By Rommel A. Santos
Harry Samonte is a demon from Hell given the form of man to run the Company’s Ermita office. The life he leads these days is a huge improvement from his former one. He used to lead a squad of demons that guarded and maintained a section of Hell’s Lake of Fire. The job did not really demand much from a demon: just prevent anyone from coming ashore, think of ways to further torment the damned, and occasionally piss on them when they ask for water.
These days, his job is to make sure that this office runs smoothly and all the transactions and deals made here earn the Company a tidy profit.
He does all these while ensconced in an air-conditioned office and seated in a soft, comfortable and ergonomically correct chair. The office is indeed a far cry from the hot, fetid place he came from.
He was reading an e-mail bulletin from the Company’s regional headquarters in Makati when the intercom buzzed and his secretary announced the arrival of his 2 P.M. appointment. He normally doesn’t meet with potential clients– that job was for the frontline salespeople like Ted or Alan or Gwen. But he made an exception with Mr. Danilo Escobar as he contacted Harry directly. The man was formerly a governor of a province in the Visayas and it didn’t matter that he no longer held the gubernatorial office; to Harry, even ex-politician equals rich. One look at the man’s dossier and Harry saw a nice commission thrown his way if he could persuade the man to buy a really expensive plan. Money was no concern when he was in Hell, but here in man’s world, the life you live depends on the cash you have. And he really loved life in Man’s world.
Harry took out a small mirror from a desk drawer and checked himself out, running his tongue through his teeth to make sure that no errant piece of vegetable or meat or rice from lunch had escaped his toothbrush. That you should always look good before a client–or prospective client in Mr. Escobar’s case–was one of the very first things he learned when he accepted this posting in the Company.
“Let him in,” he said to the intercom after one last look in the mirror. He spared a look at the files and papers on his table and was satisfied that it looked neatly disorganized in a busy way.
The door opened and Mr. Escobar was ushered in. He was an old man of at least seventy years with a full head of hair now gone white and he sported a neatly-trimmed moustache. He was clad in a blue-checked polo shirt, gray slacks and brown loafers. A black leather clutch bag was tucked in one armpit.
Harry rose from his chair, put on his best smile and offered his hand. “Governor Escobar, good afternoon,” he said. “I’m Harry Samonte.”
“Good afternoon,” Mr. Escobar said. The older man shook Harry’s hand but did not returned the smile.
Harry gestured to him to take a seat at one of the chairs facing his table.
“I want to send someone to Hell,” Mr. Escobar said, taking a seat, “and Rey Cruz referred your services to me.”
“Ah, yes,” Harry said. “Mr. Cruz. He was one of our earliest clients. Bought plans for a bulk of beneficiaries at one time. How’s the good congressman these days?”
“Dying slowly of cancer. But the son of a bitch’s still raising hell at the lower house,” Mr. Escobar said.
“I’m sorry to hear that. I wasn’t assigned here yet when Mr. Cruz bought the plans, but I heard he was a good client,” said Harry.
He was tempted to add that when the congressman’s hellraising days at the House of Representatives was over and he died of cancer, a spot in Hell was waiting for him. Mr. Escobar had name-dropped Rey Cruz when he first called Harry two days ago. It was Roma, the original manager of the Ermita office, who closed the deals with Mr. Cruz. Ever-diligent and hoping to make small talk about the ex-governor’s friend, Harry looked up all pertinent files regarding Representative Cruz and discovered that someone had bought a plan for him. After the congressman died, his soul would be transported to Hell, specifically to a section of the Buddhist Hell called Salghata or the Crushing Naraka.
In Hell, Cruz’s soul would be made corporeal and thrown into Salghata. Unfortunately, the ground of the Crushing Naraka is made of hot iron and surrounded by huge masses of rocks. These rocks smash together, crushing the souls into jelly. After a time, the rocks come apart and ‘life’ is restored to the souls. And then the rocks smash together again.
“Anyway, Governor, would you like something to drink? Coffee, tea… scotch, perhaps?” Harry said.
“Just water. With ice,” said Mr. Escobar.
Harry pressed the ‘talk’ button on the intercom and said, “Lyla, two bottles of mineral water, please. And ice.”
“Right away, sir,” Lyla’s electronically-filtered voice said.
Harry then took out a glossy magazine– the Company’s catalogue– from one of his desk’s drawers and slid it across the table to Mr. Escobar. The old man leaned forward, picked it up and looked at it. Its unadorned cover was a plain shiny red. Mr. Escobar turned the cover and started leafing through it.
“You know,” the old man began, not taking his eyes off the magazine, “I thought Rey was bullshitting me when he told me what you guys did for him.” He paused, turned a page, then another, and continued, “And looking through this magazine of yours, I’m tempted to believe. But how can I be sure what’s in here is real and not some product of computer-generated trick photography?”
Harry sat straight, his fingers steepled on the table. “Trust me. Hell is real,” he said. “I should know.”
The old man across him slowly lifted his eyes off the page and looked at Harry.
“You’re not suggesting–,” Mr. Escobar started, but broke off when the office door opened and Lyla entered, carrying a tray containing two ice-filled glasses and two bottles of mineral water. She set the tray down on a side table near Mr. Escobar, uncapped the bottles in turn and poured, the ice clinking against each other. She handed one glass to Mr. Escobar who promptly drank half of its contents. The other glass she handed to Harry who took a sip and set it on his table.
“Thank you, Lyla,” Harry said. Lyla replied with a nod and a smile to each of the men and padded out the office. Harry’s eyes followed her until she closed the door. He turned back to Mr. Escobar who was still looking intently at him, searching for even the minutest detail that would betray his human form. The old man momentarily looked away as he put his half-empty glass on the side table.
Harry took out a disc, stood up and walked to the large TV and DVD player set up on a table across the room. Mr. Escobar swiveled around in his chair, tracking him.
“Yes, I’m from there, Mr. Escobar,” he said. “And no you can’t see my true form. As far as anyone’s concerned, I’m human”
“Bullshit. I’ll believe you when I see the real you,” said Mr. Escobar.
“You can if you want to. But within twenty-four hours, you’ll be in a straitjacket and staring at a wall in a pavilion in Mandaluyong,” Harry said. “And I really don’t want to lose a prospective client.”
And there were already enough recent patients institutionalized at the National Center for Mental Health for seeing demons, he thought. Most were prospective clients who disbelieved what they were told and insisted that the salesmen prove their claims. The humans’ minds broke when the man they were talking to transformed into something else, something their minds could not grasp. Some of the Center’s recent patients were the “sensitive ones,” the ones who could see through the masquerade put on by Hell’s denizens. Many of them were dragged kicking and screaming to an ambulance while screaming that “demons are all around us.”
He turned on the TV and DVD player and inserted the disc.
“Supposing you are what you say you are, are you him?” Mr. Escobar asked.
Harry looked back, smiled, and said, “No, Mr. Escobar. I’m just a middle-management demon trying to earn a living.”
He picked up the DVD player’s remote control and strode back to his chair.
“Now, sir, watch so you can be further convinced. This is just a small sampling of what we have to offer. And maybe after, we can talk about my commission,” Harry said then pressed ‘play’ on the remote.
Color test bars fill the TV screen, fades to black. Then white noise. But instead of the buzz that accompanies white noise, the wind’s howl issue from the TV set’s speakers. The image refocuses then coheres: a blizzard hammering a frozen landscape, a dozen figures trudging across the icy wasteland. The camera pushes in; the figures become more distinct, naked men and women with red streaks all over their body.
The camera follows the straggler of the group, struggling to get up after the wind has knocked him down. The crimson streaks on his body are wider, redder, and more fluid. He is on his knees when another wind slams into him. He clutches his right arm, just above the elbow. The camera zooms in: the wind has sheared the skin off his upper arm, revealing his muscles to the bitter chill. Thousands of bleeding cuts line his body, and more appear every time a gust hits him.
He gets up, staggers, eyes searching for his companions. He walks a few steps and then a gale-force wind hits him, throwing him a few meters forward. The camera follows him to where he lands. This time, the wind has removed most of the muscle, bone showing through. More bloody lines appear on his torso. The man tries to raise his arm, cries out in pain–the shout stolen by the wind’s howl. The man struggles to his feet, right arm hanging limp, and struggles on.
The screen fades to black to a filthy body of water. Bubbles break and pop on the surface. Geysers of flame erupt intermittently. A hand comes out of the brown muck, fingers claw air, and is quickly pulled back down. The camera tracks to the left and a man’s head surfaces. He sucks in lungfuls of air. He looks around, shouts frantically as he spots something offscreen, to the right. He swims for it; the camera follows him.
The man is going full-on when he suddenly disappears, dragged back below. Seconds pass, a big splash is heard. The camera tracks right, then left until it sees two figures struggling. It’s the man fighting with a woman. The woman claws at the man’s face, gouges out an eye. She follows with a series of punches to the head, leaves him floating face-down as she swims towards the direction the man was taking earlier.
She reaches her goal: land. She tiredly walks ashore, lies on the sand, catching her breath, relief on her face. A grunt is heard over the speakers and the woman turns. A pig-faced demon emerges from the line of trees set a few meters from the shore. The woman gets up and runs, only to be caught by another porcine demon. The first demon takes hold of her feet and the other carries her by the armpits. They walk back to the beach and throw the woman back into the water.
The screen fades to black, and a third man walking on an arid plain appears. He is naked save for a set of iron claws strapped to his right hand. He walks with feet thick with blisters. His eyes are alert, darting left and right. He perks up every now and then for any sound, real or imagined. A shout is heard and another man similarly armed runs towards him.
The first man braces, holding out his clawed hand in a defensive stance. The attacker jumps the few remaining feet and tackles the first man to the ground. He straddles the fallen man, pins his arms to the ground with his legs. He raises his clawed hand and drives them into the other man’s neck. The first man’s eyes go wide, blood gurgles in his mouth and spurts from his neck. His body goes limp, then still. The attacker withdraws his claws and howls, then stands and walks away from the body.
Two minutes, maybe three after the attacker has gone, the body convulses, the wounds close. His eyes open, his chest heaves as he takes restorative breaths. The man gets up, wipes the blood from his mouth, and walks the arid plain, naked save for a set of claws strapped to his right hand.
The screen fades to black, followed by a staccato of images: people swim in a river of knives; demons drive flaming spears into them until flames issue out of their bodily orifices; people climb a mountain made of serrated blades; people are fried in oil; are disemboweled by saws; have their tongues ripped; are pound until they become fine powder; are hung upside down in giant scales…
“Stop it,” Mr. Escobar said.
“It still runs a couple minutes more.”
“Stop it. Now,” Mr. Escobar said, turning to face Harry.
Harry pressed “stop” on the remote. He rose and walked over to eject the disc and switch off the appliances. On his way back to his table, he glanced at the old man. Mr. Escobar was sitting still, staring at the bare wall behind Harry’s table. Harry sat down and stowed away the disc.
As Harry was closing the drawer where he put the disc, he heard Mr. Escobar muttering unintelligibly.
“I beg your pardon?” Harry asked.
“It’s not enough.”
“Well, I’m sorry you remain unconvinced. Too bad that you think what you just saw was a million dollar CGI extravaganza of a trailer and not the real Hell,” Harry said.
He waited for a response from the old man, but Mr. Escobar was still staring at the wall.
Harry said, “If you want to risk it, I can show you my demon form. Or if you prefer, Lyla can do it for you. She’s a succubus and might be a bit easier to—“
“If revealing our demon forms to you can convince you we’re who we say we are and Hell is-“
“No, no,” Mr. Escobar said. “I know what I saw was real. It didn’t have that… plastic feeling that computer images have.”
“Then what’s not enough?”
“The punishments I saw. I want worse for the son of a bitch who wronged me.”
Harry smiled, relieved. He thought that he’d lost his chance to further add to his savings. Transforming into his demon form and back is physically draining and painful, but he’d do anything for the sale. Even if he has to call Lyla in to reveal her true form and kick a portion of his commission to her.
“Ah,” he said. “We have far more forms of torment in our catalogue.”
The old man picked up the magazine, which had fallen to the floor while he was watching the presentation.
“Or, you can avail of our Custom Plan,” Harry said.
Mr. Escobar looked up from a page he was reading. “Custom plan?”
“You tell me the form of torment you have in mind, and if it does not have the slightest resemblance to any of our multitudes of torment, we’ll build it for you. Or rather, for your chosen damned.”
“Anything I can imagine?”
“Any torment you can imagine. The sky, as they say, is the limit. What we have is plenty of space. Our Company has snapped up most of Purgatory and is developing it into more torment chambers.”
Mr. Escobar sat up straight at what he heard. “Purgatory? What happened to Purgatory?” he asked
“The Other Side finally gave its inhabitants a free pass through the pearly gates,” Harry said. “Our higher-ups negotiated like, um, hell to get some of Purgatory’s souls but Heaven wouldn’t budge. In the end, they got the souls and leased most of the real estate to us.”
Harry took a sip of water; Mr. Escobar stared, his forehead furrowed as his mind conjured up images of torment that would be inflicted.
“So, tell me the torment,” Harry said. “Sky’s the limit.”
“I can imagine very harsh things to be inflicted upon Pedrosa’s soul,” Mr. Escobar said. “But I’ve a feeling that this custom plan of yours is expensive.”
“Very expensive. Mid- to high seven figures.”
“Ay,” the old man said, then sighed. “My imagination may be limitless, but my bank account is not.” He flipped the catalogue open and resumed his search for a fitting torment.
Harry tried hard to keep his impatience at bay and swallowed the words “cheap,” “bastard,” and “stingy” to keep him from hurling them at the old man. He had hoped the old man would opt for the “Custom Plan” as he could easily afford it. According to Hell’s dossier, the old man’s bank accounts were not limitless but they almost were.
A man would need to live six times the average lifespan to exhaust all the money in Mr. Escobar’s various bank accounts, the demon thought.
Harry closed his eyes, took deep breaths, and felt himself relax. He put on another smile and tried to think of things that could help Mr. Escobar choose a torment.
Mr. Escobar let out a grunt.
“Anything wrong, sir?” Harry asked.
The old man looked up and said, “Huh? Oh, it’s just- your Hell’s very different from the one they taught us growing up.”
Mr. Escobar flipped back a few pages and said, “Like, it says here that in one chamber, the nervous system of the damned are used as circuitry, as microprocessors for Hell’s computers.”
Harry ruefully smiled at that torment. A low-grade demon he knew, now known as Joel when he came to work in this world, came up with that. It ended up saving the Company billions and Joel was made V.P. for I.T. and has an office at Company headquarters in Paris.
Joel used to be Harry’s second-in-command in his section of the Lake of Fire. He became enamored of the humans’ invention, the computer, that he’d pick the brains– often painfully– of any computer techie that managed to end up in hell. And because of that one brilliant idea– human as microprocessors– Joel ended up in Paris, one of the few success stories in Hell. And it never failed to turn Harry’s stomach.
“Hell has evolved beyond the Lake of Fire, sir,” Harry said. “Upper management decided to diversify when they decided to open Hell up for business. So you get sections dedicated to other religions’ versions of hell.”
“And what religion does the microcircuitry punishment fall under?” Mr. Escobar said.
“None of them. That’s an example of Hell’s ingenuity, brought about by efficiency needs.”
“Well, I still don’t think that punishment fits Pedrosa,” Mr. Escobar said.
“This Pedrosa you speak of? Why send him to Hell?” Harry asked. He knew the whole story, of course, about the political rivalry between the old man’s family and Pedrosa’s and how the latter stole the governorship from the former. Their families’ long sordid history was in Hell’s dossier on the old man. Harry asked because hearing the hate, the distaste one man had for another issue forth brought a certain degree of glee to his kind. The sensations they brought felt a bit like a sweetheart whispering sweet nothings to your ear, followed by a lick.
“He’s a goddamn thief who stole something valuable from me,” said Mr. Escobar, turning pages of the magazine as he spoke. “Other people might think he’s smart and charming and a good public servant, but they don’t know him like I do. He’s scum.”
“This Pedrosa must have a weakness. Everybody has one,” Harry said.
The old man paused from his reading, his face looked up, forehead furrowed once again in thought. “Women. He’s a horny bastard,” he said.
“There you are,” Harry said.
“That son of a bitch’s pants and briefs are not enough to keep his prick hidden from view when he sees a woman he likes.”
“Try page 134, sir,” Harry said.
A rustle of paper as Mr. Escobar turned the pages. He finally arrived at the page he was looking for and his face genuinely brightened for the first time since he came into the office.
“’Area 12, Sector 2,’” Mr. Escobar read out loud. “’In this level, souls of the damned spend eternity with an orgasm that never comes; an ejaculation that never gushes forth. Further adding to the torment are Hell’s legion of vivacious Succubi who tease and prod the damned…”
Mr. Escobar’s face cracked and laughter filled the office.
“Jesus,” Mr. Escobar said after he had released his joy, “I haven’t laughed that hard in years!”
Harry took out some forms from a folder on top his table. He readied his fountain pen.
“I’ll definitely take this one. Horny bastard deserves it. It’ll be like shaking a bottle of Coke but never taking the cap off!”
“Excellent choice, sir,” Harry said. “There are also some forms you need to fill out,” he said as he handed them to Mr. Escobar.
“Will I see proof when he gets there?” the old man asked. He pulled his chair nearer to the table and began to write.
“You’ll be given access to a website where you can view real-time footage of his sufferings.”
The old man wrote in silence for a while. He reviewed the forms then returned them to Harry.
“So, that’ll be a million pesos, half now?” Mr. Escobar said, taking out a handkerchief and wiping at the corners of his eyes.
“One million pesos, half now, half upon the soul’s delivery. And you can get a discount, if you’re interested.”
The old man paused from his writing and straightened up. “A discount’s always welcome. What do I have to do?”
“Pledge your immortal soul to Lucifer,” Harry said.
Harry sat there, silent, the smile gone from his face. All cheer and joy drained from the old man’s face.
They then simultaneously erupted into laughter.
“You had me going there, you son of a gun. You had me thinking,” Mr. Escobar said.
“You have no idea how many times our salespeople said that and people bit.”
“I almost did!” Mr. Escobar said, then laughed again. After a while, the old man settled down, took out a check book from his clutch bag, wrote out a check and handed it to the other man.
“So, that’s it? I have to wait for him to die? You don’t have a service that could, say, expedite his passing?”
“I’m sorry, we don’t. Our company’s purely concerned with a soul’s placement,” Harry said.
“Ah. I’ll probably talk to some people I know,” said Mr. Escobar.
Harry checked the forms that Mr. Escobar filled out. One page lacked a signature.
“You forgot to sign one,” he said. The old man promptly took the pen and paper back and signed on the dotted line.
Mr. Escobar took his bottle of mineral water, poured its remaining contents and drank it all down. “Say, how much commission will you get out of this?”
“Not much,” Harry said. “Ten percent.”
“Ah. Stingy bosses, eh? You’ll get a hundred thousand in all for this deal?”
“You’re right. It’s not much,” Mr. Escobar said.
The old man stood up, prompting Harry to do the same. The two shook hands, the old man in better spirits than when he entered the office not two hours ago.
“You’re okay. For a demon. I’m sure I’ll be doing more business with you in the future,” Mr. Escobar said.
“I’ll expect that,” Harry said.
Harry walked the old man to the door. He was turning the knob when he remembered one more thing.
“Look, sir,” he began, “you made me a few thousand pesos richer today and the promise of future business, so I’ll let you have the inside track on something.”
Mr. Escobar turned away from the door to face Harry. “Yes?”
“The thing is, our Company’s been holding talks with the Other Side,” Harry said, glancing briefly up. “They’re talking about a limited offer for now. But when the deal pushes through, would you like to have a place in Heaven?”
Tags: Rommel A. Santos
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April 2nd, 2010 at 6:35 am
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