As the last of the guests left the house, all of the costumes and theatrical make-up and manufactured props were taken with them. It left Ralphie with a feeling of relief, as he closed the front door, and leaned his back against it. “Thank the gods, Halloween is over.”
He rested that way, for a few moments, pressing himself against the door, and breathed in the atmosphere that was left. He was still dressed in his own outfit, that of Mephistopheles, one of the Lords of Hell. He had the house decorated as such, as well, with touches here and there: Red and orange strobe lights that mimicked flickering flames, reflective paper cut into shapes of fires and blazing conflagrations; various symbols and silhouettes of relatively minor torture hung on the walls, with back lighting, here and there; Candles (many of them electric, to cut down on the fire hazard) were about the room, and of course, at one end of the main living room, a very large old throne-like chair, borrowed from the local community Shakespeare Theatre, set upon what looked like black lava rock, for his Seat of Damnation.
It had been a successful party, and he’d had a very good time, as did all of the guests, but now, it was late. It was past midnight, and his favorite holiday was finally over. It was November first, and time to start the cleanup.
He looked at himself in the hall mirror, and admired his lean frame, covered in what looked tattoos mixed with freshly engraved fine-point brandings. The illusion was uncanny, as he looked along his body, and then at the pain-collar that was at his throat. It looked like little spines of black metal projecting fro a ring of little black metal beads orbiting his neck, as was the eye-level visor that shielded his eyes. It was a masterpiece of illusion and stage-craft. His long, auburn wig was both loose and braided in places, and his skin was augmented with a fragrant body cream that made it seem luminous, and sleek. And then the crowning achievement, the black horns that looked like they grew from his skull.
His hands and forearms were covered with black leather fingerless gloves that came up to almost his elbow, and he wore a leather skirt and black hoof-boots on his feet. “Damn, “ he said, with a soft, but tired grin. “I really crushed this.”
The fact was, he had one of the better elaborate costumes, which looked about as authentic as one could have without an actual mutation or supernatural parentage. He took in a deep breath and let it out, as he looked away. He surveyed the hallway, once more, and then the main room, and the dining room. It wasn’t the worst party he’d had for an after-mess. The chaos was at a minimum. People had mostly been responsible, and taken food plates and glasses to the trash (in the case of paper cups and plates) and other dishes were piled in or by the sink. Mostly.
“Tomorrow,“ he said, as he walked towards the stairwell choosing to ignore, for now, the minor calamity.
As he started to ascend the stairs, the clock struck 1am, and he felt a shiver or chill take him. He started to actually shake, like something had suddenly come upon him – a weakness, or pain. He groaned, and shook his head, “Oh man, I hope I’m not getting … sick.” He coughed and continued to trudge up the stairs, but as he reached the top level, something was quite different.
It was hot upstairs, and there was a smell of sulfur and smoke – an actual fire. He got concerned, and dizzy at the same time, as he lept up the final few stairs and looked wildly around the hallway, towards where the bedrooms were.
But to his dismay, after he took that final step onto the upper floor, the stairs behind him faded and he was standing in a chamber of black iron, pits of flame, and an iron throne at the far end of a vast chamber. Everything was lit with red light coming from the flaming cauldrons, pits of fire along the edges of the chamber walls, and various glowing demonic symbols carven into the walls and the support pillars that rose to the almost unseeable high ceiling.
He blinked, and reached up to rub his face, but the prosthetic was in the way. He tried to pull the visor off his eyes, but it wouldn’t come off! It was like it was actually grafted to his skin. “What the fuuuu…. What kind of spirit gum was that?” He felt his skin heat up, and the tattoos started to pulse and burn, and he cringed as the pain started to sear into his arms, chest and back, and then he gasped as the collar at his neck seemed to prick his skin like needles of iron they were. He reached up in panic, and gripped the horns, as well, and tried to pull them off. They should have easily come off, with a good tug, along with the red-mane wig. But the wig was now real hair, and the horns were rooted TO HIS SKULL. He shouted in dismay, and the fires around him shot up, as if in reaction to his unhappy expression. Not only that, but the very air behind him exploded into a pattern of flame.
A little man was walking across the vast chamber, his feet clacking on the smooth stone flooring of black basalt. As he approached, he gradually became more noticeable, as a human skeleton, in ruined finery – purple and black robes with a fur ruff collar, that was belted at the middle with a length of chain padlocked at the front. He seemed to be from some gothic version of hell from a few centuries ago. At least his body below the throat was skeletal. His face looked uncannily like Robert De Niro in his 50’s.
The little man stopped, and said, in a voice that was uncannily like De Niro’s, but far more raspy. “You bear the markings of the Lord of Hell, your grace. You have taken up the mantle for the next year.“
Ralphie looked at the little man, and blinked, the pain of the tattoo brandings was distracting but was slowly fading now. “Wha..what do you mean, I have ‘taken up the mantle? Who the Hell are you, and what .. what is all this? Did someone spike my drink?”
The little man sighed, and shook his head. “This is normal, your grace. Just about everyone that has come here, at least in the last 30 or 40 cycles, has a similar reaction. You see, you chose to mark yourself with those symbols. And although they might have seemed innocuous and cool, they are, in fact, a contract to become the next Lord of Hell for a One Year Period, starting November First, at 1am local time, until October 31st, the following year. “
“I did WHAT?!” The room boomed with an enormous voice that came from Ralphie’s throat, sounding like it came from far under the earth from a place of fire and doom. The little man cringed a little, but was otherwise unaffected. But flame shot up in the air again, and red lightning and flames danced behind Ralphie’s back and head.
An argument ensued – well sort of one sided argument – where Ralphie tried to question the little official, about every contingency as to why he couldn’t possibly be the ‘next Lord of Hell’. This was a nightmare, after all, right? But no matter what he said, the little man only replied, “I understand, but you are what you are, for the next year, My Lord.”
Ralphie looked on unbelieving, and he started pacing back-and-forth. De Niro waited patiently, before he finally held up by hand and said, “this is for you.”
He handed Ralphie a large tome that he’d been carrying, that was brass bound and full of pages made of a particularly strange textured vellum. Ralphie opened the tome, and saw lists of names, notations that seemed in code, until he concentrated on them, and then they resolved into names, dates, transgressions, crimes, misdemeanors, and options for punishment or pardon, purgatory, or “the works”. It seemed the book translated things so that the current Lord of Hell could understand things better. Very user friendly, Ralphie thought, though he was getting giddy, and wanted to go throw up in one of the flaming pits.
“I know it’s a lot to take in, My Lord, but you did sign your own skin with the contract. I’m afraid it’s binding for the full year.“ The little man looked mock-sympathetic, but Ralphie supposed it was hard for a man without a body and a face like that to be really genuinely empathetic at this point in his ‘life’.
It took a few minutes, and some cajoling by De Niro, but eventually Ralphie looked at the little ‘man’, and shook his head, in disbelief. “So, let me get this straight. I’m – I’m going to be sitting in judgements of crimes and souls to be punished, for the next 364 days? And you.. what was your name again?”
“Call me De Niro, Sir. I’m your chamberlain. I’ll carry out any wishes you have regarding the household, or in ordering the machinations of hell to do your bidding, if you don’t want to do the decrees yourself. And I advise you, as well, on Hell’s policies. You have great powers for the duration of your tenure, but there are rules. And these rules are rather inviolate. But don’t worry, Sir. They weren’t written by Lawyers. We torture Lawyers, here; We don’t employ them.“
“Huh,” Ralphie grunted, thinking that was a bit of irony. “Well, can’t I give this to someone else? “
“The only way you can get out of this position, Sir, is if you’re ousted by the Boss. And he’s on vacation. So, it’s just you. You’re stuck for now.”
“The Boss, huh? Who’s ‘the Boss?’ ” Ralphie wondered if it was supposed to the Supreme Being.
“It’s the Supreme Being, yes, Sir,” De Niro said, nodding. “But don’t worry, he left people in charge “Upstairs”. But I’m afraid you’re in charge here, downstairs.
Ralphie sighed, as he and the little skeleton man traversed the vast hall, and he marched up the dais to the throne of Iron, turned, and sat down. It was surprisingly comfortable. He ran his hands over the slick black iron arms of the chair, and looked around, and saw that he could see around the entirety of Hell, if he concentrated.
“I guess this means I’ll have to clean up my house a year from now?”
“No, Sire, I will send some imps to take care of that. It’ll be ‘fresh as a daisy’. And you can go home during the daytime hours, but after dark, you have to report here. But I’ll be advising you from the sidelines, so to speak.”
Ralphie still thought there was a chance this was some kind of brain fever or drug-induced trip, someone dropping acid in his Fresca. But if not, it wasn’t all bad.
“All right then, De Niro, “ he said, getting into the spirit of things. “Who do we torture first? Oh, I know.. Show me the file on someone in particular. I want to see the file on one Dehrynn Shepherd…”
Story by: Dehrynn Shepherd
Hair- Tableau Vivant \\ Sari & Charlotte (Store)
Eyeshadow- Zibska ~ Rie (Store)
CURELESS [+] Carved Cherry Blooms (Store)
Background lighting- E.V.E Roots of the Luminescence Tree Ultra Rare (Chp. 4)