Oh Hell

by Steve Tully

Nomsbha Surat eyed the glass he had just washed with a critical air.

Satisfied, he slipped it down behind the bar and reached for another. He just couldn't trust that little demon who worked for him. It was the demon's first week, and a lazier little fellow he had never seen. Of course, Sloth was one of the seven deadly sins.

Such was his fate, he reflected, to end up with one whose sin was sloth, for an assistant. This was Hell after all, he thought, what did he expect? He looked over the bar to see the little demon busily scrubbing the floor with a toothbrush.

"Tyler, you missed a spot! There, to the left, over, over, that's it." You had to stay on top of the help or that lazy no-good would goof-off.

Nomsbha's sin was wine, women and song. To be more precise, he was a lush. So it was his own hell to be a tavern owner. No time for a quick drink! No time for a frolicking lass. The boss was way too picky about the books for that! There would be hell to pay over the books not being quite right - as he found out one very well remembered time.

Of course everything had its compensations. He did get to make sure nobody else had a good time. All week long he served flat beer - warm, of course. That, and very watered whiskey. Cheated the customers out of their poker machine winnings, shorted them on their change, served rancid snacks. He was always out of whatever it was they wanted. In general, he made sure they has a lousy time.

But tonight was Saturday, a very important night. Everything had to be just so. No rest for the weary, he thought, as he cleaned the rest of the glasses very carefully. His was the finest tavern in Hell. He had an image to maintain, after all.

Finishing the glasses up, he turned to his other duties. Going to the jukebox, he pulled all the cracked and scratched records out and replaced them with new ones. Then, to the poker machine, he adjusted percentages so that it was possible to win. Onward to the pinball machine, adjusting the coin mechanism to really accept coins, instead of just eating the money. Turning back to the bar he skillfully exchanged the rancid bags of snack food for good ones. Then he turned on the coolers to chill the beer. Even the ice water was free on Saturdays! He smiled at the thought - ice water in Hell. He flipped on the ice machine, which groaned out its agony as it slowly came to life. Then he pounded on the air conditioner in the window, beating on it until it wheezed to life. Then, with, a final smack he headed back to the bar.

The boss even had a special place for machines, he thought. That guy just didn't miss a trick! You just had to give him his due. What an operator!

Saturday in hell was a special day. This was the day the out-of-towners stopped in - the suburbanites, as the boss called them. They floated in, in twos and threes all night. They always looked a little sheepish as they ordered, adjusting their halos, or wearing street clothes, but order they did.

He always served the beers with an exact one-inch head on them. He tipped the beer glasses ever so carefully as he pulled on the taps to always get them right. He always poured a little extra booze into every mixed drink, always with fresh ice and a smile. He was ever so polite. The boss insisted on it!

Of course the smile did un-nerve the new patrons a bit. Being a demon as he was, his smile wasn't pleasant. But the regulars were used to it. He could even count on Tyler, the little demon, tonight. The boss was never far and that kept the little guy on his toes, all right. He would wait on tables with a flair for detail. Never got an order wrong. Not after the first time he made a mistake that is. There was hell to pay for that! Even Nomsbha felt sorry for the little demon that time. He dialed the house lights down a notch and waited for the evening crowd to drift in.

The door opened. A familiar looking gentleman sauntered over and pulled up a stool.

"What'll it be tonight, sir?" Numbsbha smiled his greeting and tried to place the man. He was wearing a pair of grey flannel trousers, button down shirt, and a white cardigan sweater. Nothing odd about that, he just looked so familiar.

"Ice water." The man replied pulling out a pipe as he waited for his water. The man fumbled in his pockets for a match.

"Permit me, sir." Nomsbha held out a claw and it burst into flame, just enough to light the man's pipe.

The man nodded his thanks as Nomsbha went to fetch his water, still wondering, Where do I know that face from?

Nomsbha thought furiously. It didn't pay to forget a face when you ran the finest bar in Hell. He slid the water in front of the man who nodded his thanks.

Just then, the door opened again. Nomsbha looked up to see the boss walking in. "Good evening, sir!" he piped up.

"Ah, Noms, good to see you. And how is my favorite bartender tonight?" the boss asked.

"Boss, you know I hate being called Noms," Nomsbha replied with a twitch of his tail.

"Noms, Noms, Noms, remember that talk we had the first day you arrived? What was that, about twelve hundred years ago? Remember how I tried to help you fit into hell? Didn't I say you wouldn't like it? Didn't I?

"Yeah, boss, I remember," sulked the demon.

"Now Noms, remember how I helped you design a hell just for you personally? Didn't I give you the best location? The corner of "Good Intentions" and "Damnation Way?" Didn't I help you as much as I could?"

"Yeah, but..."

"No, yeah-buts, Noms. As I explained, I don't send people here, they send themselves," the boss said in a sympathetic voice. "I'm just doing my job making them as miserable as they have to be. You know that," he added softly.

"I know boss" Noms replied, looking down. "It's just so, petty. That's all."

"Hell has many levels Noms. Remember, you picked your own."

"I know boss." Numnsbha said, quietly, eyes downcast. "I deserve it, too."

"I know you do, Noms, that's why I'm here," he said. Gently reaching across the bar, he gripped the demons shoulder. "I believe in you, Noms. You have every right to be here!" The boss clapped him on his back. "There will always be a place in hell for you."

"Thanks boss, I needed that." Tears were flowing from his eyes as he looked up gratefully.

"Now get back to work!" The boss roared, flames shooting from his ears.

Noms smiled "Yes boss!" He reached for his bar towel.

The boss looked over at the other patron in the bar. "Slumming, aren't we, just a bit, Jesus?"

"Nice speech to the demon," Jesus said, turning his water into wine. "The flames were a nice touch." he said sipping his wine.

"Remember, no interference! We got rules down here you know!" The boss looked suspiciously at Jesus.

"I know. I made them, remember?" Jesus replied calmly. "Let's get a table and chat a bit, shall we?"

Jesus picked up his glass. Moving over to a table by the wall, he said "Dad has been asking about you. When are you going to come home?"

Jesus himself! Noms though as he headed up the bar, towel over his shoulder. It was going to be a tough night. Jesus and the boss at the same time. There would be hell to pay for tonight, he predicted.

The door opened again as a couple walked in and sat at the bar. Noms went down the bar to wait on them. As the couple ordered, a threesome walked in, quickly followed by more patrons. The place was filling up. Another Saturday night - looked like it was going to be a busy one, too.

Where was that no-good Tyler? On a night like tonight, that little demon better not screw up! If he did, Noms would make sure there would be hell to pay and then Noms to pay! He saw the little demon scrubbing the floor by the jukebox. That good for nothing! Scrubbing floors, when there were tables to be waited on - and the boss's table, no less!

He stormed over to the little demon. Noms glowered over his assistant. "Do you see anyone at the tables? Whose job is it to wait on the tables? What are you doing scrubbing the floor! Get up and get to work, you lazy good-for-nothing! What exactly did you not understand about your job? That is the boss over, there with Jesus of all people. Now jump!"

The little demon jumped. His toothbrush flew under the tables at the end of the bar. He grabbed his cup of soapy water and vamoosed to the back room to change into his waiter's uniform.

He was back in a flash. He approached the boss's table and asked, "Everything OK here? Can I get you anything from the bar?" He was shivering with fear.

"Yes, I will have a red wine." Jesus said. "Put it on your boss's tab please."

"No checks, no tabs, no credit, no hard feelings," Tyler said, and looked at the boss. "Ain't that right, boss?"

"That's right Tyler, now go fetch us those drinks."

"No tabs, boss, everybody pays." Tyler insisted.

"Well?" Jesus asked looking at the boss.

"Oh, all right," said the boss rolling his eyes. Reaching into his pocket he pulled out a few coins, handed them to Tyler and said "Make that two glasses, and make it snappy!"

"Yes, sir" Tyler said with a small smile as he went for the drinks.

"You are too kind" Jesus said with a little grin.

"Hell, if I didn't buy a round you would just get water and do that water- to- wine trick anyway," the boss said disgustedly. "It's bad for business seeing that, might give some of them ideas."

"Really?" Jesus looked thoughtful.

"You'll have to show me that one sometime." The boss brightened. "Water to wine, there's an angle there."

Tyler was back in a flash with two glasses of red wine balanced on his tray, saying, "Here you are, gentlemen." As he placed the glasses in front of them he asked, "Anything else for you now?"

"Not now, but bring more wine as soon as the glasses are empty," the boss instructed.

"Yes, sir!" Tyler faded into the crowd to wait on other tables.

Noms busied himself at the bar pouring drinks, occasionally listening in on odd snatches of conversation as all bartenders do, always keeping an eye on Tyler in between orders as the night wore on.

Several orders later as he was scanning the bar room for Tyler he noticed a man sleeping over the bar - fully stretched out, floating an inch or so above the bar!

"Hey buddy," Nomsbha said, going over and poking the man in the side with a claw. "Hey, you don't have to go home but you can't stay here!" He poked the man again with a sharper claw. The man opened one eye, looking at Noms.

"I think I'll go home," he said, getting up. "In Heaven there are no hangovers. Goodnight." He strolled out the door.

Noms could have screamed! It was the thing he hated the most about Saturday nights, damn angels reminding him of that little fact! Always telling him little things like that. How good it was "up there." Walking away, he mumbled to himself, "This is hell, what do I expect? Well it can't get any worse than this."

Then, coins started bouncing off his head. It was raining pocket change. This was the part of the night he hated second most. He sighed and looked up. Damn those angels! Always getting loaded and floating up to the rafters to fall asleep. They didn't have the decency to fall down like every one else! Oh no, they floated up, up and away! They were just hell to get down again, too! Noms shook his head, he just knew there would be hell to pay for this night! He hurried into the back room for the angel stick, a pole covered in velcro he used to pull the damn angels down. This one was way up in the rafters. It took a good five minutes of poking and pulling to get him down. If anything more happened, Nomsbha didn't even want to think about it!

The way things were going tonight, he just laid the angel stick on the floor behind the bar. A man in a tweed jacket waving a stack of papers motioned Noms over.

"Excuse me, perhaps you can help me. My friend and I are having an argument as to which of these is the all-time greatest." He laid the papers out on the bar.

"Which one do you think is the best?" His friend chimed in.

Noms glanced at the papers laid out on the bar and his blood ran cold. No! It couldn't be. But there they were. "The Family Circus by little Billy!" There must have been thirty of the nasty little comics here, on his bar. He couldn't stand it. It was torture to have to even look at them. Never had he seen something this bad at his bar. This was hell, what did he expect? he thought glumly.

Well, that worked both ways, he thought. He reached out to the first comic touching it with his claw. "Not that one." He said, as it burst into flames. "Not that one, either," as he touched the next one, turning it to ash. He continued through the rest until he got to the last one. As he touched the last one he said, "Gee, I guess none of them are the greatest of all time." He looked at the two men who stared at him, their mouths hanging open. After all this was hell! What did they expect? Noms walked away, chuckling to himself. Who said you couldn't have a good time in hell?

He looked over at the boss's table just in time to see him finishing off another glass of wine.

"Tyler!" He shouted over to the little demon and pointed at the boss's table.

Tyler nodded his head to show that he understood, quickly getting more wine. The little demon scurried over to the table, carefully balancing the heavy tray as he weaved in and around the bar patrons. Just as he got to the boss's table, he stumbled on a toothbrush. The tray flew out of his hands as he hit the floor. Looking up he saw red wine all over Jesus.

"Forgive me, please, sir," he stammered looking up.

Jesus looked at him. "Of course."

Suddenly the little demon was gone, replaced by a small boy wearing a dirty striped shirt, torn blue jeans, and a halo.

The boss was furious "Now why did you go and do that?" he demanded.

"He asked me to. You know that's all it takes," Jesus said.

"Just like that! We have rules here!" hissed the boss through clenched teeth.

"Yes, that's one of them too, anybody that asks," Jesus reminded him.

"He goes with me," said Jesus, nodding his head toward the boy.

Jesus walked out with Tyler. Tyler turned, adjusted his halo, and waved good-bye at Noms.

Noms walked over to the boss's table, staring at what he had just seen. He glanced at the boss, eyes wide. "What the, who? Where is he going? He has work to do!"

"He did such a good job on the floor I just had to promote him," said the boss. "You do understand, don't you, Noms? I'll get you a new assistant by, say, Saturday?" the boss said, smoothly.

"But he only started this week! Who's going to do the tables!" Noms wailed. "I'll have to do all the hard work myself! Who will clean the place up? Who'll fish angels off the ceiling? Me, that's who! All he did was floors with a toothbrush! What did that lazy, good-for-nothing do that I can't!" He glared up at the boss.

"But, Noms," smiled the boss."Remember...?"

"I know, this is Hell, what did I expect?" sighed Noms, suddenly finding the floor very interesting. "I know, boss," he said softly.

The boss smiled, turned and headed towards the door. "See you next week, eh, Noms? Oh, and I'll want to see the books then."

"Yes, sir," Noms said in a tired voice, shaking his head. He hated those damn books worst of all.

He thought he heard the boss's laughter between the traffic noises as the door squeaked closed.

x-x-x

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