Sunday, 13 September 2009

The Devil and The One That Got Away

Well, I thought to myself, it was probably time to upgrade anyway. I said a final goodbye to the melted laptop, and dropped it into the skip. I had considered harvesting it for useful parts, but I knew deep down that it was damaged beyond repair. A full blast of hellish flame tends to have that effect on most electronic goods, and even if the machine hadn’t been fried beyond redemption I would have felt bad poking around under its casing after causing its destruction. Because it was my fault, really. Obviously it had been Satan that had thrown the fireball, but it was my foolishness that had provoked him into doing so. I should have known better than to show him the Downfall parodies in the first place.

It should have been a fun evening – a few jars at the local boozer, then back to mine for some Youtube hilarity. It was a laugh at first – we started off poking fun at some clips from Fox News, then moved on to videos of cats falling off things and knocking stuff over, and that clip of a guy getting pushed out of a window by his dog. After that I felt we needed to watch something slightly more sophisticated, so I cued up a few of the Downfall parodies. I mean, what’s not to like about someone changing the subtitles of a serious film about Hitler so that he rants about pop cultural trivia? I knew Satan liked a good parody as much as the next being, because he had the complete Naked Gun box set and frequently organised screenings of Mel Brooks’ Spaceballs. However, I’d forgotten how much the Hitler thing still bugged him after all these years, as was evidenced by a roar of anger, a jet of flame, and one seriously overcooked computer.

I’d originally found out about Satan’s Hitler fixation over a few sherries with Mrs Devil. Normally she was pretty reticent when it came to discussing her husband’s many flaws, but the booze had loosened her tongue and she was happy to list his failings. It started with the usual stuff like leaving the toilet seat up and not using a chopping board when he made sandwiches, but then took an unexpected turn when she knowingly referred to “The one that got away”. I’d always assumed that Hitler was kicking around Hell somewhere, but to Satan’s eternal chagrin, this was not the case.

It had all, rather predictably, started in 1945. The war in Europe was over, and The Fuhrer was dead. However, he hadn’t shown up in Hell, and all the other afterlife providers had made it clear that they wouldn’t touch the little bastard with a bargepole. The whereabouts of his body remained unclear but it was thought that the Soviets, as was so often the case, knew more than they were letting on. It wasn’t long before a meeting was arranged, which Satan hoped would allow him to bargain for info that might help him track down the Great Dictator. He might have even succeeded, had his approach not been flawed from the start.

The first problem was that the Soviet negotiating party were all atheists who didn’t technically believe in Satan in the first place, thus forcing him to disguise himself as a normal mortal. A simple, businesslike disguise was all that was needed, but Satan had to go too far. When he turned up at the meeting, he couldn’t have more closely resembled the stereotypical portly capitalist if he’d tried. He had it all, from a ridiculously oversized top hat to a silver tipped cane. He’d even daubed his hooves in black and white paint in a ludicrous attempt to make them look like spats. It was a classic example of failing to understand your audience, and he was pretty much doomed to failure even before he made his opening offer; 500 fur hats and twenty cases of vodka. If there were two things the Soviets already had in spades, it was fur hats and vodka. Safe to say he was laughed out of the meeting within seconds. Decades later, my melted computer stood as testament to just how fresh those painful memories remained.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

The Devil and Climate Change

I took a deep breath, stretched my calves, and composed myself. Then I hit the light switch and made a run for it, a dull orange glow filling the air as I hurtled down the corridor. Between ragged breaths, I counted the seconds of light I had left. Five. I could see the doorway in front of me. Four. I jinked round an ornamental hat stand. Three. I hopped over a carelessly laid length of telephone cable. Two. I fell to the floor, hissing in agony as I clutched my bloodied shin. I always forgot about the wrought iron shoe rack until it was too late. One. I mentally bemoaned the fact that a being with cloven hooves had no business owning a shoe rack, even a fine wrought iron one, in the first place. Zero. The light faded, the bathroom door disappearing into the darkness, just a few tantalising meters away. I lay in the darkness, rubbing my shin and suppressing the urge to curse out loud. Mrs Devil had a thing about swearing, and even though she’d recognise that a profane outburst would be entirely directed at her deserving husband, I didn’t want to upset her. After all, she lived here all the time, and had to put up with the old bastard’s machinations twenty four hours a day. At least I had the respite of going home to a house without timers on every light switch. A home where it was possible to reach the toilet without having to choose between sprinting in the dubious light cast by a crappy energy saving bulb, or groping your way along in the darkness.

The thing was, Satan’s energy saving initiative was kind of admirable in theory. I mean, who doesn’t want to reduce their carbon footprint a little, and make a tidy saving in the process? All that was needed were a few alterations around the house. Simple things at first. Proper lagging around the pipes. Foam in every cavity. A timed switch for every light. Of course, it wasn’t long before he went too far. He started insisting all the windows in the house were nailed shut in a bid to “conserve oxygen”, and laid turf in the lounge in an attempt to create a miniature carbon sink. The vacuum cleaner had been replaced by a pygmy goat, and I’d seen him working on designs for a microwave oven powered entirely by good vibrations. He’d even gone to the trouble of designing a special pump to remove excreta from the body without the need for wasteful flush toilets, but the EU were still withholding funding on that. Yes, Satan was truly embracing the green ethos. Which is why it was so sad to know that his intentions were both deluded and malicious.

Firstly, everyone knows that hell is powered entirely by the souls of the damned, and in any case its pretty much entirely sealed off to the mortal realm, so its carbon emissions, no matter how big or small, have zero impact on the world of men. Secondly, Satan wasn’t doing this out of altruism. No, it was pure professional jealousy. After all, he’d spent millennia turning hell into what OK! magazine had referred to as “the ultimate fire and brimstone experience”. What did people think they were doing? If he didn’t stop them, within a hundred years or so they’d have fire in the sky, rivers of dust and sulphuric oceans all of their own! And then what would be the point of hell? People would just turn up there and carry on as normal. Where was the eternal punishment in that? And so the infernal greenwash began.

It ended, however, on the 1st of December that year. As much as he wanted to prevent Earth becoming more hellish than well, hell, he was damned if they were going to outdo him on the Christmas lights as well.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

The Devil and Detection

I let out a little sigh, half pain and half relief, as the witch hazel touched my skin. Mrs Devil looked down at me, a matronly smile on her face as she nursed the wound on my forehead. She hummed to herself as she worked, a look of serenity on her face as she dabbed the crusted blood away from my eyebrow. It was times like this I realised how badly she wanted Satan to agree to bring another child into the world. Well, if not a child then at least some form of hideous winged chimera or another such affront to nature itself. Anyway, she was clearly broody, and so enjoying the chance to nurse me. I relaxed and let my body sink into the quilted velveteen of the banquette. It really does feel like velvet, I thought to myself. The Devil had been right to save his money and go for the synthetic alternative. At that moment, I could almost forgive him for trying to bash my head in with a mallet. Of course, I hadn’t had indulged his ideas about the detective agency in the first place, I wouldn’t have been where I was now.

It had all started on a trip to the mortal realm. We’d set off from hell with the intention of doing something truly evil, like murder or at least some light raping. Well, I say that had been our intention. We both knew we were just talking ourselves up. It was always the same on our trips to wreak havoc on Earth. We always said that this week, this week we’d do something utterly unconscionable, but in reality it was usually nothing worse than ordering people takeaways they didn’t want or writing filthy slogans on roadside hoardings. Anyway, on this particular occasion we’d decided to irritate a local newsagent by blatantly reading every magazine, newspaper and periodical he had in stock with no intention of paying. We stood there, nose deep in our copies of The Economist and Country Living, commenting loudly on how good all these magazines were and what a shame it was we couldn’t actually afford to buy any. Of course, the plan fell down slightly when Lucifer spotted something that he actually did want to buy. His face lit with amazement, he turned and showed me his prize. It was a flimsy magazine, no more than forty pages long, and printed on some kind of weird material half way between paper and card that bent under the weight of the DVD case glued to the front of it. The title, written in some kind of faux Hollywood font, was ‘The Classic Detective Collection’. Closer inspection revealed that while this issue only cost ninety nine pence, subsequent fortnightly instalments would cost the best part of six quid each. For which you’d get a DVD featuring two episodes of a classic detective show, and a thirty three page ‘fact file’ on the real life inspiration behind said show. The face of Jack Klugman scowled from the cover. I sighed, accepted the inevitable, and reached into my wallet.

Months later, we were still making our fortnightly visits to the newsagents, then racing home to digest another slice of made – for – TV sleuthing. It was after a particularly inspiring episode of ‘The Father Dowling Mysteries’ (You know, the one where he saves the orphanage by disguising himself as a rich oil baron) that Satan announced his new ambition – to start his own detective agency. I said I thought it was a great idea, something to keep him busy, but couldn’t help point out the flaw in this plan. He had no formal training as a detective. He had no equipment besides a notebook. His powers of deductive reasoning were average at best. That was where I came in, he explained. I was to help him warm up by staging a series of mysteries for him to solve. After that, he’d move on to solving actual crimes committed by real people. I had a good idea of the kind of thing he wanted - notes written in code, artfully placed clues that were subtle yet obvious, clever wordplay. It was fun, to be honest. The problem was, I inevitably ended up having to play all the characters in the mystery myself, which meant that when Satan interrogated me I inevitably knew the solution to the mystery already. Worse still, I often blurted out the answer far too early in the game, ruining the whole thing. After this had happened one too many times, The Devil decided the only solution was to allow me to set up the mystery, but to bash me on the skull with a mallet before he began detecting. This way, he reasoned, I’d suffer temporary amnesia and would answer his questions without accidently telling him whodunit. Hence, ending up prostrate on the banquette with a rather nasty head wound. Still, as he rushed in with one of his homemade poultices, I could tell he was feeling guilty.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

The Devil and His Armies

Satan looked down upon the battlefield, his face split by malicious grin. Below him, his army marched proudly towards certain victory. And what an army it was. His foot soldiers tore through the enemy ranks with unmatched ferocity, their brutal weapons cleaving metal and flesh with equal ease. Amongst them strode gigantic beasts, a sight so terrifying as to send many fleeing in blind panic. The defending army was already on the brink of utter collapse when Satan’s champion emerged from the fray, wielding their general’s head in his claws. It was all over. Satan let out a roar of triumph that shook almost seemed to shake the earth itself. It also served to make the nine year old boy stood opposite him burst into tears, eliciting looks of concern and outrage from the other Games Workshop patrons.

‘Listen sir, I’ve been very lenient about this before’ huffed the manager, waddling over from behind the counter. ‘I appreciate your custom, I really do, but you can’t keep coming in here and scaring the kids like this’. The Devil opened his mouth as if to protest, but the manager was not to be interrupted. ‘As I’ve tried to make clear to you time and time again, Saturday morning games are for beginners only. It’s bad enough you insist on coming in here and notching up easy wins, but shouting in youngster’s faces like that is just plain unacceptable. I really must insist you leave immediately, before young Kevin’s mother turns up to collect him’. Satan looked defiant for a second, but then clearly thought better of arguing. A sullen look on his face, he began clearing his miniature army from the tabletop and dumping them in their special carrying case. Normally this was a process so contrived and precise it bordered on the obsessive, but today he practically threw the tiny metal warriors into their compartments, showing no regard to the paintwork he’d spent so long on. I couldn’t help but pity him from my vantage point over by the paintbrushes, but when I wandered over to help him tidy up he slapped my hand away in an altogether petulant manner. Kevin shot us a look of snot nosed vindication as we tramped out of the store.

As we wandered aimlessly around the shopping mall, I knew it was best to stay silent for a few moments. He was always like this after things went badly in what he referred to as his ‘practice sessions’. As far as he was concerned, miniature tabletop wargames were the best if not only way to practice for the day he’d lead his armies from the pit to swarm across the earth. I sometimes felt it’d be kindest to point out the differences between real warfare and his rather nerdy hobby, but I didn’t want to shatter his illusions too harshly. After all, his real army back in hell was a pitiful affair. Hell was certainly brimming with warlike potential, but Satan lacked the organisational skills, leadership and commitment necessary to muster any kind of cohesive fighting force. Remember the closing sequence from the show “Dad’s Army”? Y’know, where the cast were filmed out on exercises but they looked a bit daunted and shambolic? Well, Satan’s army made that lot look like the dirty fucking dozen by comparison. So now he just stuck to beating infants in tabletop wargames. I sometimes wondered how he retained his throne in hell at all.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

The Devil and Temptation

“..and I shall give you power beyond your wildest imaginings!!” hissed Satan, flourishing his cape in what he probably thought was a dramatic manner. The gesture probably would have had more impact had it been timed better. Unfortunately, the lighting storm he’d spent all morning arranging had long dissipated by the time he reached the climax of what he referred to as his ‘patter’. At the dress rehearsal, back in hell, he’d looked great – a big imposing silhouette in front of a gothic picture window, lighting splitting the sky behind him. He was now stood in front of a rather grimy UPVC window that looked out on to the dilapidated streets of Bromley, the skies above now home only to a rainbow. In the distance, the chimes of an ice cream van could be heard. There was an air of sad kitsch about the whole scene. As temptations went, we weren’t really off to a good start.

The little man whose soul Lucifer sought looked nonplussed, and stayed silent – waiting for a climax that had already passed unnoticed. Satan coughed into his clenched fist, as if trying to stifle a giggle. I looked at my feet, whilst suppressing the urge to mutter something under my breath. It was all very well for the devil, he’d just turned up in a puff of brimstone, but I’d spent the last 40 minutes in a cramped carriage on the district line. The journey had been made worse by the fact that I’d had to carry an oversized ghetto blaster with me, something Satan insisted I bought with me in order to play what he termed his ‘temptation mega mix’. He frantically signalled that I should start the tape, and I complied. After a slight pause as the tape spooled through, the first track kicked into life, and immediately revealed one of the many flaws in the devil’s worldview.

In Satan’s mind, the mega mix was a fiendishly precise selection of songs designed to confound the mind of any mortal who might listen to it. As far as he was concerned, it was a playlist so seductive that the listener would gladly succumb to their darkest desires, and accept the terms of whatever bargain he offered them. To the ears of any normal mortal, it was six songs recorded from the radio, with lyrical content that even the most desperate of horny teenage boys would consider unsubtle. I mean, take track one – ‘Temptation’ by Heaven 17. An 80’s pop classic perhaps, but hardly a stealth attack on the subconscious mind. The intended victim was now clearly smirking, which was hardly surprising considering that Satan had resorted to cavorting around the room in a pathetic attempt to raise the man’s excitement levels and force him into a quick deal. I too would have been amused, had I not been so complicit in the whole affair. The combination of a poor quality recording and poor quality equipment meant that the song’s high end had almost been lost entirely. As a result, I was forced to fill in for the female vocals. I couldn’t have hit the high notes as a prepubescent boy, let alone as the twenty five year old smoker I was now. I sounded like a terrier being squashed under a paving slab, and it was my discordant yelping that finally elicited outright laughter from our target. Satan shot me a look of utter venom before disappearing from the room. I stopped the tape, nodded apologetically at the little man, and silently let myself out of his home.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

The Devil and Mrs Devil

Despite my protests, we ended up at the supermarket. Whenever Mrs. Devil's birthday rolled around, that's inevitably where I'd find myself. There was just no convincing Lucifer that there were better places to buy a gift.

There are a number of things I’ve never really understood about Satan’s relationship with his wife. The first of which being; why he only ever referred to her as ‘Mrs. Devil’. I found that a bit weird, to be honest. As I’m sure you know, he himself is known by many names, so for her to only have one never quite sat right with me. I had a suspicion that her real names were all really long and complicated, probably unpronounceable using a mortal tongue, but I didn’t ever press the issue for fear that it’d expose another one of Satan’s little hang ups. Namely, that he’d married a lady way above his station. I wasn’t about to inflame his acute sense of class consciousness by enquiring whether she had the otherworldly equivalent of a double barreled name, and I was never alone with her long enough to ask her directly. In any case, what would I gain by knowing her names, anyway? The only likely result would be to open a marital can of worms that had been sitting quietly undisturbed in Chez Diablo for many happy years. No, as a friend I knew that some questions were best left unanswered.

Sometimes however, you really do need to let a friend know when they’re making a mistake. As with every year, I was trying my best to convince Lucifer that a mistake was just what he was making. No matter how big or well stocked a supermarket might be, it is rarely an appropriate place to buy a gift for your significant other. Not the main present, anyway. I mean, sure, you can use it to pad things out with a bottle of wine or some nice chocolates, but you shouldn’t seek to buy the main gift there. Of course, Beelzebub paid me no heed, and was instead eyeing up some oversized trays of vacuum packed beef. This was the crux of the problem – he didn’t appreciate that gift shopping was all about context. While he was perfectly correct in his belief that his wife loved a nice steak dinner, what he didn’t appreciate was that giving her a slab of uncooked, bloody meat for her birthday didn’t exactly scream ‘romance’. Luckily, a comment from me about how much water retailers pumped into meat these days was enough to steer him away from that disastrous path. Instead, we headed for the entertainment section of the store – safer ground by far. Well, so you’d think. Problem was, rather than buying her something she might possibly want, such as season one of The Wire, the new Charlene Spitteri album or a celebrity hardback, Satan’s love of a bargain drew him straight to the discount DVD bin. I stood flabbergasted as I watched him try and convince himself that Mrs. D would love some of the heavily discounted ‘classics’ on offer.

There was nothing for it – yet again, as with every year, I was going to have to buy her something myself, and covertly swap the gifts at an opportune moment. At no small cost to myself, of course. I’d been doing it for years – I couldn’t stand to see him embarrass himself and hurt her feelings. This year though, as we stood at the checkout, the truth hit me – the cheap bastard knew full well what I’d been doing. He deliberately bought her crap gifts, safe in the knowledge my misplaced sense of loyalty would save him both face and cash. Well, not this year, I decided. I’d do nothing to intervene. Part of me even wished I could see the look on Mrs. Devil’s face when she unwrapped a slightly shop soiled copy of Rory McGrath’s Own Goals and Gaffes.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

The Devil and Freestlye Peripheral Destruction Derby

Of all the malicious odours I’ve encountered in hell, the smell of a melting Playstation joypad still ranks as one of the most offensive. I had to admit though; it was fun to watch the little bugger smoking and jerking as it sank into the magma. I was extra pleased with the way I’d managed to get it to spin in the air as it flew towards the lake of fire, and catching the edge of that stalactite had been something of a masterstroke. Of course, I knew without even looking that the judging panel of the damned would rate my effort no higher than a six. But what else could I expect, when my opponent in this Freestyle Peripheral Destruction Derby was none other than the ruler of hell himself?

The logic of the game had occurred to us, as many of the best ideas did, after a few drinks. I can’t remember what game we were playing at the time, but what I do remember was that Satan was losing pretty badly, and grew so frustrated that he threw his joypad at the nearest wall. Nine times out of ten, such a rash action would have yielded little more than some dented plasterwork, but on this occasion we got lucky. With a mighty crack, the joypad literally exploded into its component parts, showering us with a plethora of shiny doohickeys. We both laughed, and shared a moment of realisation – that destroying things in the real world is almost always preferable to destroying things in the virtual world. Plus, the devil generally sucked at video games, but was pretty good at breaking stuff and ruining things, and so only too keen to turn our new discovery into a competitive sport. Thus, Freestyle Peripheral Destruction Derby had been born. The rules were simple – get a shopping trolley full of plastic gaming accessories, find a fixed point to hurl them from, and then get awarded marks depending on how stylish your acts of destruction were. Obviously hell, with its wide variety of natural hazards, leant itself well to the game. As well as the obvious pools of lava and jagged bits of rock, there was always the chance your peripheral would find the jaws of some kind of hellspawn, or perhaps become entangled in whatever fiendish torture device was nearby. The latter was slightly frowned upon by the residents of hell, because if you’re in the middle of torturing some damned soul and you get hit in the face by a Wiimote, it tends to put you off a little. Still, the devil reasoned that if he couldn’t have a little fun at work then what was the point of being the boss in the first place? To reflect this decision, the judging panel had actually started awarding higher marks for hitting torture devices, although of course we’d both stand around looking nonchalant should anyone complain about it. Sometimes the judges would also award bonus points for a particularly convincing ‘who, me?’ expression.