You know back in November I said I was going to write a Short Story for TiddlyOmPomPom’s Personal Challenge? Well, it took longer than a month and ended up a bit longer than I expected – but here it is in all its first-draft glory.
The man slumped in the corner of the room blinked twice before squeezing his eyes shut again. It was bright and his head hurt. A lot.
“Mngrff.” He groaned as he sat up, swiftly followed by a miserable, “Ow.”
“Oh quit moaning, you’ve only been here ten minutes. Wait ‘til it’s been fifteen hours – then it’s time to complain. Trust me, I should know.”
The other voice clearly belonged to a girl. She was somewhere to his right and he got the distinct impression that she wasn’t in the best of moods. He tried opening his eyes again, squinting at his surroundings whilst he struggled into a sitting position.
“Um. Is this Limbo then? Or have I just been transferred again? The last place was darker. And hot.” He stretched out as best he could – his body felt like it had been beaten with a stick before being thrown into the corner like a sack of potatoes.
“Course it’s Limbo. And where was hot? Who are you anyway?” The girl had stood up and was now standing over him, scowling accusingly.
Still trying to focus properly he looked at his new roommate, starting at her delicate bare feet and moving up to take in her long legs, perfectly toned figure, dark hair and honey-coloured eyes. Her skin was pale and almost shimmered in the light, like a doll in a china shop.
“Oh,” he said. “Oh, damn.”
The girl cocked an eyebrow and waited.
“You’re an angel aren’t you?” he asked.
“Ten points to the idiot. Yes, I’m an angel – what’s the issue?”
“Er, well, I’m…” He paused and rubbed a hand across his jaw nervously. “Actually, I’m a demon.” He shuffled to his feet and held out his hand politely. “My name is Sadralsidon the Lesser. I am the son of Sadralsidon the Greater, fourth-cousin-three-times-removed of Lord Lucifer himself. But you can call me Sid if you’d prefer.”
The girl looked at his hand disdainfully before turning her back on him and stalking to the other side of the room and leaning against the wall.
“Sid? The first demon I ever meet and it’s called ‘Sid’. Typical.” She folded her arms across her chest and glared at the ceiling.
Sid sat back, deciding the angel wasn’t in the mood for chit-chat. In fact, the more he thought about it, the angel wasn’t in the least bit how he had imagined an angel would be. The traditional white robes of the angels had been carefully customised and tweaked into a tiny dress that left very little to the imagination and he found himself blushing slightly as he realised just how short her skirt was. She hadn’t exactly been gracious or angelic towards him either, even before she knew he was a demon from Lucifer’s line.
After about ten minutes Sid shifted awkwardly, he didn’t sit well with silence and there wasn’t anything to do in the small, square room other than sit and stare at the grey walls and ceiling.
“I didn’t catch your name,” he said finally – unable to hold his tongue any longer.
“I didn’t give it.” The angel turned her amber gaze back to him from the ceiling. “But if you must know, I am Chastity, daughter of Michael, Archangel and Prince of the Heavenly Host.”
Sid coughed. “Michael?”
Chastity did the eyebrow thing again and Sid felt the urge to cross his legs.
“The Michael who fought the dragon and cast him out, Michael? Or was there more than one?” Sid’s voice got hopeful towards the end.
“That’s the one. High and mighty Michael who isn’t above casting out his own daughter if she doesn’t conform to clothing regulations and fails her speech classes.” Chastity slid down the wall and neatly folded her legs beneath her, causing her skirt to ride a little further up her thighs. She didn’t seem to notice Sid swallowing and staring hard at the wall beside her head. “It’s not like I’ve ever really done anything wrong as such. Just not lived up to his stupid ideas of perfect – I’m an angel not a saint.”
Sid wasn’t entirely sure how to respond to that. Especially as he was fighting with the part of his mind that was willing Chastity’s skirt to ride a tiny bit higher and wasn’t sure he was capable of constructing a sentence that didn’t involve the word ‘legs’. Luckily he was saved the awkwardness by the room plunging into complete darkness which rather ruined the moment.
A disembodied voice echoed around them, shaking the floor with its richness. “Chastity, Daughter of Michael, rise and stand before me.”
One of the walls seemed to be glowing faintly and Sid was just able to make out Chastity getting to her feet and turning to face it.
“Sadralsidon the Lesser, Spawn of Hellfire, rise also.”
He did as he was bid. Moving to stand at Chastity’s side and squinting at the shimmering wall, trying to make out a figure of some sort in the light.
“You are both charged with failing your basic duties. Chastity, your behaviour falls beneath that which is expected of an angel. Sadralsidon, your behaviour is not that which is expected of a demon. You both must face and complete the challenges that will be laid out for you in this room in order to redeem yourselves and return home. Failure to make up for your previous actions will result in your being cast out to live upon the Earth – mortal and entirely human.”
The glow began to fade from the wall, returning them to darkness. Chastity shifted at his side – he felt her move forward towards the wall.
“Hey.” She sounded narked. “Hey! Is that it? The first thing anyone has said to me in days and that’s it? What do I do? Am I stuck with this idiot until it’s done or do we get separate challenges? ARE YOU LISTENING TO ME?!”
The light returned to the room to reveal two beds at either side which had not been there previously. Chastity was still muttering at the wall, kicking it occasionally and running her hands over it looking for some kind of door and hadn’t noticed the new furniture.
Sid wandered to the nearest bed; it was easily a king-size with a luxuriously soft bedspread emblazoned with a blood-red ‘S’ neatly covering it. He tentatively pressed his weight against the mattress and was pleased to discover it had just the right amount of give to ensure the perfect night’s sleep. It was a very long time since he had had a perfect night’s sleep.
“Gah! This is just the stupid sort of thing my father would dream up.” Chastity punched the wall one last time before turning away in disgust. She cradled her knuckles tenderly in her hand; they were already beginning to bruise. “Ow.”
Sid felt a bit sorry for her, and, in an attempt to cheer her up decided to direct her attention to the beds. “I don’t know what these challenges are going to be but at least they’re making sure we get a decent bit of rest before-hand. These beds are great.”
Chastity looked at the bed at Sid’s side, noticed the ‘S’ motif and looked around for her own. She snorted. “Ha. Clearly my sin is far worse than yours, Sid my lovely. You get a bed fit for a king and I get this.”
Sid finally looked at the second bed – it was a rough-looking object, carved from wood but not with much care or attention. The corners and edges were jagged and not sanded down and there was no mattress, just a threadbare sheet thrown loosely over the top of the solid base. A pale blue blanket, frayed and water-stained lay folded at the foot of the bed, clearly showing a large white ‘C’ embroidered in the centre.
“Oh,” he said. “Right.”
“Whatever, I’m tired and annoyed. A bed’s a bed.” Chastity picked up the thin blanket and spread it out.
Sid crossed the room and put an arm out to stop her getting in the bed, quickly retracting it and blushing furiously when he realised it was across her chest.
“Er, you can have my bed. I’ll take yours.”
She stepped back and looked at him, taking in his flushed cheeks, mussed mousey-looking hair and watery blue goat-slitted eyes. “What?”
“My bed. The big one. You have it.” Sid scuffed the floor with his shoe and studied Chastity’s slender feet. “I’m used to sleeping on hot coals and the like. This bed will be a relief, trust me.”
Chastity scowled. “That’s not fair.” She looked at Sid’s extravagant bed and thought for a moment. “We could share. There’s plenty of room in your bed – then no-one needs to be in the crap bed.”
Sid gaped at her, not sure whether he was more shocked by an angel saying ‘crap’ or suggesting that they share a bed.
“What? You afraid of having a cuddle?”
“For pities sake! It’s massive – we could both get in and be nowhere near each other. You could fit ten of us in there no problems. Least we’d be warm and not stuck sleeping on that log.” She cocked her eyebrow again and waited for Sid’s response.
It took two attempts to make his mouth work. His brain was still processing the idea of sharing a bed with 9 scantily clad angels and didn’t seem to be able to manage speech as well. “It’s fine,” he said shakily. “I like a firm mattress. You take the other bed. I insist.” He quickly kicked off his shoes and climbed into the single bed before she could argue further. “Go on.”
He shut his eyes and crossed his legs as he listened to Chastity slipping beneath the silky sheets at the other side of the room. This place was worse than Hell, at least he knew what he was supposed to be doing in Hell – even if he wasn’t very good at doing it.
The first thing Sid saw when he woke up in the morning was the writing on the wall:
SADRALSIDON – PASS 0, FAIL 1 (1/3 COMPLETED)
CHASTITY – PASS 0, FAIL 1 (1/3 COMPLETED)
The second thing he saw was Chastity, fast asleep and peaceful. Pale and beautiful. Angelic.
It wasn’t all a dream then. And how had he failed? Failed what? He shut his eyes again and tried to go back to sleep. He couldn’t possibly fail anything if he was asleep.
Then the bed vanished and he head butted the floor violently.
Chastity clearly had a softer landing – she was curled on the floor, tousled and confused looking. “What the…where?” She rubbed her eyes. “Oh yeah. Crap.”
“Again with the crap.” Sid dropped his head onto his arms. “I’m the demon. I’m supposed to do the cursing.”
“So why don’t you curse instead of sitting there looking all dejected and pathetic then?” Chastity stood, straightened her dress and began to comb her hair with her fingers. “I wonder what we did wrong last night then. Maybe we were meant to share after all.”
“I suspect that would have made me pass and you fail anyway.” He sighed and rolled his shoulders, wincing as they crunched loudly. “Now what do we do?”
“Wait for Challenge Number Two I guess. I don’t suppose you know how to plait hair, do you? It’s driving me mad being loose all the time.”
Sid shook his head, “Sorry.”
She shrugged. “Not to worry, I’ll teach you.”
And with that she settled herself on the floor in front of Sid, turning her back on him and scooting close enough for him to reach her hair.
Sid did his best, meticulously following her instructions and concentrating hard on making her hair lie flat and look neat. Desperately ignoring how close she was, how warm her skin was as his fingers brushed her neck, how his breath ruffled the fine hairs that had escaped his plait, how hard his heart was pounding in his chest. If this wasn’t one of the tests then he didn’t know what was. It was a torture far worse than anything he had ever been instructed to inflict in the rooms of Hell. Lust, it appeared, was a challenging thing to resist.
And Chastity seemed utterly oblivious to everything. Aside from bursting into giggles once when his fingers tickled her neck too much she simply sat there and guided him through the plait. Her innocence just made it worse.
As soon as he was done, Sid backed away, brushed down his jacket and avoided looking at Chastity at all.
“Hey, that’s not fair!”
Sid jumped at Chastity’s sudden outburst. “What isn’t?”
“You’ve had more challenges than me. You’re rubbish though – failed them both so far.” She pointed at the wall.
Sid looked and realised his line now read:
PASS 0, FAIL 2 (2/3 COMPLETED)
“Wonderful,” he growled.
“Oooh! Finally the demon gets grumpy.” Chastity grinned and ruffled his hair. “I was beginning to think you were making it up.”
Sid jerked away angrily and waved an arm at the wall. “What’s the point of all this challenge stuff anyway? Why not just punish us however is appropriate for our crimes and have done with it? It’s stupid. I’m a demon that refuses to torture people and you’re an angel that…that…doesn’t live up to her name. Or rather you do whilst implying that you don’t. Which is worse, by the way. Maybe they should just swap our places and give me wings and you a tail and have done with it. Maybe…WILL YOU GET OFF MY HAIR?!”
Chastity took a shocked step back. “I was just looking for your horns. I thought demons had horns.”
“We do, I’m just choosing not to show them.”
Chastity looked puzzled.
“If we looked all scary demon-y all the time it’d be less effective when we really wanted to scare people, wouldn’t it. Can’t do anything about our eyes but we can hide everything else.” Sid flattened his hair self-consciously. “I hide everything all the time. Never felt comfortable bearing all in front of people.”
Chastity leaned against the score board on the wall. “Show me.”
“I want to see.”
“Please, Sid?” She played with her plait, twisting the end of it around her finger as she begged him with her shimmering golden eyes. “I might never meet another demon – I just want to see what you look like underneath.”
“Nope. I won’t show people I’m meant to be torturing, why would I show you?”
“Because my Father told me I was never to set eyes upon a demon for I would be ‘consumed with lust’ and that I’d ‘fall from grace in such a way that could never be redeemed.’ So if you show me you’ll be getting one up on him which has got to score you some demon brownie points.” She grinned broadly. “I’d get one up on him too which would feel fantastic.”
Sid shook his head. “You are not what I expected of an angel.”
Chastity suddenly looked furious. “Oh don’t you start that as well. I can’t help it if I think saying ‘thee’ and ‘thy’ instead of ‘you’ and ‘your’ is stupid. I can’t help it if full length robes make me look fat and frumpy. I can’t help it if I’m curious and want to know things. It’s just who I am. Now show me your bloody horns!”
Sid narrowed his eyes. “Fine.”
For the first time in millennia, Sid dropped his guard. Relaxed completely. He sighed as he felt his cover-up fade away to reveal his burnt looking skin, pointed horns and skinny, arrow-tipped tail. The only thing that remained were his pale blue eyes, slitted like a goat’s and slightly nervous-looking.
Chastity stared. Then she started glowing and spread her wings out behind her, stretching them wide before folding them back up and letting them fade once more.
“You guys totally got the better deal. I want a tail.”
Sid slid back into his persona. Then adjusted himself so that his tail was still showing. “I didn’t think angels got jealous?”
“This one does.”
“Yeah,” said Sid, twitching his tail.
“Quit that,” she snapped. “Put it away.”
Sid grinned and faded his tail back into his persona, he found himself rather enjoying goading Chastity. It was the most demonic he had felt in a while. He pointed at the wall behind her. “You failed by the way.”
CHASTITY – PASS 0, FAIL 2 (2/3 COMPLETED)
“Wake, Sadralsidon. Stand beside the angel and hear me.”
Sid leapt to his feet almost before his eyes were open. He had been dozing in the corner and the booming voice had pulled him so swiftly from his slumber he was barely able to keep his balance. Chastity grabbed his arm and held him steady, muttering something sarcastic as she did so.
“You have been tested, both together and individually, and as of yet neither of you has passed a challenge. Demon, step forward.”
Sid stumbled toward the wall, not helped by Chastity digging him sharply in the side. “Um, yes?”
“You were provided with the opportunity to spend the night in luxury whilst the angel suffered an uncomfortable evening. Any demon worth his salt would have taken this chance and relished it, taunting and teasing. You, instead, chose to give up everything and take a more noble course. You resisted the quality of Greed and therefore you failed. Also, you were given a second chance to prove your demonic nature. You were presented with more than one opportunity to lure the angel with the quality of Lust. You could have had your way and left her defiled and graceless as demons are wont to do and yet you resisted. You resisted and therefore you failed. You are to be given one final chance, Sadralsidon, and then your judgement will be passed.”
Sid got the impression he was dismissed and mumbled an apology as he stepped backwards again.
“Angel. Come forth.”
Chastity stalked up to the glowing wall and stood, one hand on her hip and the other playing with the end of her plait. “What?”
“Chastity, when faced with an unexpected situation you responded not with meekness and humility, as you should have, but with anger and violence. You submitted to the sin of Wrath and bear the marks to prove it upon your skin.”
Chastity lowered her hand from her hair and inspected the bruising across her knuckles. “It’s coming up nicely, don’t you think?” She offered her hand to the wall. “Lovely shade of purple.”
“You have submitted to Wrath and therefore you failed. Also, you were placed in the face of temptation and gave in. Worse, you succumbed to the sin of Envy and revelled in the feelings of jealousy and bitterness instead of turning aside. Therefore you failed your second challenge.”
Chastity rolled her eyes. “It’s not my fault I happen to want a tail.”
“Hush, Chastity, Daughter of Michael. You will be given one final chance to redeem yourself before judgement will be passed.”
“Whatever.” Chastity turned and stormed away to the other side of the room.
“Both of you, take this final chance or else you will be cast out from your homes, never to return.”
Two identical squishy armchairs appeared in the room some time later, accompanied by a coffee table laden with enough cakes, sandwiches and hot drinks to feed a small army.
Hungry and uncomfortable, Sid took a sandwich and settled into the nearest chair, throwing the plump cushions aside in disgust. “You know they use those in Hell, right?” He took a mouthful of salmon and cucumber sandwich and continued, “There’s a room full of sofas with massive fluffy cushions on. Men get sent in there and forced to sit on the sofas without removing the cushions. It’s horrible to watch – I hated being Cushion Demon. I only lasted a week before I started moving cushions for people and got re-allocated.”
Chastity gave him a look as she piled her plate high and carefully folded herself into the second armchair, pulling a cushion onto her lap to use as a table.
There was silence a while as Chastity munched her way through her mountain of food. Sid was pouring himself a coffee when she got up to get some more.
“You’re hungry,” he commented, rescuing a cupcake before Chastity took the whole plate.
“It’d be rude to waste it.” She balanced 3 plates on her cushion and one-handedly tried to pour a cup of tea. “And there’s no-one here to tell me to stop.”
Sid took the teapot off her and waved for her to sit down whilst he poured.
Chastity took advantage of her now free hand to grab another plate of sandwiches before settling back into her chair and accepting her drink.
“Anyway,” she said round a mouthful of cheese and tomato, “Cushion Demon?! Please tell me you made that up.”
Sid was a little insulted by her tone. “No. There are lots of demon titles – it’s all down to which particular bit of Hell you are in and what job you’re doing. You get moved around a bit until you find your perfect job. I’m the best Loquacious Demon Hell has ever seen.”
Sid smugly waited for the question he knew would follow, sitting a bit straighter in his chair and allowing his tail and horns to show through his façade a little.
“Location Demon? What’s that when it’s at home – a demon holiday expert?” Chastity swallowed her mouthful. “Didn’t think you lot had holidays.”
“Loquacious, not Location. It means I got to sit and chat to people.” Sid puffed his chest out proudly. “For hour upon endless hour I talked at people about whatever I wanted and they had no choice but to listen and answer when I asked them questions. You know how it is at parties and events when you get stuck with the person who won’t shut up or go away and all you want is for the floor to swallow you up? I am that person and the floor is incredibly solid. I was the very best at making people squirm and feel awkward and they had no escape. It was bliss.”
Chastity cocked her eyebrow, a much less attractive expression when her mouth was full of cake. “You were in charge of talking people to death?”
“Yes. Well, no, technically they were already dead. I was in charge of making them wish they had no ears and that they had been a little better behaved in life. That sort of thing.” Sid couldn’t take his eyes off Chastity’s meal. “Are you going to eat all of that?”
“Probably not. Getting a bit bored of chocolate cupcakes now.” She carefully lowered the plate of cakes to the floor and neatly stacked her other, now empty, plates beside it. “Is there any more tea, oh Loquacious One?”
Sid refilled her teacup. “Do they not feed you in Heaven?”
“Only nectar and other such pure stuff. And you have to eat it graciously and gratefully – I’d rather have sandwiches and cake to be honest.” She paused to hiccup before looking quizzically at Sid. “If you were so brilliant at being the Loquacious Demon, what are you doing here?”
Sid slumped, “I, er, got lonely just doing all the talking myself and tried to set up a discussion group.”
“A discussion group? Really? Sid, that’s ridiculous. You didn’t actually think that would work, surely? No matter how fantastic you thought you were at your job, you couldn’t have thought a discussion group would take off in Hell.”
Sid sank further into his chair looking sheepish. “ I just thought I could, you know, run debates and stuff like that – get a bit of interaction going between everyone.”
Chastity looked unconvinced.
“People started enjoying themselves and that’s a bit looked down on. Being Hell and all.” Sid sounded as miserable as he felt at Chastity’s battering. The discussion group had been his pride and joy. “They said I was encouraging friendliness and cheerfulness. Didn’t think they’d actually kick me out for it though!”
Chasitity laughed mirthlessly. “I don’t see why not – my Dad kicked me out for showing too much leg and saying things like ‘shut up’ and ‘crap’. That’s just as lame a reason.”
The room plunged into blackness.
Sid and Chastity stood beside one another looking at the faintly glowing wall, now emblazoned with the following, foot high lettering:
SADRALSIDON – PASS 0, FAIL 3 (3/3 COMPLETED)
CHASTITY – PASS 0, FAIL 3 (3/3 COMPLETED)
“I don’t think we did very well there,” said Sid softly, trying to break the silence.
“CHASTITY!” The now-familiar voice boomed out. “You gave in to Gluttony. Sadralsidon, you failed to be strong in your Pride. You were both given ample opportunity to prove yourselves and you have both failed. You will now receive your punishment. There will be no appeal.”
The darkness lifted and Sid found himself still standing beside Chastity but no longer in their Limbo prison. There was grass beneath their feet and they both jumped when a bus thundered past on the road nearby. They watched a woman hurry by on the pavement, casting them a strange glance as she went.
Chastity turned to him and held out her hand. “You coming?”
He paused then took her hand in his and stepped forward beside her.
They walked. Neither of them looked back. Both of them smiled.
Copyright Carole Holland 2012