WAIT, whoa. Marius bounded straight up and avoided a lumbering sand RV bearing down on him. The silly things swerved at unexpected moments; they guaranteed visual mayhem. Hold on, yes, jump again! The Demon neatly sidestepped the all-too-familiar careening orange dump truck. He bounced off a dissolving sand Mercedes just before the screaming driver sprawled into the sharp sand. The slick obsidian cliff wall loomed before him in dire splat threat. Marius urged his powerful thigh muscles to propel him straight up to the observation cliff’s sharp, brittle edge. Talons skidded against slick glass. Marius balanced, took a giant step forward and landed in a straight, upright stance. Success!
What a brilliant workout. His thighs tingled in delight. The Unsafe Driver Level was popular with the legendary Leapers. Out of control, dissolving sand vehicles provided a daunting test of speed and reflexes. Ahh, wait, a complaint emerged from his left calf. A long forward lunge stretched out a prime stress knot. Once the brief stab vanished, Marius shifted from his tall Demon Leaper form into his beloved Human mode.
The ancient Roman marveled at the wild new levels conquering modern problems. When death by drunken, stupid, or careless motorized vehicle usage slammed into Hell, Lucifer and the Dukes of Hell flexed their creative bile and fashioned the Unsafe Driver Level. That thoughtless dump-truck driver must have done something mighty nasty; Marius had been avoiding his insanity for years.
Exhilarated, the Leaper exhaled a breath he never realized he’d held. A fellow Leaper, ah, it was Marley 1841 1450, arrived on the observation cliff. Marley clapped his hands in glee. “How is the sand action out there, Marius? Toodle-pip, today’s course looks quite challenging. My word, time to overcome wall to wall sand madness!” The lofty-sounding Leaper shifted from his Human appearance into his sleek red Demon form.
See, Marius wasn’t the only Demon who enjoyed his old-style Human form. Over the past years the Dukes had urged everyone to embrace Demonic unity. To Marius the scheme smacked of personal censorship, but he certainly had never aired his irritated thoughts. “The course is extremely intense. The RVs are completely out of control, and as usual the dump truck is wild. Today things dissolve in astonishing speed.”
“Just the way I like it, my dear brother!” They slapped palms. Marley sketched a formal bow. “Please stay and watch my new opening move. I hope the timing works!” Marley soared across the sandy air and landed on a dissolving eighteen-wheeler. What a slick move. The Junior Leaper bounced off a few casino buses and almost wiped out. Rash!
Marius watched for an ugly accident, but Marley recovered and acrobated his way through the shimmering chaos until he became a mere speck. Show over, but Marius gave Marley high points for fine daring. Leaper accidents pissed off the Duke’s overworked Fiends. One time, on a dare, of course, Marius had tried the Unsafe Driver Level challenge in Human form. A stupid face-plant caused a messy sand pileup over in the third quarter. Marius ended up banished to a boiling acid pit for a year. Dull, dull, dull! See, rules kept everything in check. Act stupid, and pay the price.
Lately, plenty of Hellish issues crept around Marius’s troubled mind. Stop fretting! Too much thinking never amounted to anything good in Hell. He snapped his fingers in summoning, then smoothed the light silk of his red toga over his muscular body. Walking around naked was fine, but his old-style modesty had never felt comfortable with casual display. Instead, he covered his oh-so-naughty Human body. Humph. Not the time to act sullen. No, time to check out tomorrow’s schedule. Each day offered new and strange challenges.
Marius ducked into an open hot-air tube, compacted his body and whooshed up to Level 13.
His special position in High Duke Asmodeus’s realm kept Marius active. Asmodeus recognized Marius’s talents for diplomacy and discretion, which wasn’t always easy in the vast Hellish crowd featuring unruly Imps, Fiends, Demons, Goblins, Shades, Harpies, insane Freaks and so many other minor Hellions. Easygoing Marius liked living, all right—existing, in Hell. After two thousand years, the astute Marius understood the trust and avoid lexicon. Hell offered fine career advancement and the chance to excel. Where else could an uneducated Roman wrestler secure career advancement? In reality, Hell felt like home to Marius.
Amusing how religions tangled everything up. Long story short: when normal Humans died, they traveled to Hell. Face it, how many Saint-caliber Humans existed in the world? Start counting on fingers and, in a banner year, add a few toes. The Cloud Crew only appreciated sterling people—who had led boring, sedate lives—and Innocent children. From what Marius heard, many children ended up with the Cloud Crew. To Marius, occupying a serene space filled with bores and children sounded deadly dull. What did one do for fun? Sing happy tunes? Bleargh.
Level thirteen flamed forth in threatening atmosphere. Ostentatious theater suited this distinctive level. Marius popped from the tube, straightened his snug red toga, and walked toward the meeting room where Neletian, Asmodeus’s secretary, left the daily Demonic chore list. Since Marius had achieved Senior Leaper rank, he scored easy jobs. A favorite task was escorting the new arrivals to their personal Hell. The old Hell gag: take them somewhere horrible, like where the mass murderers were tortured, and watch them scream and babble in complete disbelief at their so-called dismal fate. Always a great joke, good for lengthy howls. Seeing their relief when they reached their mundane little Hells, like a week playing poker with their farting Aunt Sadie, made Marius grin when they thanked him like he was Lucifer. Come on, mighty Lucifer only reviewed the serious cases: dictators, serial killers, and career politicians.
At least generous Lucifer allowed everyone to peek at the latest torments; something new always trumped the latest disaster-flick opening. The Horned One’s sparkling imagination produced superior punishment. He operated on the simple principle of give the condemned opposite treatment. Raging firebugs lived in pools of ice cold oil, able to create nothing but damp sparks. Serial killers were armed with clay knives with only their own bodies to torment. Talk about frustration! Politicians were forced to tell the truth, which looked hilarious when they entered a room loaded with screaming, sore-ridden, shit-stinking babies for them to kiss. Imps loved playing the Hell babies. Simple, yet effective.
Most people, depending on their usually minor sins, served their short time, ascended into the Bank of Souls, and dreamed until their soul soared free to perform the flesh dance again. Another simple, streamlined procedure.
A shiver infected Marius. He pushed open the carved, gore-spattered doors. Generous Asmodeus had offered Marius the chance to enter the Bank of Souls quite a few times, but Marius always declined. Why chance ending up somewhere worse? Why return to Earth? He saw no point. In his mind, returning as a North Korean peasant destined to starve to death or a doomed African child made little sense. Entering the Bank of Souls felt like a dreadful crapshoot. No thanks.
Enough intellectual gymnastics. Time to review tomorrow’s tasks, return to his comfortable comb, and relax on the back porch overlooking the serene Tiber before it flowed into Rome. In reality, his jasmine-filled porch overlooked a spectacular lava waterfall, normally a desirable scene in Hell, far superior to the endless desert or blood-rain fields, but Marius’s lofty status allowed him access to superior scene shifting spells. When asked about his classy comb, Marius enthused over the fiery view, but he enjoyed his tranquil sunset river scenes created from his last living memories. He truly enjoyed his swanky HDTV. Tonight Marius needed to see how the amusing Rome series ended. Serious TV addiction ruled his mind, but please, in Hell, watching TV did not equal a sin.
Marius released a low whistle. Scores of lists hung from the long snakeskin board. Poor Neletian’s fingers must have cramped from typing in the assignments. A quick scan explained the problem: a major earthquake had hit China; a typhoon had slammed into India; parts of Europe experienced record flooding; and another earthquake had rocked Mexico City. What an ugly quartet of destruction. Quite sad. Hmm, a virtual avalanche of souls overwhelmed Hell’s confines. Still, the flaming “If You Don’t Show Up for Work Guess What Happens” sign made Marius laugh. Hmm, perhaps a dull month in the acid pit as punishment? He strolled along the yards of M lists looking for his name. Since she liked Marius, Neletian usually made his assignment easy to find. She did, it hanging last and set apart from the other M lists.
Three blazing words seared across a sheet of red stationery. “See me immediately.”
The flaming A symbol made Marius swallow in apprehension. Why did the Boss need to see Marius in person? The Leaper flicked through recent memories. He owned no reason to feel frightened.
Try telling that to his quivering nerves.