by Melissa Mead
Illustrated by Galen Dara | Edited by Brian J. White
Working for the Almighty is no piece of cake. Even the winged guys Upstairs have it tough, working 24/7 for Eternity. The Downstairs folks have the same hours, plus the sweltering working environment to deal with. And no wings to use as fans. You’d think after all this time somebody could’ve rigged up a few A/C units in the back rooms, but they keep melting. So we get the same heat as the Flimsies. (That’s what we call the souls in the pits and so on. I’ll get to that in a minute.) It doesn’t bother us like it bothers them, but it’s still not comfy.
Anyway, it’s tough Downstairs even if you’re a boss. Me, I was so low on the totem pole you’d have to drill down into bedrock to see my spot. Stoking fires, polishing the spikes, stirring up the brimstone to get the rotten-egg smell that makes the place really Hellish — that kind of thing.
Even Downstairs, we’re all still working for God. And we do the job right.
I didn’t have much to do with the Flimsies. The bosses handle that stuff. They’re trained to deal with emotions and complexes and projection and that kind of thing. What it all boils down to is that the Flimsies are the bits of souls that believe they need to keep being punished. When a boss explained it to me, I couldn’t believe it. I mean, we’ve got Flimsies downstairs who’ve been boiling themselves in brimstone ever since “cutting edge technology” meant a stone axe, and they only lived for 35 years or so to begin with. You’d think there’d be a statute of limitations or something.
Anyway, I was freshening up a decorative bloodstain when I met Bubbles. That’s what I called her, ‘cause every inch of her was covered with blisters. Wading in lava will do that. She was crying, and when she saw me she cried harder, like she was trying to make a point.
“There’s a flat spot right here,” I offered, pointing. “In case you want to climb out.”
“Because these are the Eternal Fires of Torment! They’re not so eternal if you can just climb out of them.”
“Sure they are. The fire’s still there. You’re just not standing in it.”
She looked at me like I was nuts, and started to sob and scream again. But after that she started following me with her eyes. Then she forgot to scream while she was watching. I always waved Hi, and after a bit she started waving back.
One day she said Hi first. That was big. She started talking after that, first asking me stuff about Downstairs, then telling me about things like where she used to live, back when she was living. About her friends. Then it all kind of flooded out. How she got jealous of a friend, and told lies about her so that the friend’s husband left her and she lost her job… By the time Bubbles finished she was crying again — not like she wanted to prove something, but like she couldn’t stop.
She did though, eventually, and I said “So why are you here?”
She stared at me like I was nuts, just like before. “I just told you!”
“No, I mean, is your friend in there with you?”
“Well, if you think you’re being punished because you owe her an apology, why aren’t you somewhere else looking for her?”
Bubbles stared. Then she laughed. Then she climbed out onto the flat spot to hug me, and laughed some more.
A couple of bosses came running. One wrapped her, very gently, in something super-soft, and led her off to show her the path to Upstairs. The other clapped me on the back and told me “great job,” and said I had a real knack with the Flimsies.
So now I’m taking classes to learn how to help guide the Flimsies out of their torments. Most of the time it’s not as simple as talking to Bubbles, but the bosses tell me that if I keep at it I might get a job Upstairs someday.
Course, everybody says that’s a whole new kind of hard work. But nobody ever said that working for the Almighty would be easy.