Just for the fun of it, I recently wrote “Barney’s Vacation,” a 1,300-word mini-story. I’ve posted that story below in case you missed it. The story gives the flavor and some insight into my Miss Havana series of paranormal comedies. If you like the story, I hope you will give The Substitute, Oh, Heavens, Miss Havana! and/or The Training Bra a try. Note: The Trophy Wife is not yet published.
Thank you for reading,
James L. Hatch
A fool once said, “Do what you enjoy and you’ll never work a day in your life.” Of course that’s stupid. On the surface, work is work. Here, however, the expression might apply … at least to me. I know, I know, tormenting the helpless might seem mundane and repetitive, but the screams of my victims are refreshing, like music to my ears. I also manage to move enough of my bulk in non-repetitive ways to prevent the onset of carpel tunnel syndrome.
I am a shadow creature; I serve the Most Low. The boss defines eternal pits of despair for those who come before him, and I carry out his orders exactly as he issues them. I love my job and I’m good at it, so you can imagine my shock when the boss requested I appear before him. Such meetings often conclude with painful disembowelment, so I searched my mind for what I might have screwed up. An ominous chill ran up my spine as I entered the Great Hall of Judgment, stooped low and shuffled forward.
When I reached the Throne of Judgment, I threw myself onto the slimy floor at my master’s feet. I could almost feel his glare pierce the top of my head as his hiss resonated throughout the cavern, “Rise up.”
Really? I shook in spasms as I brought myself to my hands and knees, expecting a ragged knife edge to be dragged across the back of my neck. Fresh excretions from the bosses’ last judgment oozed between my fingers, and I found the smell of mixed blood and defecation from that victim a little pungent, even though the mixture always smelled sweet when I did the bloodletting.
His next growl caught me by surprise. “Look up.”
I rolled my eyes upward while keeping my head as low as possible. Lucifer held out a folder—the life record of a damned individual—the opportunity of my afterlife. My heart rate increased as I licked my lips through jagged yellow teeth, and my shaking wing claws tapped lightly on the stony cavern floor. I bowed so deep my nose touched the slimy disembowelment residue beneath me, farted quite accidentally and extended my hand to accept offender’s file.
Such offers are rare; they are also a test. I welcomed the opportunity to define the eternal excruciation of the evil man stooped and shaking in a pool of his own urine adjacent to the Throne of Judgment, and I knew I’d need to be creative. Punishment must be painful and ironic, and administered with sufficient twisted depravity to ensure a supplicant’s transgressions are forever rubbed in his or her face. I also suspected the more my victim suffered, the greater my stature with the boss. I took the file, lifted myself to a stoop and retreated into the shadows. When I reached the back wall, I sat beneath a flickering torch and began to read.
How hard can it be? I thought as I reviewed the transgressions in the file: shoplifting, littering, animal cruelty, rape, assault and serial killing. Not a stellar record, but my guy inflicted enough chaos on his victims to test my ingenuity. I glanced toward the Throne of Judgment. As Lucifer meted out punishment to another fool, a look of abject horror solidified on my victim’s face. The acrid stench of his sweat, a combination of fear and adrenaline wafted amongst the sulfur fumes—a sweet aroma common to those in the crosshairs of everlasting torment. My victim soiled himself when Lucifer’s glare grazed him. The smell made my creative juices flow like a river.
I decided to make my victim’s pit of despair one that would raise his spirit, and then destroy it. His punishment would begin with shoplifting, just as his trail of crime on the surface did, and then I would confront him with his remaining infractions, one at a time.
Surrounded by beer, ice water and bejeweled golden objects impossible to resist, he will attempt to shoplift. In that instant, I will appear out of the shadows and sever his wrist. Supplicants heal fast and learn slow here, so losing a hand will hurt like My Home, but not kill him. That’s the thing about eternal punishment—it never ends.
An ambulance will wait just outside an open door but, when he exits toward his salvation, dogs, cats and all manner of small animals will attack. Biting and clawing, they will drag him into an adjacent dark alley full of filthy litter. His hope of help will fade rapidly as infection and gangrene fouls his wrist and arm with stench and pain.
Demons will then flood into the alley, filling his orifices with sharp objects, fingernails and whatever member they choose to use … and making new orifices where none exist. The pain of new perforations will bloom in agony until a gang of shadow creatures carrying spiked clubs join the fray. They will beat him within an inch of his afterlife, and then the coup d'état.
As my guy gasps for breath into blood-choked lungs, his prior victims will enter, one at a time, and each will do to him what he did to them—pain for pain; death for death. And when each has had her fun, the supplicant’s agony will fade, but not into the peace of death. Instead, he will re-appear in that beautiful room filled with beer, cold water and valuables that are free for the taking. One doesn’t kill the spirit here, but one can abuse it forever. That’s the point.
Once again I approached Lucifer’s throne with great supplication. After returning the folder, I explained my punishment plan. Lucifer leafed through the folder; I held my breath. When he closed the folder, he passed his hand over his lap and he rasped out, “Well conceived. Let it be so.”
The supplicant disappeared in a flash, banished to the everlasting fate I had defined for him, and Lucifer’s beady eyes fell on me. “You deserve a vacation, Barney. What’s your pleasure?”
My mind raced. Another test? Distant pleasures of the flesh memories flooded my mind, and I spoke almost without thinking. “A stint on the surface would be great … in the body of a lustful young man … and access to a stable full of beautiful young women.”
As my eyes cleared from the flash of light that followed, I found myself looking at a looming tower ahead. Automobiles crammed the adjacent street and the excited voices of reverie surrounded me. I glanced at a street sign on the corner: Las Vegas Boulevard. My heart leapt. Sin City! What could be better?
In the next instant, two buxom young women with platinum hair slipped their arms beneath mine and began pulling me along. “Get moving, Fred. We’ll be late for the show.” I see. I now haunt the body of a man named Fred.
Exotic perfume radiated from the ladies into my nose, and I felt the firmness of their breasts against my arms. My mind exploded with excited anticipation, but something didn’t feel quite right. My crotch should be bulging, but I sensed it did not. I caught my reflection in a nearby storefront window. Oh, My Home—I looked like the two on either side. What the hell? My hand darted to my crotch. Nothing! It hit me like a thousand volts—my host is a transvestite! “Oh, no!” I whined.I grimaced. How could I have been so careful relative to the fate of my supplicant, but so careless relative to myself? Then it hit me even harder. I’ve been screwed by the devil.
I sighed. Everyone is screwed by the devil.
As my cohorts turned into The Pretenders Club dragging me with them, the reality of my situation became crystal clear—as it is in life, one’s afterlife can be hell too. I had just arrived, but could hardly wait for this vacation to be over.