5ive and Dime Episode 5
The alarm, it turned out, was a far more friendly method of being brought to consciousness when there wasn’t a bulldog demon standing at the foot of his bed. Tyler yawned, stretched out like a cat under his thin blanket, and stared at the ceiling. There had been a stray thought stretching into his mind as he fell asleep the night before, and much to his delight, it had slipped into the nothing ether of dreamland, remaining behind as the blatting of the alarm brought him back to the land of the, well, not ‘living’ per se, but the conscious. He recalled only that it had been a troubling notion, and with it being his third day in Hell, he thought that perhaps starting the day without extra worries would be ideal.
A twitch of the arm tossed the blanket aside, and he swung his legs over the side of the bed, rubbing one eye with his wrist. Bleary though his vision was so early, Tyler could just make out motion on the floor by his stocking feet, and when he lifted his leg to try and clarify it, he sucked wind sharply through his teeth. Fat and long as a chihuahua, a chitinous, black-scaled scorpion skittered back and forth along his bedroom floor, its tail waggling about like a periscope being spun to find enemy vessels.
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“That’s a hell of a thing to wake up to,” he muttered darkly. The scorpion ceased all motion, turned itself to look up at him, and Tyler found himself wondering if perhaps he hadn’t woken all the way up yet. The thing had a cartoonish face, very lively and animated, with giant yellow eyes, tiny black pupils aimed right up at him.
“I’d say you’re not exactly Prince Charming yourself, fuck-o,” the scorpion replied in a voice that made Tyler think of the film ‘Clerks II’. The critter scurried off under the bed in a rapid ‘clack-clack-clack’ of armor-like legs, vanished as if it had never been there. Tyler, willing to forgo the expectations of safety in the afterlife, leaned down over the side of the bed upside-down, peering into the space under the bed.
“Of course,” he said, seeing nothing at all beyond dusty floorboards. “That makes, you know, total sense for this fucking place.” He got up, grabbed a clean uniform shirt from his closet, paused as he wondered where and when they had come from, then headed into the bathroom to take care of his morning ablutions and clean-up. After brushing his teeth and combing his hair, he moved into the kitchen, and finally made a brief examination of what he had at his disposal. A small note had been pegged on the wall beside his fridge in a beatific curling script, and it read:
‘Mr. Evans, initial provisions have been allocated to you based upon standard human expectations, and your personality matrix as analyzed by your Condemnation Assignment Representative. Beyond these, you will have to purchase further goods at authorized locations with the use of your CIR and the credits in your personal account. Remember, these things are not really necessary for your continued existence, but they certainly do make things more tolerant, don’t they? Enjoy.’
Tyler opened the cupboards over the counter and discovered a few basics, among which was, thankfully, a red plastic canister with a black lid labeled ‘COFFEE’. The little 8-cup maker was already plugged in, and it was a simple matter to get some java brewing. Once that was arranged, he checked on his available dishes, and here he found himself actually wanting to laugh.
There was one bowl, one large plate, one small plate, one fork, one spoon, one tall glass, and one coffee mug. He had a couple of pots and pans, along with some cooking utensils and a handful of spices, but the setup clearly did not assume that residents would be entertaining company on a regular basis. He didn’t blame the administrative body for thinking this way; after all, when someone in the Mortal World was having a bad day, they usually didn’t enjoy the company of others. Being in Hell was a guaranteed eternity of bad days, even for the Condemned. Post hoc, ergo propter hoc, Tyler mused, pouring himself a cup of coffee, then lacing it with sugar and creamer. He took that first sip, sighed contentedly, eyes closed, and leaned back against the countertop by the sink, mug in hand.
The smell and taste of the coffee reminded him of the sort of cheap stuff they used at the store he’d worked at in life. It wasn’t bad, necessarily, but it certainly wasn’t Starbucks. He swigged the rest down swiftly, strapped his shoes on, and headed for the door. Tyler cast one last look back at the apartment, spotting the big black scorpion again, making its way into his living room. It stopped and looked over to him.
“Mind if I watch some TV,” it asked.
“Knock yourself out,” he replied, pulling open the door and heading out for the day. It was going to be his first full day solo at the 5ive and Dime, and he could only hope to avoid another incident like the one that had gotten him killed. No sooner had he thought this, however, than he amended, This last time, I mean. He hung his head for a moment, then started down the hall to the stairs.
His first day in Hell on his own had come.
The young lady who he was relieving from the ‘overnight’ shift, Sarah, could not have looked more apathetic without becoming a puddle on the floor, and Tyler wondered how long she had been among the Condemned. The smell of some flowery perfume surrounded her, and the moment she left the store, Tyler found he could only catch the odor of the coffee brewing in the tall, silvery taureens over to one side of the store. A quick inspection of the coolers told him a little about his overnight colleague, mostly that she was a lazy sort. He spent the first twenty minutes of his shift restocking the coolers and the frozen goods cabinets, thanks to her apparent unwillingness to leave the cashier’s area behind the counters.
Curious, Tyler headed to the back of the store, checking first to insure he had no customers waiting for his attention. There were no monitors, however, and no computer tucked away somewhere to look up security footage on. After all, what would they need surveillance for? If somebody tried to steal from the store, what possible consequence could there be?
When the first customer finally did come in almost an hour after his shift began, Tyler tried to offer a half-smile, but he could sense it would be seen as false. Keeping neutral, he watched as the customer, a wide gent of middle years with a yellow-and-black checkered shirt, dark blue jeans and a fraying gray baseball cap, walked up and down the aisle of chips with a red plastic basket in hand, barely looking at his selections before tossing them in. He was a jowly fellow, a mangy, curly black beard dominating his cheeks and neck, and Tyler thought he could hear a hint of the man mumbling to himself before approaching the register.
As the man set his basket on the counter, he cocked his head to one side and narrowed his eyes at Tyler. “You’re not Tammy,” the customer said.
“Very keen eye you’ve got there, sir,” Tyler replied. “What gave me away? Was it the absence of tits? Perhaps the lack of a ponytail?” The fellow frowned disapprovingly at him, and Tyler swiped his bags over the countertop scanner without breaking eye contact with him. “You know what to do,” he said once he had them all rung up. The customer pressed his black ring against the marble cube, tapped the air to accept the charge, and then cleared his throat.
“Can you put these in a bag, kid,” the man asked. Tyler did so without further sarcasm, holding the bag out for him when he was finished. He was about to wish the man a nice day, but then recalled what Tammy had told him the previous day, and held his silence. The man was on his way out when another ‘ding-ding’ alerted him to the arrival of another customer. This one came with its own new odor, a stench like freshly laid road tar and cooking onions, and when Tyler looked over to get a gander at this newcomer, his shoulders slumped and jaw hung slack in abject horror.
The demon that had come in looked like a cross between a squirrel and a man, if the man had been split open down the middle of his body and pulled open for his innards to be on public view to all the world. The thing’s head swarmed with flies and maggots, all flitting about for purchase on a pulsing, glowing green brain of some sort. Its legs propelled it along well enough, but it walked cautiously, trying to maintain a precious balance as its back-bent upper half struggled to host the multitudes of post-decay critters in and about its body while it shuffled along. A fluffy tail protruded from its posterior, and this alone seemed to host no open wounds or sores, dragging along to aid in keeping it upright.
It was a thing born to be revolting, to be sure, though after a full minute’s exposure, Tyler’s initial paralysis wore off. What possible threat could this thing pose, he wondered. I mean, sure, it smells awful, and who would want to look at the thing for more than ten seconds, but beyond the knee-jerk reaction, what real trouble could it cause? The demon shuffled over to the racks of chocolates and pastries, then came slowly around toward the registers, two long, tentacle-like arms wavering out in front of its body with its purchases held aloft. The stench, overwhelming Tyler every second the thing was present, caused him to flinch away when the demon finally got to the counter.
Its voice, when it spoke, carried a quality that he could not name, other than to describe its effect on his system when it struck his ears. “And two packs of the cigarettes,” it said, its voice low and watery, like a burly man on the verge of tears. When it spoke, Tyler’s whole skeleton felt like it was going to vibrate clear out of his skin, a sonic phenomenon the likes of which should not have been possible. Tyler reached up and took down two of the squared packs, shoving all of its purchases into two bags after scanning them. Using the calculator device, he brought up its total. “Twenty-eight credits,” he said, trying to look anywhere but at its open torso, the organs inside of which glistened wetly with blood and a foul, green pus. One of the tentacle hands reached up into its oversized squirrel head through the split in its face, pulling out a black leather wallet covered in gore. It slapped this down on the counter, thick ectoplasm splashing against Tyler’s shirt and neck. He grabbed a plain blue rag from under the countertop and wiped the stuff away from his neck, grimacing at the sight of it, the stench of road tar thick on the stuff.
With thumb and forefinger he took the proffered pieces of parchment from the demon, grabbing it change and dropping the bills on the counter. As it went through the laborious process of putting its wallet away, he set its bags on the counter and slid back as far from it as he could within his little workspace. The furry, bloody thing started away with its bags, several of its bloated flies lumbering away from its fetid, festering body, making a direct path for the young Condemned man. They hovered a few feet away from him, wings beating a strange buzzing sound as they seemed to consider him.
“Dazik likes you,” the flies droned in unison at him. “Other humes vomit when Dazik speaks. You are strong, hume. We will see you again.” The flies then darted away, rejoining their brethren as the demon Dazik shlooped its way back outside, taking its awfulness with it. Tyler looked to the clock tucked away under the main register countertop, and saw that it was only half-past nine in the ‘morning’.
“It’s gonna be a long fuckin’ day,” he grumbled.
The day’s first rush left Tyler with a familiar feeling, one that he’d experienced just the day before with Tammy, and its source was the same as it had been, the dust-devil demon. His first solo shift was not precisely going swimmingly, but there was a resigned peace to the clean-up process, one that thankfully didn’t get broken by a pair of warring tribal demons crashing into his store. Getting things put back in order between customers did take a while, but he felt mildly glad of the opportunity to be kept busy. Without too much down time, he didn’t get the opportunity to stew over his eternal circumstances or the fact that he was, aside from these brief transactions, alone.
With two hours remaining in his shift, however, Tyler received a welcome surprise in the form of Rory Temple, the former Catholic priest, coming into the 5ive and Dime with a couple of his crewmates, reflective vests covered in grime and dust. He smiled widely at Tyler and raised up a hand in greeting. “Hey there, young man,” Rory said, leaning forward from the entrance door so that he was half-laying on the donut cabinet, teeth gleaming in a shark smile at Tyler. “We’re over working on replacing the steps at the library for the next few days, so I figured I’d take the chance to swing by and say hello. How’s this place treatin’ you, Tyler?”
“It’s not all bad,” Tyler replied, trying to keep an eye on Rory’s coworkers. The ex-priest told one of his fellow workmen to grab a bag of mini muffins for him, as another made his way around the counter to the main register. Tyler scanned the man’s items, bagged them, and pushed the marble block forward for him to put his ring to. The worker tapped the air to confirm his use of credits, took the bag that Tyler handed him, then headed out the door. No sooner had he begun to cross the threshold than a sound like an air raid klaxon began blaring from somewhere over Tyler’s head, and blue-and-white alternating lights flashed throughout and in front of the store. “What the fuck is that,” Tyler tried to shout over the blaring of the alarms.
He looked outside, saw the workman half-crouched with his bag in one hand, casting about anxiously like a field mouse that has heard the unmistakable shriek of a hawk bearing down toward it. He glanced inside, catching Tyler’s stunned stare, and bolted in the other direction, across the pavement lot fronting the 5ive and Dime. He managed to run perhaps twenty paces before a blur of orange and black, wrapped in steel, barreled into him at full speed, crashing into the ground in a tumble of limbs. Tyler heard the man’s shrieks even over the alarms as a tiger demon, wearing dark blue metal armor, pulled up on one of his arms, raking at the attached shoulder with long black claws, blood spraying everywhere in a sloppy rain.
By now Rory and all of his other men were pressed against the available window space, watching in fearful silence as their coworker was torn apart, the arm finally cut free and used to beat him about the face and chest. In less than a minute, his body dissipated into a fine white-and-red mist, floating away like so must smoke. The tiger demon rose to its full height, which, Tyler realized as it drew toward the store, was quite a bit larger than he had initially thought. Rory and the rest of his crew backed away from the front of the store before the demon entered, stooping down in order to fit through the doorway, looking down at Tyler as blood dribbled down off of its claws. At its full height, the beast was easily ten and a half feet tall, its furry head almost touching the ceiling.
Tyler did not immediately recognize the sigil on its left shoulder, but he suspected the tiger demon was of an equal rank to Decker, as it looked quite similar to the gorilla demon’s. The demon brought its head down a foot, and spoke in a modulated voice that cut through the alarm. It said only a single word, in the Infernal tongue, and the alarms stopped, the blue-and-white lights stopping abruptly. The demon then brought itself back to full height, and folded its arms over its chest. “Human,” it rumbled, eyes aimed at Tyler, “I am Torture Master Daven Crete. I do not recognize you in this location. You are new here?” Tyler just nodded, though he did not feel the same sense of abject horror in this massive fellow’s presence as he had in that of Dazik. He also noticed, just before the enormous tiger demon continued speaking, that the armor it wore bore a striking resemblance to the armor which comprised Telman’s very body. “Then I will say you this, hume, and do not mistake me; I am not fond of having to come away from my normal duties to tend to the security and punishment of this small establishment’s offending customers. In the future, please attempt everything in your power to keep the Condemned who pass through here from attempting to steal from you.”
“I don’t exactly have much means of stopping them,” Tyler pointed out evenly. “I mean, I could ask everyone real politely to not take stuff, but people have a tendency to not exactly follow all of the rules or expectations. If they did, this place would be a lot less populated, and you might be out of a job.” Tyler realized too late that he should probably have kept his mouth shut entirely. To Daven Crete, however, this little sally apparently served as the most amusing thing he had heard in, well, who knew how long? Instead of reaching out and swiping his claws through Tyler’s head, one corner of his mouth curled up in a predatory smile, eyes wide.
“Ha ha! Indeed, hume, indeed I might be! You are perhaps not as boring as the woman who worked these hours before you was, or at least, had become!” The tiger demon made his way around the cashiers’ island in the center-front of the store, stopping just before he pushed outside. His nostrils flaring, he sniffed the air carefully, then crouched down a bit, poking his finger at something on the floor just out of Tyler’s view. Daven Crete stood back up, rubbing thumb and forefinger together, his expression thoughtful as he addressed Tyler again. “Hume, has a very unpleasant-looking thing come through here recently, like a man-thing split wide open down its middle vertically? Perhaps with many flies buzzing about it?”
“Oh, yeah, that thing,” Tyler said, snapping his fingers by his hip, trying to remember what the bloated flies had called the demon. With a slap of his knee, he pointed one finger from the chest triumphantly at the Torture Master across the counter from him. “Dazik! It called itself Dazik! Why?”
“Hmm, nothing important, really,” replied the lumbering tiger-man. “I’m just trying to recall the last time a defiler-rank demon entered such a place as this, and of its own accord.” Tyler masked his amazement well, all things considered, and the Torture Master exited the 5ive and Dime, sprinting off into the street and then off to who knew where. Tyler certainly wouldn’t hazard a guess; the man was faster on foot than any car Tyler had ever seen outside of a professional motorsports event.
Not wanting to stick around for any more abuse such as that which their coworker had just suffered in large doses, Rory and the rest of his workmates swiftly reduced their purchase total by taking only what they could hold in each hand, coming to the counter one by one and filing out like machines. “Sorry about that, man,” Tyler said as Rory brought up the rear of the workmen.
“No worries about it, Tyler. Sam should’ve known better, he’s been Condemned coming on nineteen years now. He knew the risks,” the ex-priest said, thanking Tyler then briefly for his bag of goodies. When they were gone, a strange quiet fell over the 5ive and Dime, one that could have been a genuine silence if not for the persistent hum of the coolers and the barely perceptible buzz of the long bulbs offering their dull, false light into the store’s confines. Tyler looked around the store, his eyes throbbing faintly, as if the beginnings of a headache were whispering in the auditorium of his skull. He narrowed his eyes, trying to cause the queer stuttering of his vision to steady and straighten out, but the sensation just got stronger.
Dill pickles and peanut butter, he thought, taking several deep breaths with his eyes closed. All he could smell was those two things at the moment, and his mind’s eye offered an image to him of a kosher spear being dipped into an economy-sized jar of Jif chunky peanut butter. When he opened his eyes, the entire store around him had taken on a filmy visual quality, like a double-exposure film clip. He could see the shelves, the bags and boxes and containers of generically labeled goods, the signage hanging or standing about; but through all of these things, as if hidden only by a trick of the light, he could detect movement just beyond what was visible. He thought, it’s like a thousand hands, divorced from any body beyond a length of arm and elbow and shoulder, are pulling the strings of everything around me. Is this Hell aught but a farce? When in the world did I start using words like ‘aught’, or ‘farce’, for that matter?
The store pulsed around him for several seconds, the tang of dill and savouriness of the peanut butter swelling stronger, a high-pitched whine birthing itself somewhere in his middle-ear and escalating like a soprano moving toward the fever pitch of their solo. Tyler thought his head might explode, but as suddenly as all of this oddity had snuck up and taken hold of him, it faded into the background, as if it had never been a factor.
There came between then and the end of his shift only one other customer, a Condemned youth who looked even younger than Tyler. Dressed like a skater punk in a grungy black Dead Kennedys shirt and roughened JNCO jeans, the younger guy said not a word as he brought his bag of chips to the counter and pressed his CIR against the marble block to make payment.
Tyler’s relief came in just as expected, grabbing himself a blueberry slushie from one of the machines near the east side of the store before taking up his spot behind the registers. As the young Condemned man walked out of the store, hands thrust into his pockets to retrieve a smoke from the pack he’d bought himself before leaving, he wondered what he would do now that he had some free time. He had no pressing social engagements, especially since he only really had gotten to know one other person since arriving in Hell very well, and for all he knew, Rory might not want to hang out. The ex-priest seemed like he’d been getting on pretty well with his construction crew; it wouldn’t surprise Tyler in the least if Mr. Temple was busy.
That left him, he realized, with two options. One, he could head back to the building, settle in for a fairly eventless afternoon and evening, then make ready to repeat the whole shebang the following day. Two, he could wander the neighborhood, and try to learn a little bit more about the twenty-sixth district of Moonblade. This second option appealed to him a great deal more at the moment, as it would allow him to keep moving and, hopefully, keep his mind occupied.
So instead of turning right when he got to the sidewalk fronting the 5ive and Dime’s facade lot, Tyler turned left, venturing off into unknown territory. The colors had mostly remained black, red and shades of gray to his eyes outside of the store, the apartment building, and the district center, to which he had not yet returned. He hummed a senseless tune, looking in through the front window of what looked like a kind of haircutters’ parlor only a couple dozen feet down the street from the 5ive and Dime. Two rows of chairs on silvery poles sat before mirrors fixed to the walls, and in several of them sat mostly man-like figures, demons to be sure, but of the sort Tyler had begun to realize made up the largest tribe of Hell’s denizens. Standing behind these were more natives of the Pit, also of a kind, but these fascinated Tyler, holding his eyes far more than the clientele.
The Infernal hairdressers all stood perhaps six feet in height, with flesh of dark purple scales, hair braided and flowing in two thick cables from the back corners of their heads all the way down to the floor. All appeared to be female, and none appeared to be wearing any sort of clothing. Not that such would be practical; their lower halves were as of enormous serpents, as though they were Gorgons from the mythos of old, and their hands did not appear to be cloth-friendly. Between the second and third digits on their six-fingered hands, Tyler caught a glimpse of metallic shine. As he watched, dumbstruck, they cut their customers’ hair with their very hands.
If the efforts of those hands turned violent, an awful bounty of damage could be done. Yet here, engaged in their work, the demoness hair stylists performed works of majesty. “It’s beautiful,” he mumbled to himself. Tyler watched them at work a minute longer, then pushed onward down the street.
As he got to the intersection separating the block the 5ive and Dime sat on and the next one west, Tyler caught a hint of something in the air that made him involuntarily salivate. He sniffed the air, rising up on tip-toes without really understanding the impulse to do so. Really, does anyone know why people do this? Is there some evolutionary advantage to lifting oneself all of an inch to detect odors?
“Bacon,” he said with a smile. Taking afterlife advice from Tucan Sam, he checked both ways at the intersection, then crossed the street, the stiffness in his legs from standing all shift forgotten in the hopeful pursuit of that most divine of breakfast meats. He passed a few storefronts on his left as he went, carefully avoiding the imps and fiends sharing the uneven sidewalk he strode down while still taking directions from his nose. A glance in one revealed a sort of old-fashioned record store, which he understood not at all, and another peek showed him what looked vaguely like a cafe. These he quickly forgot, though not so much the concept of the demand for such places.
He was very interested in knowing why Hell would need cafes or record stores. He just wasn't as interested in finding out the answers at the moment, as compared to finding that bacon.
As the scent became too potent to smell anything else, Tyler found what he had been looking for. Situated in the middle of a good-sized lot stood what looked like the sort of greasy spoon/burger joint typified in 1940’s-50’s Americana. The parking spaces only hosted two vehicles, contraptions that looked more like monochrome boxes on wheels than real cars, but he supposed the concept was still relatively new to the Pit.
Then how do they have computers, he wondered. Best not to go poking at the logic of this place. After all, I’m the one who saw a wallpaper movie and a talking scorpion that wasn’t really there. Tyler took in another great breath, let it out slowly, and walked toward the diner.
The first indication, visually, that this was no establishment out of a ‘Leave It to Beaver’ episode was the eatery’s logo graphics, stenciled in dark orange on one of the long, curved windows fronting it. It showed a pair of naked, bat-winged succubi holding long, barbed spears, upon which hung undefined organs and gore. Joan Cleaver would have been quite scandalized to see such a place in her lovely little town. The second visual cue was, of course, the clientele visible through said windows.
There were more claws, fangs, and body-grown weapons inside of the diner than he had ever seen in a comic book shopping spree. Given how many such sprees he had been on in his teenage years, the sheer volume was staggering. Rather than hesitating, which would likely have caused him to give up this whole quest, he just walked right through the right front door, walking right up to the hostess’s podium. He cast a look about now that he was inside, amazed at the amount of exotic-looking armors worn by the customers. He grinned as he thought, It’s like a bunch of GWAR, KISS, and Oakland Raiders fans got together for a hangout. He couldn’t quite make out any of the conversations around him for a minute, and when he finally could catch an entire sentence, he realized that it was because they were one and all speaking the Infernal tongue.
“You shouldn’t be in here,” someone said nearby. Taken aback by this sudden interaction, Tyler jumped a little, noticing that a hostess had in fact finally appeared behind the little podium in front of him. She was a short, narrow thing, looking like some kind of cross between a peacock and a barbed wire fence, with a human-like face stretched flat and pegged on several spikes at around the height of his throat. Despite this distortion, Tyler could tell the demon woman was not so much angry, but shocked, distressed. “You should leave, hume. Now.”
“Are the Condemned not allowed in here,” he asked gently, one hand to his chest, voice pitched low. “I mean, I didn’t see any signs or anything, but I’m kind of new here.”
“It’s not that you’re not allowed in here, hume, but this place really isn’t for you,” she said quickly, darting a sharp look around. “Oh, shit,” she mumbled, angling away from him. Tyler saw in his peripheral a creature he could only think of as a minotaur in a bloody butcher’s apron, stampeding toward him with a meat tenderizer in hand. The beast halted just a few feet away, leveling the mallet at Tyler’s head like an accusing finger.
“What the fuck are you doing here, hume,” the butcher snarled. Tyler took a half-moon step back toward the doors and away from him, hands raised defensively. “You shouldn’t be here!”
“You’re the second person to tell me that in the last sixty seconds,” Tyler replied, fear punching him in the back of the head. “Any particular reason behind that sentiment?” The tenderizer lowered slowly, the muscle-bound minotaur’s sneer relaxing. With the minotaur now the focus of his attention, it was the hostess who was in his peripheral, but only for a moment; she slunk away like a coward as soon as possible.
“Oh, I can think of a few,” the minotaur said, folding his massive arms over his chest. He grinned broadly at Tyler now, and he knew down to his bones that this expression was to be feared even more than his snarl. “Matter of fact, come with me, hume, and I’ll show you.” Without waiting to see if Tyler would follow, the butcher turned on his hoofed heel and stomped away toward a pair of swinging kitchen doors. Tyler hustled to follow, feeling the eyes of the patrons nearby watching, hearing their snickers. The aroma of cooking, sizzling bacon intensified even more, and when he pushed his way through those double doors, he immediately cursed his curiosity.
Bound by chains hanging from a rail attached to the ceiling, suspended over a long trench of flaming coals, half a dozen Damned humans groaned as long strips of flesh and muscle were roughly cut from their backs by black-fleshed, leather-winged, vampire-fanged little cherubs, flitting about like chubby, evil little bat-people. The minotaur stood off to Tyler’s left, snickering as Tyler dry-heaved, clutching his stomach. “Oh God,” Tyler moaned, backing out of the kitchen. “Oh, Jesus,” he added, turning his head to the side and hugging a white plastic trashcan just in time to empty his stomach into it, violently. He almost fell to his knees, but the roaring laughter of the beast and his cronies, as well as the patrons who had gathered by the kitchen doors to watch this debacle, fed an anger he wasn’t aware he’d even possessed since arriving in Hell.
He wiped his mouth on the sleeve of his work shirt, got wobbling to his feet, and managed to stagger his way through the crowd with a shred of dignity intact. He got outside of the diner, and despite his recent bout of physical illness, managed to run all the way back to his building, bounding up the stairs two at a time until he could push his CIR against the marble patch under his doorknob and slip inside his domicile. He slammed the door shut, pressing back against it, wheezing from the exertion of the run. Tyler had been so bent on getting to relative safety that he had seen no details of the realm around him, discovered nothing new on his way back.
I don’t give a shit, he thought, panting now even in his thoughts. I’ll see the sights tomorrow. Fuck! He sagged, sliding downward until he was sitting with his knees drawn almost up to his chin. He thought that the next time he smelled bacon, he would probably not react well. Drained, defeated, and still feeling a queer blend of terror and fury, he pulled himself back up to his feet and pulled his shoes off. He still had one in hand when he saw the black scorpion come skittering out into the hallway from the living room, claws raised up inquisitively.
“Rough day at the office,” the creature asked. Normally, Tyler would have made some pithy comment and dismissed it. After what he’d been through in the last twenty minutes, however, Tyler pivoted, and with what little strength he had, he hurled the shoe still in hand at the little devil. It landed smack on target, but instead of a satisfying thud, or cry of pain, there was a ‘poof!’, accompanied by the scorpion turning into a cloud of dark gray vapor. The smoke dissipated, leaving him alone in his apartment.
He was alone, but perhaps, given the sort of folks Hell was largely inhabited by, that wasn’t such a bad thing.
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