Lucifestus wasn’t hurting. Not bad. Not quite. Not yet. But he was walking gingerly as he approached the house. Ranch style, with a decent lawn considering its location. With stone facing and white porch columns, it resembled any upper-middle-class home in, say, Sacramento. Except for the severed heads. Where a picket fence might be, regularly spaced stakes were topped with human – well, mostly human – heads in various stages of decomposition, mouths agape.
There were other clues that would place this house in the outskirts of The Underworld as opposed to the greater St. Louis area. The sky was a swirl of reds, browns, greens. A dim but unusually large sun hung low on the horizon – a sunny-side egg drowning near the edge in a bowl of Texas chili. And directly behind the house was the river, maybe a quarter mile wide, the water the color of blood and urine and aubergines. Not a greatly different color palette from the sky, come to think of it. Some called it the Rubicon. Some just The River. Some The Border. No one called it the Styx. Not since Mr. Roboto.
As he approached the door, the dim sun cast a dim shadow of Lucifestus’ fearsome horns. He raised a crimson hand and knocked politely. “Shit!” He blurted. Just the slight impact of knuckle against wood magnified his physical discomfort.
He took a step back and a deep breath, trying to compose himself. He forced a smile, a sight that most humans would have found discomfiting. He held the look for ten, twenty seconds, awaiting a response to his knock. But there was no sound from within. Steeling himself against the pain to come, he knocked more vigorously.
“Motherfucker!” he involuntarily hissed through clenched teeth, doubling over.
He paused to catch his breath and allow the pain to abate. He straightened up and again faced the door, trying to look pleasant. Still nothing.
A third time, Lucifestus raised his infernal fist and hammered it against the door, now channeling the excruciating pain into a booming shout. “Come on, man! Open the fucking door!
Lucifestus could see a light coming on in the living room. He heard some rustling, some steps. The porch light came on, and a clearly annoyed voice asked, “Who is it?”
“Lucifestus. I need to get across. Come on, Charon, open up.”
Dead bolts were thrown, chains released and the door opened. Charon, the Ferryman to the Underworld, stood there in a pair of boxer shorts and not much else. His bony, pale, refugee-like frame stood in stark contrast to Lucifestus’ hulking musculature and barrel chest. “Lucifestus,” he greeted the devil in an even tone. “Man, you know my operating hours. I’m done for the day. You’re lucky I even heard you knocking. I was in the den watching Game of Thrones. There’s about to be a big wedding.”
“Oh, you’ll love that scene. It’s hilarious,” Lucifestus chuckled in spite of his discomfort. “And you can watch it in thirty minutes or so. After you run me across.”
“Yeah, sorry. Point is, I’m bushed. Full day of pulling a skiff, you know.”
“ ‘Pulling a skiff’ ? ” Lucifestus made air quotes. “You’ve got twin Evinrudes on that thing. You haven’t pulled a skiff in centuries.”
“Whatever. I’m off. I can take you in the morning.”
“I know, I know, but my soul sac is about to burst. If I don’t get across and into the soul-arium in the next couple of hours or so, it’s gonna be bad.” After a pause, “It’s an emergency, Charon. Help a brother out. Please.”
“Look, Lucifestus, this is your own fault. You can’t just put off the soul-arium. If you have the urge to dump, you gotta dump. Why did you wait? Big pick-six carry-over at Santa Anita?”
“For your information,” Lucifestus replied, “I’ve been playing Aqueduct lately. But that’s beside the point. I was faced with a rare opportunity to swing a deal with a diner booth full of nuns. Couldn’t pass it up, but I had to ingest five at once. Nuns!”
“I’ll give it to you, that’s about as good a reason as anyone’s given me in a couple hundred years. What did the nuns get in return? Or do I want to know?”
“No. No, you don’t. So how ’bout it? You gonna help me out? It’ll be quick,” Lucifestus said pointing at the boat house containing the twin Evinrude-powered ferry.
“Come on in,” Charon gestured, stepping his bony ass aside. “I’ll fix up the couch. I’ll take you in the morning.”
“I’ll play you for it,” the devil said. “If I win you take me. If you win . . . I don’t know, what do you want?”
“What do I want? I want you to leave me alone so I can go sit down and watch my story.”
“We could play mumbletypeg again. You won last time we played mumbletypeg.”
This time it was Charon’s turn to make air-quotes. “Yeah, I ‘won’. Lost a couple of toes, too. Still growing them back. No thanks.”
“Heh heh,” Lucifestus was unable to suppress another chuckle. Then, more serious, “Hey. You remember when Lucimandus burst his soul sac? Forget how long he was laid up in searing pain. Remember the smell? The mess?”
“Oh, god,” said Charon, making a sour face. “That was disgusting.”
“Well,” said Lucifestus, cocking his head and giving Charon a gambler’s stare. “If I stay here and my sac bursts, which I’m pretty sure it’s gonna, I’ll be out of action, in infernal pain for months. But I bet I’ll be running around bright-eyed and bushy-tailed long before you get the stench of five goddamn nuns out of your house.”
“Goddamit,” said Charon shaking his head. “I’ll get my keys.”
© 2015 Whiskey Leavins