Demon Joe had a pretty good job in Hell. He worked a Sloth Pit, and he didn’t have to check in with a superior every day like so many of his peers. Nearly everyone in Hell was a tyrannical martinet, so you considered yourself very lucky if your boss stayed off your ass and simply let you do your job.
Demon Joe had been born and raised near the Sloth Pits, so when it came time to start spreading his rage and pain around, he decided to stick close to home and to hate and torture the ones he knew best: the people who had done nothing in life and liked it.
Working a Sloth Pit wasn’t easy, mind you: the fires of Hell always had to be tended lest they slacken. From above, where Demon Joe watched everything and kept the machine working smoothly, his Sloth Pit looked like a tremendous labyrinth built in the form of a happy, dreaming man. The body of the man was outlined by walls a hundred feet tall, and the dreaming man’s form and features were divided into cells like skin, each one a different hellish tableau with a passage that led to another.
Each of the rooms in the Sloth Pit burst into searing, soul-flaying flame at regular intervals, and those who had been tossed inside for the duration of existence had to scuttle from room to room, constantly evading the lick of Hell’s flame, fearing both agony and rest, not knowing that if they were consumed they would only be reborn in a different part of the maze.
It was funny to watch.
If you were one of the many millions of decrepit wastrels assigned to serve your eternal time under Demon Joe’s charred and bacon-fat-mottled wing, you probably had a different opinion, but Demon Joe watched those sinners scamper, and he just had to laugh, even as he broke his back making sure they suffered hard enough, and longed for the day he could take a vacation. The stink of the burning Sloth Pit often made Demon Joe’s wrinkled black heart trickle thickly with a rot called joy, but he also frequently wondered: was this all there was?
It was Fall. The fires of Hell burned hottest in the Fall, when the first chill hit Earth’s air. The best parties were all in the Fall in Hell.
At the ceremonial Hell in Fall Invitational Dance and Pot Luck (this year’s theme: “Baseball Heroes.” Demon Joe had brought a spicy migas), Lord Mammon himself had taken Joe aside and said he had big plans for him, BIG plans, and then he had laughed manically, squashing four lesser demons into red, clayish paste in his sharp, gauntlet-skinned claws, and let Demon Joe lick their squashed innards from his outstretched palm as if he were Lord Mammon’s very good dog.
Big plans! Oh boy!
But then, on the first day of October, something horrible happened.
It started as just another normal day. People were running to and fro, trying to bargain, trying to repent, attempting to plead their case to an absent deity in their new malevolent, eternal world.
Demon Joe was eating from a tremendous bag filled with popcorn and pork rinds, and watching his charges scurry, pulling souls out of the mix when parts of the Pit became too cluttered, and making sure there was an even distribution of pain, and that no one had found a loop or system that was easier than any other loop or system in the maze.
Just another day. Until it wasn’t.
One moment Demon Joe was pulling a popcorn kernel from his teeth and everything was groovy. And then the next moment there was a puff of smoke, and a cheer of happiness from inside the Pit, as billions of souls rejoiced and laughed. His Sloth Pit had shut down, as of its own accord!
The freed souls were filled with a bright, blinding light of purest azure, and they ceased running, ceased doing anything at all. Dazed souls stared up at Demon Joe and grinned lazily, still tense, but so glad for the reprieve that their hearts were filled with a sudden and terrifying love for their demon captor.
Little Gwen, a soul that had been a laudanum addicted flower girl in London during her time on Earth and had been partial to sticky, discarded oranges and hearing long stories read aloud in the back of pubs, called out to Demon Joe from where she sat on a now ice-cold grate that had previously been spewing fire.
“Thanks ever so much,” said Little Gwen. “I was just about to lose my noggin -- I was -- if I had to run me ol’ bones around that loop again.”
“Fraulein, you haff said the truth and the purity of it,” said Mr. Haffenschneller, a long-dead Austrian pinball repairman, who had spread the myth that pinball machines were complicated, so that he could take weeks to repair a single machine, and spend the whole time playing them, mastering them, and getting an unbeatable high score. “My legs are so tired, and my belly is so very emptink.”
“Does anybody round ‘ere feel like a sprat of sausage, and maybe a mash-up of mags and swazzles?” asked Little Gwen. “As long as we are having ourselves a bit of a sit, I wouldn’t mind making a right morning of it.”
“I would luff to be havink a bit of hunchen and waffles,” said Mr. Haffenschneller.
“I don’t know about the rest of ye,” said Old Man Nobody Pete, who had retired at age 40, taking advantage of a series of scars he had received across his face, as a result of falling asleep at the wheel, to lie about his age to the government. “But I could sure as hell use me’self a nap, afore I do anything sich as eat me a pie, or have me an egg. I been runnin’ so long, I can’t feel my backside, or my front.”
“Stop that, all of you!” said Demon Joe. “I don’t know what’s wrong, but you’d better start running again, or I’m going to be in serious trouble.”
“Oh, there’s no reason to run and cavort and act the ripe old fool,” said Old Man Nobody Pete. “Why, we kin have ourselves a high old time for a bit, with a bit of a rest and some high quality settin’ for a spell.”
Little Gwen had been scavenging for fresh ingredients in one of the cells that looked like a kitchen in a serial killer’s house, and she found a whole trove of fresh cheese, eggs, mushrooms, and meat. The meat was possibly human, but it was certainly not spoiled.
“Right old omelets!” said Little Gwen. “I’m gonna make some right old omelets, and we’ll have a splash of tea!”
“Let’s talk about art!” shouted someone from a far part of the maze. Several souls agreed, and shuffled over to find him and plunk down their opinions about modernism versus post.
“Let’s make fast, half-assed love, and then lay around in each others arms and tell each other our life stories!” shouted someone else. You wouldn’t believe how many people leapt up to try this out. Soon the Sloth Pits were rocking back and forth with dissipated, dilatory copulation, and Demon Joe nearly tore his own arms off with frustration.
“How long it has been since I have sat down and contemplated the heavens,” said the soul of Rene Descartes. “A new math problem presents itself like clear water to my feverish mind, and I am content to let it wash.”
He sat down on a stack of human skulls and began to ponder.
Furious, Demon Joe checked the infurnaces and made sure all of the fuel-injection lines were connected. There was not a single belt missing. There was enough fuel for weeks worth of fire, and a cautious inspection of other parts of Hell revealed that everything else was going along smoothly. Only his part of Hell had blinked out – like the one hateful bulb that refused to glow on a string of Christmas lights.
“Should I tell someone?” said Demon Joe. “Oh, but then I would be in trouble! They always blame the demon, never the damned. The damned are already damned, goes the saying. Mammon will annihilate me if I tell him. I’d better just lay low, and pretend nothing is going wrong.”
“These omelets are right ready!” shouted Little Gwen, handing them around to hungry souls and making sure there was plenty of pepper and hot sauce. “And now who wants to tell me a bit of a tale?”
“I will tell you a story,” said the soul of a man named Hemingway. “It is about one true thing. It used to take me days to think of one true thing.”
“It used to take me upvards of von week to make the extra ball light come available to me,” said Mr. Haffenshneller. “I vod focus, and sleep, and eat, and I vould try so hard, but not too hard. You must have plenty of time for doink nothing, and drinking whiskies.”
“Yes,” said Hemingway. “That’s exactly it. That’s it exactly.”
Demon Joe watched them sadly. He tried to make a soul run from one room to another by flicking him very hard with his demon index finger, but his heart just wasn’t it.
Souls began singing songs and using the walls of Hell to compose pointless sexual limericks. Stuffed with eggs and cheese, many souls simply kicked back lazily and hummed to themselves – content, lazy, and reflective.
“Oh no!” said Demon Joe. “Here comes Demon Sue.”
It was indeed Demon Sue, a demon who was responsible for a Lust Pit across the
“Hello Demon Joe,” said Demon Sue. “How is every little thing?”
Demon Joe tried to stand between Demon Sue and his dysfunctional depths of despair.
“Things are great, Demon Sue,” said Demon Joe.
“There was a war crimes tribunal in
“I’d love to do that,” said Demon Joe. “But I’ve got to work.”
“I’m sure your Sloth Pit can take care of itself for awhile. Sometimes it’s nice to take a day off.”
Demon Joe thought about it. He thought about it real hard.
“You know, you’re right,” said Demon Joe. “Let’s go see those rapists and murderers together. And then we can hold hands.”
Demon Joe went away with Demon Sue, and his Sloth Pit continued to slack long into the night.
“Novels!” shouted Old Man Nobody Roberts. “I’ve found a whole damned crate of damned novels!”
He handed them round and everybody began to read, curled up lazily against one another and purring like cats.
Demon Joe came home much later, relaxed and happy and smiling like the Devil himself.
“Would you like an omelet, Demon Joe?” asked Little Gwen. “I scarpered you up a corker, if’n you are interested.”
A tear crept into Demon Joe’s happy eye and he reached down to pinch the little omelet between his claws.
“Thank you,” said Demon Joe. “Thank you so much.”
The next day, the fires came on as usual bright and early in the morning and people still ran and howled and retched. But all that year, the fires of Demon Joe’s Sloth Pit didn’t seem so hot. No, not nearly as hot as they used to be.
HAPPY NATIONAL DAY OF MORNING 2007!