Edward stood above his two story apartment with a letter clutched in his hand. In truth it wasn’t much of a letter, it was more of a note; a suicide note. It detailed his reasons like all good suicide notes did. It told everyone it wasn’t their fault, even though it was.
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Edward bent over to place the note on the ground but stopped when he felt the barbwire he had wrapped around his neck dig into his flesh. He winced and decided the table on the balcony would do. He lifted his vodka glass and slipped the note underneath just in case the wind picked up in the time it would take for someone to find his body.
Edwards’ apartment building was on the corner of two busy roads in a small city. This was an optimal, simply for the reason that Edward was about to attempt a multifaceted suicide, and his location could be none better.
Earlier Edward had debated the merits of two different forms of suicide; the first being leaping to his death into the busy road beneath. Edward had dismissed this idea on the account of being considerate. If Edward had happened to cause a traffic accident or fall on a passer by and injure them he just wouldn’t be able to forgive himself; not that it would matter. It was more of why should anyone get hurt simply so he could die a quick death?
The second was a nice traditional hanging. The thought had appealed to him, except for the possibility of hanging in the air waiting to suffocate. Edward knew that in order for his death to come quickly he would have to snap his neck with the impact of the fall. Unfortunately Edwards’ apartment had a low ceiling. Furthermore there were no decent sized trees anywhere near his apartment, so that option was out. It was along this line of thought that a striking idea had come to him; why not jump off the balcony with a rope around his neck? The impact would surely be enough to snap his neck, and his body would probably be found a bit quicker than if he was in his apartment. The only concern Edward had was what if the rope snapped? It would be the same situation with a car wreck and innocents being killed. It was then that his muse blessed him; Barb wire.
Edward had long strands of barbwire that had been part of an art project he had recently finished. The metal was surely stronger then the rope. It wouldn’t snap. Better yet the barbs would add punctuation to the event! It was perfect; actually it was one of the more brilliant ideas of his life. Edward wondered if anyone would notice the genius as he ascended onto the balcony’s guard rail.
The ground beneath him spun as he looked down, Edward had always been a bit more than afraid of heights. It wasn’t so much the falling, but the impact. Edward wasn’t sure if he could follow through with it, then he realized he would never hit the ground so there was no reason to be worried. With this final thought he shifted his weight forward and slipped off the balcony.
When Edward woke up he was in hell. Edward wasn’t sure how he had come to the conclusion, but everything in him told him that it was hell. It wasn’t what he had thought it would be; no lake of fire, no pitch forks, and no winged demons. All and all it was a disappointment.
What he did find was a hell that was much like the underground caverns he had imagined as a child. Vast rooms enclosed in rock, lit by guttering torches. Edward eased his disappointment with the thought that the torches would at least be burning from oil made from human fat. Edward found comfort in this thought, and began to wander. Not so much to see if he could find anyone else, but just to familiarize himself with where he would be spending eternity.
After a time Edward did in fact come upon a person. This person could only be described as a gentleman. A well dressed gentleman at that, despite the fact that his gray tailor made suit was a century or so out of style.
The young gentlemen was leaning his moderate frame against a natural ceiling support, the shadows playing on his handsome face.
When the gentlemen noticed that he had been noticed he straightened himself and brushed imaginary dust from a dark liquid green tie.
“Edward! My dear boy come over here!” His voice was mercury on ice. A deep red smile parted his handsome face, and he beckoned Edward into haste with a gesture of his hand.
The young gentleman extended his hand towards Edward. Edward shook it, warmth spread from his hand to the rest of his body, and pleasant tingle that made Edward shiver despite the heat.
“Edward, so happy to see you. You’re a bit early, but that’s very fortunate, very fortunate indeed.” The young gentlemen broke the handshake, and the tingling receded slowly.
More questions then one were speeding through Edwards mind, but the one that found his way to his lips was not the most pressing. “Who are you?” Edward wasn’t sure why he asked, it didn’t really matter to him. Apparently it didn’t matter to the young gentlemen either because he ignored Edward completely.
“You’re covered in sin Edward I like that.” He said.
Edward looked down and brushed at his clothes. “Funny, I don’t feel sinful.” Edward looked up, and met the gentlemen’s eyes.
“Ha! A funny one, I like you Edward. I knew I would. But, you are right they rarely do, most people justify themselves to the point that they feel clean. Others like you never think to justify themselves. Mainly because they never considered what they were doing as sinning per se, just living. It’s just the way things are now a days. Much the better for me though, eh?” The gentlemen’s face split into a deep smile, were the tips of his teeth pointed?
“Wait a second; you’re the Devil?” Edward was incredulous.
“You’re a quick one.” The Devil moved to Edwards’ side and gave him a slap on the back. “Sure, I am a lot of names Edward. The morning star, the great adversary, the dragon, Lucifer, Mephistopheles, Satan. Just to name a few of the more notable names, but you should think of me right as more of a concerned uncle. More of a savior, if I might be so bold.” The morning star let out a small chuckle.
The Devil began to walk, and Edward followed a pace or two behind.
“You know Edward I don’t get to see anyone much anymore, just too many coming down the pipe as it were.” Sticking his hands in his pocket quickly he produced an old fashioned steel key. And although Edward could see no door, the morning star came to a stop, placed the steel key into a keyhole, and pulled a door of nothingness open. The sound produced was something of a Hollywood cliché`, a slight pop and a rush of air.
“After you Edward, we may be in hell but it‘s no reason to be rude.” The devil gave him a quick wink, and Edward made his way in.
The room that Edward entered was, plush. Large overstuffed chairs upholstered in red velvet. A high ceiling with molding worked in dark crafted woods. A hearth in the center complete with a blazing, chaotic fire. Every inch of the room bespoke of a cozy sort of elegance. This was proof if nothing else of the Devils longing to return to heaven Edward thought to himself.
Edward felt a hand rest on his shoulder, light as morning mist. “Come. Sit.” A textured feminine voice, surely as soft as the velvet that adorned the overstuffed chairs caressed his ears.
Edward allowed the hand on his back to guide him into a chair, but when he turned to see who his guide had been he saw nothing. His confusion was broken by the mercury voice of the morning star.
“I like you Edward; I like the fact that you are a good guy.” The devil took the chair next to his. “We get those from time to time down here, but not like you.”
At that moment a cat jumped into Edwards chair and made its way to his lap. It meowed once and then made itself comfortable in his lap.
“You see, even Lilith likes you.” The Devil pointed at the cat fast asleep in Edwards lap. “That doesn’t happen very often. Believe me.” That Devil sat back a smile playing at the corner of his lips. It was evident to Edward that he was waiting for something, but Edward couldn’t think of anyway to react.
“What am I doing here?” The question came unbidden to his lips, but it was a logical question so Edward made no attempt to cover it up.”
“There we go Edward that is what everyone asks. That’s the question, and I knew you would ask it eventually. You unlike them though, you get not only an answer but a choice.” The devil leaned forward in his chair. Edward could see the fire reflected in his eyes. The chaos on the surface was minuscule compared to the chaos playing underneath. Once more Edward shivered despite the heat.
“You see Edward I have a proposition to make. It’s a very good deal for you, and it doesn’t even involve something that you need anymore. Matter of a fact it is the answer to your earlier question. Your corporeal form; your body. You committed suicide ergo your placement in hell, a mortal sin.”
The morning star took a deep breath, the chaos in his eyes focusing completely on Edward.
“You see Edward I have this job, that being something of an administrator of hell and all the souls within. I like this job I really do. I mean Milton said it best, why serve in heaven when you can reign in Hell? I do whatever I please; I can go almost wherever I want. But as you know, as humanity knows; it’s the things that are forbidden that tempt you the most. Apples and all that.”
Lilith began to purr on Edwards lap, and he stroked the fire warmed pelt.
The Morning star watched for a time then started back in. “The thing is I work every day all day. In fact I work every week, every month, and every year until the end of time. That is my punishment. All the time god gave us. I don’t get breaks; or I didn’t get breaks until I found a loop hole rather. Now I can take a vacation whenever someone of the right… qualifications comes around. Needless to say I capitalize on this loophole.”
“The last time I had a vacation was some eighty years or more ago. A nice German fellow came through here after the first Great War. As I recall he was quite surprised when he got down here.” The corners of the Devils mouth rose for a second, and then his concentration once more turned towards Edward.
“All and all you are handling things better then he did.”
The morning star stood and knelt before the hearth. Sticking his hand out he began to play the flames.
“I need another vacation Edward. One that lasts a bit longer then a decade or two, and since you were quite young your body would be optimal. Actually it would be perfect.” The devil once again stood and faced Edward, the Devil’s shadow dancing on the floor underneath. His eyes aglow with the contrast of light and dark in the room.
“So my question is Edward, can you handle it? Can you run hell for me for a solid thirty or forty year?” His smoldering hand made an all-inclusive sweeping motion.
“Of course this is not a one sided deal. You will be repaid quite handsomely when I get back. Here’s how: Instead of being damned eternally in the pit that is hell you get to go to Purgatory.” Edward stared at the Devil. He had no idea what the difference was, and the Devil quickly picked up on that fact.
“The difference between purgatory and hell Edward it this. Hell is Damnation, no redemption, no end to pain. Purgatory on the other hand, is something of a middle ground between Heaven and Hell. When the end of time comes, those in Purgatory who have… cleansed themselves of sin and made amends with god well be welcomed into heaven.” The Devil spread his hands. A slight flicker of pain crossed his face then disappeared.
“So, that means you can get into heaven if they decide you have paid for your sins sufficiently. If you have not, you are no worse off then when you started.”
The Morning star moved towards Edward until he was inches away and knelt. Edward could feel his hot breathe play along his skin.
“What do you say Edward? How does career change sound to you? I mean what did you do up there? You where an artist, a writer? That wasn’t really working out for you was it? That is self evident considering your current location I suppose.”
Edward thought about all the Devil had said, in the end Edward thought, he could do worse. And seeing how this was the End, he may as well not do worse.
“Not very articulate Edward, but that’s what I like about you. If simplicity gets the job done, then let it. That’s what I like about you Edward you are very practical, you will do well here. I promise.” With that the Devil was up and pacing, his excitement was a tangible presence in the air, and Lilith reacted by jumping off Edwards lap.
“Now let’s see you are currently in the middle of falling off the balcony. I do believe that despite your best efforts the wire will snap. A nasty scar, but something to talk about at book signing, eh? I do believe that a child on her bike should be sufficient to brake your fall. A couple months in the hospital should do me good, allow me to reacclimate myself to the world.”
The Devil turned towards Edward, eyes alight features twisted. “You will be remembered Edward! I throw that in with all my temporary replacements.” The morning star snapped his fingers and the smell of brimstone permeated his nostrils. When the smoke cleared Edward found himself looking into an exact replica of himself. All and all he found it very disconcerting.
“Lilith will help you with anything you need.” Once more the Devil pointed towards the cat. “She knows how things are run around here, and in time you will too. Enjoy yourself Edward, and enjoy purgatory afterwards because I won’t see you again… hopefully that is.” Once more, a deep chuckle, a pointed toothed smile, a wink and Edwards double disappeared.
Lilith jumped into Edwards lap once more, and he absently began to stroke it. “Who was the last person he switched with I wonder?” Edward thought out loud.
The cat stood up stretched and turned to face Edward. “He was a funny little man with a weird mustache`.” The Cats voice was as soft as velvet.
“He was a very good artist, that’s his painting over there.” The cat indicated a portrait of the morning star in the corner.
It was a very good painting thought Edward. Not one that would have made him remembered though. Edward wondered what he would be remembered like, and thought better of it.
It was going to be an interesting few decades thought Edward, very interesting indeed.
"It is considered rude to silence a fool, but cruel to let him go on."