Chapter Nine; Part Three
“I’ll be right there.” Another one? Who could it be this time? I went downstairs and peeked outside, seeing a delivery guy with a bouquet of fiery orange and red roses. The colors of the roses were so pure, they almost hurt my eyes.
“Here you go,” the delivery guy said, thrusting the enormous bouquet into my waiting arms. I rushed upstairs, eager to find out who’d sent me such a beautiful arrangement. I hunted for the card before finally finding it. In beautiful penmanship, someone had inscribed, ‘Margaret Marilyn, you are mine. Morningstar.’ They were from Lucifer! I should throw them away. They were, without a doubt, the most breathtaking roses I’d ever seen, and I didn’t even care for roses. I walked slowly into the kitchen trying to decide what to do. In the end, I rationalized that it couldn’t hurt to keep them. They would die in a few days, anyway, wouldn’t they? Suddenly, I wasn’t sure they were real flowers. I mean, Lucifer could have had them specially made if he wanted. I arranged them, anyway, and brought them into the living room where I set the vase besides the orchids from Alan. The two bouquets looked great side-by-side; I could get used to being treated like a queen. Too bad neither bunch was from the guy I was actually trying to date.
I needed to do something about Lucifer. He was stepping up his campaign, and I wasn’t sure how long I’d be able to hold out against him. I called Wind who answered on the third ring. Seems I had disturbed her during her meditation time for which I profusely apologized. When I explained what I wanted, however, she agreed to come over and see what she could do. She didn’t sound as confident as I would have liked given that Li Ling had practically promised that Wind could take care of the problem, but I let it go. I thought about calling my mother again, but I resisted. She had to make the first overture. I flicked on the television to watch something until Wind came. It was a welcome respite from thinking. I was so engrossed in the Iron Chefs that the buzzer startled me when it sounded forty-five minutes later.
“Wind?” I asked before buzzing her up. I hugged her gratefully after she breezed into my apartment. She was in a simple gauzy skirt and t-shirt, no accessories or makeup.
“Time for the big guns, I guess,” Wind said briskly, lugging her over-sized bag inside. She stopped as she noticed the flowers on my coffee table. “Please tell me those are from Ted because you had a really great date.”
“We did have a great date,” I said, motioning her in. “However, the orchids are from Alan and the roses are from….” I hesitated because I knew how she felt about me consorting with the devil. “Lucifer.”
“The devil? He sent you flowers?” Wind shrieked, causing me to wince. I had sensitive ears, and she had a booming voice when she so chose. “You have to get rid of them.” Before I could stop her, she grabbed the flowers, strode over to the window and flung them out.
“Hey! What did you do that for?” I protested, rushing over to the window. There were my beautiful roses, lying on the ground. Before anybody could step on them, however, they slowly started rising in the air until they were right outside my window. The funny thing was that nobody paid the slightest attention to the floating flowers.
“Don’t touch those,” Wind shouted, struggling to get me away from the window. “What good will it do for me to seal the portal if you allow those roses in your apartment?” I must have looked confused because she expanded. “As long as you keep something of the devil’s in your apartment, he will always be afforded access. You must cleanse your apartment from his presence, down to the last flower.” She was so engrossed in her lecturing, she didn’t notice the roses tossing themselves through my window and back into their vase. When she saw them sitting as pretty as you please on the coffee table, she made a sound of disgust in the back of her throat. “It appears that you have to throw them out if we want to be rid of them for good.” But did I?
“Come on, Wind, they’re just flowers!” I said, shielding the roses from her. I didn’t know why I was so attached to them, but I didn’t want to lose them. Wind looked at me hard without saying anything. She was silent for so long, I started feeling uncomfortable. Just when I was going to break the silence myself, she spoke.
“You don’t really want to seal the portal, do you?” She asked it in the form of a question, but her tone made it a statement. She picked up her bag and marched to the front door with me hot on her heels. “Call me when you’re serious about blocking out the devil.” She left in a huff; I let her go. I knew it was useless to say anything when she got on her high-horse, and besides, she was right. A part of me didn’t want to sever my connection with the Morningstar, and it was completely overriding my good intentions.
I went back into the living room and sank onto the couch, despondent over my present situation. I stared at the roses which seemed to be mocking me. I picked up the vase and held it right before my eyes, trying to determine why they held such sway over me. I stared at the reds and the oranges which were swirling together. My sight grew blurry, and I dropped the vase as darkness overcame me. I fought as best I could not to give in to the darkness, but it was stronger than I. No matter how much I struggled to remain conscious, I felt my rational mind slipping away. Just when I thought I couldn’t take it any more, I blacked out.
“Wake up, Margaret Marilyn,” a voice crooned, sounding familiar. I groaned and tried to move, but I couldn’t. “Come on, my love. I want to see those beautiful eyes of yours.” Then, in quite a different tone, “You used too much, you fool! How could you be so careless?” I heard the sound of something hitting something followed by a guttural cry. It was enough to force my eyes open—my curiosity would certainly kill me one day.
In front of me was an incredible scene. Lucifer, in all his glory, was looming over me. His wings were spread, and he looked more magnificent than he ever had before. There was a reddish glow to him which made him look even eerier than usual. He had a beatific smile on his face as he looked down at me. Besides him was a creature whimpering and cowering. I looked twice at the creature because I’d never seen anything like it. It was coal-black with two wings, one of which was broken. Its face was hideous—neither man nor beast. It had four claws with wicked-looking talons. I guessed it to be a gargoyle of some sort, but I couldn’t be sure.
“You’re awake, Margaret Marilyn,” Lucifer said, stretching his hand out to me. I grabbed it without thinking, allowing him to pull me to my feet. “Welcome to my humble home.” I looked around me, expecting to see a dank, ominous place filled with scary objects. Instead, the room was well-lighted and clean. Airy, almost. The walls were a buff-color, and the very expensive Asian rug beneath my feet was a rich red. There were servants milling about the place, quite comely in feature. If I hadn’t known better, I would have thought I was on a lord’s estate in the country somewhere. The luxurious interior certainly clashed with the rotting exterior I had seen earlier. The only jarring feature was the mounted heads of humans which dotted the walls. Even those, however, were similar to the mounted heads of big game that erstwhile gentlemen so proudly displayed on their walls. This was just a bit more gruesome.
“Morningstar, what have you done to me?” I looked down at myself, relieved that I was in one piece. However, I was as naked as was Lucifer, and I instinctively tried to cover myself.
“Materials burn in the transportation,” Lucifer explained, holding out a fiery red robe made of the finest silk. I snatched it from his hand, glaring all the while. He had ogled my naked form while I was unconscious, and who knew what else he’d done to me? I wrapped the robe around my body, delighting in the feel of the silk against my skin. Oh, I knew I should have been terrified out of my mind, and I was, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t appreciate the finer things in life, did it?
“What am I doing here?” I asked, wanting to get to the crux of the matter. It wasn’t every day one was whisked to Hell, but I hoped it was the only day.
“I wanted you to see my realm,” Lucifer explained, placing an arm around me. “I thought you might be more persuadable if you knew what you were getting if you agreed to my offering.”
“Master, may I go now?” The gargoyle asked, submissively bowing its head.
“Be gone,” Lucifer said crossly, striking the gargoyle across the head. The gargoyle yelped but didn’t say anything else as it scampered off on all four. I was relieved to see the back of it as it made me uneasy. “That is Ptolymain. He is a useful fellow, but very stupid.” Lucifer pulled me to him and kissed me hard. I could feel his cock digging into my leg, and I pulled away.
“Morningstar, while I appreciate your hospitality, I must tell you it’s useless.” Of course, I was being sarcastic as I didn’t appreciate being taken against my will. “I will never consent to being your queen.”
“Never is a long time,” Lucifer murmured into my ear. “Come see the rest of the castle.” He wrapped his arm around my waist; I had no choice but to accompany him. I tried not to be affected, but I couldn’t help exclaiming over the priceless treasures which he’d accumulated—including Ming vases. He had different rooms for his different passions, including a theatre room. In that room, he had some of the finest actors who ever lived acting out plays for his amusement. The catch was that while the play was occurring, the actors really experienced whatever action was happening on stage, be it love, rage, murder, rape, etc. Needless to say, Lucifer chose the bloodiest, most graphic plays and movies to be acted because it was the torment of the actors which interested him the most. It was horrible to witness, and yet, oddly fascinating as well. The boundaries of art were pushed in a way that couldn’t occur in human theatre—for obvious reasons.
“Exquisite, isn’t it?” Lucifer murmured in my ear as we left. The damnedest thing was that I couldn’t disagree wit him. The bastard. He knew it, too, judging by his rapacious grin. “You would be in charge of the theatre if you were down here. You could make them performed whatever you wanted.”
“Anything?” I asked, my pulse quickening. I thought of half a dozen plays I’d like to see performed for me personally.
“Anything at all.” Lucifer stared at me for a minute before leading me to another room. “This is the main hall.” In layman’s terms, it’s the dining room, and it’s enormous. In fact, I couldn’t see the end of it because it went on too long. The table was made of mahogany and human hair, it looked like. I didn’t look too closely as I didn’t want to know for sure. The chairs were mahogany as well, and there were at least fifty on each side. “Sit, sit,” Lucifer said, pulling out the chair at the head of the table. He sat in the one next to me, surely an unaccustomed place for him. “Styphon! Bring in the feast.” He actually clapped his hands, and a small creature I hadn’t spotted before bobbled its furry head before scurrying away. It looked like a mix of a rat and an anteater which was not a pleasant combination, to be sure.
“This is some room,” I managed, overwhelmed by it all. There were paintings by Hieronymus Bosch on the walls, which was only too appropriate. He was one of my favorite painters, but it was unnerving to see his triptychs blown up to vast proportions. All that agony and terror magnified beyond comprehension. It certainly put me off my feed.
“Here you go, Master,” Styphon said upon his, hers, its return. I suppressed a shudder at the sight of hundreds of such creatures bearing dishes on their backs. The food looked delicious as far as I could tell, but I was wary as to what the Lord of Hell would serve a guest such as me for dinner.
“Veal cutlets,” Lucifer said, placing a dish before me. “Filet mignon with a bleu cheese crust.” He pointed at dish after dish, naming each one in succession. The aroma was so heavenly, I almost forgot where I was. Until Lucifer pointed to the last dish which was filled with fried balls of some sorts. I was thinking Rocky Mountain oysters until Lucifer said casually, “Human eyeballs. They’re my favorite dish.” My fork clattered to my plate so unnerved was I by his insouciance. How could I pretend that he was something other than what he was—pure evil? He had uttered the last two sentences as if he were talking about gumbo or Chinese barbecued pork. He had no inkling that he was the personification of depravity. I abruptly stood up, fervently glad I hadn’t ingested anything down here; I remembered what happened to Persephone when she ate those pomegranate seeds.
“Morningstar, I wish to leave.” My hands were trembling, but I managed to keep my voice firm. “I have seen enough.”
“But Margaret Marilyn, you haven’t tried my favorite dish,” Lucifer said softly, holding up one of the balls in front of my mouth. “They’re a real delicacy down here.” His laughter hurt my ears just as I had to avert my eyes when he popped a ball into his mouth. “You don’t know what you’re missing.” Dabbing his lips with his napkin, Lucifer arose. “I see you’re not convinced, Margaret Marilyn. Very well. I will send you home now.”
I instantly fell into a stupor—there was no fighting it this time. I was dimly aware of fingers on my body, peeling the skin away from my bones. At least that’s how it felt to me. It was strange that even though I was unconscious, I was still sensate. It seemed like a dichotomy, but it was only too true. I didn’t even try to struggle this time as a sense of well-being enveloped me. This, this had to be nirvana or something very close to it. I had to be on the right path in order to feel as good as this. My whole body was buffered by something as soft as gossamer threads. I knew I could fall for eons and still come to no harm.
“What the?” I woke up abruptly, lying on the ground of my apartment. Had I fallen asleep while staring at the roses? Did my day trip to Hell really happen? I was dimly aware of a ringing sound in the background, but I made no move to figure out the source. Looking down at my body, I realized that I was naked. Not only was I not wearing my own clothes—I wasn’t wearing the robe, either. Since I didn’t believe Lucifer would have clothing that disintegrated during dimension travel, I had to conclude that he removed the robe before sending me back. It was probably his hands I felt on my body before I went under. The bastard.
I looked at the coffee table and noticed that the roses were gone. Completely disappeared, as if they’d never been there. The orchids were sitting there as fresh as you pleased, but there was nothing else on the table which even slightly resembled a bouquet of red and orange roses. The vase was on the floor where it’d fell. I picked it up and placed it on the table. Opening my left hand, I saw a note in it. I stared at it for quite some time before opening it. It read, ‘Margaret Marilyn. You have seen but a sample of what I have to offer. Embrace your destiny. Morningstar.” I tossed the note out the window, angered by his nerve. How dare he do that to me?
“Meg, this is your mother. Why aren’t you answering your phone? Must be the shame you are feeling for lying to your mother. Call me.” My mother, imperious as always. I would bet that wasn’t her first message, either. It would be just like her to call me again and again, leaving me the same damn message each time. She liked to make sure she got her point across. I went over to my answering machine to check my messages. Strangely enough, I didn’t feel uncomfortable standing in the middle of my living room stark naked. As I suspected, my mother had called me four times in the last…I checked the clock and blinked twice. Hour? I was only gone an hour? That couldn’t be right. Time in Hell must be different than time on earth, that much was clear. I erased all my mother’s messages without listening to them. I knew what they were going to say, anyway. There was a message from Wind as well, and I listened to that one.
“Margaret, it’s Wind. I’m sorry I was so harsh on you. I realized as soon as I left that this must be a difficult situation for you. I tried to call you earlier, but I couldn’t even get through to the machine. Give me a call if you need support. May the Goddess bless you.” She couldn’t get through? Had Lucifer fucked with my phone lines, or was it just my mother hogging all the answering machine time? Either answer unsettled me, and I reluctantly called my mother.
“Wah, it takes you this long to return a call from your mother? What did you say to your sister to get her so upset? She was crying when she called me. I think it’s your fault. You and your problems are driving her crazy.” I wanted to tell my mother that it was her and her problems with me which were driving us all crazy, but I didn’t have the guts. Instead, I shut out my mother’s voice as I often did and thought about Lucifer’s offer. While I wasn’t going to take him up on it, I couldn’t help but feel flattered. Out of all the women in the world, I was the he wanted as his queen. I knew it was a sick thought, but I couldn’t stop thinking it.
Take the theatre room, for example. If Lucifer meant what he said, that I’d be in complete charge of the theatre, imagine what I could do. I could make all my favorite actors—the dead ones, anyway—perform nude scenes for my gratification. I could see Rent up close and personal. The only downside would be that I wouldn’t be able see Alan. I had no doubts that he’d end up in Heaven which would make the stay in Hell seem much longer than it really was. How could anything seem longer than eternity? Ask any student on the last day of school before summer vacation. By this time, I’d hung up the phone, barely aware I was
I didn’t think I’d get used to the food or the vast scores of suffering. I knew that there was a purpose for Hell, but I wasn’t quite sure what it was. Lucifer’s castle astounded me for its sheer banality, especially given the outside decaying façade. I expected the Prince of Darkness to have lugubrious scenes dotting his dark walls with minimal lighting by which to see as befitting his stature. I didn’t expect something so thoroughly modern and well-lit. It had a corporate feel to it that I didn’t much like. Even if I had given Lucifer’s offer a glancing thought, it still wasn’t anything like serious consideration. I didn’t want to be on the wrong side of God, no matter how many doubts I had about His authenticity. I wasn’t sure whatever He was planning would benefit humans in the long run, but what the fuck did I know about this shit, anyway?
“Margaret Marilyn Wang,” God shouted, His whole black being radiating rage. “How dare you go to Hell? How dare you disobey Me like that?” I had never seen God so enraged, and it scared the shit out of me. I knew He wouldn’t kill me, but I had a hunch that He could do many things that would make me want to die. “Do you know what risks you’ve taken going to Hell? You might have contaminated My child!”
“Um, God, I don’t know if you remember the part where I was taken against my will? Remember that?” I was pretty pissed myself, though my rage was nothing in comparison with God’s. “How the hell was I supposed to prevent Lucifer from taking me? He’s a pretty powerful being, you know.”
“You don’t have anything of his in your home, that’s how!” God screamed, His face turning blue. It was a nice contrast with all the black, but I didn’t have much time to admire it as His face quickly returned to its natural color. Nothing. “Any fool knows that by retaining something given to you by Lucifer, you allow him access to your being. Everybody knows that!”
“Well, I didn’t, and I think you overestimate Americans’ intellect,” I shot back, pacing back and forth. “I’ve never heard of such a thing, and you can bet I would have if it was common knowledge here on earth. So don’t You fucking yell at me. Don’t You fucking dare!” I glared at God who appeared twice my size. I knew I was naked, but I didn’t care. I was too pissed at the Almighty to worry about minor things such as clothing. Besides, I didn’t want to lose momentum by retreating to my bedroom to dress.
“If someone not dead goes to Hell, that person has an extremely high risk of exiting Hell cursed. I can’t believe you accepted those roses from My son!”
“I didn’t know!” I screamed, my own face turning red. “If You’d bothered to explain this shit to me in the beginning instead of keeping it on a need-to-know basis, maybe I’d have half a chance of staying ahead in the game.” I knew the folly in taking on God, but I was beyond the point of carrying. I felt like a pawn in the chess game between God and Lucifer, and I was sick of it. If they wanted to have a pissing contest, let them do it elsewhere. I hadn’t wanted to be involved in this family feud, but God had dragged me into the middle against my will. How dare He have the gall to get pissed at me when He’s the one in charge? In fact, if the Bible is correct, God should have known all along what Lucifer was planning on doing. He could have stopped it.
“Then it wouldn’t be freewill, would it?” God thundered. Lightning bolts flashed around His head, causing me to instinctively cringe. Had I succeeded in pushing Him beyond His limits? Was He finally going to put an end to all this? “No, I’m not doing any such thing.” God glowered at me, His eyes boring a hole into my forehead. I turned my eyes away as I didn’t want to have a stare-down with the Almighty.
“Look, God,” I said, sinking into the couch. Suddenly, I was exhausted and wanted nothing more than to be alone. I seemed to feel that way a lot lately, which had a direct correlation to how much intrusion I’d been suffering. “If there are things You don’t want me to do, You might as well tell me now. It’s not fair of You to keep me in the dark and then get pissed at me for doing something I wasn’t supposed to be doing. I shouldn’t have anything of Lucifer’s in my apartment? Fine. What else should I know?”
“Margaret Marilyn, listen very closely.” God had calmed down, and He was now a benign shade of magenta. He folded His hands in His lap, looking for all the world like a sensei about to impart wisdom on his disciple. “Anything My son tells you is a lie. You cannot trust him, no matter how sincere he sounds. If he gives you anything, you must refuse. If he wants to take you anywhere, you must refuse.” God paused, focusing all His attention on me. “This is the most important part. If he wants to touch you in any way, you must resist. Even if it’s just a kiss or a touch of the cheek. Every time he touches you, he weakens your resistance. Over time, he will wear you down. Talk to Wendy about sealing the portal so he can’t return.”
“Why don’t You seal the portal?” I asked reasonably. “You’re the one who opened it in the first damn place.”
“Talk to Wendy,” God repeated, turning away. “That is all for now.” As usual, He disappeared without saying good-bye. I gave Him the finger which did absolutely nothing for Him, but it made me feel immensely better.