by Arnold Snyder
That night I had terrible stomach cramps. I was doubled up, but doubling up didn’t seem to help. And I knew it was this damn snake thing. This was not going to be pleasant. This was going to be painful because God created it to be a punishment. But how bad was it going to be?
At some point I did fall asleep, but I woke up maybe an hour or two later in a sweat. It was morning. I was okay. No cramps. No nausea. Feeling pretty good for having had so little sleep. I was hungry. I wanted breakfast. I went down to the kitchen.
Dad was there. He’d just gotten home and was cooking up a batch of bacon. He was in an undershirt and his baggy plaid boxers.
“Cook enough for me,” I said.
“Is that an order?”
“I mean can you please make me some bacon too, please?”
“I’m making enough for everybody.”
I got a plate from the cupboard and sat down at the kitchen table. One thing Dad did not need was my help in cooking bacon. Dad was the bacon king, an expert at achieving perfect crispiness throughout, with no burn. I always thought he must have studied at the apron of a master short order cook, but now I was wondering if cooking bacon might not be a natural talent of devils. Maybe I could make bacon …
“What happened when you saw God?” I said. “Was he mad because you weren’t supposed to look at him?”
Dad turned toward me with the cooking fork in his hand, and his posture struck me as a classic devil pose with a pitchfork. I was feeling very chummy with him. We had a mutual secret that would bind us together for life. I was going to make some kind of pitchfork joke, but before I could think of what to say, he said, “I never said we saw God. Uncle Luke is the only Cherubim I know of whoever dared to look at him. He placed an army of Seraphim in our path and we couldn’t get around them. There was no getting through them. They were stronger and had us outnumbered. That was right after God gave us bodies. The Seraphim got beautiful human-like bodies with glorious wings. Those of us who’d revolted were turned into snakes. And facing the magnificent Seraphim army, it wasn’t a battle so much as a beating. With all of the angels in Heaven watching, we were driven out of Paradise by the merciless Seraphim, who took pleasure in sticking us with their swords and pummeling and humiliating us.”
He turned back to tending the bacon in the frying pan.
“Here’s what I want to know, Dad? Can you turn into a snake like Mom?”
“Yes. That’s the natural serpentine form of the Cherubim rebels. It’s the form God gave us as a punishment.”
“So, in the story of Adam and Eve is that a Cherubim devil?”
“No, Sebastian, that’s a fairy tale, but the depiction of the devil as a serpent was accurate.”
“But how come we’re not in Hell now and we look like people?”
“You’re asking me questions you should ask your mother. Or your Uncle Luke. But that’s enough for now. You know your basic family history.”
“I don’t know anything! I want to know more about what happened when you went to Hell. And how you got here!”
Normally, I love the smell of bacon, but this batch had a rotten smell. A look came over my father’s face that I couldn’t interpret at first. Was it the smell of the bacon? Then I saw a sadness in him I’d never seen before.
“Tell me about Hell,” I said.
“Your Uncle Luke will tell you that story,” he said, pursing his lips, starting to extract crispy strips of bacon from the pan with a fork, laying them on a plate.
“Mom said I’m going there when I die,” I said.
“You’re young. That’s far in the future.”
“Dad, that bacon doesn’t smell good,” I said.
He turned to look at me with a wide smile on his face. “I was wondering if you’d ever notice,” he said.
“What’s wrong with it?”
“It’s not the bacon, it’s your nose. It smells fine to me, but it won’t smell right to you until after your first transformation. It won’t be long now. Just go play.”
“Dad, I don’t go play anymore. And this is all I can think about. I can’t do anything until I find out more about this snake thing.”
“Well, that’s all you’re finding out from me. Talk to your Mom or go find your favorite Unc.”
“Tell me about the Archangel Michael,” I said.
He tended the bacon, adding more and more crispy strips to the plate. “That piece of shit,” he said, almost under his breath.
Wow. I’d never heard my father call anyone a piece of shit before. “Tell me about him,” I said.
“What do you think you know about him.”
“In school, they said he was the angel who beat Lucifer in the final battle in Heaven and drove all the devils into Hell,” I said. “Dad, I’m going to vomit if you don’t throw that bacon away. You can’t possibly eat that!”
He looked me dead in the eye. “Go play,” he said.
My mother was in the basement on the unfinished side, hanging clothes on the clothesline. When I was younger, she used to hang clothes outside on sunny days. But the pollution was too bad for that now. The wet clothes kept getting covered in soot. Now she always hangs them in the basement.
“Mom, tell me about the Archangel Michael,” I said.
“Ask your father.”
“I did and he just said … he didn’t want to talk about him.”
She gave an exasperated sigh before saying, “The Archangel Michael was the leader of the Seraphim army. The only time I ever saw him was after we were routed to Hell, he gave a little speech, then left us there to burn. That’s all I know about him.” She picked up one of my father’s damp powder blue cop shirts and straightened it on a hanger.
“What kind of speech?” I said.
She sat down on the straight-back wooden chair beside the clothes hamper. “My back is killing me,” she said. “The human body is so inefficient compared to the serpent’s.”
“What kind of speech?” I said again.
She looked at me matter-of-factly, and said very slowly and deliberately, “He said, ‘You must remain in this place of torment for eternity. That is the punishment God has decided upon. You will never leave. You will never sleep. You will never die. You will never find the slightest relief from your pain and anguish. You cannot repent. You will never be forgiven. God does not forgive. He created you. He owns you. And he doesn’t like how you turned out. For failing to meet his standards, you will be tortured incessantly, forever.’”
“Yikes,” I said.
“The people on Earth don’t know it yet but they’re all going to Hell. Every one of them will hear that speech. And it doesn’t matter what kinds of lives they lead. God doesn’t care. He likes tormenting his creations and he always torments for eternity. He knows that by informing his victims that their pain will be never-ending, it makes the pain that much worse.”
“But why is this planet even here?”
“God wanted to raise more beings that he could torture.”
“But how come you and Dad and Uncle Luke and everybody are here? This isn’t Hell. You were already in Hell and then you came here.”
My mother stood up and resumed digging clothes out of the big canvas hamper and hanging them on the clothesline.
“When God first cast us out of Heaven,” she said, “Hell was all there was. In the process of tormenting us, God discovered that he truly enjoyed torturing the life forms he created. It gave him a sense of fulfillment. So, he started creating universes because he likes having self-perpetuating systems of creation that continually deliver helpless victims to him. He didn’t ban us devils from Earth because he liked the idea of us frightening the humans. He even gave us the ability to transform into human form to deceive humans. We found out pretty quickly that humans didn’t care much for giant snakes, so we only transform to snake form among ourselves.”
“But what if God sees what you’re doing?”
“He doesn’t even look at this planet. He considers humans to be one of his biggest screw-ups, so he’s washed his hands of this place.”
“Man … now I know why I never got any of the things I prayed for. I thought there was a God up there listening … So, you and Dad just come here for a vacation?”
“No, more than that. We wanted children. We can’t mate in Hell. Our snake bodies have no reproductive organs. God created us with sexual desires but without sexual organs. His little joke. So Earth was a real find for us, once we figured out that we could reproduce when we were in human form. We can create new devils here, wonderful new devils—like you and your sister. If God ever paid one iota of attention to what was going on here, he’d know we were breeding new devils and he’d put a stop to it. So this is a secret we even have from God.”
“So you see Earth as a place to raise a family?”
“It is, for us devils. Unlike the humans, who go to Hell and stay there, you can keep coming back here.”
“But will I always have to go back to Hell again?”
“Always. You’re here to live one Earth life, however long or short that is. Then it’s back to Hell until you’re rescheduled to Earth again.”
“And you and Dad also live one life then go back to Hell?”
“No, your Dad and I are different from you and your sister.”
“I’m going to let your Uncle Luke explain that to you.”
“That’s not fair, Mom.”
“Nobody ever said existence was fair. You want fair? Get another creator. Just be happy you’re on the schedule and you’re here now.”
“Who does the scheduling?” I said.
Go to Chapter Four . . .