Boredom is a cancer.
It chews at your guts, gnawing away at your patience, bite after torturous bite, until there’s nothing left but the bitter, withered core, desiccated of all restraint.
For most folks, that’s how they feel waiting for the weekend to roll around. At least they get a weekend. Friday’s been teasing me blue. It’d been damn near two months of Mondays piled up like a Bangkok traffic jam since I returned to Hell, and it was wearing on me.
I let out a loud yawn and yelled at the stage, “You call that acting?” My temples throbbed, the start of my daily headache coming on.
The dread fiend turned to me, a stringy line of spittle swinging from its lower lip. Tiny rainbows flickered off it beneath the makeshift stage lights.
“C’mon, fuzzy butt. Where’s the dedication to your craft? Where’s the passion?” I thought about that last bit for a second and waved the fiend off before it could grunt an answer. “Never mind.” I’d seen more than enough passion when they reenacted Oedipus Rex. Who’d have thought watching a dread fiend humping its mother would make a guy uncomfortable?
Chatterbox rattled his head beside me, the maggots in his eyes rolling around in a sea of murky disappointment. “Tsssssk, tssssssssk, tssssssssk—”
“Yeah, I hear you, buddy. At least they’re over the show tunes phase.” Now that was hell. “Get off the stage, Keanu.”
The fiend grumbled something and slunk away through the curtains, leaving them to sway in its wake. Sadly, it only took the stink of its performance with it. The rest of its funk lingered.
“Saaaaaavvaaaaataaaaggggeeeeee,” Chatterbox rumbled.
“Yeah, this is no rock opera, that’s for sure.” Where was Jon Oliva when you needed him?
The chair creaked as I slumped into it with a huff. We’d tried to do the gladiator thing for a while but there’s only so many times you can listen to a fiend mumble, “Are you not entertained?” before the magic wears off. For that matter, the shine had rubbed off everything after about the first week of being cooped up in Hell. It felt more and more like a prison every day, minus the benefits of a good spooning and post-coital smoke.
I’d hunkered down to let Rahim and Katon cool off a little before I faced them again, but the wait was killing me. Katon had only just begun to trust me before I snatched the alien out from under them. He’d been waiting forever for me to live up to my lineage and betray DRAC, but I hadn’t done it. Well, not until he started to actually believe I wouldn’t.
I guess if you’re gonna burn a bridge, make it count, right? No doubt the folks on the space station saw that one go up in flames.
Given enough time, I suspected Katon and Rahim would understand why I’d done it, but I wasn’t expecting any tongue in our makeup kiss, if we even made it that far. I certainly wouldn’t be copping a feel. The looks on their faces right before I disappeared with Mihheer told me I’d cashed in all the good will I’d been building up between us.
At least with Katon, I knew what to expect: violence. He’d want my ass for stabbing them in the back. If he had his way, my head would sit proudly above his fireplace alongside the rest of his demonic trophies. He was gonna be mad, and I couldn’t blame him, but anger and an attempted ass whoopin’ were something I could deal with.
Rahim, on the other hand, wouldn’t be so easy to anticipate. Even though I’d helped mend his broken back by giving him Lucifer’s blood, I couldn’t really expect that to play a factor in his reasoning. Compassion and fond memories were crutches the old man would never lean on. If he felt I was a threat to the world—and seeing how I was currently toting around the lion’s share of Longinus’ power, how could he not? He would be game planning how to resolve that threat. It wouldn’t be something as blatant as a shot to the head like the DSI folks had done not too long back, but that was what worried me. No, if Rahim decided it was my time to go, I’d likely never see him coming.
A chuckle welled up inside me at the thought, and I ran my hands through the wild growth sprouting on my head. While I couldn’t help but think like the old me, things were different now; way different. It had yet to sink all the way in, but I wasn’t the same Frank who’d left for parts unknown a couple months back. I was Daddy’s boy in every way imaginable now: the Anti-Christ, proud owner of the best parking space in Hell.
I raised my hand and made the sign of the horns, summoning my magic without effort. It was so easy now. Flickers of energy danced at my fingertips with the grace of ballerinas. Dio would be so proud. I drew in a deep breath as my eyes followed the wisps of power, the acrid scent of brimstone filling my nose and chasing away the smell of dread fiend. A smile peeled my lips back.
If DRAC—or anyone else, for that matter—thought I’d roll over for them, they had another thing coming, and I didn’t mean the Judas Priest song. I hadn’t asked for Longinus’ magic, hadn’t wanted any of it, but there was no taking it back now. That pooch was well and truly screwed. It was my bitch now. That thought didn’t help my head any.
I glanced over at Chatterbox as he hummed the opening riff to “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and snapped my fingers to get his attention, sparks fluttering as I doused my magic. His gory eyeballs squished in their sockets when they rolled to face me.
His looking away told me everything I needed to know. Karra was still giving me the silent treatment. I sank into my seat. More than anything I could lay the blame on, she was the reason I wasn’t sleeping. Even when I managed to squeeze a few hours in, my dreams were filled with distorted images I couldn’t make out and horrific memories I could see all too clearly. More times than I wanted to remember, I’d woken up screaming, bathed in sweat and trembling. Every single time, Karra was there in my head when I woke up. She just wasn’t there in the real world.
She’d gone home as soon as we returned to Hell, but I hadn’t seen or heard from her since. Wasn’t sure if I ever would. That thought was poison. Deep down, I knew she would always have a hard time coping with me being the inheritor of her father’s power, of his soul. She could never look at me and not see the man who killed and devoured everything her father had ever been, but that didn’t stop me from wanting her and the baby with me.
I sighed, not even knowing if it was a boy or a girl. Would I ever get to see my child, hold it in my arms, watch it stumble across the room at its first steps and hear the first of its garbled words that tumbled from its mouth?
Another chuckle crept up my throat.
Yeah, like I was father material. I could imagine telling the story of how Lou and I made a habit of killing Grandpa Longinus. It was like a holiday tradition, the two of us stringing him up and hitting him until presents spewed from his guts like a piñata. Yay! Good times, kid. I could see that going over well at the family picnic.
“That, child, is why your mother hates me.” The words tumbled from my mouth, my tongue stinging with the bitterness. While I wanted to be sad, wanted to cry and throw a fit, a strange sense of numbness had come over me. Day by day the sorrow became a little less painful, a little less present. I sank into my seat with a huff.
Chatterbox glanced at me, one ragged eyebrow raised.
“Yes, I’m talking to myself, and no I haven’t gone crazy.”
His other eyebrow perked up.
“Don’t look at me in that tone of voice or I’ll cut off your subscription to Wank!”
His lower lip drooped and the maggots went still. A trickle of yellow pus ran down his cheek.
“Oh, settle down, you big baby. I wouldn’t really do it.”
Chatterbox wiggled and raised his chin, sucking back a sniffle. “Boooooooobbbssss?”
I jumped up from my seat, arms raised to the cavernous sky. “Yes, boobs. Let there be boobs; boobs everywhere. On the stage, in the chairs, on the ceiling, and even on the…” A quick leap landed me in the theater aisle, where I spun about, gesticulating wildly with my hands.
Rala stood in the entryway, staring at me.
“…doorknobs.” My arms dropped to my sides. Shit didn’t rhyme anyway.
Chatterbox whistled and looked away.
The little alien shook her head, her thumb and forefinger pinching the bridge of her nose where the dark, zebra stripes radiated out across the orange of her face. She looked as tired as I felt. “Uh, if you’re not too busy, uh, dancing, singing…or…whatever it is you’re doing…” she started, “I could probably use your help.”
“I don’t know. Got a lot going on…the second act coming up, and stuff.” I gestured to the empty stage and had an unfortunate flashback of the dread fiend mating rituals that had warped the floorboards. “Well, maybe I could spare a minute.”
She exhaled hard and spun about, waving me on while waddling off as fast as her stubby little legs could take her.
I hurried after her. “Why the rush?”
Rala cleared her throat. “You know that stupid book you have me trying to translate?”
Like I’d forget. Outside of Karra, that’d been all that was on my mind. “You figured something out?” A flush of excitement warmed my cheeks, chasing away my weariness. She’d been working at it with no success since we’d returned to Hell.
“Yes. Well, no, not exactly,” she said. “Maybe.”
For a second, I thought the wormy little translator embedded under my skin had shriveled up and died, so I tapped my arm to get it working, not that I really needed it; she spoke perfect English thanks to her own translator. I realized then I could understand the words Rala was speaking, she just wasn’t making any sense.
“What are you rambling on about?”
She quickened her pace.
“I think I might have, uh…summoned something.”
The words brought me to a halt. “Wait? You might have?”
Rala shook her head and let out a sigh, but didn’t stop walking. I hurried to catch up.
“Well, I’m not—” she started, and then waved the rest of the sentence off. “Forget it. Come and see for yourself.”
She kept on, winding her way through the labyrinthine passages of Lucifer’s old quarters—I doubted I’d ever really imagine them as mine regardless who held the deed—until she slipped through the archway that led to the God-proof room. A flicker of angst needled me as I followed her inside.
The first thing I did when I returned to Hell was have the dread fiends clean up what was left of the alien Mihheer. Buckets and buckets of the guy were slopped out and dumped into a fiery pit. The alien didn’t smell much better dead than he did alive, let alone charred. I felt sorry for cannibals on his world, having to put up with such stink, but then again, they probably didn’t leave their victims sitting around rotting for weeks at a time.
Once all the ooze was cleaned up, and the fiends had farted the place into a semblance of less funky, I’d rearranged the chamber to seal off the section where Longinus had put the screws to Mihheer and created a room for Rala to work at translating the book Lucifer had mailed home. I still had no clue what the stupid thing was, but it nagged at me, even in my dreams. It was almost as if the thing had wanted me to figure out what it was. Simply because I though Lucifer would shit his pants if I did, I kept at it.
Now, Rala might well have done exactly that. The base of my neck tingled with eerie excitement.
We turned the corner as something slammed into the closed door of the small room. It sounded like a King Kong sized poop; a muddy slap. Rala hesitated a few feet from the door, and made me step around her to get closer. That should have been the first clue that I didn’t want to see what was on the other side. I did anyway, leaning in close and peering through the tiny window I’d had the fiends install so I could watch Rala’s progress without interrupting her.
A fuzzy shadow obscured my vision, weird colors blurring past, and then it was gone. The room appeared then, looking no worse for wear than it had before. But that was when I felt it.
Soft, like a feather brushing across skin, there was an energy emanating from the room. There weren’t any of the blunt swells of active magic. It was more the crackling feeling of a dimensional rift, the distant merger of two realities. My eyes were drawn to an emerald green circle, which floated in the center of the room. It was no bigger than a softball, but there was no mistaking the wisps of frantic energy whirling in its depths. It was, without a doubt, a portal to another world. Which one, however, was the question that popped to mind, but it nagged at the back of my mind as though I should recognize it. I didn’t though.
“It’s like a slimy glory hole,” I said as I tore my eyes from it, letting them wander the room, searching for the little critter.
“Glory hole?” Rala asked at my back.
“Guess they don’t have those where you come from, huh?” I chuckled. There was no need to corrupt the youth of an alien civilization. I wasn’t that much of a rebel. “Never mind.” A patchy shadow flitted into view, circling below the portal for a moment before it settled. My eyes lighted on it.
About the size of a medium pizza, the strange creature looked as if it were a cross between a spider and a mutant cockroach. It had somewhere near thirty legs jutting out from beneath a hairy carapace, which squirmed with dark tendrils like thick worms. Four milky eyeballs sprouted from what I presumed was its face, tiny black dots in each swimming a different direction and never seeming to land on the same spot. Jagged pincers clacked below. Its back end raised and lowered, almost mechanically, like a lowrider with a short in its hydraulics. The damn thing was ugly, but it looked about as threatening as a Chihuahua.
“That’s what chased you off?” I pressed my finger against the glass as I turned to look at Rala. “Seriously? You can turn into a dragon.”
She shrugged. “Wyvern, and I don’t remember squishing bugs being part of my job. ‘Translate the damn book, shorty,’ you said, and I quote.”
Just my luck I’d stumbled across the only alien with a photographic memory and a bad attitude. Teenagers are obviously the same everywhere. I raised my hands in surrender.
“Fine, I’ll take care of it.”
The critter still sat beneath the portal when I popped the door open and slipped inside, sealing the place before the thing had a chance to get out. The second I was in the room, all four eyes drew together on me. It let out a cute little squee and charged, legs skittering across the floor. My hand went instinctively to my hip before I remembered I didn’t have my guns on me. Hadn’t since I’d come to Hell, but reaching for them was a hard habit to break. They’d been a part of me for a very long time.
The thing closed as my brain clicked into gear, and I smiled as my power welled up. Unlike a gun, magic is all about imagination.
Before the little monster could get close enough to put its pincers to use, I summoned a giant, medieval flyswatter and brought it down on top of the thing. Spikes of energy ripped into it before the full force of the spell slammed down. There was a brittle pop and gooey, yellow-green juices squished out from beneath the swatter. The thing squirmed for a second or two before going limp, bubbles of pus seeping loose as I released my magic. There was a quiet hiss, and then silence.
The door creaked open at my back, and I heard Rala’s footsteps as she came over to stand alongside me.
“That’s…disturbing,” she muttered as the spider-thing goop slowly spread across the stone floor.
Before I could agree, a subtle glimmer drew my gaze to the portal. It pulsed, glowing brighter and then fading, beating its last as though it were a dying heart. Then it disappeared altogether, its tingling presence gone in an instant.
“Can you bring it back?”
Rala shrugged. “I’m not even sure what I did to make it open in the first place.” She stared at the place where the portal had been and rubbed at her temples. “Besides, I don’t think this place is helping.”
Not sure what she meant, I motioned for her to go on.
“I don’t know how to describe it, but I could feel the energy building, but it was awkward, slow…like walking through dragsand.”
A quiet sigh slipped loose, her eyes drifting in their sockets as she searched for the right word. “A swamp,” she said after a moment.
While the translators were great for allowing us to understand each other, they weren’t very good when it came to cultural differences, and there were a bunch of those. I often found myself yelling like that would make what I said easier to understand.
Regardless, though, I knew what she was getting at. I glanced around the room and nodded. The main reason I’d set her up in there was to ensure no one got a whiff of what we were doing with the book. Not knowing what we were getting into, I didn’t want DRAC or Heaven to come sniffing around, but by putting her up in the God-proof room, I was likely limiting any success she might have. The fact that she’d been able to do anything at all with it, even there, was a good sign. I glanced back at the door and wondered if she’d have more luck somewhere else in Hell when a thought hit me.
“You up for a road trip?”
Rala looked at me, nothing remotely resembling excitement plastered across her face.
“C’mon, it’ll be fun,” I told her, putting a hand on her shoulder and spinning her around so she faced the door, not giving her the option of saying no. “Pack the book and tell old Vol you’re stepping out. I’ll meet you back here in twenty minutes.”
I left her there while I went off to collect my own things. Cooped up for two months with nothing but dread fiends, a disembodied zombie on a Stryper kick, and two aliens to keep me company, it was time to stretch my legs.
Besides, the coffee in Hell sucks.