The Nature of RedemptionSubmitted by DaBeast at 2016-02-27 14:37:06 EST
Rating: 2.0 on 12 ratings (14 reviews) (Review this item) (V)
“He's coming around,” her voice as clinically detached as her expression. Deadpan in red. She did not tarry long and exited silently less than a moment later. Would that I could accompany you, my Lil. Alas...
I shook my head a little, smiled, and focused on the hazy occupant of the dark leather couch on the far side of the room. The fire flickered, our only source of light, a warmth that appeared to fondle the spines of the books and splay wantonly across the carpet.
The haziness took on a more solid appearance, the lines sharpened and came into focus. He put a hand to his head and groaned, softly. A moment later, he muttered, “What the hell...?” and began to look around the room.
I kept the smile from my side of the cherry wood desk. “Shalom, Mister Trump. My felicitations on your demise.”
“My...” his jowls drooped a little and the corners of his mouth disappeared into the still smoky outline of his cheeks, “my what?” The lines deepened a little further into substance and the piggy little eyes grew sharper. “What is this? Who the hell are you?”
“Bravo, Mister Trump! Right in one,” I stood, shrugged the jacket straight, and moved to the side of the desk. My grin cut into my cheeks in a painfully pleasurable fashion and I knew there was more than a little fox in it. “The Hell, I am. Lucifer, Satan, Old Scratch: pick your poison, it's the same one despite the label.” I winked at him. “Let's be informal. You can call me Luke.”
He struggled against this. Freshly dead, he still hadn't gotten a handle on his form, so his head bulged in odd ways while his mind sorted and groped after memory. Of particular note, his hands and his lower torso kept growing to grotesque proportions and shrinking again. It was like watching jello-o in desperate need of a mold.
I decided to put an end to it when I realized it was going to make my breakfast void. “Your memories are going to be a bit jumbled for a bit. You were on your plane, Mister Trump. Recall? You'd had your drink and your dinner, you were looking forward to fondling your stewardess/mistress/next wife when the plane suddenly...?”
His outline finally solidified, became distinct and clear. Anger did what nothing else could and this man had a bottomless well of it to call upon. “That fucking pilot! He came over the speaker and said...” his voice trailed off and his head bulged grotesquely as memory came to him and he fought to rearrange it to his liking before it hardened into cement. His reality rewrote the code, tied the memories into knots, and then branded it to make it stick.
I lifted a hand and stopped him. “No, Mister Trump. You'll not do that any longer. Let me refresh that memory which you have mangled. The pilot had an epiphany, Mister Trump. He put two and two together and, for once, they made five. So, he sabotaged the controls and pointed the plane into the Atlantic Ocean but not before he picked up the mic. He told you why, Mister Trump.”
His face almost dissolved as he wrestled with it.
I smiled again. “Well, that is in the past, Mister Trump, and we'll not dwell on it. We have, as they say, bigger fish to fry. Please, follow me.” I walked to the door, opened it, and stood to one side.
He stood from the couch and looked down. “Why am I all misty and stuff? What is this? I look like fucking Casper!”
“That's why we're going to Wardrobe first, Mister Trump.” I gestured toward the door. “If you please? We're going to be late.”
He frowned harder. “Wardrobe?”
“We run a first class production in Hell, Mister Trump.” I frowned right back. “We have an appointment with Wardrobe and Matilda does not like to be kept waiting.”
“I'm Donald Trump! Let her wait!”
I narrowed my eyes. “Very well.” I looked past him. “Beelze? The parcel, if you please.”
Beelzebub stepped out of the shadows at the rear of the room. Six feet, five inches of whipcord body sporting a black cowboy hat and black construction boots with steel toes and spurs. Once we got to the Wild Western era, Beelzebub fell in love and he hasn't let it go since. He took two steps forward, picked up the misty apparition, and tucked it into one sweat-stained armpit. “Where to, Boss?” he sounded like Paul Newman after a pack of smokes and a litre of vodka. The blue eyes just strengthened the impression.
Trump squealed and wriggled but he couldn't free himself.
He whistled. “Matilda's gonna be pissed. Um... it okay if I just deposit and split?” It was well known that he and Matilda didn't get along. She kept trying to steal his cowboy hat; he kept trying to get her to reintroduce the corset and bustle combo to the feminine set. Never the twain...
I nodded. “That's fine. I've got another appointment and I'll go fetch him, after.”
“Can do, Boss.” He strode toward the door.
I sent a grin after him. “Thanks, Beelze.”
He tipped his hat and vanished through the door.
I went back to the desk, reached down, and flipped through the calendar. After a few moments, a knock sounded at the still open door.
“Come in,” I looked up and smiled, “and good morning, Wilkes. Is Edwin coming?”
Lean and youthful and bathed in own perpetual spotlight, John Wilkes Booth was as flamboyant in death as ever he was on stage. He did not enter the room so much as claim it, his walk purposeful, his footfalls firm, his pose grand and eloquent as he came to a halt in front of the couch. He sniffed, disdainful, and tilted his head upwards, “I am not my brother's keeper.”
A slightly older man, built sturdy in the chest and long in the leg, walked into the room. Suddenly, Wilksey did not exist. Somehow, with his mere presence, he obliterated thought of the flamboyant other. He did not pretend to own the stage, he took it as granted and given, a thing held by right. “A good thing, that,” his voice deeper and more resonant, propelled from the diaphragm so that it reached the far corners clearly, “or I'd be as mad as he is. Morning, Prince.”
I felt my smile slide into grin. “Edwin. Now, you both know your roles in this? Not the stage for you, this time. You both lead the production. Are you prepared?”
As different to one another as night to day, the Booth boys shared only one physical trait. Their eyes danced with the same glee, darkling orbs with a hint of the devil inside them.
We discussed our next few steps and cleared away a few trivial concerns and were finishing our goodbyes when the clock on the mantel struck the hour. I grinned. “Matilda's had him about half an hour; if we are prepared, I can fetch him now...”
“Nay, Prince,” Edwin's lips formed a little moue, “She's to dress our rehearsals next week and I'd hate to think of her vengeance. Have pity on the woman.”
“A fair point,” I nodded. “Curtain in ten, gentlemen. Places, if you please.”
They took their adieus. I took a quiet moment in the firelight for myself. Things were about to get ugly.
I walked through the door and out into the hallway. A quick twist to the fabric of Hell, and I reached out and grabbed the knob on the opposite door, opened it and strode into Matilda's Wardrobe and Sex Shop located in fashionable downtown near all the best boutiques.
The place was in chaos. Racks of clothing lie toppled, dildos littered the floor, and it looked like the thong display had exploded but one lone, red, sparkly number had traveled upwards, was snagged by a ceiling fan and fluttered, flag-like, from one of the blades. Somewhere, to the rear of the store, there came a shout and a crash and then a string of cursing that would blister the paint off of a house. I heard a screech and then a strange, mechanical cough.
Quickly, I stopped time. I knew that cough. That was Rusty, Matilda's means of guarding her precious store, a snaggle-toothed chainsaw monstrosity.
I found them in the changing room area. Trump was levitating about three feet off the floor, face distorted to allow his mouth maximum hinge while he expelled a gale-force bellow of rage. Matilda had one shoulder to the wind, chainsaw in one hand, ripcord in the other. Her crocheted sweater flapped around her knees and her purple mu-mu was plastered against one side, billowing like a flag on the other.
When I touched Matilda, she swung away from me and lifted the chainsaw toward the ceiling. I grabbed her arm. “Matilda, I love you but, really, you've watched 'Evil Dead' one too many times. We're going to have to do an intervention if you can't get a handle on it.”
She didn't jump, which meant she'd expected me, but she did turn her head and glare at me. “Ya limited me wardrobe options and then ye left me to deal with this demon! A pox on ye, Prince! A pox, I say! Devil spawn are better behaved and saner!”
“I'm sorry, Matilda.” I meant it. “We can only work within the confines we are given and those boundaries are drawn by the souls that are sent to us.” My smile was rueful. “It's in the rules.”
She spat at my feet. “Damn yer rules.”
“They're not mine, Matilda.”
She blushed, looked away, and nodded once. “Alright, then but the limit here! Two choices? Really, now?” She glared at me. “Why only two?”
“Would you believe that we're on a budget?” I sighed and shook my head. “That's part of it, actually. It has to be this way. It hammers home a certain point.”
She sniffed. “Well, it's not mine to question.”
I grinned. Personally, I enjoy her questions; she keeps me honest. You find it funny, the Father of Lies would say such? And I say, the Father of Lies should be the one soul that respects the Truth above all else. Treasure that rarest of things for it is magnificent in all its cold ugliness. “You've earned a break, Matilda. Why not take yourself and the chainsaw to the back for a nice cuppa and some ginger biscuits while I take charge of our guest?” I eyed Trump with distaste. “It is only going to get worse from here on out.”
“It has been a trying morning, Prince.” She sighed and tutted for a moment. A thin whistle began to sigh from the room behind the dressing area and she turned a longing glance in the direction of the nearest egress. “Well, if you're certain...”
I assured her of my sincerity and saw her and the snaggle-toothed monster off. Briefly, I danced with the idea of loosing the old woman on the windbag. Perhaps, at a later date...? I made a mental note and filed it away. In the right situation, it would have merit.
A quick call to the set had the decorator arrive in less than a heartbeat and the store was righted in a whirlwind of frenzied set dressers and screaming invective. I left Trump hanging in midair the while; at least, he was out of the way.
As the finishing touches were applied, two figures walked into the store.
One was a wizened man of declining years. Round wire spectacles sparked silver in the light that bathed his long face, grooved by time and wear into a permanent expression of sorrow. His eyes glittered with intelligence and he was dressed in a simple woolen suit, charcoal gray, a dark vest and startling white shirt beneath. Spare and austere, face already on the darken after a morning shave, with a posture that suggested a steel rod where a spine ought to have been. He said nothing as he acknowledged my presence with a nod.
The other was a tall man with overly large hands, thumbs tucked into the dark leather belt around his waist. He sported a white linen suit and white straw hat, with a black string tie at his throat. His skin was leathered by the sun and wrinkled by the hourglass, his eyes like black holes that drilled through whatever they stared upon. His boots were black and stained with red clay. He nodded in my direction and also disdained words.
Somewhere, a distant voice shouted, “Places! We're on in three!”
A thin girl, young and looking harassed, with her blonde hair partially stuffed into a ponytail, ran in and promptly dropped a clipboard filled with notes on the floor at my feet. She squeaked an apology and turned to grab Trump and pull him out of the air. She moved him to a red “X” that had been taped on the floor, changed his posture and straightened his clothing, and took a step back to study the results. A few adjustments later, she was satisfied and she turned, grabbed the clipboard and its contents, and uttered another hasty apology as she made a hasty exit.
I waited out the countdown and brought time back into sync.
Trump stumbled, looked confused for a second, and then turned in my direction. “What's going on?” he demanded.
“Redemption, Mister Trump,” I smiled at him in a reassuring fashion, “via education. Despite how you may have seen me portrayed in the popular media, I do not believe that Hell should exist solely as a means of punishment but as a means of salvation. Repent, sinner and all that. Stop me if you've heard this before: eternal torment exists only for the non-repentant, the one that can not learn the error of their ways. Salvation exists, Mister Trump, and Heaven awaits.”
He blinked. It took him a moment to digest. Then, “How much?”
“You...” my turn to marvel and I couldn't help but laugh,”...want to buy your way out of Hell?”
“Yeah,” he insisted, “how much?”
I shook my head, smiled. “If it were so easy. Money doesn't spend in Hell, Mister Trump.”
He had no response for this.
“No matter.” I clapped my hands together.
At the prearranged signal, two interns entered the room, one from either side, each pushing a trolley cart burdened with a rectangular object hidden beneath folds of red cloth. The trolleys strained under the weight and the wheels squealed as they rolled forward and came to a stop on either side of Trump. The interns applied the brakes and hurried off.
The silent gentlemen that had entered earlier moved separately until one stood to the side of each cart. They both reached up and gathered a handful of material but stopped short of pulling on it.
“Mister Trump, a question: how does one reach Enlightenment?”
He remained silent, eyeballing the gentlemen and the trolley contents with suspicion, paranoia written in his expression. “What is this?”
“Enlightenment can not be achieved without Understanding, Mister Trump,” I smiled and stepped closer to force him to focus on me, “it's a basic tenet of philosophical thought. To be Enlightened, one must not only see all sides in a given situation but must also Understand them from the witness' point of view. We in Hell,” I glanced at the gentlemen and then back to Trump, “believe that Enlightenment leads to Redemption and thereby, to Salvation. Salvation leads to Heaven. Ergo, a reprieve from Hell and a first class ticket to the Pearly Gates. In our pursuit of that hypothesis, we are conducting an experiment and you have been chosen to participate. You are a lucky man, Mister Trump.”
He looked at the gentlemen and back to me. “Always have been,” he muttered and reached up to stroke his tie. “always will be.” He moved his feet farther apart, puffed himself up, scrabbling for his bearings and desperate not to show it. “What's the experiment?”
“A simple one, really, Mister Trump,” I am not certain that I kept the wolf out of my smile but I know I attempted it, “you only need to choose your Role and the experiment can begin.”
Trump gave each one of the trolleys a hard stare. “Blind choice?”
“That wouldn't be fair, Mister Trump,” I looked at him and grinned, “and even in Hell, we value fairness. First, let me introduce you to your directors.” I lifted my right hand. “John Wilkes Booth
Wilksey stepped out, spotlight on full with a red lens, so he appeared a dark figure bathed in hellfire, eyes aglow with both condemnation and glee. “Prince,” he spoke softly, with a definitive hiss.
I lifted my left hand. “Edwin Booth.”
Edwin moved into the light and bowed his head, a perfunctory greeting, “Prince.” His leaden tone balanced that of his brother and added something darker to the air.
Trump harrumphed, shuffled in place, and opened his mouth.
I cut him off. “Let's flip a coin to see who goes first!” I held up a large silver dollar, flipped it over my knuckles and watched Trump's eyes follow it. I thumbed it into my palm, placed index on the other side, and presented it with a flourish. “Call it in the air,” I instructed as I adjusted my grip and flipped it into motion.
Wilksey hissed, “Heads!” and I reached out, snatched the coin and slapped it onto my wrist. I looked. “Tails.” I nodded to Edwin. “At your leisure, Mister Booth.”
For a moment, Edwin remained still. Then he clasped his hands behind his back and began a stately progress forward. “Everything that is born with a mind is also born with a Soul, Mister Trump. That Soul is formless, without shape or substance, there at the beginning.” His steps were measured so that he hadn't actually traversed that much ground despite a constant forward motion. He gave the impression that his tread was as heavy as his thoughts. “It is the experiences and environment of the host body that hammer it into a distinct shape. While different bodies can go through the same activity, the Souls inside are impacted in different fashion. Do you follow?”
Trump chewed on it for a moment and then he nodded. “Simple enough,” he muttered with a little brag in his tone.
“Those things that shape the Soul are those things that impact the mind,” Edwin came to a halt beside the spectacled oldster but kept his gaze on Trump, “the traumatic things. Love, hatred, fear, lust, envy, etcetera. You were ignored as a child, Mister Trump, hence your overbearing loudness, as a for instance.” Edwin's expression was pitiless and direct.
Trump took a step back and his cheeks reddened. “What's that supposed to mean?”
“It means,” Edwin hesitated and then nodded, once, “that what hammered your Soul into its current shape is also what will lead to your eventual Redemption. The Prince has won me around to his argument and I find the idea appealingly attractive – a 'Get Out of Hell' card that isn't free but must be earned. It appeals to my inner ascetic.” For the first time, he smiled and it was a blinding flash of controlled madness.
“And, so,” he continued, “I present to you Option One.” He nodded to the old man and the old man responded by jerking on the fabric in his hand until it slithered to the floor.
Thus revealed, a clear block of seeming ice or glass and trapped inside, a little girl with cinnamon skin, long black hair, and eyes large and green like a jungle cat. The expression on her face was a precursor to fear, as if she smelled it but it hadn't yet come into sight. She wore a dirty little jumper and cheap sandals dangled from her feet. The sorrowed grooves of the old man's face softened and he put a hand up to stroke the block that contained the child.
Trump's face was a study in incomprehension. He looked at me. “What the hell is this?”
I nodded at Edwin. “Allow him to finish, Mister Trump.”
“Our gentleman friend here has many names,” he indicated the old man, “but most know him as Doctor Josef. The good doctor emigrated to South America in 1940. His experiments were deemed intriguing by certain people in power but, also, too messy to continue on their home soil. Some land was purchased and construction went rapidly and soon, Doctor Josef found himself in possession of a very fine country home with a fully functional and stocked laboratory just underfoot.”
Edwin studied the old man that was still stroking the glassine cube. “The house soon deteriorated into complete disarray because the good doctor would get lost in his... work.” Edwin shook his head, looked away at the floor and grimaced, “This went on for some time until, by chance, Doctor Josef saw the child during a trip into the nearest town for supplies. The idea came to him that an adult could not be trusted because they were set in their ways, concrete in their ideas... but children were malleable and open to coercion.” Edwin closed his eyes, shook his head, then stood upright again with blankness on his features. “A little haggling and he added the child to the purchases he made that day. You see her as she was on that day, in the moment prior to Doctor Josef taking possession.” Edwin stopped again and looked at the child in silence.
I knew what he was doing because I was doing it, too: memorizing her at that last perfect moment of innocence. Soon, it would be gone forever.
“Your role,” Edwin paused and looked at Trump, “if you choose to accept it, is to replace her Soul with your own.”
When Edwin stopped there, I looked at him in surprise.
Lips tightened, Edwin waited a beat longer. “At such time, you get to live her life, Mister Trump. You, effectively, become her.” Again, he stopped short of the usual speech.
I looked at Trump and frowned at what wasn't being asked.
“What is she, like, a Mexican or some such?” Trump's glare of distaste was as subtle as a slap and twice as insulting.
The gleam in Edwin's eye took on a murderous tinge. “She is of the Zapotec and a proud heritage, named Lucia, beloved of the river, in honor of their goddess but times are difficult,” Edwin looks again at the child, “and her mother lost more than her faith. So, she sold one child in order to continue caring for the others and someday, the guilt itself will stop her heart.” He paused a moment. Then, “Lucia knows, of course. Selfless, she volunteered herself to save her brothers and sisters.”
He stopped again before he should.
Damnit. “Real life doesn't order itself so neatly and Lucia ended up surviving them all,” I interjected with a glare for Edwin and a harsher glare at Trump, “because there are some benefits to working for a doctor, even if he is insane.”
Edwin snorted and we stare dueled for a solid minute.
Trump broke the spell with a negligent wave of his hand, “Nah. I ain't gonna be no Mexican. I'll take the other one.”
Edwin tried to say something, failed, and I realized he was literally choking on rage.
I walked over and slapped him on the back, hard. He rocked forward, took a step, came upright, and shot me a look of unabashed hatred. I reached out and took a firm hold on his shoulder, locked eyes with him, and raised the vocal volume, “Sight unseen, Mister Trump? Are you certain that's wise?” Edwin quivered until I shook my head and mouthed 'no'.
“Oh, yeah,” Trump turned his back on the old doctor and the child, “ain't nothing worse than a wetback, amiright?”
Edwin's eyes got wider and he went completely still.
“So, you will accept the second role,” I released Edwin and spun to advance on Trump, “no matter what it might be?”
Trump hesitated, looked back at the child, then at me and nodded. “Yeah, I mean, no way is that happening.”
“Then, Wilksey, the stage is yours,” I lifted my right arm and pointed at the other trolley, “please set the scene.”
John Wilkes Booth moved out of the shadows and came to a halt beside the man in the white suit and string tie. The fabric was ripped out of the man's hands and away on a sudden gust of fierce hot wind. Thus revealed, another little girl with skin like chocolate and eyes as golden as a lion's. She was completely bald and sported a shapeless gray dress with knotty wooden sandals on her feet. He face was worn and tired with fear, her mouth bruised, her face round.
Wilksey took on a conversational tone that made what he uttered somehow more terrifying, “Maria arrived in Port Royal, Jamaica on an African slavers' ship called the Henrietta Marie in the year of our Lord, 1698. Among the host of ailments to visit the people trapped in the holds of that ship was an infestation of lice so all of the survivors were shorn to the skin preparatory to sale.”
Trump looked as if he'd been slapped with a fish.
“Our gentleman friend here,” Wilksey indicated the man in the white suit, “is one Ezekiel Sampson Booker. Mister Booker owned a smallish plantation and was only in need of a few hands, no females... until he caught sight of Maria. Not her real name, by the way, but the name he bestowed upon her when his purchase was complete.” Wilksey paused for the expected question which, again, did not manifest.
“What the fuck is this shit?” Trump turned toward me, face on a fast shade from purple to apoplexy, middle finger pointing at the child. “This ain't a choice!”
Wilksey took a step but I waved a hand and he stopped.
I canted my head to one side and studied Trump with dispassion. “This is Hell, Mister Trump. This is where you do your Penance and seek Redemption. Did you think it an easy thing?”
I tsk'ed and smiled. “Your Soul was shaped by many things, Mister Trump. As a child, you were ignored when you weren't being mentally or sexually abused. As a young adult, you were handed a roll of bills, a bribe disguised as a dowry, and shown to the door. You are twisted, Mister Trump, in such a way that it rewired your brain. Trauma enough to drive anyone mad and more than ample to scarring your Soul. Your mistakes have brought you to me and, unfortunately for you, I am not like God. I don't believe in leaving well enough alone. I think there lies within you and every other Soul out there, the ability to Learn and Repent and find the Light. You can be Saved, Mister Trump, but not until you can Repent.”
“And you can not Repent,” I stepped and took his misty upper arm in my hand, “until you can Understand. Understanding comes from Knowledge. So, with your choice made, you will now Know what it is to grow up a poor, black slave in the 18th century. The Emancipation Proclamation is still almost a century away. No hope, no help in the way back then. It's you at the mercy of an unforgiving slave driver.” I leaned over and whispered at his shoulder, “It will please you no end to note, Mister Trump, that Maria grows up to be an absolutely beautiful woman.”
I stepped away. “By the Power invested in me by the Almighty, Our Lord God, I do hereby sentence Donald Trump to the Life of Maria, Case File # 3,472,536B until expiration of host body. Upon expiration, examination of Soul to commence. Further action to be decided at that time.” Somewhere nearby, someone unseen hit a gong and the sound of it reverberated gently through the walls and floor.
With a slash of my hand, the Sentence was carried out and I was back in my Office.
I sighed and sat down behind the desk.
“That is a wussy punishment,” spoke a graveled voice from the couch.
I looked up and tossed a tired smile. “Says you. He hates anything that doesn't have a penis, so we gave him a vagina. He hates anything darker than standard printer paper, so we eliminated the standard printer paper option. He's always had money, so money went out the window. He's always paraded himself as powerful, so that limited our options to the weak.” I closed my eyes and shook my head.
Maria and Lucia had been in Hell for a long time. Simple and still innocent and damaged enough to believe they had earned it. Souls that made me ache for the scars they bore, still glorious despite all the attempts to twist and maim them. “Maria and Lucia have deserved better for a long time now. I was happy for the excuse to Exalt them.”
I grimaced. “But he never even asked what would happen to their Souls. It literally never even occurred to him. Hells, if Edwin and Wilksey hadn't named them, he wouldn't know even that much of them. All he cared about...” I growled and lapsed into silence.
“It's still a pussy punishment.” He sniffed and started setting up the chess board.
I glared and sat back. “Tell me that in 10,000 years. If he hasn't learned by then, well I'll let you have him.”
He finished the set up and spun the board. When the board stopped, White lay before him. He picked up a pawn. “That's not a lot of time to plan something fittingly appropriate.”
“Then don't waste any of it.”
He looked at the board, then at me, then back to the board.
Exasperated, I waved my hand. A brown bottle of beer appeared for each one of us with a small bowl of peanuts to one side.
I grabbed my beer and took a drink. “Your move, Iscariot.”
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