by Anthony Brum
Satan sat cross-legged on a large boulder. He stared out to the distance with his chin propped on his hands and tail idly swung to and fro through sulphurous air. The howl of distant screams were as much a part of the landscape as the perpetual bursts of flame from the barren land, and seams of angry red river that oozed by. This rock had been worn smooth by the present occupant, and those before him, while time passed. He was jolted from his reverie by the ringing of a loud gong, which signalled the imminent arrival of a visitor. A visitor? He hadn’t had one of those for decades, or had it been centuries? It was so difficult to keep track. The only company he kept these days was fleeting contact with gargoyles, or the occasional interview with the Coalition of Angels, to deem his suitability for a return to Earth. Long gone were the days when he came and went as he pleased, when devils, demons and all sorts of other deities were feared, and their very existence beyond question. But now? There had been An Enlightenment. That was how the angels had put it. Satan was found to be wanting, obsolete, out of date; times had moved on and without a clear sense of purpose there was no room for him in the modern world. He hadn’t been selected to return because he no longer fitted in.
A gargoyle swooped from above, dropping a human figure on a patch of land demarked by a circle of rocks, before soaring away with a bad-tempered squawk. Protocol dictated that Satan would toy with the poor misfortunate, make their visit as uncomfortable as he deemed fit, and then send them painfully on to the next life, which was… who knew where? He considered how he would deal with this one. Perhaps a nice satisfyingly swift slaughter. He ran from his rock with his trident blazing, but halted abruptly within striking distance of the prey. What was this? The mortals he had usually dealt with were generally of noble standing: Tsars, Emperors, that kind of thing. This offering was a middle-aged woman, wearing a sleeveless yellow reflective garment over smart formal clothing, and a plastic construction workers’ hard-hat on top of her head. He had never seen by anything like it in his life.
“What are you?” he growled.
“I.. I can’t quite remember” said the woman, straightening her hat. She looked around in a state of bewilderment, as if her identity might be discovered amongst the charred bones that littered the ground. Satan sneered while she recovered her sensibilities. Transient amnesia was quite common, and he was prepared to wait. He was curious, with the tiniest trace of caution. Satan knew it was well within the powers of lesser demons to condemn ordinary mortals to damnation, but by some metaphysical selection, it was only those that wielded influence that were brought before him. This particular individual must be very powerful. Perhaps, he thought with an uncharacteristic stab of worry, she was to be his successor, but looked so out of place he couldn’t really take her seriously as a deity.
The woman produced a clipboard with some documents attached, immediately appearing more sure of herself.
“Ah yes, I recall. My name is Mrs Wigglesworth,” she beamed. “I am here to carry out a Safety Inspection.”
“A what?” yelled Satan.
“It says here, goodness knows how this has happened, that there is no record of any inspections, at this premises.” She lowered her clipboard, aghast. “Is that correct, Mr…?”
“Mr Satan.” She made a note. “You are, I presume in a position of responsibility?” She raised her eyebrows. “Are you the owner of…, I’m sorry, where exactly are we?”
Satan was on firmer ground here. “We are in the realm of suffering, the perpetual fires that burn for all eternity, gateway to damnation where there exists no hope, no solace and no salvation.” A couple of gargoyles traversed the murky skies overhead, as if to emphasise the point.
“I see,” said Mrs Wigglesworth, frantically scribing. “And are you the Designated Individual in Charge of Safety?”
“No such thing exists here,” replied Satan.
Mrs Wigglesworth clutched the clipboard to her chest. “Mr Satan,” she said with a horrified stare. “It is my duty to inform you that Safety and Wellbeing are the responsibilities of everyone. Now then, can you show me your washing facilities?”
Satan’s eyes glazed over and his tail started twitching with irritation. Why did this person come here? How powerful could she possibly be? She continued to reel off questions but he had lost interest. The head of a gnarled eel-like creature rose from one of the nearby lava rivers. It gasped in the thick air and plunged back below the surface.
“And your last fire drill was, when?”
Satan snarled. The adjacent flames that peppered the ground momentarily rose higher.
“No fire drill then. I have to tell you Mr Satan, this isn’t looking good for you. Not good at all.” She ran her finger down the criteria on her report, muttering her assessments … inadequate, no, inadequate, no provision, no, very poor.
“And where is your escape route Mr Satan,” she paused and cast a withering glance at the immediate surroundings, “in the event of a fire?”
He had heard enough. Satan raised his trident and plunged it deep into her body. Her scream filled the sky. She dropped to her knees as fire blazed down the trident and scorched the flesh from her bones.
Excitement over. He ambled back to the boulder, with his tail dragging along the ground. How long would it be until there was something else to do? This really was Hell. He longed for another stint on Earth. He knew the angels were sick of him moaning. They had said they’d transform him into anything, as long as he had a function. And he had to have some command, enough to sustain him. But doing what? Something small and shiny lay on the ground near where the woman had stood only moments before. He picked it up; it was her badge which had somehow escaped incineration. He turned it over in his hand and was so preoccupied returning to the boulder, he stumbled on the remains of a skull underfoot. With a bellow, Satan summoned his trident, holding it aloft and was about to shatter it into a thousand pieces, when he paused. For every one of the numerous souls he had processed, their experiences, their spirit, fleetingly passed through him. He could recall an entire existence, vicariously played out at will until the memories eventually faded or were displaced. At that precise moment an extract from Mrs Wigglesworth’s safety manual came to mind, the chapter on Slips, Trips and Falls. She had transcribed the entire document to memory, to which Satan was now privy. There was a lot of detritus strewn along this path. He used the trident to sweep the larger of the bones and rocks to one side. That’s better, he thought, keep walkways tidy. Remove the hazard and we remove the risk. He resumed his place on the rock and tapped his chin, recalling the times Mrs Wigglesworth had berated colleagues for infringements of the manual. Yes, he could do that, and one had to, he felt, have a certain bearing. Could this finally be a ticket out? He rubbed the name Mrs Wigglesworth from the badge and scratched on his own: Mr S Atan and offered it up to his chest, thinking how he would present his case as a Safety Officer while he waited for the angels to arrive.
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