Satan. Beelzebub. Old Scratch. The Prince of Darkness. Lucifer. The Devil. El Diablo, if you’re into the whole Spanish language thing. He goes by all of these names—but I just call him Dad.
If you think your childhood was rough, try growing up in Hell. I don’t mean that in the metaphorical sense, either. I’m not talking about some third world country where having the option to be afflicted with diabetes would be a dream come true. I mean literally Hell. There are a lot of people out there who say that things are “like hell,” but don’t really have any clue as to what Hell is like. Not until they get down there, anyway. And, to be clear, a lot of people have ended up there. For every patron saint grandma, there have been a dozen superficially sweet grandmas that made a habit of kicking their little poodles across the kitchen. I shit you not, it’s pretty depressing.
But anyway, I’m getting off track. If you couldn’t put two and two together from my opening statement, I am, in fact the son of Satan. The Antichrist, as it were. I’ve been around and kicking for the past 148 years. That’s not a whole lot of time in angel years—think reverse dog years, which would place me at a little over 21-years-old in your exponentially less infinite frame of reference. On that note, I really haven’t seen a whole lot.
Unlike my father, who could roam about the Earth’s surface basically whenever he damn well pleased (provided someone summoned him by reading some Latin brouhaha and/or drunkenly drawing a pentagram, of course), my stepping foot on Earth would have immediately fulfilled God’s contract with Dad and bring about the End of Days. The Apocalypse. The Rapture. Over the course of a few eons, you get tired of saying the same things over and over again, so we tend to have multiple names for the same concepts. Otherwise, we begin to irritate ourselves. At least that’s what Dad says—again, I’m pretty young, relatively speaking.
Without true access to Earth for most of my life, my experience has been somewhat limited. Don’t get me wrong, I am not completely naïve—we did have Netflix. We also watched several events going on in the world via our “Control Room,” as Dad has called it since the dawn of time (and I mean the actual dawn of time). Really, it’s just a room with a large screen on the wall that can show us what is going on anytime (excluding the future), anywhere in the world. We used it to see past events—that was how I learned history. And about sex. I mostly used it for the latter purpose for the past 50 years or so. Don’t judge me, you would use it for the exact same thing. I’ve seen how much porn you people watch on a daily basis. Wash your fucking hands.
Dad used the Control Room frequently to find people of weak will to corrupt. He was always really big into the corruption scene—ever since being kicked out of Heaven, he wanted nothing more than to take as many souls as he could from God; this way, few, if any, members of God’s civilization would be left to save during the Rapture. He wanted to prove to God that evil wins in the end, and that true goodness doesn’t exist. Or something weird and abstract like that, I don’t fucking know. He started this passion project with Eve, and he’s been relentless ever since.
Hell has never been all that bad, though. It’s my childhood home, and it’s all I’ve known, for the most part. Like I said, I’ve learned a lot from the Control Room. That’s also where I watch Netflix. Netflix has made watching television shows so much easier—before, I would have to rewind the screen in the Control Room to a time that I knew the show was airing, then send a demon to possess a guy with a television, make him turn to the proper channel, and finally zoom in on that television. Now, we just use a possessed guy’s Netflix account, and we get the demon possessing him to play the show or movie we want. That’s all possession boils down to, really—it’s a way for us to watch TV. Possession was widespread before Netflix was invented because different people had different access to different channels and VHS tapes. With Netflix, we only need one guy. Carl is his name. I always felt kind of bad for Carl, but he was kind of a degenerate shut-in without a whole lot going for him before we took his soul, so his situation didn’t change all that much. The demon Dad assigned to the husk of Carl was happy to possess the guy, because that just meant he got to sit around and watch That 70s Show or whatever I was in the mood for on that particular day. My favorite show, though, was The Andy Griffith Show. It was my go-to show back when it originally aired, so we got Carl to buy the DVD box set of the entire series.
I don’t know why The Andy Griffith Show struck me enough to become my favorite. Perhaps it was Barney’s antics—the way Don Knotts’ eyes bulge out and express surprise still makes me grin. Or maybe it was Andy himself, the town sheriff who impressively kept his head on straight in the craziest of situations. Who I think it really was, though, was little Opie. Opie, who fished with his dad during those timeless opening credits as the classic, whistling tune reverberated pleasantly against my eardrums. Opie, who had a penchant for getting into trouble that would always be neatly resolved by the episode’s end. Opie, who loved and admired his dear old dad, Andy.
That’s how I used to be, when I was younger. In my youthful eyes, my Dad was a righteous hero who was unjustly thrown out of Heaven. His cause was true, his tenacity courageous. He would take those souls from God, he would reign supreme over the universe, and damn anyone who tried to stop him. He was who I looked up to.
Over time, though, my views started to change.
As I grew older, I couldn’t help but sense how truly bitter and desperate my father was; how much he needed to take souls not to prove a point, but to make himself feel better. To a certain extent, I understood this—he was thrown out of his home, so naturally, he was upset. To a greater extent, though, I could not understand how gathering souls to torture for all time would make him feel any better. While I used to revel in seeing him dole out punishments as a child, the appeal diminished more and more with each passing year. I was no longer impressed. I was oddly…disgusted.
Sure, some people really deserved what they got. Jeffrey Dahmer was forced to consume a carbon copy of himself, feeling every bite into his own skin as he ate away, unable to stop himself until his girth made it impossible to move. At this point, he would take a horrifically violent, bloody shit and then his body would return to its former lean state, starting the process over again. Osama bin Laden was greeted with 72 beautiful virgin women—upon penetrating one, however, all of them turned into goats that began to perpetually stampede over his dick. John Wayne Gacy had a chainsaw-wielding clown carve him up and make balloon animals out of his intestines over and over (and let me tell you, that clown is inventive—he made an aardvark once for my birthday).
Hitler’s punishment changed almost every single day since he arrived in Hell. He was evil enough that he became Dad’s way of letting off steam; whatever Dad was in the mood for on a particular day, that’s what Hitler got. Decapitations? Sure, on a lazy day. Shoving him in an Acme-sized oven and watching him burn alive? Of course, it was only fitting. Putting on an endless loop of Cher music, blasting it at full volume and letting it liquefy his brain? Dad was going through a weird phase that year.
But then, there were others that maybe didn’t deserve what they got. Some people who ended up in Hell had simply cheated on their husbands or wives in moments of weakness; others were simply atheists who, though good, didn’t provide sufficient faith during their lives; we even had a couple guys who just never paid their taxes. Can’t say that’s a particularly bad thing, either, after seeing what most governments spend those taxes on.
Gene, an unsuccessful stand-up comedian, had accidentally overdosed on cocaine before a scheduled set one night. He squirmed and drooled on the bathroom floor before waking up on a stage in front of a microphone. At first, he thought he’d just taken something hallucinogenic and had imagined the whole bathroom incident, and that he was now performing his intended set. The audience looked up at him expectantly, blank expressions lining their faces. He rubbed his hands together as if to signal that some sort of magic was about to happen, leaned into the microphone, and started telling his go-to joke about the hooker and the water fountain. When he got to the punchline, not a soul laughed, which worried him. This was the only joke he’d ever made that could consistently get a crowd laughing. Had he delivered it wrong? Perturbed, he moved on to another heavy-hitter, and then another, all with the same result. No one laughed, no one chuckled—no one even smiled.
Excessively nervous, Gene was sweating through his white tee shirt—the white tee shirt that he never wore during performances because sweat made it see-through, and he had severe body image issues. Looking down, he saw his man-tits fully exposed, drenched and reeking of his own bodily fluids. He wanted to throw up, and he did, instantly projectile-vomiting onto the face of the most attractive woman in the audience. She began to cry, and suddenly the collective tabula rasa of the audience’s faces turned to expressions of contempt. Beer bottles were thrown, smashing against Gene from all sides until one landed squarely on his temple, knocking him out cold. When he awoke, he was standing in front of the exact same audience, with a complete memory of what had happened. He wanted to walk away, to bow out, but instead he found himself compelled to tell the same jokes again, and again he was met with blank expressions, eventual disgust, and a beer bottle to the head. This was his punishment for all eternity—all because he did a few drugs while trotting about in the land of the living.
Gene was the man who introduced my pre-pubescent, Andy Griffith-obsessed self to the joys of swearing, alcohol, and smoking. I learned swearing from his profane sets, which I sat in on when Dad wasn’t around. Due to the fact that I was the only one laughing at his jokes, Gene took a liking to me. I liked him, too, so I used my own meager powers to pause his punishment whenever I visited, and we would sit down at the bar and chat. Since his punishment took place in a comedy club, Dad pulled out all the stops to make it as authentic a comedy club as possible (“Never do anything worth doing half-assed,” he always told me), which meant both a fully-stocked bar and tobacco were included. I grew fond of Jameson’s, but Gene was a beer guy through and through. He tried to get me into Guinness, but it was too dark and bitter for my taste. He professed the best beer was from the tap, and he reveled in letting the white foam drip from his thick, black mustache.
He also loved cigarettes, which I found disgusting. I know it’s crazy that the son of the Devil doesn’t smoke cigarettes, but they’ve always been nasty to me. I do love a good, sweet cigar, though, and Gene taught me how to savor them, letting the smoke settle in the top of your throat, feeling the flavor linger heavily on your tongue and your taste buds before releasing a cathartic puff. Frankly, it’s the shit.
There are tons of people just like Gene scattered about Hell, having done next to nothing wrong and having to pay the ultimate price for it. The whole situation bummed me out, especially after having grown close to Gene, who was the first human being I ever really knew. After that experimental interaction had proven to be successful, I went and talked to all kinds of folks behind Dad’s back during my teenage years. Mothers, teachers, doctors, writers—people from all walks of life that made a mistake or two down the line. While their punishments were never as bad as those given to killers and rapists, they usually revolved around their worst fears. The mother could have been forced to forever search for her lost child in a crowd. The teacher could have been placed in unruly classroom after unruly classroom. The doctor could have been stuck with a patient who went on WebMD and was convinced that she knew her real diagnosis and that the doctor was a hack. The writer could have been faced with a blank screen, a particularly unforgiving case of writer’s block, and no alcohol nearby to lube up the brain’s artistic canals. Sometimes punishment was based on their fears, but sometimes it was not—sometimes it related to how they died. If a person drowned, they could have been forced drown forever. If a person put a gun in their mouth, they could have been forced to eternally wait in those moments just before they pulled the trigger, reliving every doubt, every pang of guilt, every feeling of anxiety. It depended entirely on the person in question what the punishment was. Like Gene, every damned soul had his or her own personal sliver of Hell—tailor-made torment.
You might be wondering to yourself what kind of a space can handle the damnation of so many souls, and you’d be right to wonder. Hell has never been a place under the Earth, although many have wrongly speculated that to be the case. Hell, since I’ve known it, has always been much more abstract. It would be nearly impossible for me to explain perfectly in human terms—that’s not a cop-out, it’s just that your minds would be unable to comprehend the full scope of Hell. Which, okay, yeah, maybe it’s a teensy bit of a cop-out, but still.
It’s not the fire and brimstone those preachers screech about. If it was like that, my Dad and his cronies certainly wouldn’t have stuck up residence in it. No one wants to live in a place that is perpetually on fire. We don’t live on a planet, either, but rather a rocky, flat surface that extends for several thousand miles before dropping off into nothingness. Dad formed this when he was first exiled from Heaven, giving him and his demons a place to somewhat comfortably live and work.
That’s not to say it’s all that pleasant, either—especially not for the souls trapped in it. Dante got it wrong, too; Hell doesn’t have seven layers. It’s not a fucking cake. The layers are infinite, each layer one of those tailor-made slivers of torment. Each sliver is a fold in space-time, an economy-sized storage unit that takes up very little of the universe’s density. The section of Hell that the demons, my father, and I have resided in for millennia lies in the fourth dimension, separate and unseen from human perception. While separate and unseen, it works a lot like the third dimension that humans reside in. My father and I live in a large castle, and the demons who work for us reside in huts surrounding the castle. There are a few major differences between the third and fourth dimension, though. The most prominent difference is that we have the capability to see in three dimensions, rather than the two that you see and trick yourself into believing is three. This isn’t anything that I’m bragging about either—all it means is that I am aware of all eight sides of a cube. Not six—eight. We also have a different set of elements, a set that is a bit more primordial and experimental than those of your world. These primordial elements served as the foundation for our homes, our machines, and the land we reside on. Because they were sort of a testing material for God, these elements can do things that would be thought of as errors in the human dimension—namely, they can tear holes in space-time.
The slivers of punishment reside in the fifth dimension, and they can be accessed via wormholes that can be concocted by any demon worth his salt. Surprisingly, your physicists got a lot of shit right. Another accurate prediction of Earth’s physicists was that of the critical density of the universe. The basic idea is that the universe can’t gain density forever, and that once a critical density is reached, the universe will gravitationally collapse inward on itself, ending life as we know it. Sure, the creation of stars shoots that density up incrementally, but what really takes up storage space in this hard disk drive of the cosmos is Hell. Specifically those slivers, those folds of space-time that are produced for every new soul recently deceased and in need of punishing. Like I mentioned, the slivers themselves don’t take up a ton of room, but if you add up all the people that have gone to Hell, that critical density shoots way up.
I know what you’re thinking. What about Heaven? What about the good souls that go there, don’t they take up space? Unlike Hell, Heaven has always been separate from the universe. It doesn’t lie in another dimension, it doesn’t use up folds of space-time. It just is. That’s how God wanted it, and I can’t explain how He did it.
I can, however, explain why He did it. This design was a key part of His apocalyptic agreement with Dad. When the bad souls tipped the scale, when the universe reached a critical density and began to fall inward, Dad would unleash me onto Earth, bringing forth his reign of the universe until it collapsed completely. This collapse would take quite some time, though, and this time would be made all the more extensive by certain tricks of our demon physicists and engineers, who had worked tirelessly under Dad’s command to cheat the death of everything. When the universe finally did collapse, no one, not even Dad, knew what would happen.
A few weeks ago, the universe reached critical density.
“Evanthos, I’ve got some big news,” Dad said, sitting on his throne and stroking his dark beard. We were in the Control Room, the place in the castle where Dad spent the majority of his time. He demanded that a second throne be built for him here so that he could comfortably look for souls to corrupt on Earth. This throne was his favorite as opposed to the one in the main foyer of the castle—this one vibrated. He remained sitting when I walked in, staring at the screen absentmindedly.
“I’m all ears, Dad,” I said, crossing my arms and waiting for him to turn his face to me. He did, standing up in the process and walking over to me.
“We’ve done it,” he said, beaming as he wrapped me up in an embrace, patting my back.
“Done what?” I asked, awkwardly patting his back in return.
“It,” he said, backing up and shaking my shoulders, looking me in the eyes expectantly, the misty glimmer not hoping, but demanding me to be on the same page. But, of course, I wasn’t. I’d never seen him this happy—he was almost childlike. Were it not for his bald head and weathered skin, I could have mistaken him for an overgrown cherub.
“You’re going to have to at least give me a vowel, here,” I sighed.
“We’ve reached critical density, Evanthos!” he shrieked, shaking me even more.
“So,” I said, starting to put the pieces together, “that means—”
“The Apocalypse is nigh, my boy!” Dad finished, embracing me once more. “The world is ours for the taking.”
I didn’t know what to say. How do you tell your father that everything he’s worked towards, everything he cares about, you’re not all that into? How could I tell him that bringing the citizens of Earth to their knees and plaguing them with unimaginable horrors wasn’t really my scene? He sensed the distance between us, and he made it physical by stepping back from the hug.
“You’re not excited?” he asked, a puzzled look on his face.
“No, I am,” I blurted out. “It’s just that—”
“It’s just what?” he demanded. “Evanthos, this is everything we’ve worked towards. God’s perfect little universe is now under our rule. All we’ve got to do is shoot you out there into the blue old yonder and watch the fireworks erupt.”
“I know, but—”
“Just think of it, son,” he interrupted. “Fresh, human air, sunshine, and a side of eternal suffering, hold the mayonnaise. It’s everything we’ve ever wanted. All since that whore ate that apple.”
“True, you weren’t around for that part, but I’ve shown that classic scene to you in here enough times that it should be embedded in your memory. What was it she said again, sonny boy?”
“Aw, come on, humor your old man for a second,” he said, grinning the devilish grin that sprouted all other devilish grins. Once he wanted something, he was bound and determined to get it, no matter the cost, so I caved.
“She said,” I sighed, “‘Does it have carbs?’”
“’Does it have carbs?’” Dad repeated, howling. “Bitch is about to end paradise as she knows it, and she wants to know if the damn fruit is gonna add some paunch.” He wiped tears from his eyes. “Like taking candy from a baby, as they say.”
“Dad, I know you’ve been working on this for a really, really long time,” I began, “but I need to get something off my chest.” He stopped laughing, his eyes going from wistful to wary in an instant.
“What is it you need to tell me, son?” he asked slowly, deliberately, tasting every word as they flew gradually from his mouth. I gulped, summoning my courage.
“Well, see, the thing is, uh—”
“Go on.” He stared intensely, not blinking.
“I, uh, I’m not so sure about this whole ‘End of Days’ thing.” I tried to read Dad’s expression, but he still had that intense, emotionless stare that gave nothing away.
“Where lies the confusion?” he finally asked, putting his hands together like a television therapist. His tone suggested I’d just said something incredibly dumb
“I’m, well, I guess I’m not too…keen on the whole thing.” I winced. No one had said “keen” since the 1950s. My grasping for a word had said incalculably more than I wanted to give away.
“Keen,” Dad grunted, trying to hold his rage in. “Keen. I guess my question for you, Evanthos, is this: What’s not so keen about it?”
“The, uh,” I swallowed, “the whole eternal damnation of the universe part.”
“So…the whole thing?”
“Yeah…the whole thing.” I looked down at my feet.
“Huh.” That was all Dad said for a long time. Then:
“So, you wanna tell me what the fuck brought this about?”
“It wasn’t one specific thing,” I explained. “It was a lot of things. Over time.”
“Huh.” There was that grunt again. That grunt that was so ambiguous yet so frustratingly clear. A paradox of communication if there ever was one.
“For starters,” I said, “Gene doesn’t deserve what he got.”
“That druggie who calls himself a comedian?” Dad asked, squinting. “Enlighten me, Evanthos. How did he not deserve his fate? He was a drug addict who did nothing good for society, had no faith in God, and lived the majority of his life without regard for others. Where does Heaven fit into the picture for good ol’ Gene?”
“So, maybe he wasn’t perfect,” I said.
“That’s an understatement,” Dad scoffed.
“Yes, it is, but let me finish. Maybe Gene wasn’t perfectly good, but he wasn’t perfectly bad, either. He’s not like Hitler or Dahmer. Those guys deserve what they got. They’re on the very bad end of the spectrum.”
“You’re making the distinction between apples and slightly bruised apples, son. If the bad outweighs the good, we get the soul. It’s been that way since time began. Gene was closer on the scale to Hitler than he was to, say, Ghandi, so we got him. Plain and simple. It’s not about what’s fair—it’s about what’s right.”
“What does that even mean?” I asked, exasperated.
“It means that these are the way things have been, and I don’t see why you think things need to be changed now,” Dad said, resolute.
“Just because that’s the way things are doesn’t mean that’s the way things should be,” I countered. “I think a lot of humans are better than we give them credit for.”
Dad started laughing now, hysterically.
“Have you learned nothing from your time in this room?” he managed to ask between guffaws, pointing at the screen. “Even the ‘good’ humans are pieces of shit. That’s why we reached critical density so fast in the first place. The human race gets worse with every passing year. They’re constantly cycling between phases of insulting each other and outright killing each other. They’ve ruined the Earth that God gave them by draining it of its resources and polluting every orifice they could shove their trash into. They all care about only themselves, and no one else. Most of them pretend otherwise, but we know the truth of their hearts. They’re disgusting, vile, and even the best of them are easily corrupted, if you pick out the right apple.”
“Could you stop talking about apples so much?”
This got Dad to snicker, and that grin spread across his face again. Then, a thought seemed to pass through his mind, an inkling of an idea that turned the amused grin into a grin that conveyed something more, something that crossed into the realm of euphoric significance.
“So what is it, then?” he said, almost a whisper. His eyes, while looking at me, were concentrated somewhere else. “You want to spare the poor humans? Save them?” His sudden calmness was far more unsettling than his previous rage had been. The rage I had seen before, could read; this was a whole new beast.
“I—I suppose,” I stuttered, unsure of where this rabbit hole was leading me. The rabbit’s inkling of an idea had obviously taken shape into something sinister.
“You suppose?” he repeated, returning his concentration to me after what had seemed like ages.
“Yes, I do,” I said, firmly now. Whatever this was, I wasn’t going to back down from it. “I do want to save them.”
“You’ve got your father’s resolution, boy, and I can’t fault you for that. If anything, it makes me proud. In fact, you’ve inspired me. Tell you what—how about we make a deal?”
So, this was his play. He had been dancing around it, feeling it out, but this is what it had to come down to. Legends, while often morphed and bastardized over time, are usually embedded in truth. While the golden fiddle tale reeks of folksy bullshit (although Dad did give away a regular flute once), my father had always loved gambling. He loved to see just how little of a reward it took for humans to risk their souls, the most precious part of themselves. He would go on Earth and offer such trivial prizes as yachts, sports cars, and lottery winnings—material possessions, possessions that provide joy for not even a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of the rest of eternity. But he found takers. Some won and got paid their dues, others lost, and lost hard.
That’s not to say it was only about the souls for him, that he didn’t take pleasure in the sheer thrill of a good bet. His favorite place on Earth was Las Vegas, Nevada, population who-gives-a-shit-there’s-slot-machines-to-try. He made it a personal habit to travel there during several of his siestas in America. He even owned a casino there.
And now, the end of the world had become a game.
“What kind of a deal?” I asked.
“You think these humans have more goodness than badness in their hearts, right?” he asked. “Or am I misinterpreting you?”
“No, that’s pretty much my thesis.”
“Excellent. We’re on the same page, then. Would you say that, on a planet with about eight billion inhabitants, statistically speaking, you could find at least one that’s perfect?”
I thought about it.
“That’s hard to say. We talking Jesus-level perfect?”
“Not necessarily,” he replied, “just someone who is relatively pure. Say above 85 percent good.”
“Then sure, I would say that’s a reasonable assumption. You could probably find more than one.”
“Excellent,” he said again. “So let’s make a deal. Since you care so much about these poor creatures, I’ll consider letting them live out their final days without interfering. No reign of terror and pain, everything will be business as usual for them until the universe finishes collapsing in on itself.”
“Sounds good to me,” I said. “What’s the deal?”
“The deal is that, if you can find one soul that is incorruptible, a person who is truly good, then I will spare everyone else. No kids, of course—most kids haven’t been exposed enough to the real world to be corrupted. This good person would have to be an adult. Sound reasonable?” There was an insidious nature to his smile.
“Sure,” I said. “So you want me to go to Earth, find a truly good person, and that’s it?”
“You would have one week to find this person and get him or her to Vegas, where I will wait patiently for the duration of the week. This way, I couldn’t watch your progress via the Control Room and attempt to block your valiant efforts in any way. You can trust me on that, son—I’m a man of my word.”
This was true—he had never lost a bet and not paid up. Still, this didn’t feel quite right.
“You’re just going to meet them?”
“I’m going to talk with them, yes. Gauge their purity.” The cryptic response was killing me, but I had no alternative.
“Fine. And if you win?”
“You lose nothing—but I get my Apocalypse as planned.” This was as fair a deal as I’d ever seen him give.
“Alright,” I said, “challenge accepted.”
“Let’s shake on it,” he said, extending his hand. He was ecstatic now, adrenaline flooding through him. I took his hand and we shook. Upon retracting his hand, however, his ecstasy turned into an expression that gave away disappointment. It was a rapid change, one that even he seemed to be surprised about, and he turned from me, gravitating back to his throne. Suddenly, it occurred to me that I had never actually been to Earth, and panic creeped in.
“How will I get around?” I asked. “Don’t I need a car or money or something?”
“That’s part of the game,” he said, still not looking at me. “You’ll have to figure that out.” There was no joy in his voice, not anymore. “If God can make the universe in seven days, surely you can get a cab in that amount of time.”
“What about the contract? Won’t my walking on Earth start the Rapture?”
“When you get sent to Earth, I’ll dilute your powers and give you a purely human form. That should prevent the floodgates from opening and ending life as those buffoons know it.”
“How will I even get there?” I asked, suddenly regretting my decision but not wanting to give him the satisfaction of winning by giving in.
“There are eight billion people on that godforsaken planet,” he said casually. “Give it thirty seconds—there’ll be a dipshit with chalk.”