About the Story
The worst thing that ever happened to me in my life was that I became a manager. I did it for the best of reasons — I thought it would be a good career move, I felt it was a way I could help my company by spreading my skills further than I could as an individual contributor, and I felt I owed it as a favor to my manager — but it was a year of hell for me. This story is about a demon of Hell who undergoes a similar experience. His name, by the way, is pronouced “be-az-o-el,” with the accent on the second syllable.
This story forms a pair of bookends, or a diptych, with “Joy is the Serious Business of Heaven,” which was written first (at Clarion West, immediately following my hell year) but published years later.
The demon Beazoel’s pitchfork rested on two metal hooks driven into the wall behind him.
The pitchfork was ten feet long and made of pitted black iron that still smelled faintly of sulfur. Beazoel knew just how it felt in his hand, its substantial heft and comforting warmth. He had wielded it well during many centuries in the Torment and Punishment Division, and it had become so much a part of him that he had refused to be parted from it.
The wall on which the pitchfork hung was white and smooth and cool, its bland perfection unperturbed except by the hooks on which the pitchfork sat. Beazoel hated the wall, and the three others like it that surrounded his desk — hated it for its flatness, its rigidity, its uniformity. It looked like a slice of Heaven, and as such it did not belong here. But here it was, and so was Beazoel.
Beazoel himself, sitting stolidly behind his desk, was a magnificent specimen of a Demon of the Fifteenth Circle, a rugged living sculpture in obsidian and basalt. His horns curled with brute assured power from the sides of his head, his eyes glowed with baleful radiance beneath his broad stony brow, and his massive hands could tear a sinner’s torso in half in one quick motion. At the moment those hands were occupied in picking papers from the pile to his left and placing them in one of the piles to his right. Each paper singed slightly as he handled it, but though his hands were large and powerful he had a deft touch. After his first day on the job, he hadn’t let a single sheet burst into flame.
His office was equipped with a window, and this was a rare privilege, but Beazoel resolutely did not let his gaze stray from the papers before him. Beyond the glass lay a landscape out of nightmare — a chaotic, ruptured terrain of black rock and glowing lava, seething with lakes of brimstone and overcast with poisonous, corrosive miasmas. The perpetual night was lit only by flashes of lightning and the foul red glow of the lava pits.
To look upon that view would be to release a heartbreaking flood of nostalgia.
The only good thing about the window was that it did not open, so he could not smell the smoke or hear the screams of the damned as he worked. That would have been too much to bear.
Beazoel ran a finger under his collar. The asbestos fabric and the steel-mesh tie were a constant irritation to him. His neck was too large for even the largest shirt, and his shoulders too broad for his suit jacket. Even worse, lately he found it harder and harder to button the jacket across his growing paunch.
He was becoming soft. This would never have happened if they had just let him stay in the pits where he belonged. If only he hadn’t been such a good Pit Boss… maybe someone else would have been selected for this “promotion.”
- All Hell Breaking Loose, anthology, October 2005
- edited by Martin H. Greenberg