“Sire, Beelzebub awaits you in the throne room. He’s been there for a day and a night.” The minor functionary was careful not to meet his master’s eyes. In his current mood, messengers were often dispensed of when delivering unpleasant news.
“Tell him I am unwell and uninterested in entertaining him for a fortnight.”
“Sire, if I may be so bold, you have already sent him away for three fortnights. He has patiently returned and demands, his words, sire, not mine, to see you regarding matters of State. He says it can wait no longer.”
“Very well. Draw me a bath and lay out my Black Shroud of Despair.”
“Very good, sir. The dragon stands ready at your golden tub. There are four embezzlers bent beneath it.”
“Wonderful. Their screams shall make a wonderful tonic. Make them ready.”
Lucifer Morningstar rose from his bed of thorns in a particularly foul mood. His plans for nuclear Armageddon thwarted by a particularly stupid functionary, he was sure could get the job done. Looking at the bed, he noticed the thorns were not nearly as sharp as he expected and thought the lack of proper piercing of his flesh had resulted in his pleasant dreams and foul mood.
Setting the bed aflame, he jumped back in for five more minutes until the fire died down. Realizing he could no longer put off his meeting, he made his way across the castle listening to the pitch and tenor of the screams made by the penitents and found all to his liking.
Entering his bath chamber, a human pyramid seven deep with bent and bowed men, women and selected aliens from across his domain were sweating and holding a golden tub, fifteen cubits wide weighing thousands of pounds. It was up to the penitents to ensure the weight was distributed evenly. Otherwise the experience was sheer torture.
Being accountants, each was familiar with the idea of distribution of wealth and all did their part to ensure no one bore more weight than they needed to. Beezelbub was certain to have placed a new participant in the center of the pyramid, who would cheat and thus punish the rest until he figured out how things went in this particular wing of West Hell.
The Morningstar climbed the ziggurat of flesh, each step sizzling the flesh of the being beneath his magnificent foot. “Thank you, Master, you show great favor to me this day.”
Each step, was slow and ceremonial and each embezzler spoke as they had been instructed. “I stole millions from charities so that I might live a life of luxury, my Lord.”
Lucifer lingered on this particular penitent, contemplating the suffering caused by the criminal’s efforts. By his actions he inspired a ten percent increase in donations to the charity and one of the children who benefited became a Nobel prize winning scientist curing a rare bone cancer which took Hell’s Labs three centuries to perfect.
Lucifer directed the dragon who would be filling his tub, to stand just above this particular individual. The overflow should drip right about… there.
Getting into the tub, the ziggurat sagged under the Morningstar’s bulk, and the dragon’s flaming spittle filled the tub, splashing wildly onto the penitents whose howls filled the room in an endless symphony of which the Morningstar delighted in.
No matter their writhing, no one dared change their position even an iota, since this would result in further, far more painful spills. As Lucifer soaked the dragon venom would grow more potent. The longer he bathed, the worse each spill became. The more experienced penitents knew no matter how terrible it was, to spill now was to experience pain unlike anything they thought they could imagine.
The newest member of the ziggurat did not yet know these things and Lucifer smiled as the golden tub tipped and venom splashed wildly.
Alas, such pleasures cannot last and after leaving the bath, he arrived in his throne room regenerated from the suffering.
It was then he saw Beelzubub drawing behind him a small cart of musical instruments.
“My lord…” he began.
Lucifer gave him a scalding look, and the elderly demon patted out a small flame which caught on his vestments.
Lucifer sat down and several demons sprang forth with several tiny cups of espresso, a rare blend challenging to find, even for his agents in the World. Lucifer had few vices. Espresso was one. Music, the other.
“You may begin, old demon.”
“Sire, it has come to my attention you have abandoned your musical practices for some time and as such, we have noted a decline in the overall Evil ratings in the world. The council has suggested it is time for you to consider a new form of musical expression for more modern evil to be associated with.”
Not this again. It seems it was just yesterday, they were complaining about the violin, despite being played to great success, terrifying all of the European continent and creating some of the greatest music of the Middle Ages, and now they want to change it?
“Don’t I have a committee for this already? Last I heard they were connecting to heavy metal groups and getting tons of new recruits. The guitar has made almost as many people sin as the violin in it day.”
Beelzubub, flexed his creaky wings, a flutter of embarrassment could be seen subtly woven into their movement. “Yes, your eminence, but the spell of the guitar appears to be waning except among the heaviest metal acolytes. Witness.”
A window to a heavy metal concert on Earth in a dank and hidden pub, probably in Prague belted out sinister tunes with completely incomprehensible growling coming from the singers. Lucifer recognized it as the “Third Opus to Plague” a best-seller revised with modern lyrics by an up and coming demonic lyricist.
“Sir, the resultant plague was an outbreak of…”
“Diptheria, wild diarrhea for all of Prague?”
“Pertussis. I always did enjoy the seal-like barks of the sufferers.”
“No, sire. We believe the outbreak which spread among your followers was limited to a light fever and flu-like symptoms which…”
“Lasted for weeks, causing death and suffering for all afflicted.”
“No sire. Most were better in a matter of hours with the application of a mild soup made by well-meaning grandmothers.” Beelzebub raised his head in defiance, placing the blame upon the Morningstar.
“This may have nothing to do with the music. Perhaps the musicians were simply unable to capture the effectiveness of the litany. This music brought the Middle Ages to its knees.” Lucifer returned the defiant stare with a look of his own.
“You played, then. Your music swept the world, filled with belief and superstition, you came to them buoyed upon their fears of the mysterious East, playing an instrument too few had ever heard. Those were different times, sire. Humanity as flawed as ever is less superstitious in that way.”
“This is still not my concern. I made your committee so that I didn’t have to do this kind of work anymore.”
A demon comes into the throne room and bows until his head touches the floor. “Sire, you have a ‘Demonic pacts with Humanity’ TED talk scheduled at two o’clock in Cupertino.”
“Send Mephistopheles. They’re geeks, they can’t tell the difference. Remind him to stay on task. Corporate power and spending in exchange for their immortal souls and the souls of their workers. Tell him to hide the contract in the EULA’s. They never read them.”
“Will do, your greatness. Mephistopheles did ask if you were okay with him creating new software. His last apps are converting like gangbusters and thinks there is a bigger market than we have been considering.”
Lucifer looked at Beelzebub before responding, “Tell him to continue taking whatever initiative he deems necessary, with the understanding I will collect my due and it best not be late.” Lucifer flung a small object to the messenger who caught it and immediately fell to the ground due to its immense weight.
“I shall impart unto him the import of thy message, my master.”
Dragging away the message, the envoy left the throne room grunting with the exertion.
“I understand, your greatness. You are less interested in the day to day operations and only care for the results.” Beelzebub, bent low, began to turn away.
Lucifer saw a flash of light from the bottom of the pile of instruments. “Hold, old friend. How long has it been since I played anything?”
“Wisconsin, Milwaukee, 1959.”
Lucifer hadn’t played a guitar since. “Very well, I will sit down with you and work on some new ideas for the musical corruption of humanity.”
Hefting his favorite guitar, the master of malediction strummed out a few bars of ‘Chantilly Lace’ and remember the day the music died. It didn’t feel right, even now. Putting the guitar down, Beelzebub hands his master, the only instrument he ever truly loved.
His Stradivarius, strung with the entrails of the world’s most successful used-car salesmen, fell into his left handed grip. The bow slid across the strings, with their musical wails filling the throne hall.
The sound, beauteous, honest, the kind of suffering rarely heard these days in Hell, brought forth by a master, drawn from men convinced of their own righteousness being brought to task for it. There was no music like it anywhere in Heaven or Earth.
A world leader rose, went to the bathroom and with his cellphone declared war on another nation. Beelzebub had a tear in his eye when his master was done.
No, the world didn’t end.
But the fear engendered would feed the evil hearts of suicide bombers, of military zealots, of religious fundamentalists, of frightened Neo-nazis and other basket cases. Every strum of the violin caused madness, terror and death in its wake.
His work done, the old demon slid from the room as the Morningstar lost in his reveries, brought the world to the edge of doom, for another generation filling the halls of Hell with the world’s best and brightest.
Preparing the way for another Great War with Heaven when the ranks were filled enough…
Thaddeus Howze works as a writer and editor for two magazines, the Good Men Project, a social men’s magazine as well as for Krypton Radio, a sci-fi enthusiast media station and website. He is also a freelance journalist for Polygon.com and Panel & Frame magazine. Thaddeus is the co-founder of Futura Science Fiction Magazine and one of the founding members of the Afrosurreal Writers Workshop in Oakland.