by Roy Barton
Artwork by 'Scorchio'
The devil had been having one hell of a day. In fact for the last two thousand years his life had been sheer hell. He blamed it on the Christians ! Before they had come along his pad had been a decent place. Now all the people that came down here were the scum of the universe. They didnt just come to visit either, oh no !
Once you came down here, you were here for good. The problem was that Hell was getting a bad name for itself and, if he was honest with himself, it had all started getting very depressing. He hadnt seen a decent person for centuries and if he left anything laying around you can bet it disappeared very quickly. You just couldnt trust anyone down here. In growing desperation he decided to go upstairs and see God.
Ah, Lucifer. What do I owe this pleasure to ? God asked, pouring the Devil a large glass of the finest.
The Devil gratefully took the proffered drink and took a large sip. Well, the problem is Hell. he started to explain.
God smiled. Isnt it always.
Ive decided - its time we had a make-over. The Devil announced.
Very good idea. agreed God. So what do you want, a few billion gallons of fire resistant crimson paint, maybe some of that flock wallpaper for your office
The Devil shook his head. Not a redecoration - an image make-over.
Oh. God replied, slightly disappointed. And what exactly did you have in mind ?
The Devil finished his nectar of the gods and God promptly refilled it before he continued to explain. I want it to be a bit nicer, maybe not everywhere, but some areas where we can have visitors and friends down.
But you have corporate hospitality areas. God interjected.
Yes, but I want decent people down there, too !
God nodded in agreement. Yes, I see what you mean.
What I thought you could help me with is an advertising agency or something.
But everyone in advertising is down with you, after all theres only so much artistic license you can get away with.
Yes, but none of those are up to the scale of the job.
God rubbed his beard for a few minutes and thought deeply. There is a possible choice. But they come as a pair.
Who are they ? The Devils red eyes lit up in excitement.
The Scratchi brothers. God proclaimed.
Excellent ! The Devil shouted. Lets do it.
This was how the Scratchi brothers found themselves at the bottom of a pile-up on the M25 under seven chemical liquid tankers, a van containing firelighters and a lorry that for some unknown reason seemed to have been alight before it even ploughed into the back of the rest of the vehicles. According to some witnesses the driver looked a bit like the devil !
For several weeks the Scratchi brothers worked on improving Hell and the Devil made a monumental effort to afford them the very best apartment, refurbished to the new tenants requirements. They both argued that the job was almost impossible given the religious restraints they were working with.
The Devil sighed, It cant be that difficult, half the job was done for you a couple of years ago when the Church of England said that Hell wasnt all that bad ! Surely all you have to do is elaborate a little.
Joseph Scratchi, the elder of the two, acted as the spokesman. The problem is Hell is supposed to be a bad place ! If it was a nice place nobody would need to go to Heaven, thered be no point !
The Devil bristled a bit. I didnt say turn it into a fun park, just brighten the place up a little. Eternal damnation is a long time to regret what youve done, after all.
Michael Scratchi smiled a triumphant smile. I know ! Why not give them a chance to change then they can go up a stage of comfort. Those who werent too bad but not good enough could join at a higher stage. Then, say after three stages they could get into Heaven.
Absolutely brilliant! The Devil agreed. Thatll separate the wheat from the chaff.
Joseph Scratchi had an idea as well, We could call it The Three Degrees.
Or Three Steps to Heaven Michael added.
Lets not. Said the Devil. But while youre settling on an original name what about the place ?
Well lets see. Some brighter, more cheerful colours wouldnt go amiss. Michael replied sourly, a little upset that his advertising line had been turned down flat. And you could turn the heating down a touch in the upper stages of repentance.
The Devil agreed that this was a good idea and set about ordering several million gallons of white with a hint of peach at the local Homecare store.
He did have a few problems with the heating , though. The problem was, with the latest influx of the damned there were more people stoking the furnaces of Hell than at any time in its existence and this had sent the temperature up a couple of hundred degrees. If you imagine the final stages of the greenhouse effect warming up to working pretty close to the sun as it turned supernova you can begin to understand how the temperature had increased over two millennia. This was part of the reason why the Devil felt some improvements were necessary. Even he was getting a little hot under the collar just lately. But what to do with the damned. I mean you cant just have them doing nothing. For the council workers that would be like a home from home, minus the tea, of course. They hadnt had tea in Hell since those goings on in Boston a couple of hundred years ago.
It happened that Joseph Scratchi had an idea about this.
Firstly, there is an awful lot of painting to be done, so that will get rid of several thousand of them. If they do a very good job they can go straight up to level one on the Road to Salvation.
The Devil winced at this latest title. He couldnt decide whether it sounded more like a hippy bus commune or a Bob Hope and Bing Crosby film.
Thatll take a bit of steam out of the air but what else ?
Well I was looking at the steam in the air and I think those billions of miles of pipes need looking at. Youve got all the plumbers that ever existed down here so that should be alright so long as you dont have them working Sundays because thatll cost you He made a sucking in of air noise just like plumbers do, especially when they see a leaking U-bend, or you mention washing machine.
I get your point, but I cant see plumbers getting to level one doing what they did on Earth.
Who said anything about them going up ? asked Joseph.
The Devil smiled a particularly evil smile, Mr.Scratchi, I like your style. he enthused.
Thats why were in advertising. Joseph and Michael said in unison.
So, what else ? asked the Devil.
Well, you get a few people working on the rooms and you account for all the plumbers the temperature should greatly reduce, along with the humidity. Then once a few of them notice whats going on and decide to change their ways a bit, you should have a steady flow of traffic. If we have a word with God, he should be happy to let relatives come down to those on stage two or three. explained Michael.
Then advertise the fact to all the new entrants that if they work hard and develop a sense of moral decency, they can eventually get to heaven as well. added Joseph.
The Devil nodded in agreement. But what about those whose crimes are even worse than those of plumbers, accountants and solicitors?
The Scratchis thought about this, then Michael said, They will just have to work a lot harder to go up. Although you are probably stuck with them, Im afraid. Still at least you will have the better bits to go to, so it isnt as if youre surrounded by them.
They all agreed and smiled.
After a few months the Devil had lost that little knot you get in your back when you get stressed and he had even stopped taking his tablets. He stood on the tallest Gantry overlooking his domain and felt quite happy.
This is one Hell of a place to be. he grinned.
A Chance In Hell was published in IN FRONT Magazine in October 1999
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