12 August 2008

1NF3RN0, Section 0: 4311

Author's Note: This is a very rough draft of the prologue of my novel. Comments would be appreciated.

Lucifer Morningstar sat in his chair on the veranda of his southern-American inspired plantation house. The view was spectacular by design. The imitation sun rose from the same place every day, between two perfect breast-like hills covered in tall wild grass. In all directions natural wonders of his own devising spread out forever: babbling brooks, whistling rushes, barb-wire vines. He looked out from his vantage point in a white wicker chair upon the greens and browns of the vast rolling field that was his front yard. The souls in his charge were already hard at work with their eternal toil of the upkeep of the lawn.

He spent his early morning as always with a cappuccino and the Wall Street Journal. He looked over the various numbers and indices that determined the economic health of Earth, “Hmm... NASDAQ's up, S&P is... down, and the global markets are all around.” He gave a maniacal giggle and pulled a pencil out of nothing. He quickly erased some numbers and replaced them with new ones as if correcting an erroneous crossword puzzle, “That should make the little bastards squirm for a few days.”

He looked away from the paper and took in the beauty he had created. The common conception of Hell is that it is a place of suffering and fire, sulfur, and other equally unpleasant things. Oh, there suffering to be sure, but Lucifer had other landscaping ideas. He had never been keen on reds, oranges, or yellows. More neutral earth tones and carefully planned greenery were more in line with his style. He knew from the start he should have questioned his Father's generosity after getting the boot, but who could refuse an entire plane of existence with a guaranteed labor force for the low, low price of nothing?

Lucifer had no regrets in accepting God's offer, but when he first arrived it was obvious why the Lord had passed it off on him. Hell was a major fixer-upper. It had all manner of sharp edges and pointy things, lava lakes, and it was all topped off with a fresh coat of fire. The first few millenia were spent organizing his ragtag collection of fallen angels in just a basic cleanup of the space. His only regret was not having a home-improvement warehouse from which to get his supplies.

It really didn't matter to him, though. He sipped from his cup and gazed proudly at his work. The Lord was able to start from scratch and finished within six days. Lucifer had to completely gut his property and made it livable in six thousand years. Never one to think that God was any better than he, Lucifer thought it was a notable effort. For its immigrants it was hard labor; for its residents a genteel setting of sweet tea and other luxuries. He put the Journal down on the patio table long enough to see that the damned souls in his eternal employ were still busy, busy. Some of the older ones had recently taken to singing field songs as they labored. Lucifer paid no mind to this as long as they made sure never to mention his Father. He rather liked it, in fact. The soft rhythms added a little something special to the atmosphere he had worked so hard to create.

Lucifer's hell-hound, Ol' Sinner, yawned lazily. The two butane lighter-like flames exiting its nostrils became engorged with oxygen as it snapped its overlarge maw shut. The creature never strayed far from its Master's feet. It enjoyed the morning in much the same way Lucifer did, laid back and relaxed. Every so often Sinner would cough up a napalm loogie onto the deck which would be quickly cleaned up by one of the damned.

His fellow fallen often wondered why he had taken to modeling Hell in the image of the antebellum American South. Why not renaissance Italy, or feudal Japan? How about Inquisition Spain? Now that was an exciting time to be collecting damned souls. His response was always the same. He would smile in that special way he had then look the questioning one in the eyes and say, “Because the rest of history is sooooo depressing. Besides that, the weather's nicer.” Then he would laugh at his own joke since no one else would.

Lucifer turned his attention to the rest of his domain. The spanish moss swayed in the sticky breeze. The hell-crickets chirped in discordant symphony. He looked to the sky and observed his fake birds then noticed a dark spot interrupting his not-quite-perfect bluish sky. Ol' Sinner took notice as well, standing on all fours and barking madly at the clouds. The object grew from a black dot into a ball of purest white as it fell squarely in the direction of his house. Almost immediately he recognized the intruder as one of his estranged brothers.

It was readily apparent that the angel was descending from on high as most do, wings ablaze and armor gleaming. From the perspective of the casual observer it was not much more than a ball of fire. Lucifer was no casual observer, though. He rose from his chair and stepped down from the porch to greet his visitor.

The angel landed in the middle of the tree-lined gravel lane with a great crash and explosion, dirt and scorched flora tossed in all directions. Lucifer ignored the devastation of his well-manicured lawn as all the dirt and debris carefully avoided soiling its Master's impeccable personage. As he approached the epicenter he half-expected to find his brother face-down with a mouthful of impromptu mud. As it was, the angel was standing in the center of the small impact crater without so much as a ruffled feather on his glorious white wings.

Lucifer laughed uncontrollably, “The fall... haha! Is never easy... brother!” he was terribly amused.

His brother brushed some dust away from his shining breastplate, glaring at Lucifer with irritated embarrassment, “I didn't fall you arrogant moron! I'm here on business.”

Lucifer caught his breath. His interest was piqued. He chose to ignore his brother's insolent, if not juvenile, name calling as he stepped back onto the veranda and returned to his chair. He leaned a little into the chair back and crossed his arms before replying, “What, pray tell, does the heavenly host require of me now? Perhaps I should start growing cotton so as you fools might have fresh tunics. Sorry, but I do have limits as to the level of detail I've created here.”

“Enough with the bad jokes Lucifer...”, the angel was still dusting himself off.

Lucifer continued, “Oh wait, I know. You came all the way down here so that I could admit defeat, sign a lengthy surrender declaration, and then we'd avoid a messy Final Battle, right? Well, I must regretfully inform you that my full-scale model of the Appomattox Courthouse isn't quite done, never mind that Bobby Lee would sooner die again than surrender his uniform grays for reenactment purposes.”

His brother followed him onto the porch ruffling the post-touchdown dust from his wings as he walked, “Oh shut up, you twit. If only it were that easy. I'm here to negotiate for a soul.”

As the lone angel stood opposite him, Lucifer had a thought. This angel had brought news of an interesting turn of events. The eternal struggle had always been a passive thing. Angels pushing here, demons nudging there. Never before had there been a need to barter for specific souls. What was His Majesty up to?

Lucifer smiled, “Now you know that while I have quite the margin in surplus souls, it would be against my nature to just let one slip from my stable. We are in competition, after all.”

“Well, Our Father requires a specific one for a specific purpose. He has authorized me to offer no more than five from the bottom of the Purgatory list in exchange.”, the angel tossed a gleaming gold file folder on the faux-wicker patio table.

Lucifer picked up the folder, its perfect surface causing his fingertips to smolder uncomfortably, but not so much he felt it necessary to drop. He perused the pages absentmindedly, the image clipped to the inside cover being the only item really needed for identification, “What's so important about this fairy that He needs him so badly?”

“You know I can't say.”

“Well, He never just gives up one, let alone five, souls unless its really fucking important. You go back and tell him I want to know why before I agree.”

The angel was getting aggravated, “I am under orders to return with that one. There will be no explanation or actual negotiation. Our Lord has demanded it and so shall it be.”

As the anger grew within him, Lucifer's eyes filled and spilled forth with blue flame, “Do not forget, brother, this is my realm. He may hold sway over Heaven and Earth, but here my word is the light.”

It was now the angel's turn to become amused, “You delude yourself. This realm was given to you by Him. The Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away...”

At those words, the rolling hills were replaced by craggy, barren mountains. Unholy flame filled the sky. The babbling brooks became screaming sulfurous rivers. The laboring souls were now consumed in fire, the bushes and trees lining the lane coming to life and uprooting themselves while tormenting the scorched spirits in some very creative ways with their branches.

“HOW DARE YOU! I JUST HAD THOSE TREES PUT IN!”, as he cried out Lucifer changed
from a smartly dressed southern gentleman into the horrific self-image he thought of for himself so many eons ago: tattered, bat-like wings; flesh that absorbed all light that touched it; great growths of bleached bone protruding from odd places. His suit pants remained, ragged and torn, clinging to his uninspired goat's legs.

A sword of flame appeared in his hand as he lunged from the chair toward his brother, intent on exacting revenge for his uprooted trees.

The angel easily side-stepped the attack with preternatural speed. As an added insult he slapped his irate brother on the haunches with the flat of his blade, scorching the seat of Lucifer's already ruined pants and revealing his bright red baboon's ass. Now it was the angel's turn to laugh at his brother's misfortune, “Now, now, Morningstar, is that any way to treat a brother? I mean, what is it that troubles you so? All is as it should be.”

The blade strike had momentarily cost Lucifer his balance. He was caught by the veranda railing, almost spilling head-over-heels into the barren waste that had become his front lawn. His rage subsided long enough to see that his pristine environs had been restored. His terrifying form melted back into his gentlemanly attire. Leaning against the railing and holding it with both hands he turned to face the angel, the flames in his eyes slowly withdrawing, “Checkmate, brother. We are now even for my insult.”, he stood upright, “I suppose I shall have to take Your Father's offer graciously.”

The angel smiled and gently nodded his head down and to the side in agreement, “Indeed, Morningstar.”

Lucifer, now calm, adjusted his suit jacket before returning to his chair. He snapped is fingers and a somber-faced elderly soul appeared to his left. After whispering into the damned one's ear the soul departed as instantly as he had arrived, “Would you like some tea while you wait for my servants to retrieve him?”

The angel abandoned his wings and heavenly attire in favor of a more comfortable suit similar in style to Lucifer's. He sat in the chair opposite his fallen brother, “I would be delighted.”

23 June 2008

Expectedly Unexpected

An old friend died the other day. Not completely unexpected. He was getting on in years, his body slowly failing him. Nothing too obvious. Creaking knees, hunching back. The usual suspects.

The clearest indicator was the energy. He was known for weaving passion into fluid tapestry. As time wore on, the fabric was less and less fluid, more burlap in texture. Rough, itchy, almost irritating.

Our friend always imagined such wonderfully creative ways to die. He really wanted to go in one of those ways.

Being run over by a bus full of nuns was one of his favorites. They would pray away, clicking off the beads, one, two, ten. Hail Mary! Our Father... He would be crossing the street. Just minding his own business. Walking here, walking here! But Sister Mary Wonderful was behind the wheel. Somebody at the DMV with a single-digit IQ issued the blind and deaf old woman a commercial license. She wouldn't see him. She wouldn't hear him. She'd just keep on keepin' on. Thought she hit a pothole, the silly biddy.

Not as graceful, but equally original, was death by television. He would be sitting there, enjoying the suffering of the world for his amusement. So much humor to be found in the tragedy of others. Eventually the TV would have enough. In a fit of manic depression it would pull itself away from the wall and strangle him with its cord. Not nearly as likely as the nuns, but a fitting end he thought.

In the end, the mediocre got him. That cynical heart of his just threw in the towel. He probably told the little ticker to get back in the ring. Pump you lazy bastard! We've got things to do! It was for naught. His heart had enough. Seven million, four-hundred and sixty-three thousand, five hundred and twenty rounds was it. No more! It said. I concede, I give up, uncle for chrissakes!

And he didn't fight too much. He knew it was coming as much as we did. He went to the hospital to see if they could convince the heart to go a few more, just for shits and giggles. Alas, the doctor's arguments fell on deaf ventricles. No more! I concede! Go away and let me rest!

Our friend was tired anyway. He had said all that could be said. Perhaps in the next life there were more idiots and tragedy. So much more he would be entertained for eternity. He probably wanted to meet the originator of his suffering. His originator probably wanted to meet him too. I imagine they had plenty to say to each other.

Regardless, it was expected. Expectedly unexpected.

We knew it was inevitable. Death was the only certainty, as our friend pointed out so many times.

In loving memory of
George Denis Patrick Carlin