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"Happy Birthday to Hell" by Dave Louapre

An angry young man has very little chance in the confines of Heaven.

Hi, my name is Wally, but you probably know me better as Satan, Beelzebub, the Prince of Darkness, or the Devil. I could go on all day. I don't know why those names stuck. I guess it's just one of those things, like when you're young and somebody calls you "stinky." The name stays with you forever. Actually, I don't mind most of the monikers, but the one I could live without is Lucifer. I'm not sure who thought that one up--one of the seraphim, I think--but someone yelled it when they kicked me out of the Pearly Gates, and the name stuck. Lucifer. Yech! What the heck is a Lucifer? Why not Gabriel? Now there's a name. Gabriel! But that was taken, so I got Lucifer, Lord of the Flies. I'll tell you, there are some sick people in Heaven. Anyway, my real name is Wally and I live in Hell.

To set the record straight, I wasn't asked to leave Paradise for trying to take over. The truth is, they said I was a bad example. You see, I never wore socks, and there's a rule up there that says you have to. I hate socks. The elastic never lasts, and they always end up around your ankles, or they rip at the big toe. I like tube socks, but you just can't get them. There are no tube socks in Heaven. Also, there's a rule that says you have to use a coaster when you set your drink down, because the furniture in Paradise marks pretty easily, but I never did. There never seemed to be any around when I needed one. And it had to be a "regulation" coaster too, not just a stray magazine.

I'm not saying Heaven was a bad place. On the contrary. In fact, it was quite nice. Almost too nice. You must understand that I lived there from the beginning, being one of the first things created and all, and over the years of eternity, a lot of things got on my nerves. Little things. Stupid things. Like the static electricity. Heaven is full of it. It's one problem nobody, not even Him, can remedy. It's terrible; all those little shocks, hair standing on end, your robe clinging to your legs.

And the halos! Hundreds of saints walking around with these luminescent globes of ethereal light circling their heads. Sure, they look impressive, but they also attract bugs like a magnet. It's embarassing. One of them will take the time to stop and chat, and right in the middle of some great story about a miracle, or a stoning or something, ZAP! A fat bug flies right into his head and sizzles to a holy crisp. Warm nights are sheer torture for saints. No one will go near them, and when it's really bad, they'll bury their heads in the dirt. All of these very nice people, who just happen to have halos, jamming their heads in the ground so the bugs won't mat in their hair.

And it's true that the streets are paved with gold, but there are lots of potholes, and it takes forever to get them replaced.

The main reason I wasn't very popular, though, was because I wouldn't fly. I just didn't care for it. I only put my wings on once, then took them off for good. Those paintings you see of me with wings--what a joke! I drove a four door, aquamarine Laguna convertible with white vinyl apholstery and electric windows all around. The last car in Paradise. Yes, they were created sometime between the fourth and sixth days, but only for use in Heaven. I thought it was a great idea, everyone in Heaven driving Laguna convertibles.

But it turned out to be the biggest flop He'd ever created, because shortly afterwards, someone thought up wings, and the rest, of course, is history. Well, I liked mine, and kept it when everyone else traded theirs in.

I'd cruise through the heart of Paradise, out into the deserts of Heaven, just to escape the incessant singing. Quiet. Pure, honest peace and quiet. On one of those jaunts, long ago, I drove further than ever before, out past the point where the gold roads turned into sand. And it was there that I found the angel bones. I was staring off into the pit of the universe, watching the twinkling stars glow in the blackness like aching suns when that blessed fossil caught my eye. At first, I thought it was alive, the way the rolling mist bobbed along its back. But it was not alive, and lay there, wholly intact like some gutted umbrella, staring past me. I'd never considered a dead thing in Heaven, much less seen one, and it occurred to me that someone was here before. Someone who stood on the same empty spot and looked to the dying stars. Someone who felt strangled by the loving arms of Heaven, who found a flaw in the fabric of eternity when they realized there was no alternative to Paradise. Someone with no place to go. I drove away feeling I'd witnessed something I shouldn't have. A fragmented mistake, not for me to touch. And when I returned, they told me to get out.

The real reason I was kicked out, or "dismissed," as they put it, was because I proposed forming a Heavenly Coalescence, which would disassemble the existing hierarchy and make everyone equal, with the exception of Him, who I suggested be president of the whole thing. I saw no reason why the saints should be any more privileged than the angels, or the seraphim more respected than the cherubs. Hey, I'm not particularly fond of cherubs. They're ugly, bothersome, noisy, and emit a pungent aroma that I won't even go into here. But that's no reason they should be any lower on the scale. I thought we were all created as equals.

Well, I guess He didn't like the idea, because word has it the order to boot me came directly from Him, with no preliminary committee discussion. All I did was pass out a few crummy fliers. Next thing I know, I'm looking for a new place. And I really don't think He considered just how difficult it would be to get rid of me, because at that time, there was no place else. There was just Heaven. Period. So He had to sit down and make up another place. He must have been ticked off about it too, for of all the things he could have come up with in all the time of eternity, He ended up creating a little number He called "Hell," and I was the inaugural tenant.

All things considered, it wasn't so bad at first. I have the impression He just needed to set an example, but that He still felt a certain amount of pity, and even respect towards me. After all, if you think about it, He's theoretically my Dad. Apart from the obvious lack of splendor, Hell wasn't that much different from Heaven. And being the only inhabitant, the tranquility was nothing short of bliss.

The only real "punishing" aspect of the whole ordeal was the way He messed me up physically. Horns, hair all over, a tail, cloven hooves...Cloven Hooves! Where did He get that from? Do you have any idea how difficult it is to walk with cloven hooves? It's like trying to eat while you're crying. What's worse, try finding shoes that fit. You can't. You know why? Because they don't exist! The first thing He created for me when I got here was a shopping mall, with nothing but shoe stores. And guess what! Not a single one of them sold shoes for hooves. I stopped trying after a week. Shoe stores and organ music. I found out quickly He has a vicious sense of humor. He still sends me checks every week for $57.00, and doesn't sign them.

He gave me a telephone directory, and the only name in it was mine, like I'm going to call myself. I don't even have a phone. Once, He sent me a pair of wooden clogs. I can't shake the feeling that He really enjoys messing with my mind.

Still, I could tell He looked after me in a strange sort of way. I had lots of time to kill, just like in Heaven, and one day He made a bowling alley. "Damnation Lanes," He called it. It wasn't in the best condition--the ashtrays were all full, the electric scorers didn't work right, and of course, the shoes didn't fit. But there was never any waiting for a lane, and it came with one of those little machines that sold salted cashews. I absolutely love salted cashews.

I was really getting used to things here, even beginning to like it. Then the riff-raff showed up. The earth had been created by this time, and the first sinners started straggling in. Initially, I was glad to have some company, and I threw a little "get acquainted" mixer to kind of break the ice, as it were. Talk about awkward! Nobody spoke for the first two hours and when they finally did, it was only to complain. "Don't you have any ice?" "Where are all the women?" "Isn't there anything else to eat but that cheese log?" About all they had in common with one another was murder, thievery, adultery, body odor, and the fact that they all arrived wearing leisure suits. He can be very droll at times. But I gave it my best shot.

Since we'd be together for some time, I suggested charades. Unfortunately, movies hadn't been invented yet, and the only book any of them knew of was the Bible, which everyone guessed straight off. None of us remembered any jokes, so I gave the "name game" a whirl, using the title they all knew me by: "Satan, Satan Bo Batan, Banana Fana Fo Fatan, Mee Mi Mo Matan, Satan!" Nothing. They all stared at me, and no one else took a turn. It was embarrassing. When they started throwing the peanuts around and molding the cheese log into questionable shapes, I lost my temper and broke up the party. You give sinners an inch, and they take a mile. I mean, you can't just go to Hell and throw the peanuts.

The next day more of them showed up, and still more the day after. Hell was being overrun by sinners. There was nothing I could do to stop it. And the more that came, the more things got broken. Like the central heating system. They tore it up like animals. Nothing but flames and sweat now, and not one fully qualified repairman in the bunch. The bowling alley is in shambles, too. Not only have they smashed the reset gates, but they've stolen all the shoes. I walk around the place and everyone's wearing bowling shoes. I aske where they got them, and they smirk and say they had them on when they arrived. I know darned well where they got them from, but what can I do, arrest them? I don't mean to harp, but I didn't ask for any of this. The angels might have been a little dull, but at least they had manners.

And that's really about all there is to tell. The place is swarming with conniving little vandals now, and I'm the babysitter of doom. What still gets me, though, are all the myths--that I'm the evil tempter, that I possess the weak of faith, that idle hands are my workshop...Personally, I kind of like the "Devil's Triangle" thing. Somebody went to a lot of trouble to sell that one. But like I say, they're just myths. Do you really think I want to tempt more souls to live down here? It's bad enough as it is. Last week one of them got ahold of some wicker--another in an unending stream of His hilarious jokes, no doubt--and now the place is covered with fanback chairs, tacky planters, end tables, and chests. And now they're getting into macrame. You think I want more?

Actually, there is some truth to the possession thing. I did possess a Lithuanian woman once. I admit it. I was drunk, and someone double-dared me to. I went through the "speaking in tongues" bit because it seemed cute at the time, and the levitation thing was just plain showing off. But that was it. I had nothing to do with any kind of vomit. I mean, it's disgusting! The entire episode lasted maybe fifteen minutes, and now, centuries later, I still suffer for it because of all the sick copycats. The whole thing was an innocent joke. I guess you had to be there.

I found out recently that one of the cherubs in Heaven has written a "tell-all" book about me, with photos and everything. I gave him a ride once, way back when. We talked for maybe five minutes, tops. I let him out and we never saw each other again. Now he's talking like he's known me from the start. From what I hear, the book is sleazy, and it's doing quite well. Of course it upsets me, but what can I do? I'm used to it, but now and then I still wonder, why me? I'm not such a bad guy. I was only trying to help. I sometimes wish He'd just start from scratch and make everyone "good." Then I think, maybe we really are all good and just don't know it, because free will likes to push our faces in the mud so we can't see straight.

All I know is, I didn't ask to be the Devil. I just wanted to be Wally. Wally the cruiser. Wally mellow guy. But they made me into something called Beelzebub. Nice name, huh?

But like I said before, He probably just wanted to set an example, and I was it. "Good" and "evil" are both four letter words, and to this day I've not met a sinner or a saint who can define one of them without mentioning the other. I think He knows this too, and looks on me more as a necessary function, rather than the embodiment of all things bad. In fact, shortly after Hell's population topped one billion, what's He do but send me my Laguna. It was the happiest day I've known here. The lighter was broken and the electric windows didn't work, but He filled the tank up, had it washed, and put a little plastic statue of Himself on the dash, for that added touch of class. He even left a pack of salted cashews in the glove compartment.

Now when things get out of hand, I take off for the furthest reaches of the smouldering wastelands, that darkened stretch the sinners still haven't found. Out here, the stars ache with just as much quiet desperation as in Heaven, pulsing silently overhead as I search the horizon. For this is a place of fallen angels and benevolent misfits. They plummet from above, the bile of Paradise, twirling like spastic saints who've lost the equilibrium of grace. They crash at my feet and break. They are vulnerable and confused, not yet aware that they are damned. I gather them in, fix their hair, straighten their robes and try to make them feel comfortably at home. Because in Heaven or in Hell, or in any lonely place that's been forgotten in between, the only thing that seems to matter is feeling wanted, like you belong.