The corner of the office was on fire.
I blinked, turning to look at the flames as they climbed up over the vaguely orange-pink wallpaper, twisting and letting out little screams as they singed the leaves of the fake potted plant that failed to cover up the water stains behind it. I considered looking around for a fire extinguisher, but I just knew that it would be way expired, and wouldn’t make this situation any better. Might as well just let the fire burn itself out.
It did, a few seconds later – but as it retreated, it left a hulking, red-skinned form standing in the corner, horns scraping against the ceiling and glinting yellow eyes leering down at me. The humanoid figure stepped forward, its hooves leaving smoking, burned impressions in the dirty carpet.
“Peter Welch,” the figure snarled, lifting one hand to reach out towards me – but then paused, shifting its glare from me over to its own arm. “Hold on, what is this?”
Was it asking me? “A shirt?” I tried, as the monster plucked at the poly-cotton blend that stretched tightly over its broad chest.
“In mustard yellow? And why’s it so itchy?”
I shrugged. “That’s just how shirts are down here. Watch out, they rip really easily, and then you need to get another.”
The huge figure stopped picking at its dress shirt, although I saw that its clawed fingers had already left a couple rents in the thin fabric. “No matter. Peter Welch! How are you enjoying your suffering in HELL?” It screamed out this last word, throwing its head back – and managing to put a horn straight into the ceiling tile.
“Hell?” I repeated back blankly, blinking at it as shards of plaster ceiling tile came falling down onto the monster’s shoulders. “What do you mean?”
Yellow eyes blinked at me. “You’re a damned soul, Peter Welch. You currently reside in the bowels of Hell, in the worst torture that your mind can conjure up!” It paused for a moment, looking around at the office’s interior. “Say, this doesn’t actually look quite as awful as I expected.”
“The coffee maker’s broken,” I offered. “I put in a request to get it fixed, but Janet from Accounting keeps on telling me that it isn’t in the budget.”
“Right, right.” The figure still wore a frown. “You do realize who I am, don’t you, Peter Welch?”
“Peter is fine,” I told it politely. “And yes, you’re Satan…”
“Yes, the Lord of the Pit, Master of All of Evil-”
“…back from your business trip,” I finished. “Your office is over there, although I don’t think that Amber has been watering your plants like she was supposed to do. So I’m sorry if they’re dead.”
Satan stopped again, his brow furrowing in confusion. “What else is Hellish about this tortured existence?” he asked.
I frowned, thinking. “Um. Well, the Microsoft Office subscription for the computers has lapsed, so we’re stuck using the free version of Open Office instead,” I said after a minute. “That’s kind of annoying, especially with importing these big files. The computers make really annoying grinding noises.”
“And that’s it?” Satan snarled, apparently not content with this issue. “There’s no eternal torment? No exquisite torture, no horrifying agony?”
“Did I mention the broken coffee maker?”
“Aargh!” The huge figure threw back its head, grabbed handfuls of the shirt and ripped it off its massively muscled body. I winced, although I couldn’t help feeling that the over-cooled air of the office still probably felt better against bare skin than against that itchy shirt. “This is NOT working!”
After a few deep breaths, its barrel-like chest heaving, the figure turned back to me. “I’m sorry,” it said in a voice that, although calm on the surface, spoke of sharks swimming angrily just beneath the waves. “This version of Hell is still being updated. Your torment will arrive shortly.”
“Uh, yeah, no worries.” I watched, frowning a little, as the figure erupted in flames, leaving nothing behind after a second except a greasy smear on the floor. I walked over, pushed it with one foot, noted the sooty stain it left on my shoe.
This was Hell? I was dead? Somehow, I hadn’t really noticed any change from before, when I’d been alive. Janet sounded a little more bitchy on the phone, maybe, but nothing else. I just figured that she and Mark were having relationship issues… again.
I tilted my head back, looking up at the ceiling tile that Satan had broken with his horns. Normally, I’d expect to see a tangle of wires and ductwork up in the hole.
Instead, I just saw… blackness.
I could probably push a desk over here, stand a chair on top of it, climb up into there. If this was Hell, wasn’t it my job to escape? And besides, I’d handled all the tasks for the day, and was just stuck waiting around for the South office to send over the batch of reports that they screwed up before.
I reached for a desk – but first, very carefully, made sure to save my work.