All in a day’s work
Melkior was not your regular brutish demon content with dumping carts full of coal on Hell’s eternal fires and poking the damned with his pitchfork. Well, he was just as cruel as the next devil, but he had class.
Even those who didn’t like him, which was basically everybody, admitted he was pretty damn good.
His most recent project had been a tremendous success, earning him the much coveted ‘Employee of the Century’ diploma, which came with a two-week holiday in London, currently ranked number one on the Hell on Earth 100 index.
Building an exact replica of Dante’s Inferno had been an excruciatingly taxing job, as his minions failed to grasp all the subtleties in that devious human’s operating manual.
Like when they were told strong winds were required in a particular scene they came up with a bloody category 5 hurricane. Now, who has time to sigh after their beloved in gale-force winds? ‘To hell with Francesca or whatever her name was, I’m dying here.’ Because humans are weird like that and will continue to fear for their life even after taking up permanent lodgings in hell. Force of habit.
Melkior got so frustrated he put in a special request to have that poor bastard, Dante, sent over from Purgatory to oversee the project.
The poet was more than happy to oblige since he was promised his stay in Purgatory would be reduced by 500 years, quite a lot considering he still had some 2300 years left to walk around waiting for the pearly gates to open in front of him.
Not to mention the fucker had a hell of time as special counsellor to a demon of Melkior’s intellectual finesse.
For his part, Melkior was rather creeped out by Dante’s zeal.
‘Doesn’t it bother you at all your fellow humans will be tortured here for all eternity?’
‘Why would it? They probably deserve it.’
It wasn’t just the answer was so insensitive, but the glee lighting up his face made the demon queasy. He considered himself an expert in human psychology, yet he couldn’t understand the earthlings admiration for this sadistic freak.
On the other hand, this Dante guy perfectly showcased his long-held belief that only by studying the deviousness of the human mind could you hope to devise the most effective punishments.
Melkior spent his Earth-side vacation roaming the bookshops, scanning thousands of books pertaining to his job. Unfortunately, most of the titles in the Horror section were childish, too simplistic to his taste, yet he bought them by the dozen. They’d make excellent gifts for his colleagues, especially the devilettes striving to seem cultured. He could have made himself invisible and simply walk out with all the books he wanted, but he insisted to pay with real money as he was fascinated by the humans’ magic belief in those funny flammable pieces of paper.
For his own personal pleasure, Melkior sometimes bought law books. He couldn’t resist a heavy tome that had the word ‘Jurisprudence” in gold lettering on its spine. As any demon, he was fluent in any language that ever existed, but never bothered to understand these sort of books, he only collected them for the soothing effect the endless drone of words had on him. And he was searching for ways to incorporate such books in his work, but wasn’t quite sure how. There was always a chance a mortal offered the opportunity to plead his case using the law would go mad after reading more than one of these legal treaties and that wouldn’t do.
Also he was a big Stephen King fan and was looking forward to the day he’ll welcome the writer in Hell. Now that was a mind he could use!
In the mean time, he’ll have to work with the classics and was hopeful the Greek vision of the underworld had some valuable ideas to offer. Who else but a human mind could you trust when it came to torturing another human being? Credit where credit’s due.
Just as humans could be induced to fear for their miserable lives even though dead, they could also be made to suffer from hunger. They didn’t need food in Hell, yet they craved it.
He’d already tried the trick with putting appetizing food and cool drinks just out of their reach, but the idiotic underdevils overseeing the operation where so lazy they just dumped the damn plates wherever and left. Went to play pool for the rest of their shift. Obviously it didn’t work. Once the poor bastards realized the treats were too far away they lost interest and fell asleep. You had to have the plates move continuously, bring the aromas closer to their noses, have them salivate in anticipation. And just once in a while, a very long while, allow them to touch the succulent steak with the tip of their finger, get a tiny bit of grease on their hands, let them taste it. If you did it right you could play with them like this for years.
In the end, he had to abandon the plan when Beelzebub himself came by unexpectedly and found the damned mortal sleeping in his pen while a swarm of flies had a party on the meats that were spoiling fast in the heat.
When he was younger, Melkior had tried to use the famous London weather as an aggravating element in one of his eternal retribution schemes, but his proposal was met with scorn and rejected as impractical. The costs of maintaining that level of cold and humidity in Hell’s scorching climate were simply prohibitive.
He was still intrigued how people kept their sanity while having to navigate the crowded streets and to wrestle their way into overcrowded tube carriages. Just as he couldn’t understand the willpower needed to keep form going ballistic after being stuck for hours in the traffic jams that plagued most big cities on Earth. He always had a nagging feeling they didn’t quite understand the complexities of the human mind and therefore the punishments they inflicted were sometimes too rudimentary. He was afraid the demon folk were losing touch with their subjects, which is why so few mortals nowadays were terrified of going to Hell.
Still, his plans of bringing Hell into the 21st century would have to wait, now was not a good time to rattle Satan’s throne, not until he had a clear course of action in mind.
He’ll stick with the classics. The gerontocracy holding the power in Hell could hardly say no to some traditional old school punishments.
Beelzebub shook his head when he first heard Melkior’s newest idea. Having some guy roll a boulder uphill didn’t seem particularly gruesome to him, yet the costs were practically zero so he had to approve it.
The human recruited for Project Sisyphus was called Charlie Stein, not that names mattered in that place. Middle-aged and of medium build at the time of taking up residence in the netherworld, Charlie was selected because he looked white-collar to Melkior, one of those guys that call tapping away at a keyboard for a few hours a hard day’s work. Totally inadequate for manual labor and obviously beneath his statute.
The rock was just big enough for Charlie to be able to move it if he applied himself a bit. And it had a few sharp edges to make the experience more fun, at least for those watching the man haul the boulder uphill. It was actually quite funny to see Charlie trying to keep his hands away from the cutting edges, taking them off the rock just long enough to let it roll back and crush his feet. Priceless. Even Beelzebub couldn’t contain his laughter.
Yet Charlie plodded uphill as fast as he could, for if he was found slacking they’d whip him and he had plenty of cuts and bruises already. And every time he made it to the top, the damn rock would slip out of his hands and roll back. He was so sad, Charlie, he sometimes started to cry. Or shake his fists at a sky he could not see.
Those were the early days and his frustration was understandable. He’d recently arrived in Hell and had to spend little over a year in quarantine, waiting for the paperwork to get through. Melkior was mortified he hadn’t thought of that first, as the waiting hall was really a work of art. All those days, weeks, months spent waiting in line, pleading with burly demons to help you fill in the forms in triplicate, the signatures, the rubber-stamps. All that only to receive a small piece of paper with the words ‘Fit for eternal damnation’ on it, paper which the demon at the gate would crumple in his fist without reading and throw it over his shoulder.
As time went by, Charlie’s fits of rage dropped in frequency. He’d push the rock up as slow as he dared, let it fall back and start again. He stopped crying and his hands grew calloused, so the edges didn’t bother him anymore.
Melkior dropped by every day to watch him, searching for the signs of the inevitable despair. Charlie should at least be in depression by now. But the man was adjusting incredibly to his new condition. He nodded curtly at the supervisors each morning as he arrived at the foot of the hill and sometimes he even laughed at some of the demons’ jokes, which were mostly at his expense.
His was not the face of a man in perpetual torment and Melkior was starting to worry. What would Beelzebub say? Maybe it was because he was allowed to rest, a good night’s sleep does wonders for the spirit, but there was nothing Melkior could do about that. The Diabolical Union had requested fixed work schedules and one day off every week, arguing that working round the clock was dangerous for their health and generally demeaning.
However, schedules were still pretty chaotic as a normal day in Hell varied wildly, in accordance with the devils’ busy social life. Sometimes a day was no more than half an hour in Earth time, while at other times it went on for weeks. It wasn’t unheard of for some imp to sound the horn marking the end of the day as soon as someone mentioned the word beer.
Melkior did not approve of such behavior, although he appreciated the free time, sitting in front of the fire with a bottle of red wine and a good book, scribbling ideas he found interesting in his ancient notebook.
But for now he had to figure out what was wrong with the Sisyphus Project. One day, as the shift was about to end, Melkior decided to have a little chat with Charlie.
‘So, how you’ve been Charlie? Everything good?’
‘It’s OK, I guess. Can’t complain, sir.’
‘Don’t you find the work exhausting? I imagine you’re quite beat at the end of the day?’, Melkior offered.
‘If you put it like that, yeah, I suppose I am, but you get used to it’.
‘Don’t you miss your old life, the days at the office, with free coffee and air conditioning?’
Charlie’s eyes widened.
‘What? Are you crazy? Why would I miss that? Work is still work and at least here I don’t have to worry about bills and taxes and credit cards. Or about losing my job. Not like you’re going to fire me any time soon, is it?’
Charlie Stein said good bye and hurried back to his allotted fire hole curling up for the night in the eternal flames.
Thanks for reading
P.S. - Sorry for dumping a long story on you, guys...