I wake up. I look around. I’m in a beige, waiting room. Why am I here? Wait, who am I? I look at my hands; they are purple and rotting. That’s reassuring. Focus. I am still in Hell, but this looks nothing like what I am used to, right? I can’t remember if I’ve ever been here before, but I remember other places more…biblical. Look down. I’m in a suit, a black, cheap one, and – tick, tock – by the look of it, I’m wearing a white shirt – tick, tock – and black tie, which is really tight – tick, tock – “WHAT is up with this fucking clock?!” I shout irritated. A muffled chuckle is heard from my left. I look over to see another demon holding their laughter together. They glance over and do a double-take once they realize I haven’t stopped staring. “Maybe you want to tell me what the fuck is up with that fucking watch, and where the hell am I?”
“The time on that clock is 5:58, and by the time I finish this sentence, it will be 5:59. At 6, those two rooms will call us both in and in your room, the committee will explain everything you need to know” they say with their yellow, rotting teeth still grinning. “You just woke up too soon, it happens!”
“So, we’re really into routines and schedules in Hell?” I ask as I glance at the clock seeing that I’m less than a minute away from answers.
“What kind of Hell would not be filled from its lava filled bottom to its depraved top with bureaucracy, routines, and schedules?!” they say still grinning and standing up, probably waiting for the aforementioned call. “How else would we make humans miserable and the Devil himself make us hate our very existence?!”
I stand up as well. I don’t want to look bad when the doors open any second now…then they don’t open. From below, I hear screaming and groaning; the other demon starts laughing. I keep standing there, while they go and sit down.
“You might wanna sit down buddy” they say as they nod towards the clock. It is now 5:58…
“What the fuck is happening?” I ask anxiously.
“Hell’s infamous ‘perfect timing’ has just struck again!” they say with a flamboyant show of hands. “Get used to it buddy! When you least want something to happen, that’s when it will happen!”
“So, we’re not gonna be invited in the rooms?”
“Oh, we are both too early as it seems”
“Was it something we did? Why did the clock go backwards, what is happening?!” I ask, almost pleading for some fucking information.
“Well, first of all sit down, we are in for a long day. Now, I can’t really give you the full tour and rundown of Hell, but I will give you the abridged version of the ‘clock trick’, because that is bound to piss off those fuckers in the committee.”
I sit down on the opposite end of the couch. The bottom half of the cushion is stiff as a rock, while the upper half is loose like a grandmother’s tit; I go to get up, but they signal me to sit down. “Everything’s uncomfortable like that” they say “better get used to it or you’ll be standing an awful lot”. I go sit in the chair anyway; the seat cushion has a broken spring in the middle pushing up, surrounded by spots of both softness and stiffness. Like sitting in a gravel road with a micropenis trying to penetrate you unsuccessfully. The back cushion is even worst, as it spontaneously sheds any fabric it seems to have as soon as I touch it replacing it with constantly moving parts, like lying in a pool of maggots. As I return to the couch, the smug demon gestures as if to say “told you so” and then asks me if I’m ready for them to begin. I nod; lets see what’s so great about this “clock trick”.
“The clock is one of those tricks that we all grow up studying to become better at being demons – they will unlock some of your memories during the initiation, this will all come back at some point. The reason we study the clock is because it works on so many levels; for humans, they first see them on entry and it’s the only thing familiar to them. Then, they realize that this is eternity and a clock is completely useless here. Then, they have the existential dread kick in: Time is a matter of perspective and though it loses its functionality in eternity, its consequences are still intact, etc. Long story short, they realize that because eternity has no end the passage of time is irrelevant, but the knowledge of time spent is not; two hours closer to the end is hope, but when there is no end, yet two hours have unquestionably passed, that? THAT is hopelessness.” They have a strange aura, as they explain this trick; they seem genuinely excited by it, but at the same time there’s something restricting them, like they are fans of a band that is slowly losing quality. “At least at the beginning! Because sooner or later, some optimist will see that clock as a way to track time and count down the minutes; yes, eternity doesn’t end, but the two hours of having your ears cleaned with a spiked bat, that can end. That is the moment that the clock will stop at the very last second of the final hour and start counting backwards, until it hits that same spot again and then ends; one second to the end, the worst session for that optimist will turn into one day for everyone, and down there, no one knows who did it. So, they’ll start blaming each other, turn on each other, and this will last for years until they are defeated by time itself and just keep on suffering.”
“That’s it?” I ask “it’s a fucked up thing to do to someone, but this is Hell…like not a lot of good things happen here anyway”
“There’s more to it, but I need to pause for dramatic effect. Ask me again in…23 hours and 55 minutes.”
I blow raspberries. “Whatever, buddy, like I give enough of a shit! Ha…” Stupid clock trick, that shit ain’t worth the complete pause of all Hell!
“You say that but…here we are; humans having the worst time of their infinity in Hell (part one) and the Demons are either tortured by the circumstances they have to endure for an extra 24 hours (like us) or are as frustrated as horny teens who are going to release that on the humans when they get the chance. Seems like a pretty good return for such a ‘lame’ trick to me.”
“Us? Why us?”
“No one is exempt from torture in Hell, buddy. Demons are a way to do all the boring and demanding stuff, but they are also an opportunity. L is not exactly known for having measured expectations or being easily satisfied…”
Suddenly, their tone changed. There was a sense of admiration in that long explanation of the trick, like they were jealous or in awe of Luc…hmm…L, despite trying to restrict that; now it feels like they are talking out of experience. Maybe I should dig deeper – we are going to be stuck here for a while as it seems. “That’s not what I was talking about. I get why I’m tortured by this situation, being as clueless as a nun in a brothel in my current state, but you? I’m sure 24 hours of being stuck in limbo not being tortured is not such a bad deal…”
They pause; their stone, cold, rotting face is motionless for a few seconds. They are thinking of a way to respond. “For some people, being stuck in limbo is the worst thing that can happen to them” they say and look away.
I’m not buying it. What they said before that felt as coming from a place of experience, but what they say now; that feels like faking an experience or a state of mind not of their own. I try to poke them for some more information, how they are being tortured and what they were called to meet for in that room, but they shut me off. This conversation tires them, they say, and don’t seem particularly keen to discuss it; I need to find another way to open them up. I need to know what to expect when the time comes to enter that room, I need to know how the world works, what my role is, why have I lost most of my memory; I have so many questions and they can answer all of them! I need them to talk to me, so I can get a head start and survive.
I let them cool off for a bit; it will do no good for me to keep pestering them – we are in Hell; an annoying conversation must be a nice break from all other “pressing” concerns. After a short while, they start tapping their sickly fingers on their lap rhythmically; they start from the pinky all the way to the pointer, rinse and repeat. Before the thought could enter my head that this is boredom starting to sink in, they lose the beat – the movement is the same, but the timing is off. There was a beat in the beginning, like they would do the whole finger sequence, pause, then repeat, but now its all over the place. This is my chance; they are clearly not dealing with whatever is on their mind and would welcome the distraction. “So, what’s up with the memory loss?” I say firmly to shake them out of their trance.
“Its either a promotion or your first demon role” they say still tapping their fingers; the rhythm is back. “You won’t know for sure until they tell you, so you are going to have to wait on that…”
“But, I remember, or at least accept, the whole demon and Hell part, so I don’t think the first day possibility is too likely, right?”
They shrug “mm, don’t know I can’t remember what it was like on my first day. I mean they can remove parts of your memory, why can’t they add to it as well?”
“Fair enough. So, what’s the deal with the promotion thing? How does it work?”
“Sorry buddy, that’s what initiations are for, I can’t actually say anything; I’m going to get into trouble for the clock trick, but that was worth it at least.”
“Oh, come on, how are we going to pass 24 hours if we can’t have a conversation? You clearly don’t want to talk about what’s waiting for you at the end of this limbo and I don’t even know what my name is or if I have one; what are we going to discuss, more torture techniques?!”
They ponder it for a moment; I try giving them the “sad, puppy eyes” but I forget that my eyes are rotten into an incomprehensible blob. Clearly against their better judgement and whatever logic this place creates, they break the tension.
“What do you want to know?”
I’m honestly stunned; I thought I would need to do a bit more convincing! “Umm, everything! What goes on in this place, how does it work, what’s the deal with the promotions and the tortures and the…”
“Okay, okay, hold up. Get everything sorted in your head, then ask me questions and I’ll answer. Don’t take too long or I might change my mind!”
“Right, so let’s start with the basics: If there are promotions, then that means there’s a chain of command, so give me an overview of that first.”
“Obviously, at the top, is L. Of relevance is the fact that, he’s not aware of you; to him it’s just numbers, statistics, and meeting his exceedingly absurd demands. You fail, you suffer some punishment or you get demoted. Bottom of the food chain are the humans; they pretty much just suffer in agony for all eternity. Right in the middle are demons, who have various ranks and roles; you either torture humans here, or possess them in their world. Then, there are the committee demons, who are a step above us and mostly do bureaucrat stuff.”
“Why us then? Why are we demons and not humans?”
“Well, let’s not complicate things too early in this conversation; let’s just say that humans can move up a tier by draining their pool of sorrow, which is to say that if L is too bored to drain their memories and start all over again, when they give him all the sorrow they can, he moves them up to make room for fresh ‘delicacies’. Or, you know he makes us from his image if you believe in that; really, why or where doesn’t really matter, you’ll understand that after you spent a little time in here.”
“So, if you and I are here not torturing humans, that means we are possessor demons; next in rank is the committee demons and then…”
“Then, its retirement!” Their tone is clear: It used to be calm and collected, relaying information calmly with hints of regret as they thought of their punishment for doing so, but as soon as they utter the word ‘retirement’ their voice…breaks. I guess even Hell has a promise that is worth persevering for… “L knows that understanding how Hell works and then doing all the work for him will, ultimately, lead to one thing: Demons just giving up or not doing their work as efficiently as he craves. So, he creates this system: A demon starts torturing and once they have reached their quota, they move on and then on and on; at some point, a demon will be so jaded or broken that, having them around is inefficient, so he promises to retire us at that point. Let our conscience fade away to nothingness…”
“What good is the word of the Devil to other demons, though?” I ask already knowing the answer; it’s fucking L, his word ain’t worth shit, but this is also his world, so what choice do we really have?
“And you said you thought the clock trick was ‘lame’” they say chuckling. “So, that is why every demon does their job and they put up with all the misery and suffering…” there it is again, they are clearly talking from experience; I wonder how long they’ve been on this rank. “…before you ask, I don’t know if retirement is real, but I chose to believe it is, because that is the only escape, we have and my previous promotions tell me that I’m closer to retirement than anything else plausible, so that’s what I’m going for” they say and shrug.
“You said that we are not exempt from tortures, but we also have a quota to fill, unlike humans who just get tortured until they drain their…umm…pool of sorrow! Do we have one?”
“Sure, probably. Our torture is less physical and more mental; its less about having your whole skin removed with a kitchen knife and more about removing a human’s whole skin with a kitchen knife endlessly until you find a way to make that worse and start filling your quota.”
“Ok, how do we do that, then? We are possessors, we possess humans and make them do weird shit and kill their parents or something to that effect, so how do you make possessions even worse?” As they start throwing ideas and talking, my actual question still lingers on my mind: Why? Why are they helping me, if torturing me by not giving me the info would have earned them points? Is this a trick? Are they bullshitting me? Why are they here, waiting to see the committee? If they were here to get promoted or something like that, they would never risk losing points for a stranger, but this can’t be a routine progress report or hand in; their whole demeanor is of someone who is staring at impending doom. I need to push them; I need to know what is actually happening; so I listen and find the right point to cut them off. “Why are you here? This isn’t routine for you or getting a promotion, otherwise you would never risk dropping points for anyone, if this whole ‘retirement’ thing is true, so what’s your story?”
They seem skeptical; as if they are considering the pros and cons of talking. All of a sudden, they open their mouth: “Fuck it!” they exclaim “how long we got, like 20 something hours? I’ll tell you the story, then I’ll tell you about the clock trick, and then you’ll be all caught up with everything you need to know about surviving and thriving in Hell!” That sounded more like a warning rather than someone dropping their guard; I’m in now though, can’t back out. I need to hear what they have to say…
“In eternity, time doesn’t matter until it does; you don’t count days or months, but then you get to what must feel like years and you realize that in eternity, time is everything. At some point, I started counting, and since that point it has been 3 centuries. In these last 3 centuries, I have been a fucking excellent possessor; I am to blame for some of the most infamous hauntings in human history. At first, I was efficient; as soon as I possessed a body, I identified a weakness and pressed them to the point of breaking. Within weeks I would destroy my human vessel and sent it straight to hell”. Their voice is still and effortless; I don’t get the feeling they are proud of what they are saying, but accepting of it like they struggled with it for a long time and now it is something that is part of them. Their posture tightens as they continue. “Every time they reset you, everyone comes to the eventual realization that working fast and efficient is not advisable; that makes you an asset, something to keep around not move along. So, after a while, I started toying with my victims, torment them as much as possible and risk more and more with each time; I would give them one of the placeholder names that humans figured out, so I would give them hope of having a way to deal with me, but that doesn’t really work. Defeating a human with hope and vigor in their souls is a lot more potent, than simply defeating a human, so I did that for a long while; but L just wants more. He doesn’t want us discovered, but you need to press your luck in order to get him the results he craves; so, you press and he receives and he is happy, but you’re still there. It got to a point where the humans now have so much troubles plaguing them that possessing someone in a small village, isn’t really newsworthy now; you used to have people demanding to throw witches to the stake, now you have groups offering support. My latest case was Linda Rose…” this is where their voice breaks, where the stiffness of their deceased form loosens, “…and it lasted for 3 years; just for contrast, my last case before that was 2 months and I was strolling through it.”
“Why did it take so long?” I ask.
“Because I… I started living her life. I would do human work and have relationships, pay the bills; I lived her life for her.”
“You can do that?! Did no one figure it out?”
“I would do some textbook stuff here and there, from time to time, to dodge any suspicions; I scared the living shit out of neighbors and one-night stands, by screaming Latin in the middle of the night or flipping crosses upside down, normal possessor stuff.”
“Because I wanted to see what it was like or research to see what would endear/break modern humans; I don’t honestly remember, but the result was that I liked their freedom, I liked their bat-shit insane structure and fucked up norms. I was looking for a way out and I had one, but it wouldn’t last forever; eventually, somebody caught wind of me and I had to stop.”
“This is why you’re here and why you’re dreading the committee?! C’mon buddy you are a demon, just lie your way through it and move on to the next victim! At worst, you’ll get a bad grade! Is that how our work is weighted…”
“I let her live”
“…it seems like something Hell would do, give you an arbitrary grade for your work…you did what?!”
“I let her go without finishing the possession; she’s alive and well.”
I have to hold my jaw from dropping to the floor! I literally lost most of my memory and regained some of it in the past 22 hours, but even I know that is a one-way ticket to being reset and demoted. This is why they were acting like impending doom was in order, because it actually was! After fixing my jaw, I only had one final question. “Why did you let her live?”
“I want to tell you how the clock trick ends. Indulge me first, will ya?”
I check the clock; half an hour to go until 6 strikes again. I really don’t care about the clock trick, but maybe it has something to do with their reasoning; it doesn’t really matter, they will tell me what they want to tell me. I nod affirmatively.
“Humans are smart; they start realizing some objective truths about their situation and Hell, like the fact that there is cause and effect in Hell or the fact that their worst fears and desires will be used against them. So, after that realization, the hope comes that one cause will have the effect of them somehow not being in Hell, but they bury that deep inside them because that could be used against them for tortures; human brains and psychology can be controlled and they have commons, but the soul is very different. Some will start discussing this and they won’t care about the consequences; they’ll say “how can this get any worse?”. They’ll repress that hope and only let it out when they think no one is watching and that hope will grow and it will plant seeds to everyone’s soul. Then, instead of a torture session they will get to sit down all together in a vast empty room and in front of them will be the one condition under which humans can leave Hell: ‘If humans come to repent and pay for their sins, without running away from the consequences, they shall be allowed an audience with Saint Peter.’ It is most unlikely that anyone came here with the “turn the other chick” mentality, but even those will curse and blame everyone else about that day; that is running away from consequences, even if it is momentary and that is why no one will ever leave from Hell. Out of all the sadistic tricks, the gruesome tools, and the endless suffering, the greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was a clock that tells time in infinity; something so pointless yet hopeful that is used precisely for that: To implant the seed of hope, allow it to flourish, and then squish it in the worst way possible; revealing that the seed was poisoned from the start and what grew was deadly.”
I think I understand; looking at them, they seem like they are okay with what is coming. The clock trick is not a big reveal of a twist that no one saw coming. The human’s nature is that they are impulsive; when someone who seeks evil uses their nature to allow them to showcase their worst aspects for their own selfish gain, the humans will do so, even if that is not something that they aspire to or can be if they were in charge. “What does this have to do with your case?” I ask, already knowing what they will say.
“You already know; is our goal the ‘clock trick’ for us? Can we trust the literal Devil to live up to his word? No matter what I tell you, you’ll do your own thing and believe whatever you want, but after 3 centuries of toiling away and giving everything I’ve got, I’m still here. I could have saved the Linda case any time I wanted, but I felt an urge I’ve never felt before; I wished for her to be free. She and I live in two different sides of the same coin, yet mine seems unaltering, but hers keeps getting better and worse each time I’m there, so who knows? Maybe I screwed myself irrevocably, maybe Linda becomes a nobody who does nothing, and so my actions would be another dose of wasted energy in the ether…but maybe we made her world a tiny bit better, and after millions of lifetimes of inflicting pain, I felt the most dangerous thing a demon could ever feel…hope and wanting something for someone else to be nicer than what I have.”
The clock hits 6 o’clock and the doors finally open; we are both called in the two different rooms. As I slowly walk away, I can’t help but start to feel it; I hope they have a better result than what is likely to happen. This is why they were reluctant to speak; they infected me with something a demon shouldn’t have. As I enter the room, lost in my thoughts, I feel an aura of power; a presence any mortal or immortal being would know immediately. I bow down instinctively, but their deafening laughter tells me that was a bad idea. I try to avoid eye contact, but as he comes closer it becomes apparent that what I want is of no consequence here.
“I see your initiation is not necessary anymore, so I decided to pay a visit to my newest possessor demon…you shall be known from now on as ‘number 8’. Before your mind wanders, no, you are not the eighth possessor, I just save the good numbers for special occasions; like our buddy over there, ‘number 42’.”
I look over the direction he’s pointing at; it’s a window into the next room and the demon from before is…paused there. This is not going to end well…
“Usually, this sort of thing gets handled for me, but these are not usual circumstances, are they? These are special occasions and these present unique opportunities that I want to…enjoy first hand! Our buddy over there made a choice; I…feel it. Now, their choice will have consequences, but for who?!” He is jubilant with how wicked this is and can barely contain his excitement; his is drooling with anticipation and even his little pauses for dramatic effect are woefully short and ineffective. “They will either get demoted, all the way down to torturing a specific human female, whose fate will be sealed by you, which will earn you an automatic promotion, or they will get possessed to finish their job and thrown into limbo where they will have to exist with that knowledge for eternity. Either way, neither of you are ever getting the benefit of reset ever again! Its time to harvest those seeds, buddy, and this might be my favorite crop yet…”
He senses it; he feels it. The conflict in me and that gives him even greater pleasure. In the end, he is always satisfied…