The Pale One surveyed the screaming masses of Hell and was content. He took in the sights from a throne of bone and night that rested on a bloody peak in the centre of it all. From this mountaintop perch, he could sample the individual agony of almost every human being who has ever or will ever exist. He watched Caesar being rolled about in a grease pit, Napoleon stretched out on the rack, poets with their eyes gouged out, and more and more and more. It was quite the turn on.
A worm demon slithered its way up the spire, a clipboard gripped in one flabby arm. But not even the prospect of paperwork could make The Pale One’s enjoyment and less sweet. The demon balanced itself beneath the throne, careful not to drip slime on The Pale One’s robes (black, of course), and held out the clipboard.
“What’s this then” asked The Pale One, not really caring about the answer.
The demon spoke with a voice that sounded like a fly. “You need to approve the tortures of the last humans, sir.”
The Pale One, Satan, Death, Hades, Pluto or whatever you wanted to call him accepted the clipboard from the worm. He flicked through the list of names and tortures like a sommelier going over a wine list.
“This all looks correct,” said The Pale One. “But I don’t think flaying would work on this one.”
“Which one, sir?”
“This one here, the monk. Way into self-flagellation and all that bollocks. Where’s the fun in taking a nutjob who thinks whipping themselves is a good idea and cutting all their skin off? Sure, it’d hurt, but he’s probably used to it. Might even enjoy it. No, sign this one up for drinking concrete.”
“Right away, sir,” said the demon, and it started to slither away.
“Wait!” called The Pale One. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but that list is a couple names short. What about Charles and Mia?”
“Charles and Mia. Engineers. I even sent round a memo warning extra caution when approaching them.”
The worm looked embarrassed. Well, as far as a worm can look embarrassed anyway. “If the names weren’t on my list, they didn’t come through. You might take it up with the acquisition team.”
The Pale One resisted the urge to smash the worm’s wormy little body into the floor until its blood burst from its eyes like pus from a freshly squeezed zit. That’s the kind of thing that causes a demonic revolt; can’t reign in Hell or something like that. The Pale One pushed the urge deep, deep down inside of him until it was absorbed in the ever-churning fire that passed for his soul.
“What’s the point of waging war against the humans and hiring an acquisition team if they don’t do their jobs?” complained The Pale One. “Bloody rip-off, I tell you.”
The conversation lulled as they watched liquid concrete being poured into the monk’s mouth. The monk gurgled and choked as the concrete sloshed around his insides. That stopped when the stuff solidified. An ironic grin flashed across The Pale One’s face that made the worm want to curl up in a dark hole for a century or two. The Pale One rose from his throne and arched his back.
“Right,” he said. “You process the rest of the humans and I’ll figure out how badly the acquisition team cocked up.”
The Pale One found the three members of the acquisition team clustered around the fire pit, playing at being frat boys. They were lined up like Russian nesting dolls fattest to middling to smallest, sniggering and giggling as they poked and prodded a chained group of humans. Because alcohol was banned in Hell (wouldn’t want anybody enjoying themselves) the team was improvising. Every so often one of them would select a human from the pile, decapitate them, and drain their blood like a beer can. Then the demon, thirst quenched, would throw the now headless body into the fire pit causing the humans to tremble and the demons to laugh.
“Very impressive form of torture you’ve invented,” remarked The Pale One dryly, as he stepped out of the gloom.
The frat demons jumped at the sudden appearance of their boss and huddled together like teenagers who’d been caught smoking. The fattest one stepped forward and spread its arms.
“To wat d’we owe tha plea-sure?” it grunted.
The Pale One considered the question. “Is talking to me a pleasure for you?”
“U-u-ummmm,” stammered the fat demon. Then a light dawned in its skull. “We luv tawlkin with you, boss. Don’t we bouys?”
Non-committal grunts from the other demons.
“I’ll drop by more often then!” exclaimed The Pale One.
“Goog, good! That’s good!” said the smallest frat demon, admittedly not the brightest crayon in an already dull box.
“Yes!” grinned The Pale One, mock punching the fat demon’s arm. “And since we’re being friendly, would any of your care to explain what happened to Charles and Mia Adams? The last two humans I need to finish my collection!”
And then the small demon spoke up. “They gog away, boss.”
“I understand,” said The Pale One, his voice dripping with false sympathy. “I really do. But now I’ll have to go after them. And since I don’t know where you’ve lost them…”
The Pale One stretched out a bone-white finger and with a flick of the wrist sliced the fat demon in half. His finger moved through the demon’s flesh like it was smoke and the body fell apart. Intestines slopping out in a steaming heap; blood staining The Pale One’s black robes red. The other two demons pulled back in terror as the Pale One leaned forward to examine the entrails.
“It appears the humans are in New Zealand,” declared The Pale One. “That’s pretty far for Americans. I hope they’ve not been fiddling with the wildlife!”
The Pale One paused for the demons to laugh. When no response was forthcoming, he shrugged and gestured for the middling demon to step forward. It hid behind the small demon.
“Hurry up,” said The Pale One. “I need to know where they are in the country specifically. Don’t make me come over there.”
Eyes closed, the middling demon approached him, trembling slight as it did. And promptly met with the same fate as the fat demon.
“They’re in the ruins of Wellington,” said The Pale One after a thorough examination of the guts. He pointed to the small demon, and it almost pissed itself. “Go fetch my horses.”
The small demon sprinted away before The Pale One could change his mind. When it was gone, The Pale One smiled down at the chained humans. A little indulge while he waited wouldn’t hurt anybody, right?
The Pale One watched from a makeshift bench of gore and flesh as the small demon awkwardly maneuvered the chariot through Hell. He half hoped the demon would lose control and go careening wildly about the place so he could step in, Zeus-like, and save the day with a well-placed kill. But, alas, the chariot came to a stop in front of the human bench without seriously harming anything. A description: The Pale One’s chariot was a silver thing that looked like something from a Roman circus. More focused on speed than safety. It was pulled by the equine embodiments of Lust and Perjury- two mechanical masses of muscle, one red and the other black. This ride fucking murdered.
The Pale One ran a bleached hand through Lust’s bloody mane. The horse shuddered beneath his touch, and an intense desire to tear the nearest living thing to shreds welled up inside him. The small demon stepped down and handed him the reins. The Pale One clambered into the chariot and prepared to leave.
“You get them buggers, boss,” said the small demon, overcome with emotion.
The Pale One mock saluted and guided the chariot around the fire pit, past the human bench, and towards the Gates Of Hell. He saw the concrete monk and aimed towards him, letting the horses surge forward and giving the chariot’s silver wheels a red paint job. Black vapor trailed from behind the chariot as it picked up speed, and the wheels slid into the air as easily as you might change lanes. As space contracted, the distance to the Gates was crossed in seconds.
Too fast for a description, The Pale One smashed through the Gates and into Eternity. Time itself—an inky substance much like oil—flowed around the chariot without touching it. The horses sped up, and the chariot became like a comet, a silvery orb of fire that cut through the blackness. And screaming with velocity and hatred, The Pale One punched a hole through reality and into our universe. Planets, Stars, Sleeping Gods, and Black Holes flew by as a blur. And only when they reached the Milky Way did he slow to a speed that wouldn’t shatter a galaxy on impact.
The Pale One pulled tightly on the reins, the horses bucking and straining to go faster, but Earth was right in front of them and he didn’t want to break the thing. Lust and Perjury came to a stop over the bombed-out ruins of New Zealand; a carefully orchestrated bombing that was the crown jewel in Hell’s war against humanity. After regaining his bearings, The Pale One steered the chariot to the dead city of Wellington where the last humans were waiting.
‘The ants are up to something,’ thought The Pale One as the chariot set down next to a ruined church. The electronic sizzle of machinery was in the air; a thrill of tension and excitement went down his spine. Not wanting to startle the humans, The Pale One hovered slightly above the ground as he crept towards the source of the noise. A workshop came into view. Although, it wasn’t just a workshop it was a combination of stone battlements and firepower. The two humans were pointing twin Gatling guns at him from behind a brickwork bunker. The Pale One had to admire their determination. Futile, yes, but inspiring; in much the same way a frog crossing a highway is. The Pale One stopped hovering and stood firmly on the ground.
“We were wondering when you’d get here,” said Charles from behind a gun barrel.
“I’m sorry,” said The Pale One. “I was expecting screaming and pleading. Maybe a bit of begging, not whatever this is.”
“Oh, please don’t kill us,” said Mia in a mock sweet voice. “I’d do anything…”
“We’d do anything,” said Charles, and they both laughed.
This was not what he’d been expecting. “I put a lot of work into getting here ok. And if you two aren’t going to take it seriously than I’m not going to waste any more time than I already have.”
“Cheer up,” said Mia. “I wouldn’t have thought ‘The Pale One’—stupid name for a devil, by the way—would be such a cry-baby!”
“My name is not stupid!”
And as The Pale One stood immobilized with anger and a strange desire to prove himself, they opened fire. Two red streams of bullets blasted towards him and he jumped behind the church for cover as the ground below him turned to mush. The Pale One cursed as the dull thud of machine gun fire smacked into the concrete rubble he was hiding behind. And then he saw something that made his blood run cold.
“Wait! Stop, stop shooting!” yelled The Pale One.
The bullets stopped uncertainly.
“Don’t you like it when we fight back?” called out Mia.
“No, not that, my horses are in the way and I’d appreciate it if you’d let me move them!” called The Pale One.
“Why’d we do that?” asked Charles.
“Start firing, Mia.”
“No, wait,” exclaimed The Pale One. “How about free shots for a minute? Would that work?”
There was a whispered discussion.
“That works,” yelled Mia. “But if there’s any funny business, I’m warning you!”
The Pale One stood with his hands in the air and inched over to where Lust & Perjury were grazing. He grabbed the reins and slowly walked them out of range of the humans’ guns. Then, when he was sure they were safe, he returned to the humans.
“That’s settled now,” said Mia. “Are you ready?”
“Hold on just a second,” said The Pale One, and he turned to Charles. “Man to demon could you, um, avoid the, ah, sensitive areas?”
Charles winced with a manly sort of understanding. “Sure, buddy.”
“I’m not making any promises,” said Mia, and she angled the barrel slightly downwards.
The Pale One cupped his hands together over the said sensitive areas and nodded for them to begin. The guns whirred and spun and spat bullets at him with ferocious accuracy, cutting right through him like small suns. But he didn’t bleed, and he didn’t fall. He just smiled at the humans and checked his watch.
“That’s a minute!” he called out, and the humans stopped shooting. Fire leaked out of the small holes in his body.
“Now what?” asked Charles.
“You die,” said The Pale One.
“I don’t want to,” said Mia.
And The Pale One made the sign of the devil at them. Hellfire sprayed from his fingertips, melting through the stone and the guns. And when it cooled, there was nothing left of Charles & Mia but smoke and ash.
The Pale One cruised away from Earth, Lust and Perjury happy to be moving again, slowly meandering his way back to Hell. He had done it! Every human soul was now under his control, his! Daydreams of carnage and misery floated through his mind as he passed by the Andromeda Galaxy. Oh, it would be glorious. An endless carnival of body parts and pain and blood and screams and crying. And he wouldn’t let one, not one person have a moment of peace or happiness ever again.
Languidly, like a sloth chewing a leaf, like a philosopher who hated writing, like something really slow and boring (not at all like this belaboured, Proustian sentence) The Pale One flicked the reins and spurred the chariot on into Eternity and the endless void of time; musing as he did so on the reception his demons would give him. Surely, they would be as excited as he about the idea of torturing all humanity. Trillions upon trillions of meat sacks to cut at and torment! It boggles the mind.
He guided the chariot through the smashed Gates Of Hell ready to commence a parade of debauchery and sadism only to discover a bleak, all-encompassing silence. The kind of anxious silence that comes over a classroom during a test. The Pale One guided the chariot to the stables where, because of the lack of demonic help, he was forced to unharness Lust & Perjury himself. A seething, angry fire was taking root at the very essence of his being. Somebody, a lot of somebodies in fact, was going to be very sorry very soon.
The Pale One strolled on a thundercloud towards his throne. The worm demon was waiting for him.
“What the Hell is going on here?” asked The Pale One, perfectly enunciating every syllable. “Where are my demons? Where is my collection? Why is there no torturing happening?”
“They ran away, sir, the humans and the demons. I tried to stop them, I did, but,” the worm flapped a bit of flab towards the ruined Gates. “You did break it on the way out, sir. There was no way I could stop the stampede all by myself.”
The Pale One collapsed on his throne. A cold splinter was spiking into his brain. “Why would anybody want to leave? This place is perfect, isn’t it? We have fun, don’t we worm?”
“Well sir,” said the worm. “I believe the humans were sick of being tortured. And the demons thought they’d be next. You did kill two this morning.”
“They deserved it!” yelled The Pale One, then all his anger went out of him at once. “Do you at least know where they went?”
“No sir, when they found out I was staying they didn’t tell me nothing.”
The Pale One sighed and before he could say anything else, there was a scrabbling in the distance. A beaten and bloody figure came towards them dressed in a brown cassock. The Pale One’s heart soared as the concrete monk appeared before them. The monk made a chalky noise like he was trying to speak, and The Pale One vanished the concrete from around the monk’s insides with a wave of his hand.
“I know where they are,” breathed the monk with a sandpaper voice.
“You do?” exclaimed a happy Pale One.
“I do, and I’ll tell you. For a price.”
“Name it friend,” said The Pale One. “I shall make you a deity, give you principalities and magick far above the ordinary mortal. Immortality. Freedom. Power eternal. Anything, anything!”
“I want to stay here.”
There was a gleam in the monk’s eye. “I love it here. The degradation, the squalor of it all. Oh, it just made me smile when they put concrete in me this morning. I want to stay here forever, if I can, being used by everybody.”
One of the most shocking discoveries The Pale One had made during his administration of Hell was the existence of a rare subset of humans who actually enjoyed the torment. Normally, when one was discovered it was ushered away to a psychologist-demon so its enjoyment could be reworked, and the tortures continued. But today The Pale One was desperate.
“Very well,” he said. “You may stay here unobstructed in return for their location.”
A look of bliss came over the monk’s face. “The demons showed the humans how to travel through the void of time. I believe they’re going to build a new Earth on Kepler-452b. It’s the largest planet in the Cygnus constellation.”
The Pale One thanked the monk and strode off to prepare his horses, his mind drifting on to other things. The monk, on the other hand, leaned towards the worm and smiled sweetly.
“Should we… pick up where we left off?” he breathed.
“I suppose so,” said the worm with a look of deep disgust on its face. Well, as far as a worm can look disgusted anyway.
The civilization on Kepler-452b or Earth 2.0 as the inhabitants called it (Earth for short) was… well, it was a civilization. Not particularly innovative and not particularly traditional, it wasn’t particularly anything. Napoleon, Caesar and the like had quickly established a government and just as quickly split it into factionalism and infighting. There were houses, yes, but the ongoing feud between Tesla and Edison had left everyone without power. And don’t even mention the arguments between Adam Smith and Karl Marx.
In short, it was Hell on Earth.
The Pale One thundered down from the heavens on his silver chariot to discover a state of complete anarchy. Which suited the anarchists fine but made everyone else unhappy. He drove down the strange mix of cobble, tarmac, dirt, and gravel roads, admiring the uniquely post-modern view of every style of architecture existing alongside each other. Skyscrapers next to mud huts next to Japanese churches and cathedrals and more. A crowd of humans and demons started trailing behind the chariot, curious and afraid at the same time. The Pale One fished the small frat demon out of the crowd.
“Whag gwe going?” stammered the nervous demon.
“All in good time, my friend.”
The Pale One rolled to a stop in the city centre, a strange mix of Times Square and a flea market and waited for the leaders to come. Sure enough, Charles & Mia were led to him.
“Is there anywhere we can talk?” asked The Pale One.
The siblings led the way to a small indoor pub that was sandwiched between a Subway and a French literary Salon. The four of them sat down in a corner booth, away from prying eyes.
“Why are you here?” asked Mia. “Surely not for the pleasure of our company.”
“I’ve come to a decision,” said The Pale One. “I’m done with Hell. It was a fun idea for a couple millennium, but now I’m bored with it. Besides, you created something here that’s far worse than anything I could come up with.”
“Hey,” said Charles. “It might not look like much, but if we pull together and–”
“Yeah, good luck with that,” said The Pale One. “Ever read a history book? If you humans could figure out how to get along with each other you would’ve done it by now.”
“Whag agout the gemons?” grunted the small demon.
“You’re in charge of them now,” said The Pale One. “I left the worm in Hell he’ll help you manage them all. It’s what I created him for.”
“I’m the boss,” murmured an amazed demon. “Whag should I do with them?”
“Anything you want,” said The Pale One. “Rebuild Hell, join the humans, anything you want.”
There was a pause as they considered their new responsibilities.
“I think we should get some dinner,” said Mia. “Is anybody else hungry?”
And when their bellies were full and their minds easy, they bid goodbye to The Pale One. Charles & Mia thinking of their plans for the future and the small demon still amazed at his promotion. And when the goodbyes were all said, hands shook, and cheeks kissed, The Pale One took Lust and Perjury by the reins and drove off into the night. Everyone was happy.
Harman studies Psychology at the University of Newcastle, Australia. His short fiction has previously appeared, or is forthcoming, in numerous magazines including Flame Tree Press Newsletter, After Dinner Conversation, and Cosmic Horror Monthly.