God and Lucifer switch places for a day….

Sometimes, Mephistopheles (Mephisto for short) reflected, souls arrived down at the Gates of Hell claiming that they could talk their way out of things, that this was all just one big misunderstanding.  These people were known to have “silver tongues.”

But if these mere mortals had silver tongues, Mephisto’s boss, Lucifer, possessed the singular golden tongue.

Mephisto had seen his boss charm them all.  He could talk a priest into becoming a killer, could convince the most selfless saint to turn his back on his fellow man.  Once, Mephisto swore, he’d seen his boss charm the very wings off of a butterfly.

And yet, right now, Lucifer was speechless…

It was obvious.  Mephisto slowly edged backwards as he watched the fallen archangel, the Master of Hell, open and close his mouth without any sound coming out.

Briefly, Mephisto wondered what could be considered a “minimum safe distance.”  Technically, his boss’s wrath knew no bounds, but usually the flames didn’t make it more than a dozen feet or so before dissipating.  Still, the trusted devil lieutenant didn’t want to lose an eyebrow.

“Wha – what in the name of Hell did He do!?” Lucifer finally roared out, his bellow shaking the very foundations of the infernal plane.  “This can’t be!”

Lucifer turned and glared with twin black holes at Mephisto, who shuffled uncertainly forward a step.  The other lieutenants were hanging back, waiting for someone else to step up and take the fall.

“Boss, we really didn’t have much of a choice or anything,” Mephisto commented, already half-tensed to dodge Lucifer’s impending wrath.  “I mean, it’s Him.  What are we going to do, say no?”

For a moment, Lucifer kept up the million-watt glare, and Mephisto prepared himself for the worst.  Reforming this body was going to be a royal pain.  But just as he was resigning himself to atomization, the anger went out of Lucifer’s shoulders, and he slumped down.

“Man, that guy really just bugs me, you know?” he said, his voice more despairing than raging.  Kicking off his sandals, the fallen archangel padded out onto the grassy, frolicking meadows that now covered Hell.  He bent down and ripped a dandelion out of the ground, but three more wildflowers sprung up in its place.

“I mean, just look at this,” he went on, spreading an arm out.  “What in the world was He even thinking?”

Interested by the motion, a fluffy lamb ambled over, nibbling hopefully at the Master of Hell’s robe in hopes that it tasted like grass.  Lucifer fired a massive bolt of lightning into the lamb, but it just briefly made the creature’s wool stand on end before it decided that the robe wasn’t as tasty as the green grass underfoot.

Again, none of the other lieutenants spoke up, so Mephisto was left to fill the silence.  “He said that even the worst souls could be saved through peace and tranquility,” he offered, again cringing back from any outrage.

“Peace??  Tranquility??  That’s not what souls want!  They need to be burned in Hellfire and flayed by imps with pitchforks!” Lucifer shouted back, glaring at the whole pastoral scene around him.  “Has He not read any of their recent literature?  When did He go so soft?”

“Some time around the New Testament, I think,” Satan’s lieutenant offered, stepping forward, carefully lifting his foot to crush a daisy and grimacing with distaste.

Lucifer suddenly straightened up, frowning.  “What did he do with the imps, anyway?”

“Er… you just tried to electrify one of them, sir,” Mephisto informed him.

The Lord of Hell’s eyes went wide.  “He turned my demons and imps… into SHEEP?”

“Not just sheep, lord,” grunted Ba’al from behind Mephisto, oozing forward.  “Ducks, piglets, little frolicking puppies-“

Mephisto managed to just duck the fireball, but the giant slug form of Ba’al wasn’t so fast, and the grass was covered in a layer of slime.  “How dare he??” howled the Eternal Ruler of Damnation up at the black sky.

Time to steer the Master back to a more pleasant topic, Mephisto decided, reaching up and gingerly feeling the top of his head to make sure it hadn’t been burned away.  “Sir, at least you did something to Heaven, didn’t you?” he asked.

The devil lieutenant knew his master well.  Lucifer already had another fireball glowing in his hands, but the question made him stop and smile, the orb of energy dissipating.  “Oh, you bet,” he grinned, suddenly happy.  “That should at least put a bee in His bonnet!”



“Lord, he said that it was allowed, since it’s a version of Heaven-“


“Erm, let me see…” The cherub ran a shaking chubby hand down his clipboard until he found the entry.  “Um, rednecks, Lord.”


“Enough for him to make it stick, Lord.  Some of us argued-“


“He filled… them… with helium, Lord.  Said it would make them more ‘perky’.”


“More or less.  Lucifer said that the breathing was the best part, rising and falling.  I’m not quite sure what he meant, Lord.”


“Chicken wings, sir.  And beer.  That’s right.”


“The slogan, sir.  Most people’s eyes don’t make it down that far.”


Danni California, Part 15

Continued from Part 14, here.
Start the story here.

* * *

Jenny still didn’t look fully convinced, but the young woman knew her place.  She closed her mouth, and although the man in black could tell that she was still full of unasked questions, she chose to let him continue with his story.

So, after giving her one last second to expel any outbursts, the man began speaking again.


I slid into the luxury car compartment across from Danni, making sure that she saw my pistol drawn and pressed against my thigh.  “One wrong move, and I’ll shoot you before you can even think of standing up,” I warned her.

The girl barely spared the gun a glance.  “I’m sure, Priest,” she replied back to me, tossing her hair back over her shoulder.  She was the picture of carefree.

I waited perhaps a second longer, and then opened my mouth again.  “What do you have to say?” I asked.

Danni pursed her lips for a minute before replying.  “It just seems a bit cliche, doesn’t it?” she finally remarked.  “I mean, I’m out here running around, living life, and you’re the plodding hunter, sent here to chase after me and put an end to my fun.”

“Fun?  You’re stealing people’s livelihoods!” I exploded back, surprising even myself with the intensity of my reply.  “Don’t you think this is the punishment you deserve?”

But as soon as the words were out of my mouth, the girl was leaning forward, her eyes alive with blazing fire.  “I’m not stealing from anyone who doesn’t have enough to give it up!” she shot back, glaring at me.  “The bank replaces all the money – and besides, if we all weren’t dirt poor, I wouldn’t be bothering with theft in the first place!”

“We?” I repeated.

Danni waved an arm around her.  “What, you don’t think I’m hauling all my ill-gotten gains around with me, do you?” she asked, her tone making this remark seem cuttingly obvious.  “Where do you think it all goes?”

To my surprise, it was a question I hadn’t considered.  And as I tried to figure out the answer, feeling my brain squirm as it was forced down new and unexpected pathways, Danni leaned forward.  She reached out, and I jumped slightly as her fingers landed on my knees.  My gun was still resting along one thigh, but she ignored it completely.  Her eyes burned holes straight through mine, into my soul.

“There are people, thousands of people, starving and dying out there,” she murmured to me, her eyes not blinking or pulling away.  “There’s no one helping them.  No one except me.”

For a long moment, I was paralyzed.  I could do nothing but gaze into the bright, burning eyes of this young woman in front of me.

Finally, one of her hairs shifted a little, crossing her gaze, and the moment broke.  “That may be,” I retorted, staring back at her, “but this isn’t the way to help them.  You’re going to get caught, and they’ll be right back where they started.”

The girl didn’t back down.  “Caught by you?  Because this doesn’t seem so bad.”

I shook my head.  “After I missed, that first time, the Company sent others after you,” I told her.  “They’re probably hunting you, right now – I doubt they’re far behind me.”

“And what would they do?  Storm the train?” the girl asked.  Fortunately, she didn’t ignore the serious tone of my voice, and she glanced around.

Once again, I shook my head back and forth.  “Trust me – I’m selective compared to some of their methods.  They’re not above dynamiting the entire track, not caring about collateral damage.”

Leaning forward, I glanced out the window of the train car.  “There – see that bridge, up ahead?  A few sticks of dynamite at the base of that, and the whole train would go tumbling into the river below.  A few hundred deaths, but you’re the only death that matters.  That’s a likely choice.”

I caught Danni starting to open her mouth to reply, but before she could speak, a flash of orange lanced into my sight.

And just ahead of the train, that bridge I had pointed out was now disintegrating in a roar of flame…

To be continued . . . 

Book 21 of 52: "The Unmaking of the American Working Class" by Reg Theriault

I’ve been reading a lot of books about the fall of the middle class.  Why?  Well, I suppose because I fit pretty well into the middle class, and if the class is disappearing, I want to make sure that I get squeezed out the top, not the bottom.

Most of the books I’ve been reading are outside looks into the fall of the middle class, presented by the elite authors and with plenty of statistics to back up their claims.  This book, however, is different – since it’s instead authored by a man who’s been in the working class all his life.
Reg Theriault grew up picking fruit (a “fruit tramp”, he terms himself), and then switched to working as a longshoreman – a job he held for several decades.  Instead of overwhelming the reader with statistics, this book is more a series of anecdotes and reflections on his time in the industry.

As I read the book, I felt as though I was sitting at a bar, listening to the man literally tell me these stories over a beer or two.  While they are sometimes loosely related, either to each other or to the larger theme, they do paint an overall picture of a shifting world, a world where mechanization and automation are reducing the need for manpower.

While all of these innovations are great for increasing per-worker productivity, they also mean that fewer workers are needed to reach the maximum level of productivity needed by the industry.  What happens to the other workers, then?

Theriault doesn’t have answers to that question.  But he does note that the times are changing, and that the working class will have to look for new niches if they hope to survive.  And really, they don’t have any other true choice.

Time to read: 2 hours.  Seriously, this one reads like an ambling tale from a gentleman at the bar.