Dave was hot. He rolled over in bed to the sight of his wife’s face. Dolores looked like she had just run a marathon with all funds raised going to the tired and cranky. The air conditioner was on the fritz again. Repairers charged a small fortune these days so Dave would be waking up to a cranky looking wife for a while yet, no matter how much she glared at him. Funds were running low again. Again, again. They had been married for what seemed like an eternity and most of those years had been spent without air conditioning.
He slid out of bed and into the shower to wash away the remains of the previous day and the sweat from the previous night. The shower was lukewarm, as if the cold water was too afraid to show itself. After drying off, he got a small tape measure from the drawer and held it up to his head. Still only two centimetres. Dave’s horns hadn’t grown in over ten years. He looked at himself in the mirror for a few moments longer than usual and sighed.
Just another day in Hell.
By the time he was dressed for work, Dolores had breakfast on the table and their two kids, twins, Damian and Damon, were scoffing down cereal. Even though their mouths were filled with sugary goodness, they still found room to sing a song they had learnt at school to help them remember things.
Their singing sounded like cats dying while strangling other cats but Dave knew the song well; he had learnt it when he was in school. As a child, having to learn all of the Prince of Darkness’ names was a frightful task so being able to learn them all in a snappy jingle made it almost bearable. Dave found himself chewing in time with the song. He looked over at Doris, she was doing the same.
(to the tune of “I Am The Very Model Of A Modern Major General”)
“The Prince of Darkness has so many names and you must learn them all
Recite this every day and you will know the Angel of the Fall
If you can remember the names of the one the Morning Star we call
Then you can annoy humankind no matter if you’re big or small.
We know he goes by Lucifer, The Antichrist, Leviathan
But he is also called Iblis who is the devil in Islam
Diabolus in Greek and he’s Der Leibhaftige in German
And did you know Shaitan is another way to say Satan?
Azazel, King of Devils, Baphomet or simply Six Six Six
It doesn’t matter what you call him he will still perform his tricks
Old Scratch, The Stranger and for some reason he’s also called Old Nick
Beelzebub is also the best rower on the River Styx…”
A honk from outside triggered the end to breakfast and the song. Dolores relocated the plates and bowls to the kitchen sink as the little devils grabbed their bags and raced outside to catch the school bus. Dolores dusted her collection of Swarovski crystal animals just like she did four times a day, every day. She had dozens of them: animals holding balloons or flowers, animals hugging other animals, animals on their own looking enviously at the other animals with balloons or flowers or getting hugs. Sometimes Dave would catch her sleep-dusting in the middle of the night. He wanted to steal a few to pay for a new air conditioner but he knew how much those sparkly little things meant to her. He picked up his briefcase and planted a humid kiss on his wife’s cheek.
“Love you,” he said on his way out the door. She only smiled back. She’d been doing that a lot lately. Outside, there was a dry heat and it was constant. If ever there was a breeze it was a fevered breeze; like a crappy punch line to an even crappier joke.
Every morning at seven, Dave took the 616 bus to work. The trip took over an hour but he didn’t mind. He enjoyed looking out the window and seeing the new estates being built. Hell wasn’t an entirely bad place. All that fire and brimstone stuff was way out in the rural areas so naturally everyone wanted to live near the city. Thanks to the thousands of new arrivals each day, the construction industry was booming and the city kept growing and growing. It was getting so big you could barely see the smoke from the fire pits anymore.
Dave and Dolores moved out to the suburbs after they had the twins. They used to own a stylish one bedroom apartment closer to the city but there just wasn’t enough room there for two little demons and there was no way they could afford a bigger home in the city on Dave’s salary.
He watched the houses in his estate go past, each one the same as the last. If you weren’t careful you could get lost out there. More than once Dave found himself knocking on someone else’s house by mistake after a few late night drinks with friends from the office.
The morning sky was brilliant amber with just a few red clouds forming in the distance. As the sun rose higher in the sky the amber transformed into a deep shade of tangerine. If only he didn’t have to work today, it would have been a lovely day to spend by the River Styx. The skies and landscapes of Hell were washed with reds, browns, oranges, and yellows. Sometimes Dave thought he remembered another colour but he could never quite picture it. Maybe it never existed in the first place.
The 616 took its usual left turn onto Azazel Boulevard which ran alongside the Styx. Already there were boats queuing up in the port waiting to be processed through the massive Arrivals Terminal. That’s where Dolores worked. She was part of a committee which welcomed new souls to Hell. The committee did a wonderful job handing out orientation videos and muffins. The trip across the Styx can give you quite an appetite and the videos helped with settling in and finding work.
To the right of the Arrivals Terminal was the Departures Terminal- a shack really. It was only there for formalities sake. No one had left Hell in a long time. There was a spate of escapes by a few strapping Greek lads a while back but since then measures had been taken to prevent that from ever happening again.
The closer the bus got to the city, the bigger the houses and plots of land became. These houses had rumpus rooms, studies, extra garages, and central air. Some even had swimming pools.
The bus went around a small bend and, just like every other day, Dave was blinded by the sunlight reflecting off the glass windows of the most impressive free standing structure in the known and unknown universe. It towered over the city. It was his office building, the office of Hell Incorporated.
Hell Incorporated was where all the ideas were thought up; ideas that would turn human beings against each other. Ideas that would cause them to break those ridiculously unfollowable Commandments set out by Yahweh all those many years ago which lead to an ever increasing the population of the Underworld. Everything that had ever been invented had been thought up in this building. Everything that had ever been invented had something inherently evil in it.
Hell was broken up into seven different departments. The first two were the Department of Petty Annoyances and the Department of Minor Botherings and were located at the bottom of the building. These two departments, run by the D-Men, were responsible for such inventions as the ring on a can of soft drink. You want to have a drink so you pull the little aluminium ring… it breaks off, you get annoyed. Paper gives you paper cuts. Whiteboard markers don’t rub out properly. Printers get paper jams. Nothing too serious, but enough to annoy or bother you. Dave was a D-Men and had been for a very long time; promotions were very hard to come by. This was Hell after all.
Further up the building were The Departments of Moderate Misgivings and Substantial Grievances. They were mostly responsible for crimes and the many ridiculous things that human beings did to each other that didn’t involve death. Human beings always seemed to want things that they didn’t have but other human beings did have. These departments were overlooked by C-Men.
One of the B-Men in the Department of Very Bad Things invented the chariot – the vehicle that had been replicated, updated, and renovated into the automobile – the cause of thousands of deaths each year. It is rumoured that a B-Men came up with the idea to put Nicolas Cage in as many films as possible, something that has caused much distress to many human beings over the past few years, much to the delight of the B-Men. The Department of Blood Feuds was also looked after by the B-Men, the department that invented tribes, townships, gangs.
The job of the A-Men was the most coveted job in all of Hell. Their offices were located directly beneath that of the Prince of Darkness himself. The A-Men started wars, natural disasters, and also included the Office for Religious-based Quarrels – a very busy office indeed.
The inhabitants of Hell weren’t able to deliver the ideas to mankind themselves so they had to rely on other means. The ideas from Hell were implanted in the minds of human beings by the nine daughters of Zeus, The Muses. The Muses were shifty bitches. The Muses had been working for the seven departments of Hell since the dawn of time.
The bus pulled up short of its regularly scheduled stop outside of Hell Incorporated. Dave walked to the front of the bus to see what the holdup was. There was a car parked illegally in the bus stop. Dave let out his second sigh of the day. It was Dirk’s. Dirk was a jerk. Dirk, was a C-Men and Dave’s Bully-Buddy – there to make Dave’s life a living hell.
After a few moments, the car pulled away and the bus passengers were finally allowed to disembark. Dressed in one of many of his tailored suits, Dirk stood outside the three-storey high steel doors of the office building with an expensive-looking coffee cup his hand and a jerkish grin on his matching jerkish face. That grin was aimed at Dave. Dave noticed Dirk’s horns were at least four centimetres now and it even looked like he had polished them that morning. In an effort to avoid Dirk, Dave knelt down to tie his shoelaces. Thankfully, his work colleagues had gotten off the bus that had just pulled up behind his.
“Good morning, Dave” said Yuri. Yuri had been working at Hell Inc for about twenty years, the newbie of the group. He lived far out in the suburbs and sometimes came to work smelling like a bush fire. Yuri had a Russian accent but couldn’t remember why.
Dave got up from pretend-tying his shoelaces and gave Yuri a warm handshake. “Morning, Yuri. How’s things?” No one ever answered that last question; the answer was always the same and therefore no longer worth answering but it was still deemed polite to ask nonetheless.
“Morning, Dave” said Susan. Susan still lived with her parents but never spoke about them. Her dresses always seemed to match the sky. Dave wondered if she stuck her head out the window each morning before deciding upon which dress to wear.
“Morning, Susan. How are we today?” Again, no response.
Jung Cho bowed at Dave, Dave bowed back. Jung lost his voice during the testing of one of his ideas a few years back; the idea didn’t catch on.
“I saw Dirk’s car block the bus before,” said Yuri, “what jerk.” Everyone nodded in agreement.
The four D-Men walked up a few steps and through the doors of Hell Incorporated. On the walls of the foyer were paintings of celebrated employees. Steven Jones: D-Men who invented those plastic bags at the fruit and vegetable department that never opened. Isaiah Worthington: C-Men who invented the glass window so thieves could look inside their victims’ houses making it easier to see what they wanted to steal. Abdul Alaiya: B-Men and inventor of the parking meter.
Dave’s hero, François De Rierre had a painting on the wall as well. François was a D-Men and the clever devil who invented prayer made it so that at the end of every prayer, human beings would sign off by proclaiming “Amen”. Little did those mortals know that every time they said “Amen” they gave power to the Prince of Darkness. François was promptly promoted and given a corner office with a lovely view of the River Styx.
Dave stood below François’ painting and stared up at it for a moment like he did every morning, hoping that some of his genius would transfer to Dave. It never happened. Dave lowered his head and kept walking. D-Men weren’t allowed to use the elevators so the four began their daily trudge up ten flights of stairs to their office in The Department of Petty Annoyances.
The office was a twisting labyrinth of chairs, desks, and partitions. Older workers said that the floor plan for each level was laid out by Daedalus himself and some sections still have a few monsters lurking about. There was something different that morning, there as a commotion that hadn’t been experienced since…
As always, Susan was the first to make it to her desk. Over the partitions, Dave and the others saw her wave around a piece of paper.
“Inter-office memo!” she said. “Inter-office memo!” There hadn’t been an interoffice memo since…
Yuri grabbed the piece of paper, read it, then summarised for the group, “CEO away for forty days and forty nights-”
“He’s not going to try that again is he?” Susan asked under her breath. “We all know how it went last time. Ix-nay on the eeting-may with Eesus-Jay.” Jung took a moment to translate the Pig-Latin then smiled.
“I read more,” Yuri said. “Team with best idea run Hell Inc while Satan gone. Get promotion to A-Men. End of week. Now get back to work you demon scum.”
Dave’s face started to do something that it hadn’t done in a long time. The corners of his mouth went upwards, his eyes opened wide, and his eyebrows lifted. Dave was… smiling.
Jung got the whiteboard from the corner of their cubicle and dusted it off. At the top of the board he wrote with a fading orange whiteboard marker, IDEAS and underlined it three times. The others sat down and stared at the whiteboard in silence and thought really hard for a few moments.
A voice bellowed from across the floor, “What do you get when you take some stupid people and mix them with other stupid people? You guys!” It was Dirk.
Dirk carried a large tube of superglue and methodically glued everything on Dave’s desk to Dave’s desk. Dirk promptly left with his customary jerkish grin, a waft of chemical adhesives, and a warning, “See y’all soon!”
Dave, now a master of sighs, sighed. He’d been the victim of a hit and run. Again.
Jung tried to pry the stapler from the desk but the bond had already formed. Susan handed Dave a stationery order. What a waste of time that was; it had taken Dave eight months to get the stapler in the first place. Yuri filled out the form with a pen he retrieved from his pocket and handed it to Dave. “You must keep things in pocket. Yes?” Yuri was right.
Susan picked up the memo again. “If we win this thing, we can bully Dirk around.”
“We won’t have to wait so long for stationery,” added Yuri.
A squeaking noise came from the whiteboard; Jung was writing again. The others turned to see what. He wrote: no more stairs followed by a big smiley face.
“Air conditioning,” said Dave. The others weren’t sure what he meant by that but smiled and nodded in agreement anyway.
Under the already thrice underlined word IDEAS Jung added another line. Things just got serious. Dave picked up the handset of his phone but it was glued to the base. He then picked up Susan’s phone and dialled a number he had memorised the first day he started work… 1800 AMUSED.
After ten minutes on hold he put the call on speaker so the others could also enjoy the theme song from “Xanadu” played over and over again on the tubular bells and sung by an elderly barber-shop quartet. After twelve minutes, the group stopped joining in at the chorus. The end of each song was marked by a voice bursting with apathy which alleged, “You call is important to us,” after which, a quick snicker could be heard before the song started up again.
Yuri stuck his head over the partition. His ears were assaulted by the sound of hundreds of barber shop quarters singing “Xanadu.” Every team on the floor were calling the Muses, and they were all on speakerphone. They all wanted to win this competition.
Finally, a nasally-endowed lady picked up, “1800 AMUSED, which Muse please?”
The four jumped into a position more suited to the situation: upright. “Clio please,” Dave replied.
“Clio is booked out till 2034.”
“OK, can any of them see me today?”
“Melpomene can do nine-fifteen tomorrow morning.”
Dave held his hand over the speaker, “I hate Melpomene.”
“She smell like borscht,” Yuri added.
“She used up all my post-it notes,” said Susan
Jung went to underline the word on the blackboard again. Dave rolled his eyes in defeat.
“Nine-fifteen tomorrow would be great.” Dave passed on his details to the receptionist and hung up. Susan hid all of her post-it notes while the others stared at the whiteboard. Surely they could think of something by the end of the day.