Festival of Lights

boxesThe sun had already begun its quick winter descent, reminding the Osenkowski’s that it was again time to get the battered cardboard box marked “X-mas” from the basement. It was one of many boxes there piled in a cardboard Limbo. Peeling yellow tape, dust: these always added to the suspense of the unopened box, but once the top was off, it became clear that nothing changed for the Osenkowski’s in a year’s time.

Even on ordinary, non-holiday days, it was Tony Osenkowski’s husbandly duty to fetch things from the basement since Pat had been diagnosed with subdomusphobia, the fear of basements. With the medication they prescribed for her condition, the stairs would have proved difficult for Pat to negotiate anyhow.

That’s not to say that Pat didn’t try to speed her treatment along, washing her pills down with a swallow of whiskey. Even though Tony tried again and again to stop her from drinking, there she was, slurping Jim Beam straight from the bottle as she poked in the spice rack above the stove.

Two hours before she had told him to get the box. He said he would get it, right after they finished the third hole at the Palm Springs tournament. One-and-a-half hours ago, she told him again, but he was snoring, and he didn’t hear her, so she had to yell at him this time.

He slowly rose from the sofa leaving a comfortable depression in the cushions. Lingering, the suddenness of twilight startled him. Another weekend over, the verge of the next week, and the next.

Pat was cooking a nice turkey for their church’s Advent Family Affair dinner for later that evening. She was “volunteered” to spend the twenty bucks for ingredients and an afternoon basting and roasting the turkey – a privilege doled out by the church’s Ladies Aid Committee. The ladies on the committee usually put themselves down for buns or potato chips.

“I’d like to decorate today, Mr. Groundskeeper!” Pat snapped from the kitchen.

Rubbing the afternoon out of his eyes, Anthony responded, “Sure thing,” and worked his way into the kitchen, toward the door to the basement, which he found with his forehead. “No problem,” he said, rubbing the skin as he started down the stairs.

Pat resumed the basting, giving it her last touches, yelling further commands over her shoulder. “Oh, and see if you can find the box with the cards and wrapping paper!” She leaned over the little gas stove, one of those old stoves that had to be lit every time she wanted to use it. The sleeves on her robe nearly ignited on the open blue flame that kept a pan full of butter melted.

Stove-lighting was another of Anthony’s little tasks; her therapist had uncovered a repressed memory were Pat had been separated from her parents during a Fourth of July fireworks celebration, which explained her pyrogenetiphobia: the fear of starting fires. Those were the blue pills.

Not that Tony felt unrewarded for all his menial errand-doing: Pat was a good cook, and besides being terribly irritable in the mornings and a bit psychotic when she drank, she was a fairly nice person.

Especially considering the crap I have to put up with! That’s exactly what Pat was thinking as she set the turkey in the oven.

It wasn’t that Anthony wasn’t good to her, because he was. It was just that he was so boring and inept. She pitied him mostly. Looking back on the years of her life, she pitied herself as well. Her wretched life, her boring house, her dull holidays: she wondered how she generated enough energy to get out of bed every day.

She heard Anthony stumbling around in the basement. He probably hasn’t even found the Christmas box yet, she thought. Then she heard him hit his head again, probably on the metal shelving where they kept old People magazines and paint cans.

Poor bastard, she thought, preparing her mouth to receive a much-needed cigarette. She sat one of the wooden chairs at the kitchen table, the robe slipped open. She hadn’t yet dressed even though the dinner was only two hours away. She retied the belt and tucked the collars together to cover her chest.

As she smoked, looking out of the window, she spotted the shadows of three children crossing through her yard towards their homes across the street. She rose quickly and crossed to the back door, opening it just enough to feel the chill air slap her face. She yelled at them, “Hey! You kids! Get outta my yard!” She slammed the door. “Find another short-cut,” she muttered, returning to her cigarette at the table.

The sun was setting and it wasn’t even supper-time. She hated winter. The grayness was so predictable, the cold a routine numbness that poked its sharp claws through their poorly-insulated door jambs.

Her attention was diverted from the morose winter landscape by Anthony’s voice in the basement. “Shoot! Pat! The bulb burnt out down here!” She noticed he was using his ‘something’s-the-matter-I-need-help’ voice, high-pitched and panicky. “Could you please hand down that flashlight; it’s in the kitchen drawer!”

Her silence filled the air with contempt.

As the first few trickles of juice trailed down the turkey’s slippery skin, Pat drew another deep breath from her smoke and picked up the morning edition.

“I’m busy cooking this turkey,” she finally yelled down to him, turning to the crossword puzzle page.

“Aw, c’mon, Pat, just throw down the flashlight!”

She folded the paper in half and searched the counter behind her for a pen before responding, “What do you want me to do about it? The flashlight’s down in the basement with you!” It was then she first smelled something chemical wafting up from the basement like gasoline or paint fumes.

“You put the flashlight in the basement? Why’d you do that?” Anthony was getting frustrated, bumping around in the dark like an idiot while his wife ignored him, safe in the kitchen. He inched along a wall of boxes, guiding himself with his fingertips. The smell of turkey made his mouth water. He was hungry and lost in the dark.

Unfortunately, his fingers didn’t warn him of the imminent collision between his knee and an oaken wardrobe.

“Ow!” The pain shot through his whole leg, cramping his calf muscle. “Just where in the hell did you go and hide that thing?”

“I didn’t put the flashlight in the basement, you did! Remember? I told you I didn’t want that thing next to my spatula!” Stained with oil and paint, it belonged in an equally ugly place, his basement, and certainly not her kitchen, she had said. Pat could really sense his frustration, and she chuckled out a little curl of smoke when she heard him thumping into things. He still hadn’t found the damn Christmas box.

It was true: Anthony hadn’t found the box or the flashlight, but he had tipped over a five-gallon pail of oil-based primer. That was the smell Pat had noticed upstairs. The fumes were just now beginning to affect Anthony, burning his eyes a bit. The thought of the roasting turkey, however, was making his stomach grumble. He was imagining sitting around at the fellowship hall of the church and gorging himself on turkey and stuffing with all the other church families, maybe sit by the Pastor’s wife. She was a real milf. This thought helped calm him, although his knee still hurt. He had no idea that he was tracking his footprints all over the basement floor, searching blindly either for the box or the flashlight, completely disoriented.

“Are you making a mess down there? I smell gas or something. Did you knock something over?” She wasn’t able to place the smell. She also was stuck on a five-letter word for egalitarian in the crossword.

“Well, if I had that damn flashlight maybe I could see, but no-oo, you had to go and hide it!” If Anthony had his flashlight, he would have seen a mess of red footprints leading from the puddle of primer near the tipped pail. He would have realized he had been meandering over the same areas for ten solid minutes and was presently back where he started.

Pat laughed, “Oh, why don’t you go hide, you moron!” She thought she said it too quietly for him to hear, but his ears were working better than ever in the dark, and she spoke louder when she was drunk.

He hated her…attitude. That’s what she had. Attitude, like the way she thought he was stupid. He didn’t know if he was stupid or not, but he didn’t want anyone else to think so. He felt dizzy. The turkey smell was overpowering, now making him feel nauseous.

He finally found the flashlight sitting on top of his work-bench. Lifting up the flashlight made his head spin, and it slipped from his fingers.

“Damn it!” He heard it crash against the floor with a slight splat as it hit a puddle. He slowly lowered himself until he once again gripped the handle of the flashlight. “What the hell…” He could feel that it was wet. He sniffed his fingers, and something acrid burned his nose and made his eyes water.

“Finally!” He announced. He clicked on the flashlight, but there was no light. He shook it back and forth in a quick round of troubleshooting that revealed the problem: no batteries. Unknown to Anthony, Pat was using the batteries for a power massager when he was at work.

“What’s taking you so long down there — did you get lost?”

Her voice grated on him, especially as sick as he was feeling. He flung the flashlight hard into the darkness, listening to it crack against the wall.

“Geezus, Pat, have a little sympathy! I think I’m bleeding down here!”

Pat slowly stood and reached for a fresh bottle on top of her refrigerator and poured herself a tall one, “Yeah, whatever you say,” she snorted at him.

Anthony used his wife’s voice like a beacon, steadying himself until his feet found the stairs. His head reeled with fumes, and he had enough of her attitude. He was muttering something to that effect as he pulled himself up the stairwell. His eyes narrowed as he reached the light of the kitchen, the brightness overwhelming his balance. Pat saw the primer stains that Anthony had tracked up the stairs and into her kitchen. Her chuckling mouth lost all joy immediately.

Finally able to focus at where Pat was pointing, Tony saw the footprints. His feet and the bottoms of his trousers were soaked red. He thought he was bleeding profusely. He couldn’t understand why his wife looked so angry — she should be helping him, damn it! But instead, she grabbed a rag from the sink and seethed, “You’re making a mess! Don’t just stand there, moron!” She crossed over to him, dropped to her knees, and began scrubbing furiously at the red stains.

“Look at this mess!” Her voice was so shrill, her words pushed him over, too weak to stand. He waved his arms in little circles, but it was no good. He fell back down the stairway. He saw his wife kneeling, wiping away his footprints. She was mumbling about the crap she had to put up with, unaware of the thumps her husband made as he disappeared back into the basement.

The darkness engulfed him again. The smell of turkey filled his head, and his body felt as tender as he imagined the turkey to be. He rested a moment at the foot of the stairs, no longer hungry, no longer tired. He couldn’t feel anything. Groping around him, his fingers contacted the primer, but he thought it was his blood.

On the side nearest the railing, Anthony felt something that had fallen out of his pocket during his tumble down the stairs. He’d had a book of matches in his pocket all along, having used them earlier to light the stove for Pat’s turkey. He could still hear her up there, frantically cleaning and cursing him.

“Better light than never,” he mused bitterly. Setting the sulfur head against the flinty surface of the matchbook, he slid the match hard along the length of the strip.

A little spark buttressed to life. His pupils narrowed in the tiny white light, but soon widened in horror as the little flame kept growing, catching his shirt and skin, Everything around him suddenly became white-hot. He watched every single one of the footprints on the floor ignite.

“PAT! PAT!” He was screaming and trying to put the flames out.

Pat tossed the filthy rag into the sink. “Aw, go to hell,” and she rubbed her eyes, drowsy from the highball, oblivious to the imminent explosion that would positively ruin her turkey.



A Theology of Downsize: Dark Humor Short Fiction

Office-WorkersThe day God walked in through the revolving door of the Murray-O’Hare Accounts Receivable Associates Building, it marked the apocalypse for three local placement agencies.

(S)he had applied for other, more challenging positions on the bus line (God doesn’t own a car), but during interviews, God intimidated prospective employers. (S)he seemed very capable but was overqualified. That was the case at the cardboard factory (It says here you created the universe, but have you ever folded boxes?), Barnes and Noble (Someone has to shelve all the 50 Shades follow-ups and be prepared to talk about them), and, at the roller rink, where God had applied as a bouncer. The manager had said, “You just don’t have that tough look that we need to keep the kids in line.”

God had to beg for the accounts job at Murray-O’Hare, not-so-subtly reminding Cindi in Human Resources that when she was a little girl, she had prayed for her pet hamster to overcome its affliction of chronic eczema, which left the little creature perpetually hairless. The hamster had grown its fur back, and Cindi had not forgotten.

“Well, God, you went to bat for me once, so welcome to the team! I’ve got some paperwork for you to fill out, and I need to go over the sexual harassment policy with you.”

“Sexual harassment?” God blushed and stammered.

“Yes, just routine,” Cindi smiled her salaried smile. “You can be terminated for making unwanted sexual advances; giving or receiving sexually explicit material over the internet; touching, joking, or swearing; looking at someone the wrong way in the sauna; wearing a tie or a t-shirt with a scantily clad fifties’ pin-up star; or simply being nice to someone who isn’t emotionally balanced and interprets kindness with sexual degradation. Sign here.”

God believed in sacrifice, so signing the bureaucratic paperwork was simply a necessary evil. Why, in time, God might become a department supervisor and tuck some money away in blue-chip stock while working toward a regional promotion. Some day! Maybe a private office overlooking a busy street, the babble of traffic, and God would look down through the half-open blinds of her/his office and say, “Look at me! I was just like you! But now, through hard work and diligence, I’ve beat you at your own game, world!”

After months, however, it became apparent that no promotion would be forthcoming. Management was pretty content to keep God gobbling down the work for an hourly and a hit-or-miss dental plan.

God proved, well, a god-send to the accounts department at Murray-O’Hare: (s)he typed a lightning-quick 450 wpm, could set up pivot reports in seconds, and actually made a fresh pot of coffee when (s)he took the last cup. God took no breaks and, best of all, didn’t whine about the lack of portability of the company’s insurance benefits.

God was in for the long haul.

Unsure of how exactly to strike up a conversation with her/him, God’s coworkers found themselves always about to say something but then clamping their jaws shut, afraid that whatever came out would seem inadequate, and that suited God just fine. (S)he was pretty much a heads-down kind of worker, seldom looking away from the spreadsheets.

When nervous coworkers asked Cindi in Human Resources why God would settle for a seventeen-dollar-an-hour job, she merely offered her trained smile. “Whatever the reason, I’m sure we’re all glad to have God on board.”

Frankly, God’s presence was more than a little disturbing for her/his coworkers. Some felt guilty because they hadn’t been to mass since their first communions; for others, it was the fear of an imminent judgment about to be set upon their heads as they went out for a smoke. No one knew whether God ate pork so they never invited her/him for pizza Friday.

They sometimes went to their respective churches and temples on the weekends just to get away from the overwhelming burden of seeing God each weekday, trying to escape that nagging feeling of inadequacy they experienced when they looked at the weekly performance reports.

When it came time for the annual picnic, the others decided not to invite God, but somehow God found out about it and showed up with an armful of Old Dutch potato chips. Much to everyone’s disappointment, God won the raffle for the color TV, and the cake walk, too.

It wasn’t all bad having God around, though. The company softball team did remarkably well with God playing short stop. And left field. (S)he wanted to pitch, but so did Sandy, the night auditor, and since Sandy had seniority and seemed to be going through menopause again, she was allowed to lob the big white balls more-or-less over the plate.

Some of the Data Entry department had started a running collection of cartoon drawings made on yellow Post-it notes that showed God as a stick figure engaged in various acts of office drudgery and thinking ludicrous thoughts like “I’ll be damned if I can have this done by five!”

But, in reality, God usually had the work completed before lunch.

One Monday, the Accounts Receivable Department found their task lists blank, their computers gone, and a memo announcing major Department restructuring. They noticed, however, the flurry of activity in cubicle 34, the rustling of papers being passed over with deft fingers and the buttons of the keyboard being struck so quickly that it sounded like a hail storm walloping a tin roof.

Where once the office was stretched at the seams with sixty coffee-drinking, Monday-despairing people, each made of corruptible flesh and who called in sick two days a month and made four personal phone calls a day, now there lingered a solitary, diligent form in 34, third from last cubicle in row ‘D.’

Meanwhile, the supervisors realized that between the six of them they should be able to manage a department consisting of only one employee — and a perfect employee at that — so they installed a dart board.

Ms. Murray-O’Hare, the owner, came to see her star employee, shoulders jutting squarely under foam padding meant to make her seem more line-backery. “God, you’ve been doing an outstanding job. Production has never been so high in this department! I just can’t believe it!” she said.

God didn’t glance up and kept on working, “That’s most people’s trouble.” But Ms. Murray O’Hare ignored God’s glum tone and clapped her/him on the back, reiterating her disbelief at God’s outstanding performance.

The mid-level department managers, those whip-cracking pencil necks, remained employed even though they had only God in their Covey-Habit clutches. Oh, they tried to look busy by calling one another on the intercom to see if the coffee was done brewing yet. They left the sports columns strewn in the sauna and never wiped up the benches after themselves.

Finally God realized it was time (s)he felt move ahead, and (s)he put in for a promotion to Department Supervisor. This unsettled God’s managers who knew that they would be easily missed and dismissed if God was raised to their ranks, so they put off the request by saying that her/his work levels weren’t quite good enough to merit a promotion. God was too wise, however, for the carrot-on-the-stick trick as (s)he had been using it on every one else quite successfully since they had begun walking upright.

Taking matters in her/his own hands, (s)he marched directly into the office of Ms. Murray-O’Hare.

“Look, God. We’ve done all we can to accommodate you here, not the least of which was actually hiring you. Let’s face it: we took a chance on you, and you’ve done pretty well for yourself, chosen Employee of the Month five months running, elected to head the Safety Committee. What is it, exactly, that you want?”

“Purpose,” was God’s response.

Ms. Murray-O’Hare tilted away from her desk in her multi-adjustable Ergo-King chair, rolling her eyes. “Your purpose is to do your job for which you are paid a fair rate. I’m afraid you weren’t hired to find some personal satisfaction; oh no, you were hired with very selfish motives on our part.” She folded her hands and leaned her torso over desk, “To be perfectly frank, you’ve saved us a bundle of dough! That’s your purpose!”

“But that purpose,” said God, “serves you alone. It provides no value for me to slave for you, to make money for you, while I grow restless, in need of something more…”

“How about a nice raise?” God shook her/his head. “Look, let me be direct here. You’re worth more to us right where you are. I guess you could say you’re too good for your own good. I have no intention of moving you from cubicle 34. If you need purpose, find a hobby. Crosswords or needlepoint. Deep sea fishing — hell, I don’t care!”

Sensing that God would not leave empty-handed, Ms. Murray-O’Hare handed her/him a pair of movie passes, encouraging God to perhaps get out there, socially, and find purpose outside of company time. She violated company policy by slapping God on the behind in an inappropriate attempt at camaraderie. “Now get back to work!”

Now God saw clearly where things stood, and (s)he no longer took great care in worrying her/his finger joints with blinding movement. God slowed down and made mistakes. In short, God became human, and the middle management pounced. They had been waiting to put God down a notch, especially since they each had lost fifty bucks to her/him in the Final Four office pool. Negative performance reports accumulated in God’s personnel file attesting to her/his “negative attitude” and “heightening inaccuracy.” They were setting the stage for a justifiable termination. God didn’t straighten up and, instead, began calling in sick, took twenty-two-minute breaks and snorted in disgust whenever new work was brought in.

Sandy, the former night auditor, popped in to Murray-O’Hare for a little chat with Ms. Murray-O’Hare. She was determined to bring God down. She argued that since God was an eternal being, then employing this God person would eventually drain the company into insolvency with the current 401k and stock option program. “Just think,” she told Ms. Murray-O’Hare. “In just a few decades, God would own the majority of stock.”

Ms. Murray-O’Hare did not relish the thought of losing control of her company, even posthumously. She decided to fire God and to rehire the mortals who tied up the phones with personal calls, played Angry Birds on their iPhones, and used the web site for illicit sexual purposes.

“At least they are content to go on for years and years in their same old capacities, their same old cubicles,” she concluded.

At the end of work one day, when God was punching out five minutes early, several of the managers and Cindi from Human Resources asked her/him to empty her/his pockets, whose contents amounted to a comb, a compact mirror, a coupon for two-for-one Chinese take-out, and a phone number with the words Call Jim scrawled next to it, jotted on company letterhead.

Cindi shook her head, clearly disappointed. “Sorry, God, but this is the final straw.” She held up the company letterhead to him. She delivered a prepared Speech of Termination. Cindi escorted God to the door with her arms crossed like a bouncer at a roller rink.

Nothing definite had been heard of God since (s)he left the Murray-O’Hare Accounts Receivable Associates Building. God’s LinkedIn profile listed only Author of Universe for current position. It was rumored, however, that God was approaching strangers in supermarkets and, under the pretense of friendliness, pressuring them to buy Amway products.

All Sorts (A Short Story of Dark Humor)

103539_A-Funny-Demon_400The demon entered the town at dawn, bringing with him the driest, hottest days of the year for a city already suffering the effects of five years of drought. Flies swarmed the overflowing garbage cans after the garbage workers went on strike.

He was a devil, the embodiment of evil, sweaty and belching and scratching his small, twisted body against the corners of brick buildings. He chose a dark barroom that reeked with the stench of sour beer and cigarettes. The floor was sticky when he lifted hooves, and it reminded the demon of the sucking sensation of a bloody crime scene. He felt at home.

Left in his corner of the bar, the demon drank his beer, evilly. His smell was dangerous, his soiled claws clutching the handle of each chilled mug jealously. There he sat, the details of his gruesome face lost in the faded electric light-bulb that hung overhead, swaying in the course of hot bursts of air that pushed their ways inside through the slanted transom glass.

He could be only evil. The bartender knew this and sent the demon large mugs of cheap beer to keep him occupied. Of these the demon made quick work, not pausing long between mouthfuls to maintain his steady torrent of hateful, malefic words. His words spoke apocalypse. His words were fallen. They were curses from the inner ring of hell, spells from lunatic wizards and corrupted priests. Slowly he brought on the doomsday from his dented head with its frothy lips, swollen in the incessant swinging of hell gates.

No one in the bar understood the language of the demon. They left him alone to swig his beer, except if they needed a packet of ketchup. He was blocking the condiment counter.

The demon haunted the same spot in the bar, raving or muttering, for weeks. A child, one day, stepped into the bar, asking for some coins in exchange for paper currency, and the bartender made the exchange, giving the boy a handful of small coins, just shy of the total amount owed him. The demon saw the bartender’s larceny and laughed horribly. Lifting his mug, he spoke a spell so potent it still resonates in the wood rafters of the bar. It foretold the shadow world of the afterlife and a few moments of agony wrenching the boy’s body. The boy left, laughing, to tell his mother about the funny foreign hobo.

A group of women entered, stepping towards the back room of the bar, as they did each Thursday night, to play cards and cheat one another out of coupons, which they used as currency. The demon, wretched with beer, stood when they entered to debase them in the most foul manner, gesturing wildly, promising obscene violence and vengeful humiliation. The women tittered, thankful for the attention and then fell to play cards. Some occasionally eyed him through the curtains trying to guess what was his occupation and how much money he might make. He repaid their gambling and lust by commanding a curse that would render their wombs hatcheries of hell spawn. He vexed their fingers with his necromantic intonations so they forever after would drop threads and needles and an assortment of other small objects.

The next night was karaoke Friday. The demon watched mortals defiling music with their drunkenness and their inability. He laughed loud enough to overpower the final ride of the Four Horsemen, but the mortals around him did not understand. They sang all the more loudly. Finally, the demon leaped onto the stage and snatched the microphone from a man finishing a third chorus of “Born to be Wild”.

The noises he made were necessarily horrible because he was evil incarnate. The static from the speakers drove the crowd first to cover their ears and then to boo the demon from the stage. They couldn’t make out the demonic hexation that he vented through the distortion of beer-drenched equipment and, even if they had heard, the words were para-foreign, made by a tongue that had licked white-hot sulfur from the ass of Satan. The demon laughed at the pitiful humans who hissed at him. He hissed back but climbed off the stage, slowly, and returned to his seat. The bartender pulled the demon another beer.

“On the house,” he said.

An off-duty Java programmer said to the bartender, “You know, you could really make something of this place, if you kept the riffraff out.”

The bartender puffed out his chest and sounded surly. “What do you mean, riffraff?”

“That guy over there,” the programmer said, indicating the demon.

“That’s no guy, and he’s no riffraff.”

“What is it then?” The programmer stirred a tall red drink with a little plastic sword, leaning over a bowl of pretzels to be nearer the bartender.

“He is a demon.”

“Get out!”

“You get out! This is my bar!”

“No, I mean,” the programmer said, “I don’t believe you.”

“Well, tough. It is my bar.”

“No, I mean about that guy being a demon!”

“Ma’am, I’m standing behind the bar. All the lying that goes on does so on the other side of the tap. He’s a demon.”

Java programmers have little understanding of blatant evil. Their ability to sense malevolence is limited, but they could bury others in a slow-motion hell with endless pointers on scripts and platform plug-ins that would make any end-user’s soul explode. The programmer did, however, spread the word about the existence of the demon. Soon an ex-priest who taught a course in Daemonic Languages at the County Vocational Technology School was drawn to the town with little more than a shaving kit.

The ex-priest was greeted by a hot wind that smelled like the bottom of a State Fair garbage dumpster. That, he knew, was a sign of ultimate evil: the stench of the devil and pronto pups. He checked in as “Ex-Father Bob” in the town’s motel. The woman behind the counter saw his signature and began confessing her sins to him without warning, but Ex-Father Bob absolved her without hearing her out.

“As long as the giraffe and the bag boy remain a fantasy,” he assured her, “It’s not a sin.”

He was ready to fight the devil, so he headed for the bar where evil reputedly lived in a dark, beer-stained corner of the reeking, arid town.

It is not difficult to spot a demon: the way in which a mirror reflects light, a demon absorbs light and makes it dead like black holes in outer space do, and there is a connection. Black holes are entrances into hell; their density draws condemned matter to judgment. Ex-Father Bob knew all about black holes.

Crossing himself and murmuring the Lord’s Prayer, the priest entered the bar. For his appointment with evil, he had worn his black cossack that fell jauntily below he ankle. He was going commando—that is to say, he wore no underwear—although there was no reason for anyone in the bar to suspect that. It is just a fun fact. The demon, however, knew. Underwear and the lack thereof are among the chief concerns of the unholy.

The demon growled and laughed and howled and scoffed and roared and panted and sweated and grunted. Finally the bartender brought him another beer and he was quiet again, watching the priest’s lips chanting in Latin.

“Whatchya saying there, Father?” The bartender asked. “Are ya talking to the Lord?”

“Yes, my son. I am preparing to do battle with the forces of darkness and seal forever the orifice of hell. I have come to cast out the demon and return him to his Master who is the Fallen Lucifer, walking back and forth across the earth seeking whom he may devour.”

“You should see the guy plow through a tub of popcorn, Father!”

As it was happy hour, rail drinks were two-for-one and tap beer was a nickel so there was quite a crowd lined up along the bar and the tables were full of smokers and drinkers, a familiar scene to both the demon and the ex-priest.

The crowd became more and more intoxicated, laughing hoarsely between sucks on their tobacco sticks. Their thoughts ran to the gutter like filthy 10W-30 oil ran from an unregulated gas station’s back door. The demon seemed to grow to twice his size with the evil thoughts blossoming in the smoke around him. The ex-priest poised himself to spring into the mass of exorcism. He dug out a book of chants from his pocket and found the page, marked by a coupon for a bucket of chicken wings.

Of all the maledictions ever uttered, what spewed from the demon’s lips has never been rivaled. He had been drinking Milwaukee’s Best beer for two weeks straight, and that, alone, accounts for the spewing. The bar trembled under the force of his iniquitous incantation. The demon called forth his Master to ascend from the floorboards and foul the eternal souls of the town with the blackest excrement. He commuted the Newtonian laws of physics, and blasphemed the prophets. He spilled his beer on his only clean shirt. His tongue flickered like a nest of wasps on fire. The air was filled with sulfur and methane, but it had been since happy hour got rolling.

The crowd quieted and watched the demon leaping against the ceiling. They clapped when his head spun around on his body. Ex-Father Bob trembled as he heard the most malefic spells spoken. “Pray!” He urged the crowd. “For all that is holy! You don’t know the great evil that is about to befall you!”

“You got that right, mister!” yelled a systems analyst.

“Hey, guy! I’m trying to watch the show!” a woman shouted after slamming a Jello shot.

“You must be warned!” Ex-Father Bob declared. He shook his fist and told the crowd the meaning of the demon’s words. Ex-Father Bob translated the every subtlety of damned metaphor, every shade of meaning that were shot from the very testicles of Satan. The crowd was terrified as they listened to the ex-priest. They hid their faces in their hands and wept in horror.

“I had no idea!” The bartender pleaded with the crowd to forgive him. “I wouldn’t have let him in here if I’d known he said such horrible, horrible things!” And then he commanded the ex-priest to leave.

“Get out of here, you sick scum!” The crowd rose in force behind the bartender, and they chased Father Bob out into the street.

It is a known fact that a man can’t run as fast in a dress – underwear or no — and so they caught him easily, summarily executing him with jolts of electricity from the portable electronic devices.

The bartender cleaned a few of the tables with a damp musty rag and poured the demon another beer. “Sorry about that,” he said. “We get all sorts in here.”

“Same where I come from,” the demon replied.