Eliza massaged her temples and stifled a groan. Someone was practicing their ten-piece drum band inside her skull and there wasn’t even a tempo she could make out. Just a steady throb.
She hated this time of year.
“No,” Eliza groused aloud, “It’s not the time of year. Bureaucracies are always like this, so it must be the nominees.”
She glanced at the watch on her wrist and wondered if she had time to go to her desk to get an aspirin before the next interview. Vacillation was the enemy in this place, so Eliza decided to just go for it. If push came to shove, she could just apologize later. What was that expression, ‘it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission.’
She reached out to grab the handle of the door when it was jerked open and caused her to jump slightly.
“Sorry. Eliza, I wanted to let you know your ten o’clock was waiting.”
Eliza’s shoulders slumped in disappointment. The day was already off to a bad start, and this wasn’t going to help. “Really? He is forty-five minutes early. I have another candidate before I see him.”
Sophia’s wrinkled neck disappeared into her shoulders as she shrugged and quickly glanced back. “He said and I quote, ‘I know I’m early and I will wait.”
“What’s his game? Is he attempting to intimidate the others? There is no way it will affect my next appointment.”
Sophia’s crinkled face lost several of the main lines as she pursued her lips in thought. “Maybe. He is the only one so far that has his own theme music.”
Eliza slapped her palm to her head and shook it slowly. “Heaven, help me.”
“I think you’re a little late for that don’t you,” Sophia said patting Eliza’s shoulder sympathetically. “Do I make him wait? Or show him in?”
She took a deep breath and thought for a moment. Under normal circumstances she would refuse to see him until his appointment time. She was between a rock and a hard place. No, she was in hell, and she needed to remember that.
This was not how she expected to spend eternity when she sold her soul to the devil. Right now, the pitchfork and fire sounded better and better.
She squared her shoulders, tried to push the throbbing back and said, “No, I will do the next interview in my office. You can show him in here. Explain leaving a candidate sitting in the waiting area would hinder other applicants. If he gets testy remind him, I take them in the order I they were selected by their sponsors.”
Sophia turned on her heels to go back to the lobby and Eliza followed her out. “By the way Sophia, we are supposed to get a new recruit this afternoon. Give him light duty. I hear he sold his soul to cure his wife’s cancer.”
The old woman just harrumphed. “Selling your soul is selling your soul; the reason isn’t important and shouldn’t have any effect on your punishment. No one took it easy on me why should he be treated better.”
Eliza forced herself not to smile. She knew Sophia’s story and there was a reason the woman was in hell, and it was for more than just selling her soul. “I know but I think they will relocate him quickly. You know that the whole sacrifice thing tends to be viewed differently. No point in torturing him.”
Eliza almost lost the fight to keep the mirth off her face when Sophia snorted and stomped away.
She waited almost a full minute to make sure she had the humor under control. It wasn’t really that funny, but you got little to smile about here. You took what you could get.
Eliza knew immediately when the candidate was led into the room she had just vacated. The eerie violin music carried down the hall. In her office she pulled open the top drawer and located the bottle she wanted. Worked for what seemed to be several minutes before she could line up the arrows and open the bottle. She shook a pill out into her hand and then added two more just for good measure.
With her hand and the aspirin halfway to her mouth she realized she was humming along with the music.
“What was that?” Sophia asked.
Eliza turned around to look at the woman standing in her doorway.
Sophia looked like old, an outdated version of the woman in the silent movies in the early twenties. Her flapper dress was tattered and dingy. Her greasy hair looked unkempt and would not stay styled. And it didn’t matter how many times she touched up her make-up it always looked like a four-year-old helped her with it.
That was her hell. She was a vain, self-centered creature who sold her soul to be beautiful and the center of her little universe. Now she had to be the assistant to everyone in the new and improved hell and look as ugly as sin doing it.
“Um. Sorry I was just talking to myself.”
Sophia waddled over to the desk and dropped the stack of folders on it with a loud thump. The pile sitting on the desk was so tall she could barely see over them. “I wasn’t listening then.”
“No that’s not what I meant. Ugh, I didn’t know you were there. I was thinking about the candidate with the music. He had me humming along and I didn’t even realize it.”
Sophia made a noncommittal noise and said, “If you think that now…just wait till you meet him. He will have you wanting to make whoopee in seconds.”
“Oh really?” Eliza murmured. She tried to gauge what that meant in non-Sophia language. The woman was practically a female cat in heat and every male was fair game. Another part of her sentence was never being wanted by the men she wanted.
“Even you, ‘Miss I am never touching another man’, won’t be able to keep your hands off him.”
Eliza gawked in disbelief and started sputtering the denials as soon as she could figure out how to get the words out of her mouth. She had been there, done that. Not happening again. “I don’t think so.”
“I think you protest too much. Care to make a wager? Something small like say a hundred years.”
Eliza bit the tip of her tongue between her back molars hoping the pain would keep her from saying the first thing on her mind. Her next thought came out hard and full of spite despite what how gentle she wanted it. “Sophia, really, a hundred years. Do you really think management is going to let you or me get away with that?”
Sophia for all her preening wasn’t a pretty woman and when she got angry her face contorted into this mass of reddish-purple splotches, and corded blue veins, surrounded by grey floppy skin. “Well, aren’t you Miss Holier than thou? I know, ‘you’re a good person. You just made a mistake.’ You actually think you’re better than me. Well at least I didn’t commit murder.”
Without another word Sophia spun on her heal, caused the beaded fringe to fly out and make a small tinkling sound and stomped out the door.
Eliza shook her head and half growled and half groaned. Part of her punishments was to spend eternity working as a bureaucrat with difficult co-workers in this renovated version of hell. And for an artist that was true torture. Bring back the pitchforks and hell fire any day.
Oh, Sophia would get over it. It would take a long time. Maybe a hundred years or so but she would. She needed attention too much. But working with her until then was going to be a trial. Eliza looked down at her watch and found it was twenty minutes into her appointment. Steeling herself for a confrontation she headed in the direction of her assistant.
Sophia met her in the hall and with a haughty look shoved a folder about two inches thick at her. “War rescheduled. He said, ‘He had better things to do than sit down and prattle to a girl for some trophy when all he needed to prove how good he was, were the bodies of the dead.”
“Oh… Kay”, Eliza said surprised. “He does know that this wasn’t my idea, right? Never mind. I don’t care. It’s one less thing… time I must listen to a candidate go on and on about their horrific accomplishments. I guess Mister Theme music gets to go sooner than I imagined.
“I had forgotten about that part of your punishment,” Sophia said a bit more gently. “I might have been a Jezebel, but I wouldn’t want to have to reward them for evil either.”
The fake forced laugh Eliza squeezed out didn’t fool either of them. This new hell that fit the punishment to the crime was worse than anyone on earth could imagine. “Like you said I murdered someone and then sold my soul to get away with it. Causing my lover to commit suicide. My punishment could have been worse.”
She took a deep breath and continued before Sophia could say anything. She didn’t want to start crying again. Crying was weakness and in hell weakness got you eaten alive. “This is his folder?”
Sophia just nodded and then walked away.
Eliza gathered her emotions tight to her and then shoved them down inside as far as they would go. Stiffened her backbone and raised her chin.
She might not feel like she could take another minute, but these creatures would never know it. She was a good person and hell wasn’t going to break her.
Six steps down the hall had her standing outside the room she had earlier vacated. A deep inhale followed by a long exhale, and she stepped through the door.
“Hello. I am Eliza. I will be doing your interview today. And it looks like we can start sooner than scheduled. So, it’s a good thing you’re early.”
The figure standing did not turn around but the music that filled the room only moments ago drifted away one last haunting chord.
She paused several moments waiting to see if he would respond. When he didn’t even bother to turn around or acknowledge her Eliza crossed the floor and sat down at the head of the board table. She opened the folder and started reading ignoring the man behind her.
The silence stretched for several minutes and then without any introduction. “Do you know why I will win this contest? Because without me none of the others could do what they do or be as successful as they are?”
Eliza frowned. She did not follow his logic. Whether it was the constant whispers tickling her ears or the fact that all the other candidates were claiming each other’s successes.
She shook her head as is if to dislodge the voices in her head she said, “I have actually heard that once or twice from others I have interviewed. How are you any different?”
His laugh slid over her like a warm blanket. “Because I plant the seeds that make their work possible.”
“You do think highly of yourself, don’t you? It doesn’t say anything about you being a farmer in your file.”
He turned from whatever image he had been watching on the blank wall and pinned her with a glare. A moment, just barely a twitch of eye and he grinned which slowly spread into a smile. Or at least what Eliza thought was a smile.
This man was hideous. Sophia must truly be getting desperate if this man had her jumping out of her granny panties.
“Alright, why don’t we start with your name and then you can tell me all the reasons you should win,” Eliza said gesturing to the open chair on the other side of the table.
He ran a white gloved finger over the table, looking at it with what could only be classified as distain, before rubbing them together to get rid of the imaginary dirt.
He pulled off his top hat and black silk cape and laid them and the gold lion-headed cane in the chair next to him.
While he was making a production of taking his seat Eliza took the opportunity to study him, for her files of course. If his earlier words hadn’t given away the secret to his oversized opinion of himself his ostentatious costume screamed look at me, look at me, look at me.
He reminded her of those pimps from the early 1970s. His wheat blond hair was sculpted into a high pompadour.
When she looked at his face Eliza had to quickly look down and bite her tongue not to gasp. Once when she was still alive, she saw a burn victim and thought she was the worst thing she could see. The being sitting in front of her had the burn victim beat a hundred-fold. He looked as if he had been drug down a mountain face first.
It didn’t help that when she could bring herself to look him in the face it seemed to shift subtly. “Now that you’re settled let’s get started.”
As if he could tell Eliza was uncomfortable, he wolfishly grinned and leaned in close.
Eliza’s response was to lean away.
“By all means. As you so eloquently put it, I am different because… I am Evil.”
“Is that your name or your title? The submitted application has ‘evil’ listed as your name, your title, your occupation, and job description.”
The man leaned back in the executive’s chair putting his polished black spats on the table and crossing his feet at the ankles. He finger-combs the soul patch of white hair under his lip thoughtfully. “I am. Let me explain. I have many names and many tasks. I am a soldier whose touch is special because I love my work. What can I say but, I am Evil!”
“Oh, so you’re him. I am surprised hell could fit your head much less your ego.” Eliza offered with mock admiration.
The being studied his nails digging the tip of the left thumb under the middle fingers nail for some imaginary dirt before flicking it into the air. His face shifted again as he studied her. “Say what you want. You have one of my seedlings in you as well. Properly nurtured you could be my assistant.”
She could hear the whispers again. Sweet and tempting. The same feeling, she got when she enjoyed a cheat day on her diet. Eliza listened to the temptation of the sweet song for a moment longer and shook her head as if she were trying to get the water out. When she opened her mouth to speak her voice was slightly huskier.
“Of course, I am in hell am I not. People in hell tend to be … evil.”
“Just being evil is easy. Kill a few thousand here or there. Rape and pillage across the world. But being my kind of evil is easier. I start off by being insidious. The white lie you tell, the stealing from the sample jar, the looking the other way while someone else suffers. I am so good at making people think it is their idea that even the Devil has been impressed.”
The stroke of the pen against the paper wasn’t quite enough to drown out the haunting melody that seemed familiar in Eliza’s ears. And yet the tune left her scrunching her nose and drawing her shoulders up around her ears. She wrote one more word before looking back up at the candidate. ‘Insidious.’
Clearing her throat, she asked. “Your point is valid. But War can make the same claim. His acts lead to famine, death, subjection, etc. In fact, I can think of fifteen beings that can use that logic to support their bid for employee of the decade. Greed, Envy, Strife just to name a few.”
Evil pets his soul patch for a couple of minutes as he thinks of an answer. He watches the woman sitting there in the chair next to him. Every human was susceptible to him, or they weren’t human. Some just did better at ignoring the temptation and weakness. They held on to their beliefs like some sort of shield. It was humans like her that made his job even more rewarding when they broke.
He leaned closer and turned up the ‘charm’. “Yes, but I have two things they don’t. I don’t need trophies or recognition. I do my work for free because the pain is all I need. Unlike those others you mention.”
Eliza sighed and looked at her watch. She was in no mood to deal with circular logic. “Then if anguish is all the pay you need. I am assuming that you will be withdrawing your candidacy?”
The cackle was hair-raising to say the least. At least from Eliza’s point of view.
“Oh no. How could I disappoint my sponsor by removing myself from glory. But I have wasted enough time here. While there is one born every minute there as still so many to make sad and have unfortunate ‘accidents’.”
This time the sigh that left Eliza’s lips was one of relief not disappointment. “Very well. I will type up my notes and forward them on to the comity for review. Is there anything else you would like to add in closing.”
Evil pushed back his chair and came to his feet smoothly. He picked up his cloak and brandishing it he swung it around with a flourish and tied it around his neck. He picked up the top hat and the walking cane. Leaning on the golden lion’s head he peered at the woman sitting there in the chair. Searching for something.
“You know, this job doesn’t suit you. You can come to work for me. Together you and I can do remarkable things. Think about it. You could be the fear that keeps people awake. That quiver just before they do the wrong thing. You don’t know how addicting it can become to watch people become the monsters they deny so hard. I could use the company.”
There was that music again. It was eerily sweet and tempting. And the voices in her ear telling her it was her turn to not to be stepped on. She didn’t deserve the punishment for the mistake she made.
Eliza shook her head a moment to dislodge the voice. Her smile was thin and pained when she declined his offer. Her voice was firm as if she had no problem telling him no.
But he was no fool. He would wait. He played the long game preferring the indirect route. And repeated attacks. He would wear down her shielding and be the winner eventually. Because when he told her he was lonely he was looking for her to sympathize. It was easier to get them when they could justify themselves.
He bowed and sauntered out of the room. He would be back and next time she would be a little more ready to listen. And her tears as she realized he had broken her would be all the recognition he would ever need.
I wrote this listening to the song by Aurelio Voltaire by the same name. And of course, Sympathy for the Devil by the Rolling Stones.
When I wrote the piece it was not intended to be a commentary or a piece that had any real substance. It’s one of the things I hated about English classes… “What message was the author trying to give.” I have two thoughts on that. I have another post on but will touch on here. What message you see reflects on you, the reader, more than the author. And second, for there to be a message that people can find makes the writer one step closer to the masters of old.