by Arnold Snyder
I tried to talk my way out of going to church on Sunday but my father wouldn’t hear it. It was necessary for us to keep up appearances.
“I hate church,” I said.
“We all hate church, but we’re going,” he said. “Uncle Luke’s ushering today.”
Sometimes Uncle Luke was an usher at Sunday mass and had been for as long as I could remember. He didn’t do much but pass the collection baskets during the Offertory. After mass on Sundays when he ushered he often came over to our house for a big breakfast with our family. My mother made pancakes whenever he came over. He loved pancakes. So did I.
“Is he coming over for breakfast?” I asked.
“It’s a good bet he is.”
Church was boring like always, but just knowing Uncle Luke was sitting in the back pew made it more tolerable. When he passed the collection basket down our row, I pretended to take money out of it for his entertainment. He smiled at me and winked and it made the whole morning better.
After mass, I told my father I’d ride home with Uncle Luke. I didn’t tell my father it was because I wanted to ask Uncle Luke some questions privately. It wasn’t unusual for Uncle Luke to give me a ride home from Sunday mass. After he put the collection baskets into the sacristy, he came back to where I was waiting for him in the back pew.
Uncle Luke didn’t look like he could be Lucifer. He just looked like a normal guy with glasses who was mostly bald and had a beer belly. He was an insurance salesman and that’s what he looked like.
We walked to his car, his big black Cadillac that was parked on the street about a block from the church.
We got in the car and he turned to me immediately, pulling out a deck of cards. “I’ve got a new card trick,” he said. “See if you can figure this one out.” He slid the cards from the box.
I didn’t want to get sidetracked. “Uncle Luke,” I said, “are you really Lucifer?”
He stopped shuffling the deck. “I guess you’re old enough to know,” he said. His jovial mood had disappeared. He replaced the cards in the box and put them back into his coat pocket.
“Are you really?” I said.
He gave me a weird look and capped it with a dramatic, blissful sigh.
“Unc, you’re the most famous person I ever met.”
He started the engine. He seemed unprepared for this conversation.
“So, like, you really had this battle in Heaven and got banished?” I said.
He pulled out onto the street. “And your mom and dad were right alongside me,” he said. He hardly ever talked this seriously. “Don’t make me out to be the big hero. All of the Cherubim who rebelled showed the same courage. You should be proud of your parents, Sebastian. When the history of Hell is written, their names will be as much a part of the story as mine.”
“You should write the story, Unc. That’s a book I’d read.”
I couldn’t help but notice the girls dressed up in their Sunday best, walking down the street on their way to church for the late morning service. Some were girls I’d known for years in school, just kids, classmates. Now they looked so sexy and they looked like they knew it. Lilith and Regan were walking together. They looked sexy and hardcore. What if Lilith really did shave her pubes off and what if it turns out she’s a devil and she likes the idea of doing bad things as much as I do? That’s what I was thinking, just looking at them walking to church. I’d seen them in church many times. They always sat in the back row and left about five minutes after the mass started.
“The reason I’m coming over today,” Uncle Luke burst into my thoughts, “is to talk to you about some physical changes you’re going to start experiencing soon.”
“The reason you’re coming over is for pancakes,” I said, then added, “like always.”
“You got me,” he said. “Ain’t it the truth,” then getting back to his prepared comments, “Your mom tells me you haven’t turned into a snake yet.”
“No, but I want to. How do I do it?”
“Don’t worry about that. It’ll just happen. The first time you won’t have any control over it. Your body will just start transforming.”
“Does it hurt when it happens?”
“Well, there’s some pain, but after you’ve transformed, it’ll feel better than anything you’ve ever felt. You’ll wish you could just stay that way. Oh, Jesus, Sebastian, it feels so damn good to be a snake.”
“Then why don’t we just change into snakes and stay that way all the time?”
“We have work to do. Important work. Humans find snakes scary. Especially snakes that are bigger than them. We never go out in public like that. But we have snake parties where we all get together and just be ourselves. It feels good to be a snake, Sebastian, and to be a snake with a bunch of other snakes, now that’s heaven on French toast. But here’s what I wanted to tell you … You have to start staying in the house until you have your first transformation. You don’t want to be out in the world when you go into full fangs and scales.”
He pulled up to the curb in front of my house and parked.
“But school starts next month,” I said. “Can I stay home from school?”
“You’ll be transforming sooner than that,” he said.
“How do you know? Mom said it might be a few months.”
“I know,” he said. “I can see it coming in you.”
“So I have to stay in the house and just wait?” I said. “It’s summer time, Unc. Can’t I go outside?”
“In your own yard,” he said. “That’s all. You have to be where you can get inside a safe place, with no other humans around, on a moment’s notice. That’s pretty much limited to your house or my house. So stay home. After your first transformation, you’ll have full control. You can change any time you want from human to snake and back again. But the first one, it just grabs you and doesn’t let go until you’re exhausted. Believe me, you can’t be out in public. At one time—a more primitive time—we could be snakes in public. We scared the living shit out of people and just went on our way. Folks left us alone, didn’t want anything to do with us. But not today. There are people running around these streets with high-powered automatic weapons.”
“But when I saw my mom like that, she was beautiful.”
“To you. You’re a devil, Sebastian.”
“Would they kill us if they saw us like that?”
“They can’t actually kill us, but do you know how godawful bad that would hurt? To get hot lead piercing your scales, then cutting a fiery path through your body or lodging within you, a ball of burning metal?”
“You mean we can’t die?”
“Of course we can’t. Nobody ever dies really, not even humans. They simply go to Hell and live there forever—if you can call that living … Now, the day of your first transformation, you’re going to know it’s coming. You’ll feel it happening about two hours before you can see any outward signs. You’ll feel your insides changing and you’ll have a craving for fruit.”
“Fruit? What kind of fruit?”
“All kinds. So, when you feel it coming, call me. Immediately. We have to take you to a safe place, outdoors, where there are no people and plenty of fruit trees.”
I could see my mother peeking at us through the picture window. She moved from the window quickly when she saw me looking at her. She knew what we were talking about. I felt there was some kind of family conspiracy going on—a big secret that everyone had known about forever, and I was just now finding out about it.
“I sure wish it would happen soon,” I said. “I’m tired of waiting.”
“I have something else important to talk to you about, Sebastian.”
I waited. Was he going to tell me about his big secret plan?
“I know your parents already told you the facts of death. And I’m sure your mom told you that when you die, you’re going to Hell.”
“Yeah, Unc, she told me that stuff.”
“What she told you was true, but it’s going to be different for you. You’re only going to Hell when you die very briefly, and I mean you will be passing through Hell in a matter of seconds, and you will return right here to Earth with me.”
“I need an assistant, an apprentice if you will, so I’m going to reschedule you to Earth as soon as you die so we can continue working together.”
“For all the rest of time?”
“Just until this planet burns out, not too many eons in the future. By then, I’ll have found another planet for us in some other disappointing galaxy that’s been forsaken by God. And you’ll be my right-hand man. As long as God keeps creating universes, he’ll be creating big disappointments, and I’ll find a place for you outside of Hell.”
“Why me? I mean I love you, Unc, but this sounds like I just got the best job in the world, and why didn’t someone else get it?”
“You’re not the only one who gets to stay out of Hell, Sebastian. All of the Cherubim are now on Earth. And none of us are ever going back—except voluntarily in pursuit of my mission. I’m going to do what God failed to do. I’m going to create a real heaven. Right here on Earth. And now that I’ve finished bringing all of the Cherubim to Earth, I’ve started taking humans out of Hell, bringing them back here to live with us in peace and harmony. Their days of torture will be over. I’m going to get every last one of them out of Hell.”
“Won’t God notice?”
“He doesn’t pay any attention to Earth anymore.”
“But doesn’t he pay attention to Hell?”
“God has uncountable Hells. The Hell he uses for Earth people is—like the planet—one of his least favorites. He enjoys watching the suffering of creatures in many of his other Hells, but not Earth Hell. He finds watching humans suffering boring.”
He pulled his key out of the ignition. “C’mon, let’s go get some pancakes,” he said.
I followed him into the house, but within thirty seconds I turned around and went back outside. I couldn’t take the smell of the bacon.
Go to Chapter Six . . .