“And we’re back in five, four, three…”
For just a moment, Azistopheles glared at the producer. Why did the damned soul never say the last two numbers? The whole point of counting down was to reach zero. He never seemed to make it there, always stopping with a couple numbers to go.
An instant later, however, the devil’s expression brightened, and he beamed into the camera. “Welcome back to ‘Who Wants To Be A Torture Victim?’!” he announced happily. “If you’re just tuning in, which you shouldn’t be since you’re all in Hell, we’re about to bring down our next contestant!”
Azistopheles looked up at the live studio audience as the producer signaled to switch over to Camera Two, panning around to take in the lost souls who had been chosen for this week’s taping. Of course, “live” was a bit of a misnomer, since all of the souls in the audience were dead and here to be tortured. But the producer insisted upon calling it a live audience, and Azistopheles had grown tired of arguing with him.
“Who will it be?” he murmured to the audience, speaking into the little microphone clipped to his powder blue jacket. “Let’s step up and grab our contestant’s name from the Selection Chamber!”
As the cameras returned back to him, the devil host crossed the stage to a large, clear Plexiglass container, filled with slips of paper. He opened a small door and reached inside, grabbing one of the cards between two long-nailed fingers and drawing it out. He flourished it triumphantly at the camera, raising his eyebrows in fake surprise as he read the name.
“Well, what do you know – Gerald Hanson! Come on down!”
Most of the audience of damned souls looked slightly relieved, except for a middle-aged, paunchy man in the fourth row who started screaming. He scrambled up out of his seat and attempted to bolt for the exit, but the two beefy guard demons easily intercepted him, grabbing an arm each and holding him off the ground.
“There he is!” Azistopheles boomed happily to the camera. “Let’s bring him up on stage and get him strapped in!”
The soul of Gerald Hanson screamed and thrashed, but he might as well have been fighting against stone statues. The two demons lumbered forward and dumped him into the chair on stage, where iron restraints clamped shut around the soul’s wrists and ankles.
Azistopheles beamed down at Gerald. Ah, a weak one, he thought to himself. Screaming and pleading already, before he’d even broken out the branding iron. This was going to be fun.
No, wait – no branding iron. For a second, Azistopheles’ smile slipped, although he hastily pulled it back into place before anyone in the audience, or at home, noticed. The producer had informed him that the branding iron’s cord was cut by an intern, and it was out of commission this week. The intern had been punished, of course, but even his flayed skin on the floor of Azistopheles’ dressing room wasn’t enough to bring back the randing iron.
Oh well. “How about we ask Mr. Hanson what he’d like to start with?” he boomed to the audience, spinning around. “Audience poll – should it be the rack, or the tire iron?”
The audience moaned, and Azistopheles grinned. He wouldn’t trade this job away for the world.