Bundts and Bolts, Part 3

bernicons            Of course I make a break for it, but I slam right into a the largest pair of tits I’ve ever had the pleasure of encountering. Jessica, as it turns out is a lovely woman, towering at nearly six feet tall with a wide build like some valkyrie or something. Jessica grabs my arms and twists them behind my back.

            I wince. “Hey! Be gentle, gorgeous.” I can at least get the satisfaction that I made her blush.

            Still, Jessica’s grip is as strong as iron and she removes my sister’s cake from my grasp and passes it to Agatha.

            “Creator Agatha, be careful with the costumer,” says UB and I’m almost touched.

            “She’s not a customer, UB. She’s a thief,” her words drip with loathing and her breath smells of burnt sugar. “Who are you?”

            “Does that really matter? You caught me. Call the police already.”

            “Don’t you worry about that.”

            “Yeah? Just know you’re ruining a little girl’s birthday!”

            UB’s digital face drops into a frown. “Birthday?”

            “Yeah, my sister’s!” I turn to Agatha, “Look, you’re prices are too high. But that little cupcake you’re charging through the nose for would make her entire year. So let me have it.”

            Agatha rolls her eyes so deep into her head I think she’s about to faint. “You know we sell day-old goods at half price, right? We even donate the majority of our leftovers to charity. You went through a lot of extra effort just to get yourself into jail. Why should I buy your story.”

            “Because I wouldn’t be in a ten block radius of your little bakery otherwise! I think you’re smug little operation is stupid, and now I know why you all keep you’re chef here a secret. You can’t really sell the ‘old family recipe’ crap with a robot.”

            “Is there something wrong with your food?” asks UB. Man, that things was just a little too considerate. I look up to speak but catch my breath when I saw how disappointed it is.

            “They are family recipes for your information,” said Agatha. “UB here just makes things more efficient.”

            I glance over at UB who stares at the cake it was just decorating with this immense sense of disappointment. “Look, man, I didn’t mean it-“

            “Hey, don’t talk to him!” Agatha pinch the bridge of her nose with frustration. “Jessica, tie this fool to the post over there. Grams will figure this out.”

            Jessica brings me over to a pillar at the side of the room and secured me with one of those zip tie things. She pauses. “How old is your sister?”

            I smile. “10.”

            She nods and looks away before following Agatha out the kitchen. I hear the sad hum of UB approaching and I halfway wonder if I’m just projecting the sadness in its movements.

            There’s a fork of cake in front of my face. “Wha-?”

            “Has this human tried UB’s creation yet?” it asks me.

            I shake my head. “No, I haven’t.”

            It’s digital yellow face appears determined. “Then you will!” It pauses, “Is this human allergic to any standard baking ingredients?”

            I shake my head again and before I can even say no, the cake is in my mouth. I almost cough it out because of the shock of the moment but the luscious creaminess that is the frosting overwhelms my gag reflex. Shit this is good.

            I don’t even need to say it, UB can see my approval in my expression. “Good. Another!” This goes on for like at least another minute and I’m full of cake. It’s only when Agatha comes back with Jessica and Grams does UB stop.

            “Looks like our baker has taken a liking to you,” says the little old lady with missing teeth.

            “Yeah-” my words are lost between the confectionary chewing.

            “Tell me,” she begins, “Is that you said true, that you wanted a cake for your little sister’s birthday?”

            I gulp the cake and nod, staring the old woman in the eye.

            She appears unimpressed but nods. “So be it.”

 

            My little sister likes to visit me when I’m working at the bakery. This is the deal we worked out with the Bundts and Bolts family; I work off my debt and promise not to tell anyone about my new buddy UB. Jessica is taking me out on our second date this Wednesday, UB wants to bake a cake in celebration. Typical.

Bundts and Bolts, Part 2

kellyiconThe robot stares at me with two yellow, digitized eyes. Are those even its eyes? It looks more like a display, like one of those faces they give robots working in construction and road work to make them seem more human. If that’s the case, than whoever built this thing fucked up royally. It was short, about five feet tall. The robot stood on one, thick metal leg, which was probably motorized to let it get around. The torso – if you could call it that – was made up of a rotating selection of spatulas, knives, various cups probably used for measuring, and any other tool for baking you could imagine, like the Swiss Army knife of baking. The robot probably attached and detached them from his hands as needed. On top of this was the screen that made up its face. The screen’s expression was pleasant enough, a bemused smile, but put the whole thing together and it was like a machine out of a nightmare. A cake-baking nightmare.

“What the actual fuck,” I said. I still hadn’t moved from my spot at the door. Too busy gaping at the world’s first baking robot like an idiot.

“Can UB help you, human? Perhaps you would enjoy one of our many types of baked goods?”

“Uh, yeah, actually,” I said, and eased open the door; the robot’s big yellow eyes followed me as I closed the door behind me, so maybe it really did see through the TV screen it called a head. I glanced this way and that, checking to see if anybody living was waiting to jump out of a corner and bust me. It looked clear enough. This was going to be the easiest robbery in history. “Do you have one of those little one-serving cakes? Strawberry with cream cheese frosting?”

“Indeed we do, human!” The robot sounded excited, but they were programmed to express – simulate? – positive emotions when helping humans. I always thought that just made them creepier.

The robot puttered over to a large, industrial size wheeled shelf and picked up a tray of small cakes. Bigger than you’re average cupcake but still meant for one person, the little things were the rage of all the town. Expensive as all hell, but treating them as a special treat just seemed to make people love them all the more.

The robot picked up the little strawberry cake so gently it reminded me of someone picking up a small kitten.

“Here you are, human,” it said, a digital smile now plastered over its face-screen. “Would you like UB to box this for you? Extensive research into our customer response surveys has shown that many humans enjoy being presented this cake as a gift.”

“No thanks, robot,” I said. I took the cake from it. It was really a thing of beauty. The frosting was white and smooth cream cheese, and someone had drawn a strawberry onto it with strawberry topping, and the whole thing was topped off with a little pink frosting flower next to the strawberry.

“Did you make this, robot?”

“I did, human. It brought me much satisfaction to see many humans enjoy this one’s creations.”

“Satisfaction? You’re programmed to feel pride of your work?”

The robot didn’t blink, but if he had working eyes, the silence that followed my question made me think it’d be blinking.

“That question does not compute, human.”

“I mean – “

“Oh, shit!”

I whirled around to see a woman in a white baking apron standing at the door I had just walked through. Her eyes were huge with shock and her mouth kept contorting from anxiety to anger and back again.

“What the hell are you doing here?” She practically yelled at me, so I guess she settled on anger.

“I, uh…”

The woman slammed the door behind her, and the resounding boom that echoed off the walls filled me with a pit of dread, like I had stumbled into something I wasn’t supposed to see. It occurred to me for the first time that there was probably a reason why they had never made their robo-baker public.

“Is something the matter, Creator Agatha?” the robot asked.

“No, nothing’s wrong, UB. Everything’s fine,” the woman said, waving away the robot’s question. She stormed past me toward the front of the store and stuck her head through the door that separated the store front from the kitchen.

“JESSICA! Get your ass in here! We have a problem.”

Bundts and Bolts, Part 1

bernicons            Bundts and Bolts is the name of the bakery downtown that’s been getting a lot of hype lately. It almost went out of business not two years ago, back when it was known as No Bundts About It when some cyber chick freaked out when she found an actual lug nut in the cupcake. Everyone else found it to be hilarious but the cyber community freaked the fuck out. The owners almost went bankrupt with the legal fees. Yet, somehow, they pulled out of that shitstorm and were now the talk of the town. People line up around the block for an over-priced mini cupcake. They renamed the place to the aforementioned establishment as a not-so-subtle screw you to the cybers that wanted the place shut down.

So why do I even care, you ask? Why am I trying to break into the kitchen at Bundts and Bolts? I need a small cake for my little sister’s birthday. It’s already 4pm and there’s no way I’d get something if I went to the back of the line now. Even then you’re more likely to see me lick a pastor’s boot than see me pay over $60 for cake. I told Clare that I could get her a much bigger cake from the corner store and she could eat at least twice as much but I knew what she was thinking. She passes the bakery everyday on her way to school and all her classmates talk about having been there for a home-made, old fashioned, artisan crafted-bullshit, confectionary treat, everyone but her. I can’t afford to get Clare much, I can barely afford the studio we live in, but I can snag a cake for her. It’s what I do best after all. Yeah, okay, people don’t like thieves, but if that bitch with the moped wanted to keep the damned thing, she should have tried harder.

Across the street from Bunts and Bolts I see a group of cybers sneering at the place. One of them’s got a robo third eye embedded into the middle of her forehead with e blinking bindi  between her eyes. Flannel shirts, fake flowers braided into their hair and beards, listening to music from a dubstep group you know you’ve never heard a song from. All three of the lady’s eyes stare me down as I walk into the back alley behind them. I swear, if Clare ever comes home asking for some kind of cyber augmentation I will personally move us out into the country and get us as off the grid as we can get… okay not really. No one lives in the sticks but new-age hippies with gardens for front yards who then complain if someone like me takes an eggplant…

Out of sight, out of mind. I climb up the fire escape to get a lay of the land as I continue across the power lines toward Bolts, it’s cool, nobody ever looks up anymore so nobody even sees me. At a glance, the place looks pretty under-secured but at a closer look… it’s exactly like. I’m really surprised actually, you’d think that they’d have this place locked up a little tighter. A lot of people say it’s the bakery’s new lead baker that’s so masterfully brought this place back up into the public eye, a baker that doesn’t like the public eye and thus has never had an interview. What? Has nobody ever even tried to break in? I land just outside on the docking bay where I guess they must unload all their flour and sugar and whatnot. They’ve got a combination lock- a combination lock. I’m insulted. My laser bolt cuts make quick work of it and I manage to lift the door just enough as to not make so much noise and wiggle my way in.

I hear people in the front room, trying to haggle the price of an almost day-old cannoli but it’s surprisingly quite back here. I mean, I know that it’s close to closing time but wouldn’t some people be runnin’ about trying to get their last orders filled? I shrug and continue on. In and out with the cake, that’s all I need. Turns out that the kitchen one door down from the loading bay. There’s someone in there for sure, I can hear them humming, so I open the door just a crack to get a peek and see what I’m up against.

Icing squirts out of two of its fingers, creating two separate rings of  decoration on the outer lip and middle of the cake. It does this without even turning the cake on a lazy susan because its elbow just turns in the socket with such automated swiftness I almost missed it. When it’s done it spreads its fingers out so that a thin lining of metal can connect the fingers together forming a kind of spatula to smooth out the frosting on the sides. Its face is a black screen with big, yellow, digitized eyes inspecting its work closely. Then a small smile forms on the screen below the eyes. Its happy with its creation.

My mouth falls open. A robot is the lead baker? I must be leaning against the door to much because it opens just a little more and the fucking thing squeaks. The robot turns its head toward me with a surprised look on its digital face.

“Can UB help you, human?” it asks.

The Hill, Part 2

raboicons

5:36pm

The woman just stared back at Jasmine, not as if her gaze were looking through her but as if her eyes were looking around her. As if whatever Jasmine meant to the woman was something not even worthy of her sight or her notice, though notice she did. Her lips didn’t move though and for a moment Jasmine began to think maybe she hadn’t heard. She did look to be older; perhaps she was deaf or suffering dementia.

“I said, hey there, friend.”

The woman blinked then, and that was all. Staring back at her the younger woman kept expecting to see some sort of acknowledgment or response but instead there was only the soft dull gaze of the woman’s eyes. Watching her face she saw that the woman was indeed old, grotesquely so, and that her eyes, while numb, were of a milky soft blue color. Her eyes, sunken down in her gaunt cheeks, were hard to look away from but when Jasmine managed to she saw that the woman was gaunt in other ways as well. Her old clothes hung off of her in awkward places and she wondered that woman might be dying. She seemed to stand on her own though.

“Excuse me, my name is Jasmine and this is Mausmi. We’re visiting from the city.”

Jasmine nervously spoke again to the woman, trying to find in her eyes some sort of connection. She could feel Mausmi stir next to her and could somehow sense the fear in her and the goose bumps rising underneath the hand her arm. Mausmi stayed silent though and looking toward her Jasmine saw that her eyes were not on the woman but behind her. In the distance was another woman, also with a hound at her side. A gray, old hound, panting and watching with the same numb eyes as the woman nearer to them.

But no, the dog’s eyes were not numb, and on looking at the nearer hound it’s eyes were neither clouded nor dull. The were wide and full of intelligence, scanning over both their bodies, the hound’s eyebrows jumping at each sniff and pant. It was almost as if the dog were leading the woman and not the other way round.

“I’m sorry, I hope this isn’t your property. We just saw the hill and. . .

Jasmine looked away from those black dog eyes and trailed off though as she felt Mausmi tugging at her arm and heard the soft whimper that escaped her lover’s lips. Looking down at her she saw wide eyes and quivering lips and following Mausmi’s gaze over her shoulder she saw that behind them was another woman, old and gaunt, and leading a big gray hound like the ones before them.

As Mausmi’s finger raised to point in a new direction she saw too that there were more. Many more.

7:08pm

The rough texture of the pine straw beneath her came as a shock when Jasmine woke up and sitting upright quickly she clutched her forehead at the pain which suddenly came. Pulling her hand away she could see that there were dried flakes of blood and a long streak of wet on her fingers. She could feel the matted curly hair on her right temple and started to remember things about the past few hours. Little things at first as she clutched both hands to her face and covered her eyes, keeping them closed as tightly as she could manage.

“Mausmi!”

Pulling her hands away and looking around quickly it occurred to her how little light there was in this small space. Wondering how long she might’ve been out she grasped around through the straw and found little slivers of strange hard things before finally letting her eyes adjust to the dim light and seeing the small, huddled shape of Mausmi in the corner.

Rushing there, she pulled her onto her back and looked at her face to see no visible wounds or markings and began to shake her gently, whispering her name as feverishly as she could.

“Mausmi baby, please wake up. Please.”

After a few moments Jasmine put her head down on her lover’s chest and felt the gentle rise and fall of her lungs. Soon tears left streaks down the grime on her face as well as blood.

Finally though, looking up from the girl in desperation though, she noticed the room they were in, if one could call it a room. Possibly eight feet on a side, she couldn’t see any discernible doors but there was the dry straw beneath them and the strange little hard chunks she finding throughout it. A persistent thought in the back of her mind kept her from examining any too closely though, and so she looked again to Mausmi’s gently rising chest and her softly quivering lips.

In the distance the rain began to fall and the walls of their box shook with the roar of thunder.

The Hill, Part 1

bernicons9:13 pm

It accorded to Jasmine that her gasping for air could easily give away her position as she trotted down the steep hill, Mausmi slung over her shoulder. For every step Jasmine took, Mausmi’s body bounced limply in reply. Jasmine could feel Mausmi’s breath, hot  on her arm, doing nothing to relieve the sweat beading and rolling down her weakening arms. There was no time to stop and catch her breath. No time to try and wake Mausmi up. Barely any time to run, but it was all Jasmine had.

Roots seemed to cruelly pull themselves up from the ground to try and trip Jasmine as she fled the scene. For every step she took her feet sunk a little deeper into the freshly rained on mud on the hillside, and with every step she heaved a little harder to make her way. From what little light Jasmine saw filtering in through the autumn canopy, she figured the storm was finally passing.

Howls of angry hounds echoed behind Jasmine. Her heart leapt into her throat almost so completely she couldn’t breathe. No, they couldn’t have come-to already. She glanced behind her and could hardly see the faint glow of torchlight over Mausmi’s thigh.

That was when Jasmine’s foot slid under a thick, gnarled root that had been dug out after the fierce rainwater tore at the ground only a half hour earlier. First she felt the pain of her ankle twisting and she wondered briefly if the weight would be too much and it would break or hold and it would only be severely sprained. Then she realized that in her shock, her grip on Mausmi’s limbs had given way and her body flew from her shoulders. Happening far too fast and yet disgustingly slow, Jasmine reached out for Mausmi’s hand. Looking at her face, she could tell that Mausmi still hadn’t regained consciousness, but if she could just grab her arm, her hand‒ perhaps could avoid snapping on the trunk of the tree she was headed for.

 

5:36pm

Mausmi patted the bark on a sturdy oak. “This one. I like.”

Jasmine let out a half-laugh, mostly to try and mask her winded breath. “Alright, Yoda… why?”

“Why? Isn’t he a beaut?” Mausmi stretched out her arms and took in a long deep breath of the air. The sun made it still yet warm even at this hour, when the chill in the fall air should have nipped at them unpleasantly. She was enjoying this, which made sense, she was an out-doorsy type.

Jasmine could claim no such title. She pulled off her hoodie, expecting it to be soaked in sweat, and was surprised when it wasn’t. She shrugged and wrapped it around her waist. Mausmi was waiting for her at the crest of the hill, and clapped encouragingly as Jasmine finally reached her girl. Jasmine collapsed on the grass, eyes closed. “Leave me, I can’t go any farther.”

Mausmi giggled. “I’d never leave a soldier behind!”

Jasmine opened one eye, peering at Mausmi. “Careful there, you sound like your Dad.” Mausmi playfully kicked Jasmine’s side. Jasmine grabbed her torso and cringed as if she was in great pain. “Ahh! Why would you hurt a man when he’s down! It’s unsportsmen like!”

Mausmi knelt down and pushed Jasmine to sit up. “Shut up and look at that view!” Jasmine had her eyes screwed shut. “C’mon!”

“Fine, fine,” relented Jasmine. She opened one eye tentatively, then the other and smirked a crooked grin. She could see for miles out into the valley. She could even see the little town with the little Victorian B&B they were staying at. The hills that lead into the mountains were washed in waves of lush, warm colors. There were some storm clouds starting to roll in over those mountains, but other than that, it was all so picturesque. “Alright, yes. This is beauti-”

Mausmi pulled Jasmine toward her and kissed her lips. Jasmine returned the affection, with interest.

A hound’s bark interrupted the moment. Mausmi looked up and blushed, Jasmine turned toward a woman staring at them with a grey hound dog at her side. Jasmine scratched her head, coughed and waved at the new party. “Hey there, friend.”

Meet Janice, Part 3

bernicons            “No, Michael,” sighed Janice, “He’s not in.” She nodded, to no one in particular and took down a note. “Yes, yes, of course I’ll give him your message. Yes. Good. Thank you too.” She paused. “Oh and can you tell your brother not to call me back again? Thank you.”

Janice was all too eager to let the phone drop back into its cradle. Then it rang again. “Hello?” She cringed. “Goddam- Gabriel I told you he’d call you back when he got back. Not before.”

The room grew hotter and Janice felt relief swell in her. “Hold on, Gabe. I think he’s-”

When Satan entered, it didn’t look good. He was still dressed in his suave designer suit, but his shoulders were slumped low toward his chest and his black eyes were focused on the ground. He barely gestured to Janice in his passing.

“Gabe? He’s going to call you back.” Despite Gabriel’s cries of protest, the phone was set back on the receiver. “Satan?” Satan had left his office door open, waiting for Janice to follow. And she did, with clipboard in hand.

He fell back into his chair, his eyes were distant. Janice tried to ignore it. “You have 47 missed calls, most of them from Gabriel, so you shouldn’t have much trouble with-” she eyed him. “Did your lunch not go so well?”

Satan shrugged.

“I’m going to need you to communicate in words,” sneered Janice.

“If Jehovah can be indirect with his answers, then I can be too.”

Janice let her arms fall to her side and rest on her hips. “You’re not getting on about your Daddy issues again are you?”

His eye twitched and Janice noticed it getting warmer in the room.

Janice stepped into Satan’s line of sight. “Talk to me. With words.”

Satan’s lips were caught in a pout and he said nothing. So, Janice slapped him.

Satan’s flesh dipped into a deeper shade of red, almost as black as his eyes. He stood up and towered over her. Suddenly it wasn’t warm at all, but bitterly cold. “You. How dare- you haven’t done that-”

“Since the last time I slapped you,” Janice said coolly, head cocked back to glare into his big, black eyes.

The room gradually returned to a reasonable temperature. Satan stepped back, slumping into his chair. “That was ages ago,” he sighed.

Janice nodded, “Yes it was.”

He glanced up at her. “You went by another name then.”

“I did,” she smiled, “But Janice has a better ring to it. For a secretary.”

“You’re much more than that,” said Satan.

“And you’re much more than a son looking for Daddy’s approval.”

Satan smirked. “That’s Gabriel’s job, isn’t it?”

“Isn’t it, though?” Janice paused, “I know you well enough to know that you asked the Big Guy about Mrs. Timely.”

He nodded.

“And I think I know him well enough to know that he didn’t really give you any real answers.”

He nodded again.

“So now you’re worried you don’t have any answers for her.”

A third time.

“You know, you don’t need to have them.” Janice looked out Satan’s window. “Sometimes you can’t explain something away to a person, they need to walk the path themselves. You’re going to need a very specific skill for that. You’ll need patience.”

Satan smirked. “Kind of like Jehovah?”

“Kind of like him.”

 

“Mrs. Timely?” Janice stood at the open office door, letting the heat of the flames mess up her hair. The little woman walked up, cautiously. She clearly didn’t want to be back here, but she had nowhere else to go. Janice smiled. “Welcome back.”

Satan was waiting for them in his office, he smiled. “Good to see you again, Mrs. Timely. Please take a seat.”

Meet Janice, Part 2

kellyiconCoffee day usually came every couple of years, or whenever Satan and Jehovah could find time to slip away from work for an hour or two. Jehovah’s favorite place was a little diner off one of New Jersey’s turnpikes. Satan usually stuck to coffee and some soup, but Jehovah always bought the largest stack of pancakes the diner offered and slathered them in so much maple syrup it flowed over the rim of the plate and dripped onto the table. Jehovah never appeared for their lunch in the same form, and today Jehovah looked like a middle-aged woman, dark brown hair graying at the sides and dressed in a long, flowing cotton skirt and a blouse with a flower pattern.

“You know, when I first created the Earth and all that,” Jehovah said, stabbing a fork into the mountain of pancakes, “Pancakes weren’t really on my mind. I know they’d come along eventually, but I was always looking forward to the books and the music and the math, to watch people grow and discover the universe.”

“The meaning of life stuff,” Satan said, remembering an old conversation. He usually took the same form every time he came to Earth: slicked-back black hair, sunglasses, and a sharp suit, and always in the current style. Janice always scolded him for his vanity whenever he sent her to look up the latest fashion.

“Exactly,” Jehovah said, cutting out a towering wedge of pancakes. Through a mouth full of breakfast bread, Jehovah continued, “But who would have thought breakfast foods would be so splendid? Scones, pancakes, french toast, waffles, cheese, fruits, omelets, cereals, tea, coffee – the varieties they’ve come up with are endless. So much for omnipotence, eh?”

“So you say.” Jehovah never passed up a chance to play down the omnipotence thing, and Satan never had decided if it was to tease him or to try and make him feel more at ease. Was God capable of false modesty? There was a thought to keep one up at night.

“So I do,” Jehovah said. “How’s work?”

“Same as it’s always been. Hot and full of sinners.”

Satan considered telling Jehovah about Mrs. Timely. The angry, rebellious eons after his fall were behind them now, but still not far enough behind them to match the eons Satan spent cursing his creator’s name and working to undermine the Creation. Eden was still a sore spot between them, and bad habits died hard. Satan still considered Hell to be his, run without the interference of outside powers and resented the very idea of Jehovah butting in on his business. On the other hand, Satan liked to considered himself an adult now. Adults didn’t shy away from helpful advice, right?

“There is this one woman,” Satan said,

“Oh?”

“A suicide. Took her own life because she thought cheating on her husband with a woman was irredeemable.”

“Inadvisable, certainly, but not irredeemable.”

“That’s what I told her. I don’t think it got through, though. She believe she belongs in the Pit and I’m not sure what’ll get through to her. Any thoughts, O wise Creator?”

Jehovah swirled a wedge of butter through the syrup with the fork, seemingly lost in thought. Again, Satan couldn’t help but wonder if it was a show put on for his benefit – after all, God would know all the answers, right? – or if Jehovah truly needed a moment to think. It was one of the things he found most infuriating about dealing with the deity.

“That kind of thinking runs deep,” Jehovah said, finally. “She didn’t cheat on her husband and then suddenly decide she needed to die. These things build with time, you know, like steam in a stopped-up kettle. You might have to take extra care with this one. Go back, see what started it all.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s it,” Jehovah said, finishing off the last bite of pancakes. “The rest is up to you. Do you want to take the time to help this woman, or just shake your head and tell yourself what a shame it all is? I can’t answer that for you, I’m afraid. Never could. But I know you. You’ve never just sat by a day in your life.”

Meet Janice, Part 1

bernicons            The phone had been ringing in a low, calming beeping noise for the past three minutes. Janice raised an eyebrow; there was only one entity that would be willing to be that persistent. She took the phone off the receiver. “Satan’s Office.”

She nodded cool and took some notes, “I’m sorry, Jehovah, but Satan’s in a meeting right now,” She massaged her wrinkled temples, “No. He’s not always in a meeting… Yes, I’ll personally tell him you called.” She hung up.

Janice glanced at the clock and sighed. It was already fifteen past three and there was still so much to do. She got up and straighten her pencil skirt, then proceeded, clipboard in hand to the front door which read;

sign

Janice braced herself and then opened the office door. A wave of heat crashed over her, throwing back her graying brown hair into a wild frenzy  and forcing her blazer to dance to and fro. She adjusted her spectacles. “Mrs. Timely? I have a three fifteen appointment with Mrs. Timely?” she shouted into the flames.

There was a general chorus of screams, groans, growls and crying, but no response to Janice.

“Mrs. Timely?”

“Present!” came a reply.

Janice turned to greet the woman, and raised an eyebrow. She was used to seeing faces down here that didn’t necessarily match the condemned-for-all-entirety profile, but sometimes she was still caught off guard. Mrs. Timely was a head shorter than Janice, with long brown hair that looked like it needed a good brushing. She was old enough to have laugh lines on her face, but too young for wrinkles of any other sort. Janice nodded. “This way.”

  1. Timely followed Janice into the office and breathed a sigh of relief. “Oh! It’s so cool in here!”

Janice put on her work-smile. “Yes, we fixed the AC last week. It was torture otherwise. Please, take a seat.” Mrs. Timely did as she was bid. “Satan will be with you shortly, but first I must clarify your visit.”

“Alright,” said Mrs. Timely, rubbing her hands together.

Janice took up her clipboard. “I already have your name, so… age upon death?”

“35.”

“Religion?”

“Catholic, or I was born into it,” she smiled nervously, “I never really practiced.”

“Few do.” Janice smiled reassuringly, “Finally, cause of death?”

“… Suicide.”

Janice nodded without batting an eye. Mrs. Timely almost seemed surprised. “We don’t judge here, Mrs. Timely, we just take what comes in.”

“Ah,” nodded Mrs. Timely, but it was clear that she didn’t really understand at all. “C-can I ask you something?”

Janice checked her wrist watch. “Hm?”

“Why was I asked here? I’m not sure what procedure is down here, but I-”

When the hand hit twenty past the hour exactly, she gestured for Mrs. Timely to stand up. “Satan will see you now.”

Janice lead a shaking Mrs. Timely into the next room. Satan liked a simple, sleek decor, much to Janice’s disapproval. The room was laid out in black and white, both colors making a bold, artistic statement against each other. Satan, a lover of dramatics, had his chair facing away from the door and out toward the fiery canyon beyond his window. All that could be seen of him as his obsidian spiral horns that crested over his chair. “Please, make yourself comfortable, Mrs. Timely.” His voice was deep and cold, almost like thick snow crunching together.

Per the norm, Janice had to lead, almost drag the woman to the flush chair in front of Satan’s desk. When Mrs. Timely sat, Janice patted her on the shoulder, trying to give her some reminiscence of strength.

“Thank you, Janice,” Satan turned his chair around and Mrs. Timely gasped. Janice knew that sound and it was one more so of surprise than horror. Satan’s skin was a deep, blood red and his eyes were completely black, as black and shiny like his horns. His face was narrow and came to a point at his chin where he wore a goat-like goatee. Janice liked to joke that it was the goatee that they gasped at, but no, rather, it was how kind his face looked. Everything else aside, it was hard to be frightened of Satan. Unless, of course, he wanted you to be.

Satan looked at Janice with an eye that told her she should linger at the door, so she did. Then he turned his attention to the shivering woman. “Welcome, Rebecca, I hope you’re well.” Timely seemed to shutter at her own name. She almost spoke but her words were all mumbled.

“I see.” Satan placed his hands on his desk, “Do you know why I called you here?”

“Because… I took my own life?”

“No. I mean, that’s the reason why you’re in this general area, yes, but not why I set up this appointment.” He cleared his throat, “Rebecca, there are two kinds of people who come to Hell, you see. Those who deserve to be punished for whatever time is necessary… and those who believe they belong here.”

Janice stood ready; this didn’t always go was well as Satan had hoped.

“Rebecca, you belong in the latter category.”Timely looked up, confused. “B-but I took my own life… that’s a sin.”

Satan nodded. “You’re right, that’s a sin. One really shouldn’t squander the gift of life, but we need some context first before we proceed.” Mrs. Timely tensed up. “You killed yourself for a reason. Can you tell me what?” Timely’s breath became audible and shallow. She couldn’t keep looking at Satan and just focused on her shoes.

“Should I start?” asked Satan.

Timely froze. “You know?”

“I know that you were married for six years, Rebecca, to a man that thought he was ‘fixing’ you.” Mrs. Timely grasped the arms of the chair, bracing herself from her own convulsions.

“I know that you fell in love with someone, someone who wasn’t your husband, because you never really loved him.”

Timely threw her head up and protested, “I loved Henry!”

Satan looked her dead in the “But not in the same way you loved Samantha.”

“Timely threw back the chair she was sitting in. “Is this what you do here?! Is this another form of torture!? You’re just rubbing it in aren’t you?! The reason why I did it! The reason why-!” Mrs. Timely suddenly collapsed and held herself tightly. “I knew it was wrong. I knew I shouldn’t. But she seduced me! She knew my weaknesses and… and I was happy with her! Happy!”

Janice ran to Mrs. Timely’s side and knelt beside her. “Mrs. Timely?”

“Henry found out… Henry knew what I had done and told me of my sins. I knew I was dirty. I was horrid. There was no hope for me. None… so… I…”

Satan put a hand on Rebecca’s shoulder, and she stopped shivering. “Loving someone is not a sin, Rebecca,” he said firmly, “But you have to believe that to get out of here. Otherwise you’ll just linger…”

It took Janice thirty minutes to collect Mrs. Timely together and send her away with another appointment within the week. “It was good to meet you, Mrs. Timely,” said Janice.

“Meet you…” Mrs. Timely echoed as she left.

Satan sighed and leaned on his desk with a long, sad look on his face. “Did I miss any calls?” he said finally, trying to let the stress of the appointment slip away.

“Jehovah called-”

“Christ!” he swore, “I forgot today was our coffee day!”

Janice pinched her lips into a tight smile. “Yes. He wasn’t too pleased…”

Please Don’t Go, Part 3

bernicons            “FUCK!” she swore.

“One more!” encouraged the doctor.

With a final, horrible scream, Gwen pushed, grasping Rodney’s hand. A moment ago she wasn’t sure who would faint first, her or her boyfriend but now all she cared about was the screeching of an infant. Gwen wanted to take a breath but found her lungs would not obey; her throat tightened as did her grip on Rodney’s hand as she brought herself as high up as she could to see…

“It’s a boy!” declared the doctor, holding up a tiny person with a thick mess of black hair crowning his tan head.

Rodney smiled and kissed Gwen’s forehead. “Not a fawn…” she breathed. No one seemed to notice.

Hours later, Gwen held her little boy in her arms and kissed his head. “You’re fucking beautiful,” she whispered.

Grandpa Pat yawned. “You both are.” He stood up from his chair in the corner of the room and came around to Gwen’s bedside and brushed the hair from her face. “I’m going to get some coffee. Rodney, want to stretch those legs?”

Grandpa Pat had caught Rodney in mid-stretch. Rodney grinned and looked to Gwen, “You need anything?”

Gwen shook her head. “I’m fine.” Rodney kissed her and walked out with Grandpa Pat. Gwen looked around and sighed. She wished her parents would have come, but they had been so furious… It was pointless to think of it now. If they wanted to see their grandson, they’d have to come around eventually.

She looked out her window into the hazy wetlands in the distance. It was just a dream, just a strange, strange dream of another place. Gwen had hear that women went though some crazy hormones during the entire 9 month journey. Maybe that was all it ever was.

“Hello, Gwen.”

She gasped and turned, seeing the handsome young man she had met eight months ago. “Isaac?”

He smiled and his piercing blue eyes twinkled, “You did very well, he’s beautiful.”

Gwen brought the baby closer to her. “What are you doing here?”

“I’ve come for my son.”

“He’s not yours,” hissed Gwen, “I’ve only ever been with Rodney.”

“Ours is not the kind born of lust, Gwen, we select a vessel to carry our young,” Isaac approached. “And I chose you.”

Fury welled up inside her, “You- what?! Didn’t I have any say in this?”

Isaac appeared perplexed, “You accepted my invitation. You didn’t say deny me.”

“I didn’t say yes either!” the baby began to stir in her arms. Gwen looked down and began to rock him as gently as she could with her rage beginning to boil over. “Get out! I never want to see you again!”

“I can’t leave without my son-”

“He’s not yours!” Gwen reached to her side and grabbed the nurse buzzer. “Get out now or I’ll get someone to throw you out!”

Isaac looked at her sympathetically. “It won’t work, Gwen.”

“What-?” Then Gwen saw them. The ferns growing on the floor and creating a lush carpet of flora beneath her. “RODNEY!” she cried but the hospital room melted away revealing a surreally beautiful forest. The sun hurt her eyes. She wasn’t in her bed any longer, but standing in the woods with her babe in her arms. “Take us back!

“I can return you to your world, Gwen. You are the mother of my child, I owe you that much.” Isaac approached, his arms extended. “But first I must have my son.”

Gwen spat in his face. “Fuck you!” And she turned to run.

Her legs were weak and she soon found it hard to breathe. The baby woke up in the chaos of the run and started to wail. “Shhh, please baby. Shhh!” Gwen try as she might to sound calming, the panic in her voice betrayed her. Her feet were stabbed with twigs and stones but she kept running.

A shadow leapt over her and the power figure of Isaac in his stag form cut her off. Gwen slide to a halt and scrambled to turn another way. But Isaac was quicker and again stopped her escape. Tears welled up in her eyes. “No!” she screamed, “No please!” Isaac backed Gwen up into the board trunk of a tree. “Not my baby! Please, no!” Gwen choked on her own tears.

Isaac the man stood before her again and his face almost read of pity. “My people are in dire need, Gwen. They need our son.”

“But- Rodney- no, please! Not my baby!” She searched Isaac’s eyes for any sort of compassion, but found no such thing. She was washed away in the blue of his eyes.

 

 

Gwen sat in her hospital and for a moment it was as if she had never left. She just stared blankly out in front of her. Then she heard the gentle coo of her baby. Her eyes darted toward the window, where Isaac stood, holding her baby and smiling at him lovingly.

“NO!” She spilled out of her bed, crawling toward Isaac.

Isaac frowned. “Please, Gwen, don’t hurt yourself.”

“Don’t pretend you care!” she could hardly make her arms obey her. “My baby-!”

“Will be safe with me,” Isaac knelt down beside her, “I promise.” He meant it. She knew he did. “Goodbye, Gwen.”

Isaac turned from Gwen and took a step toward the window.

Gwen reached her hand out toward him. “…please don’t go,” she wept. Isaac paused. “Take me with you…”

His hand was cool to the touch, just as it had been eight months ago. And they were gone.

Please Don’t Go, Part 2

raboicons

“My name is Isaac.”

The stag looked to her with its gentle, concerned eyes and waited patiently for her to respond.

“I’m Gwen Roberts.”

Her hand shaking on its spindly wrist, Gwen looked down at it as she pulled away from the stag’s nose and only slowly began to take in the new surroundings. The house was gone along with the porch and all of New Jersey. The night was gone as well.

Looking over the head of Isaac the sun could barely be seen in slivers through the branches of the forest canopy far above their heads though the light down here seemed gentle, green, and strange.

“Where are we?” Only as she spoke did she realize she was crying. “This is all a bit much.”

“I know, and I’m sorry. There was no other way. You have to come with me.”

Isaac moved closer to her again and looked into her eyes. There was something so strange about his eyes in that they were not strange at all. The just looked like a handsome pair of human blue eyes but the soft brown fur around them changed the scene and made it surreal. Their color matched the moss of his antlers perfectly, though they were matte to the eye’s shimmer, and the brown of his pelt seemed a richer, earthier brown than any Gwen had ever seen.

“Can I ride you?”

“Of course, Gwen Roberts.”

Unsure exactly how to mount a deer or honestly any type of animal, Gwen stood patiently and waited for direction until finally the Stag bent down and gestured with its snout. Reaching out to grab his antlers to steady herself she felt the tingle of electricity in them but somehow found it comforting. Quickly she was on his back and the warmth of his large body felt nice for the few moments before he took a deep breath and let out a cloud of warm steam from his nostrils, taking off at a gallop.

“Hold on.”

Desperately taking his advice, Gwen wrapped herself around him and allowed herself to smile and giggle, the haunches of his powerful legs flexing under her as she bounced up and down. For the briefest of moments the forgot all the stress of her day and its discoveries and felt again like a seventeen year old girl, not a care in the world and happy as a child.

But then she remembered what the test had said and she wondered if someone in that condition should be riding on the back of a wild animal.

“Fuck.”

Isaac politely ignored her though she could feel a twinge in his neck when she said the words. It’s too early to think about any of that! And who says I’m even going to keep it. . .

Gwen looked to the sides of the path they followed and the trees moving through the edges of her vision so quickly. They were wide, strong, and covered in a soft blue moss much like that of Isaac’s antlers. In the small spots and strips where the sunlight shone on the bark of the trees and on their small lower branches she could see that they sparkles with a soft luminescence. The leaves too, looked strange and of such a deep blue green that she thought of an old oil painting of magical forests.

But then, as she tried to make out one especially large tree in the distance, much wider than any of the others, Isaac came to an abrupt halt, his hooves sliding in the soft loam of the forest floor.

“Why did we. . .?”

But looking forward, Gwen knew and without thinking began to dismount Isaac as he knelt down for her to step off. Directly in front of them there was a clearing and for the first time since coming to this place Gwen could see the light of the sun and with that light she knew that it was not the sun she had seen in New Jersey. For one, the light came from all directions in the sky at once and seemed to shine directly in a perfect circle down to the base of the clearing of trees, itself a perfect circle as well.

And in that circle, the grass the same luminescent blue green of the tree’s leaves, each blade broad and long and waving in a soft breeze which seemed to touch nothing else in the still air and seemed to come from nowhere. All of this though, was lost to Gwen as she locked her eyes on what lay in the middle of the clearing.

Lying curled in the precise center of the space, in the middle of the broad circle, was a fawn, its legs gently curled under its body as if it lay sleeping. Unconsciously, Gwen moved toward it but stopped short by several feet. The baby deer lay there in the grass, its fur the darkest earthy brown of Isaac, its spotting and splotches on its back the same softly glowing blue of his mossy antlers. Somehow, beneath its covered eyes Gwen also knew its eyes would be blue but she could not move closer to it to see for sure. Surrounding the fawn she could sense a dim dome over it, a giant bubble of lightly shimmering yellowish air, illuminated by the sky’s light.

Looking beside her to Isaac, to question him, the words died on her lips as she saw that her deer companion was gone and in its place, standing a shoulder width apart from her was a young man looking to her with concerned eyes. The same concerned blue eyes of Isaac but now within the face of a beautiful man, his skin the darkest earthy brown of the deer’s coat and his short, neatly trimmed hair the same softly luminescent blue of the deer’s antlers. He stood beside her in precisely cut clothes that looked to be made of soft cotton and Gwen knew that it was Isaac.

“What’s going on? Are you—”

“Yes.”

Pausing, she looked again to the fawn in the soft grass, still moving to a gentle wind she could not feel. “And the fawn, is it alright? Is it . . .”

Trailing off, she looked to the strange young man and felt the tears rolling down her cheeks without knowing why they were there.

“It is what lies within you, Gwen.”

And then the clearing, the forest, the fawn, and Isaac were all gone and Gwen sat once more on the back porch of her grandfather’s house.