Chapter Ten: Fowls in Foul Places
The Nephilim and I watched Arf and her companions demolish the spirits with an ease I did not expect. I looked over at Rector, and he shrugged.
“I guess they weren’t expecting a pack of hounds” he answered, straightening his back and adjusting his shoulderblade with a mild ‘click’, as cartilage and bone slipped back into place. Boneshear chuckled at the sound.
“That reminds me” he smiled, ”We’ve got a rugby game on next week, if you’re interested.”
I smiled back.
“Have to wait and see on that, Boneshear” I said, “It depends on what happens down here, what my schedule will look like.”
Moaner was trying to follow the action between the blur of the pack and the invisible demons. Maybe he could perceive something I was missing. Slowdeath started giggling, and the others edged away a little from him. Mauler and Ebola appeared to be wagering on the outcome.
By the time we had regained our breath, the hounds had finished with the demons. I noticed puddles of a foul-smelling yellow liquid I originally took for urine, but now concluded must be the demon’s blood. I wondered about the dogs’ taste; I would not have wanted any of that stuff in my mouth.
Arf bounded out of the pack, with what looked like a haunch of meat in her mouth.
“Hey Daniel!” she called out. ”Make a fire, I want to cook some lunch!”
The other hounds bayed in apparent agreement.
“Arf” I asked, “Where is the group?”
Arf chuckled.“Safe, don’t worry. I left them with the ducks!”
“Ducks?” I asked.
“Yup!” affirmed Arf. ”safe as if they were in Heaven itself!Uhhh, about that fire?”
As Arf started cooking her haunch with the help of Moaner, I saw Rector and Slowdeath dragging a net across the floor, and as it encountered things, they came into view. There appeared to be an assortment of weapons and small tools, with some other objects I couldn’t identify.
“These may be useful,” said Rector, ”but we’ll have to decontaminate them first.”
As he said this, Rector deposited the netful of items into a burlap sack, which he tightly tied closed. After she ate, Arf peered closely at Moaner, who began to whine and back away.
“No, Arf, that’s not necessary” I warned.Arf grinned at Moaner, then winked at me.
“Okay” she acquiesced, ”Just as long as there’s more fighting ahead”
I sighed. “Arf, what are you going to do, when it’s time to go back to Heaven, and you can’t fight anymore?”
Arf pondered the question for a moment, then grinned.“I’ll just worry about that when it’s time” she promised. ”Right now, we’re in hell, and that means action to me”
Boneshear laughed. ”If I knew your dog was like that,” he said, ”I’d have known you for a friend at the start!”
The Nephilim laughed, and we all got up to go.
As we walked along, the Nephilim noticed the pack of hounds had separated from each other, and now followed the giants closely, two or three hounds to each. Moaner glanced at me nervously, and I shot a look at Arf.
“Are you playing a joke, or do I need to remind you not to mess with the Nephilim?” I asked her.
Arf flipped her ear over her head loosely, and grinned back at me.
“Welllll, you promised me I could fight one” she said, ”and I just know they won’t all behave.
“When one of them slips up, we’ll be ready” she chuckled.
Slowdeath grunted cynically.“I thought you Christians were into peace and harmony” he sneered.
laughed. “We try to do that” I assured him, “but we’re not perfect. Besides, it’s my fault, partly: I never found a church, that would let me bring my dog.”
Slowdeath looked warily at the hounds at his heels.
“Don’t worry” I assured him, “they’re just messing with you. I now that look on Arf.”
“Spoilsport!” pouted Arf.
“Oh yeah, sure” I told her, “I know you’ll find something to amuse yourself. But right now, I want to find the rest of our group and get going again. Maybe there’s no schedule, but I get the feeling I’m running slow.”
Arf shrugged and padded on ahead. After a while, we heard what sounded like music and laughing, almost a casino. I groaned.“Arf, please tell me you didn’t leave them with a succubus!” I cried.
“They said they’d be nice” Arf protested. ”Seriously, I told you I left them with the ducks, and they’re fine, relax!”
I growled something under my breath, and looked in my pack for my Bible and some holy water. Deep inside, I knew this was trouble of a new sort.
We approached the merriment, and I observed to Arf, “It’s a good thing for you, we don’t anybody like Moses along on this trip” The message didn’t take with Arf, however, as she began to trot along in time to the music. Before we entered the opening, I stopped and pulled Rector to the side.
“I just realized”, I said to him, “that it appears these guys are using lights and power down here, which is not available anywhere else. You had mentioned magic a while back.
“How does that work in these situations?”
“Three ways” answered Rector, as he pulled out the netbag from the last battle. ”They could be using their own internal power, or some natural source, or they could have a host.”
“Host?” I asked.“Yes, and it’s what you’re thinking” said Rector, ”so we’ll have to be careful”
With a motion, and a muttered phrase, Rector shrank the Nephilim down to human size. Large humans, but much less imposing.
“That’s better” observed Rector, ”no sense advertising.”
I pulled a large basin form the backpack, and Rectos put some of the items in it. As I poured holy water over the collection, which hissed and steamed, I looked closely at Rector.
“What is the source of your magic, Rector?” I asked.
“Hell” replied Rector. ”We were granted some power for our defense, but if and when we leave Hell, we’re just some ugly, clumsy guys with no protection.
“I’m hoping you’ll still be looking after us at that point.”
“Me, or someone else Jesus sends” I assured him. Slowdeath and Moaner relaxed. Arf and Boneshear were jamming to the music, apparently unconcerned by any dangers or difficulties awaiting us.
We washed the rest of the items from our haul, and looked them over. Something suggested two of them to me, so took them and stuck them in my back waistband, and the rest went back into Rector’s gimme-bag, which seemed to be as adaptable as my knapsack. I made a mental note to look for furniture in them, the next time I needed a rest or to clean up.
We entered the mouth of the new tunnel, and I saw dazzling lights and heard blaring music. I half-expected to see a velvet rope and a bouncer. There was a hip-hop beat to the music, with a heavy bass which I surprised I hadn’t caught earlier; it seems hell muffles sounds somewhat. As my eyes adjusted to the conditions, I saw that Arf was right – our group was all there, although they had spaced out somewhat from each other, and the place was loaded with waterfowl. Ducks of course, but also geese, pelicans, gulls and albatross, even some penguins over by the far wall. One of the ducks caught my eye, and he waddled over quickly.
“Ev’nin, gent” he began, ”This is a private party, but for a small consideration I’m sure –“
“The party is over” I said, cutting him short. As if on cue, the music stopped, and the lights rose to the level of a normal auditorium. The duck was not happy.
“Look, just because you don’t feel like having a-“ “I said, we’re done here.” I told the duck. Everyone was looking at me with some unhappiness; they couldn’t see why I was being this way.
“Listen up, everyone” I called out. “Everyone in my group, we’re leaving now.”
As I turned back to the doorway, I waved Rector over.
“What’s wrong?” asked Rector. I motioned him close, and spoke in a low voice.
“Trouble” I replied. “For now, take these flasks of Holy Water around, you’ll need them, and keep your weapons ready.”
The mood of the place was distinctly unhappy. Arf was particularly upset with me.
“I set up a nice place for R&R, and you don’t like it?” she demanded.
“Set it up yourself, or did you get help?” I asked. Arf stopped, looked puzzled for a moment, then worried.
“But they seemed so nice...” began Arf, but a black shape caught my eye, and I pulled my sword quickly.
“Ware the penguin!” I called out, and we were at it again.
Frankly, I hadn’t expected to be at a disadvantage, should I need to fight waterfowl, even formally-dressed avians. But when the penguin struck me, well, amidships, I lost my footing and my sword, which skittered away on the rocky ground. The penguin began to pummel me quickly about the face, and I tried to roll away on my side. Another two penguins quickly arrived, and they began to kick at me and stomp, hissing all the while. In the distance, I noticed Miss Precept watching us fight, and smiling. I started to speak a Word, but one of the penguins realized what I was about and kicked dirt into my mouth as I tried to speak. Off to my left, the place had become a general milieu, with the predictable barks of delight from Arf and her pack. I heard loud heavy noises I took to be the Nephilim, and I wondered idly who was winning. As one of the penguins kicked me in the groin, I decided I wasn’t. I saw an opening and kicked one of the penguins aside, jumping to my feet before the other two could close the gap. I then lept over the two, banging their heads together as I cleared them upside-down. I landed on my feet, and quickly locating my sword, dived for it ahead of my pursuers, spitting out dirt as they spat out curses. The room had separated rather neatly according to the types of combatants. Arf and her pack were taking on the ducks, who seemed to be wielding some sort of martial arts weapons. I made a mental note to watch out for Duck-chas and flying stars. The Nephilim were taking on the ostriches and flamingoes (and no, I have no idea when they showed up) . Most of the humans were left to deal with pigeons and parrots, and I had the penguins. For some reason, the Doctra was loose again, but no one was attacking it, and it seemed to have no desire to fight.
I saw my chance, and took it. I spoke a Word, and it reverbed within the room like the inside of a bell, knocking everyone to the ground but me and the Doctra. We all spent a few seconds clearing our heads, and everyone shot me a nasty look or two.
I heard a deep, heavy bass then, and turned to see the Doctra tuning up a Stratocaster. He put another pair of tentacles on the keyboard, winked, and as if on cue, the place erupted into fighting again, as the Doctra started belting out Sweet’s “Ballroom Blitz”…
… and things were going so well.
The fight was progressing nicely, and I actually began to believe I could plan something ahead of time for once. The Nephilim and the dogs were doing well for themselves, and the humans appeared to have the advantage of their foes. The Doctra was rocking the place, and it seemed apropos of the moment.“…the man in the back said ‘everyone attack’, and it turned into a ballroom blitz…” sang out the parrots, as I spun a mace across a penguin, knocking him into another one as I followed through.“…and the girl in the corner said ‘boy I wanna warn ya…”I almost sang along as I riposted a sword-wielding mallard. I was having fun now, and began to understand a little of Arf’s berserker joy. A voice in the back of my mind warned me there was something very wrong with enjoying yourself in hell, but I quieted that voice impatiently. After all, things were going just –
The room fell pitch black and silent. Everyone stopped at the same moment, and a chill feeling of dread fell upon us all. I opened my mouth to ask what was happening from Rector, but I couldn’t speak.For how long this continued, I could not say, but the feeling grew deeper, as if I had missed some important deadline, as if I was about to discover some unforgivable error. I could not speak, could not move, could do nothing but bear the weight of something coming. Even in the darkness, I could tell we all felt it.After more time, my eyes began to burn, even though I could see nothing. I wondered what was irritating them, then realized that they had detected a light approaching, which even at this distance I knew to be no ordinary flame or lamp.
With nothing else to occupy my attention, I watched the light approach, and realized it was swiftly to be upon us. I also realized it was not one light, but many, as if an army of blazing glory was on its way. I suddenly realized that I could be in very big trouble.As the light came fast upon us, I glanced to my side, and was surprised to realize that I could still see no one else around me, as if I were alone with this approaching nemesis. My unease increased again. I suddenly realized that I was unarmed, and all my possessions removed from me. My clothes were returned to a dull brown, with mud and soil in various places.The room was suddenly filled with light and sound as they arrived. I could distantly hear sounds of direction and movement, as the angels (for that’s what they were, fierce warrior angels with faces like polished brass, and visages hard and stern) moved busily about. I could not speak, and they seemed to have no words for me. It seemed the room was being cleared, everyone directed to their next destination; the humans and the Nephilim for judgment, the animals to someplace else. I waited patiently to be freed from my paralysis and mute confinement.But that time did not come. After a time, the troop of angels seemed satisfied with their work, and as if they neither saw nor heard me, they herded everyone out (I could still not see them, but could hear them move away into the distance), then as my vision suddenly returned fully, I caught a last glimpse of the one who seemed in charge, closing the doorway after him, blotting out all light and sound, except that I heard a sound, which I knew with despair was sealing of the passageway.
And there they left me, unable to move or speak, imprisoned alone in hell.
When enough time passes, it ceases to have meaning. Accordingly, when time is used as an element of punishment or rebuke, there is the need to tend to the sense of time, for ennui to be replaced with dread, with a sense of apprehension and foreboding, so that the subject may be properly drawn to the desired sense.So it was, that even sealed within a vault of reproach and rejection, I was not completely removed from awareness of what went on. A thousand thousand footfalls and muted murmurs made their way in the distance, of range unknown and purpose undiscovered. And I was left to guess at the meaning and purpose of each small moment. There in the still ominous dark, I heard sounds which may or may not have occurred, saw things which may of may not have been there, the off-black wisps of something between imagination and dim existence, and in that space I caught some sense of myself, real and not-so.
Then the child was there. I had neither seen nor heard him enter, and indeed, so far as I could perceive, he was just
– there –
of a moment, as if he had been there all along these many days and I had simply missed him. There was not any sort of light, that I could be sure of his age or appearance, but somehow I knew him of a form, well enough to know that I was in the company of a small male child, possessed (both of us) with a curiosity of the moment.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
I had no answer for him. I was not truly sure that my mind had not taken that turn beyond the bend of reason’s grasp, and neither my ears nor eyes seem able to quite focus on the boy.
“What are you doing?” the child repeated, and somehow I was a little more sure that he was really there, had really spoken, and I was expected to answer. Yet I could not bring myself to speak.Time passed, and for long while neither of us said anything. My mind raced through possibilities and alternatives, but none of them satisfactory as a choice I might choose.
“What are you doing?” he asked again, and this time I found my voice, because I knew Who asked me.
“I am stuck in a pit of my own making” I replied. “I’m sorry.”
“Well enough” replied Jesus, “You really got off the job there, brother. Keep that in mind as you meet others who have also fallen off the road.”
“So, what do I do now?” I asked.
Jesus pointed ahead, where now the way was clear and open.
“Back on the clock, dude. You got people waiting.”
We walked out into the open hallway, and I was struck by how clean and quiet it was. The 'kim-chi-gone-really-bad' smell was gone, too, and I looked over at Jesus.
"I don't want or need to put up with anything which does not serve My purpose." He explained. "Of course, you'll have to deal with the sights and smells and everything when you're back on your own, but for now, I thought you should avoid those distractions.
"There's time for a short talk" He said, gesturing to a table and two chairs that appeared, complete with tea service.
Jesus seemed to recognize I didn't know what to say, so He continued.
"You know, Daniel," He said (using my stone-name), "a lot of people like to talk about God and faith and morality as if they had it all sorted out. But one of the reasons I didn't take people to the Kingdom right after they believed in Me, is because it is a journey, the never-ending kind. Even people who followed me for over a hundred years don't know all there is to know of even human wisdom, let alone My mysteries.
"So, don't feel too badly, that you haven't been able to do everything you want or meant to. You're still new at this, especially this sort of mission.
"On the other hand, if you're going to do My work, you're going to have to focus on Me, not your own ego, not even your dog, though I am fond of her also.
"Remember, you can always call on Me, and I will be there to help you do My will, but I will not encourage error or wrong. Okay?"
"Yes Sir", I answered.
Jesus laughed."C'mon, dude, it's a good thing, I promise.
"And you know I always keep my promises."
I found myself relieved, enough so that I asked a question my curiosity had piqued
Lord," I began, "Forgive me if it's not my business, but is there a reason you look less like the paintings in church, and a bit more like Keanu Reeves right now?"
"Well, blame Pat Morita for that."I have sort of a lull until it's time to close things up for this old earth, and Pat reminded me about the whole 'wax on, wax off' thing. So, while I wait for you and some other of my slower servants to do My work, I'm practicing my surfing."
"You know, until yesterday, I'd never drank a Hurricane, or waxed down a board.
"Next week, maybe I'll try para-sailing!"
I watched the Lord of the Ages walk away in a fading light, and I realized (as the chair beneath me vanished) that I was about to be on my own again. So I called out:
"Lord, how do I find my companions?"
"Don't worry!" He called back. "I'm sending them to you."As He disappeared into the darkness, I realized that there had been Marimba music as well, which was now replaced by the distant screams of torment. And the heat, the dank, and the smells were all back as well.Back to work.Looking at my feet, I found my backpack and put it on. I noticed my jumpsuit was a uniform grey, not from dirt but as if it was designed so. Just as well. Elvis could carry off the act for years, but I got tired of it after only a little while.I chose a direction, and trudged off to find my companions, and the penguins of Hades.
I entered the new tunnel, and after looking both ways, shrugged and headed aimlessly ahead.
Almost immediately, I sensed a short presence approaching me. I hoped it would be Arf, but I was wrong.
"Allo, gov'ner" called out the duck I had seen at the fight which the angels had abruptly ended. "You, uhhh, wouldn't happen to know where I could find that band, would you now? Especially the Doctra."
"Sorry, pal" I replied, "I've sort of been out of things for a while."
The duck shrugged.
"Figures", he commented. "As soon as those angels showed up, I should have known they'd take anything good. You know, I was this close to signing Clapton to a concert tour down here, but his son came down and got 'im."
"Do tell?" I asked.
"Oh, sure" said the duck, "Every time something pretty cool shows up here, some angel or heavenly emissary comes along and takes 'em on up to see the Guy On High.
"It's getting, so a hard-working entrepreneur like meself just can't get ahead."
I grinned, despite myself.
"Sorry about the fracas" I said, "But you should have known better about those penguins."
"I know, I know" said the duck. "Sure, they dress well, and the ladies like them, but they sure always seem to cause trouble.
"By the way, I'm Nick."
"Daniel" I replied. "So, none of my business, but what got you sent down to hell?"
Nick sighed."That's a long story, I'm sad to say." he said. "I sure hope me mum never finds out I came to this!"
"Well, I might be able to help a little, on that matter" I said.
"Say, you wouldn't happen to know where my dog got to, would you?"
Nick shuddered."I remember those teeth" he said, "and not much else.
"If she shows up, please keep me away from those teeth, OK?"
"I promise" I said, and as we marched ahead, the lighting seemed to improve just a bit, although the smell remained as foul - er, rank, as ever.