The cold winter night that seems to be getting more damp and disgusting due to the dirty snow taking over the late passerby and the mud, covering everyone and everything. Big city, big streets, big mess and filth to match its scale. That is the reality and the constant companion to every single living creature, from the first breath of polluted poisonous air to the last cancerous cough rucking down their throats. It wasn’t always like that, once there was a paradise...
Flash of light, a gunshot, scream and then darkness. The shadow in dark woolen coat bend over the body, sprawled in his feet. He slapped the picture on the damp asphalt near the head and focused on the corpse’s face—it’s a match. Wanted dead or alive. “Preferably dead. Same goes for everyone else out there.” His lips stretch in a cold malicious grimace masquerading as a smile at the call back to the old naïve movies, playing cowboys and Indians. A strike by the machete and that neck was severed, making the head roll to the side. He grabbed it by the hair and shoved it in a plastic garbage bag. The body would be gone by sunrise—the denizens didn’t let meat go to waste.
“How have you been, Raphael? What a vile work of an archangel to be doing—cleaning up the trash that has been corrupting the otherwise clean and innocent humanity.”
Ralph slammed tiredly into the old couch. Mephisto was sitting the other side of the coffee table, twirling a glass of whiskey. “Firewater. The only kind that agrees with me,” was the demon's running joke on the subject.
“Mephistopheles, what are you doing here pestering me, again?”
“If that's all the welcome this old friend of yours deserves...”
“We’ve never been friends.”
“And whose fault is that? Besides it's never too late to change that little detail. What says you, huh?”
Ralph just rolled his eyes to the ceiling. The demon was sporting the never-wavering seductive smile that seemed to be invented with him in mind at the beginning of time itself. They dance got old a long time ago and Ralph was getting annoyed really fast.
Mephisto was shaking his head in mock outrage—was that going to be the reception for every show of good will on his part? A cool indifference and suspicion? Not fair, not fair at all. The irony of the statement did not escape him, but this time he was the one with the olive branch. And being the patron of all cheats and hustlers, he had a very keen sense of right and wrong, just observed a different set of rules. That was what he was going to get for taking the time to drop by and check on the moody grump.
“Mephistopheles, do us both a favor and get lost, would you?”
“Where is all that hostility coming from, old chap?”
“If you suddenly appear somewhere that's because you want something.”
“Let's not fall to the extremes, shall we? It's not always like that—most cases I even offer things.”
“Maybe, but I didn’t summon you.”
“Did the grumpy mood result from the fall, or are you still smarting after the fallout with the Big boss from above?”
“... Some respect and don’t say His name in vain! I know, I know, did you hear me call Him by His name? I sure didn’t.”
“When there is will, there is a way. And I absolutely love technicalities. Tell me, Raphael, ‘case I am bubbling to know, how did one of the higher charter end up here in this smelly dump? There has to be one hell of a story there if the end is you deciding 'Screw it, I'm feeling like trying my hand in the assassin on government paycheck business'.”
Ralph was staring in the barely there flames of the false decorative fireplace, that one of the previous owners probably thought would bring a homey feeling to the desolate one bedroom hovel. Earth turned up to be a damp and cold place. Most of the surface didn’t see sunlight most of the time due to the impenetrable fog, covering the cities. When he decided to part with his wings, he was envisioning something along the lines of a tropical island or at least a mild climate with the occasional rainfall. Instead, he woke up alone in an ugly dingy city, naked, freezing to death, hungry and thirsty. Those were unfamiliar and highly unpleasant sensations that he learned to distinguish later after some time, but the happening from those first days were an experience he didn’t care to remember or repeat. His first tough was that that Almighty had sent him to Hell in His wrath. But he had been there before, acting as an extension of God's will. Even the lower grounds of the Underwood lacked the unbearable tortures, created by the combination of cutting freezing blizzards, raining pieces of ice and heavy raindrops making the overwhelming miasma of his surroundings stick to the very inside of his throat.
“How much time passed since that day, Raphael? A century, two, or more? I gather the passage of the years got more tangible for you than to the rest of the fold. Food, shelter, human interactions, pesky things like that...”
“Don’t know, days started blurring together long ago...”
“The merciful and all forgiving Father wasn’t that merciful an forgiving towards you, n'est ce pas, mon ami? He cast you out, to live among the mortals, but never die. To never see Paradise again, funny how He managed to turn the grandest gift, life, into the cruelest of punishments.”
“It is not for me to know His designs. There has to be a reason for death to remain forever out of my grasp.”
“Oh, come on! What reason would that be? Did he need a sanitation inspector to purge the herd from the undesirable cattle, that sprouts to life every now and then? Could have just as easily brought one of us up here, would have done the job and had fun while we are at it.”
“Killing should never be fun, that’s fundamentally wrong, defies the purpose...”
“So that’s why you can’t stop self-castigating every time you get a money transfer. Wanted dead or alive, you know—killing them is not mandatory.”
“Some of them deserve it.”
“Aha, and now you’re taking over the judging duties as well? Boy, you got to be their favorite of late. The upstairs’ crowd must really love you.”
“Drop the jester act, it’s falling really flat the more you talk. You speak of things you don’t understand!" His voice boomed almost as loudly as when he was one of God's soldiers. Mephisto's face contorted in an irritated grimace and the demon started to pick on the nails of his left hand.
“You need a vacation, you know?”
“Can’t afford one.”
“You sure? ‘Cause by my humble calculations, killing pays very well and you’re not spending more than it takes to eat every now and then. You’re certainly not enjoying the finer things in life—just look around at the dump you call home.”
“I'm not rolling in cash.”
“You’re not the Little Match Girl either. You like killing more than you care to admit.”
“Take that back!”
“And if I don’t?” The ex-archangel was about to strike him but changed his mind last second. “Lovely! Am I just too precious and you can’t bring yourself to hurt me, or am I not even worth the effort? You know, l liked you better when you were one of His. I liked you even better when you were angry and disobedient. You were power and might personified, my friend. And look at you now—weak, tired, feeling sorry for yourself and to top it all—unable to die. And this place, this place puts the Purgatory to shame. You know, we had to get very creative as of late—humans are difficult to impress nowadays. After they turned God's greatest of creations into a swamp.” he grabbed the other by the coat and gave him a firm shake.” So don’t try to pass your impotent anger for a character!”
Ralph refused to struggle. He could probably free himself from the other's hold but ultimately it wasn’t worth it—Mephisto would grow tired of the interaction and let him go without a fuss. And throwing punches with a demon is not a pastime he enjoyed anymore. He may not have been able to die, but getting hurt, that happened on somewhat regular bases and he quickly learned to avoid pain where he could.
“Hells, you’re pathetic!” Mephisto sent him hurtling toward one of the walls. He dusted himself and sat back in the couch. Ralph got up slowly, his bruised bones protesting the movement. So much for avoiding pain today. The demon threw a disgruntled look his way. "I think I'm going to take some time off.”
“Splendid idea, enjoy yourself. Now goodbye, off you go.”
“You’re coming with me.”
“When Hell freezes over.” Ralph considered the matter closed. His body decided to remind him that food, warmth, and sleep were all marvelous indulgences and had to be addressed immediately.
“Did that sound like I was giving you a choice? Because I wasn’t. We are going on a trip around the wretched smelly place you are currently calling home.”
“Nope, not happening. I may have been an archangel for a time and we do have the reputation for aimless wandering above the everyday struggles of human existence, but even I have heard the story. Faust was not impressed in the end.”
“Stop being melodramatic. Have I asked for an immortal soul or for you to cut a finger and sign on the bottom of a contract full with legalese? I feel sorry for you, watching you literally breaks my heart. And lacking a worthy adversary sucks really bad—you were the one paying me the most attention back in the day. Your brethren have the personality of a nutcracker with broken level.”
“I’m not even going to pretend to understand the last part.”
“It’s boring out there!”
“Stop whining, what’s in it for you.”
“To make, you see, if there is a heart in your chest—to make it race and beat for once. I’m noble like that.”
“And you are not even choking on your good intentions, remarkable!”
“And sarcasm does not suit you one bit. Honestly, was it worth it? You only knew her for about a week some two centuries ago. Why keep torturing yourself over someone with the lifespan of a butterfly?”
Ralph sat down heavily, cradling his head in his palms.
“It’s my fault that she is dead. If it wasn’t for me interfering, loving her, God would have spared her.”
“Spared her, really? Was she sinning in some way? Did she deserve punishment so to be spared afterward? No, she had nothing to do with all of this, and He still saw fit to snuff her life like it was nothing. He refused you the chance to save her, He refused you the chance to repent, He exiled you here to suffer ‘till kingdom come, alone and you still bow before His authority and seek a way to redeem yourself for something He did to you!”
“There has to be a reason, a lesson to be learned. I defied Him and He saw to my punishment. He is not purposely cruel. Something I’m too blind to see!”
“What lesson, Raphael?!” The demon started to get exasperated. "How to suffer to the fullest of extremes, maybe? Any human father, who would inflict the same pain and suffering, the same isolation and neglect to their child as He is showing to you, any human father would be condemned as a monster, as a sadist, as unfit to raise children. Why does He get a free pass? Did he or did he not give us a free will and the minds to choose who we are and what to be?!”
“He gave it to the mortals, not to us.”
“Oh, so what am I? What are all my brethren? A glitch, a faulty batch of cookies? If the humans were made in His image, so were we! If that is His image then Father is not all that great anyway. Samael rebelled because he had free will that enabled him to do it. If the Almighty wanted obedient servants and unquestionable loyalty even in the face of the things that are wrong, he would have been better off with mindless slaves. So His bad.”
“See if I care! What more can He do to me? I already got the kick in the ass on my way out.”
“You deserved it...”
“For love? Because I saw, loved, and knew (in every sense you hypocrites place in the word) a mortal woman? That is my unforgivable sin the otherwise gracious Father could not get over? Wasn’t he love Himself, or did I get the scriptures wrong?”
“You ruined her!”
“How? By showing her that she was beautiful, by teaching her how to be herself, how to blossom in her beauty, in her perfection? Why make her a perfection incarnated if He would later condemn her for it?”
“They are not perfect, they could not be after the Original sin. You awoke the evil inside her.”
“Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, my friend. And why do we keep punishing them because someone, eons ago, took a bite of a stinking good for nothing apple? Why punish the newborns, burdening them from their very first second to their last breath?”
“They disobeyed Him!”
“Like He did not expect it. Replace the apple with a banana or a lemon and that would have been the most desired fruit. Forbidding them something automatically gives birth to temptation. Every parent of a toddler knows this. Even children know it. How could he be surprised that they acted in accordance with their nature, with how he created them?”
“There is always...”
“… A reason for everything. You are starting to repeat yourself and it’s grating on my nerves a bit. So let's apply a wonderful thing called logic. It’s a human invention, so you may not be familiar with it but I will use small words so try to keep up.”
Ralph was getting tired of the back and forth, his ribs were hurting from the slam in the wall, and his stomach decided to remind him again that his last nourishment intake was some time ago. What was the demon after anyways,—that they could wax poetic about the old days back in Heaven, or the Fall, or the other hundreds and thousands of things they do not agree on? That changes nothing and frankly he was running out of patience and worse, counter arguments. And the demon was still talking:
“So you create a perfect system. Let’s call it Paradise.”
“Bear with me, you will see my point. So perfect system runs smoothly, no problems, looks after itself. So after a while just sitting there watching it do its thing becomes kinda boring, you know? It’s perfect, nothing changes, nothing to improve... So if you want to make things more interesting you have to break it a little, or not break it exactly, more to… introduce a problem. Now that is interesting, it’s exciting, waiting to see how it plays out. But He is supposed to be omniscient and omnipresent, so if you really think about it, He knew from the start how the pieces are going to fall in the end. Ultimately He got bored and decided to set them in the perfect conditions, so he could then send them to Earth and leave them to their own devices for His entertainment. ”
“That is not why...”
“But that is how they all see it, my naive friend. Because of the damn rotten apple they are born, raised, live and die in suffering. Because of it, men are constantly killing each other. And don’t even get me started on all the religious wars they orchestrated. Hilarious, all of them, thinking there is only one way to worship or that they even have to. And the women, they have their work cut out for them, they get treated like animals or property, abused, persecuted… things I would not have problems with if that did not give them the push to start dabbling with the energies and label it 'magic'. Whoever gave them our names made my existence personally very difficult. They are constantly waving spells, mucking up summons, creating proto deities and faith has power, could even influence time itself.”
“You getting to the part where I care anytime soon, or should I see if there is something to eat while you are giving the lecture?”
“You should start caring ‘cause you have been stepping on my toes for some time. Some of the scum you have been taking out were useful in their ways. I’m not happy to be constantly searching for new muscle, but more importantly—Satan is not happy about it. So he starts dipping me in sulfur more than usual, I come to annoy you.”
“So he is pissing gas and kicking up a fuss, seems like you have a problem, and I still don’t see why should I give a damn!”
“Oh, what a language! And the boss is pissing gas by design comes with the territory. No, you should start caring because I’m this close to just dragging you back with me. And before you try to be smart, I know you are technically alive and can’t die, but so was Orpheus. And you won’t like the place I have in mind for you. So back to my original point, I was trying to make some half an hour ago—you are coming with me, think of it like a free ‘round the world trip.”
“There is no such thing like free lunch.”
“Lunch, what lunch? I’m offering a cruise, baby, and you are coming, and you are going to talk, and you are going to listen, and you are going to see and if all goes to plan—understand that there are more than a few cracks in the perfect picture you prefer to imagine is out there. Now, I can see you need to sleep on it, I’ll drop by again tomorrow.”
The story is not a call for extremism. I do not need to be saved, or baptized, or shown the only right path. Nor do I aim to offend someone else's beliefs. This is just how I feel about the funny twisted state of modern religion and faith.