Cigarettes and Roses, by Ben Peek
The Desertion of Corporal Perkins, by Bill Congreve
The Hours Before Sunrise, by Bill Congreve
The Mullet that Screwed John West, by Bill Congreve
2005 short fiction (pdf)
2006 short fiction (pdf)
The Mullet that Screwed John West
by Bill Congreve
First appeared in Epiphanies of Blood
Copyright © William D Congreve, 1997, all rights reserved
Tony Masters squirmed uncomfortably on the edge of the leather Italian lounge chair.
"What do you want?"
Definitely no professional bedside manner today, but then Masters expected nothing more polite from his father-in-law.
Dr Patrick Durj leaned across the massive polished jarrah desk and peered curiously towards Masters. Durj was short, bald, nearing retirement, and had a perfectly smooth and slightly oily baby face that rarely creased into a smile. He specialized in medicine of the urinary tract, and made a profitable sideline of plastic surgery and sexual reconstruction. He had strong, smooth hands with long, slender fingers, like the hands of a fine guitarist but without the calluses on the fingertips.
Masters couldn't take his eyes off those fingers. He had always reacted like that; it sometimes worried him when he visited Durj with Enola, and they all sat together eating dinner. If only those hands could talk ... Which perhaps wasn't a wise thing to wish for given what he needed those hands to do.
The majestic bulge in Masters's trousers squirmed like it had a life of its own and tried to pull his zipper down so that it could fall out into the daylight, gulp some fresh air and take a quick look around at the world. Masters slapped it firmly, and it quietened, but didn't diminish.
"Why did you do that?" Durj asked.
So now he wants to psycho-analyze me as well.
Durj was divorced, and Masters wondered about the sexual habits of a doctor whose hobby it was to build dicks for men who used to be women. Now Durj was going to get the opportunity to rebuild something that was going to spend a whack of time inside Durj's own daughter. The apple of his eye. Perhaps. If Durj didn't laugh too hard. If Enola didn't scream and run. The things those fingers could do ...
Masters had all the choices of a sideshow freak looking for work in1880. But he did have a card up his sleeve. More properly, it was a video. Several thousand of them in fact. Durj had no choice, either.
Durj's ginger cat wandered out of the doctor's small surgery, curled its way past Durj's legs and jumped to the surface of the desk. It sat there, staring knowingly at Masters. Durj reached out a hand and stroked the cat's back.
"Poor Saffy, I still don't know what happened when he went missing. For so long, too. And the vet reckons his teeth are all in the wrong place. Poor thing."
Masters shuddered with revulsion. "Well Dad, it's a long story."
The burial service went smoothly.
Masters couldn't guess how far the coffin sank before it came to rest with a jolting thump. Shaking with wonder and fear, he could only watch as the molten-acid-trip rock stretched past the coffin's small glass window, like skin stretches in a horror movie before it tears to expose the mutating bone and sinew beneath. The rock snapped back into place above the coffin with a series of whip-like cracks that made him fear his teeth were breaking apart. A violent, pulsing, blood-red glow permeated the cavern.
The coffin grated over the rock and came to rest tilted to one side with the head disconcertingly lower than the foot. The uneven rocky ceiling above was unbroken. There was now no gap through which the coffin could have fallen.
A lot of time passed.
The immobilizing drugs from the fake funeral wore off. The coffee he had drunk at his going away party chased the champagne and beer out of his kidneys and all three drove his bladder into exquisite agony. The coffin lid was screwed down. He needed to piss. The coffin didn't oblige. He bashed on the lid, and thumped it with his knee, but it didn't budge. Would this thing hold his bones after all he had been through to get here? Or was IT merely waiting for him to piss his pants before IT let him out? Or cook him in this infernal heat? He giggled. He sweated. He cursed.
He wondered if it was possible to die of a ruptured bladder.
A dark laughter burst inside his head.
YES, came the answer.
The sense of horror mounted and vertigo spun through his mind as another being used his face, throat and lungs to laugh uproariously.
The dark observer toured his memories. Masters's guts churned as his mouth laughed at a gathering of teenage boys buggering a sheep. A fifteen year old Tony Masters had ejaculated prematurely. That was positively hilarious. His body laughed harder now than the other boys had laughed then. Nothing was sacred.
The momentary feeling of respite when the observer disappeared from his head shocked him. His breath escaped in a rattling sigh.
His bladder burned.
"This is all a game for you, isn't it?" Masters shouted into the coffin. He tried to sit up and smacked his head on the glass window. He turned a little to one side, and the new position momentarily eased the pressure on his bladder.
A sensation of vast amusement at his puny ego came fleetingly and then disappeared.
More time passed.
Thrash and turn within the coffin as he would, Masters could no longer relieve the pressure in his bladder. This was a matter of pride. He refused to piss his pants. IT wasn't going to win this battle. I might be smaller than you, but my will is just as great! Masters thought. IT would just have to behave like a professional and let him out of here to do his job. But the agony became such that he couldn't even roll onto his side and his mind threatened to disintegrate. Masters lifted an arm to flip a defiant finger at the air, and felt a vast, tearing burden of pain in his abdomen. Accompanied by immense peals of raucous laughter, his mind slid into darkness.
Pain, and the smell of his cotton trousers smouldering, woke Tony Masters as he lay on his back on the burning hot basalt. He jumped to his feet and knocked the coffin off a pedestal of rock beside him. He smacked his skull on the unyielding rock above. The distinctive tinkling of broken glass bouncing over hot rock, which in other circumstances Masters might have found amusing, lasted several seconds. Blood trickled through his crew-cut. He looked up. The ceiling was just three inches too low for him to stand up comfortably.
Unforgiving heat burnt through his shoes and singed the soles of his feet. He hopped about uncomfortably and then couldn't wait any longer.
With his legs spread wide apart so he could straighten his back without bashing his head, he pissed onto the black rock. Steam rose from the boiling puddle.
"Shit, but that felt good," he said to himself. His stream had looked suspiciously pink, and the puddle looked that now, but in the pulsing red light he couldn't be sure. A blessed relief from pain flowed through his lower belly, and that worked for him.
As he zipped his fly, a black London taxi-cab, its six cylinder diesel engine chugging noisily without a muffler and belching clouds of acrid black smoke, pulled to a stop a few metres away. The driver, garbed in a uniform of metallic cloth and hammed-up military cut stolen from an old BBC SF costume drama, got out and saluted Masters.
"The Line will provide," the taxi driver said.
The driver pulled a telescoping fishing rod out of his silvery, ironed to a paper-cut edge, uniform jacket. There was no hook, no fly and no bait; instead the last fifteen feet of line was tied, every three inches, into a series of heavy knots, like a thugee strangling cord.
"Praise be to the Line."
The taxi driver dropped the line into the steaming puddle of urine where it sank as though the rock underneath didn't exist.
Masters looked away. He had had enough of vertigo for a little while. "Are you here to meet me? I've got a schedule to meet."
"Respect the Line!"
The rod bent; the surface of the steaming yellow pool thrashed and churned. The driver lifted a small, struggling animal from the pool.
"The Line has prevailed. Praise be to the Line! IT doesn't allow supplicants to bring with them hidden companions!"
Masters recognized his father-in-law's three month old pet kitten. "But it's not mine!"
The kitten hung on the fishing line, slowly twisting, its little pads pawing at the air, looking balefully at Masters, the only person it recognized in this place. The uppermost knot on the line was just beyond the kitten's teeth. For a moment, Masters thought it had only swallowed part of the line, but then he saw the other end, about the last twenty centimetres, appearing, stained brown, from the kitten's anus. Fully fourteen feet of fishing line was coiled about inside the kitten's intestines. The poor thing must feel awful! But no animal's metabolism worked that fast. How ...
"It belongs to my father-in-law --"
"Specifically, it is not your companion?"
"Can't you send it back home? Dad will have my arse."
The taxi driver pulled a pair of scissors from his vest and neatly snipped the line at the last knot, just above the kitten's mouth. He collapsed the rod and returned it to his pocket. He grabbed the fishy smelling, excrement-coated line just where it disappeared into the kitten's anus, wrapping the line with its knots securely about his fingers. With the other hand he took a firm hold about the kitten's shoulders.
He pulled. Hard.
And dragged the knotted line out through the kitten's body.
The kitten made a sound like the scuttling feet of a million cockroaches being scratched down a million new blackboards. Amplified. Played at fast-forward through a tape deck with a million small, tinny transistor speakers.
The kitten didn't die. Masters retched, but only brought up sour champagne spotted with caviar which splashed into the now suspiciously large pool of urine. Had he really pissed out all of that? The urine swirled and a fish egg disappeared. Masters swore he saw teeth, and looked up at the bulge in the driver's jacket where the fishing rod was.
But the taxi driver wasn't thinking of fishing. Instead, he held the kitten over his head and stared at it with worshipful eyes. Blood dripped from the kitten's anus onto his nose.
"The Line has tasted blood!"
The driver opened his mouth wide. Masters saw fangs and massive molars that had no place inside a human skull. The driver took the kitten's head delicately between his teeth, bit down, twisted, and pulled. He threw the headless corpse at the urine. It splashed into the puddle and disappeared. The driver chewed, swallowed, burped noisily, and spat a stream of blood onto the rock.
"Fucking thing bit my tongue!"
Masters had not the faintest idea what to say.
"You'd have sunk between them all and suffocated, if you'd tried to walk. It's five hundred metres deep."
"Looks solid enough to me."
The taxi was floating across a wide plain of skulls. The light brightened to the electric blue of an arc welder with only a tinge of the original flickering red to provide an unsettling brown haze the colour of dried blood.
"It moves you know. Slowly, like a glacier. The skulls're sucked along the Line by the vacuum of morality!" The driver giggled.
Masters hummed 'We Shall Not Be Moved'. Any cheap Hollywood special effects studio could stage this. The Styx was a river of skulls? Charon a tarted up London cab driver with a gutter-press papparazzi's philosophy and a taste for cat flesh? Hell looked like a designer nightclub.
"I've seen too many movies, mate. I'm just here to do a job. Then I get out."
A thick, smoky mist pierced by jagged streaks of lightning obscured their route. The air had a smell like the smoky cloud of a bushfire dissolved in water. Each streak of lightning left an afterimage scored across his eye that seemed to spell a name, but none lasted long enough to read.
"You've arrived. I won't wish you good luck. You won't have any. Remember the Line!"
"Do I owe you anything?"
"You've paid already! Praise be to the Line!"
Masters got out. The taxi roared off, scattering a dust of crushed bone into the air behind it.
Masters carried his camera hung over one shoulder and his tape recorder slung across his back. They'd tried to daunt him; they'd tried to impress him with their cheap theatrics. They'd tried to gross him out. None of it mattered. He zigzagged past an outcrop of rock shaped like a giant phallic symbol wearing a ribbed condom stuffed with lettuces and found himself on a ledge confronting a new cavern lit from beneath. The floor of the cavern opened out to a panoramic view of the earth ...
He reeled back and fell to his knees. He crawled towards the edge, gripped it with his fingers, and pulled himself slowly forwards. Fluffy white clouds floated thousands of metres below. Heights? To his left a massive anvil shaped cloud rose almost as high as his vantage point. He hated heights. His gaze floated down the churning sides of the maelstrom. Lightning flashed in the depths. A feeling a bit like drinking a bottle of champagne and then doing fifty sit-ups stirred the remaining contents of his stomach. Thunder rumbled distantly. He rapped his knuckles against the rock under his chest. Solid. He felt like he was sliding forward into a deep, dark hole.
Fresh air whistled past his ears; he could smell it and feel it against his scalp. Yet he had weight. His ears popped. But he wasn't falling.
Hell was in the stratosphere?
Suspended in midair above the bottomless pit that was the Earth was a door. There was no wall, no door frame, not even a building or wires or even hinges to hold the door up. The door just sat there, a metre from the edge of the ledge, and ten thousand metres above a patchwork quilt of land that could have belonged, from what he could tell at this altitude, equally as well in the Ukraine, in the prairies of Canada, or in outback NSW. He blinked, and the view changed. Now he could make out a massive city that sat on a kilometres long island in a broad and dirty river. Masters made out landmarks. New York! Twenty metres away down the ledge a man wearing a woven straw hat reclined against the rock and cast a trout fly at a white plastic shopping bag swirling in a massive updraft. The special effects ideas are getting better, Masters thought, perhaps this guy could get a job working for Corman or Cronenburg after all.
On the door was a sign:
HELL Pty Ltd,
Below this was a door knob, and hanging on the knob was another sign:
Please Knock and Enter.
Masters nervously brushed his hair back with one hand and checked with the other to see if his tie was knotted properly. He straightened his sports jacket, and looked around nervously. Good. Nobody about but the fisherman. This is it. Bravado. Just another job; another day in the ace reporter's life, he told himself, but then he cringed and wished he was home in bed with the blankets pulled over his head. No. This was his coup. If he pulled this interview off, it would be a simple next step for him to convince his publisher he was the right man for the editor's job. That's what he was here for.
His height made the stretch easy, but Masters still reached gingerly across the void to the door. Theatrics. Special Effects. It isn't real. I won't fall! The door shifted about like a rowboat in a light swell, but it held his weight without bouncing away. He knocked. No answer. At full stretch, looking down at ... Shit! The scene had changed while he wasn't watching; it was Calcutta now, from forty thousand feet, he managed to turn the knob and push the door open. It was all fake. It had to be fake. Exuding confidence he didn't fully feel, he stepped across the yawning gap. The room bobbed up and down like a water mattress as he stepped inside.
The office was nothing like the rest of Hell. He stood with his hands on his hips and stared. It was the size, shape, and furnished exactly according to Masters's vision of the office of a rising corporate yuppie whose Daddie had given him a multinational to play with before breakfast. Except this yuppie was colour blind. There was a teak bookcase with navy blue painted side panels and pale brown shelving; a shining stainless steel bar lined with cognacs, single malt whiskies and two half-drunk bottles of cheap, warm spumante with the corks out; a purple metal filing cabinet with pink drawers; lush leather polka-dotted furniture; yellow and pink shag pile carpet on the floor and black shag pile carpet with orange stripes on the walls. Model aircraft hung from the ceiling on fishing lines. A moth eaten teddy bear hung by its throat from the light fixture. A huge mahogany desk with a computer terminal perched on one side dominated the room. The VDU was clad in mink fur. Correction, the VDU casing was mink fur. On a glass table in the corner stood a fine crystal vase of fresh yellow carnations and fading woven plastic roses. The only thing missing was a bimbo secretary perched outside the front door. But she would need wings.
The jarring colours and pure sensual opulence assaulted his senses, leaving him feeling like a drunken voyeur, but it was no good. Nobody would ever believe him. This office was too bizarre even for his newspaper.
On the desk was yet another sign:
THE BUCK STARTS HERE
This guy is big on signs.
Of the owner of the desk there was no sign.
Masters let out a sigh of relief as he finally stood up straight. The air was fresh and cool and he coughed, relieving the choking pressure on his lungs from the fumes outside. His gaze came to rest on the computer terminal. He didn't expect to find such a mundane thing in this place. A multicore cable running from the back of the machine betrayed the fact that this was merely a smart terminal networked to a larger machine somewhere outside. The cable thickened, then thinned, then blurred so that he could see the outline of the bookcase through it. Then it twisted and disappeared. Suddenly dizzy, Masters shook his head and reached out a hand to the desk.
A clap of thunder sounded behind him, shaking the office walls. Masters jumped around and confronted a dirty cloud of thick sulphurous smoke out of which stepped a short skinny individual with thick horn-rimmed glasses dressed in a crumpled tan business suit and wearing a straw hat. It was the fisherman from outside. Under one arm was tucked a popular computing magazine. Curled in the other arm was a struggling bundle of grey fur that Masters thought he recognized.
"But it's dead!"
"You forget where you are."
Satan took off the jacket and threw it over the back of ITs chair. IT wore braces over a non-ironed shirt. Masters unconsciously hooked a thumb behind his own braces. Perhaps Satan was an account manager from a North Sydney agency. Brett Easton Ellis had a lot to answer for.
"Sit down, my friend!"
A lounge chair upholstered in brown and green camouflage-pattern dyed lambs wool appeared behind Masters and thumped the back of his knees. He fell into it. Satan walked around behind the desk and sat. Masters' chair spun around of its own accord to face Satan as IT moved. The bundle of fur squirmed in ITs arms until it could see the office. It fixed an accusing stare on Masters.
The kitten's head was askew and appeared to be attached to the body upside down. One ear grew sideways out of the kitten's lower jaw, but the jaw itself was attached to the top of the skull. An eyeball peeked out from the end of the tongue, which grew from the underside of the neck. About where the head got chewed off, thought Masters, feeling sick.
"You are Tony Masters of course, from The Enquirer of the World tabloid. I have the letter your editor sent me."
Oh. Masters tore his gaze away from the kitten, and tried to look Satanic the face. "I didn't realize --"
"He didn't, your publisher did. A cup of soul?"
A clear plastic tea set materialized on the desk. Satan poured. The fluid swirled into Masters' cup like plain tea, but it looked thick, like brown sperm, and he heard a thin, distant screaming inside his skull. Soul?
"Milk? Sugar? Your editor and I get along quite well, you know. He's going fishing this weekend."
Shit. "Ah, no thanks."
Satan sipped. "Delicious. A heart attack. I love the meaty ones! Sure you don't want some? He recommends you highly. Your last story on the estuarine crocodile in the shower room of that nunnery in Cairns is exactly the kind of writing we like. Didn't get to see it myself, of course. You are as good as he says?"
Teeth grew out of patchy fur all across the kitten's skull. The other eye was in the correct place, but there was a tooth in the middle of it that snagged on the kitten's eyelid whenever it blinked. The other ear grew from the otherwise empty left eye socket ...
Masters recognized the threat. "No ... No, I mean yes, of course." He fumbled with the tape deck while he struggled to get his thoughts in order.
"That won't work down here." Satan pointed at the machine. "Oppenheimer said it was the quantum mechanics. Something about negative strangeness and no charm. It will have to be a shorthand gig." Blood matted the kitten's hair against its skin.
Masters reached for his camera. Something about the demon's skull fascinated him. Satan's horns lengthened and shortened with the flow of ITs speech to give a hypnotic quality he wanted to capture. But what he really needed now was a video camera. "Perhaps a photo then?"
Satan pinched a tooth on top of the kitten's skull between thumb and forefinger, and twisted. The kitten mewled, but looked grateful as IT placed the tooth into a pit that seeped blood in the upper jaw. Blue fire flashed about the wound, and the bleeding stopped.
"Not the camera, either." Satan held the kitten out towards Masters. "Does that look good to you? That tooth in the right place?"
Thank God I've kept up my shorthand, thought Masters.
Satan appeared bothered for a second. ITs head sprouted a second set of horns that grew to a length of a couple of feet. Fire plumed from ITs nostrils. "Come on! That's in really bad taste. I won't warn you again!"
An image of a naked Tony Masters being grilled on a rotisserie over a thousand slow burning Cuban cigars being smoked by a thousand enthusiastic Lilliputian demons was driven across his mind from outside. Masters shivered, and allowed himself to feel impressed. "Do what again?" It was all he could do to force the question out.
"Thank what's-'is-face upstairs!" Satan pointed at the ceiling.
"Oh!" That part of him which had earlier been swollen with bravado wished it was at home buried between Enola's breasts.
"Ah ... So you are, um, Satan?" Masters began scribbling.
"Yes. I'm the managing director of this enterprise." Satan pulled the eye loose from the kitten's tongue with a slurping sound and realized that the kitten's ear still grew from its eye socket. "Fucking jigsaw puzzle!" IT placed the eye carefully on the desk blotter next to six teeth, and ripped the ear out of ITs way.
Masters wished he had a cigarette, or a litre of bourbon. "I thought we were underground?" he blurted.
"But ..." Masters waved an arm about the room.
"You mean the lovely view just outside the front door?
"Effective, is it not? If you jumped you would drop eleven point two thousand metres and die suddenly."
"But we are underground?"
"Absolutely. The only way out of here is up. I love the effect it has on schmucks who expect Hell to be like Earth. If you can't understand it, don't worry your puny brains over it."
"Well, um, Satan, the last thing I expected to see down here is a computer. How necessary is this technology to your operation?"
Satan leaned back comfortably and patted the keyboard with one hand. "As you know, Tony, with the population explosion the way it is there is an awful lot of work to be done. There are so many souls on Earth just waiting," Satan reached out one hand, clenched it into a fist, squeezing blood out of the kitten's ear onto the desk like water out of a sponge, and drew ITs fist towards IT, "just begging for the opportunity to turn bad that we're completely snowed under. Even what's-'is-face," Satan pointed upwards, "has the same trouble, and he only has the good ones to worry about!" Satan opened ITs fist and looked blankly at the kitten's mangled wreck of an ear.
"We use the computer to keep track of the records, the operatives in the field, our converts, that sort of thing. Of course, it isn't your standard computer. I had the boys redesign the thing for the physics down here. I don't understand it all myself." Satan lifted the tattered ear to ITs mouth, whispered, "Sorry," into it, and put it next to the eye on the blotter.
"So the new technology isn't actually putting demons out of work?"
Satan seemed bothered for a moment. "No, of course not. All my demons have new jobs. Their work satisfaction has actually increased. The computer merely helps with our efficiency here in the office. We pride ourselves on having greater market penetration than," and Satan pointed upwards again.
"Did you ask your demons what sort of work they would prefer when that thing took their old jobs?" Masters asked, indicating the terminal.
"My demons do what they're told!"
"That seems unusual for computer innovations. Perhaps there are lessons here which could be learnt on Earth?"
"Am I likely to tell them that?" The kitten's eye was pushed gently back into its socket, blue fire trailing along the nerves as they were sucked back into the skull.
Satan sipped at ITs cup of soul. ITs face wrinkled. "A bit crisp, I think. That one died in a fire."
IT was a charming and informative subject. Masters settled into the interview and relaxed a little. The shorthand stopped him fidgeting and, by concentrating on the writing and only rarely looking up, he even managed to force his attention away from the reconstruction of the kitten's head. Masters found everything IT said credible and logical. Did free will even exist on Earth any longer?
Satan showed signs of restlessness. At last. "I won't take any more of your valuable time, Satan. Thank you very much for showing me all of this. The story will fascinate our readers." He looked once at the kitten. "Perhaps you should do all the teeth at once? I used to hate dentists."
"So sensitive of you, Tony. Drop back anytime!"
How do I be polite to the devil?
"Just drop the copy in at the desk around the corner. I think Amin, PolPot, or perhaps even Maggie would like to be interviewed next. You see, it is hard for me to decide who should have second billing, and they fight amongst themselves like five year olds over a Big Mac." Satan stopped talking for a moment and looked carefully at Masters. "Pick your chin up off the floor!" he ordered.
Masters tried to close his mouth.
"That's better! Let me see," Satan paused thoughtfully, looked at Masters, stroked the kitten's fur, and considered the problem. "Ah, I know! You weren't told!"
"I negotiated a contract with your editor," Satan paused again, cruelly. "I wanted a tabloid reporter, and he didn't like your ambitions. You come down here and work for me for eternity, and I make sure he always catches fish when he takes his advertisers fishing. Such a little thing, really. Makes me wonder how human egos work."
"What wasn't I told?"
"You're stuck here. You can't leave."
"Never?" Masters watch the play of joyful emotions on Satan's face. The horns sank entirely out of sight.
"That's it. I'm leaving!" Masters jumped to the door, grabbed the handle, twisted it until he felt a bone creak, and yanked it open. He turned, sneered at Satan, and jumped out, slamming the door theatrically behind him.
"Oh dear, I hope he doesn't fall," Satan said, and waited calmly, juggling kitten teeth in ITs fingers.
Five seconds later the door flew open. Masters jumped into the office and slammed it shut behind him, throwing his back against it. The door bulged inwards with a resounding groan. Masters scrambled to keep it shut. His clothes were torn and smoking. Blood oozed from a gash on his chest.
"Don't let it eat me!" he screamed.
Satan smiled at ITs guest. Teeth slotted neatly, one after the other, into the kitten's mouth.
"You're already dead. It can't hurt you."
"Don't let it eat me!"
"Oh really, it doesn't matter if it eats you; it will just shit you out again in some dark corner in thirty-six hours."
"But everything is timeless down here!"
"There is that disadvantage. I can loan you a couple of kilos of prunes if you want."
Masters thought madly. "But I'm not dead!" Visions of his funeral floated through his mind.
"Of course you're dead! Now grow up and take it like a man."
"I've got to be alive if I'm going to grow!"
"Whose funeral do you think it was?" The king of demons grew larger; ITs suit burst under the pressure of rippling sinew; ITs horns grew to a metre in length; and smoke plumed from ITs nostrils.
Here was a being who had heard over the millennia every argument and lie invented by a devious humanity to deny their fate. For a moment Masters wondered how original was his reasoning. But this was the truth, dammit! "It was my funeral! It was a fake so that I could come down here to interview you, and I'm beginning to wonder why I bothered!"
"You must be dead to come to hell! Don't you remember your ruptured bladder in the coffin?"
"For Christ's sake!"
Masters dropped to his knees and writhed in agony. His toes were all simultaneously being twisted off. Lit Cuban cigars were being pushed into his scrotum. Fish chewed on his tongue. Knitting needles pried off his fingernails. A ball of fire cruised agonizingly up and down his spinal cord. A cat chewed on his eyeballs.
"I warned you never to use that name down here!" Satan thundered, and aimed another lightning bolt at the cringing reporter.
With the left side of his body seared and blackened by Satan's anger, Tony Masters at last understood the difference between reality and a Hollywood special effects extravaganza. Reality may not look as good, but it hurt.
"Sorry," Masters said meekly. "Are you serious about making me spend the rest of eternity in Hell interviewing dead mass murderers?"
Satan pulled the kitten's head off, kissed it on the lips, and pushed it back onto the bleeding neck stump the right way up. Blue fire flashed. "For The Hell Evening Times. Of course, it'll get boring after a while. We'll go for child molesters, rapists, and TV evangelists as well." The kitten's face still wasn't right ... Satan held the kitten out to Masters. "There's something missing, can you see?"
The cat spat at Masters. It knew who to blame for it being in Hell. If this bastard hadn't made it so curious ...
If Masters stayed he wouldn't have to put up with his sanctimonious and double-crossing editor ... No, that was stupid. He didn't belong here! He would miss his wife, her cooking, her body, her warm, wet ...
"There are the odd special events you can cover. You may wish to write up our snuff muff diving contest?"
Then, there were the obvious shortcomings of working for a mind reading boss.
"Do you have to do that?"
"Mostly it's not worth the effort." Satan raised one cheek and farted. A steam of souls blew out the seat of ITs pants, and smashed into the office wall where they turned into ghosts and jagged streaks of lightning. "Welcome to Hell," Satan called after them as they fled the office through the walls. IT turned to Masters, "Now you know one of our little secrets. Please come away from the door, there is someone you must meet."
Masters fearfully approached the desk. The kitten hissed, reached out a paw and tried to scratch him. The office door opened silently behind him on well-oiled hinges.
"Tony, do you remember those wonderful Japanese monster movies of the fifties?"
The head came through the door first. Sleek, pointed, with eyes protruding on massive stems that swept out on either side like the wings of a jet trainer, the head had to turn sideways to negotiate the doorway. The jaws gaped wide and revealed row upon row of teeth angled inwards, towards the throat. The head joined straight onto a narrow pair of shoulders with no neck. The body, shaped like a four metre high tyrannosaur, followed. The floor of the room sank under the weight.
Masters didn't dare turn around. His nostrils twitched. "Something smells fishy."
"One of those Japanese giant rubber monster designers devised a truly horrible beast, so wonderful it could only belong in Hell. Or Japanese advertising. Think of a small dinosaur made of an agglomeration of thousands of fish all slimed together. Raw, living fish. Fish of all shapes and sizes. Trout, barramundi, mullet, grunter, prawns, eels. The hands are the claws of a giant deep sea crab. The arms are octopus tentacles. The head is from a giant hammerhead shark--"
"But that's the thing that chased me outside!"
"One of your jobs here, Tony, will be to interview the creator of this monster. In the meantime though, I would like to introduce you to your bodyguard, Sushimi Rex!"
Masters turned slowly around. Sushimi Rex said "Hello!" in a surprisingly thin and tinny voice, and took hold of Masters in both claws. It opened its mouth, pushed him inside, whole, swallowed, gagged, swallowed again, and burped.
Satan pulled a pair of cat's whiskers from ITs top pocket and attached them to the kitten's face. IT held the kitten up and smiled. "There!"
"I wish ya'd take a shower. Ya smell of fish shit," said Sushimi Rex.
Masters groaned, smelt the slimy film of excrement covering him, and grimaced. He climbed to his feet and staggered out of the dark corner he had woken up in. The fish shit dried in the heat, hardened, and cracked off. The smell remained. The parts of him that sweated itched madly.
"Where can I shower?" he croaked.
"Can't. This is Hell." Sushimi Rex giggled.
"But you said--"
"I joke. I often joke!"
A rotting prawn head attached to a fish hook attached to a nylon fishing line dropped through the granite ceiling and dangled in front of Sushimi Rex's chest. It bobbed up and down as if the fisherman on the other end was sitting in a boat dangling a rod. The fish in Sushimi's chest gaped, and mouthed, and strained towards the bait. Sushimi pinched off the prawn head and threw it into its cavernous mouth where it disappeared without trace. Then it chose a rainbow trout from under its left armpit, pulled the fish from its body with a schhlurrppping sound, and drove the hook cruelly through the corner of the fish's mouth. Sushimi jerked on the line twice, and the fish was lifted through a twisting, gyrating vortex in the granite above that solidified into hard rock behind the fish.
Sushimi did all this with no more thought than if it had scratched its nose. Masters watched, open-mouthed.
"Ya never seen a man catch a fish before?" commented Sushimi as he stretched a tentacle to scratch himself behind one eye with one giant crab claw.
"Good to see you well again," said Satan. "Adolf Hitler. Tomorrow. He goes on or after the fifth page. Don't want him getting delusions of grandeur."
Masters talked to an arrogant streak of lightning that affected an ugly little black moustache across the top corner of its first jagged bolt. Sushimi Rex hovered in the background and pretended to be invisible. That was impossible the way it smelt, but its odour, when ionized by the lightning streak, reminded Masters of a barbecue by the sea. His longing to be home was terrible.
Satan had shown a single moment of uncertainty in Masters's interview with IT that had stayed with him ever since. Now, everywhere Masters went, he asked lost souls, decaying bodies, off-duty demons, and livewire lightning bolts like Hitler if they wanted to help him found a union.
There were no converts.
They laughed in his face, ignored the question, spat at him, or watched him with a queasy, estimating look from the corners of their eyes until he went away.
There was something he wasn't being told.
Perhaps now was the time to set something in motion. If anybody had credibility in this place, it was Adolf Hitler. If anybody could help him, it was this, er, this jagged bolt of lightning.
"I want you to join me in a general strike," he said to Hitler.
"Are you Wehrmacht? Why not?"
"We want better conditions in Hell!"
"I must have every able-bodied man. The legions roll into Russia this spring!"
"The union is going to demand --"
"Deserters will be shot!"
"Air-conditioning? What is that?"
"It's a heat exchange mechanism whereby energy is drawn out and pumped away from a hot place, thereby making it cooler. I've got a guy called Maxwell to help me design it."
"Are you Jewish?"
"No. Maxwell blackmailed this demon, and now he wants to make Hell more comfortable."
"A Jew wants to make Hell comfortable for me? I don't believe you! I know what you want! You want my Eva!" The jagged streak of lightning struck Masters between the legs, neatly lopping off his penis and burning it to a crisp. "Do you understand me?"
The lightning ricochetted away up a rocky corridor that smelt of burning flesh and sulphur.
Sushimi Rex sauntered over.
"Quick, before I bleed to death!" Masters moaned. Then he screamed with pain.
"Already dead. Remember?"
"I'm dying. It hurts! Do something!"
Sushimi squatted down beside Masters, the turtles that formed its kneecaps creaking under the strain. "You know these fish I'm always pulling out of my gut? They breed in there. That's why I don't get any smaller every time one gets caught." Sushimi Rex pulled a foot-long young mullet out of its gut. The narrow, squareish, muscular body of the fish struggled in both claws. "These are rather special fish. Satan told you he had a deal to supply your editor with fish whenever the guy went fishing? These are those fish." Sushimi pulled Masters's hands away from the wound spurting in his groin. "These babies gotta survive being born in my gut. They're fed from my bloodstream." Sushimi's stomach rumbled with hunger. "They gotta live without water in Hell, which ain't pretty, and then they gotta survive being dragged through umpteen kilometres of molten rock before they get into the water and flop onto his dinner plate. They ain't ya usual fish if ya know what I mean."
"I'm dying. Please ..."
Sushimi bit the tail and the last couple of inches of body off the struggling mullet, swallowed, grabbed the remaining twenty centimetres of fish by the gaping head, and shoved the wriggling chewed off body against the wound in Masters's crotch. The flesh fused together as the mullet's body grafted itself into Masters's groin. The fish twisted and struggled in Sushimi's grasp, but Sushimi didn't let go until the process was complete.
The pain diminished. Finally the body of the mullet became infused with red blood and Masters felt a healthy pulling at his groin as the fish thrashed about.
"Lookit that. Stopped the bleeding already. It ain't gonna drain ya dry now. Ya'll probably be around as long as Satan with that thing stuck away down there," Sushimi said.
Masters looked blankly at the newest part of his anatomy. The fish gaped open its mouth, giving him a perfect snapshot of rows of tiny fishy dental work. It flexed its gills, and looked back up at him as if to say: "Well I'm yours now. When are you going to stick me in some water? Or something else warm, wet and salty?"
"Give you a hint too," Sushimi said. "Satan don't like this union business you just asked Hitler about. Only time in the last million years he ever talked to what's-'is-face upstairs. They agreed to put all the union organizers in purgatory and leave them there. Let 'em roast for eternity thinking one day they'll get out. 'Hope', they call it. Weren't for that, I mighta just asked Hitler to cauterize you as well as burn your dick off. Make you a eunuch!"
Sushimi leaned back, checked over its handiwork, lifted its massive winged head back, and laughed: "But I'm glad I didn't. I like this!"
The mullet pushed its head out of Masters's trousers and gaped for fresh air.
"Sushimi, I dream of the day I get to barbecue you, smack bits of you into a bread roll and sell you to Japanese tourists."
"You can't dream. This is Hell. Is nightmare."
"It keeps pulling my fly down!"
"Coulda been a teensie-weensie little goldfish ... or a barramundi."
"Have you ever tried pissing through a fish head?"
Sushimi fixed Masters with a steely gaze. A massive moray eel lifted itself up out of Sushimi's crotch and did the same. "What's wrong with pissing through a fish head?"
The eel darted towards Master's groin and the mullet ducked out of sight.
"But the teeth get in the way and it splashes all --"
"Then slap it around until it opens its mouth!"
Nearby, a long haired Californian surfie kid with a Guns and Roses tattoo on his biceps, and wearing a black Metallica T-shirt, was chained to the rock. His faded and well-torn black jeans were held up by a metal studded belt. Over his ears were a powerful set of designer earphones. His feet were encased in a pair of rusty iron boots equipped with motors wired up to a stroboscope, which in turn was wired into the earphones. His head was clamped in a vice. As the light flashed in his eyes, his head smacked back against the rock and his feet jerked about in dance steps that revealed the tears in his jeans and threatened to pull his arms, manacled to the rock behind him, out of their sockets.
Masters approached the head-banging rocker. "Hey, I'm Tony Masters, reporting for The Hell Evening Times. What's your experience of Hell?"
The head-banger opened a bleary red-streaked eye and peered at Masters. "Get them off my head," he croaked.
Masters pulled the headphones away and experimentally placed them over his own ears.
"Well all you little sinners out there in demonland, here's a special treat. For the six hundred and sixty sixth time today here's The Titbird Bimbos singing their latest number one hit, 'Put Another Dollar in my Drum Machine'. Please stop requesting the B-Side. 'Mutual Masturbation With Radio Advertising Executives' doesn't work for our chief sponsor and will not be played on this station!"
Masters hastily pulled the headphones away before the song could start. "Shit!"
"Hendrix lives, man, everything's gone wrong!"
"What's your name, lad?"
Masters pushed the headphones back over the dead teenager's head as the song began. There was a familiar stirring in his groin as his mullet once again pulled down his fly and stuck its head out. It waved about and gaped stupidly at the air. The teenager's feet started jerking, the stroboscope flashed, the teenager's forehead smacked into the granite with a meaty thump, and the mullet darted in and fixed its teeth into the teenager's inner thigh, just below the buttocks. The fish thrashed about and tore into the flesh. Life and vitality flooded into Masters as fresh blood flooded into his groin. His mind responded as a hundred sure-fire schemes for escaping Hell instantly popped into his head. The fish's head burrowed deeper and deeper and blood flowed down the teenager's leg to the ground.
The teenager screamed. His head lolled slackly on his shoulders. His eyes rolled back in his head. He looked like The Lovebird Bimbos had locked his mind away deep inside their drum machine.
Masters recoiled, and heard a sickening, wet, tearing sound. He looked down. The mullet looked back up at him, chewed, and swallowed. Masters quickly tucked the fish into his trousers and embarrassedly looked about to see if anyone else had seen.
Sushimi roared with laughter and clapped its claws. "Learning fast!"
On a sudden impulse from a mind afire with new ideas and new energy, Master's ripped away the teenager's Metallica T-shirt, rolled it up and shoved it in a pocket. This was Hell? Who cared if he stole something! "I'll get out of this place. Just watch me."
"I am. And loving it! Ahab next. We go."
Sushimi lead the way down the smoke filled tunnel.
The teenager tore his arms out of his shoulders sockets and left them hanging, manacled to the rock behind him. Moon-stepping to a disco drum-machine beat, and maintaining a healthy distance to remain unnoticed, he clumped in his iron boots down the corridor behind them. Blood spurted in never-ending streams from his shoulders and red-washed the granite on either side where it hissed and steamed into a sticky brown stain. He mouthed the word: "Fish," over and over to himself. He managed to walk easily, even with his eyes turned up in their sockets so that only the whites showed, but he bit his tongue so hard that the end of it hung from the side of his mouth by a narrow band of flesh.
"Ahab? The Captain of the Pequod is real? I thought it was just a book!"
"Are we not all the product of somebody's imagination?" asked Sushimi, pointing up at the ceiling of granite.
"Then why can't I get out of here by praying to him?"
"Is committee." Sushimi changed the subject. "Ahab gonna love your dick. Got a little harpoon all made out of a sail needle."
"He'll think the Mardi Gras has come to town if he sees you!"
When Ahab saw them, he laughed.
"My experience of Hell? The whale is up here!" He tapped his forehead. "Just where it belongs. I can hunt it for all my life now, and be happy. I only dream of what life may be like on the shore." Ahab swung an arm around an expansive grotto full of wraiths of mist that danced and teased past vengeful lightning bolts. "Reality doesn't exist, you must understand that, only the whale is real, and the ocean we all sail upon. All these demons flashing around us who shriek in pain because Satan punishes them for not catching their prey? They're not important. They never have caught the ghosts that dance out of their reach, and they never will. They scream in such agony because the hunt draws them on. Forever. It will never finish, and they will never be allowed rest, and so they are tortured. Forever. But for me the hunt is enough and rest is unimportant. Unwittingly, Satan has placed me in Paradise."
The mullet was almost respectful where it lay against Masters' thigh. But that didn't stop it. When they were about to take their leave of Ahab, the fish pulled down Masters' fly and poked its head out.
Masters and Ahab shook hands. As Ahab's hand fell back to his side, the mullet darted out and took a piece out of his little finger.
"Sorry. It's just this problem I've got. The doctors say I'm getting better ..."
Sushimi Rex pulled Masters out of the grotto, but not before he had grabbed a sturdy length of sailcloth hanging from the rock near the exit.
Ahab's eyes rolled slowly back in their sockets and he walked quietly after them, like the teenager, unnoticed.
"Why do you keep stealing cloth like that?" Sushimi asked.
"Stealing? This is Hell. I'm supposed to steal!"
"Suppose you'll want a needle and thread next," Sushimi smirked and then grinned, revealing most of its teeth.
"Can everybody in this place read my mind?"
"Is on your sleeve."
A toy telephone made of yellow and black plastic with mottled green yin and yang polka dots appeared in thin air a foot in front of Masters's face. It rang once.
"I think I recognize the colour scheme." Masters reluctantly lifted the handset.
"Be in my office in five minutes!" Satan said.
With Sushimi Rex escorting him, Masters was there in eight. They reached the ledge and Masters jumped across the gap. He turned and looked longingly down at the Earth. This time the view was of a carpet of tropical jungle. Mountains loomed in the distance, their peaks covered in cloud. B52 bombers flew tantalizing out of sight and dropped their payloads of high explosive and napalm. Mushrooms of flame bloomed out of the rainforest, tearing trees apart. Vietnam. Time travel. He might soon be down there.
The decor in Satan's office had also changed. The room was now as black as a Blue Oyster Cult T-shirt. Satan wore cricket whites. There was a smear of red to one side of ITs groin.
"Sporting view, eh?" Satan's horns lengthened by ten centimetres and emitted sparks that bounced about the room. "Slow answering the telephone, slow answering a summons."
"If you don't like it, send me home!"
"That brings me to something I wanted to talk about. Do you really think you can escape Hell with a hand-sewn parachute made of stolen second hand clothing?" The rear wall of Satan's office disappeared and was replaced by plexiglas. In the middle of the window were mounted twin fifty calibre machine guns whose barrels looked like giant, black preying-mantises pointing out and down at the earth, searching for food. "I would enjoy that."
Masters's heart sank.
"You should think of this as a warning."
Depression turned to bravado in Masters. Did Satan really think IT owned his mind? As well as his body and soul?
Satan sensed the rebellion. ITs suit stretched and burst.
Masters pushed his chest out and sneered. Theatrics weren't going to impress him this time.
Satan's muscles rippled and grew. ITs horns lengthened and thickened and shot out at Masters like spears. One pierced his chest, lifted him off his feet, and slammed him back against the wall where it nailed him with his feet lifted off the floor. The other horn just missed his mullet, driving through his inner thigh. Agony lanced his torso. The wall felt curiously warm and pliable against his back, like it was alive and about to open a mouth and swallow him. Stinging hot gritty sulphurous smoke surrounded and choked him until his eyes watered and he couldn't breathe. His body spasmed into a fit.
"You didn't learn last time? You still believe you aren't mine? Look at what's growing out of your chest!"
Masters looked down at the horn that must have pierced his heart. He felt the pain, he felt his weight hanging on his bending rib cage, he saw the blood, but his consciousness refused to slip away. He was awake. But he was dead, and in Hell. Nothing could change that.
He would not be allowed to escape.
"Do you want to discover the place you go when you are thrown out of Hell? This place is a product of what's-'is-face's imagination. Do you wish that much to see the place that is the product of my imagination?"
To purchase this book, go to the How to Order page.
Over the following weeks, the series of interviews in The Hell Evening Times grew. After every interview, Masters would be tempted to grab a piece of clothing from another rotting and decaying piece of human misery, but he remembered Satan's warning. The open wounds in his chest and groin throbbed constantly, and dripped a constant stream of blood that ran down his body. The mullet twisted about so that it could suck up the blood from his skin, and then he would feel a peculiar flush in his groin that made him feel like a cannibal, or a new kind of sexual pervert for which he was still searching for a name.
He wished he could write about it, but that would make him the laughingstock of The Hell Evening Times.
More difficult to come to terms with was the idea of being dead. Extinct. Rubbed out. Terminated with extreme prejudice. Perished. Lifeless. Except for the fact that most days he almost felt healthy. A little like he was mixing a caffeine high with a hangover. He hadn't seen what his face looked like in a mirror, but his body looked normal, except for the holes in his chest and groin, and the fish that he managed to keep inside his pants most of the time. Likewise, his skin felt okay. Once again Hollywood had it wrong. Bits of him didn't drop off, he wasn't grey and rotting, his teeth weren't falling out, his hair stayed neat, he didn't smell, and if somebody shot him in the head he suspected it would only give him another hole to drink a pint of Guinness through, if he could get a Guinness, that is. He certainly didn't feel like he belonged in Hell, and that was frustrating.
But would his apparent good health continue if he managed to escape? Would he decompose? Would the mullet drop off and leave him completely dickless? Would he develop a sudden craving for the flesh of virgins? Would he bark like a dog at the full moon, turn into a werewolf and become an actor? There was only one way he would find out. Thinking of Satan, he forced the ideas of escape out of his mind.
In general, he was quite surprised to find himself feeling and behaving as if he was simply having a bad day in the office.
Except for the fish. Did normal men want to cut their own dick off and feed it to a cat?
But as the fish fed on the blood of his interview subjects, the holes in Masters' chest and groin slowly healed, and the pain subsided to a dull ache. He didn't want to think about the implications of that. Just so long as he got better. And if it was the pain and the blood of other people that let him feel better, then he would just have to say sorry to them. Which he did. Now and then.
Just as often, he was reminded of a growing band of shadowy figures that followed him wherever he went.
"Fish!" They chanted, over and over, a whispering susurration that haunted his waking hours, forcing its way past his reminiscing of home, past his need to make plans and hide his thoughts from Satan and Sushimi Rex. Sometimes he wondered about the supplicants, and the wondering let him forget what had been done to his body, other times he simply wished they would let him sleep. Here he was, just another minion of Hell, being followed by a band of lunatics who thought his dick was some kind of god. If they were to simply worship him instead, in some way value him for his intelligence, perhaps, he thought he might be able to live with the attention. But they only wanted him for his dick. Bastards!
From his brief glimpses of them he thought he recognized several, but mostly they stayed out of his sight: in Hell's numerous dark, smoky corners, in unlit corridors, in caverns whose entrances morphed into solid rock just as he tried to investigate. He couldn't get close enough to question them, or to get a good look at them. They were just one more enigma, and if they were more interested in his dick than in anybody or anything else, well, that was just another puzzle he would have to stop and figure out when he had time. He could be certain of nothing.
And every couple of days or so Sushimi would pull a fish out of its gut, hang it on a fishing line, and the pair would watch open mouthed as it rose through the solid rock above, reminding Masters of his editor on Earth. Then he would punch a wall in rage; the pain would make him think of his wife, and he would sigh.
Time rolled by just like time is supposed to in Hell.
"When's lunch break?"
"You Australians. Isn't morning tea yet. Good joke. What weighs half kilogram and flies around Hell like a mutant frog with a bloody face?"
"Not this one again."
"An abortion that got its revenge! Ha! Ha!"
"Sushi, where does a guy go to get laid in this place?"
"Feeling maudlin? Little bit horny?" Sushimi teased, with the subtlety of an elephant tap-dancing. "Is Hell. Dream about it. Wake up before the wet bit!"
Masters looked down at the mullet. "That doesn't do me any good!"
"So spit on your hand and do it yourself!"
"Praise the Fish!" The chant floated to them on a gust of hot, gritty air.
"Who are those guys?"
Sushimi shrugged, but for once Masters thought it looked nervous. If a hammerhead shark was capable of looking nervous. Masters shuddered. "Come on Sushi, you can tell me."
"They're outside the rules. They shouldn't exist!"
Sushimi Rex didn't reply.
"If you're too scared to talk about it ..."
Sushimi turned and snipped at the passing wraith of a Catholic monk. Blue sparks rolled along the corridor, giving Masters a brief glimpse of an eye stuck in the rock. The eye winked as darkness crashed back. Pieces of the wraith fled in opposite directions, their psychic screams echoing in Masters' mind. "Sometimes I wish I wasn't your minder."
"Alright then, who do I get to interview next?"
"A woman who --"
"That'll be a first."
"Satan is a sexist bastard, yes? But so is what's-'is-face."
"I had noticed."
Sushimi grinned a toothy, feral grin capable of giving a killer whale nightmares of shark attack for months. Masters pinched at a splinter of the mullet's pectoral fin that was stuck under his thumbnail.
Lilith was a short, attractive blonde in her mid thirties with a wet hole ringed by brown and grey slime near the middle of her forehead, closer to the right eye than the left. Flashes of blue light flickered phantom-like, in the hole, giving her a mystical appearance.
"I died," she said to Masters. "I died three weeks and two days after my daughter died. She was eight."
Masters prompted her several times, but Lilith remained silent. It was some minutes before he chanced on the right thing to say.
"Was it on her birthday?"
"No, it was at her First Communion. Brian is Catholic. I'm not. And I had to sign this stupid bloody declaration that said any children we had would be raised Catholic before this priest would marry us. As though we had no choice in the matter. As though our kids would have no choice when they grew up. Brian insisted, and I was in love with him then."
The light shining from her forehead brightened with her anger. She behaved as though she was unaware of the light, or of the way his eyes were continually drawn back to the hole from which it came. At times like this, Masters found his gaze, often totally out of his conscious control, darting for milliseconds at a time to a woman's cleavage. Lilith was beautiful, but instead of her breasts his gaze darted to the hole in her forehead as though it might become the source of some erotic quality that would demand his attention.
"It got to the stage where that declaration was the only thing holding us together. We only stayed married for the sake of Ruth and Michael, and of course they sensed that.
"We took Ruth to the church for her First Communion. It happened after the ceremony on the way home. A car came out of a side street through a stop sign and hit us side on, on the passenger side. I was driving, and it was my fault. Of course it was. Brian said so seven times in the next five minutes. I had crashed his car!
"At first we were fighting too much to notice Ruth, she was so silent. "The light in her mind dimmed, and Masters wanted to hold her, to comfort her for the loss of the light, or to slap her and make her angry so that it would shine brightly again. "But then Michael, our six year old son, screamed. Ruth was Brian's darling, and now this was my fault as well." The light returned and shone bright and clean.
"The paramedics tried to revive Ruth, and they kept on in the back of the ambulance on the way to the hospital. They were fantastic, and really thorough. Electroshock, massages, mouth to mouth, ventilators, everything. They did their damnedest.
"Brian wouldn't let me go in the ambulance, I was the driver and I had to talk to the cops. Those were his words. Almost exactly. And Michael was hysterical and Brian was just worried about talking to the tow truck drivers and getting his car to a decent workshop. When we finally did get to the hospital, Ruth was dead and a whole bunch of social workers and psychiatrists wanted to talk to us about some injuries on her chest and abdomen."
She was completely without artifice, and Masters suddenly wanted to do much more than just hold her.
"I had never touched her ...
"But you felt guilty because you hadn't been there when she died," the professional journalist in Masters spoke out. For a moment he wondered at his empathy. He had never felt this way about any other person he had met in Hell. This woman was good.
Lilith looked surprised, but then shrugged and continued, "I knew Brian hadn't touched her, he was an arsehole, but he wasn't like that, but then he believed them when they accused me! He believed them!
"They charged me, and stuck me in prison, but Brian got the guilts and bailed me out. I wish he hadn't. I would still be alive, and Michael would still have a mother. A few days later a priest and a social worker turned up to take Michael away from me. Said I wasn't fit to be a parent. Can you believe that? I wasn't fit! And still Brian believed them!"
Masters tore his gaze away from the light, blinked, and tried to focus on her nose instead.
"If it wasn't for Brian's attitude, none of it would have happened. His attitude that it was all my fault told them they were right!
"Anyway, I found out where they took Michael. Went there at night, and took him away, up country. The cops found us a week later. I wouldn't give him up. We kept running. I stole a car, and by now they were certain I was a murderer and that Michael was in danger."
A delicate, pale violet mist gently shimmered from her forehead, replacing the actinic blue, lighting up the edges of her wound, and leaving the depths within the hole a place of sharp edges and wonderful shadows and soft colours -- a place from which unexpected beauty could spring at any moment to abate the ugliness that surrounded them. She blinked and waved her hand as if to brush the mist away from her eyes. The light soothed Masters, and drew his attention from the sudden contrasting coldness in her voice as she pointed to the hole, and said, "And now I'm dead."
"So where did Ruth's injuries come from?"
"I didn't find out until after. Until I got here. It was the paramedics, trying to keep her alive. The social workers talked to them and didn't believe it, they wanted so much for somebody to be guilty, and the cops didn't even bother. They were all so fucking politically correct they just assumed I killed my own daughter! Can you believe that?" She sobbed, and then screamed, "Can you fucking believe that?"
Masters let her be, gently, for some moments, and then asked, "You said you didn't find out until after you were dead. How did you that happen?"
"Satan showed me. And IT enjoyed it. The cunt. I think IT won a bet getting me here."
"But why? You've done nothing wrong!"
"Don't you understand yet? Ruth wasn't enough! They wanted Michael as well! They demanded I sacrifice Michael to their moral fucking Christian bureaucracy, and instead I kidnapped him away! All very biblical and correct and anal-retentive! And this place is a Christian place!" Lilith pointed up to where what's-'is-face lived.
The feeling came over Masters suddenly. He didn't know if it was her strength, or her courage, or his perception of her vulnerability. It may even have been her off centre beauty, or the light shining from her that pierced his eyes. But he wanted to fuck her. Not simply hold her and protect her and soothe her anger, but fuck her. Often.
The mullet stirred. And he remembered something else. "Fucking fish," he muttered.
"Praise be to the Fish!" The chant was loud and close.
"Oh God, what do they want?" It took Masters some seconds to realize that he had gotten away with mentioning the Lord in Hell, without Satan arriving to boil his eyeballs in hydrochloric acid.
"Shit hey! God! God! Jesus Christ! Holy Ghost! God!" he shouted, and held his hand out to Lilith for a high five.
She looked at him like he was mad.
Then his arm was grabbed and twisted up behind his back.
Shadowy figures appeared behind Lilith, and took her by the arms. She struggled for a moment, and then stood still, fatalistically, courageously. Masters' heart went out to her.
"Praise be to the Fish. The swallower of our blood, the eater of our flesh. The possessor of our souls. Our leader in the eternal quest across the salty, bloody seas of eternal damnation!"
It was Captain Ahab. The mullet poked its way out of Masters' pants and looked up, as if to say, "How's it hanging, guy?"
Masters finally recognized his assailants, or some of them, as people the mullet had bitten. But then he saw faces, most of the crowd in fact, that he didn't recognize. What had the goddamned thing being doing while he was asleep? Chewing on whoever walked past?
"You slut!" Masters said as he looked down.
Ahab bowed. He held out his wrist to the mullet, which took a small, dainty nip out of his flesh. Ahab shuddered, wriggled ecstatically, and sighed. Other followers held their wrists out to be bitten, to be sucked on. "Enough!" said Ahab, as the mullet got in another bite, this time on the leg of a teenager with a bruised forehead and headphones whose arms had been ripped off.
Masters felt the familiar invigorating trickle of blood flowing into his arteries. Already he felt more alive, as if he could throw Lilith over his shoulder and run with her out of Hell, to safety.
"The Followers of the Fish are gathered here today to welcome the woman who will be our leader. The Fish will take the woman, and the Woman will take us into Eternity!"
The light in Lilith's forehead pulsed.
"You can't do this!" Masters shouted.
Ahab turned to him. "You are merely the Bearer of the Fish. You have not the power to influence the tides of life."
"God help me!"
"He can't help you now. Neither can the other one. The Fish has drunk our souls. The Fish is all-powerful!"
The Followers forced Lilith's arm out and down. The mullet eagerly reached forward; more fresh blood! Masters' groin tingled. He would have an erection if he still had a penis, and for once the thought disturbed him. Lilith didn't deserve this!
"The Fish will make us one within the continuum!"
Was Ahab saying that neither Satan nor God had any influence over what happened here? That the lure of blood was greater than the bureaucracy of evil? That the soul was in some manner contained within the blood the mullet had sucked out of its victims? Was there something about Sushimi Rex's fish, his own dick, which gave him power here in Hell? Masters had no time to think.
The mullet struck. Fresh blood pulsed into the mullet's mouth, down its throat, and into Masters' bloodstream. It was like an orgasm in reverse that began with drowsy calmness and built into jerking waves of pleasure, all the more powerful because of Lilith's beauty and the strength of his reaction to her. It was a perversion of his anatomy he couldn't understand. He pissed out that hole; surely it was his urethra that was joined to the mullet's gut and throat, and not some blood vessel? However it happened, the blood reached his circulatory system, he could feel it. And he was similarly certain his new biology would fascinate a marine biologist, or a student of human anatomy, or even his bloody doctor father-in-law, Dr Durj.
He grabbed Lilith by the arm and pulled at her, willing her to run with him, but she was like a zombie, her energy stolen by the mullet. A massive blow landed against the side of his head. He saw the teenager move back for another head butt, and then everything went blank.
Night in Hell is a curious time. The male anatomy is a curious beast. While asleep at night, a male human being will experience on average five or six erections. Being dead doesn't change this statistic. Hell was full of penises wanting to raise their swollen heads at the most embarrassing times. Like when their owners wanted to piss, or were cuddling the ghosts of their grandchildren.
Unless your dick is a fish.
Masters was asleep. He dreamed that all the militant feminist demons of Hell, carrying small harnesses in their hands, haunted the corridors, dormitories, doss-houses, simple beds of rock, etc, where the male denizens of Hell slept at night. Whenever they found a sleeping male, they would shackle his penis into a harness. As all the penises of Hell rose and fell during the nocturnal imaginings and biological urgencies of the men, small generators attached to the harnesses would feed electricity into Hell's power grid.
He dreamed that a mermaid swam towards him through sparkling, clean salt water. He was whole in his dream, but a familiar looking mullet swam behind the mermaid, and nipped at her fins. She pulled on rubber dish-washing gloves, touched him gently, pulled down his fly, and harnessed his penis into the Penis Power Plant. Then she rubbed her hands slowly across his body, the rubber squeaking across his skin, in gentle massages that led tantalizingly, ever downwards, towards his groin. She looked a little like Lilith, but was taller and brunette, with close-cropped hair and pert, handful-sized breasts that jutted out into the thin, wet cotton T-shirt that extended down to her scales. "Men are a sexually transmitted disease the sisters of the world require to reproduce themselves," she chanted. He moaned in delight. "Generating electricity is all a penis is good for!" As she rubbed him, she lifted her T-shirt ...
The mullet was awake. It wanted to explore. It wanted to go out into Hell, find new demons, make new friends and discover the fresh and bloody territories under their skins.
In short, it felt like a drink.
The mullet gripped Masters' zipper with its teeth and, like it did every night at times like this, tugged gently downwards. It lifted its head into the red-streaked, smoky, rotten-egg smelling night and dragged past its gills a deep breath of air that was much cleaner than what it was used to inside Masters' trousers. Since being stuck in the groin of this loser human, life had taken a turn for the perverse. Living in Sushimi Rex's gut was the worst, nothing smelt as bad as a Sushimi Rex fart, no undead fish would ever deny that, especially one trapped in Sushimi's gut with the fart before it escaped, but at least there had been the struggle of the chase, being caught, being lifted to the surface of the Earth, wriggling ecstatically through all that molten rock, to look forward to. Such a grand, macho struggle! And then to be in real water for a short time afterwards! Perhaps it would have even escaped the hook. Some of its ancestors had managed that, it was sure. It would swim forever through a lake or a river or an ocean on Earth, chasing other fish, chewing on them, and swallowing their glorious blood. And all those lovely fishermen to chew on! It would have got to the Earth. It would have escaped. That would have been its destiny. But now ...
This goddamned human didn't even have somewhere interesting and wet to stick him, to give him a break from smelly underpants all the time. It was going to get a rash under its scales. It just knew it!
Masters slumbered on.
The mullet lifted its head and looked about.
And saw the cat.
Saffy had grown a little during his months in Hell. Satan was good! IT fed him regularly, even if the food was all rotten and smelly. Even though he was dead, he enjoyed the attentions of the Lord of the Dead, who was the only being he had ever met who truly understood him. Humans were easy. In the same way Dallas was easy when Debbie's scriptwriter visited. The whole town just lay down and got fucked over. Humans were just so easy!
But being in Hell at all was the fault of the dickbreath human Satan had sent him to find. If Masters had only had the guts to stand up to that aborted jerkoff taxi driver and send him home! For the first time in his life being sweet and small and fluffy hadn't worked! Even a cute, sweet little meow in the face had failed. And it was all Masters' fault. And he hadn't got a good, decent feed in months. No fish. No chicken. No fish. No beef. No fish. No birds -- there wasn't even anything in this stinking place he could hunt down and kill. Every thing in the death-damned fucking joint was already dead. And smelling from the heat. And still no fucking fish. Except for that walking fucking fish zoo.
The last time Saffy had seen Sushimi Rex, Sushimi had held him up by the tail over a vast mouthful of razor-sharp teeth and asked, "Do you like what you see?" He had meowed pitifully, and pretended to be cute and little and fluffy. "The next time you try to scratch a tiger prawn out of my tail, I will eat you. Do you understand?" Saffy understood alright. The fucking seafood restaurant was THE ENEMY!
Of course, he had dobbed Sushimi Rex in to Satan next time he saw IT, and had then brazenly spent the next five minutes being terminally cute forcing rats to chase cockroaches about Satan's office and over ITs cloven feet, but the bastard had just laughed. Talk about jobs for the fucking boys. Licking arse just didn't work for a cat in Hell!
Now, he was hungry, and he wanted fish for dinner!
Saffy saw the mullet.
Masters slept on, oblivious.
Saffy sat still and silent on its haunches, staring, unmoving. Food, he thought.
The mullet stared back. It was angry. It's destiny was glorious: a hook on a fishing line, a fisherman -- a real fisherman whose purpose in life was to meditate as much as it was to attempt to catch and kill -- and water, real glorious salt water in which to stage the eternal battle! This cat just didn't understand that it was messing with fate!
Saffy stalked forwards slowly, forequarters low, back arched, tail lifted. The fish twisted and lifted itself higher, but couldn't get away. Saffy stopped, licked his paws, and watched. The fish tried to burrow between Masters' legs. Saffy ran several mincing steps forward and then froze beside Masters' sleeping form. The fish slapped about frantically. Saffy reached out a paw, and batted at it. Claws slid across scales and the fish twisted away. Saffy swung its paw again, and played with the fish like it was a toy.
It's tied down, Saffy realized, the fucking thing is tied down!
Saffy swatted with his claws and then dived in with jaws wide.
The mullet was faster, and Saffy jumped away with a hiss, blood dripping from his nose.
Saffy yowled. The whole world hated him! Food had no right to fight back. He had a right to expect ... He took another look. The food was attached and, thrash about as it might, there was one place the food's teeth couldn't reach. The cat paced around between Masters' legs and rubbed up between them. Masters sighed in his sleep, scratched his balls, grabbed the fish and spiked himself on a fin, mumbled to himself, scratched his balls again, and shifted his legs further apart.
The fish twisted and turned but couldn't face the cat no matter how hard it wrenched at itself. The cat playfully swatted once or twice at Masters' scrotum, scratching in holes and then slowly pulling his paw away again, delighted by the way the skin stretched before popping off the points of his claws, leaving growing globules of blood behind ... and then looked up at the fish in front of it. He inched closer, and swatted at the spot where the fish's scales morphed into the human's skin. He bit into the flesh, and chewed. Mullet tasted fucking fantastic when blended with this new flavour.
Masters dreamed. The mermaid enticed him towards her, provoking him with gestures and words. His erection throbbed, painfully hard, sending enormous pulses of energy through the harness into the Penis Power Plant. She slowly swayed from side to side and drew the wet T-shirt over her head. Masters groaned, reached down and tried to tear the harness from his penis.
The harness wouldn't budge, but he couldn't orgasm with it there. His semen would flood into the electronics and electrocute him! The harness pulled and tore at his dick, but wouldn't shift. Pain lanced into his lower belly.
The mermaid moved back towards him, her chest moving to and fro, her breasts bouncing before his eyes. She moved lower, swaying, placing a breast either side of his penis, taking him in her hands, tugging at the harness. Helping him.
She wanted his dick! Him! His! He groaned. So what about his wife, he dreamed, till death do us part, and all that!
She tugged harder. It felt like he was being ripped apart by needles.
She set her tail into a puddle of water and thrashed savagely backwards ...
Masters woke screaming in agony.
"I trust this won't happen every time I send you to interview a woman!" Satan said through Saffy's mouth. The cat belched, and spewed a stream of scales and blood onto the steaming rock.
"AAaarrggh!" Masters replied, with eloquent restraint.
"Be in my office in ten minutes!"
Saffy sat back on his haunches and licked his paws.
This time Satan's office looked like a dentist's surgery. Smelt like one too. In pride of place was what Masters first thought of as a chair.
"This device was first invented by mediaeval torturers the big guy upstairs thought were working for him --"
Masters interrupted Satan. "I'll go to the union! I'll start a bible studies group! I'll sue you for discrimination against white male mid-thirties journalists! I'll --"
Sushimi Rex strapped Masters into a device that looked like a cross between a business class airline seat and a typist's ergonomic chair. Except the legs could be spread apart. And the arms, legs, torso, neck and skull could all be strapped down.
"-- castration ... and similar games. Since then, gynaecologists the world over have used a variant of the device for childbirth."
Satan stopped the lecture for a few seconds, and poured himself a foam cup of soul from a massive, brand new, steel vacuum flask. He sipped. "Ah! Despair! There must be a war somewhere!"
"I'll hack into your bank account and send donations to the Society for the Prevention of Retrenching Middle-Aged Single-Parent Public Servants!"
"-- but I've gone back to the chair's original purpose. Can you move?"
"Do go on, I'm enjoying this!"
"I'll put salt in your Grange Hermitage. I'll put Dencorub in your KY Jelly --"
Sushimi Rex finished securing Masters to the chair and wandered over to the window.
The last time Masters had been in this office, the view had been of B52 bombers playing havoc with rainforest somewhere in SE Asia. Now the view was of the ocean. By Salvador Dali. Or by Jacques Cousteau. Or perhaps by Albert Einstein, if that man had a mind that could encompass sex with a fish as well as it could imagine the deeper reaches of space-time. At the centre of the window was an imaginary underwater brothel. At least, Masters hoped it was imaginary; looking at the mullet in his crotch which, despite its injuries, stirred and showed an interest in the view, he wasn't sure.
A male scuba diver was being fondled and touched and seduced by a groper with a massive suction tube attached to its jaws, a moray eel which swam between his legs, up the crack of his arse dragging its scales slowly and sensuously against his skin, around his neck, and back again, all at once, and by a mermaid who rubbed her breasts in his face and her hands along his penis, pushing down firmly, and then tugging back gently. Mermaids weren't real, but the image reminded Masters of his dream. This mermaid was identical. His balls cringed.
Like the logarithmic representation of a gravity well in a Hollywood astronomical documentary whose producers were incapable of imagining a domestic vacuum cleaner, the image of the undersea brothel telescoped into a familiar view of the Earth -- this time of the South Pacific -- from the kind of altitude an accountant might think was high enough to conduct a space program. Masters could see the grotto of volcanic rocks in the middle of the lagoon but he could also see the coral-bordered lagoon itself, the smoking volcano centred within it, and the plume of smoke that spiralled into the stratosphere, through which he could see a thousand square kilometres of the South Pacific. It felt like watching a movie projected on the inside of a funnel.
The mullet took great delight in the scene. Masters thought it showed the most interest when the groper accidentally started sucking on the eel's tail.
Satan took one of two scalpels from beside the five different coloured pens, four pencils, three paintbrushes and stick of celery in ITs shirt pocket. "There is a procedure we must do. Quite painful, I'm told. You may fall unconscious due to the trauma. My ears are sensitive this morning, so don't scream; I won't warn you again. Do try and relax!" Satan chuckled and poured ITself another cup of soul. IT burped. A soul weaved out of ITs mouth towards the ceiling. Satan jumped and grabbed at it, but missed. IT giggled.
Satan giggling? wondered Masters. Is IT drunk?
"Whoops. Another haunted house!" IT said.
Satan weaved ITs way across to Masters, tripping only once, and took hold off the mullet firmly in ITs left hand. The scalpel twirled, around and around like a baton, in ITs fingers. Satan winked at Masters, then at the mullet.
"Did you know they make strawberry-flavoured beer in Belgium?" Sushimi asked Masters.
"That's disgusting." Masters looked at Sushimi blankly and then turned to Satan, "Why did Sushimi say that?"
"Diversion," IT said. "To take your mind off this scalpel in my hand."
"I guess my ploy didn't work," Sushimi Rex said calmly.
Masters watched the scalpel avidly, like a mouse being hypnotized by a snake about to strike.
"You see, Sushimi knows I'm about to cut the end of your dick off."
Satan drew the scalpel firmly through the scales, skin, blood and bone of the mullet's upper jaw. Masters didn't scream. The pain was somewhere up there with having a circumcision done on an erect penis with a pair of rusty, blunt, tin snips, or with having four teeth removed and a root canal done by a novice dentist who couldn't tell when the anaesthetic cut in. He outright refused to scream, even if it gave him a hernia.
However, he did squirm around in the chair a bit.
Sushimi drew a heavy fishing line with a massive hook and lure from Satan's desk, and then bent down and whispered in Masters' ear. "Satan is blissed out on soul? IT secretly dreams of catching me. IT keeps this in here, practises when I'm not around! Thinks I don't know."
"I've seen him," Masters groaned.
Satan repeated the cut a little lower, but at an angle aiming upwards into the fish's skull. Blood spurted.
Masters remembered his first ever blowjob. His girlfriend of the time had been wearing braces on her teeth. Then she had sneezed. It had been seven years before he trusted another girl.
This was worse.
Satan threw the destroyed wedge of mullet flesh to Sushimi Rex. Sushimi baited its hook, and cast expertly into the middle of the scene on the wall. "Do unto others before they do unto you!" It said.
Satan drew a box of computer spare parts towards IT, and set the box so that it floated in the air besides Masters' stomach.
Even after looking in the box, Masters wouldn't scream.
Down in the South Pacific, the mermaid turned away from the scuba diver who was blowing bubbles against her breasts, and struck at Sushimi's lure.
"Way to go, baby!" Sushimi shouted.
Satan guzzled the rest of his soul and poured himself a new cup, draining half of that as well. "An earthquake!" he exclaimed, and burped again. IT watched a flurry of souls escape towards the ceiling. "I love doing that. What's-'is-face gets so pissed off trying to catch them all." IT pulled a twenty-five pin serial plug from the box of spare parts.
Sushimi slowly reeled the mermaid up towards the window into Hell.
The mermaid was beautiful; just watching her took his mind away from the agony in his groin. Her struggles, the writhing of her slender body through the water made him want her, like in his dream, and now she was caught on the hook of the most evil fish -- er, school of fish -- in Hell!
Satan thrust the parallel plug into the gaping slit in the mullet's upper jaw. Masters gagged, and then dry-retched. He forgot the mermaid, but again refused to scream.
"Not big enough!" Satan hiccupped, and then scraped at the edge of the wound in the mullet's jaw with the scalpel, slowly enlarging it.
The mermaid splashed into Satan's office. The mullet sprang to attention, splashing blood onto Satan's fingers. Her fine, upthrust breasts; her shiny overlapping scales; her full, pouting lips; the tilt of her tail, as she thrashed at the air; her arms held out, her little fists clenched in rage ...
"You talked about a blow job before. This is how you get a blow job!" Sushimi boasted to Masters, as the massive moral eel wound itself out of its crotch and thrust itself towards the mermaid.
"It isn't funny. Sushimi's going to rape --"
"Oh, but it is funny; it's very funny. Vagina detenta, come your brains out! You forget that I can see the future ..."
"Vagina detenta? Sounds like a feminist dentist!"
Satan laughed even harder and chanted, "I can see the future, I can see the future!" IT farted a stream of ghosts out over the ocean. "Ooopsi-doopsi!" The ghosts fell into the ocean and haunted a school of fish about to be caught by a Japanese long-line factory ship. "I fart, therefore I am!"
Sushimi pushed the mermaid to the floor of Satan's office and knelt in front of her.
Satan turned back to ITs task. The mullet twisted away, trying to watch Sushimi assault the mermaid, but Satan grasped it firmly and refitted the plug. "Perfect!"
"Suck on this, baby!" Sushimi thrust the eel towards the mermaid's mouth. She struggled to get away from it, but it forced her mouth open and dragged her head slowly towards itself.
But the eel showed its preference and darted down towards the mermaid's crotch, where her flesh blended from clean, firm skin to small shiny scales the size of dimples. The outside of her labia was scaly, but inside was soft pink flesh. The scales on her labia slowly raised themselves, not in anticipation, Masters realized, but in self defence. The eel darted in to nip at the scales below her labia, and at the hair above, but Sushimi slapped it with a crab claw and lifted it with a tentacle towards her mouth.
The eel twisted to get away, as if it knew something Sushimi didn't, but Sushimi slapped it again, and forced its jaws against her lips.
The mermaid's mouth opened.
"Way to go baby!" cried Sushimi.
The mermaid's jaw distended like that of a boa constrictor and closed about the head of the eel. Sushimi writhed in pleasure. The eel was sucked further and further down the mermaid's throat, the wrinkly old man skin behind its head slowly disappearing and her neck distending as she slid her mouth further and further along its body. Her throat bulged and writhed like she was swallowing a massive corn cob.
"She'll hurt herself!" Masters exclaimed grimly.
Satan sat with ITs back to a wall and howled.
Sushimi's groans of pleasure turned to alarm.
The mermaid's lips rolled back from her teeth, revealing massive incisors -- weapons fit not only for a carnivore, but for the herbivorous grinding and crushing of coral.
Sushimi tried to pull away.
The mermaid's jaws crunched firmly together, and ground slowly from side to side.
Sushimi screamed. Masters heard the sound begin, but the pitch rose and rose like an air-raid siren cycling out of control. Sushimi rolled away from the mermaid and clutched himself between the legs.
The mermaid swallowed and burped. "Thanks for the dinner, guys!" she said brightly, and winked at Masters. Then she slithered across the floor of Satan's office and dived with a splash back into her lagoon.
Sushimi Rex writhed on the floor. "Help me!" it said, over and over.
Minutes later Satan became satisfied with ITs work on the mullet. The blue fire that Masters remembered so well from Satan's reconstruction of the kitten flashed around the mullet's head, fusing the parallel plug to bone and flesh. Scales grew around the edges of the wound and united seamlessly with the plastic. The agony in Masters' mind diminished to pins and needles. Thousands of pins and needles in frozen flesh.
Then IT turned to Sushimi and pulled a tiny anchovy from the back of Sushimi's left arm. IT thrust the anchovy onto the writhing six inch long, five inch thick stump of the eel and the familiar blue fire flashed again. "Just what you need, old man!"
Satan laughed so hard IT fell over.
Masters' mind slid from the morphing image of the Pacific Ocean, past Satan's toolbox, to Satan's computer, and the cables that twisted into hyperspace, to Sushimi writhing on the floor, screaming in despair now rather than in pain, to Satan chuckling to ITself as IT walked across to ITs desk, and back to the mermaid in the lagoon as she raised one fist in triumph. He waved back at her, and then slumped into the chair, unconscious.
Masters came to. He had been released from the chair, but the mullet felt heavy and unfamiliar. Its weight dragged at his groin.
"You humans have no stamina for strangeness. Come around here where you can see the computer. Be careful! Don't pull out the plug."
Masters realized the mullet's head was plugged into a cable running to the computer's parallel port. The VDU suddenly looked like the processor chip had been hit by a virus designed by an off-piste ski enthusiast. Flying snow everywhere, each crystal perfectly sketched, each different, each seven ...
"Snow isn't seven-sided!"
"Mine is! Now watch what happens when I wake up that stupid mullet of yours."
"Don't know about stupid. It gives me a little freedom, don't you think? Our Father who art in Heaven, and all that?"
"You hypocrite! Finish it!"
But Masters couldn't.
"The last time you prayed you were nine years and three months old. And that's just another reason why I'm sending you back to Earth."
Home? Out of Hell? Before Masters could react to the idea, Satan waved ITs arm and blue fire danced around Masters' groin. The mullet jerked to life and a wave of confused impressions of naked women, digital readouts, fish hooks, and glorious clean water careened across Masters' mind, leaving confusion in their wake.
The digital snow cleared from the VDU.
Masters fell to his knees and grabbed the side of the desk. It didn't matter that he was in Satan's office -- his mind had been hijacked yet again. Now he was naked, and he chased a women's basketball team all around a court as they practised. It didn't help that the ball had a breast with an erect nipple growing from every hexagonal segment, or that the women were all naked as well, and that he masturbated furiously as he chased them, trying to steal the ball so that he could massage the nipples with his semen. The women circled him, laughing at the size of his penis.
Not only did he experience the vision, but then he saw it live on the computer the faintest fraction of a second later. The new visual image erupted in his mind, just faintly out of synch with the original, and fed back to the VDU, and into his mind, to the VDU, mind, VD, m, V ...
"Like it?" Satan asked, and placed a board in front of the screen.
Masters fell onto the desk, breathing deeply and sweating. He had dreamed a different version of the dream only a few nights earlier, but then there had only been one woman, and she had made only made a token show of running, and his mullet had loved the taste of her. The perverse shit.
"The mullet has always had the ability to look into your mind and experience your fantasies," said Satan "But now it will transform and pervert your dreams, and send them back to you, so that you will be both excited and repelled at once. This concept is crucial to your mission.
"But the mullet will also become aroused. If you concentrate you will discover its fantasy; and in time you will find its fantasies as arousing to you as your own."
A vision of a beautifully streamlined, fast, powerful fish -- a manga vision of the world's greatest superhero mullet -- swam across Masters' consciousness. The super-mullet moved with dizzying speed amongst a veritable forest of fish-hooks, lines, lures, and different kinds of bait, searching out the one trap which would pose the most dangerous challenge. The mullet struck, but the fishing line parted under its teeth and it spat the hook out behind it as if it were nothing. There was a golden glow ahead of it, and the forest offish-hooks cleared away to reveal the single most beautiful, most deadly, most shiny, fish-hook the mullet had ever seen. It was made of titanium; there were five barbs in a line down three sides; it glinted in the filtered sunlight; it was five inches long, almost too big to swallow. But it would try.
The mullet circled, and prepared to strike.
"You see, the mullet must enjoy the experience. Now, look at the screen! Explicit, isn't it? Oh, you surprise me. I didn't know you liked it like that! And shoe-polish as well?"
"Now, the mullet will also look into the mind of the person who owns the computer, find out that person's most interesting and embarrassing memories and fantasies, like you with your sheep and your sister with her squirt bottle of maple-syrup ice-cream topping -- by the way, did you know she likes sucking mashed bananas out of used condoms? -- and blend them with a degree of perversion only I am capable of, into your fantasy. And it's all being transmitted live on the Internet through the mullet's brand new twenty-five pin serial plug to every email address known to the computer! Not only that, but also to a special bulletin board I had the boys design and install for me! Lovely idea. Designed for Catholic girls' schools. All those beautiful computer nerds, business leaders, public servants, mothers, politicians, grand-parents and school kids ... Think how many of them will commit suicide when the world learns of their depravity! The owner of every computer will feature in his or her own explicit pornographic fantasy video, and each and every video will be available for everybody in the world to see.
"No more secrets!" Satan said. "Everybody's gotta be honest -- and take the consequences."
The basketball with the beautiful breasts and erect nipples bounced beckon screen. Masters wanted to be sick, but he was curiously excited as well. His body betrayed him, and his hips bucked and thrust, once, into thin air, and he came harder than he had ever come before.
The mullet, after a glorious battle against the world's most deadly fish-hook, jumped the line and swam triumphantly away into crystal clear water, free to do battle another day.
"Your mullet is going to fuck every computer it sees. It has no choice. None at all. That's why you're going back to Earth, Tony Masters! Every time you have an orgasm, another soul becomes mine. I think you're uniquely qualified for the job ..."
Masters left Satan's office scorched and burnt of mind, bleeding of body, and all but naked. Sushimi Rex waited outside, impatiently and in pain.
Two strangers Masters had never seen before stood waiting to visit Satan, watching the Earth -- God, now the view was of Sydney Harbour! One was dressed like an East End prostitute of the late nineteenth century. It didn't surprise him that her throat had been cut and dried blood spattered the front of her shawl. She clung to the arm of a man who wore the uniform of a John West fish buyer.
"Does he really have a fish for a dick?" the prostitute asked the John West man, her voice a raspy fusion of larynx and waste air. She turned to Masters, "When are you coming to the red light district, fish man? Interview all of us women of the night?"
"I'm so excited at meeting you I'm wet all over. Even my box is wet," said the John West man.
Masters fell across the metre-wide gap towards the group. Sushimi Rex was there to catch him, but then dropped him on his back on the ledge. Satan's office bobbed away into the stratosphere, suddenly out of reach.
The mullet chose that time to wake up after its euphoric fantasy. It thrust its head out a tattered rent in Masters' trousers and gaped at the crowd.
"You'd think in Hell a girl could at least find a frying pan when she wanted one!" The woman laughed and squirmed back against the rock.
The John West man leaned forward for a better look. He shook his head from side to side, but sweat appeared on his brow. "Oooh, look at you. What's a girl supposed to do?"
The prostitute was the first to realize what he meant. "Don't you dare! Think what it'll feel like coming back out again! All those fins and spikes and things? It'll pull your insides out!" She pointed at the hardware on the mullet's upper jaw. "Face up to it. You just ain't got a socket for a twenty-five pin plug!"
"This is Hell, babe. Who cares what it feels like coming out? I just want to feel it going in!"
"Tell me why Satan gave me an anchovy!" Sushimi leaned down on Masters' shoulders, immobilizing him. Sushimi turned to the John West man, "You'd better watch out it doesn't chew on your prostate while it's in there! It'll strike on anything!" Masters struggled against Sushimi's grip, but only succeeded in turning around so that the John West man had an even better view of the mullet. Sushimi giggled. It was a high, piercing sound, full of vengeful merriment, disdain, and pride in its offspring.
"Oh baby, it can chew on whatever it wants!" The John West said.
Masters looked down at the mullet. "Don't you even think it!"
"It always bites!" said Sushimi. "You're better off telling it not to swallow!"
The prostitute leaned against the wall laughing weakly to herself. "I can't wait to see the headline: 'Man raped as mullet buggers canned fish buyer.'"
Only Masters saw the fish hook with a wriggling worm impaled on it that dropped through the ceiling of rock.
The rock gyrated and whorled about the nylon line. The worm wriggled enticingly just above Sushimi's head, but the dinosaur made of fish didn't see it. The hook jiggled and dropped lower.
Masters felt the jerk as the mullet in his groin struck at the hook. Pain like he had never experienced before, despite his time in Hell, despite Satan's operation, despite his ruptured bladder, lanced through his groin and corkscrewed its way up his spine and reverberated through his skull. With his brain and body on fire, Masters screamed. The supernatural mullet, ready for battle, its purpose in life vindicated, drove the hook under its jaw with a grip that death itself wouldn't dislodge.
The line tautened.
Masters was lifted from the rocky ledge and swung out over the abyss. Suspended eleven thousand metres over the Swiss Alps, he was dragged by his mullet penis towards a swirling, multi-hued vortex in the ceiling of rock.
Tony Masters pushed himself out of the chair and stood in front of Dr Durj's desk. "So that's the story, doc. I don't know if I should come to you, or go to a marine biologist!"
Durj leaned forward expectantly.
"You understand I can't let you hurt the fish. Much. According to Satan, I died down there. Up there? I'm a zombie. With what I've been through, I feel like it, too! The fish is a vampire. The thing's super-nature is the only thing keeping me alive!"
"Show me this fish!"
Masters pulled down his fly and slapped seven inches of wriggling fish against the teak surface of the surgeon's desk. "But the most important thing is: can you cut the fish hook out? I scream every time I piss. And the serial plug? Maybe do a bit more? Your daughter, she's got this taste for sushi. You know what it's like, bit of an obsession really. Japanese restaurants every second day. When she gets to wrap her teeth around this thing I want it to look like something she wants to suck on, not bite the head off."
Not to be outdone, Durj scrutinized the fish. "What happens if it tries to swallow when you ejaculate?"
The mullet squirmed and fixed its gaze on Durj's computer.
Saffy squirmed in Durj's arms. Not taking its eyes off the fish, the cat lifted a pad and licked it clean.
The mullet gaped its mouth open and leered across the desk at the cat.
Masters dragged his chair closer to Durj's desk, close enough for the fish to reach out and just sensuously brush against the twenty-five pin serial socket without being able to connect.
"Well Dad. I suggest you have a look at your screen saver in five minutes or so. You'll do you damnedest to help me, or I'll go to the women's magazines and tell them about the games their favourite sex-change surgeon plays when he's all alone in the dark!"
"You would threaten your surgeon, your father-in-law, like that?"
"I'll do the same thing if you laugh. Just once. Just the merest snicker!"
Saffy pounced at the distracted mullet, but Masters intercepted the cat in midair and held it by the scruff of its neck. The cat twisted and turned, scratching with all four legs and biting. Knowing the scratches would heal, Masters fought the cat with his free hand until all four legs were held bunched in one fist. Blood ran down his arm and dripped onto the perfect finish of Durj's desk. Masters whispered in the cat's ear and then threw it into the middle of the floor.
Saffy ran into a corner and spat at him.
"What did --"
"I said to it, 'Who's going to put you back together again this time?'" Masters pushed his chair back from the desk. He felt more in control now. It may be bizarre, but once again his life was his own. Nearly. In a little while, he might even begin enjoying this.
"Where's your toilet? I've gotta go and see a man about a fish!"
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