Authors: Grady Hendrix
To Amanda —
I owe you everything.
Including an apology.
But I still don’t think that life raft
Would have supported both of us.
SATAN LOVES YOU
Terminal C of the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport at 8AM on a Monday morning was no one’s idea of a good time. And right now, with the fruits of a freak snowstorm clumping on the skylights and whipping past the windows; right now, crammed with domestic passengers going nowhere and growing angrier by the minute; right now, with planes jamming up the gates and sliding gently off the runways and into sudden snowbanks, it was a little slice of hell on earth.
A long line snaked away from the Starbucks register where a frazzled US Airways Express passenger, who until then had worshipped exclusively at Dunkin Donuts, was trying to order.
“A large?” the register jockey said. “We don’t sell large.”
“I’m begging you,” the woman said. “what do you sell?”
“Short, Tall, Grande and Venti.”
“Which one’s the large?”
“There is no large. There’s Short, Tall, Grande and Venti.”
“Give me the biggest one.”
“Yes! The Venti!”
“You have to order it.”
“I’ll have a Venti coffee.”
“I’m sorry, we’re all out of Venti cups,” the register jockey said. He carefully kept his face blank and expressionless, but inside he was smirking.
Over at the Tie Hut, a wooden stand with decorative wagon wheels specializing in ties, scarves, cuff links and seated massage, an iPod was blaring out some of the worst country music ever written. This was, in turn, irritating five-month-old Ariella Kipling who was strapped down in her lightweight Gracco Travel System. At five months old, infants enjoy and respond to music and Ariella was responding to Lee Ann Womack’s “There is a God” by screaming her lungs out.
“It’s okay,” her mother cooed.“It’s okay, good girl. It’s okay. It’s only Lee Ann Womack. She can’t hurt you.”
“Just pick her up,” Paul Kipling snapped.
“That’ll make it worse,” Nancy Kipling snapped back.
Paul rolled his eyes and tried to pick his daughter up but his wife was right. It was worse.
At the Carolina Sports Bar, Carl Willers couldn’t enjoy his Hearty Style Southern Breakfast because he couldn’t stop coughing. With every hack, his throat felt like it was being gouged from the inside by a giant ice pick.
“Jesus Christ,” he thought to himself, as he hacked up chunks of gray phlegm. “I’ve got some kind of infection. Holy God, this is painful. I need Cipro or some kind of antibiotic. Oh, Sweet Jesus
Seated nearby, a young man in a navy blue suit, with a non-descript haircut and a forgettable face, sat drawing on the cheap Carolina Sports Bar napkins. Every time Carl Willers coughed, the young man winced reflexively, but it was clear that his mind was a million miles away. Something was eating at him. Something was inside of him and he had to get it out onto these paper napkins. He scratched his pen against the crummy wood pulp paper.
Scratch, scratch scratch, scratch scratch scratch
Trying to strike up some neighborly good cheer amongst the mob of seething, short-tempered, indefinitely stranded passengers, the New Light Fellowship Tour Group broke into a spontaneous line dance to Jake Owens’ “Eight Second Ride” now blaring from the Tie Hut.
“What was that other size you said?” the woman in the Starbucks line begged. “The one below Venti?”
Her hands were shaking. Every day for the past year she had started her mornings with an enormous Dunkaccino and it really took the edge off. She worked in the HR department of a company that sold a complicated financial product she didn’t quite understand, and her job mostly consisted of laying off people she had only recently hired. The Dunkaccino was the chocolate-infused, caffeine-saturated treat that got her out of bed in the morning, the wonder drug in a cup that soothed her seething brain, the liquid injection of love that settled her shaky synapses for the hateful day that lay ahead. And here she was, stuck in an airport far from home having to make do with Starbucks, trembling like a junkie trapped in the drunk tank over Fourth of July weekend, getting sicker by the minute and trying to treat her shakes with jailhouse hooch.
“The sizes are on the wall, ma’am,” the register demon said.
“Hey, could you step on it?” the man behind her said.
“I’m sorry, I don’t have my glasses with me,” the woman said.
“A Grande,” the man behind her said. “You want a fucking Grande.”
The woman recoiled. Without her protective coating of caffeine his profanity chafed her brain like sandpaper.
“There’s no need to be rude,” she said.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “Let me try that again: please, bitch, order a fucking Grande. Is that better?”
The woman’s last frayed nerve snapped, and she turned around and slapped the man in the face.
Everyone heard it.
Everyone except the people sitting within a ten yard radius of five-month-old Ariella Kipling whose screams had managed to climb to a higher pitch than scientists had previously assumed possible. Her bickering parents were, however, unable to appreciate this miracle of physics taking place in their midst.
“You don’t know anything about children,” Paul Kipling said. “You’re so out of touch with your own body that you’re already giving our daughter an eating disorder.”
“She’s still breast feeding,” Nancy Kipling snarled. “I am her primary food source. She can’t have an eating disorder! She eats me!”
“Your negative body image is contaminating your breast milk like a carcinogen,” Paul snapped back. “That’s why she’s unhappy. She’d rather starve than keep drinking your hate milk!”
The toxic emotional spill gushing from the Kipling marriage was oozing over the passengers around them, whose defenses were already down thanks to Ariella’s aural attack. Their fight was a noxious cloud contaminating all of the relationships and marriages within earshot, causing conversations to curdle into arguments, tender gazes to harden into icy stares and cuddling to morph into stiff-armed rejection.
Over at the Carolina Sports Bar, customers felt their gorges rise as Carl Willers was seized anew by a series of wet, gloopy hacks so powerful that he rocked helplessly back and forth in his chair. Some of them stared at him murderously, while others pointedly picked up their trays of eggs and grits and moved to the counter.
The nondescript man sitting near Carl kept scratching away on his paper napkins, only dimly aware of Carl’s coughing. And far up in the pipes and girders, a heavy glass High Bay light fixture suddenly began to show alarming signs of metal fatigue in the clamps and screws that secured it.
The New Light Fellowship reached the end of “Eight Second Ride,” struck a pose and a few confused travelers gave them a spattering of desultory applause. But one middle-aged passenger, grossly overweight and deeply unhappy, threw a half-empty cup of Mountain Dew in their general direction and yelled, “Country music is for queers!” The New Light Fellowship believed in turning the other cheek, but everyone has a limit and insulting country music was theirs. They surrounded the heckler and began shoving him back and forth. They pinched his fat arms. They kicked his sagging butt. One of them spat in his face.
Over at Starbucks, the slapped man stood there for a moment, surprised that this frumpy spinster would dare lay hands on him, and then he shoved her hard, sending her backwards into a wicker basket packed with Ethos Water. She sprawled on the floor in an avalanche of plastic bottles and instantly she sprang back up and came at him, swinging her purse like a battleaxe.
At the Carolina Sports Bar, Carl Willers started up a new round of hacking, coughing so hard he thought he was going to throw up. Nearby, Ariella Kipling was screaming so loudly that several passengers began to weigh the pros and cons of actually killing her.
“When we get home I’m going to throw the TV right in the garbage and if you want to watch
then you can go find some manorexic to move in with!” a red-faced Paul Kipling yelled at his wife.
“Are you calling me fat?” his wife screamed back.
And then, without a sound, the support screws holding the light fixture twenty-five feet above Ariella Kipling quietly snapped. The fixture weighed eighteen pounds, and it fell straight down at a rate of thirty-two feet per second squared. It fell so fast and true that it looked like a missile fired right into Ariella’s Gracco Travel System and when it landed it made an enormous “Splortch!”
There was sudden, blessed silence. Paul and Nancy Kipling froze. They looked into the Gracco Travel System that now contained nothing but a High Bay Indoor lighting fixture and a large quantity of baby-flavored marmalade. There was a stunned pause, and then Nancy Kipling began to scream even louder than her daughter ever had. Paul Kipling collapsed to his knees, slapping his own face and shouting.
“She was going to be a gymnast! She was going to bring home the gold in 2025!”
In Starbucks, a brawl had broken out. A pack of teenagers in Juicy Couture were dragging the terrified barista over the counter and clawing her to pieces. At the Carolina Sports Bar a final, terrible bout of coughing seized Carl Willers, and he felt something heavy traveling through his sinuses. His climactic cough was a loud, wet yawp and his brain flew out of his mouth and landed on the table. He looked down at it and screamed. His brain opened two eyes, looked up at him, and it began to scream, too.
A pack of stuffed animals broke free of Mindworks, and chased down a fleeing mega-family on their way to Orlando. They managed to separate the two weakest children from the herd, and backed them into a corner near gate C13, incongruous growls coming from their plush throats. Steve and Reuben Marsh were window shopping the Duty Free store but when they saw the chaos breaking out they decided to run. Steve reached for his rolling bag but couldn’t feel the handle. He looked down, confused, only to find that his bag had bitten cleanly through his wrist with its zippered mouth and was now chewing happily. It swallowed, and lurched towards him, hungry for more. He stumbled backwards trying to get away.
“Reuben!” he screamed as he went down in a pile of rolling bags, all of them hungry, all of them slavering from their zippers.
“Steve!” Reuben cried, trying to reach his lover. Instead he found himself trampled beneath the thundering hooves of three Arabian stallions that had broken through Security and were galloping down the concourse.
Passengers scattered and screamed. Massage chairs in Brookstone began throwing themselves around the store like epileptic linebackers, shattering shelves of nose hair trimmers and ergonomic neck pillows. A nine-foot-tall golem assembled itself out of melted cheese and lumbered out of Sbarro’s and onto the concourse, crushing screaming passengers with its heavy, greasy feet. And still the man in the navy blue suit sat in the Carolina Sports Bar, oblivious to the surreal chaos around him, scribbling furiously on his paper napkins.
“Proud of yourself?” a voice said, dripping with effete disdain.
The man looked up. A beautiful, glowing person with the androgynous good looks of mid-career David Bowie was hovering in mid-air. The hovering man was wearing an impeccable white suit and he seemed peevish. The man in the rumpled navy blue suit looked around him at the bloody chaos breaking free on Concourse C and shrugged.
“My mind must have wandered,” he said. “Are you guys here to clean up?”
“The Heavenly Host is not your personal housekeeping service,” the floating, glowing man said.
“Right, right,” the seated man said, starting to stand up. “I was just working on some stuff and got distracted. It’s not a big deal.”
“Where are you going,” the glowy man said. “I’m not finished with you.”
“I really don’t feel like being lectured right now by one of God’s little chore boys,” the man said.
Up and down the Concourse, more glowing men descended through the ceiling. Passengers fell asleep and slumped to the carpet where they landed. The glowing men pulled apart the cheese golem, reattached limbs, restored life, repaired damage, reached into snarling, animate suitcases and barking stuffed animals and snuffed out their tiny faux-lives.
“Here,” the man in the navy blue suit said. “Pass this along to your boss. I forgot to send him one.”
He handed a piece of printer paper to the glowing man, who pinched it between two fingers like a dirty diaper.
The Offices of M. Satan and Co.
Have Moved to
The Fifth Circle of Hell
email: [email protected]
“Again?” the angel said.
“We’re down with the irascible and the sullen now,” Satan said.
“And still using Hotmail,” the angel sniffed. “You don’t even have your own servers yet?”
“You tell me how we can pay for them and I’ll get right on it.”
“It’s embarrassing. Doing business in such a slipshod manner reflects badly on those of us who remain in Heaven.”
“We take in over a thousand times the number of souls we did five hundred years ago, but our budget’s still the same size. I’m sorry we’re not the cash cow Heaven is.”
“I’m crying tiny teardrops for you,” the angel said. “Boo hoo hoo.”
“Just give that to your boss, Uriel,” Satan said.
“It’s Gabriel, not Uriel,” the angel said.
“You all look the same to me,” Satan said, starting to leave.
“I’ll see you at the Ultimate Death Match.”
“Seriously? Is it that time again, already?”
“Don’t tell me you forgot.”
“I’ve had a lot on my mind. Do you know the last time I came up with a new torment? One thousand five hundred years ago. My
To Do’ list covers six volumes. So sometimes I lose track.”
“Elijah’s predicting a big loss for you this year. Michael’s been working out with a very good personal spiritual trainer. He’s going to destroy you.”
“Don’t get your pretty little halo in a twist,” Satan said. “We’ll be ready.”