Phil Conners walked down a street not too far from his house. He was on his way to lose yet another evening at his favorite pub. As he turned a corner a pigeon crossed his path. The bird stood looking up at Phil, or more specifically the pretzel Phil was carrying. "Damn birds," muttered Phil. The middle aged man looked at the bird. "You want this? Huh? Take it!" he said as he dropped the pretzel to the ground. The pigeon shot one look at Phil, then moved in on the discarded food. Cooing triumphantly the bird stood perched atop it's prize. With a bark of laughter, Phil kicked out at the bird. The startled pigeon was knocked back by the blow. Flapping it's wings madly, he started to take to the air. Then the foolish bird decided it wasn't ready to give up it's meal quite yet. Landing on top of the pretzel, the pigeon tried to carry it away with him. The pretzel, however, weighed more than the bird, and the pigeon wasn't able to get off the ground. Phil smiled to himself as he, once again, kicked the pitiful creature. In a flurry of feathers , the disoriented bird rose up. Determined to get it's revenge, the pigeon crapped on the fallen pretzel, then flew off, lopsided, into the night. "About time you bloody birds learned a proper fear of man," Phil said, as he knelt down. The birds droppings oozed down the side, as he picked up the pretzel. Smiling to himself, he continued on his way. Phil was in a good mood tonight.
A blind man stood outside the bar as Phil walked up. "Begging your pardon sir, but have ye any change for an old man that life has frowned upon."
"Of course, you poor old soul," Phil responded. Reaching into his pocket, Phil drew out three pennies. The old blind man held a tin cup in his outstretched arm. Phil dropped the coins in, and they landed with a metallic clink. At the same time, Phil silently lifted the small wad of bills out of the cup and secured them in his pocket.
"Thank you much, sir," the elderly man said.
"Think nothing of it. In fact, you look hungry. I was about to give this pretzel to the birds, but it looks like you would benefit more from it."
The man accepted the offered pretzel. With a vacant stare inhis useless eyes, the man turned to face Phil. "And don't you worry, sir," he said in soft voice, "the lord always takes notice of such actions. When your time comes I'm sure this action will be remembered."
Inside the bar Phil got completely smashed, and spent the evening harassing the comely waitress. Rising to leave, he emptied the bowl of complimentary nuts into his pocket. "G'night lass. You sure you dint wan a join mee." A dark look was the only response given by the serving girl.
In the wee hours of the morning, Phil stumbled out of the bar, and began his walk home. Turning down an alleyway he often used a grisly sight lay before the drunk man's eyes. A man laid face down in a pool of blood on the narrow cobblestone road. A knife stuck out of the dead man's back. Another man in dark clothing stood above him, a dangerous glint in his eyes. Seeing the sight, Phil threw back his head, in a bark of laughter. In a flash the man drew another blade and let it fly. Time seemed to slow as the blade spun closer and closer. The last thing Phil remembered was the cruel smile of his dark attacker.
"Actually," a thin voice spoke out from directly in front of him, "you were right the second time." As the voice spoke the world came into focus. Phil lay atop a large slab of rock in a dimly lit cave. Before him stood a dark red man with hoofed feet, pointed ears, and a thin beard. Slowly, Phil rose to his feet and stood face to face with the devil.
The devil stood with an impish grin on his face. His narrow eyes focused intently on Phil, while his right hand twirled his tail absently. Phil turned his attention away from the creepy little man, and studied what was to be his home for all eternity.
He could not see much. There were several rocks scattered around, similar to the one Phil stood atop. There was, however, no fire, at least not that Phil could see. There were also no fear inspiring monsters, mysterious torture devices, or pools of bubbling lava, although Phil could see small plumes of steam rising from somewhere. It took Phil a moment to notice the heat. It was just hot enough to make him slightly uncomfortable, though not hot enough to draw perspiration.
The devil stood watching Phil as he studied his surroundings. Finally, the Prince of Darkness grew impatient. "Well...." he spoke.
Phil turned to face him. After a moment, he said, "It's not what I expected."
"Oh jeez! Not you too! What is it? The fire? You want fire?"
"Well I thought maybe...."
"You thought," the devil shouted, "but you admit you've never actually been here before." Phil nodded. "Then how the hell would you know what it's supposed to look like?!"
"It's just I've always heard about the fire, or at least heat."
"Heat!" the devil snarled, "I'll have you know it's nearly eighty five degrees down here!"
"But, I've always heard...."
"Do you have any idea how much it costs to keep it at four hundred degrees for all eternity!"
"Down here we get the same budget as Heaven, despite the fact that we get hundreds times the souls they get! Everyday we get another horde of wretched souls that we're supposed to cram in somewhere and torture for all time!"
"So I'm not going to be tortured?" Phil asked hopefully.
The devil grinned a wicked grin. "I didn't say that." As he spoke a pitchfork materialized in his hand. Centuries of use had worn away the points until they were dull and rounded. The devil prodded Phil with his worn down tool.
"Ow," Phil said, as the dull points hit him. "Cut that out."
The devil only laughed as he poked Phil again. "Welcome to Hell!"
"Eternal home of minor annoyances," Phil muttered.
"I heard that." The Lord of Evil poked at the man again, and one of the fork's prongs broke off and fell to the ground. "Damnit! I'll be right back. The devil vanished in a cloud of smoke.
Phil sat down on the rock, and attempted to collect his scattered thoughts. After a moment the devil returned. The broken prong had been reattached with duct tape. "Now then," the devil said, "I don't believe we've been properly introduced. I am Lucifer, Prince of Darkness, and Lord of the Dead." The devil made a grand sweeping bow.
"I know. We know all about you Mr. Conners. Now if you'll follow me, I'll give you the tour."
The devil vanished again in a cloud of smoke. Phil was left with the scent of sulfur. "Come down, Mr. Conners," the devil's voice shouted from down below. Phil climbed down from the rock and found his dark host waiting at the bottom. Before him stood a large wooden door. Strange symbols were carved into it's stone frame. Large neon letters stood, unlit, above it, reading: WELCO E TO HE L. Two large torches stood to the side, which the devil lit with a book of matches.
"Very impressive," Phil murmured.
The devil shot him a dark look, then turned to the door. "Now behold as the gates of Hell open!" They waited a moment. Nothing happened. "I said: Behold as the gates of Hell open." The devil stamped his foot in frustration. "Not again! Hang on a second." The Prince of Darkness opened the large door. He had to put all his weight into it, but finally it creaked open.
A narrow hallway carved in stone lay before them. Smaller hallways led off to the right and left. "To the left will be your living quarters. They're completely filled right now, but don't worry, we're working on finding a place for you." Lucifer led Phil off to the right. Another door stood before them. "This is where the magic happens," the devil said. "Here you'll confront your worst fears, spend long hours doing manual labor, and be viciously attacked by beasts."
"You do have beasts then?"
"Well...." the devil hesitated, "Sort of. Back in the beginning we had real beasts. Cyclops', Minotaurs, and of course my loyal Cerberus. But as time went on, more and more souls came through, and the beasts grew older. Eventually, they all died, and we couldn't make room in the budget to replace them."
"I see," Phil said. "So then what do you have now?"
The Prince of Darkness looked sheepish. "Mosquitoes."
"Mosquitoes," Phil repeated, in disbelief.
The devil turned his attention back to the door. "Now let's see if this door knows how to open!" Obediently, the door opened, and Phil was forced to admit that much, at least, was impressive. Before them was a tangle of corridors, each leading to a different room. On the ground hundreds of pigeons trotted around.
"What's with all the birds?" Phil asked.
The devil shrugged, "They showed up a few years ago, and we haven't been able to get rid of them. They multiply like crazy." Lucifer led his latest tenant through the mass of pigeons, to a nearby room. The door opened and they walked in. The room was empty, save for a few birds. "Shoo! Go on get out of here," the devil scolded as he pushed them out the door.
Turning his attention back to Phil, the devil spoke. "Tell me Mr. Conners, do you have a fear of wolves?"
"No, not really."
The Lord of the Dead looked crestfallen. "Not even a little bit," he prodded.
"Well, maybe a bit when I was just a boy, but not...."
Lucifer cut him off, "So you have a crippling fear of wolves?"
What?" Phil asked, but the devil had disappeared.
A moment later the door opened, and the devil raced in wearing a wolf mask. "Raarrhh!" he shouted.
"Oh come on!" Phil said in response.
"This is just silly."
"What's silly?" asked the masked underlord, "I'm a wolf. I'm going to devour you."
You're not a wolf. You're the devil in a cheap wolf mask."
"I am not!"
"Oh come off it!" Phil exclaimed.
"I am a wolf, and I will eat you. Raarh!"
Phil shook his head. "This is just sad."
"It wasn't always like this," the devil sobbed. "Hell used to be a truly terrifying place. People just don't understand. We're doing the best we can under these circumstances."
"So far the most upsetting thing I've seen are the pigeons," Phil said dryly.
"You still haven't faced the mosquitoes," the devil said weakly, "and later you'll have to lift rocks. And we don't feed you either."
"Do people need to eat down here?"
"No," the devil admitted. "But never mind that now. You've given me an idea."
"I can't wait to see this," Phil muttered.
"Quiet slave!" the devil bellowed, as he poked Phil with his blunted pitchfork.
Lucifer discarded his wolf mask, and together they returned to the hall. No sooner had they stepped out, than Phil stepped into a gooey puddle of crap left by the pigeons. "Goddamn these birds!" he shouted.
"Quiet, you fool!" the devil hissed. "That's how they got here in the first place."
"Really? I didn't realize he took requests," Phil commented.
"Never mind that now. I've prepared something special just for you." Despite himself, Phil felt nervous as the devil led him through the twisting maze of corridors. At last, they came to a door. "Are you ready to face your own personal Hell?" Phil shrugged. "Here it is, Mr. Conners." Slowly, the door opened.
Phil groaned. There before him, in a large cavern-like room, stood easily a thousand pigeons. "Muwahahaha!" the devil laughed, "Now it's time to reap the rewards of your wicked actions!" Phil kicked out at the nearest bird, and it quickly took to the air. "Hey!" Lucifer shouted, "Don't kick the birds!" The devil poked at Phil with his pitchfork, and the broken prong came free of it's tape, and fell to the floor. "Damnit!" the devil shouted. Just then, the bird flying above crapped on the Prince of Darkness. The dropping landed with a splat on the devil's head, and oozed down his face. A moan was the devil's only reply.
"Welcome to Hell," Phil said dryly. Rage crossed the devil's face, and he looked like he was about to explode. Then, suddenly, the anger vanished, and a cruel smile formed as the devil looked at Phil.
"Here," he said, as he thrust the pitchfork into Phil's hands.
"I don't get it," said Phil, "What am I supposed to do with this?"
The devil looked positively giddy as he said, "Congratulations, Phil Conners. You're the new Lord of the Dead."
"Me!" Phil said, as shock spread across his face. "But I can't.... I mean, I don't know how...."
"Look!" the devil snarled, "Ever since you got here, you've done nothing but tell me how lousy I am at my job. Now it's you're turn.
"Besides, it really isn't that hard. Go greet the soul, take him to a room, and do your best to make him unhappy. It's as simple as that."
"But..." Phil began.
"Now, there should be a new soul waiting on the rock where you appeared. Go get him."
"But what about your job?" Phil pleaded.
"To Hell with it," the devil said, and vanished in a cloud of smoke.
"Evidently," Phil replied dryly.
"You're not what I expected."
"Welcome to Hell," Phil said, as much to himself as to the stranger.
The man sat up and looked around. "This is Hell?" he asked, "Where's all the fire?"
"Quiet, you," the new Prince of Darkness said, as he jabbed at the man with his pitchfork.
"Ow," the man said, as another prong broke off and fell to the floor.