After a moment in darkness, the world around me faded back into being. I stepped out from a familiar stone archway into a large castle hall. Braziers lining the walls lit the room, providing a peculiar ambiance brighter than they seemed capable of. A bit to my left there stood a long line of people on a chained off red carpet.
Behind me, the mass of people led out through a doorway much larger than the one I had entered through. Shadows enveloped the line further back, shrouding it’s existence. In the other direction the mass of people led to several stairs and a raised platform. Atop that, a throne.
I walked in parallel to the red carpeted line, drawing closer to the throne. Before I could reach it I heard the sound of torches going out. Starting at the back of the room, the braziers extinguished themselves one by one. As the shadows enveloped me I laughed to myself and thought, ‘Oh good, a show.’
Above the throne opened two burning eyes and the glint of a smirk that could rival that of the Cheshire Cat. A moment later two braziers in front of the throne burst to life, revealing the identity of this insidious grin.
The man standing on the throne had shoulder-length black hair in tight curls, crammed under a large top hat. He wore a black leather jacket with a white button up shirt and a blood red tie. Finishing off his overly black ensemble was a tattered pair of black jeans.
With arms stretched wide, he shouted to the crowd in a deep voice, “Tremble before me mortals, for I am the one known as the Devil. Your souls are your own no longer, they will forever belong to me. I shall pass judgment upon you for your actions in life. Those who lived justly will be rewarded as such and those who have sinned will face consequence. Take solace in this afterlife you are about to enter, for if you find yourself before me again, I may not be so forgiving.”
Abruptly, his voice shifted to a higher, more lighthearted tone as he added, “…Yup, I think that’s about it. Anything I’m forgetting Axel?” My heart sank as I heard the mention of my name. Suddenly I found myself soloed out in a pillar of light.
“Uh…” I panicked, searching for words.
“I’ll take that as a no then,” the Devil concluded. “Welcome to Hell! Enjoy your stay everyone.” With that he sat back upon his throne and the lighting of the room returned to normal. Mortified, but realizing I shouldn’t feel surprised, I approached the throne before me.
“Really boss? Was that necessary?” I inquired. The man in front of me who referred to himself as none other than the Devil, this was who I reported to. The contract I mentioned earlier? I’m contracted to the Devil. For a reason I don’t remember, a memory that was taken from me, I am bound to do his bidding.
“Come on now,” he replied, “don’t be such a poor sport. Someone has to keep you on your toes after all.” I rolled my eyes at his spiting attitude. “How’d it go?” he asked, changing the subject.
“I got him boss.”
“I know,” he replied, nodding toward the line in front of him. My eyes traced it back, and I sighed with relief knowing that Toni Giuliani was somewhere at the back of it.
“He didn’t put up as much of a fight as I thought he would.” I added. “He must have known I was coming for him.”
“Maybe. Maybe he was tired of running,” the Devil raised his brow at me, “Or maybe he just wasn’t expecting you to come for him after all.”
“I don’t know. The whole thing doesn’t quite feel right,” I shook my head. “Maybe I’m just over-thinking things. I’m gonna go get some rest.”
“You do that. I want you back here bright and early though,” he smiled gleefully. “I’ve got another job for you.”
“You’ve always got another job for me,” I replied, rolling my eyes again. I started toward a doorway at the back of the chamber.
“Good Night,” he chuckled as I left the room.
I navigated my way down the dark stone corridor to a heavy wooden door with torchlight creeping through it’s cracks. Inside was a warmly decorated room.
In one corner sat a lavishly decorated bed, fit for old-fashioned royalty, complete with curtains draped around the edges. Across from the bed stood a large wooden wardrobe and a vanity mirror. The floor was mostly covered by a large red area rug, with only a small border left on all sides exposing the stone floor underneath.
Pictures of exotic scenery decorated the walls, photos of locations across the different realms of the afterlife. Waterfalls, beaches, forest woodlands, vast plains, most were locations I had never seen myself.
This was my room, but I wasn’t the one who decorated it. My boss decorated it while I was away on an early mission. It was his answer to the fact that all I asked for was a bed to sleep in.
As I passed by the mirror, I couldn’t help but notice my disheveled appearance. The dust from the condemned house had found it’s way into my dirty-blonde ‘mop’, and made my hair look convincingly grey.
My tan leather jacket also collected a fair amount of dust and debris on it. As I removed it, I shook it out toward the corner of my room then hung it on a hook near the door.
I quickly got ready and dove onto the bed, anxious for this day to be over.
I awoke several times during the night, dreaming about a life I try not to remember. Tossing and turning through the night, morning eventually came.
‘Morning’ here meant only that the mysterious ambient lighting had returned to my chamber. There were no windows in my room, in fact, there were none at all in this castle. The castle itself only consisted of a few halls and beyond that nothing. That’s the extent of this realm.
The afterlife, ‘Hell’ as my boss calls it, is divided into different realms each with their own characteristics. To put it simply, the concept started out as different ‘levels of Hell’. Maybe you’ve heard of the expression? The level system worked well under previous management, but things were simpler then. And a bit more cruel.
Conditions became a bit more hospitable once my boss took over, or so I’ve been told. Since then, Hell has grown into a home for many different types of people from different times and places. The residents of Hell are separated out to avoid the chaos and mass culture shock that would occur if they were all lumped together. Though my boss still refers to this place as Hell, it is actually the only afterlife, there isn’t a Heaven. He just keeps the name because he finds it intimidates the newcomers.
Lost in my own thoughts, I wandered into the throne room. As I approached the throne, my boss disappointedly uttered the phrase, “You’re late.”
“Aren’t I always?” I asked without hesitation.
Just because you’re always late, doesn’t mean it’s an excuse. I don’t remember putting ‘arriving late is acceptable as long as it’s a regular occurrence’ anywhere in your contract.
“So who’s my target today?” I asked, changing the subject.
“Jonathan Weiss. A man who burned his family to death… twice.” He smiled with amusement at his own statement. “You’ll find all the info in your notebook, as usual.”
I reached down and felt the notebook in my pocket. Somehow, my notes were always waiting for me before a mission.
Glancing over the notes, I reply, “Alright, so just a run-of-the-mill pyromaniac, sounds easy enough. Where can I find him?”
“Suburbia 672,” he answered. “Now get going. I heard he’s held up in a mansion on the west side of Mabel. The police are planning to raid it later today. Get there before them, because you know how that’ll probably end.”
‘It won’t be pretty,’ I thought to myself. “Alright, I’m going,” I replied, heading toward the door.
As I walked through the empty archway, I imagined the streets of Mabel. Concentrating on that image, I felt the throne realm fade away.
Mabel, a small suburban town from the 1990’s. Towns in Hell are usually named after their first resident. It makes for a fun variation of names. Realms on the other hand are a little bland. My boss needs to find some originality, because ‘Suburbia 672′ does not roll off the tongue very well.
As everything faded back in, I found myself on the north end of Mabel, a decent way from where I wanted to be. I started walking toward the west side mansion. As I made the journey across town, I flipped through my notebook to try and familiarize myself with my current foe.
I had been here a time or two before. On the west side of town was a mansion on a hill that didn’t really fit in with the rest of the town. Mostly ranches and small two-story houses, this mansion dwarfed the neighborhood with it’s three stories and about five acres of property.
After a half hour’s walk, I reached my destination. Several police cars sat outside the gate of this monstrous residence, as well as an unmarked black surveillance van. The officers were gathered near the front gate, debating on whether to act.
Two of the officers broke away to block my approach. “I’m sorry, there’s a police investigation on this building. We’re going to have to ask you to leave,” said one of the officers, pulling out a flashy badge.
I reached in my coat pocket and pulled out a badge of my own. “FBI,” I responded. The two of them suddenly straightened out their posture and nodded in acknowledgement. “You can leave this to me,” I continued. “In fact, you’d best get out of entirely, just in case something goes wrong. I’ll take it from here.”
The officers nodded with a “Yes sir,” then returned to inform their companions. Within a minute or two they’d all left except the one surveillance van. I could care less about it as I headed past the gate and up the hill.
It’s amusing to see that the police here believe there’s such a thing as the FBI in the afterlife. Just a remnant of obedience from their former lives I guess.
When I reach the top, I knock on the large door in front of me. As I do, it creaks open eerily, taunting me to step inside. I creep through the unlatched door, then close it firmly behind me.
I found myself in a large living room. A dim chandelier lit the room from high above. To my right was a carpeted area with a couch, two armchairs, and some tables between them. All centered around a fireplace.
On my left was a staircase leading to the second floor and a balcony over the living area. Further left was a long hallway. Finally, at the back of the room was an archway leading to a dining room.
A moment later, a man emerged from the darkened dining area. The man was in his thirties, wearing a grungy tee-shirt and jeans, and carrying two glasses of wine. His features were difficult to discern in the current lighting, but it was highly likely this was the man I was after.
“Come in, come in. Sit down,” the man said, motioning toward the armchairs in the living area, and nearly spilling his wine in the process. “Honestly, I have to say, I was expecting those cops to be my lucky guests this afternoon.”
His words were said with a noticeable pompousness to them. He seemed to be pretending, at least to himself, that he was in fact the owner of this house. “Sorry to disappoint you,” I replied sarcastically.
“Disappoint? Oh, not at all,” he smiled wickedly, “Your reputation precedes you, and the honor here is most certainly mine.” I cast him a questioning glance and he continued, “You are the Devil’s Hitman. I’ve heard stories of you. You appear mysteriously from the shadows and kill those of us who cause the worst ‘problems’ for the people around us. Then you disappear again, just like that. The fact that I could be considered an individual of that caliber is quite the honor indeed.”
“So you’re Jonathan Weiss then?” I asked, unimpressed.
“Of course I am. Who else would be lord of this manor?” he questioned, then added resentfully, “At least until it’s owners return from their month long vacation that is. Not that I plan to leave them much to return to.” He chuckled, amused at his claims. “Now come in and sit down, I don’t want to feel like a rude host.”
“I’m fine where I am.” I replied, short on patience.
“Suit yourself,” he countered, settling into an armchair, then turning it to face me. He set what was presumably ‘my’ glass of wine on a side table and began to sip his.
Still standing by the door, I grew tired of his charade. I pulled out my notebook and took a few steps toward the deranged man. As I approached him, I straightened up my stance and tried my best to put on an intimidating face. Opening my notebook, I began to read its contents.
“Jonathon Weiss, I hear you like to burn people,” I declared to him, “And you know why I’m here.”
“As I said before, your reputation precedes you. You’re here to kill me… for good. To make sure I can never harm anyone again. To reduce me to nothing,” his tone darkened. “Am I about right?”
Clearing my throat and reciting a line I had long since memorized, “The Devil has determined that your soul must be judged once more. When you die here, you will find yourself before him again. His decision represents your fate from here on out.” I began to smirk as I described his future. “You won’t be reduced to nothing. However, if he does find you deserving of the worst fate possible, you’ll be sent to the Pit, a fiery chasm you’d find much more fitting to the name ‘Hell’ than this place.”
“…but we’ll get to that in a minute,” I added, determined to play his annoying game right back at him. “Just for fun, let’s look back at the sins you’ve been accused of.” With a deep breath, I began to read my notebook.
“When you first arrived here, you were charged with the crime of murdering your own family. You burned yourself and them to death one night in a fire you set upon your own home. When they arrived here, they bargained for your afterlife. They claimed you were just sick. That you needed help. And that they’d make sure to find you that help so that you could continue to be a family.”
“My boss, being the generous guy that he is, decided to honor their request, knowing full well that this could happen again.” Ignoring the crazed smirk growing on my target’s face, I continued, “And it did. Although this time your family was a little less interested in your well being.”
“I notice that this time, you decided not to join them. Was burning that one time too much for you?” I taunted him. “Soon however, people started asking questions. Your daughter’s teacher began to ask why she hadn’t been in school. Running out of excuses, you rigged the emergency exits overnight and the next morning you set the school ablaze.”
“Suddenly, you’re the talk of the town. Of course, no one can prove it was you, but deep down they know. People start casting you dirty looks wherever you go. One night you were out drinking at your usual bar when the cold gaze of your fellow patrons stated to wear on you. You tossed a homemade explosive behind the counter and ran for the door. Half of the street witnessed you leaving the scene as the bar lit up. Now, they could prove it was you.”
As I recounted these events, he began to laugh under his breath. Ignoring his sick pleasure, I reached my last few notes, “No one’s been able to track you down for a few days now. You’ve been keeping quiet. An anonymous tip, however, was left with the police department, and sure enough here you are waiting for them…” I trailed off, putting the pieces together in my head.
Figuring out what had been nagging at me for a bit, I looked up at Weiss. On his face was a huge grin. In his hand he had what looked like a remote detonator which he depressed as I glanced up at him.