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God's Shoehorn VI
Paul sipped at his mug of Ginseng tea as he spun idly on Lucifer’s big plush swivel-chair. His eyes took in the neat office as it span past his eyes. On one side of the room was a stack of bookshelves loaded with reams of legal documents. Mostly contracts of one sort or another. Even as Paul took another sip a small door to the right of the bookcase opened and a tall, thin demon wearing a charcoal coloured pin striped suit sidled in with a sheaf of papers under one arm and a pair of half-moon glasses balanced on the bridge of his beak-like nose. The creature’s skin was a dreadful pallid grey. It’s eyes gleamed yellow over the glasses at Paul in an officious manner.
‘Settling in are we?’ it asked in a voice like the scraping of ancient twigs on dry dirt floors.
‘Something like that’ agreed Paul suspiciously. Suspicion was a healthy state of mind to fall back on when in Hell – it was the natural order of things to be screwed over, taken advantage of, and generally plotted against. Those without a healthy sense of paranoia did not last long in these parts. At least – they never stayed in positions of power for long. They didn’t actually go anywhere. Ironically, Hell never fires people, it just demotes them.
‘I have the morning’s contracts’ continued the demon somehow making his walk look like a slither as he gravitated towards the office’s opulent bureau. He placed the pile of paper precisely in the centre of the green leather writing space then pulled open a draw. He pulled out a large brass seal, a lump of sealing wax and a candle. A Parker pen came from his top pocket and was placed lightly beside the seal.
‘Each new contract must be signed and sealed’ droned the demon indicating the tools for said signing and sealing.
‘and delivered?’ tried Paul hopefully. The demon returned a flat look of the sort that indicated not only a lack of sense of humour, but an active dislike of those who had one.
‘Most droll, sire’ muttered the demon, then turned and left by the door he’d entered by. Paul hopped out of his swivel chair and strode to the desk. He leafed through the documents with interest. A Mrs Smithe of Kent had apparently agreed to exchange her soul for a new pair of Babiliss hair-straightening tongues. Paul shook his head in astonishment. How desperate could someone’s need for straight hair be? He turned to the contract’s second page and caught a glimpse of the poor woman’s photocopied passport. He winced as his eyes were assaulted by ginger frizziness. Apparently it could be that desperate. Paul quickly signed and sealed the contract.
Six contracts down the pile Paul found one with his own name on and just stopped himself signing it in time. The cheeky bastards! Paul read through the very small print of the terms and conditions and had a bit of a chuckle. He’d nearly signed away his own soul in return for a half-eaten stick of Blackpool rock and a pencil sharpener with no blade, apparently. He crumpled up the offensive document and chucked it into the fireplace. He watched the paper shrivel away into blackened ash within the glow of flames that crackled and popped pleasingly around logs that never seemed to finish burning. Paul suspected that he was going to have to really be on his toes for the duration of this job.
As he finished signing and sealing the pile of soul-contracts, Paul replaced the pen, seal and wax into the desk’s top draw then dumped the papers in his out-tray. A bell rung faintly in the distance – it was like a short burst of the sort of bell that schools use to let staff and pupils alike know that the next lesson is about to commence. There was one of these every hour.
Paul wandered to the main office door and opened it a crack. One of Cerberus’ three bug-eyed heads swivelled round and gave the stand-in ruler of Hell a vicious glare. The depth and volume of the growl emanating from that tiny throat should not have been possible. On the other hand, Paul reflected, it wasn’t exactly normal to have three heads and crimson glowing eyes either. Paul let the door swing shut.
‘Bitch’ he muttered. There was a hurt yap from the other side of the door. They’ve got good hearing, Chihuahuas.
A small black intercom unit by the door buzzed dramatically and Paul flinched. He idled over to it and pressed the little red button.
‘It’s time for your observations sire’ came a distorted voice down the line.
‘Is that Azazel?’ asked Paul uncertainly.
‘Yes sire’ the scratchy voice replied.
‘What level are we doing today?’ asked Paul. Lucifer had given him a quite detailed itinerary. It was Saturday. Saturday meant...
‘The third circle, sire’ Azazel informed him, ‘Would you like me to send a guide?’
‘Just have them waiting at the door off the escalator would you Azazel?’ Paul sighed and grabbed the clip-board from the desk’s second draw. He looked in the top draw then checked his pockets. Odd... he couldn’t seem to find that blasted pen! Shaking his head, Paul left the office and the yapping three headed Chihuahua behind him.
As he tramped up the motionless elevator, Paul ignored the stares of the few demon-staff who were rattling up and down on parallel elevators and going in and out of various doors with harried, busy expressions on their faces. He pulled his notebook out of the back pocket of his jeans and rifled through the pages. Right... the third circle...
The third circle was apparently reserved for those guilty of Gluttony. Lucifer had told Paul to read Dante’s description of Hell before he’d had his tour of the place. Not because it was accurate – it most certainly wasn’t. However the general delineation of which sinners went where wasn’t far off... and it was good for a laugh anyhow.
A short squat demon in vynal dungarees was waiting for him impatiently. The creature was about four foot tall and was nearly as wide as he was tall. The balding demon had stubby, malformed horns and rubbery skin the colour of bile. He looked up at Paul with bored, glowing ochre eyes and took a bite out of the foot-long hot-dog that was gripped in the stubby fingers of one fat hand.
'I'm here for the inspection?' Paul tried and the demon paused in his chewing, looked Paul up and down slowly and then shook his head with distaste. The odious being swallowed its mouthful loudly and waved Paul forwards with the remains of the hotdog. Paul wiped spots of grease off his shirt disconsolately.
'This way.' it grumbled and walked on. Paul followed in silence. He'd found a pencil stub in his pocket and started to use it to tick boxes on the form that topped the pile clipped to his clip-board. All the departments were well labelled - tick. Paul was lead into a narrow passageway that at it's end opened into a gargantuan chambre which looked something like a desert, pudding and sweet-course themed park. There were rides and huge monuments and things - all dedicated to beautifully prepared sweet food.
A small bright red convertible mini pulled up. The chaufeur was an Umpa Lumpa (of Willy Wonka fame). Somehow this didn't surprise Paul in the slightest. The orange-skinned dwarf ran a comb through its perfect green quiff then gave Paul a disturbingly sharp-toothed grin. He didn't remember Willy Wonka's Umpa Lumpas having fangs... but then again, this was Hell. Paul sighed and clambered into the back. The guide demon squeezed its ungainly bulk into the front passenger seat and grunted at the Umpa Lumpa. The orange dwarf answered using a series of clicks, whistles and popping noises not dissimilar to the language of the San tribes of Africa. Weird, thought Paul, very weird.
The little car pulled off and spun into the midst of candy tower-blocks and fondant statuary. Paul noticed fields of sugar-paper grass in which candy-floss sheep grazed, looking dumbly at the miserable gluttons being toured past them with gob-stopper eyes.
'So you just let them wander round in here do you?' asked Paul in surprise as they whizzed past another forlorn group of gluttonous souls huddled longingly near a mock-baroque style chocolate fountain.
'Watch' grunted the bile-skinned demon in a voice like moldy cheese curd falling on wet pavement. He nodded towards a tubby human soul at the back of the nearest group. This one's eyes were wide with delirium and he gibbered quietly to himself as he took steps tentatively at first, then with growing determination. The Umpa Lumpa slowed the vehicle's pace to a crawl and Paul leaned closer, making use of a pair of field-glasses that the fat demon handed to him from the glove-compartment. The tubby human finally broke from the crowd properly, breaking into a wobbly run towards the rich molten chocolate bubbling and splashing in the fountain. A wail of despair rent the air as he dived into the pool and hit the bottom of the pool with a dry thud.
It was as if the very essence of the ungainly fellow repelled the substance of the chocolate. Screaming and crying, the man rolled around looking fat and lame, the gorgeous aroma must have been driving him wild at that proximity... but the stuff wouldn't touch him. He clambered to his feet tearfully and lunged his open mouth towards a fountaining stream of molten chocolate. The liquid loveliness parted around him, perfectly joined behind his head then poured down into the basin as it was supposed to do.
'Wow' said Paul sitting back. The Umpa Lumpa put his foot down and the little red car lurched forwards. 'That is pretty sadistic!' The fat demon gave Paul an evil little smile. Paul shivered and looked down at his tick-sheet. Evidence of suffering, low, medium or high. Paul ticked high. The Umpa Lumpa whistled and clicked to the demon guide in an approving manner.
Paul went from one department of gluttony punishment to another with his tick-sheets. At every stage he discovered new levels of inventiveness in the delivery of psychological agony on the dregs of humanity whose greed and lust for all things foody had distracted them from living righteously. When he finally got back to the office for a spot of dinner, he couldn't help but feel a little guilty as Lucifer's personal chef brought out a 20 course taster menu of haute cuisine for his delectation. He still ate it.... but it did give him pause for thought.
Previous chapters in this series
- God's Shoehorn (Chapter V)
In this chapter, Paul is shown around his new place of work (Hell) by Lucifer and Mrs Parsonage takes her coven to seek out the Antichrist.
- God's Shoehorn (Chapter IV)
In this fourth chapter of God's Shoehorn, God tries to reason with Paul and Mrs Parsonage gathers her troops.
- God's Shoehorn (Chapter III)
In this continuation of God's Shoehorn, Paul has an altercation at the supermarket, and Mrs Parsonage meets an old friend who is acting a wee bit suspiciously.
- God's Shoehorn (Chapter II)
In this second chapter of God's Shoehorn, Paul has a surprise meeting with the devil in a coffee shop, and Mrs Parsonage goes looking for artifacts of occult significance under Lindesfarne Abbey.
- God's Shoehorn
In this hub inspired by my 'activities to inspire your creative writing hub' (pats self on back in egotistical self-aggrandizement) - Father Paul falls out with God and Mrs Parsonage communes with dark forces. Read on to find out how these things tra