Chapter Eight: About God, Dogs, and Fighting
Arf trotted over to us, very angry at me for having a romp without her. For my part, I would just as soon let her take my place. My clothes still chafed, and I wondered how long it would be before I could have a nice cup of tea and an hour with a good book. I suddenly realized I was in deeper trouble, as Arf demanded“Are you even listening to me?!?”, and Richard chuckled as he left me alone to face her wrath.
“Um, sorry” I began, but Arf cut me off with an extended description of how difficult and annoying it was to herd people to meet up with Christ.
“You wouldn’t believe the excuses they came up with, to put off the meeting” she said, ”like it was going to be a thing they’d want to avoid. I mean – argh!”
I started to laugh, but a look at Arf wiped the smile off my face.
“I mean, what, you couldn’t save even one or two for me?” she finally asked, and at that I smiled.
“There’s plenty more ahead, as I’m sure you know” I told her.
“There better be” said Arf, and she went over to chat with a couple of the remaining angels. I looked around, and saw Richard was speaking with some of the men, and so I went over and found John Andrew, who seemed a bit overwhelmed by the scene.
“Easy, son” I said, “See why I told you to hang back?”
“Uhhhhhhhh, yes” answered John. ”But why didn’t you slay them?”
I held up a finger.“One, I am not a knight on a quest.” I said.
I held up a second finger.“Two, Everybody is beyond life and death as we used to know it. The only death remaining is the Second Death they wrote about in Revelation, and that’s not my department.“Besides, don’t you know anything about Chivalry?
“Never kill when you can maim,
“Never maim when you can injure,
“Never injure when you can fight to disarm,
“Never fight to disarm when you can persuade.
“And if you’re fighting demons, never play by their rules, okay?”
“Okay” John shrugged.
“Okay, then, let’s go talk to some of the other folks around here. There’s a lot of cleaning up to do here, still, and we have along way to go.” I said.
John cocked his head in the direction of Arf.
“I see your familiar has returned” he said.
“I can see we have a long way to go ourselves” I answered.
John followed me along with a growing crowd, as we walked back to where “Buddy” was beginning to stir again. I knelt down to him, and as I offered my hand, I asked “How do you feel?”
He tried to sucker punch me.
I say tried, because just as his fist touched my face, a crackle of light snapped, and “Buddy” fell back down again. A few of the men around him laughed at this, and I shook my head as I stood back up.
“Hey, John, look around and see if you can find anything around here we can use to carry this guy, OK?”
John nodded and one of the men who had been laughing spoke up.
“I thought Steve was dumb, but I was wrong.”
Then he grinned.“Sorry to say, I think now that Steve must be about as dumb as a bag of bricks, I mean real stupid.”
“I don’t think so” I answered. “I think maybe he’s just real upset about his situation, and so far this response is the only one he keeps coming back to.”
“Maybe” the man allowed. ”I admit, I’m curious about who you are, and what you’re up to.”
“Just trying to help out” I answered, and the man shrugged.
“Maybe, maybe not – One thing I agree with Steve on, is we don’t know s—t about you, and just because things’re bad, doesn’t mean you couldn’t plan on making them, worse.
“I mean, we’ve learned a lot about liars and trickery down here.”
I sighed.“Well, you are going to have to make up your own minds, about what you want to believe and what you’ll do about it. I just got you unlocked from those demons.”
“Well, Okay, thanks for that.” said the man. ”I just wondered what the next shoe is gonna look like, and when it’ll drop.”
“Not on us, I hope” I said. “By the way, I’m Dan. What’s your name?”
The man made a face, and said ”uh, it’s Lou Abbott”
I wondered why he made a face, but another man cut in -“We just call him ‘Who’s On First’” and he laughed, and it clicked.
Ah. Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. Abbott & Costello in one man.
“There’s worse names” I assured Lou, as I shook his hand. “Absolutely” chimed in Arf. ”Someone could’ve named you for a cartoon dog.”
As we dragged Steve over to a waiting stretcher, Lou sniffed the air.
“That’s weird, now it smells like Turkey.”
“It’s the season” I explained, “And anyway, it’s sure an improvement.”
The crowd voiced agreement, although I got angry looks from two women in PETA shirts.
The crowd had reformed, and looked at me expectantly.I grabbed Arf, and shoved her to the front. “Ohhhhhh no” I said. “This time, you do the speech thing”
“Oh yeeeeeah” said Arf, and she stood on hind legs and cleared her throat.
John stared at me as if I was crazy. Given the situation, I really wondered why no one else was.
Arf was explaining the intricacies of Free Will to the crowd, as I took Richard and John off to the side, along with a few tagalongs who were interested. I asked a couple of them to look after Steve, and let me know when he came around again.
“The good news is, the choice you have to make is really pretty simple” I began. “The bad news is, it can be really hard making that choice, and there’s a lot of confusion out there. As you know from your own experience, that can really hurt you.”
A man stood to ask a question. “I’m worried” he said. “I understand that you aren’t God, but what is going to happen now? Do we face some kind of trial, or is it all decided, and what can anybody here do to change things?”
“Well, first I have to say that I don’t know everything, so sometimes I may have to just say I don’t know” I answered. “But never give up hope. The same God who made you has not forgotten you-“
I heard a sneering laugh, and before they told me, I knew Steve had rejoined us.
“Suuuuuuure, God’s a swell guy!” barked Steve, ” Just look how He’s set us up down here!”
“Steve” I said, “God didn’t do this to you. You did this to you.”
Steve looked angry, but flinched as he apparently thought ahead to the likely result of another charge.
“Like hell” said Steve. ”He’s God, which means He knew everything that would happen, and He didn’t do diddly to stop it!
”What’s more, He didn’t have to make Hell, so why did He? He didn’t have to make demons, so why did He?”
I left Steve go on for awhile, and I watched the crowd, some of them rolling their eyes, but a lot more nodding in agreement. I let Steve roll off all the things I had always heard from people angry at God. When Steve finally finished, and Arf continued her sermon (something involving Snoopy, Lassie, and Rin Tin Tin as symbols for the Trinity – I made a note to ask her to tell me that one), I looked around at the crowd, who were waiting for my response.
“I see that you all expect me to have answers for Steve” I said. “That’s funny, because Steve was going on against God. Nobody expects Steve to have the answers, because Steve is just a man, but so am I. What would you say, if I told you I don’t have the answers for everything?”
The crowd said nothing.
“Actually, not so long ago, I said that sometimes I would have to say ‘I don’t know’. But maybe I can help guess a little.
“You there – “ I pointed to a woman – “when you work for something, when you get it, how would you like to hear that nothing you did really counted towards getting what you earned, that it would have happened, no matter what?”
“I’d be angry” said the woman, ”I want credit for what I do.”
“True” I agreed, “Me too. And what if you found out that no matter what you did, you’d get just the same as everyone else?”
The woman made a face. ”That’s not right.”
I clapped my hands together. “Exactly” I said. “You do something because it matters, right?
“Whether it’s work to get the pay you earn, or it’s extra effort to do a really good job for your family or your reputation, you expect to get what you deserve, right?”
People began to fidget, as they realized where this was going.
“That’s Justice” I continued. “You do what you choose, and you get the results of it.”
“OK” said Lou, ”but what about when I get bad I don’t deserve?”
“On the other hand,” I countered, “what about when you do bad but don’t get caught? What about when you get something good you don’t deserve, or when you get good you know you should use to help, but instead you keep it all for yourself?”
Lou looked away, but I pressed the point.
“Humans got this world, and everything that happens here comes from what a human decided to do. Yeah, God steps in with miracles sometimes, but mostly, everything which happens comes from your decision or another human’s.
“What I am trying to do here” I said, “is to help you see how you can get out of that mess.”
“Maybe” allowed Steve, ”But you have along way to go, if you are going to convince me that you’re not just out to cheat us like everybody else.”
I shrugged. “Let’s find out” I said.We got up as a group and made our way back to the others, who were singing what sounded like “KumBayAh” in Tagalog.
Steve made a face. ”I hate that song” he said.
“The words or the music?” I asked.
“Actually, the way it goes on and on and on” he said, and I laughed.
“I hear you. Hey, that’s something we agree on!” I said.
“Not much” said Steve.
“Yeah, but it still counts” I replied.
Arf was leading off another party, but stopped when she saw me. “Wait a minute” she said. ”The last time I took a crowd to see the Boss, you had a little party without me.”
Arf grabbed Richard with her teeth. “Here, you play tour guide for this bunch” she ordered. ” I’m tagging along with Captain Action, here.”
Richard nodded.“OK, guys, I’ll be back later”Arf looked at me closely.“There will be more fighting, right?” she asked.
I sighed. “Arf, you know where we are.
“Yes, there will be more fighting. Let me guess, you’re hoping we run into some Nephilim, aren’t you?” I asked.
Arf smiled sweetly.“That could be very entertaining” she allowed. Steve and Lou looked at each other, and John looked at Richard as if he wanted to leave with him, but when I looked at him directly, he smiled uneasily and said ”OK, good to go.”
About two dozen of us moved back into the dark passageway, deeper into the maw of Hell.
As we stepped into the passageway, I waved at John and he jogged up. Steve and Lou joined him, determined not to miss anything.
"How ya doing, John?” I asked.
“Well enough” replied John, ”though I still don’t comprehend your purpose with your animal” he said, pointing towards Arf, who led our way, senses keen and clearly eager for battle.
“I have yet to meet a godly man, who uses such a familiar”
“There aren’t any godly men” retorted Steve, and Lou looked over at me as if he expected me to get angry. I just shrugged.
“Depends on what you expect” I said to John. “I don’t measure up to everyone’s standards and expectations, but I do my best.
“But Arf is a good servant of the Lord.”
“Unless it’s a Hell Hound” countered Steve, rather snidely.
“But ‘All Dogs Go To Heaven’” said someone in the back, to which there was general chuckling.
“What about cats?” asked someone else in the dark.
“Don’t ask!” returned the first, and our mood lightened, even as the visibility became even worse.
As we walked, the ground beneath us began to crunch, like tiny bits of gravel.
“Hi Ho, Hi Ho, it’s off through Hell we go” crooned Steve, and we all stopped to look at him, or at the shadowy figure we assumed to be Steve.
“What?” asked Steve after a few moments.
I just shook my head, turned around again, and started ahead. Behind me I heard John warn, ”We could get into trouble.”
We all stopped again.
“We’re already in Hell” observed Lou. “How do you figure things to get worse?”
“I don’t know” said John,”but it’s not smart taking any chances.”
I didn’t hear any answer from Lou, so we started again down the crunchy trail. It was quiet for a long time, and in that quiet, I thought I heard a small sound, like a child wailing in the far distance. I stopped, and everyone seemed to stop as I did, listening for the faint noise.
After a few moments, we all realized the faint noise was rising from the ground, and people started looking at the bottoms of their feet, as if to see if they had stepped on someone. I did, myself.I had a thought, concentrated, and lifted us into the air about a half-foot, bearing our weight from the roof, just in case, and I inverted myself to face the ground, trying not to think how ridiculous I must look. I illuminated the ground, and off to my right, perceived a face and floated towards it.
The face was small, but no more than a chihuahua’s, and otherwise human and a normal face for a woman of middling years. She pursed her lips as I approached, and seemed to be offended by my presence. She spoke, but I could not hear her.
“I’m sorry, could you say that again?” I asked. The face in the floor became angry but no louder, and I perceived a distant hand rise from the floor over by the wall, and beckon me closer to the face. I floated closer.
“Just who do you think you are? demanded the face. ”This is my way, not yours. I know your kind, and you are not fit to be here!” she cried.
“Ummmm, you do realize this is hell…” I started, but the woman cut me off, but in a voice so soft it was barely a breeze. Just as well I missed the first few words, as I caught several sharp invectives as she continued.
“Who are you to tell me my place?” she snapped. ”I know your type, all sweet and light and everybody’s favorite” - at which I heard Steve snort from behind me - ”but you don’t fool me, you charlatan!”
“Maybe we started badly” I offered. “My name is Daniel, and” – I stopped as I heard a distant hissing and realized the woman had started again. I let her vent for a while, saying things which expressed her anger, but otherwise served no useless purpose. When she finished, I floated back in and tried again:“Look, I’m sorry we stepped on you, but we just weren’t expecting people to be, uh, spread out on the floor like this-“
“So, now you get to decide how we can sit or stand?” demanded the whispering woman, and I wanted to give up, but somehow felt compelled to try just once more.“Look, we’re on our way out, eventually, and if you’d like to come along-“
“Follow you? I don’t think so, thank you very much” sneered the woman, and she turned her back on me, the face rolling into the wall before disappearing under her formless body.We shrugged and floated on, and when the ground seemed more normal, we returned to walking.
”Heeeeeeeeey, I wanna slo-fly some more” protested Arf.
“So do it.” I said. “I’m not stopping you”.
“Oh, yeah” laughed Arf, and she lept into the air, and began a slow float ahead of us, like those dog food commercials where you get the “Superdog” impressions as the mutt slowly floats by, chasing a ball, stick, Frisbee, or whatever.
Behind me, I heard a thump. Steve was in a heap on the floor, and as Lou helped him up, he asked me ”Heeeey, how come the dog can do it and you can, but we can’t?”
I found a Bible in my backpack and tossed it to him.“It’s all in there. Look up the part about faith and mustard seeds” I said and grinned.Steve muttered something under his voice as he rubbed his backside, and we continued.
I stopped after a distance, and leaned with my back against the wall, trying to decide what to do next. Arf trotted over to me, started to say something witty, but stopped when she saw my face.
“Ahhhhhh, forget about her” advised the dog, ”You tried, she cursed you, you move on. No big deal!”
“Sorry, Arf, but no can do” I answered. “You know how this level works: everyone here is controlled by someone else. So, for better or worse, we have to free her from her captivity, so she can freely choose, for better or worse.”
“Judging by the conversation, that one won’t end up happy” commented Arf, ”And anyway, you still need to keep that promise to find me a good fight.”
“Don’t worry, there’s a lot of fighting to be had, still” I promised her, and John joined us.
“There is someone controlling her?” he asked. ”I saw no one”
“She was hiding it, whatever it is” I replied. “Remember, how she turned away at the end? I think she was asking what to do next, and I wanted to think before we got into that.”
“Why?” asked Steve, ”You get scared by a face on the floor?”“No, Steve” I answered, “but if I fight it on its terms, the woman would get hurt while the thing hides behind her. I need to find a better plan”
“What about tickling her?” suggested Lou.We stopped, turned, and looked at him.“I mean it” insisted Lou, “You want the lady to move, without getting hurt, and you want surprise.
“This is surprise”
“Great idea, thanks Lou.” I said. “Arf, you come with me, everyone else, hang back and we’ll be with you in a little while.
Arf tossed Steve a pack of cards. “Have fun” she said, and we floated back towards the floor lady,
”I know I will.”
“You realize” I said to Arf as we floated, “we still have no idea what we’re up against.”
“As if that ever stopped me before” she quipped.
We found the woman pretty much where we had left her, and she was no happier than before to see me. I heard an impatient whisper as Arf asked her, ”Ticklish?”I reached quickly to that part of the floor which seemed to be her abdomen, and tickled.
I was rewarded with a soft but sharp gasp, and the woman abruptly turned to her side, raising her legs from the floor about 30 feet away. I had the surreal sense of wrestling Plasticman.
Suddenly, the woman turned to her side, and beneath her gray form I had a glimpse of something black, big, and alive, which promptly slammed me against the ceiling to the passage.Caught unaware, I watched the pretty colors wheel around as I heard Arf yell "YeeeeeHa!”, and everything went dark.That is, darker than usual.
The place was suddenly full of noise and fury, and I became intensely aware that my spleen had an angry message for my liver and colon.Bits of rock ground into my face, as I tried to sort out what was happening. It seemed like a bunch of people had arrived, and I had mixed feelings – it was nice to think the group might be trying to rescue me, but I worried about what could happen if things didn’t get handled quickly.I thought for a little but, and the taste of cave wall decided me. Twisting just a bit to get my mouth free of the rock, I took a deep breath – and spoke a “Word”.
I was ready for the fall and floated down to the floor as the reverberations echoed down the hall in a blast of light and sound, a shock wave of holiness rolling off into the distance. I vaguely wondered how long those things would roll, but shook off the thought and returned to the situation.The place looked like the 101 Dalmations people had met up with Enter the Dragon and Dantes Inferno. A large pack of hounds was tearing into the monster, which looked like a land-based octopus, but with black armadillo scales. Arf seemed to be having a wonderful time, and I wondered where she had called up this group. Off in the distance, my group was obediently staying put, watching with some interest. Steve looked to be taking notes.The woman was lying on the floor, apparently stunned and on her side, but her thin loose condition left her lying on about 60 square feet of ground. Whatever the black octo-dillo thing was, it was not nearly so stunned. Though it had dropped me when I spoke the holy word, it was back in action, already reaching for me again. Ready this time, I whipped out a short blade from the backpack (which seemed to impress John and Lou, Steve still taking notes) and snikked! off an appendage, which lay writhing on the ground. Two of the dogs immediately set upon it, and I couldn’t tell if they planned to subdue it or eat it.The beast began to mutter something. I leaned forward to catch what it was saying, against my better judgment, and what I heard sickened me. Literally. Whatever it was saying had the quality of making me physically ill, and I realized it was a kind of attack. I also recognized it was some corrupted form of Latin, and I realized that it was my good fortune there – if I had been able to understand what it was saying, I realized it would have likely been much stronger, and a much more effective attack. As it was, I was not much worse off than if I had been back at college, trying to digest my dorm’s cooking.Arf was also saying something, though I could easily tell she was simply taunting the octo-dillo.
The dogs were making a real mess of the ‘dillo, so I put up my blade, reached down and grabbed an arm of Olive Oyl (as I’d starting thinking of her), and dragged her away from the fray.
“Unhand me, you heathen” she murmured.
“Save the sweet talk for later, sunshine” I replied, and on a whim, I began to roll her up like a rug. I heard muttered complaints, but it was the easiest way I could figure to move her. The weight wasn’t the problem, but the size had its own issues.I carried 'Olive' over to the group, and Steve couldn’t resist quipping “Accessorizing? Maybe a nice drapery?”
I laughed, thumbed back at the fight still going on between the monster and the dogs, and said
“Nah. But there’s a place for you, if you want in on that action”
Steve shook his head and Lou chuckled..
We waited for a while, and watched the fight. Steve looked over at me and asked, ”You know what I hate about this place?”
I cocked my head and looked at him. “Everything?” I asked.
“Well, okay, yeah” said Steve, ”but I mean, right about now, it might be cool to just talk about stuff, y’know? But here, everything is either too important to chat about, or you can’t find anything to discuss.”
“Really?” I asked.
“Oh, yeah” affirmed Steve. ”I met this guy, for example, looked okay, so we got to talking.“You know what he talked about? Pompeii. Freaking Pompeii all the time, everything he said was about the people in Pompeii, the art in Pompeii, the food in Pompeii.
“I tried to be nice at first, I mean anything to take my mind off the situation, but I mean, c’mon. Bad enough he’d never been to Dallas, New York, Boston, but this guy had never heard of those places. You know how hard it is to shoot the breeze, when the guy doesn’t even know what ‘shoot the breeze’ means?!?”
“So, talk to someone else” I suggested. Steve rolled his eyes.“Oooooohhhhhhhhh, suuure, there’s an idea” he moaned. “At least Mr. Pompeii had learned English.“You know what most people speak down here?
“Latin! That, or Chinese, I think. Anyway, it just drives me up the wall to try to talk it up with a guy, only to find out he’s speaking a language deader than I am!”
Lou snickered at that, and Steve tried to hit him. I stepped in between them, and Steve backed off, remembering what had happened before.
“Soooo” I started, trying to get back to the discussion, “Why not learn Latin?”
“Oh yeah, why not?” complained Steve. ”Why not get the worst of both Hell and Catholic School?” he complained.
“At least you’re admitting Hell exists” I said.
“Yeah, whatever.” said Steve. “Say, you wanna bet on which dog does the most hurt?”
“No” I replied. “I don’t like to gamble. And besides, I know which dog is the craziest in that pack”
“I heeeeeeeeard that” responded a voice from somewhere in the fray.
“Whatever” repeated Steve. He thought for a moment, then looked at me with a strange expression.
“Another thing” he said. “That’s a nice trick, being able to talk explosions.”I shrugged. Steve pressed on:“But why don’t you do that all the time?”
“Because, Steve” I said, “I’m here to help, not to hurt, if I can avoid it. It’s about not doing anything you don’t have to do.”
“And the dogfight?” asked Steve.
“Somehow, it’s necessary, or it wouldn’t be happening.” I replied. Behind me, “Olive” muttered something, but for now I chose to let it go.
All good things must end, they say, and the dogs had apparently decided this applied to their torment of the monster, as well. They backed off from it, and I approached it. Remembering my introduction to it, I drew my sword again and demanded its surrender.For about half a minute I waited, listening to it consider its options as a sound like a couple forks in a garbage disposal emerged from its jaws.Finally, it decided to comply, with something very much like “I’ll be good” emerging from somewhere within, and Arf pulled up a large cage on wheels, and the beastie entered it.
As Arf was closing the gate to the cage, Lou looked around, and started to ask ”Hey, where did the cage come from-“ and abruptly stopped, as Arf drew a sack over the cage, which collapsed and appeared to be empty after the cage was in.
“Nice trick” nodded Steve. Arf just grinned, and dropped the sack into her back pack, which I then put on her back. As we moved on, Steve came up to me.
“OK, now you’re getting just too strange. What was that all about, anyway?” he demanded.“First you tell us you’re setting us free, then you start taking prisoners.”
“Oh, that” I said. Steve groaned.
“Yes, ‘that’.” said Steve. “C’mon, answer.”
“Look, Steve” I said to him. “That monster is a demon, a fallen angel out to hurt people any way it can.”
“OK, all right” said Steve, ”But what about the woman? She really didn’t want you to do anything for her, but instead you grabbed her as a prisoner, and you’re holding here against her will.”
“Steve, it’s not as if she was making the decisions” I reminded him. “Just 10 minutes ago, she took her orders from the demon, and if I’d just left here there, before she was in any shape to move on her own, she’d have been stepped or chewed on by a whole lot of people.
“When she can walk on her own, if she still wants to go away, that’s fine. But it will be her idea and decision not somebody else’s.”
“Maybe” said Steve. He turned to Lou. “Hey Lou! You believe this guy, yet?”
“Some” said Lou.“What about God and Heaven and all that?” asked Steve.
“No” replied Lou. “He’s admitted he’s not God, so I haven’t seen any gods so far, no Heavens, just a guy, his dog, and some friends.
“Hey, that reminds me. You got any beer?” asked Lou.“No, no beer” I answered.
“Well” said Lou, ”in that case I do believe we’re in hell.”
Steve shook his head and Lou chuckled..