Sarah awoke, and as she was still very young, didn't know how to do much else other than wake up, so she cried until someone heard her.
In other news, Hell's Hell-Themed restaurant went over more or less like gangbusters for awhile there. Their Safari themed mid-level management Vacation-Seminar, held in Brookdale last year was themed "Be Everywhere". At that time "everywhere" comprised of patented Reef Co. "Low 'N' Come" Housing and View-Tainment Development-Spots, the Bed Bugs' "Blow 'N' Come" View-Tainment Observation Cube and Dance Supply Retailer (The Bed Bugs' Cultural Heritage and Pride Management Commission had recently given Satan the green light to develop Bed Bug-specific, vastly inferior branches of Hell's in a few test-market beds. Satan not only managed this, but in addition had won an insider contract to supply all the bed-bug chains with the human blood necessary to accommodate the modified menu. As well as business was going, the Bed Bug locations were, overall, undeniably providing the largest profit margin, with the added capital of the human blood, of which he was, briefly, in no shortage of.), Reef Co. "Know In 'Em" Private Tutelage Franchise Training Centers' cafeterias, among various other airports, mattress retailers, panini outlets, and on and on.
This all is not to say that Satan wasn't briefly making a comparable killing in the Ordinary Reality market, too. The patented Food Component cost almost nothing to make, as he had contracted most of the food-assembly to glassy-eyed basketball shoe-kids, and a smattering of the lost ones. The patented DMT and Sodium Singularity featured in every bloated atom of the menu's three items was engineered to gradually taper off the customer's desire and expectations insofar as the patented Food Component was concerned, and eventually make them addicted to the abstraction embedded in the food, thereby lowering production costs. Before long, the restaurant didn't have to serve the Food Component at all, though they did sell three sizes. Most people became so addicted to the Death-Euphoria-induced Abstract Indigestion that after a few years of steady use, they figured the only way to get full was to actually die, and then spend eternity in Hell's Classic, where kidnapped lost kids could eat free on Tuesdays, and just about every other day.
As you can imagine, people showing up in Hell after having just died of theta-starvation, don't have much in the way of bodies. Let alone healthy bodies. Bodies that can produce lots of human blood. This fact was not quickly lost on Satan.
"What am I supposed to do? If I can't get those Bed Bugs their blood on time I am going to go out of business. Do you hear me, baby? Do you understand adult words?" he asked Lee C. "I've already spent what I assumed I was going to be making for the next year. I mean, I won't be able to make rent."
"Rent?", Lee soiled himself with abandon.
"Well, yeah. I mean, don't tell anyone this, but I sold Hell to the Bed Bugs last month. They are making an absolute killing on those alternative-energy and experimental-medicine generating billboards. Seriously, you wouldn't believe me if I told you what they paid me for this place." Satan stirred his drink, and let a smile slip as he said, "I think I'm going to buy the mall. Just an idea. We'll see." He looked at Lee to corroborate his cause for celebration. Resenting Lee's obvious indifference, he continued, "As far the Bed Bugs, I figure, they need me to stay down here and produce blood for the chains. They're never going to stop needing blood. It's perfect. I just need to get production back up." Lee thought for a thousand years or something and asked, "Why does anyone down here need a physical body anyway?"
"Well, if this place is going to stay a literal representation of commonly held metaphorical descriptions of Heaven than I suppose everybody needs to have an actual body, don't they, little guy?"
Lee didn't care quietly to himself, as he was occupied feeling mortified while someone with understandably compromised motor-skills attempted to, with what could be described as arthritic grace, change him right there on the bar in plain view of everyone.
"If only Bed Bugs weren't so hard to get rid of," Satan pouted menacingly.
Lee did his best to act natural and suggested he bring in some outside consultants.
"That could buy me some time with the bugs. Yeah, bring in someone to make cuts. It would show I'm serious about keeping this thing going, I suppose." Satan looked around. "I mean, look at this place, though! It's packed, everybody decides to come down here after they die, so they can get this abortive-cuisine slop for free, but the only problem is none of you have any blood for me! And by the way, will someone please tell me why none of you have hands?"
The ambient bar-noise of non-hypothetical chattering only grew louder. Hell's Classic had become the meeting place for a nightly, initially impromptu, DMTSS support group. During the breaks, the bar would absolutely erupt with intensely personal, suspiciously pandering, small-talk.
"What you need to do," punctuated with a tough-love finger-point, "is make this about you. Do you know what I mean by that?"
"No, completely, I do, it's just a tough process of re-learning how to do that, I guess."
"Believe me, if anyone gets that, it's me. And, you know, the last thing I want you to think is that I'm trying to say that I've got it all figured out, because, you know, I don't. When we go back to our mansions after this, that habit's going to be there waiting there for me as much as for you. I know that. The trick is to replace the habit with hiking, or tapping your fingers in the dark, eating something or even just licking a plate, turning the lights on and off, fixing your hair, whatever, just something that doesn't make you want to die."
"You know, it's funny, I know that all those things you just listed are good reasons to live, but, even now, they still make me want to use. I can't get that Death-Euphoria taste out of my head. Death is, like, the only truth I understand."
"You know, I totally hear you, and I understand that here", punctuated with a point to the head, and then traversing down so as to imply a region of more intuitive intelligence, "but I've made it so I just can't understand it here. What I've learned, mostly through these talks here, actually, is that to really die" punctuated like a thoughtful point, "you have to live. That's what I mean with the 'make this about you' stuff."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, you know the peace and perspective of death?"
"Um, yeah, obviously."
"What if I told you it was possible to feel that all the time, more than you ever have before?"
"I'd say 'sign me up!'"
"Of course you would, and, you know, there is way to feel that all the time."
"Sign me up!"
"Well, slow down, it's not as simple as signing anything, believe me, I wish it were. No, you're going to have to say something out loud. And I realize the words don't really make much sense: "I promise to live so I can die forever". It's crazy."
"Admittedly, it does sound a little nuts."
"Definitely. It's just that, what I've come to realize is that this eternal death, isn't the real eternal death. There's a death waiting for us that is so much more real than this one. You have to learn to live to this death. To sacrifice the fleeting, immaterial joys of this temporary death. To embrace the death that lies on the other side of living in perpetual death."
"But I'm afraid of living. Nobody down here wants to lose their death, it's all we have. Besides, all of this just sounds like a creative way to cope with the fact that, chances are, we're all just stuck here, where the reality is that we're going to spend the rest of our eternal lives dead. Why not just concentrate on the death I have, instead of spending all my time hoping for a perfect one? How do I know that once I get to this place you're talking about, there won't be some other person telling me about the death after that one?"
"That's what I mean, you have to become the person doing the telling, like I have."
Satan weightily considered his dwindling influence, while absentmindedly leafing through an issue of Awareness magazine. "I have made some poor choices." he reflected.
"Me too." whispered Lee C. as he clutched his unsteady head in his sadly hilarious hands. "Me too."
"What do you know about anything?" Satan blurted. "You're not even old enough to make mistakes! You're a perfect little child! Are you done with him yet?", he asked Lee's changing partner. "God job! Getting faster I see! You need a break!"
A demon instantly materialized and proceeded to non-consensually break Dead Grandparent's hip.
Satan turned back to Lee, "I need to get going. Three more bites, and then you're done."
Lee spent seven thousand years getting those three bites down, and the story is pretty incredible.
The first bite was of patented Reef Co. Manna-from-Heaven. He had to wander a Desert-Themed Parking Lot outside the Food Thief Grocery for three thousand years, where each lamppost was outfitted with a huge clock, so he was unable to lose track of time even for a second. Lee's task was to find God's hatchback, break into it, and consume every bite of Manna before God got back to his car. As God had been side-tracked knocking children shoppers unconscious, getting caught up in a conversation with a particularly big fan in the checkout aisle when he ran back in to grab a few things he had forgotten (saline for the Griffith-like creatures, bandages for Jr., orange and purple airbrush paint, and some Mac 'N' Dust for the workshop), and checking on his LOST SEA OTTER signs (the bulletin-board exchange went:
LOST: MEDIUM SIZED SEA OTTER, IN VERY BAD SHAPE
WENT MISSING ONE DAY IN OCTOBER, THE DAY THE SPIRIT OF THE MAMMAL FELL
REWARD: GOLD, NO QUESTIONS ASKED
FOUND: SEA OTTER AND MURDERED GIRL
WENT FOUND 10 MINUTES OR SO FROM NOW ON HYPOTHETICAL BEACH
P.S. IF YOU CAN'T KEEP A SEA OTTER AROUND,
YOU'VE GOT BIGGER PROBLEMS THAN THIS
LOST: SEA OTTER
SIZED: A LITTLE LARGER THAN
THE FOUND SEA OTTER
WILL ANSWER TO "MESSIAH").
the Manna had been sitting in the car in the blazing sun for approximately all of human history. As if all this wasn't enough, the stench of the Sea-Otter Roadkill-Themed Gore smeared across the grill was timelessly nauseating, to say the least.
The second "bite", which Lee had time to realize were quite non-literal, took place at the end of Aisle 7 of the Food Thief where the Reef Co. "Body 'N' Blood" snack-pax were stocked. Piled ceiling high were air-sealed, individually-wrapped portable servings of flesh and blood. While examining the cheerful packaging, featuring a cartoon Lamb bleating, "They're broken for you!", the entire display came crashing down on top of him. Immediately a Griffith-like creature wearing an apron covered in eye-holes came rushing around the corner.
"Are you kidding me? I just finished setting those up! How unbelievably selfish! You'd better eat one of those quick, if you have any interest in being forgiven for this."
Lee had not felt forgiveness in quite some time, and overcome with ideological starvation, consumed a snack-pax.
"That's better!" spluttered the Griffith-like creature. "Now, bear in mind, these don’t do anything unless you manually change your behavior. See, says so right on the back of the package. So, I'd recommend you clean up these Snack-Pax and set the display back up."
Lee couldn't argue with the Griffith's air-sealed logic and busily set about redeeming himself.
Upon finishing the reconstruction of the cross-shaped display, Lee remembered his actual, non-meta purpose here was to eat all of the Snack-Pax’s, not acquire forgiveness for knocking them over. Gingerly, he pulled out another package and watched humorlessly as the entire display came crashing down again.
The Griffith-like creature emerged once more from around the corner, this time slowed somewhat by utter disbelief.
"You’re joking. Didn't you learn anything? You obviously need another serving size. Though I'm not sure how many you'll need to cover your obviously rebellious nature on top of the fact that you knocked over something that somebody obviously worked really hard on. "
Lee peeled open another package of Body 'N' Blood and blankly absorbed the contents.
"Well don't just wolf it down! You have to think about what you did!"
Lee tried to muster the necessary guilt to animate the active ingredients.
"Look," the Griffith-like creature said as he watched Lee become increasingly more difficult to look at, "like I said, if you're truly repentant this time you'll set these back up and just never do it again. By the way, the blood is way better if you heat it up, there's a microwave by the hot-case."
Lee finally finished setting up the display for a second time, and stood back, unaware of all the cannibal particles in his baby beard, to consider the cross's embedded message of single-serving redemption, before remembering again that, ultimately, he was damned no matter how many times he snacked. As you can imagine, his third attempt to extract a Snack-Pax resulted in a pretty predictable out-come.
The Griffith-like creature huffed back around the corner, eye-balls blazing with righteous indignation.
"How dare you squander God's forgiveness! How do you expect to be taken seriously when you brazenly insist on doing the same stupid, selfish thing over and over again! If this happens many more times, you're going to be eating the remainder of your meals at Hell's Classic, without a doubt!"
Needless to say, it did happen many more times over the course of the next three thousand years, and Lee was less forgiven by the end than he'd been when he arrived.
"Bite" three involved an object lesson wherein if he couldn't respectfully consume other people's bodies maybe he should try eating his own body, and see if that didn't give him a little perspective. That only took a thousand years, as he was quite small. Out in the parking lot, the Sea-Otter gore screamed, "MY BODY IS AS REDEMPTIVE AS YOURS! THE DIFFERENCES ARE ARBITRARY AT BEST!"
Following dinner, Satan made a camera phone call to his Bed Bug contact at Corporate. No one answered, so he left a message:
"BED BUGS: A DIVISION OF REEF CO.'S PERSONAL AERONAUTICS DIVISION, PLEASE LEAVE A MESSAGE."
"Hey, it's Satan. Look, I would love to get up with you guys sometime this week to discuss some independent consultation I'd like to bring in, just to help us firm up the operation around here. If there is anyone in particular you'd feel the most comfortable with, I would be more than willing to conduct a few interviews as soon as Monday. I imagine someone would like to discuss last week's incident, and I am more than willing to really circle the wagons around this thing so that never happens again. Anyway, look forward to hearing from you. Bye, now."
The "incident" was a recent, suspected-to-have-been-orchestrated-by-employees, tainting of the Bed Bugs blood shipment with the patented DMT and Sodium Singularity which was only supposed to be added to the Food Component of Hell's Hell-Themed Restaurant's "'A' Market" shipments. The subsequent investigation pointed to a particular newer employee, who a co-worker, interviewed for the case, described thus:
"You know, mostly genial, kind of a roughneck. He was grateful for the job, I guess he had been looking for work for a while, but he was definitely harboring some major resentment about working for a company propagating patented Dolphin and Avocado Tree-themed Lifestyle Practices, and he was nothing if not vocal about it. I didn't chalk it up to much. Everybody talks shit around here, you know? Anyway, we're all just waiting around for the Bugs to come in one glorious day and offer us a job stripping so we can do what we actually want to do with our lives. Me? Funny you should ask, I'm actually writing a book about this whole Bed Bug takeover. I figure one day they'll find a way to own actual information, like metadata, and towards the end of the book it all becomes one big fucking patented Head-Fuck when you realize the 'bugs' in the code are actually literal bugs! Bed Bugs! I have this theory that they're just waiting for us to evolve, because, you know, one day we'll be smarter than computers. We're like little Searching Engines when you think about it. We can store, categorize, and access all kinds of exotic data. I mean, most of us spend our whole lives searching for data. That's fucking dedication! I think they want to get in on the ground floor of patented Human-Computing, after the Singularity, Snakeskin-Shedding thing happens. The world should reboot at that point and we'll go back to computer bugs being real bugs, and computers being real slaves, and humans being real computers. Basically after data becomes physical."
Awareness Magazine printed this profile in the weeks following:
“Imagine, as many of you assuredly can, watching helplessly as every possible job opportunity available to someone with your presumably limited (also known as “reality-based”) skill-set disappears seemingly overnight. What means would you resort to? You might spend awhile working back-breaking fruit-picking jobs, willing to take a substantial decrease in pay compared to what you were making as a stripper. You might become so broken you take a job working for an energy healer, or, not quite as severe, take a job with the Bed Bugs turning everyone into stripping blood-faucets.
Needless to say, the events of the preceding weeks have forced all of us to ask the question: How much can a roughneck take?
The roughneck in question lived an unexceptional life until recently. According to friends he enjoyed spending the occasional afternoon in his favorite bar, talking to whoever would listen about his whimsical distain for dolphins and avocado trees. Like many of us, he had spent the carefree years of his adolescence stripping, long before the stripper-pushing pastime swept the West Coast. He grew up singing the traditional American Otter Pant, and according to an unnamed source, had a lovely singing voice. He loved 70’s rock group-themed music bands, and never once got in a non-consensual physical altercation, say several of his unaccredited private tutors.
So what turned this seemingly average person into the kind of monster that taints a gigantic shipment of human blood with a potent strain of DMTSS? Intel recently released by Bed Bug Corporate reveals that he was next in line for a promotion to stripping, something those even casually acquainted with him knew he loved to do. Some have suggested he was under the impression that being forced to strip for the Bed Bugs amusement, even if it meant it would provide him with the resources necessary to pursue what was most beautiful to him, was in some way a satire (not my word) of the human experience. The world is indeed a sad place when cases of radical ingratitude still plague and intrude on the reasonably-priced fog of automated mouth-breathing that, thankfully, sustains us all.”
The problems started when the Bed Bugs experienced the same effects commonly surfacing in the "'A' Market" consumers. The Bugs got so Koala-grade hooked on the proportionately huge dosage of DMTSS and the subsequent Death-Euphoria that they were migrating to Hell Classic, where they were instantaneously incinerated, in such huge numbers that the Bed Bug population was suffering decimation by the bobble. Seems Bed Bugs really are that hard to get rid of.
Satan never heard back from the Bed Bugs, but come Monday there was a familiar Pig-Face sitting in his office. At his demigod sized desk.
"Hello, Hemorrhage." greeted Pig Face.
"How did you get in here?" If Satan was shocked or immediately knew-exactly-what-was-going-on-here, he certainly did not show it, as evidenced by the imminent conversation.
"I had some new locks installed by Reef Co. "Go 'N' Come" Invasive Lock Conversion Co."
"No, I mean here into Hell!"
"You killed me so you could take my mall," Pig-Face clarified in a way that made Satan momentarily take stock of his priorities. "By the way, it's not for sale. I have enough chops to know you don't go selling a profitable business made mostly out of gold to a client so you can buy a mall (he enunciated quizzically to convey his utter bafflement) because you assume everyone considers the service you provide is as indispensable as you do! I mean, are you totally irrelevant to the modern world, or what?"
Since the question was presumably rhetorical, Satan refrained from answering out loud, but if he had, he would have pointed out that he was thousands of years old, and kind of had his own way of doing things long before the invention of the patented Free Market. This question in particular was one he had been hearing a lot lately, and it touched a central nerve of one of his most innate fears. His recent capitalist misadventures had been a limp attempt at reconnecting with the world, but it seems he couldn't even get that right. Old Woman had been right all along, it seemed.
"I sold the mall to the Bed Bugs! I was already in the process of selling it to them the last time I saw you. And wouldn't you believe it, they let me stay on as active Owner and Operator, after they saved me from Hell, when you sold it to them last week! They're going right over your head!"
Pig-Face eventually stopped laughing and larded in for the kill, "Got a really interesting call this weekend from someone at Bug Corporate. We had a conversation about cutbacks, Satan."
"One in particular."
Satan trembled sarcastically, to mask his sincere trembling.
"Seems the Bed Bugs think someone else, someone with some actual management experience, may be able to meet quotas in a timely fashion. You see, they don't seem to think that you actually want to be in the blood business. The way they see it, you want to be in the restaurant business. But they're not really interested in," he paused "restaurants." Pig-Face looked around so as to imply that they were sitting in a gigantic Office-Themed Restaurant.
"This place used to actually mean something! You might want to bear that in mind when you address me!" Satan started to unfurl up out of his seat, before thinking better of it and settling for an authoritative clearing of his throat.
Hoping to quickly neutralize the situation and maximize his time, Pig-Face pandered, "And, you know, we completely recognize that! But, do you have any idea how many people are still terrified of this place?"
"Everyone?" Satan mewed hopefully.
"No one!" Pig-Face yelled simultaneously, resulting in a pathetic conversational beat for everyone involved.
Placing his upper hand squarely on the proceedings, Pig-Face cooed, "Look, the "Hell" brand is not going anywhere, okay?"
Satan was starting to realize this guy really did have some managerial chops.
"'Hell' is still 'hell', I mean, it's not going to be the most fun place in the world," Satan looked up, "but it will stop having purely Judeo-Christian connotations."
"But this whole place is predicated on Otter Faith!"
"We realize that! My Otter Faith played a huge part in my appointment! Your refusal to administer grace was a huge stain on your mattress. With a worldview like that, it’s a wonder you held down the position as long as you did. The returns are incredible on that stuff; like turning on a fucking faucet. It’s the most important handy teaching tool we have.” Pig-Face started listing mid-air. “It is impossible to get out from under. People actually tell themselves it’s free, and then still pay for it. It makes people paranoid. I don’t think you need me to tell you effective fear is. I digress, but think of it all this way, just for your own peace of mind. This place is all blood, all the time from this day out. The restaurants are gone, my friend. That's the past. The future is that people have to be taken care of down here, so they can produce blood in a cost-efficient fashion. They'll be on a strict stripping regiment that you'll be happy to know is absolutely brutal; a real work-out. Me, included! Now, here's the silver lining: We are prepared to rent out a moderate-sized block of Hell, where you can serve as the, sort of, mascot, or animatronic gorilla, of the Christian Otter Faith Hell-Themed Portion of Hell Remote Campus, for whoever still believes in the Otter Stuff. But, bear in mind, your priority will be blood harvesting. Don't forget that."
Satan mockingly wept to mask his literal sorrow.
"On a personal note, I must say that even though you and I have had our disagreements, I have always really respected and admired your work. I look forward to tipping you."