Dante shmante I say we bribe the big boss
To Rain in Hell
by Douglas W. Clark
Lucifer, five-foot-two in elevator shoes, stood on tiptoe to peek over the balustrade of his balcony. His minions had gathered in force outside his palace of Pandemonium on a dreary plain--forlorn and wild, the seat of desolation, void of light save what the glimmering of the livid flames cast pale and dreadful. By his side, one next to himself in power, and next in crime, Beelzebub, Lucifer's second in command, knew the archfiend didn't want to miss the spectacle. Especially since Beelzebub had assured his captain that this time the rebel angels were there in support of their leader, and not to attempt yet another mutiny. To the full extent possible, the spirit pair viewed the dismal situation: a dungeon horrible on all sides flamed as one great furnace, yet from those flames no light sprang forth, but rather darkness visible.
In other words, a typically scorching, precipitation-free day in the bowels of Hell.
"Is this the region, this the soil, the clime," bewailed the chief-most fallen angel, "this the seat that we have changed for Heaven?--this mournful gloom for that celestial light?"
Beelzebub sighed, tired of hearing this speech endlessly repeated, tired too of hearing the ghostwriter's stately iambic pentameter marred by Lucifer's reedy, nasal delivery. "You know it is, O Consort of Criminals," he said. "At least until we turn the tables on the Enemy."
Lucifer hopped a couple of times, hoping for a better view. At last he gave up, sighed, and called his second nearer. "Give me a boost," he said. Without a word, Beelzebub lifted his captain to his shoulders and perched him between his leathery wings.
Now clearer they ranged, numberless former angels hovering on wing under the cope of Hell, between upper, nether and surrounding fires--a horrid host of dreadful size, armed like warriors of old with ordered spear and shield, awaiting what command their mighty chief had to impose. Beyond them, at the edge of the plain, lay the fiery waters into which the rebel angels had plunged when first flung down from Heaven, and which now gave Pandemonium its commanding lakefront view.
"Powers and Dominions," Lucifer began in his high-pitched, adenoid whine, "Deities of Heaven--for I give not Heaven up for lost--shall we live thus trampled, thus expelled, to suffer here chains and these torments?"
There was a pause, and Beelzebub motioned surreptitiously with his hands where Lucifer couldn't see.
"No," came the half-hearted response from a million million parched throats.
Beelzebub gestured more emphatically.
"No!" the fallen angels cried with greater energy.
"What can be worse than to dwell here, driven out from bliss, condemned in this abhorred deep to endless woe?"
"Once more with rallied arms then, who will try what may be yet regained in Heaven, or what more lost in Hell?"
There was another pause, as the ranked host considered for the first time that there might be a possibility of losing again to their foes and suffering yet greater loss.
"I'm not sure that was a good point to mention," Beelzebub whispered as the former angels shifted and muttered among themselves. Out of sight, he motioned with his hands more frantically than before.
"Who'll help me retake Heaven?" Lucifer demanded.
"We will," came the ragged reply.
"Who? Who's with me?"
"We are!" the fallen host roared. And as if to confirm their words, out flew millions of flaming swords, drawn from the thighs of mighty cherubim. The sudden blaze far round illumined Hell. Loudly they raged and hurled their defiance toward the vault of Heaven.
Lucifer, evidently satisfied, kicked against Beelzebub's chest with his heels. "Put me down, put me down!" the Prince of Hell hissed. Beelzebub complied and the diminutive leader strutted back through the open French doors into his chamber, walking with mincing steps to avoid spraining an ankle in his high-soled shoes. He was, as always, sweating profusely. "Throw another shovelful on the hearth, will you. It's hot as Hell in here."
Beelzebub scooped a load of ice cubes from the chest freezer and added them to the melting pile on the room's enormous grate. But the palace was too cavernous and drafty for the ice to bring the temperature down more than a degree or so. If Lucifer had been content with something a little less ostentatious, perhaps he could have instituted more effective air conditioning. Well, let the bastard suffer for it, Beelzebub thought bitterly.
Lucifer eased himself into an overstuffed chair before the hearth and held out his hands toward the ice. "Let's review the plan for the First Annual All-Cosmic Tennis Championship."
Beelzebub sighed. Surely fate would reward him for putting up with such a fool. "Very well, Your Inverted Eminence. Their security forces will come down first thing in the morning to check things out. Once they're satisfied, the Lord God Almigh--"
"Don't utter that name in my presence!" Lucifer shrieked.
Beelzebub stifled an angry retort. "Once the security detail is satisfied with our arrangements, the Party of the Second Part and his retinue will follow. There will be a parade from the arrival site to the tennis court, where the Party of the Second Part will be seated, and the games will begin. Or at least, that's what the Party of the Second Part will be led to expect. Our forces will be ready to attack at the down stroke of the first serve, O Vicar of Vice."
"Excellent!" Lucifer hissed. He dabbed at his sweaty face with a monogrammed silk handkerchief. "Ah, this plan is like a soothing lullaby to my fevered ears."
Enjoy the prospect while you can, you pompous twit, Beelzebub thought. Because you won't still be in power when the moment comes. But aloud, all he said was, "Of course, O Fugitive from Effulgence. Shall I put on more ice?"
Lucifer shook his head, then glared at his second in command. "You know I hate it when you do that."
"Hate what, O Father of Falsehood?" Beelzebub asked, his voice full of innocence.
Lucifer looked vexed. "Sometimes I think you're mocking me."
"Never, O Friend of the Fallen."
"At least give the f's a break and alliterate on some other letter awhile."
"As you wish, O Regent of Ruin."
"I was being sarcastic."
"How so, O Ringleader of Rebels?"
Lucifer shrieked and flung the bucket of ice cubes at his second in command. "Get out! Leave me in peace!"
Beelzebub did as he was told, crossing the room in offended silence. At the door, he turned, nose in the air. "Don't forget your welcoming speech in an hour," he sniffed, and left. Once out in the corridor, he broke into a smile and whistled more happily than anyone in Hell had a right to as he strode down the hall. A little more of this treatment, he thought, and Lucifer would be too distracted to notice the steps being taken to oust him from power.
An hour later, Beelzebub stood at a podium beneath a banner that read "Welcome Newly Damned." Except some vandal had crossed out "Newly" and scrawled "Nudely" in its place. That was the problem with Hell, Beelzebub thought sourly. Too many miscreants with no respect for authority. When he was in charge, he wouldn't tolerate such behavior.
Of course, the damned really were naked, seated on the most uncomfortable folding metal chairs Beelzebub's agents had been able to locate. Chairs that conducted the heat.
"And now," Beelzebub said, winding up his introduction with a breathless excitement he did his best to feign, "help me welcome the Bad Boy of Abaddon, the Gehenna Ghoul, the Headmaster of Hades himself, heeeeeeere's Lucifer!"
Lucifer wobbled across the stage to a perfunctory scattering of applause. He stepped up to the microphone, only to discover that his second in command had chosen a podium too tall for the diminutive ruler. Lucifer had to step to the side of the podium in order to be seen, where his unamplified words wouldn't be heard beyond the first row of seats. "Thank you, thank you for that warm netherworld welcome," he cried, fanning himself to underscore the pun and laughing at his own joke, as he did every time he delivered it. A few groans greeted him from the audience, although most of the crowd was too deep in misery to care.
Lucifer didn't seem to notice the lack of enthusiasm. He launched into his introductory talk, stressing the need for responsible behavior from the newly damned, as if they would have come to this place had they acted responsibly in life.
The talk finally ended, much to the relief not only of the newly damned, but also Beelzebub, who had to endure it as well. He breathed a cautious sigh, careful not to let his superior see him. No need to antagonize the little twerp this close to the planned overthrow. Better to keep him happy and unsuspecting.
After the talk, Beelzebub leaned close to his superior's ear (an action which forced him to stoop uncomfortably) and whispered, "O Emperor of Excess, don't forget you have that appointment with the royal tailor."
Lucifer broke into an uncharacteristic smile. "Ah, the tailor, yes." With Beelzebub's arm for support, he hopped down from the dais.
"Come, O Viceroy of Viciousness--" Beelzebub began.
"Aha!" Lucifer pointed at him accusingly.
"Viceroy of Viciousness. You've used that one before."
"No I haven't."
"Yes you have. I heard you."
Beelzebub thought back. "Oh, you must be thinking of Vicar of Vice."
"I could have sworn you said Viceroy of Viciousness," Lucifer said in a sulky voice.
"No, I'd remember if I had."
"Oh, all right, although they sound an awful lot alike. So what were you saying?"
"That we mustn't keep the tailor waiting, Your Machiavellian Majesty. You know how temperamental these artistic types get."
Lucifer gave a dramatic sigh. "Come on then, let's go."
They headed for the throne room, with Lucifer setting a length of stride comfortable to his stubby legs. When they finally reached the throne room, a small entourage was already waiting, including the tailor (who looked terribly nervous) and the royal armorer (a much more stoic fallen angel whose feelings about the situation were not apparent).
"Ah, so what do you have for me?" Lucifer asked.
The tailor's fingers fluttered more nervously than usual. "We, ah, have a suit of chain mail tailored to very progressive lines that we thought Your Royal Presence might wish to wear to the games tomorrow. It looks stylish and protects against assassination attempts."
"Ah, wonderful!" Lucifer beamed and turned to Beelzebub. "See what having happy subjects brings? Initiative, that's what. An eagerness to please their leader."
Beelzebub, who knew the tailor had had to be coerced into this course of action, only hoped the fawning fool wouldn't give the game away. "Yes, O Worker of Wickedness, I do see."
Lucifer frowned and leaned in to whisper, "I do wish you would forego the alliterative titles. They're becoming something of an irritant."
"As you say, O Father of Fiendishness--"
"Knock it off!"
The tailor, meanwhile, was unrolling a package the armorer had carried under his arm: a glittering suit of chain mail, forged from glittering, silvery links.
"Oh!" gasped Lucifer, "that's beautiful. Adamantine, isn't it? However did you manage to work the stuff?"
"Through a new process developed by the armorer and myself," the tailor piped, his voice edgy with panic. "We're thinking of applying for a patent."
"Good idea, although you do remember that under the terms of your confinement, I am the owner of all intellectual properties arising under my reign?"
"Of course," the tailor whined, looking none too happy about the loss of so valuable an asset.
"Try it on, O Minister of Mercilessness," Beelzebub urged, unable to contain his eagerness. "See how flexible and, uh, form fitting it is."
Lucifer, ever subject to the dictates of fashion, needed no further urging. He quickly donned the diminutive suit and began to strut about the room, admiring himself in the many mirrors he kept for that purpose. "Wonderful! It's so light, I hardly know it's there. And so flexible." He stretched his arms and shoulders, testing the suit's ability to move with his body. "Yes, you have certainly outdone yourself this time."
"Uh, but wait, there seems to be a thread dangling," Beelzebub prompted, forgetting for once to use an alliterative title. "Tailor, do you see that thread there?"
The tailor dragged his heels, but came forward as bid. "Yes, I see it," he said woodenly. "Let me fix that." He pulled the adamantine thread.
""Hey!" Lucifer cried as his arms and legs were pulled tight against his body in an adamantine cocoon. He flailed uselessly, his movements increasingly restricted as the web of unbreakable links drew tighter. "Stop, I command you! What's going on?"
The tailor tied the thread off so it wouldn't come unraveled, his hands shaking so badly he could barely manage the task.
"That should hold you," Beelzebub crowed, stepping up to his about-to-be-deposed superior. "At least until Judgment Day rolls around."
Lucifer glared. "So, you too would stab me in the back. I should have known. I suppose you think to rule this place in my stead?"
"But what about me? I can't be killed, you know."
"No, but you can be disposed of in a more or less permanent fashion." Beelzebub nodded to the armorer, who withdrew from the room, only to reappear moments later struggling under the weight of the anvil and chain he carried.
"We have a few, ah, accessories for you new outfit," Beelzebub said gleefully, while the armorer wrapped the chain around the fallen archangel and hammered the links in place, binding the anvil tight against Lucifer's chest. "We thought you might like a lakeside location from which to peruse eternity," Beelzebub crowed. He nodded to the armorer, who whistled, bringing several nervous underlings into the room. They picked up the erstwhile ruler of Hell and began carrying him from the palace. On the way, they passed numerous servants and underlings, each of whom Lucifer ordered to come to his aid. To a man (or devil), they turned away and went about their business. It seemed no one felt any remorse over the fate about to befall their leader. By the time they reached the dock, Lucifer was apoplectic with rage, shouting to one and all to rescue him and promising up to half of his realm to anyone who would help.
Apparently, real estate in Hell didn't command much of a price. Either that or Lucifer was universally disdained, for everyone ignored him.
At the burning lake, they deposited Lucifer in a little rowboat and rowed out to the middle. An eerie curtain of flames rose all about them, and Beelzebub wiped the ever-present sweat from his brow, wishing desperately for a good downpour. A nice, steady rain would make this God-forsaken place bearable, he thought.
When they reached the middle of the lake, they dragged Lucifer onto the gunwale of the boat. But before rolling him into the molten, burning sulfur, Beelzebub addressed him in the word's of Lucifer's favorite apologist: "If thou beest he--but O how fallen! how changed from him who, in the happy realms of light clothed with transcendent brightness, didst outshine myriads, though bright!" Then, chortling, he kicked his former commander into the liquid waste. Lucifer, still bellowing, alternating between pleas and threats, sank like the proverbial stone, the bubbles of his last protest rising up in his wake. Beelzebub could practically hear a syllable of outrage encapsulated in each bubble as it burst. "Sink, you miserable creature," he cried, "down to bottomless perdition, there to dwell in adamantine chains and penal fire. It's better than you deserve."
When they rowed back to the dock, a cheer went up among the assembled multitudes, with much bowing and scraping for Hell's new leader. Beelzebub couldn't resist a bit of a strut as he stepped ashore and strode to take up residence in Lucifer's former palace.
Ah, home sweet home.
"Hail, horrors!" Beelzebub cried, adopting the words of Lucifer's favorite poet and addressing the environs as much as the waiting throngs. His newly won minions greeted his words with a welcoming shout. He held up his arms to silence them. "Hail, infernal world! And thou, profoundest Hell, receive thy new possessor."
This time, the roar that met his words was unstoppable. Beelzebub smiled and let his vassals welcome him home. Now that he was in charge, he would show the universe how the infernal realm should be ruled.
The following day dawned hot and--well, not clear but murky, as indeed they all did. In fact, "dawned" could hardly be said to apply, for days and nights alike were an everlasting gloom of baleful fire in Hell. At any rate, Beelzebub awoke after a night spent cramped on the royal bed that had been designed for Lucifer's diminutive frame. The new leader's knees had been up around his chin all night, with the result that he walked all hunched over this morning, silently cursing his predecessor.
By the time he reached the tennis court, however, he was in a better mood, anticipating the new rebellion that would be launched here against Heaven. The court was a replica of Wimbledon, which would have been used instead except for scheduling conflicts. A matching court had been constructed in Heaven and was intended to be used in alternate years with the one in Hell, although Lucifer had resolved that the First Annual All-Cosmic Tennis Championship would also be the last. He reviewed the assembled troops, then personally saw to their placement and hiding. He wouldn't turn these tasks over to subordinates, trusting in the work of underlings as Lucifer had. That, Beelzebub reflected, was the difference between the two of them: Lucifer was a lazy creature who preferred sloth over preparedness, while Beelzebub was a perfectionist who trusted no one implicitly.
At midmorning (as such things are measured in Hell, where all times are alike in their perpetual gloom), the entourage from Heaven arrived on the scene, right on schedule. It was the first time a deputation from Heaven had visited Hell, and all access was thronged--at the palace especially, where the wide gates and porches, but chiefly the spacious hall, swarmed thick, both on the ground and in the air. Everywhere, there was the hiss of rustling wings. The winged heralds, with awful ceremony and trumpet's sound, throughout the host proclaimed the great assembly forthwith to be held at Pandemonium, once the high capital of Lucifer, now home to Beelzebub and his minions.
Leading the way, of course, was Yahweh, but it was a Yahweh shockingly diminished from the days when all the angels had resided together in Heaven. Even Beelzebub felt a brief pang of pity for the once-glorious God whose thunderbolts had decided the war in Heaven. Then he dismissed his pity as mere sentimentality, a cheap affection that couldn't be tolerated in one who held his position. If Yahweh was weak, possibly through grief over the loss of a third of his angels in the rebellion, so much the better. That simply made Beelzebub's task all the easier.
Yahweh walked with the stooped shuffle of an old man, mumbling and rheumy-eyed, led by a protective Son who looked, Beelzebub concluded, as much of a prig as ever. Clearly, he wasn't up to his old man's standards when it came to effective leadership of Heaven's forces. Behind these two sashayed Gabriel and Michael, as ineffective a pair of sycophants as Beelzebub had ever seen (and he considered himself something of an authority on the matter, having but recently been one such himself). They were followed in turn by an honor guard of several angelic flunkies Beelzebub didn't recognize, having evidently risen in the ranks when the rebelling angels were replaced. The guarding angels moved together in a tight cluster as if hoping to find safety in numbers, and peered about the infernal regions fearfully. Behind them flocked a vast retinue of Heaven's underlings, none of whom looked to be a match for Beelzebub's crack warriors. This rebellion was going to be a cinch, he concluded.
Still, it didn't pay to get too cocky. So he was on his guard when Yahweh's steps were guided to stand before the new leader of Hell. The old God mumbled something indistinct.
"What's that?" Beelzebub asked with mock solicitousness.
Yahweh peered around the gloom with his rheumy stare. "Where's . . . Lucifer?"
"Oh, he had other business, rather binding, that came up at the last minute, and had to get to the bottom of a certain matter. But he sends his regrets. I can assure you, he would much rather be here than where he is just now."
Yahweh considered this, his old chin working as if vestiges of the primal Word of creation were struggling to emerge. But in the end he said nothing, merely nodded feebly and motioned for the Son to lead him on. The Son nodded a cautious greeting to Beelzebub and guided his Father to the tennis court and the stands erected for viewing the competition. The risers turned out to be completely beyond Yahweh's ability to climb, so Michael and Gabriel picked the poor fool up and placed him in his seat.
Beelzebub wiped sweat from his brow, telling himself it was just the usual heat and not nervousness. One positive feature was that the heavenly host, unused to Hell's climate, was suffering at least as much as Hell's residents, if not more. Beelzebub almost smiled. They might as well get used to it, for after today, this was going to be their new home. Beelzebub and his followers would resume occupancy of the empyrean, where the temperature was always perfect, and where there were swimming pools galore. How he longed for a cooling dip in the clear waters of one of Heaven's innumerable pools!
Moloch, lithe and fit, sauntered onto the tennis court from one direction, while the Son, after engaging in several prissy limbering up exercises, took to the court from the other. The referee, one of the undecided angels who had failed to come down solidly in the camp of either faction during the war in Heaven, tossed a coin. The first serve went to the Son. This time, Beelzebub did smile. How surprised the Son was about to be by the effect of his first serve. He raised the ball with his left hand, positioned his racquet in his right, and lobbed the ball into the air. His serve came down with surprising force and swiftness, smashing the ball past Moloch's defenses and scoring the first point for the heavenly host.
It didn't matter. "Princes, potentates, warriors, once flower of Heaven," Beelzebub cried. "Awake, arise, or be forever fallen!"
To their general's voice, the hidden troops innumerable obeyed. Up they sprang upon the wing, and all the while sonorous trumpets blew loud martial sounds, at which the vast demonic host sent up a shout that tore Hell's concave, and beyond. At the warlike sound of clarions and horns, they upreared their mighty standard, and from the glittering staff unfurled the imperial ensign, which, full high advanced, shone like a meteor streaming in the wind. Thus thickly massed the throng, till, the signal given, behold a wonder--from the stands an indistinct mumble was heard.
Beelzebub almost laughed. The old fool Yahweh was trying to say something. Around him, his forces made no move to protect him or themselves, but waited patiently to hear him out. Beelzebub bit back his impatience. "What's that, Your Eminence?" he asked, forcing his words to assume a tone of concern.
The mumble was repeated, a little louder.
"I'm sorry, I still can't hear you."
The old God forced himself to his feet with considerable effort. Michael and Gabriel helped from either side. Once upright, Yahweh gently shook them off. Moving with less effort now, he stood a little straighter. And taller. Then straighter and taller still, rising until his features were almost lost in the gloom overhead. "I SAID, WE COULD DO WITH A LITTLE RAIN, DON'T YOU THINK?" he called so loud that all the hollow deep of Hell resounded. Without apparent effort, his voice drove the assembled demons, including Beelzebub, to their knees. Around Yahweh, the members of his entourage stood straighter and taller too, shaking off their masquerade.
The Almighty laughed, and the sound reverberated from the far corners of Hell. He crooked a mighty finger and the burning lake began to boil. Molten sulphur rose into the air in choking clouds, rising higher and spreading until they filled the sky. Overhead, the still-burning droplets coalesced into larger drops that began to rain all over Hell, flaming from the ethereal sky with hideous ruin and combustion, fed with sulphur that burned forever unconsumed. Beelzebub shrieked as the incendiary rain pelted his leathery hide. Around him, the other demons danced and slapped at the drops, trying to avoid being burned. Yahweh laughed again, and Beelzebub realized the heavenly host was unaffected by the rain, for they stood straight and tall and unmoving despite the fiery deluge.
In the now-empty lake bed, the small, chained figure of Lucifer squirmed and writhed. Yahweh turned to Beelzebub, looking down at him in mock surprise. "Well, well, what have we here? Could this be the 'binding business' that detained the acknowledged ruler of Hell, appointed by highest Heaven?" Yahweh seemed to tower even higher. "In the future, know that Heaven hides nothing from my view, nor the deep tract of Hell." He thrust out a finger at Lucifer and the chains of adamantine snapped and fell away. Lucifer rose stiffly to his feet, trying valiantly to ignore the flaming rain that pelted him. He minced his way across the burning landscape right up to Beelzebub, who promptly fell on his face and began to lick the smouldering dust at Lucifer's feet. "O Lowest of the Lawless, forgive me, I beg."
"Hmm," Lucifer mused, casually kicking his subordinate. "I'll deal with you later. Meanwhile, you are never to alliterate another epithet to me again."
"Yes, O Despot of Deceptio--" He gulped. "Uh, yes, Master."
Meanwhile, the flaming rain continued. On the court, Moloch swatted ineffectually at the drops, oblivious to the Son who promptly drove home a second serve. Moloch never had a chance. The ball streaked into his court and the referee called the point. The Son served yet again, and again the ball slammed into Moloch's court unopposed. Beelzebub, peeping at the court from his position on the ground, groaned. His attempted coup was foiled, Lucifer was back in power, and the First Annual All- Cosmic Tennis Championship was going to be a rout. Could matters get any worse?
A few days later, under a sky still weeping flame, Lucifer again conducted orientation for the newly damned, this time having added a guided tour of the facilities. "Here we have the boiling tar pits where some of you will be confined," he called out gleefully, waving to indicate the stinking, bubbling black mass to their right. "And over there is Mount Sisyphus, where others of you will be occupied each day rolling boulders to the peak. Ah, and my personal favorite--here we have the fly and pest breeding facility, which produces the swarms of insects designed to make your stay here as uncomfortable as possible." He waved through the glass wall to the technician inside, who was wearing shorts, no shoes, and was naked to the waist, and whose responsibility it was to oversee the various colonies of insects. Swarms of flies, gnats, mosquitoes, and other pests obscured his face and body. The technician sighed, swatted the insects away in a desultory, ineffectual manner, and turned aside without acknowledging Lucifer's greeting.
"Why isn't he wearing any protective gear to isolate him from the insects he's raising?" asked one of the newbies.
"I'm glad you asked," Lucifer said. "Here in Hell, everyone gets the punishment he deserves, even the keepers. That's his."
The crowd of newly damned shuddered.
"Who is he?" the newbie asked.
"His name is Beelzebub," Lucifer explained. "His job is to assert Eternal Providence, and--" Lucifer laughed so hard he could scarcely speak "--and justify the ways of flies to men." He was overcome with such a fit of laughter that he started choking and one of the newly damned had to slap him on the back a few times before he caught his breath. Whereupon Lucifer led his passel of newbies to the next stop on the tour, leaving the newly appointed Lord of Flies to his work.
The first of my “editor’s extras” this year, I couldn’t resist this cute send-up of His Infernal Majesty and crew. I’ll resist the urge to call it a hell of an effort . . . no I won’t. Thank you for the laughs, Mr. Clark.