There’s this really silly idea I keep hearing people spout that everyone is like a closed book, and that you got to make friends to really know all their secrets-
And god, is that some bullshit. I don’t have a single goddamn friend, and people are sitting me down and telling me their life stories left and right. I don’t know what it is about me- I pride myself on looking far from approachable. Just a few months ago my boss got a new secretary, and by the end of the first week she had blabbed to me everything I needed to know about her life- how she sold her soul to save her brother’s life, how she was one of triplets in a family of ten. I just sat there frowning, and the only thing I can think I might’ve done wrong in that scenario was give the impression that I was sympathizing.
Really I was more upset that my boss had hired another secretary. That was my job. And what sort of accountant needs two secretaries? Scratch that- what sort of accountant needed one?
Kelly Galloway Campbell, bless his parents, was a weird guy. I guess I liked him enough, but he always struck me as a certified bastard, the kind of guy you’d want to get drunk with but would regret later. Long time off the warfronts, getting a little grey, and with very little tolerance for my shit.
I sat on his desk most days. As I was doing now.
“Are you planning on spending the rest of today staring off into space, Mannie? If so, I might as well give your work to Christina,” My boss said. For certain obvious reasons, we called him Kell. He made us call him Kell, really.
“She couldn’t handle it,” I said.
“She’s not capable of delivering a letter? I had no idea.” Kell turned to Christina, who had a small desk in his office. “Christina, is this true?”
“I wish you two would stop talking about me like I wasn’t here,” she said, sighing.
“Mannie, do your work. It’s barely even a job, god knows we don’t pay you for it,” Kell said softly. He always got soft around me and that bugged my nerves like crazy. Treating me like some kind of child.
“Fine,” I grumbled to the best of my ability, “Hand it over.” Without looking back at him, I reached my hand out behind me.
Kell gently placed a sticky note in the palm of my hand. I read it over- really, it was only two lines of information. A room number and a signature from Kell.
My job was the same every day. Pick up a human from the lower levels, bring them to another room. Sometimes I brought them up to Earth. I had been doing this for five years. There was a certain sense of repetition to my life, the same minutes in the same uniform. The same ceaseless war, and eternal stalemate for nothing more particular than everyone’s lives.
God, Hell wasn’t what one’d hope it’d be. I guess there were literal demons hanging around, and we were having a war against actual angels- but if you weren’t a soldier, or someone worth anything, you basically spent your days outside of the sun and living off bland government rations.
I stuffed the sticky note into my pocket and jumped off Kell’s desk. I glanced back behind me, and Kell gave a tiny wave, watching me out of the corner of his eye. Busy on the computer, no doubt doing some important Few stuff.
Kell’s office of accounting was located in a small hallway in one of the levels of Hell. As what I could only assume started as a joke, the place was dubbed ‘Greed’- all the levels were named after sins. Most people preferred to just call them by numerical values, so Greed was just ‘Level Five’. I was not one of those people. Places named after sins added just a little bit of personality to what was otherwise a series of barren and structurally unsound tunnels.
Next to Pride, Greed was the largest of the levels, consisting of a number of dark apartments, various miscellaneous offices, and a farm or two. A farm! That was the one thing I actually cared about in Hell. The place was often an anachronism of technology, but now and again I’d spot something a little higher tech than expected. These giant, underground, sustainable farms were one of them.
Also, I really liked plants. I used to garden.
There was one really long hallway connecting all the levels together, but most people took the elevator. Saved on time. And leg pain.
People who were really fucking important- like Kell- got the privilege of a particular posh elevator. It was honestly the coolest looking thing, all gold and red and devastatingly shiny. I always felt like I mattered when I got to ride it, sneering down all those plebeian workers with their dull, brass colored work elevators.
On a normal day, mind you, I was worth even less than them. Technically jobless, I did my work to fill the hours and keep a room. No friends, no hobbies that I could practice in Hell, and four books.
So if, sometimes, I seem like a snob, let it be said that it’s really my one relief in life.
I got in as fancily as I could, which was near impossible considering my wrinkled work shirt and unfashionable slacks. I gave a little half bow to the doorman as I showed him Kell’s signature on the crumbled sticky note. The guy had known me for years, but I still did this every time.
I hit the button for Wrath, the lowest level, the place where we did all our torturing.
Greed’s layout was like a pile of spaghetti, a mishmash of tunnels that overlapped and linked in a gross mess of dusty orange halls, smattered with patches of neat blue tiles. Wrath, meanwhile, was simple. They could afford tiles the whole way through, as well as a ceiling, and man, even walls. The layout was like a square spiral heading on a gradual upward incline, and at the very center was the supervisor’s office overlooking the great rift.
My instructions took me to room thirty-two. I knocked politely at the door, and a demon with particularly blue horns peered out. The thing about demons is that they don’t work quite as you’d hope, with an hierarchy of outrageousness. Instead, all of them got a couple of weird animal parts at random. Of course, most took to displaying just the horns or a few scales- it was hard to tailor all of your shirts in order to show off bulky wings, so most demons just hid them away through some sort of magic.
“Here for the human,” I said.
“Oh, yeah, I was wondering when you’d show up.” The guy moved aside so I could step into the room. It was like a little jail cell, with a toilet, bed, and desk, but a touch above- someone had elected to give the place red and white striped wallpaper, and the floor was an off white carpet.
The human was really more of a boy than anything else. “That’s the human?” I said.
“Yeah, I’m the human,” the kid said with a smile, “You?”
“Are you human?”
“Do I look human?”
I mumbled nothing under my breath, just sort of made harsh sounds as a means to intimidate.
“So, what are you doing here?” The human asked.
“Let’s go,” I said, walking out the door. The kid politely followed. He was a lot calmer than some of the people I’d had to deal with over the years.
“Bye then!” The demon who had been supervising him gave a friendly grin.
“What are you doing here?” The human asked again, as the door closed behind us.
“I’m going to take you to another room, and then in a week we’re going to kill you.”
“Hm,” he said, but he did it with a sort of jaunty connotation, like he had just seen a particularly interesting animal, “Really?”
“I’ve been wondering when you’d get around to that. Can I really die down in Hell though? You’ve just been poking me with needles for a few months now. It gets old. I was expecting a little more torture when it came to Hell, not a sore arm and an occasional state of nausea.”
“We’re not doing this because we want you to suffer.”
“Feels like it.”
“What’s your name, boy?”
“Are you seriously calling me ‘boy’? You look a lot younger. And uh, it’s Blake. Last. Nineteen again, I think. Do you revert to the age you were when you made the contract? Because I’m pretty sure I did.”
“Yes. Please stop talking to me.”
“You know, I’ve been treated like a prisoner lot since I got to Hell, but this is the first time I’ve been taken to another room for it. Why?”
“You ask a lot more questions than I’d like to answer,” I sighed, “Look, the cycle change is coming up next week. We’re going to get rid of you when that happens, but to make sure we don’t miss anyone, Hell likes to gather you all together in a room near the surface in preparation.”
“And this is your job? Just transporting live goods?” Blake asked. Man, he never shut up, did he?
“I’m second in command to Kell.”
“An accountant in Hell? Where’s all the lawyers! Ha, okay, that was seriously unfunny. I’m not one for humor. I am, however, one for wondering what the hell kinda job that is. I guess I shouldn’t let anything about Hell surprise me though.”
“Please stop talking. This is a ten minute walk at most, and you’re going to be dead by the end of the week so nothing you say or learn really matters.”
I hear Blake stifle a laugh. “What’s your name?”
“That’s a perfect example of a question not to bother asking.”
“I’m just curious. Maybe before I go out and die I can ask this Kell person to give his second in command a more dignified job.”
“A psychopomp is a very noble profession,” I said stiffly.
“What.” Blake said, “What the hell is that.”
“Someone who escorts the dead into the afterlife. God, read a dictionary.”
“Isn’t this already the afterlife? Hey, wait a second- where the hell am I going to end up once I die here? Do I finally get to go to Heaven?”
I couldn’t help but laugh. “You wouldn’t want to even visit Heaven, believe me.”
“Whatever. My earlier point still stands. Your boss is giving you some really meager labor for his best accountant. Shouldn’t you be crunching numbers? Really important numbers?”
“I’m not really his second in command. More like... his secretary,” I admitted.
“Secretary? Shouldn’t you be scheduling appointments and answering the phone then?”
“Okay, I’m not really his secretary. I just... sort of hang around his office and do him favors.”
“To keep tabs?” I said, “Look, I don’t really know. I’ve been doing this for half a decade now. I thought I’d observe Kell since he has power and an bloody history. I’ll probably find something else to do soon. And! None of this is any of your moribund ass’ business anyway, so shut up.”
“If it’s been five years, I doubt you’re going to change jobs anytime soon. Everyone is always talking about changing their life, and no one ever gets around to it.”
“It’s different for me.”
“Prove it.” Blake was basically giggling. Despite the fact he was obviously screwing around, anticipating death and all, I took his half advice somewhat seriously. It was true this job was getting... boring. Kell had Christina now, and even before her I hadn’t witnessed anything more interesting than a couple failed revolutions and Kell kissing his secret boyfriend.
And I had been telling myself I’d get moving for a while now. Hell was nice and all, but Earth was always a little less exciting and a lot more bigger.
I stopped walking, just a few feet from the supervisor’s office that I was supposed to be dropping Blake off at. “Okay. New plan. You’ve won.”
“A chance to not die.”
“Hey, I’m always up to not die.”
“Let’s go then. To Earth.” I had a plan in my head already formed, and it involved getting on the elevator and riding up to Earth. It’d take about half an hour at most.
“Neat,” Blake said, “You make life altering changes with remarkable speed. How long did that take for you to decide? Twenty seconds?”
“It’s not just you,” I said, “I’ve been thinking of moving on for a long time now.”
“Yeah, I suppose it’s been nearly a full minute by now.”
“Five years, since the allure of the first few days faded. Maybe I just needed a someone to rudely remind me of it.”
“I wasn’t being rude.”
“Let’s get going,” I said, “Actually, wait here.” Another plan had come to mind, and it was a lot worse than my last one. And it started in Wrath and ended in Pride and was, in general, a stupid idea.
Something I’d be good at, then.
I knocked loudly on the door to the supervisor’s office, wracking my mind for his name- Phillip, that was it. Dr. Phillip Miller. Old bastard.
“You have such a pleasant knock!” Blake exclaimed.
I waited by the door for about five minutes. In this span of time, Blake continued to dutifully wait, but he had this look on his face, examining me in the same way one might observe a very large but peaceful bear.
“Continue waiting here.”
Blake shrugged in a manner that looked very sarcastic.
The door was a heavy off blue metal cut to resemble a stately oak door. It took most of my strength to pull it open and look inside.
God, this place was nice. Three couches- three whole couches!- gathered in one corner, a long meeting table in the other. On the far wall, by a large bay of windows, was a small desk with a tall man sitting at it.
“Hey!” I shouted inside. “Fuck you Phillip!” I flipped him off and shut the door in a hurry.
I think I felt pretty satisfied about that, but Blake was frowning. “The heck was that about?”
“I’m going to take you to Earth, I promise, but I while I’m still here I figure I might as well screw around a bit. Maybe get them to sic security on us.”
“I... would really like to not go to jail, or die. Let’s just leave, please?”
“No, wait, I still need to tell Kell to fuck off.”
“No, this is a bad idea,” Blake said, “Man, what’s your name?”
“Ug. Mannie, okay?”
“You’re not making that up.”
“I’m really serious. And not too fond of it either.”
“Okay, so look Mannie: I’m really glad you’re opting to break me out of Hell. But if there’s some easy, non-suspicious, non-hellhounded route out of here, we should take that. If I have one goal in life, it’s to avoid dying, suffering, and death.”
“Kell will like it if I call him a motherfucker though. We really do need to stop by anyway so I can grab my stuff,” I said, “Don’t worry about me. I’ll always be fine.” I looked back at the heavy metal door to Phillip’s office. “Do you think Phillip heard me? He’s really old. God, what if he’s deaf? I’m going back in there.”
I was probably too giddy, but for once in my life, a few things were happening that were only slightly out of the ordinary. Normally my life was all or nothing, and trust me, that gets old quick. This was just going to be an exciting quitting story. The sort of thing you’d gossip about with your friends.
It’d be awesome if I ended up on the news.
I went back inside the office and this time walked right up to Phillip’s desk. “What is it?” He asked. God, he was so old. Demons age around half the rate of humans, but only to a point. Most are stuck looking roughly forty-five for years, until at a certain point when that weird magic just quits. They don’t go wrinkly and frail. They just go grey. Hair, skin, nails- everything gets this sickly color, and then bam, in a few years tops they die.
It was really gross. Phillip didn’t have much longer.
“Fuck you,” I said.
He sighed politely. “Who are you?”
“I work for Kell? And drop humans off here sometimes. I’m here to tell you I’m quitting.”
“What are you quitting?” He asked, utterly bored.
“My job. Being a demon. Whatever.”
“Go on then.”
“I’m also taking a human to Earth.”
“Isn’t that rather pointless?”
“Yeah, but I’m still doing it.”
I left. God! What a prick. I flipped him off again for good measure, but it really wasn’t as satisfactory as I hoped it’d feel. It really just felt childish.
Blake was judging me when I faced him again. “You all done?”
“We’re stopping by Kell’s place.”
“I barely know you, Mannie, and already I worry for you.”
“I’m just having an off day.”
“Then I’m even more worried for what a good day is for you.”
A Mannie and a Blake. Mannie's ace/agender/"dubiously aromantic" btw, I just fell into using she pronouns. The story itself she's never ID'd by any gender or pronouns.
Blake is nice. We all like Blake.
I have a tumblr or two: Pokemon-Moon or Hellisntreal (art blog)
And where is this strange little story going? Well, can't quite spoiler it of course, but to ENTICE you to READ it:
A preview of what's to come.