With a gout of flame, the devil clawed his way through the portal between worlds, bursting out of the pasta sauce shelves in aisle three. His arrival didn’t cause much damage besides the wholesale destruction of three dozen jars of marinara, but an elderly lady comparing brands of linguini gave him an obscene gesture for splattering her dress with red sauce.
The devil straightened up to his full height, and then cursed violently as his head bumped into one of the fluorescent lamps with the tinkling of broken glass. He shrank his size by two feet so he would fit inside the confines of this puny world. He turned to the elderly woman. “Where is Harold Ancillar!?” he bellowed.
The old woman glared at him. “You ruined my dress, you prick!” she snorted. “Get outta here before I take my cane to ya!” She waved the instrument vaguely in his direction for emphasis.
Confused, the devil backed up several steps, exiting out of the aisle. He spotted another weak little human, this one with shorter hair and a green apron on over his clothes. “Where is Ancillar!?” he repeated, flexing the six-inch claws at the ends of his fingers menacingly.
The young man looked up at the towering red-skinned monstrosity with a bored look. “Aisle six,” he said, and returned his attention back to mopping the floor.
The devil was perplexed. He had seen fear before, had watched several training videos, but he didn’t seem to be generating the proper responses. “Aisle six?” he repeated, his tone slipping slightly, returning back down to normal speaking levels.
The man in the green apron held up one arm, pointing at a large sign with a six above one of the aisles, not looking up. “Yeah. Anchovies, aisle six. On the left.” He shuffled past the devil, pushing his wheeled bucket of water. “Thank you for shopping at Rainbow,” he added sulkily as he passed.
The man hadn’t pronounced Harold Ancillar’s name correctly, but the devil still wandered into aisle six, just to be sure. He found nothing on the left side of the shelf except several small jars of disagreeable fish, so he pressed on, eventually finding himself standing in front of a large glass case filled with cut pieces of meat.
Looking down at the display, the devil felt slightly more at home. He was used to raw meat; many of the training videos had featured humans being chopped into similar pieces. Although those pieces had featured far more blood and much fewer price signs. He looked up from the case and found himself being angrily watched by a fat man holding a short knife. “What cut can I get you?” the man asked.
The devil stared back. Did he want to be cut? In the training videos, the humans had always run away from the knives, so he suspected that the answer was no. “Nay, puny mortal,” he replied politely.
The fat man gestured to one side with the blade of the knife. “Get out of the cue, then, would you? You’re holding up the line.” The devil looked behind him to find several other grocery store patrons impatiently waiting for him to move. Several of them seemed to be preoccupied by small pieces of black plastic they were holding. The devil moved to one side, and the humans shuffled up to the counter past him without sparing a glance.
The butcher watched the devil amble off, still holding his knife at his side. “Emo freaks,” he muttered. “Ought to get a job, contribute to society.”
The devil was feeling more and more lost. He wandered past several conveyor belts, where old women yelled at him in a foreign tongue. He tried yelling out for Harold Ancillar at them, but they merely threw back more words he couldn’t comprehend. He strongly suspected that they were insults.
Eventually, the devil found himself trapped, surrounded by flimsy plastic and metal carts that had been abandoned by their former users. The entire experience was bewildering. He had done very well in the training class, scoring top marks, and had been honored by being selected to collect a damned soul. He had been given the name, and the overworked-looking demon manning the controls of the portal generator had assured him that he would materialize closely nearby. It had all seemed so simple. Show up, roar a few times, watch the crowd run in fear, and grab the poor chosen mortal and return through the portal. He couldn’t figure out where he had gone wrong.
Shoving the carts out of his way, the devil stepped through a pair of magically moving doors and found himself squinting in the bright light he recognized as outdoors. Throwing up one clawed hand to block out the light, he staggered forward, blind and unseeing. He suddenly felt the ground dip under his feet, he heard an angry yell and a loud screech, and then everything went black.
The fallen angel sat up and opened his eyes. He was back in Hell, standing on the runic focus of the portal generator. His instructor, off to one side, made a mark on his clipboard. “Closely nearby?” the angel sputtered. “You call that close? He wasn’t anywhere nearby!” He rubbed his aching head. “What happened, anyway?”
“You stepped into the street,” his instructor replied. “You were hit by a car.” He sighed and set down the clipboard. “Sadly, we’re losing a lot of operatives that way.”
The portal operator shrugged. “It’s not like the old days, anymore,” he said sympathetically. “We don’t get no respect. They just brush us off, don’t run away like they used to.”
As the failed recruit sadly shuffled off to study for his next attempt, the instructor glanced sideways at the portal operator. “Thank goodness for Contracts,” he said conspiratorially. “They’re the only division still in the positives for soul collection. Thankfully, they’re bringing in enough to cover for the rest of us.”
“Thank goodness for greed and banking crises,” the portal operator said. He sighed and began resetting the portal generator for the next run. Just another day in Hell, he thought resignedly to himself.