Zagan popped by to wish him well.

"Good luck, Asta. I think you'll do wonderfully," his boss said. "Remember, have fun with the process. You'll knock 'em dead. And I brought you this." He handed Asta a red envelope. "It's the fail-safe phrase. Only use it in a dire emergency. If you do your job right -"

"Thank you, Mr. Zagan," Asta said. He took the envelope from his boss and tucked it into his briefcase along with the other items he'd need to bring about an apocalypse.



After stopping of at their respective homes to pack a bag, Asta and Forneus took the X-train up to Earth, and he realized a bit belatedly that he had forgotten to bring a jacket. He knew the temperatures on the planet's surface were way too cool for his liking, even during the summer months.

"The humans won't be able to see us?" Forneus said.

Asta shook his head. "No, we'll merely be a wisp of smoke, a shadow in the corner of their eye, a penumbra of -"

Forneus held a talon up. "I got the picture."

"The only way they'd be able to really see us is if we possessed one of them."

"And we can't do that."

"Nope."

"That's entirely off limits."

"Yep." Asta sighed and looked out the window of the train.



The apartment complex looked like a real shithole complete with smelly garbage and even smellier hobos littering the sidewalk. Unfortunately, Asta and Forneus would only be staying a night or two. Asta had Ms. Ashford had put them in the low income area of Memphis, and as they made it down the street, he heard gunshots in the distance. He'd considered Little Rock and St. Louis, but those cities fell right outside the hot zone. He had chosen Memphis due to it being a hot spot of seismic activity, but hadn't realized what diamond in the rough it really was.

The paint peeled off the sides of the building and made it look like it had contracted a strange form of eczema. Street hooligans sat on stoops on either side of the complex and listened to blaring rap music through boom boxes. Drug dealers met with their clientele on seedy street corners and in darkened alleyways. Weeds shot through the concrete out of tiny cracks, and all the windows were covered in wrought iron bars. Asta knew the slumlord who owned this place couldn't give two shits about his renters. He chuckled knowing it would've been hell on earth to live here.

He could get used to a place like this.

Asta and Forneus found their rooms on the top floor. Asta walked into his suite, and after noting the chill that permeated the air, he performed one small housekeeping task: he turned the heat up as far as it would go. With reservations, he plopped down on the sofa, but he realized he couldn't sit still. He took his briefcase out and laid it on the small table in the kitchenette. He unfolded a map of Memphis he'd brought with him with the hot zone circled in red marker. He took out his notepad and drew lines on it for a SWOT analysis.

If he were to cause a tectonic plate to shift in Memphis that would extend from St. Louis all the way down to Little Rock, it would damage nearly a million buildings; utility poles and water mains would break, causing about four million people to go without electricity and water; and it would cost humans in the hundreds of billions in economic loss. He marked those items down in the Strengths section. Under Weaknesses, he wrote, 'Not widespread enough to be effective.' Under Opportunities, he jotted, 'No other Apocalyptic competition' and 'The media will have a field day.' He wrote, 'No press due to power outages and cratered roadways' under Threats.

Asta heard a knock on the door. Forneus held out a large to-go cup of coffee. "I thought this might help warm us up."

"Thank you. It'll definitely take the chill off. Want to take a look at something?" Asta said, and gratefully took the coffee from his young aide.

"Sure thing, boss."

"I've written out a SWOT analysis and I want your feedback.

"You know, when I was a human I had an MBA from Kelley." Forneus grinned and took the notebook from Asta. After perusing the document, Forneus pushed his glasses up his nose and said, "I think you can add 'Prepping might hurt the outcome' under Threats."

"I'd have to agree with you." Asta wrote it down. "Just in case."

"I can't think of anything else," Forneus said.

"I can't either."

"I think you've covered everything. It's a great start," Forneus said and looked out the big picture window to the street below at a crowd that was beginning to form. "I've never been to Memphis. Have you?"

Asta joined him at the window. He saw a man wearing a sandwich board that read THE END OF THE WORLD IS NIGH.

"Nope, I've never been here either."

"Think we'll have time to visit Graceland? I was always a fan of Elvis."



Forneus left Asta's room, but came back over a few minutes later.

"Turn it on Channel 13! Quick!"

Asta found the remote control, turned on the power, and switched it to the channel Forneus told him to. "What is it ab-"

Forneus shushed Asta. "Just listen!"

"...had reports that some minor earthquakes have occurred in our area over the past few hours. We have Dr. Harry James, a respected seismologist at the University of Tennessee, with us today. He has told News13 that the big one is getting ready to happen."

The camera switched over to a pale older man with thinning gray hair who stood in front of a brick building, with a sign behind him that read:

UNIVERSITY OF TENNESSEE
DEPARTMENT OF GEOLOGICAL SCIENCES
PRESLEY SCHOOL OF GEOSCIENCES

"How do you know when an event is going to happen? What do you look for, Dr. James?" the newswoman said.

"In my area of expertise, I evaluate the future risk of fault lines and try to predict future destructive events such as earthquakes, which are especially important in this day and age when we have so much hydraulic fracking happening in the areas surrounding us."

"This is bad," Asta said.

"How soon do you expect the big one to hit?" the newswoman said.

"Our latest data shows us the area over the New Madrid Fault Line is going to act up very, very soon, but we have no idea the exact minute or second it will hit. With that being said, the major areas affected are from St. Louis to..."

Asta turned the television down a few notches, set the remote down on the coffee table, and ran a hand over his mouth.

This was no bueno.

No bueno indeed.

"How did they know?" Forneus said with concern etched over his demonic features. "Oh Satan, how in heaven did they know?" His voice raised an octave.

"Some demon probably leaked it to the press."

Forneus looked troubled. "But we didn't want the humans to know."

"It'll still be a surprise, Forneus. Humans have an odd way of ignoring what's in their best interest. The best thing we can do is stick with the plan, but we first need to figure out where. Be here at eleven thirty tonight and we'll get this show on the road."



Settling once again into the sofa and propping his feet up on the coffee table, he had a few hours before they put their plan into action. It had to be done at midnight, and in a place special to the human race. He racked his brain for places in the Memphis area that humans would hold dear to their hearts. He laid his scaled head on one of the pillows.

He must've drifted off to sleep because when he awoke it was dark and the sound of sirens echoed off the apartment complex's exterior. He rubbed his eyes and stretched. The digital clock on the nightstand read eleven.

Asta still hadn't come up with a suitable place yet, and he hoped Forneus was faring much better than he on figuring it out. He switched on a lamp and got back to it.



Forneus knocked on Asta's door at eleven-thirty like a good little demon. Asta had been studying the water and sewer maps of Memphis and couldn't believe it was already time to move his plan into action.

"I figured out the perfect spot," Forneus said.

"Where?"

"Well, after doing a Google search, I came up with places like the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King Jr's was assassinated. Also the Metal Museum that was once a Civil War hospital, and then I found the Voodoo Village. None of these places really screamed out 'Apocalyptic' or 'doomsday' or 'death and destruction' to me. The Lorraine Motel sort of did because a man of He Who Hates Demons died there, but that didn't seem like it had enough pizzazz. I did some more searching and found that Graceland has its share of hauntings, as does Earnestine & Hazel's that's famous for its Soul Burger and a jukebox that's 'driven by ghosts' according to their website."

"Narrow it down for me?"

"It's between Graceland and Earnestine & Hazel's."

"Okay. What's the justification for both?

"Well, at Earnestine & Hazel's, rumor has it that prostitutes were killed and one committed suicide upstairs. At Graceland, all Elvis did was die on the shitter. He was found in a puddle of puke and more or less died from a heart attack and anaphylactic shock from a painkiller a dentist had given him after putting on a crown." Forneus looked forlorn. "See why I'm stuck?"

"I do. So we've got hookers and the King killed on the crapper."

"We need to make a decision soon, Asta. We've only got a few minutes to decide."

"I've been looking over the sewer maps and I think I've got it." Asta blew out a harsh breath. "Let's go."



After passing the McDonald's and Piccadilly Cafeteria on Elvis Presley Boulevard, Forneus said, "So we're going to Graceland?"

Asta nodded.

The duo walked down the dark city streets in silence, for the most part.

"I can't wait. I'm so excited. I've always wanted to see inside the place. Do you think we'll see the King himself? What part of the house are we going to? I can't wait to see all of it. Oh my Satan." Forneus was as excited as a six-year-old at Disney on Ice.

"Dunno."

They reached the long drive up to Graceland and walked among the manicured hedges and around to the back. They walked through the patio and chairs to the back door. Asta waved his hand over the doorknob and lock, and the door opened. A cool burst of air rushed over them. Asta stood still for a moment and relished the spirit of Elvis passing through him.

"Did you feel that, Forneus? I think Elvis's ghost is still here."

"Is that what it was?" A shiver started in Forneus's toes and shuddered all the way up to the scales on his head. "Wow. What room are we going to?" Even though the young demon whispered, his voice echoed off the paneled walls of the Jungle Room, the most famous room inside the mansion.

"Now I know why Elvis named it the Jungle Room." Thick, green shag carpet ran from wall to wall and all along the ceiling, and figurines of jungle animals decorated almost every available surface. Fake plants and fur-covered chairs adorned the room. Even though Asta was a demon of some stature, he couldn't help but be overwhelmed at the sight, and a part of him would feel bad at destroying this national treasure. He squelched this empathy he felt down deep in his blackened soul. This was neither the time nor the place to start feeling nostalgic about the human race, but sometimes longing for the old days forced its way into his head. If the higher-ups ever got wind of it though, he'd have to forget about the life he'd built for himself and be prepared to be cast into the Pit for the rest of eternity.

"There's carpet on the ceiling, Asta."

"At least it's not mirrors."

Forneus followed Asta through the kitchen and dining room to the main set of stairs in the foyer.

"This isn't as grand as I had imagined," Forneus said. His face wore the disappointment he felt.

Asta moved the stanchion over and headed up the stairs.

"Did you know they tried to auction off Elvis's underwear? Skid marks and all?" Forneus said from behind him.

Asta grimaced. What humans wouldn't do for a buck, he thought, and then remembered why he'd ended up in Hell in the first place.

"I even found an article about selling Elvis's last turd. They called it the Prince," Forneus said and laughed.

"Probably parody. Can't believe everything you read on the internet."

When they reached the bathroom, Asta said, "The toilet in this bathroom, I believe, flushes out to the main that runs down the street and branches out all over the city."

Asta sat his briefcase down on one of the countertops and clicked the locks open. He pulled out a small vial of thick black liquid from one of the pockets.

"Is that it?" Forneus asked.

"Yeah, the blood of old Diabolus himself." He held it up to the bathroom light fixture and turned it to the side. Thick, viscous fluid barely moved in the vial.

"It's so black and tarry."

"Well, what did you expect from the Angel of the Abyss?"

"I guess I expected it to look like blood."

Asta shrugged and fingered the red envelope with the other claw. Just knowing it was in the briefcase made him feel a bit better.

"Ready to get started?" Asta said.

Forneus nodded. Asta noted the young demon had sweat collecting on his forehead.

"Inferias daemonibus... uh... moliri volute -"

"Volunt," Forneus said and wiped his brow.

"Volunt Apocalypsi." Asta held up the vial and unscrewed the dropper.

Forneus nodded. "Now tell them to please accept the offering."

"Aceptar -"

"Asta, hold on. That's Spanish."

"Akzeptieren -"

"German."

"Oh shit. You're right." Beads of sweat broke out on Asta's forehead despite the chill in the air. He pulled the dropper out of the bottle and the malodor of sulfur and rotting flesh and every other bad smell he could remember assaulted his nostrils.

"It's et suscipe. I thought you knew this."

"I do." His nerves were frayed. "Et suscipe benedictionem de sanguine quod oblatum est satanas." He looked at Forneus, who nodded. He took a deep breath and squeezed the dropper. He counted off thirteen drops of the vile liquid. He closed his eyes.

Forneus reached down and flushed the toilet.

Nothing happened for a minute. Another sixty seconds passed.

And another.

"It didn't work."

"Give it a minute." When Asta had looked over the sewage system schematics, he knew that both the plumbing system in Graceland and the sewage pipe running out to the street were outdated. In addition, he'd had to factor in tree roots and other menaces that might cause problems. He couldn't be sure, but he could only guess it had been ages - probably around 1977 - since this toilet had last been used.

The King's ass was possibly the last one to sit upon this very throne.

Asta felt a slight rumble shake the bathroom floor and he groped around to find something to hold onto.

"It's working," Forneus said. "It's really working."

"Hello Apocalypse," Asta said. "Here we come."



Asta and Forneus made it through the house with nary a scratch as the plaster fell from the ceilings and the walls breathed in an out like an accordion. The sheer force of the quaking beneath the ground threatened to knock them off their cloven feet.

They finally found their way back to Elvis Presley Boulevard. Some humans ran down the road and screamed for help. Some were plowed by down by cars trying to make their way forward. Others were hit by chunks of brick and mortar that fell from buildings.

"This is something else," Forneus said. "Look at all the blood!"

"It is." Asta's gut wrenched at the sight of the bleeding humans. "Why don't you go back to our rooms and pack our bags." He left out provided the apartments are still standing. "I'll survey the damage so that I can submit a report to Mr. Zagan first thing tomorrow." He eyed the young demon. Asta held onto his briefcase a little tighter.

"Are you sure, boss? I mean, I can help you -"

Asta held up a claw. "That won't be necessary. What I need to do here won't take two of us. I'll meet you at the train station in about half an hour."

"If you're sure."

"I am. Go on now."

Forneus nodded and Asta watched as the young demon walked amidst the turmoil.

Asta heard the distinct sound of sobbing off in an alleyway behind him. He took a step toward it. Once his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he saw a small girl hunkered down behind a garbage dumpster. She clutched a worn teddy in her arms as she called for her mother.

His blackened heart came alive in his chest. She couldn't see him, of course, but something told him he had to help her. He looked around and saw a body lying on its side down the alley a ways. He went to it, and without a second thought, possessed the bum.

The first thing to hit him was the stenches of death, cheap whiskey, and body odor, not necessarily in that order. He moved his arms and legs and felt wetness on his face. He reached up and wiped a hand across his new forehead and his dirty fingers felt sticky with blood. He rolled over and stood up, unsure if the bum's legs would hold him up, but luckily they did. He opened his briefcase and pulled out the red envelope.

He staggered over to the girl and spoke in a voice foreign to him. "Hi, don't be afraid. I'm here to help you."

She screamed.

"It's okay." He laid a reassuring hand on her arm. "Where is your mother?"

She stifled a sob and shook her head.

"Okay, honey," Asta said, surprised he let his sympathy show. "I'm going to get you out of here but first I have to do something."

She nodded and clutched her teddy so tight Asta was sure its head would pop off its body.

He tore open the envelope and opened the small note folded inside.

"Finita est." Asta frowned. "Tu es complevit." A nervous flutter tickled his belly, and he stared at the old words written on the paper. "What do you mean it's over and I'm finished?"

Asta looked back down at the girl. She stood as her eyes began to glow a bright red, and for a moment, her skin turned into scales.

"I'm sorry, Asta." The girl's voice had gone down two octaves and now spoke to him in an all too familiar voice.

"The girl needed -"

"You know the rules about possession," Mr. Zagan said. "The red envelope -"

As Asta felt the flames from the Pit licking his feet and legs, he felt a different kind of warmth radiating up through his body and felt a hand grasp his arm and pull him upward. He knew, in that instant, that all good things had to come to an end.

4 comments:

  1. I am a huge fan of wordplay, so I loved this story. Very creative. Thanks for sharing it with us.

    It was sort of mean for them to trap Asta as they did, but then again they are demons.

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  2. This one was fun. I enjoyed the sarcasm and the "flawed" main character. And what an interesting choice of setting for the start of an apocalypse...the very name "Graceland" takes on a whole new satirical meaning for me after reading this...

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  3. I enjoyed the application of business procedures (like the strength and opportunities analysis) with the demon's agenda. Very clever.

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  4. Thank you for the kind comments. It was a very enjoyable story to write. LOL

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