a study in character development
“Welcome to hell,” the devil said, his long white beard scraggling down from his acne-ridden, pockmarked chin the hair couldn’t quite hide. He holds one arm out, the other too familiar on my back, his sweat-stained suit hanging limply, as though with no feasible options for homicide, it had resorted to suicide instead.
I jump to the side as a wide-eyed skeleton of a woman with sagging skin tugs her red-eyed keening child into the space I was occupying only moments before, the devil’s greasy paunch bouncing me back with only a few stumbling steps. He begins to chuckle through his nose, some unseen blockage causing the sound to gutter out before I comprehended that it has started.
I hear indistinct Christmas music in the distance, the sound crackled and distorted by out-of-date mall speakers. Something about the sound brings to mind the cake of dust that forms on things not cared about enough to be cleaned, but never blessed enough to be forgotten.
My name is being called with increasing fervor; there’s an element of surprise in being recognized in hell so quickly. I see a fellow I knew from college, one I never quite liked but didn’t hate enough for him to know. He calls my name again, waving frantically. He’s bowled down by the skeleton woman, but he doesn’t seem to notice. He trips over a pile of something garish and bright and oozing, but he doesn’t seem to notice. He comes to a panting stop in front of me, and I can see beads of greasy sweat forming near his receding hairline. He says hello, asks what I’ve been doing all these years, why I think I ended up here, how’s the wife, the kids, are they still alive? he politely inquires. I am in the process of saying yes, yes they are, when I see another acquaintance in the distance, illuminated by a sickly flashing yellow light, watching me with empty, hungry eyes.
I turn, and the devil gives me an all-knowing smile. A congealed ball of cotton and rot falls over his face, bouncing in time with the out-of-tune bells.