Fiction: A Kinder, Gentler Hell by Joseph R. Kennedy

by Joseph R. Kennedy

I looked up from my bowl of smoldering chili and saw a demon coming my way, hailing me with a large clawed hand, in serious need of a manicure. 

“Ah, Smitty,” he said. “Fine day to see the newly damned welcomed to Hell. Care for any bat? I brought plenty.” He proffered a rather small one which wiggled free, screeched a terrified sound and flew away like, well, you know. He reached for another, but I waved him off.

Having lost my appetite at the gesture, I put a lid on the chili. “Thanks, Orcus, but I’m no longer hungry. I see you shaved off your horns.”

“Yes. It’s all the rage and chicks dig it. How’s the job going?”

“100,000 newly damned a day and not one I can truly torment.” I sighed. 

“Too bad. Speaking of sinners, here come some new ones, and more than normal. Is there a war going on?”

“Perhaps a natural disaster? I don’t keep up with the media. It’s too gloomy,” I replied, though ignoring it didn’t lower my cable bill.. 

“You don’t like the scandals, corruption, greed, lust?”

“I only enjoy the punishments… About the new mandate…”

“The Kinder Gentler Hell?”

“Yes. The entire thing has me depressed. I finally get my chance to commit endless torture, and now this.” I waved my hand dismissively at the sight in front of us.

“Stop worrying and enjoy the show.” He gestured at the souls who had just arrived. “You need to learn to kiss butt. My latest promotion to senior agent in charge of soul buying required greasing a lot of palms.”

“And greasing other parts as well, no doubt.”

“Without question,” he answered.

We watched as the mortals were seated at an elegant breakfast table with the finest porcelain dishware and sterling cutlery. Gilded trays were laid down. Coffee and tea poured. A dozen sweeteners, and containers of cream, whole milk, two percent, one percent, light cream, heavy cream, half and half, almond milk, and soy. 

I pointed to a flanneled hipster sporting a long beard. “Please let him be scalded from the coffee.” 

“Sorry, my friend, too cruel. New mandate and all. But look at his frustration looking for the rice milk, and there isn’t any!” Orcus laughed hard enough for his belly to shake, and I wondered how he could stand it. Surely he had experienced centuries of suffering.

“That qualifies as torment?” I asked with a sigh. 

“A little light, isn’t it?” he replied.

“Oh, c’mon. I saw a promotional video of a demon nailing the tongue of a lying politician to the walls of a cesspool, and instead it’s this?” I clenched my hands in frustration. “What changed?”

Orcus shrugged indifferently. “As long as they’re tortured, why does it matter?”

“Torture? This is inconvenience at best!”

“But, look. None of those k-cups fit that Keurig.”

“Dear God, Orcus. Hell used to flay people.”

“Hey! Watch it with the G-word, there are kids around.”

“Kids that will never get the pleasure of pouring boiling oil on the damned,” I insisted. 

“True, but they’ll get to use forks on the skulls of mortals.”

“They’re keeping the pitchforks?” I smiled, the idea of my own pitchfork gave me chills. 

“Uh, no. Tuning forks. But the noise is very irritating,” Orcus insisted.

”But I expected to starve gluttons, beat beaters, betray betrayers. Economy torments are bad enough, but this? Instead of getting to perform unnecessary surgery on a shoddy doctor, I had to make him fill out forms in a waiting room! I want it like you told me it used to be.”

“Oh, come now, Smitty, you can’t compare the eras. There’s ten times the souls now. It’s all about scale.”

“No, this is something else. This isn’t what I signed up for. What did you tell me when we discussed the job? A drunk driver might be forced to eat road kill and be dragged behind a truck? Instead I have them changing flats and checking oil. I would force them to drink a gallon of white lightning, if I was allowed, but it’s a choice of light beer or warm chardonnay.”

“Light beer is pretty bad.”

“I was written up for slugging someone with a tire iron. The damned are getting clean laundry. We can’t even short sheet them!” 

I turned at the sound of a woman’s voice calling to my companion.

“Hey, Orcus. How’s breakfast going?”

“Morning,” Orcus replied. “Meet Smitty, my newest torturer.”

“A mortal working for Hell?” she asked in surprise. 

“Yes. But he’s a bit upset about the changes. Smitty, meet Demonica.”

“It’s Daisy, now. Management said Demonica gave souls a sense of dread.”

“What’s life like in IT?” Orcus asked.

“Distributing smartphones to the damned,” she said as she opened her bag to reveal an array of older models.

“Where’s the torture in that?” I said. 

“Short battery life, and no more than two bars.”

I turned to my boss. “This is all wrong. I was promised. You promised me, Orcus!”

“I implied and you inferred, but this is the job,” he corrected me.

“I resisted my violent urges for years. First it was just pets, but they grew tiresome. I wanted to torture. I needed it. I resisted until the day that census taker came. I started the first cut and knew what ecstasy was. It took all my will to let him go with just the one superficial wound. I needed more, I dreamed of it, but I also knew the police would come. It was either run or…”

Daisy looked surprised, “You were a suicide?”

I shook my head in reply. “No. I just thought that in Hell I could finally have the job I would love. Punishing others. But instead, I’m limited to bringing damned souls flat sodas, and if they were particularly wicked, a diet one.”

“And you’ll be doing so for the rest of eternity,” Orcus said. “Break time is over. Back to work.”

“I would give my soul to whip just one of the damned.”

“Too late,” Orcus laughed. “You already sold it to me, for a hell of a job.”

Joseph R. Kennedy is an I.T.  professional by trade and a steampunk enthusiast by choice. When he is not writing he can be found in a martial arts dojo or doing research at various archives in the New York City area. Joseph is a board member of the New York Nineteenth Century society and enjoys sharing his love of history with others.
He writes in a wide variety of genres, mostly speculative fiction and thriller.