The Visitor from Hell
The first apocalypse took place in a quiet suburban neighborhood in northern Virginia. It was caused by a five-year-old girl named Sarah Rogers, an unassuming student just starting her first year of kindergarten. She also happened to be my daughter.
The first domino to fall was because of a woman named Ms. Ericksson. Ms. Ericksson was Sarah’s homeroom teacher, a lonely middle-aged woman who harbored enduring obsessions with two things: the army of stray cats that besieged her home year round, and the Christmas season. Because of the latter obsession, Ms. Ericksson decided that she would begin her Christmas lessons a little early that year, in mid September. The first lesson involved students writing letters to Santa Claus.
Well, I certainly thought so at first.
But as Ms. Ericksson’s enthusiasm for teaching has never quite matched her enthusiasm for cats and candy cane flavored liqueur, the students’ letters got sent out with some spelling errors. As far as I can tell though, my daughter is the only one who sent her letter out to Satan.
That shouldn’t have been a problem--just another funny anecdote to add the the highlight reel of stories that make up any normal childhood.
The problem was that we got a letter back.
It was a lazy Sunday afternoon and I was drifting off to sleep in my recliner when I was startled from my reverie by an urgent knock at the door. I pushed myself out of the chair to go see who was there and what they could have possibly needed that was so important.
Yet when I opened the door, I was greeted only by an empty porch.
I leaned out and scanned the street. The sky was blue and cloudless, and the neighborhood was uncharacteristically quiet for th4 time of day. Usually on a Sunday afternoon there would be kids chasing each other around, or perhaps somebody working on their car. At the very least Ms. McElhatty would be out walking her dog to let it relieve itself on her least favorite neighbors’ lawns.
Yet the street was still and silent. I glanced down at my doormat and saw a charcoal black envelope. I bent down and picked it up, staring at it as I carried it inside my house.
The envelope was cartoonishly large and smelled faintly of sulfur. ‘Sarah,’ my daughter’s name, was written on the front in blood-red ink.
My first instinct was to wonder what kind of person would hand deliver a letter to a five-year-old girl. Turning the envelope over, I slid my thumb under the seal and tore it open.
I pulled the letter inside out with care. It looked to be at least a hundred years old, and seemed like it might crumble in my hands at any moment. The penmanship was loopy cursive written with the same blood red ink that was on the envelope.
I felt a growing sense of unease in the pit of my stomach as I read the letter, the contents of which I will replicate for you here.
Thank you so much for your letter. Almost nobody takes the time to write me anymore. I usually only get letters from Satanists, and they are an awfully strange group of people. I have carefully considered your request for a ‘life-sized, living teddy bear’ and I believe that our scientists down here in Hell have been able to put together a reasonable approximation of your request. Franken Teddy is scheduled to arrive at your doorstep shortly after you receive this letter.
I must have looked rather stupid as I stood there staring at the letter in my hands, my mouth hanging open as I tried to put my thoughts in order.
Yet I wager I looked even stupider when I turned around to see a seven-foot tall teddy bear standing behind me and I screamed like a little girl.
Franken Teddy seemed unfazed by my reaction, and judging by his appearance, I’d guess that he was used to such a reception.
He had matted brown fur that was patched together with various bits of ragged cloth, and covered in what looked suspiciously like bloodstains. One of his eyes was a little black button, and the other looked like a glowing ember set somewhere deep in the back of his head.
He spoke in a booming monotonous baritone that made me wonder if his vocal chords had been singed by Hellfire.
“I....AM FRANKEN TEDDY,” he bellowed. “I AM HERE.... TO LOVE YOU.”
I tried to force my mouth to form words, but all that came out was a small squeaking noise.
“ARE YOU SARAH?” Franken Teddy bellowed.
“I uh,no. I’m Sarah’s dad.” I replied. “Listen, I don’t really think that--”
“WHERE IS SARAH?” interrupted Franken Teddy.
“Well, she’s at school right now and--”
“THEN I WILL GO TO SCHOOL SO THAT I MAY LOVE HER.”
“Wait a second,” I said. “School is over now and she’ll be home any moment. But you can’t--”
“THEN I SHALL WAIT HERE,” Franken Teddy finished.
He promptly turned around and made his way to my couch. The couch groaned and sagged under his enormous weight.
He turned toward me.
“DO YOU HAVE ANY SOULS OF THE DAMNED?” he bellowed. “I MUST CONSUME SOULS OF THE DAMNED TO SUSTAIN MYSELF.”
“Er, no,” I replied. “I’m afraid we don’t.”
He made a vague grumbling noise in his throat and said,
“CHEETOS ARE ALSO FINE.”
“Oh, well we do have those.”
“I’LL HELP MYSELF.”
I looked back down at the letter as Franken Teddy wandered into my kitchen, and saw that there was a customer service number written on the back. I got out my phone to call it, but before I finished dialing I heard a scream sound out from behind me.
I turned around to Sarah standing in the doorway, mouth hanging open as she stared at Franken Teddy rummaging through our cabinets and throwing things on the floor in his search for Cheetos.
“Sarah, honey, don’t be scared,” I said, trying to take my own advice.
But Sarah wasn’t scared at all. She shot past me like a bolt of little blonde lightning and leapt on Franken Teddy’s leg, wrapping herself so tightly around it that she was lifted off the ground whenever he took a step.
“He’s perfect, Daddy!” she screamed. “I can’t wait to take him to show and tell!”
I was flabbergasted.”Wait, really?” I sputtered.
“Of course!” Sarah squealed.
“Oh,” I said. “But you can’t bring a monster teddy bear to--”
“ARE YOU SARAH?” Franken Teddy’s booming voice cut me off yet again.
“Yes!” Sarah shouted.
Franken Teddy took a knee.
“MY LADY,” he bellowed, “I HAVE BEEN ENLISTED BY THE DARK LORD SATAN TO SERVE AT YOUR PLEASURE. I SHALL LOVE AND PROTECT YOU WITH MY LIFE, AND INFLICT THE HORRORS OF A DEMONIC LEGION ON YOUR ENEMIES.”
“Cool!” Sarah shouted. She leapt to her feet and began hopping around Franken Teddy in circles.
Not knowing what else to do, I finished typing the customer service number into my phone with shaking hands. The line rang once, and then a tired female voice answered.
“Hell customer service,” it said, “how may I Hell you today?”
“Listen, I--wait, did you just say how may I Hell you?”
The voice on the other end sighed.
“It’s not my joke,” she said. “It’s just something management forces us to say.”
“I uh, okay. Listen, I think there’s been some sort of mistake.”
The woman sighed again.
“All Heaven and Hell placements are final,” she said. “The appeals process is really more of a formality.”
“What?” I said. “No, I’m talking about the seven-foot tall monster teddy bear that just showed up at my house.”
“Oh,” the woman said, her tone relaxing a bit. “You must be the Rogers household.”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“Satan wanted to let you know that he hopes your daughter enjoys the gift. He regrets to inform you, however, that he will be out of the office until next Wednesday, so he won’t be able to check back with you until then.”
I turned and watched Franken Teddy open a family-sized bag of Cheetos and dump its entire contents into his mouth. Several handfuls fell onto the floor, and Sarah trampled them into dust as she hopped around in excitement.
“Well, can I maybe return him until then?” I asked.
“So I’m stuck with a giant monster teddy bear until Satan calls me next week?”
“No, of course not,” the woman said.
“Oh thank God,” I replied, somewhat regretting my phrasing.
“Satan won’t be calling you,” she said. “He has you scheduled for a face to face.”
My throat tightened up and my mouth went dry. I tried to tell her that wasn’t necessary, but all I could get out was a few croaking sounds. She muttered something about ‘rude humans’ and hung up the phone with a decisive ‘click.’
I turned back around to see Sarah screaming with laughter as Franken Teddy tossed her up and the air and caught her over and over again. Her hair had fallen over her face and her bright blue eyes shone like little aquamarines. I couldn’t help but smile a little despite myself.
The smile disappeared, however, when I began to think about how I was going to keep a seven-foot tall teddy bear hidden from the rest of the neighborhood. And that was a relatively small problem compared to deciding what to do when Satan himself showed up on my doorstep.
Yet as I watched Franken Teddy tear apart my kitchen, the most pressing issue became clear--I was going to have to buy more Cheetos.