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Saved by the Belle

By Rob Rosen
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"The end of the world is nigh! The end of the world is nigh!" shouted the voice over the radio. The first thing Belle did was to crack open a dictionary and find out what the word "nigh" meant. The second thing was to pour herself a shot of bourbon - good old Kentucky bourbon, to be exact - then she sighed and turned the radio up.

"Ladies and gentlemen," the announcer began, with a slight tremor to his voice. "News offices the world over have been sent a press release from, now brace yourselves, Satan. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I did indeed say Satan. The Prince of Darkness has informed us that, after endless millennia, he intends on taking a well-earned vacation. According to this document, there's just too much paperwork for him to contend with these days. Too much sorting out of who's bad, who'd really bad, and who'd just plain, old God-awful; and not enough time to relax and get down to the nitty-gritty of torturing a few miserable damned souls, like in the old days. So, as of midnight tonight, Old Nick will be closing his books, placing his hooves up on the couch, and taking, as he put it, a break from the eternal punishment game." There was a pause and then an audible gulp. "Hell, ladies and gentlemen, will be closed for business until further notice."

What that meant, Belle soon discovered, was that the souls of the evil, the wicked, the depraved, and the damned, all the spirits of the recently and sinfully departed, would be free to wander the earth, wrecking havoc on humanity as they saw fit; in other words, it would be the end of the world as they knew it.

Belle shook her head, stroked her cat, Puss Puss, and downed another shot of bourbon. With a wry smile, she quipped, "The evil, the wicked, the depraved, and the damned? Sounds like my customers are coming back for a second helping." Belle didn't like the sound of that. Not one bit. Satan wasn't the only one who needed a vacation.

"If Lucifer needs a break from his paperwork," she said, while flicking on her trusty laptop, "I'll give him one." Logging on to the site, ladiesofthenight.blogspot.com, she put her plan into action. The Sisterhood, as she liked to call it, was a tight knit group, not to mention exceedingly organized, and membership did indeed have its privileges - namely, insight. Loads and loads of it. And all of it was well documented.

Within hours of putting her call out, she received several hundred emails and just as many faxes. Her coalition was behind her, every last one of them, and all were eager and willing to help. Anonymously, of course. After all, business was business, and if word got out that there were lists, and detailed lists at that, they'd promptly be out of said business. In any case, Belle knew, it's what was on the lists that counted, not who created them in the first place.

And, oh, how these lists spoke volumes. Hopefully, she prayed, the Devil would be willing to listen.

"But how do I reach the Lord of the Damned?" she asked herself. A bead of sweat trickled down her face. She glanced at her watch. "And how do I do it in under an hour?"

Again she turned to her laptop. Going to Google, she typed in: "How to contact Satan". Not unexpectedly, there were hundreds of links. But which one held the answer? One of the links on the first page caught her eye, though: The Church of Satan.

"Worth a shot," she said. "And they have an email address."

Quickly, she sent them a message, laying out her plan, and asking for their help.

Just as quickly, she received a response: "We've been expecting you."

"Me?" she typed in, surprised, but at least relieved that she got a response, even a cryptic one such as this.

"Well," came the reply. "Not you, per se. But someone wanting to contact our Master to address this urgent matter. As his minions, we'd prefer it if he didn't take a vacation. It's bad for business."

"And I'm the first one to contact you?"

"Hell no. You weren't even in the first hundred. But yours appears to be the only solution that has a chance of succeeding - however slim."

"However slim?"

"Satan isn't exactly known for being reasonable."

She laughed, despite the dire circumstances. "No, I suppose not," she typed, just as her phone rang, causing her to jump from her seat.

"Good evening, Belle," said the man on the other end. "Enough of the emailing. We have little time and much work to be done."

"Agreed," she said, and then added, "Where are you?"

"New York," came the tentative reply.

"But I'm in Louisiana. How are we going to work together if we're so far apart?"

There was a pause on the other end. "Difficult, but not impossible. The phone line is a good enough conduit. We'll conduct the ceremony on our end, you'll do the additional work on yours. If we act quickly, we should be able to catch Satan before he goes on this miserable vacation of his. But them it's up to you to convince him of your plan."

"And save humanity, of course," she added.

"Yeah, yeah, sure, whatever. Humanity schmanity. In any case, first things first. Draw a pentagram in the center of your living room."

"Draw?" Belle practically shouted. "I have carpeting. Expensive carpeting."

Again there was a pause. "Okay. Get masking tape and outline a pentagram. That's a five pointed star, in case you didn't know."

"I know. I know," she replied, dropping the receiver and running to her drawer for some tape. Minutes later, with the star somewhat-firmly in place, and more sweat teaming down her face, she got back on the phone. "Next!"

"Okay, now get five white candles and place them just inside each of the points. After they're positioned there, light them up."

She again dropped the receiver, ran to her kitchen, checked her watch - they now had twenty minutes until the Devil went on his break - and rapidly placed the candles as directed. "Now what?" she asked, almost out of breath, as she returned to the phone.

"Now we conduct the ceremony on our end and you repeat what I say to you, word for word, when I tell you to. You must repeat it correctly, or else our Lord won't respond; and your cherished humanity goes down the proverbial toilet."

"Fine," she said, grumpily. "I went to college, you know. I think I can handle repeating a few lines of jibber jabber."

"You went to college?"

She hated when people thought less of her simply because of her chosen profession. "Yes," she retorted. "And my earnings were in the high six figures last year. What did you pull in?"

That always shut them up.

"Yeah. Whatever. Now wait. Listen. And repeat," the man, Chuck was his name, told her.

Panting into the receiver, Belle listened intently to what was happening on the other end of the line. There seemed to be a room full of people on the New York side of things, all of them chanting and murmuring in some ancient language Belle couldn't make hide nor hair of. Minutes went by before Chuck told her to start repeating, slowly and carefully, what he said.

Belle did as was told. The words were strange but easy enough to reiterate; and, soon enough, and astoundingly enough, they were having some sort of effect. With each word that spewed forth from her now-dry lips, the light of the candles, one by one, started to turn from white to dusky blue. Chucks voice grew louder and the words came more rapidly now. Belle struggled to keep up. The candle lights began to grow in intensity as well, rising high above the candles in a fierce, blue blaze, until Belle could hardly stare at them.

A cold chill suddenly passed through the room, sending a shiver up Belle's spine. A warm, sulfur-laden one soon followed it, and the blue flames turned pink and then blood red. Belle clutched at her ample bosom and repeated, over and over, the last of the incantation, this time in English. "Arise Satan. Arise." The words almost got caught in her throat. Still, she repeated them, a dozen times, two dozen times, three dozen times. And then Chuck went silent and so did Belle.

The room, cast in its red glow, was deathly still, save for the warm, malevolent draft that quickly grew in intensity. Belle coughed but otherwise remained frozen in place - watching, waiting. Then, from the center of the pentagram, a gray mist poured up and over. And out of this mist emerged a lone, bony, red finger. Belle's eyes grew wide and her breath quickened.

From the receiver she still clutched in her grip, Chuck asked, "What's happening, Belle?" "Ssh," she said, in a whisper. "He's here."

Belle heard the cheer come up from New York. She dropped the receiver and inched a few steps backwards.

The mist continued to pour foreword. The finger rose to reveal a hand, an arm, a shoulder, and then, to her utter disbelief, the head of Satan himself - red and gruesome with massive horns sprouting out from the top, and two laser-intense eyes that immediately locked in on her. A smile splayed across his grotesque face as the rest of his deformed, reddened body arose out of the pentagram, until, at last, he stood, all seven feet of him, in the center of her living room.

"You just caught me," he said, in a gravelly, deep, baritone voice. "I was on my way out."

"So I've heard," Belle replied, forcing herself to speak.

"Word travels fast, huh?" The smile widened, revealing yellowed, pointed canines.

She simply nodded and stared at him, slack-jawed. Finally, she got her wits about her and, folding her arms across her chest, said, "Can I get you anything? Coffee, tea?" - old hostess habits died hard. She reddened as soon as she said it.

Satan seemed not to notice. "Tea would be nice. Darjeeling?" His cloven hooves clomped across the carpet and then he set his massive frame down on her couch. It creaked and groaned at the weight of him.

"Fine," she replied. "Sure. Okay." Quickly, she ran into her kitchen and returned with a hot cup of tea, which shook and rattled as she nervously handed it to him.

"Thanks," he said, taking a tentative sip. "Gonna be doing a lot more of this, soon enough. Relaxing, that is. Might as well get used to it."

"Sounds boring," she countered, sitting in a chair, facing him. "Sorry, I mean, I prefer to keep busy myself."

"Try it for a few thousand years and get back to me on that one. It's, pardon the expression, hell."

She laughed. Satan looked up from his tea in disbelief. "Oh," he said. "A sound I haven't heard in a good, long time. Nice." The word sounded like a growl. "And your name, madam?"

"Belle," she replied, demurely.

"Pretty name. Pretty lady," he said, with a nod of his thick, red neck. "And what can I do for you, Belle? Other than drink your tea and enjoy your hospitality, before I go on my vacation."

"Yes, well, that's what I wanted to talk to you about." She paused and forced herself to stare him dead in his menacing eyes. "If you go on vacation, it will throw mankind into turmoil. The souls of the damned will riot and try to overthrow those of us left behind."

"Sounds like fun," he said, sipping at his tea. "That I'd like to see."

She tried a different approach. "Okay, so, say you go on this vacation of yours. What happens when you get back?"

He set the cup and saucer down and splayed his long, tapered, clawed fingers around his pointy chin. "Back?" he finally said.

"Yeah, back. You said vacation, not retirement. So you'll be coming back. Eventually. What happens then?"

A look of uncertainty spread across his hideous face. Belle suppressed the smile that started to appear on her own. "What do you mean?" he asked.

"Well, if everything is as bad as you say. What will happen when you return from vacation? You'll have an even bigger mound of paperwork to contend with, countless souls that will have to be accounted for and sorted out. If you think you need a vacation now, wait until then."

"Shit," he said.

"Exactly," she agreed, the smile at last breaking through. "But maybe it's not all bad." She practically purred this.

"No?" Now he looked at her with a sort of curious hope.

"Maybe there's a way to lighten your load. To cut down on all the paperwork - the cataloging of souls that's required." She stood up and returned with a large, heavy box. "Here," she said to him.

He looked inside, pouring through the stacks of lists. "I don't get it. These people are still alive. How do you know all their sins? Are you a priest or something?"

She laughed, yet again. "Not hardly. Besides, don't you know all this beforehand?"

"No, I'm not Santa Claus. I don't know who's been bad or good until after they've died. But lists like these would certainly be helpful. Unfortunately, it's just not enough."

She looked at him and sighed. "I have two more boxes just like these."

He shook his head back and forth. "A drop in the bucket. Like taking a feather off a stack of weighed bricks. What I need is continuous information. Provide me with that and I might consider rescinding the vacation."

It was what she hoped he'd say. She ran from the room and returned with one continuous list that ran for a dozen pages, front and back. "Here," she said, handing it to him. "Log-ins and passwords to sites belonging to hundreds of women who know the secrets of thousands of men on every continent, in every country. Constantly updated."

The terrifying smile returned to his face. "Valuable information, Belle."

"I know, and you'll be paying for it, too."

His eyes grew to slits as he stared at her with interest. "Yes, my dear? The Devil doesn't keep spare change on him, you know."

"Not in money," she replied. "In pardons. With that list you hold, you'll have vital information on countless men. Certainly enough to greatly diminish your own paperwork. But in exchange for this, you'll pardon the women who provide this service to you - an easier hell for you, no hell for them. Seems like a fair enough trade."

Satan stood to his full seven feet, his horns scratching and scraping at the ceiling, and, with his taloned, bony hands clutching at his thick, red belly, he let loose the loudest most jarring howl of a laugh the world had ever heard. "My dear," he finally managed to say. "I do believe you have me on this one. Shame really, I would have so enjoyed meeting you again when your time on this earth is up. But, as you say, it's a fair price to pay." He held his huge paw of a hand out to her. "Agreed, Belle. The list in exchange for full pardons."

"And no vacation," she quickly added.

"And no vacation," he echoed.

Belle could hear the sound of cheers and applause emanating from the phone receiver that lay on the floor. She smiled in relief and shook the Devil's hand.

And with that, he was gone, in a puff of rancid, black smoke that caused the candles to burn out in an instant.

Belle breathed a satisfied sigh and bent down to pick up the phone. "Well, that was fun," she said.

"Good job, Belle. Seems like you saved our butts."

"For the time being, I'd say. But not if your name is on one of those lists."

Chuck paused. "Well, if my name was on your own personal list, Belle, I bet it would be well worth it."

She laughed, good and hard and knowingly. "Damned right, pal," she said to him. "Damned right."

(C)opyright 2006 Rob Rosen All Rights Reserved

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