The souls fall especially hard this time of year. I love how they plummet to the lake of fire below in a black, screaming rain. There they churn against each other as their burnt skin peels from their flesh over and over and over again.
It’s the perfect vacation spot for a demon like yours truly. Sitting by the shore, sipping a Bloody Mary, kicking the withered spirits of the wretched damned back into the infernal lake as they try to crawl out…you simply can’t buy relaxation like that.
“So,” Xeno sits besides me, “What’s on the docket for tomorrow?” His pallid flesh glows in the firelight like an XXXXXmas ham as each of his three mouths reach for a silly straw that curls down into a skull full of margarita.
“Don’t know, don’t care.” I lean back and sigh. “After all the trouble that last soul gave me, all I want is some good old-fashioned relaxation and ‘me’ time.”
“Uh, you might want to put a pin in that…” A tentacle with gnashing teeth for suckers points at the glowing ring around my lounge chair.
“Aww you’ve got to be kidding me!” I groan as laser light criss-crosses under me. I have about six-point-six-six seconds after the pentagram is complete before I’m zapped to some forsaken place on the material plane. Probably to some stupid abandoned church or graveyard or Hot Topic or whatever they’re using nowadays.
“Somebody’s Mr. Popular.” Xeno chuckles.
“Somebody’s Mister Pissed.” I growl. “When I see the stupid bastard that dared summon me on my vacation…” I extend and retract my inky black claws for good measure.
“Give ‘em Hell.” Xeno’s mouths curl up in impish grins.
“Ha ha.” I manage to give him the finger before the lakeside resort flashes out of existence in a blinding red light.
Being summoned to Earth is never a pleasant experience, not that Hell is a cakewalk to begin with. My horns and claws whine as they’re almost pulled out of me. My fur sizzles and crackles as thousands of static shocks run across my body. My eyes sear as if they’ve been staring into the sun for a week straight. But just as the pain becomes almost unbearable, the material plane spins into existence with the crack of a snapping femur.
Gripping my chin and a horn, I twist and pop my neck; it always pays to be limber before spreading mayhem and chaos. As I turn my head, my other horn screams against the low ceiling, leaving a long scar in the white plaster. The room itself is rather small and…wait. This isn’t some dungeon or rundown shack or recording studio for a Swedish metal band. The small bed is covered in fuzzy pink pillows and frilly lace. On the far wall is a poster full of colorful horses with freakishly large eyes. Numerous corpses of miniature creatures line shelves in the corner.
Standing in front of me down at my feet is a tiny human female, probably no more than five or six years of age. She gazes up in wonder with wide brown eyes. A tiny hand clutches the hem of her simple white dress. In the other is a red marker that has just finished drawing a summoning circle on the white carpet.
“It worked.” Her voice is barely a whisper. Suddenly, her eyes light up and she hops up and down, clapping her hands. “It worked! It worked it worked it worked!”
“YOU!” I bellow, turning the girl’s triumphant smile to a wavering grimace, “Why did you foolishly summon me?!…How did you foolishly summon me?”
“I saw a picture in one of my daddy’s books and, and I just wanted—”
“Wanted what? A mountain of chocolate? A new pony? Phenomenal cosmic power?”
“I…I just wanted a friend.” She taps the tips of her fingers together.
“Yup. A friend of my own forever and ever.”
“So you’re willing to give over your eternal soul in exchange for me being your friend for life.”
“Do you realize what you’ve done?” My voice is hoarse like I’ve just gargled brimstone.
“Nope!” She smiles. Of course she knows what she’s done. The one who summons a demon sets the terms and conditions, as long as they’re willing to hand over their soul. Unless…unless she simply followed the step-by-step instructions of the demonology book propped up on her pillow. How the Hell did she her father even get one of those? Eh, either way, the summoned demon must then abide by those terms for as long as the summoner lives and can never, under any circumstances, directly or indirectly cause that life to end prematurely. That means that I’m stuck with this ankle-biter. For her entire life.
“Why did you feel the need to summon me, girl? Aren’t there enough bed-wetters around here to play with?”
Tears well in her eyes. “Daddy got a new job so we had to move. Everything’s new and scary here and—”
“Say no more. Please.”
“Okay. So what’s your name?” She asks with big, innocent eyes.
“My name?” My laughter shakes a few of the stuffed animals off their shelves. “Simply hearing my name would cause your ears to bleed and your intestines to boil! My name lay silent on the lips of the damned and forsaken! Those who dare attempt to whisper it find their tongues—”
“Can I call you Clifford?”
“…What? Why would you call me that?”
“Well,” She toddles over to a bookshelf and pulls out a picture book half her size, “Because you’re big and your fur is red. Just like Clifford!” She shows me the cover, where a large, bloody canine is leaping over a car. Most likely to devour the man in the hat waving at him.
“Wait,” I peer closer, “The dog?! You’re naming me after the dog?!”
“…Wanna have a tea party?” She doesn’t wait for an answer, running around the room and grabbing various items. “We’ll have tea with Professor Snuffles and Miss Daisy.” Spreading out a blanket she puts a purple elephant and bear in a floral dress on the edge facing each other. A small tea set is placed in the center and I’m led by a claw to a spot between Snuffles and Daisy. The girl sits down opposite of me and offers a cup. I hold it between two fingers and she tips the pot, “I hope you like earl gray.”
I stare into the shiny white plastic at the bottom, “It’s empty! And that pot is empty! There’s no tea at all! What kind of farce is this?!”
“Of course there’s no tea, silly.” The girl chides, “You need to use your imagination.”
“Imagination.” The word drops out of my mouth like a cold stone.
“Don’t you use your imagination?”
“…Yes. But it is not a pleasant thing.” Once in Hell, all your dreams and hopes and imagination are stripped away like ore from rock. Only a small piece remains: the knowledge that there is a heaven and the dream of what it is like. It is a dream that will never be fulfilled, a hope that will never be satisfied. And it is agony.
“Well, let’s try again. Would you like more tea?” She holds up the pot.
“Considering I have had none so far, yes, I would like more tea.”
“Can’t you smell it?” She breathes deep and smiles as she pours. “Mmmmm!”
No I can’t smell the damned tea because it does not exist! Ugh! I grow tired of this!
With a snap of my fingers hot, fresh tea that would make the Queen of England piss herself begins to pour out of the small, cheaply made pot. The girl gasps and looks up at me with wonder in her eyes. “Did you do that?”
“I can do many magnificent things, girl.” My chest puffs out in pride.
“My name. It’s Angela.”
“Of course.” This has to be some sick joke.
The hallway echoes with the light clap of shoes on stairs. “Angela! Time to get ready for bed sweetie!”
“Aw mom! But I’m playing tea party with my new friend.” Angela turns to me with sudden fear in her eyes. “Oh no! The floor! The ceiling!”
“On it.” I snap my fingers and the squiggly red pentagram disappears just as a lithe woman appears in the doorway. Her curly black hair falls about her shoulders and her pajamas cling to her hips like an imp on a fresh soul. Oh, I would like to drag her to Hell and do a few things to—
“Meet my new friend, mommy.” Angela points to me. “This is Clifford.”
“Why hello Clifford. It’s nice to meet you.” Mommy smiles in my direction, using that voice that humors those too young or stupid to know better. I’ve used that voice a few times to trick new souls into thinking they’re in Heaven’s waiting room. Pulling the rug out from under them is one of the greatest joys in the afterlife. “Alright sweetie, let’s go brush our teeth and I’ll read you a bedtime story.”
“Can daddy read me a story tonight?” Angela pleads.
“Daddy’s…busy tonight.” Mommy avoids eye contact.
“But daddy’s alway busy.”
“Yes, yes he is…now c’mon. Maybe I’ll read you two stories tonight.”
“Ooo! Can one of them be Goodnight Moon with the funny voices?”
I carefully follow the two as they perform their evening sleep ritual. Angela’s mother indeed reads her Goodnight Moon, although she could use some voice training. With a gentle kiss on the forehead, she leaves her child to the consuming darkness and the things that lurk within it. Only a glowing effigy of Mickey Mouse keeps the cold void of night at bay.
“That is not my…ugh. What is it, child?”
“Will you tell me a bedtime story?”
“My stories would steal sleep from you for at least a month. It is better that I don’t.”
“Oh.” She pulls the blankets up to her nose. “Well, can you watch over me tonight?”
“If it is your wish, then I will obey. But I do not think—”
But she is already asleep…