Flipping through the pages of the Sunday Tribune, James noted that the time to register to vote in the county was approaching.
I’ll have to go do that tomorrow… He mused as he tugged at his collar.
James was a tall man, with broad shoulders with red hair and beard. His smoky eyes were generally squinted as he disliked his glasses, resulting in crows feet at an early age. Add that to his days working as a Geological Engineer out in the heat of Southern Texas and you had a leathery hide instead of thin skin that most men would have.
Putting out his cigarette, he settled back into the sofa of his dark den, willing the air conditioner to kick on and make the house cooler. It was an unreasonably warm winter and all he wanted was to rest on his days off in a chilly house. Sometimes he had friends over for poker, while other times he remained alone, drinking while reading a novel of some horror long-since passed. He dreaded the bitter loneliness his home offered, the divorce robbing him of his three daughters. But so long as it was cold in his home, he could survive.
Looking up as he heard the air conditioner click over, he patted his pack of cigarettes, newspaper now in his lap. After he smacked the pack a few times, he opened it up and pulled out a slim white cigarette, ready to enjoy a fine smoke as cold air blew down from the vent above him.
But no air came.
Looking up, James stared at the vent. It was maybe two and half feet by two feet, set into the side of the wall just above where his liquor cabinet sat. Looking over at the thermostat, James lit his cigarette with a scowl.
It was seventy-eight degrees in the house!
“Goddamn air conditioner, s’posed to be at sixty-six!” James grunted, tossing the newspaper to the side as he pushed himself to his feet.
Crossing the room, he tapped the module a few times before turning the system off. A low moan whined through the vents as the machine turned off, bringing a frown to James’s already annoyed features. Flicking the machine back on, he raised an eyebrow as another groan, this one sounding as if it came from a wounded animal, echoed from the vent.
“What in the hell…?” James asked, stepping back to look through the metal slates to try and spot whatever was making that noise.
His squint became wide -eyed when his gaze was met by a pair of bloodshot eyes, the pupils mere dots with veiny red stretches marring the foggy white of the lidless eyes.
James dashed over to the coatrack, his .45 hanging from his chest holster loaded and ready, but a wall shuddering slam made him look back.
Thick, bloody fingers, stripped clean of skin, had forced their ways through the slates, and were now hammering on the vent as if trying to escape. The moaning increased as well as a sound of something grainy sliding along rusted metal, a dry rubbing noise akin to sandpaper over a chalkboard.
James grabbed his gun just as he heard the vent clatter to the ground; turning, he raised his pistol and stared at the creature oozing out from the vent.
An overstuffed caterpillar, six human arms pulling along a bloated, segmented body of soft, skinless tissue as a human skull laced with strands of muscle fiber stared out from the front. Groaning, the creature began slipping in great meaty pops down the wall, crashing into his liquor cabinet. James growled and took careful aim, firing at the back of the creature’s head in an effort to put whatever it was down.
The bullet sank into the torso, tearing into the gelatin flesh until an opening was forced. Instead of any kind of fluid, smaller creatures began spilling from between the slippery muscles. Scorpions, roaches, centipedes… all red and bloated as if they’d just feasted. The critters slapped down to the floor, the smallest being six inches in length, and began swarming at the base of the cabinet.
The whole structure gave beneath the monster’s bulk after the last section of slithering body flopped out of the vent, the sheer weight of the nine-foot long creature too much for the old wood to bear.
The monster tumbled to the floor as the cabinet gave way, shrill wails echoing off the walls as it rolled onto it’s back, still bleeding bugs. The skull was now straining against the body, the eyes rolling about in the sockets as the toothless maw stretched wider, the howls belched forth akin to dogs barking.
James leveled his gun once more and shot at the creature, this time blasting away the upper portion of the skull.
More bugs began to bleed out over the upper jaw and remaining eye, falling into the screaming mouth, which began happily chewing the creatures with hardened bone as fast as it could manage.
“What the hell are you?” James asked, not expecting an answer.
The creature’s eye swiveled to focus on him, the pinpoint pupil growing a a millimeter larger as it stopped chewing it’s own gore, allowing the swarm to spill over him.
"Why Jim! We're here for you!" The skull hissed, a multitude of voices spilling from the fractured skull. "We could sense your hour of need and, well, just wanted to make an offer before the other side does."
"What the fuck?" James said, backing up as several large red scorpions skittered towards him, the gelatinous arachnids making the noise of jello being stepped on.
"Yessss..." The creature hissed, twisting it's head to the side so that it could try and close the wound in it's segmented body. "In less than ten minutes you're going to have a heart attack James, a fatal one. The good Lord does have excellent aim, or so I'm told, and he has you in the crosshairs. And you know as well as I do that you're not going to make it to the Pearly Gates."
James frowned, lowering his gun slightly. It was true, he'd had a hard life and was hard right back. He drank heavily, swore constantly, beat his kids to teach them respect... he was one sin atop another, and despite his lip service he gave to church every Christmas Eve, he didn't really know of his future after the grave.
"I can smell your doubt... it's like rose petals on a warm breeze!" The fiend chuckled, a hoarse coughing noise that was broken up by heavy wheezing. "Yes, Heaven isn't for the likes of you. You're bound for the Pit my boy, so why don't you go there on your own terms?"
"My terms?" James repeated, relaxing his stance.
"I offer you a deal for extended life, and in return you belong to me once you're cast into the Abyss. If not claimed then you'll be pulled apart by a mob of my kind, all swimming in the lake of fire and lead. It would be never ending torment, whereas I promise an afterlife free of pain, free of agony... free of everything."
"Everything?" James repeated once more.
The eye rolled back into the socket, revealing a second pupil, this one split three ways, similar to how one would look at a cell under a microscope. The eye was colored, deep black in the center fading into lighter greens at the edges, with a sickening vomit brown dividing the eye.
"Everything Jim... and I can provide for you while you're up here as well! I can bestow great luck to you, or superhuman strength. Maybe you'd like to be able to fly, or read the minds of your fellow man?"
James thought for a moment. Then a sly grin came to his face. He raised the gun once more, carefully aiming at the eyeball. "I can see this going okay... if you grant me my one wish."
"Anything Jim... just name it, and it'll be yours!" The demon hissed, the skull rattling in place.
"I want the world to never have a problem with lack of food again... I want to live to see a day when lack of food is no longer a world concern." James said with a smile. "If you can guarantee me a week where nobody goes without a meal while I live, yeah, you can have my soul."
The demon clicked it's toothless moth together in thought. The eye revolved in place, the colors swirling slowly as the terrifying beast sat. Small whispers echoed from the kitchen, from upstairs, from the very boards of the floor. Hushed, wordless questions that seemed to have no gender, no owner; they were their own entity it would seem. They began to grow loud, louder than the radio ever went.
James kept his eyes on the demon, gun ready to fire into the creature's broken face. At this range James would never miss.
Suddenly the voices all synchronized and said in one chorus of voices that the demon joined. "Agreed!"
The demon held out an ungainly arm, bloody fingers stretched wide and dribbling slime onto the floor. The demon, now chuckling, nodded at Jim. "Shake on it Jimmy Boy?"
James stared at the sagging arm warily, but in the end lowered his pistol and stepped forward, clasping hands with the malleable limb.
It was like gripping a saggy, greasy bag of leftover gravy; chunky yet squishy, firm enough to form strands within but not firm enough to withstand any pressure. There were no bones ion this hand, and when James pumped his hand once to seal the deal, he was surprised at how he couldn't pull away.
That was when the burning began.
A burning sensation trickled up his arm, running through his veins as his vision began to go dark. Suddenly a heavy weight pressed down on his chest, his heart beating wildly. James dropped to one knee, bringing the pistol up towards the demon.
"You... you liar!" James shouted. "I'm still dying! We made an agreement!"
"You're not dying Jim... you're just having a severe heart attack, combined with a very serious stroke it would seem. My manager sends his regards by the way, he does so love it when someone tries to outsmart us. I think the resulting coma from this is going to be from him, as he doesn't want you bragging to everyone how you stumped us."
"C-Coma? That wasn't part of the deal!" James staggered, panicking as he lost feeling on the left side of his body, his heart hammering in his ears. No... I don't want to be alone, I can't just lie alone in some hospital!
"No, but you never asked for good health while we worked on the world hunger problem, did you? You just made certain you would live long enough to see everyone well-fed. Funny thing, that's the kind of request that someone bound for Heaven would make... even if they had a spotty past."
The demon reached out and caressed the side of James's face with a horrid finger. "You'll be delicious when I can finally claim you Jimmy... but you made certain I'll have to wait. But that's something my kind is good at! We're very good at waiting to get what we want..."
James fell to the floor, curling up as he fought to save himself from an eternity in a coma; he brought the pistol to his head, lining it up with his mouth. "You're wrong fucker," he gritted out. "I'm not going into any coma and you ain't collecting my soul!"
James's world went dark. He smiled inwardly at his success. He'd outsmarted the demons of Hell that were out for his soul, and in moments he would be welcomed into Heaven. He was a fool to trust a demon, to think that the creature would honor a deal between men.
A small light peeked in the distance, and began rapidly approaching as if James were flying up to it. The wind roared in his ears, the scent of roses on the wind bringing a smile to James's face as he raised his arms in success. He would get to see his mother, and his father! His brothers and sisters that had died when he was a child, he'd get to see them too!
James was blinded as he entered the circle of light and blinked a few moments as the scent of roses was washed away by the scent of molten iron. Plummeting instead of flying, James tumbled midair to see that the light he'd been peering at wasn't the light of God, but the white hot flames of Hell, dancing over a writhing ocean of nude people, all of whom were screaming in tune to the hammering of a smithy. Chains rattled and flew out, catching James midair, the wafting odors of burning flesh and pennies making James cough.
The chains pulled him back, coiling around his legs gently, as if they were carrying a child. There, on the ledge overlooking the Pit, was the demon who'd slid from his vent. His skull was still fractured, his body sagging from open wounds now sealed, the one eye now a mere pupil once more. Beside him was another, this one taller, a slender looking woman, dressed in a variety of chains. Not an inch of her body, the ebon black skin, was uncovered. The two chains were connected to her wrists, and seemed to act as an extension of her arms. Her face sported several small horns growing vertically out of her forehead, sitting just above fiery red eyes.
"This the one?" The demoness asked, her voice lilting and seductive.
The demon giggled drunkenly. "Yes," he said as he stared at James with a certain amount of hunger in his eye. "That is my dear Jimmy Boy."
"You broke the deal!" Jim shouted over the den of chaos below him. "You said I would live until everyone was well-fed! I can't be dead, I just can't!"
"You called me a liar Jimmy, and I have to admit to you, I am. But I didn't break our deal... I was going to offer you a long life until we could arrange a new plague to wipe out a good chunk of the worlds population. With your deal, we would have free license to reap as much as we could and God would have nothing to hold against us. It was you who broke the deal by ending your life."
"What?" James stuttered, flinching as the chains grew warmer.
The demon clucked at him. "You should have thought it through better. I promised you life, and you took it away. Not my fault you did that."
"I was going to be in a coma!" James cried out.
"No, you weren't. That's why I said you were right in calling me a liar... I just needed to give you a gentle nudge to go in the right direction. The wish you asked for would have cinched a spot for you in Heaven, keeping you out of my grasp forever."
"Then why am I here?" James asked.
The demon laughed and looked to his female counterpart, who made a gun motion and put it to her head. "Bang bang, lover boy, bang bang!"
"Yessss... killing yourself has some nasty punishments, but once again I can offer you kindness that you would otherwise throw away like you did your life. You're mine Jimmy. We made a deal, and even though you broke it I did my best to hold up my end of the bargain. Now your soul is truly mine, and once I'm done, you'll just be another whisper someone hears when I visit them."
James leaned back, shrieking as the demoness brought him to the gelatin caterpillar, which split open to show a bloodless womb of clear red and pink flesh. Gently, even as James struggled and pleaded, he was lowered into the body of his captor, which sealed up over him once he was laid to rest. He heard the demon's voice chuckle from somewhere in the stuffy darkness, the clinking of chains vanishing as the metal links slinked out of the seal.
"Welcome to Legion Jimmy, and enjoy. Because with us, you're never truly alone!" And with that the hollowed out body filled to the brim with boiling gelatin, silencing James's screams in the chunky bits of rotted meat that slid into his mouth.