Evan Quinlan

Evil’s Best Shot

In Fan Fiction, Fiction, Short Stories on January 2, 2011 at 8:01 pm

I want to go back.

Lou could see so much.  Concentrating, he rummaged through the gigantic haystack of living souls that pulsed in his mind.  Some of them called out to him sweetly.  Some of them shrank away from his clairvoyant eye like frightened animals.  Those ones would be saved.  Lou wished he could see his own fate so clearly.  The knowledge of whether his path led to salvation or damnation—or, somehow, both (he still heard the words of Ari and Uzi when Lou had told them he wished to serve Father again: “You are, still… in your own way”)—escaped him completely.  He could not win the game outright, he knew.  He could only weight the dice.

At once a pattern emerged from the haystack and Lou turned his mind’s eye upon it: a pure soul in distress.  For what reason it suffered, Lou could not tell—that which Father deemed “pure” was opaque to him by definition.  But the pattern fit what he was looking for.  It was, unmistakably, the oh-so-common archetype found in the thousands of human stories he had heard, read, and finally watched: the figure of the damsel in distress.

“Bingo,” said Lou to the afternoon air.

“Excuse me, you got a dollar I can borrow?” said a man next to him.  Instinctively, Lou’s hand shot out toward the man’s neck.  Three-and-a-half millimeters away from contact, his hand stopped.  The man jumped back and uttered a cry of indignation.  He was dressed in dirty, tattered clothes; too many layers to suit the weather.

New leaf, Lou reminded himself.  “New bills,” Lou said, and with sleight of hand that, if televised, would have forced Criss Angel into retirement, three crisp, one-hundred-dollar bills appeared in his hand.

The man stared.

“Seriously, take it,” Lou suggested.

“I don’t want no trouble, man.”

“I realize that.  Take the fucking money, please.”

The man eyed the money greedily but did not budge.

“Fine,” said Lou.  He turned to the nearest passerby.  She looked like a college student.  “Want three hundred bucks?  This guy won’t take it.”

“Alright!” the man cried.

“Ooh, already offered it to someone else,” Lou apologized with decadent sarcasm.  The college girl had stopped but seemed too interested to move on.  “Now I’ll lose a gold star if I deny either of you the money.  Hmm.  Tell you what: I’m in a hurry, so each of you grab an end of this stack; we’ll do this Solomon-style.”

***

It was approaching dusk when Lou found his soul-in-distress and the scene was almost too sweet to believe.  A cat up a tree, Lou mused.  I couldn’t have asked for a more obvious opportunity. Lou needed obvious; doing good did not come naturally to him.

The kid was already up in the tree.  One short arm grasped a large branch jutting from the trunk; the other reached coaxingly toward a shaggy, red cat hanging perilously from a limb that bent with its weight.

“Come on, Jim,” Lou could hear the kid pleading with the cat.  Ah, the fur-balls still control the humans, Lou thought. Hilarious.  Why do humans love pretending animals are human?  Well, I’ll never understand and it doesn’t matter.

“Hey, kid!” Lou’s voice rang clear, winning the attention of both boy and cat even from 50 yards away.  “Better get outta that tree!”

From his branch, the kid could see the yelling man give an enthusiastic thumbs up.  Then the man began to run.  He moved impossibly fast and directly at the tree.  At first the kid just froze, trying to understand what was happening.  Then instinct kicked in and he swung down, stumbling about ten feet and turning just in time to see the man running headlong into the trunk, arms raised in front of him like a linebacker.  But instead of hearing the crack of the man’s skull, as the kid thought he would, the crack came instead from the tree.  Splinters seemed to fill the air like a mist.  Dirt erupted as roots tore out of the ground.  As the tree fell, Jim the cat howled and leaped from his limb, landing as a tangle of wood and leaf-matter crashed around him.  The kid didn’t realize until it was all over that he was screaming.

Lou teetered above the jagged stump, nearly losing his balance.  Finally he shifted back onto his heels and, before he could stop himself, gave a triumphant whoop.  It was undignified but the adrenaline in his human body nearly demanded it… so he gave in to temptation.  That was something that came naturally to him.  Turning toward the kid, he smiled.  The kid was screaming.  Well, no wonder.  Mortals didn’t often knock over trees with their bare hands.

“Kid, shut up,” Lou ventured.  To his surprise, the kid did.

The cat. Lou scanned the arboreal wreckage.  The cat, Jim, was scrambling out from beneath the maze of cracked branches.  “Ah, ha,” Lou said, and he lunged at the animal, snatching it up.  It howled again, scratching at him.  Blood seeped out of Lou’s arms.  The thought of stigmata crossed his mind and he nearly chuckled.

“Alright, kid, here’s your—”

Where the child should have been stood a man.

Not a man.

“Oh,” said Lou.  “Hello, Raph.  What’s up?”

“What the fuck are you doing.”  Not so much a question as a statement.

Lou felt the energy drain out of him.  The fun was suddenly over and the reality of the situation—his situation—began to seep in.  When Lou replied his voice was dry and resentful.

“What’s it look like?  I helped this kid get his cat out of a tree.”

Raphael’s level gaze remained unchanged.  A long moment passed.

“And,” added Lou, “I’m helping out the Park Commission with its timber management.”

Without warning Raphael drew his firearm, a massive, gleaming semi-automatic, and leveled it at Jim the cat.

“Fuck!” Lou said and tossed the cat into the air.  Raphael fired a single shot—a blinding light issued from the barrel of the gun—and Jim exploded into a red soup.  Lou did not close his eyes as gore spattered one side of his face and clothes.

Raphael lowered the gun, slowly.  Lou glared at him.

“Fuck,” Lou said again.  He tried to sound upset, righteous, even, but the word came out sounding more like childish fascination.  What had just happened was something Lou had seen many trillions of times before, but each death has its own unique circumstances—its own flavor—and for whatever reason contemplation of each demise never ceased to give him pleasure.  He glanced down at the cat’s remains and became transfixed.  Blood still gushed from the separated halves of the animal, its organs still individually alive although the whole was dead.  The eyes of the cat bulged, as if the force of the bullet had pushed them nearly out of their sockets.  On the grass was a network of entrails, fur, and strange shapes Lou recognized but had no names for: the parts of life that made more sense to him separate than together.  God lived in the machine, he knew, and to disassemble the machine made it no longer God’s.  Pain was the currency of Hell and death the financier.  Lou thought of Death for a moment and smiled.  He could almost see, now, though Jim was not human, the Godliness leaking out of Jim’s entrails, seeping into the earth, the dirt becoming one with the blood, the life and the divinity fading like a sunset into darkness, which held, itself, more colors than the human eye could perceive…

Lucifer looked up.

“Ah,” said Raphael.  “And there’s the truth.”

“Shut up,” said Lou.

“You haven’t changed a bit.  All your gallivanting around like some newborn savior of mankind and you still lust after the sight of fresh, steaming entrails.”

“Fuck you.”  Then, without thinking, “You murdered it.”

Raphael laughed—a sardonic, penetrating laugh that fanned embers of hatred in Lou’s gut and made him clench his teeth.

“I murdered it, did I?  The cat?  Fucking Jim the cat?  Oh, Lou.  Heaven forgive me.  What have I done?”  He laughed again.  Lou’s fists squeezed so tightly that his knuckles turned white.  After a few moments, he could not contain himself.

“What the fuck do you want from me, you self-righteous asshole!”  he exploded.  Raphael’s laughter ceased.

“That’s just it, pal,” Raphael said.  “I don’t want anything from you.  I don’t want anything to do with you.  And moreover, I don’t want you here.”

“You’re here.”

“Indeed.  And I don’t want that, either.  I want to be in Heaven, where I belong.”

“Then go.”

“Not until you leave.”

“I’m not leaving.”

Raphael’s eyes narrowed.  He tipped his face forward in an angel’s best better-not-mess-with-my-righteous-fury-on-the-cover-of-Vogue look.

“You think there’s something you can do, here… something that will tip the scales of God’s will in your favor.  But you’re wrong.  Father may love you still, as he loves all things, but after several billion years of opposition there is nothing you can do in a day, a year, a millennium, nor an eon of time that will heal the gaping wound between your existence and his.  And certainly rescuing a cat from a fucking tree means so little that you might as well never have done it.  What a pathetic display, Lou.  Ask yourself: how badly do you really want to come home?  How long were you really planning on keeping this up?”

“I can’t win the game outright.  I can only weight the dice.”

“That’s great.  Did you hear that in an Eastwood film?  I’m highly amused.  But I’m afraid I can’t let this arrogant little crisis of yours continue.”  He smiled acridly.  “It wasn’t going to last, anyway,” he added.

“What are you going to do about it?”

“Turn around.”

Lou did.  The sky was a dark blue, and the city skyline rose above the dark silhouette of trees that lined the park’s entrance.  At first Lou saw nothing out of the ordinary.  But then he saw something—three things, in fact—that made his heart stop beating and then, shamefully, caused a stirring in his loins.

Looming above the horizon were the shadows of three crosses, each supporting, in their center, a mass that Lou recognized as a crucified human form.

“Jesus,” Lou said.

“No,” came Raph’s voice, sounding distant, “Just your handiwork.  Goodbye, Lou.”

Lucifer would have turned around but he knew Raphael was already gone.  He strode a few paces toward the crosses and then stared upward.  In the darkness his supernatural vision could discern three corpses: a homeless man, a female college student, and a young boy.  Everybody he had encountered today—everyone he had attempted to help, albeit badly—destroyed by the wrath of Father’s little crew of self-righteous thugs.

For the first time in billions of years of life, Lucifer felt a tear coalesce beneath his eye.

It was well within Raphael’s right, he knew, to destroy humans at will.  It was not their lives that mattered, but their immortal souls, and those were judged by Father above.  Besides, if asked, Raphael would probably spout some nonsense about these people being tainted by evil upon interacting with Lou.

The taste of failure, familiar to him, filled his mouth, making him want to vomit.

He turned away.  So, Raphael was going to try his hardest to thwart Lou’s efforts planet-side, eh?  Lou could respond with anger.  He could respond with wrath.  He could get hit by a truck and return home, where he would sit on a throne and rule over the fiery pits of souls, passing judgment on an infinitely long waiting list of the damned.

Or.

Yes, or.

He didn’t know what came on the other side of that conjunction.  Or. Or what?  He could work in more subtle ways.  Of course he could—he was the devil, for Christ’s sake.  He could find new ways to usher mankind into the arms of Father—ways that might go unnoticed by Raphael and his posse of winged deuchebags.

Why not? he thought.  I have until Armageddon to experiment. He thought of Death.  Maybe I should pay her another visit.  Yes, that would be nice.  And maybe Gabriel, too.  I think he’s got a soft spot for me.

In the darkness, a man who was not a man stuffed his hands in his pockets and whistled a merry tune as he walked away from the scene of several terrible crimes, all of which would be announced in the city newspaper the following morning.  Men and women would weep, lawyers would flock to victims’ families, and journalists would scramble for interviews come daybreak.  And beneath the surface of human society, an underworld would prepare for battle with an overworld as it had for billions of years.  But between both worlds one immortal would surf the tumultuous waves of holy war, repulsed by one side and repelled by the other, fighting for the salvation of a soul that had long ago cast its fate in opposition to the home it truly loved, if it could love at all.

I want to go back, he thought.  I will go back.  They’ll see.


This story is a fan sequel to a screenplay written by Kyle Johannessen.

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