“Imp!” My master’s voice rumbled with the comforting malice of a thousand forges. “What the Heaven is this?”
I leaned forward hoping to appear sufficiently inquisitive and peered at the Soul List. Created from the flayed skin of the eternally damned, the scroll unfurled across his obsidian desk. Smoke trailed from the blackened rim of the hole he’d made with his stiletto-like finger. Around the hole the remaining letters of a name faded from view.
Blinking once, I blinked again. Even by the bastardized physics of Hell, something like that should have been impossible. But my master demanded an answer and I made a great show of pinching my features in pensive repose, heeding the first lesson upon my servitude that ignorance was an undesirable virtue.
“Ah, yes,” I said. “Well,” I considered. Having not a clue why this had happened, I ventured an educated guess. “Perhaps his situation has changed.”
“Perhaps?” Spittle, searing hot as molten lava, peppered my exposed skin. “This man is supposed to be damned. This man, this Tomas Luis Grandon, is scheduled to arrive today, this very hour. Satan has been awaiting his execution for years. Now, he isn’t arriving at all! Tell me, Imp, how does a damned man become undamned?”
Trembling, I gave the list a closer viewing in vain hope I might glean some clue to the mystery. “He might have found religion.” My fingers caressed my blistered skin. “I understand that happens a lot in prison.”
My demon master dismissed my suggestion with a wave. “That born again nonsense doesn’t work for capital crimes. You murder your fellow man; you burn–that’s the rule.” My master pointed upward. “Even He can’t change that. No, it’s something else.” He exhaled, filling the room with the pleasant stench of brimstone and putrefaction. “I can’t have this, Imp. Satan wants his soul. You must go Outside and see what has happened, or we’ll both know torments like no other.”
Argument was pointless, and I turned away filled with trepidation. Outside, where the air was fresh and the wind felt like a lingering kiss on the skin. Outside meant the land of the living, and because I didn’t belong, I could never stay.
Truly, hell on earth.
With a belch of amorphous exhaust, the prison bus unloaded its cargo of convicts, I among them. Shackled, with over-sized luminescent orange coveralls, I felt quite comfortable in my disguise.
Eventually, a portly guard met us. He had a nasty smile and body odour hung about him like sulfurous smog. His silver name tag claimed he was Gary Furlong. Gary, however, was neither a real guard, nor a real human. He was a minion, a spy for my master, and thoroughly ungrateful for the opportunity.
Gary led us through the mundane chore of processing. After a meaningful look in his direction he grudgingly escorted me to the nearest empty washroom.
“What are you doing here, Imp?” Gary crossed thick arms across his ample belly. Bullying prisoners had spoiled him and he needed a reminder of who was subordinate to whom. I began by sloughing off my shackles and flinging them at his flabby chest.
“Our master has denizens in every office from political to postal,” I said. “His ears are in every gossip session in every coffee shop in the world. As you might guess he is very well informed. He likes it that way. We like it that way. So, you can understand our surprise when Tomas Grandon managed to get himself off the Soul List, and more importantly, why we weren’t informed of this turn of events.” I leaned in close and with one long finger touched him just under his doughy second chin. “Be careful how you answer.”
Gary licked his thick lips as his tiny mind tried to process just how he had lost the advantage. “I was about to send my report,” he answered slowly. “But everything happened so fast and I had to do double shifts.”
“Double shifts, Gary?” Perhaps it was the stench of prison air, but I felt an unaccustomed fugue, and let my arm drop to my side. “Very well. I suppose as a human you need to make a living. I’ll just have to report to our master that you thought work more important than–”
“DNA!” Gary jiggled about like a three-year-old with a full bladder.
“Deoxyribonucleic acid,” he said. “A double helix of repeating molecu–”
“I know what DNA is,” I snapped. “What’s that got to do with our master’s missing soul?”
“Everything,” said Gary. “Some lawyer found DNA evidence from the crime scene that didn’t match Grandon’s DNA. That bought him a last minute Stay of Execution from the governor.”
My head tilted to the side. “After all these years this evidence surfaces now?”
Gary forced himself to straighten. “All I know is some woman lawyer approached Grandon about a last ditch effort. I guess it paid off.”
I drew in a long breath. “A lawyer fouled this up?” Taking the shackles from the floor where they landed, I slipped them over my wrists and ankles and locked them in place. “Never mind,” I said. “If she dared tamper with the world’s Order we’ll have her soul, too.”
Kelly Llewellyn practiced law from a strip mall five miles further from the state courthouse than any reputable attorney. Her tweed power business suit was two-years out of style. Her hair, dyed blonde with black roots, curled around her head like an ice cream swirl. “What can I do for you, Mr. Brimstone?” she said, the remnants of a light Welsh accent fighting a losing battle with an easy Southern drawl.
Since that Daniel Webster incident I’ve never like so-called members of the bar. Given proper provocation I’ve happily bitten off the occasional counselor’s head in the past. However, I needed information and therefore struggled to remain civil.
“So glad you could make the time for me, Ms. Llewellyn. As I told you earlier, I’m writing a magazine piece on the upcoming release of–”
“Yes, about that,” Llewellyn interrupted. “How did you come across that information? That news is so recent it’s barely fact.”
“I am an investigative reporter,” I replied as if that alone should answer this and any future queries.
Llewellyn leaned back in her swivel rocker and touched her index finger to her thin lips. “All right,” she said. “What do you want to know?”
“Where did you get the DNA evidence to acquit Tomas Grandon?”
“From the evidence storage room at the courthouse.” Llewellyn shook her head like the answer was obvious. “A single strand of glorious hair from the crime scene . . . not belonging to my client, of course.”
“Of course,” I said, my tone brittle as a dead fly’s wing. I knew the crime scene intimately. There had been no hair strand to find. “Who told you of this hair? You are, at best, a mediocre attorney and have neither the skills nor the imagination to take on a case like Grandon’s unless you had an edge. Who contacted you?”
“Just who the hell are–”
I launched across her desk and grasped the lapels of her cheap business suit. Her mouth dropped open, her expression pure terror as my head tripled in size. My jaws unhinged like a python of prehistoric proportions revealing rows of long teeth dripping greenish-yellow pus.
“I–I don’t know,” Llewellyn whimpered. “I got an email from an anonymous sender. It said to check hair samples for DNA. That’s all it said and that’s all I did. Everything was in storage. I didn’t do a damned thing wrong. And it saved my client. God, oh, God, what’s wrong with that?”
“What’s wrong with that?” Putrid ooze sprayed her face as I worked words around my massive fangs. “Have you not heard the phrase, in His own image? No? Well, let me explain, you silly woman.
“The Other Side holds much credence in honesty and imparted upon your kind the best lie detector in creation. Your foolish justice system is merely performance art. DNA, the very building blocks of humankind, proves right from wrong, good from evil.” I leaned ever closer toward Llewellyn’s ashen face until my teeth reflected in her wide eyes. “That means if you sin, you are ours… that is, until now.”
The lawyer’s face went through a series of contortions and it was questionable whether she was going to scream with insane terror or vomit. Instead, she did something quite remarkable and unexpected. Body trembling as though a conduit of electric current, she pointed at the door with a tremulous finger.
“I did nothing wrong! Now, get out, you crazy freak.” Her hoarse shouts rose into a crescendo of near lunacy. “Get out, God–”
Had she finished, Kelly Llewellyn might have secured herself a place in heaven by rebuking a duly appointed representative of Satan. However, as her head slid down my gullet, that eternal salvation would never come to pass. It was a close thing, but as I dabbed blood from my chin with a scrap of her imitation silk shirt, I comforted myself that I was well within the Ten Second Still Clean Rule.
Human intelligence is an oxymoron. How can any sentient creature willingly choose the darker sides of their nature knowing the consequences of such actions? Physics is Physics. For every action there is an equal reaction. To believe in Him is to believe in us. Faith is a package deal, and make no mistake dogma is irrelevant. Good or evil, right or wrong, can or cannot.
Of course, there are always those who feel there is a gray area. Hell is filled with them, particularly the disreputable creature called the computer hacker. Among them was Carlsbad Boorman, a wunderkind from Germany who had the unfortunate habit of smoking in bed.
Carl made child’s play of the recently deceased Kelly Llewellyn’s encrypted computer files and traced her email back to Maryland Penitentiary.
Gary the Guard had little trouble convincing the now attorneyless Tomas Grandon to consult with the late Kelly Llewellyn’s law partner, Mr. Brimstone.
The visitation room held a series of long tables sparsely populated with other prisoners and their respective guests. My nose crinkled and I looked around. The room smelled–clean. Almost holy.
A door opened and Gary the Guard escorted his charge into the room.
Grandon shuffled along as best he could, despite his manacled ankles and wrists. He was unremarkable, with short brown hair and the sallow complexion of a man acquainted with misery. His ratty orange coveralls had seen better days, the state penal system evidently uninterested in updating the attire of a soon-to-be-freed prisoner. His dark brown eyes watched every movement as a potential threat.
“You said you knew my case, right?” Grandon spoke in a soft, almost reserved voice with Hispanic undertones. His mouth twitched into a crooked smile as he sat opposite me while Gary stood a respectful distance to the side. “You’re Kelly’s partner, right? Funny, she never mentioned you. Shouldn’t matter, though, right? I mean, really, it’s all just paperwork from here on out, right? The DNA results are in and the damned wheels of justice are creaking forward. All you have to do is dot the i’s and cross the t’s, right?”
“Right.” I smiled, my perfect white teeth again entirely human. “Absolutely correct. Dot the i’s and cross the t’s. However–” I focused on another prisoner who had just entered the room. Motioning for Gary to come closer, I nodded toward the newcomer. “Who is that?”
“Valentine Pendergast,” answered Gary. “A nobody.”
Pendergast was a large man, with a thick clot of black hair. He’d cut the sleeves from his coveralls to display a latticework of green-tinted prison tattoos. His eyes were gray as a morning mist and a trace of spittle dotted his beard as though he suffered from hydrophobia.
“I doubt that,” I said. “He’s in prison. He must be somebody.”
The lethargy I’d felt earlier intensified with Pendergast’s arrival, a holy foulness out of character amongst the stifling press of unwashed human filth within the prison walls. Opening my valise, I produced a scroll duplicate to the one my master possessed and quickly scanned through the names. “Valentine Pendergast is not on the Soul List,” I remarked.
“Are you sure,” Gary blurted. “I mean, Pendergast is a convicted rapist and killer.”
“Yes, so you’ve already said.” My lips stretched into a mirthless smile. “A nobody.”
Gary stepped back from my glare.
Grandon slapped the table with an open palm. “What’s this crap about a Soul List? Answer me, or I’m gonna get me some new lawyers, right?”
His petty demand robbed what little humor I had left. “Answers are forthcoming. The question is, who would willingly trade their DNA and take the blame for such a brainless twit as yourself? Satan will not be cheated, understand? He will have his due.”
“S-Satan?” Grandon looked to me, then to Gary, and then across the room to Pendergast. “Satan,” he repeated.
Pendergast rose to his considerable height. His lawyer, arm extended, remained frozen in time like a mannequin. “Leave Grandon alone,” Pendergast said in a calm baritone.
Smiling, I ran a hand through my hair. I liked having hair. “Greetings, Nephilim. I wondered when you would reveal yourself.”
“Nephilim?” Gary placed a hand on his sidearm.
“Wait a second. You guys know each other?” Grandon pivoted his head as if trying to keep us all in view. “Right. The deal is off. Look, it was all his idea.” He thrust an accusing finger at Pendergast. “He said he could get someone to plant some of his hair with the evidence, and with DNA testing today, I’d be set free. He said he’d even confess if they traced it back to him, right.”
I whistled. “And all from the kindness of his heart. This made sense to you?”
Grandon shrugged. “Well, I had to promise to stay clean on the outside, but, yeah, it was worth a shot.”
Pendergast strolled towards us. Surrounding him was a light golden aura so beautiful it hurt my teeth.
“You’re an angel,” whispered Grandon.
“Not quite,” I said. “He is Nephilim, the child of a fallen angel and a human mother. Not quite holy, but not quite evil. Gray area in the truest sense.”
Pendergast barked a mirthless laugh and his golden aura tarnished to an unhealthy bronze. “It’s too late. Like the man said, the wheels of justice are already in motion. There is nothing you or Morning Star can do. Besides, why would you want to? You’re smarter than your masters, Imp. Join us in our new Order.”
Gary held his pistol out before him. “What’s he talking about?”
“Revolution,” I said with near reverence.
Gary blinked ignorance.
“Think about it,” I said. “Grandon, guilty of murder yet unrepentant of his actions, allowed into Heaven on a technicality. By tainting the evidence with his DNA, Pendergast has completely absolved Grandon of his murderous sin thus removing his name from the Soul List. Imagine the turmoil when certain trouble-making psuedo-angels reveal the manipulation of His law.”
“Yes.” Pendergast grinned lunacy. “The whole system will come into question, possibly even bring about the End.”
“The End?” Grandon rose from his seat and shifted towards my side of the table, mistaking me for the lesser of two evils.
I, too, rose and welcomed him in a warm embrace. “Yes. The End of everything. Armageddon. Let me guess.” I gave Pendergast a pained expression. “You and your ilk are bored with the way things are run and think you can do a better.” I yawned dramatically. “Thank you for your offer to join your cabal, but I must decline.”
The angel frowned. “Decline?”
“Since my arrival to the Outside I’ve found myself in a bit of a funk. Putting facts together as I see them, I’ve come to the conclusion that this scheme of yours is at the heart of my malaise. A rift in the balance, a break in the universe, whatever the reason, in all likelihood as time passes I’ll find myself weakened to the point of extinction. But you knew this already, didn’t you?” I moved close enough to stand toe to toe with Pendergast. “When this world ends, it will be my lord Satan’s doing, not a gaggle of half-wit wannabe angels.”
Pendergast snarled. “You’re the fool, Imp. Very well. Share your fate with these mortals. It’s only a matter of time.”
“Exactly.” My grin was perfectly malicious.
“Something is wrong.” Pendergast’s face twisted into ugly perplexity as his aura dimmed to an autumn sunset. “I don’t feel right. I don’t understand.”
“Allow me to explain,” I said, my arm wrapped protectively around Grandon’s shoulder. “Due to Ms. Llewellyn’s untimely demise, our friend here is without legal counsel. With no one to dot the i’s and cross the t’s, the cogs of justice might never turn. Any attorney Grandon aquires in the future will be faced with delay after legal delay. Oh, Grandon could try to represent himself, but we have a saying where I come from, anyone who represents himself is doomed to an eternity of torment.” I squeezed Grandon’s shoulder and he whimpered from pain and terror. “As for the DNA evidence, well, a leopard can’t change its spots, right?” Taking Gary’s pistol from him, I shot Pendergast four times in the chest and once in the head. “Mortality sucks, doesn’t it?” I said.
The Nephilim looked entirely disappointed as he collapsed into a bloody lifeless heap.
“Here, hold this.” I shoved the pistol into Grandon’s startled grasp, then reached into my inside breast pocket and pulled out a yellow highlighter. Taking the Soul List, I read near the bottom of the scroll. “Ah, Pendergast, Valentine. Rapist and murderer.” I covered the name with a thick slash of luminescent lemon. “As for you, Mr. Grandon. Your fingerprints are on the gun. Gary will testify that you disarmed him and shot Pendergast. A lover’s spat, I should think a sufficient excuse.”
“No!” Grandon pointed the pistol at me. “You think I’m stupid, right? I’ve been paying attention. You killed Pendergast, not me. DNA will prove me innocent.”
“To Him, yes.” I pointed to the ceiling so there was no mistaking who I meant. “But your mortal justice system will find you guilty as sin. You can await your reward of eternal salvation on death row.”
“I’ll say you did it,” said Grandon.
“The devil-made-me-do-it defense?” I shook my head in mock disappointment.
“You–” Grandon pressed the butt of the pistol against his forehead as he weighed his options, his expression a reflection of his pathetic life. “I was so close,” he whispered. “So damn close.” He pointed the gun at me, then Gary, then back to me. A thin keening escaped from his pale lips. “Ah, screw it,” he said. “Now, or later, what’s the difference, right?” With that, he stuffed the gun barrel into his mouth and pulled the trigger.
“Finally.” I sighed. The unfolding drama had nearly exhausted my patience.
“I don’t understand.” Gary nudged his pistol away from the pool of blood spreading beside Grandon’s head.
“Suicide.” I beamed with undisguised self-admiration. “Grandon was right. He would have been found innocent of killing Pendergast, but committing suicide, that is another form of damnation. A messy improvisation, I admit, but,” with a flourish I swiped at the Soul List with my yellow highlighter, “a satisfying result.
“Clean up this mess. It’s high time I returned home. And Gary…” I splayed my fingers toward my eyes then pointed at him. “I’ll be watching you.”
Just then, Pendergast’s lawyer blinked rapidly like a man awakening from a dream, or in his case, a nightmare. With his horrified screams ringing in my ears like a trumpet’s herald, I gave a final longing look at the Outside, and returned to Hell.
Originally from Kitchener, Mike Rimar now lives in Whitby, Ontario with his two daughters.
Despite its contrary spelling, Mike pronounces his last name as rhymer. Beyond that he is a man of mystery, even to himself. That he writes at all is most baffling. He can barely spell, grammar makes his head hurt, and the sciences are far from his best subjects. He is a taco puzzle wrapped in a tortilla shell enigma.
He is also a lord (in the Scottish sense), and associate publisher of Bundoran Press (in the small press sense).
You can find his work in Orson Scott Cards InterGalactic Medicine Show, Tesseracts 15, Writers of the Future XXI, and more recently in Masked Mosaic: Canadian Super Stories, Black Treacle , When the Hero Comes Home 2 e-version and On Spec.
Social Media: twitter @mikerimar, website http://www.mikerimar.com.