ASHES TO ASHES
by Cathy Buburuz

 
    Beelzebub was roasting weenies over an open sulfur pit when Demetre arrived with the Annual Sin Statistics and Summary. "Care for a little Chinese, Greek or Italian?" the devil cackled as he waved a meaty poker under Demetre's bulbous nose. Had the offer included a limb or an internal organ he might have been tempted but Demetre, despite his former life as a cannibal, had never been partial to charred private parts. Besides, the current statistics deadened his appetite.
    "Thanks, but no thanks," Demetre mumbled as he placed the report into the ebony palm of his master who, in turn, handed it right back.
    "Read it while I feast, Demetre."
    "Sure thing boss, but you aren't going to like it." Demetre was hesitant. Compiling reports was one thing, delivering them in person was another. But it made little sense to postpone the agony.
    "Well sir, the rate of abortion has suffered a dramatic decrease. Thirty-eight percent to be precise. And adultery and bigamy have plummeted by twenty-one and twenty-three percent respectively. Bigotry has dropped eighteen percent, and blasphemy to eighteen. In addition, child abuse has decreased by..."
    "Scrap the stats and give me the nitty-grittys," Beelzebub interrupted, the anger flooding his face a dark, grim crimson.
    "Well, for starters, the populations of Purgatory and Limbo have declined by more than eighty percent. Seems the Lord of Heaven has opted for direct ascension for the vast majority of venial sinners and the unbaptised. And it would not surprise me if He eliminated these stop-overs altogether. No more halfway houses in the sky, so to speak.
   "Unfortunately, this situation is further complicated by the newly appointed Pope. Unlike the others, this Pope John Paul VII character places great emphasis on enhanced communications with the masses and, despite his short time in the Vatican, his pious attitude and ecumenical deliverances have swayed many souls in the wrong direction."
    "HOW MANY SOULS?" Beelzebub boomed as he flung the poker against the stone wall of his chamber, narrowly missing Demetre's nose.
    "Quite a few sir, quite a few," Demetre whispered.  "Perhaps we should..."
    "Don't tell me how to run my operation," the devil warned through clenched teeth as he poked Demetre's hairy chest with one pointed black fingernail that would surely leave a nasty scar.  "Rather than bitch and moan over lost souls, we must make a concerted effort to correct this situation.  Summon my gatekeeper. Immediately!"
    As he crossed the molten threshhold of the main chamber and headed toward the Gateway to Hell, Demetre wondered what plans Beelzebub had for that old whoremonger Dezmonde. How could a senile old fart with twisted limbs and countless deformities play a major role in the master's plan? In his own demented mind, Demetre reasoned that it probably had something to do with Dezmonde's former life, but he had never seen the old buzzard's records. He made a mental note to check the books.
    Dezmonde hailed from Detroit, Michigan where he raised hell and havoc until his seventy-third birthday. On that particular day he'd been transported to Hell via the electric chair for a lengthy and gruesome criminal record which included arson (he'd torched St. Mary's Roman Catholic Elementary), rape (he'd stuck it to Sister Mary Elizabeth), murder (he'd killed the Johnson quintuplets), and tax evasion (over $500). Following his entry into the Dark Side, he exhibited little or no remorse, leaving a most positive impression upon his peers. In no time at all he was promoted from Pain Inflictor to Main Gatekeeper, a position Demetre had longed for for decades.
    As the two entered the main chamber, Dezmonde sensed Demetre's jealousy, and the sensation confirmed the significance of the summons. In his twisted, dark mind he saw visions of another promotion. In no time at all he'd likely serve as the devil's right hand man.
   "Greetings Evil One," Dezmonde mumbled in eerie monotone as he extended a gnarled six-fingered hand toward his master. Beelzebub reached out for the repulsive thing, gave it a tight squeeze, shook it considerably, then dropped it. The odor of charred flesh filler the chamber. The devil snapped his fingers in two-part harmony and the dirt floor of the cave burst into blue flame. The Prince of Darkness scooped up the fire with mighty hands and used it to melt and shape Dezmonde's flesh into an appropriate form.
    The creature from Detroit had transformed from a disgusting freak into an angelic fair-skinned child, his eyes the color of bluebells after a rain. And when he spoke it was as though someone had plucked gently the delicate golden strings of a harp. "Tell me master, why have you molded me into a child?"
    "Within your tiny chest beats a heart of great deception and debauchery. You will use this vile organ to corrupt and taint an infinite number of souls. Demetre will go with you to record your progress, reporting to me on a daily basis. And if there are any screw-ups, both your asses will be ashes. Understood?" The two nodded in the positive and, with a snap of the devil's fingers, were transported to earth posthaste.
    Within one hour of their arrival in Rome, the two had managed to blow their covers, botching the entire operation. Dezmonde's whoremongering ways resulted in the murder of a prostitute named Lizzie whose remains, thanks to the voracious Demetre, were never found. But the two had been caught red-handed and placed in maximum security.
    After the passing of twenty-four hours with no report, Beelzebub cracked his knuckles, returning the two to his chamber el pronto. "So how goes it?" he cackled.
    Both Demetre and Dezmonde pointed accusingly to the other, chattering endlessly about how the other was to blame for the botch.
    "Your asses are ashes," the devil bellowed as he filled their drawers with dust. "You'll work the pits until Hell freezes over."
    "Dezmonde winced at the thought of demotion while Demetre made a mental note to hunt up a pair of skates.

 
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