And here’s the end. This story didn’t get much attention really but I loved writing it. It was a chance to get out some thoughts on life, death and fairness.
Chapter 4: Will
Mary followed the demon down the mountain.
“Not even the house is real,” it said in a high and penetrating voice. “There’s no children there. It’s a mirage, a trick, a joke.”
“Demons lie,” said Mary. “You’re probably lying right now. I don’t have to believe you.”
“Oh yeah? Well, I’ll tell you,” said the demon, “but only because you have no power here.”
“Go on then,” said Mary. All agency was pretty much drained from her by now, so she couldn’t have said no. Or probably not.
“From the moment you’re born you have to rack up enough, let’s call them points, throughout your life to get to the good place. Y’know, you get them by being kind to your fellow human beings and that sort of thing. Suppose it’s not much of a shocker that almost no-one gets enough points.”
“Imagine it like an hourglass,” said the demon. “You start off your life and the hourglass is flipped. It’s your job to make sure the top side is fuller than the bottom by the time you die.”
“But that sounds impossible.”
“I’m a demon, standing here, talking to you. Most people would think that was impossible too, dumbass.”
The worst question of all still hung in the putrid air. “And the children?” Mary asked. “The babies? The ones who don’t get to have a life?”
“We just… make our best guess as to where they should go,” said the demon silkily. “Based on the information we have available about their background, their circumstances, the personalities of their parents. The steady drip of genetics. That sort of thing.”
A great and terrible fear rose up in Mary. It was the first thing she had felt for a long time, and she would much have preferred oblivion.
“And… my son?” she asked.
“What would a best guess be? Your son was born poor, and with few prospects, and to someone who didn’t want him,” said the demon. “Every time he says something callous for lack of education, there go the points. Does he steal? Steal more than he needs? Of course he does, he’s hardened by poverty. Down go the grains of sand. Does he hate you? Oh, he definitely does. There they go again. Every decision, every step he takes, it’s marred by the stain of you. He’s here, not in some nice little safe space.” The demon smiled. It wasn’t a smile that existed in nature, or ever would. “He would have always been here.”
Mary was choking. The demon’s clawed hands might as well have been around her neck.
“I mean, obviously this extends much much further than you,” said the horned beast. “Spoiled little rich kids whose parents’ money couldn’t save them at age ten? Straight here. What would they have grown up to be? Entitled trust fund leeches, that’s what. Dead sons of rapists are just interrupted future rapists. Dead daughters of abusers are just near-miss future abusers. Your son would have been a careless, pointless, worthless creature, just like you.”
This is the Devil, Mary thought. It must be. Not just a demon, the lord of them all. It’s here to take everything that doesn’t belong to him.
Most people would have known what to do in that situation. Most people would have known how to fight back. Most people, when seeing a great apocalyptic injustice to terrible to ignore rising up before them, say something, even the smallest thing, in defence of humankind. And Mary was after all fundamentally most people, and she said in a scream,
“That isn’t fair!”
“Of course it isn’t fair. This is Hell,” said the Devil.
“No! Hell is supposed to be terrible, crushing, the worst thing anyone can imagine, but fair. That’s the entire point. People go to Hell because they deserve to be there! Math doesn’t come into it! Guesses don’t come into it! Statistics and genetics and backgrounds tell you nothing about someone’s actual soul!”
“We’ve done this for millions of years. Seen empires rise and fall, seen the heirs to those empires rise and fall,” said the Devil with the voice of eternity. “We know the fabric of humanity. The wheel of vileness and viciousness and murder and sin goes on forever, turning and turning and turning. We have whole PowerPoint presentations about it.”
“No, I don’t believe it. I’ll never believe it.”
“They’re months long,” said the Devil, “and no toilet breaks.”
“It’s not true,” said Mary, and that was ripped from the depths of her soul. “I may deserve to be here but my baby doesn’t. Nothing will ever convince me. Ever. It’s not fair! It’s not justice! It’s not how things work!”
She lunged for what she wholeheartedly believed was the Devil himself, which neither of them expected. Then all of Hell came crashing down.
When Mary woke up there was a prim-looking brown-haired white woman there. She was wearing a purple dress and a strange smile.
“Hi. We’d like to apologise for the inconvenience,” she said.
Mary was struck dumb with shock, and for what seemed like forever, again, she attempted to take in her surroundings. A sign on the wall read, “Welcome. Everything is fine.” But it wasn’t.
“We’re under new management, in a sense,” the woman went on. “There’s been some reality adjustments. New things.”
“My son,” Mary gasped.
“He’s fine,” the woman said. There was a robotic tinge to her voice. She seemed to understand what Mary was saying without understanding why. “I’m Janet. One of many.”
Mary was too overcome with relief, fear, grief, seemingly every emotion in the world to even move. It took her a long time to say,
“Where’s Will? Where are all the children?”
“Free,” said Janet. “Would you like to come see him?”
This was staggering to Mary, like someone had returned her soul to her body, and yet the other woman remained seemingly unmoved.
“Is he… is he what I remember him as?”
“Yes,” said Janet.
She stood up and opened a door that Mary had not noticed, if it had even been there before. Mary moved forward but couldn’t bring herself to walk through, not quite yet.
“Did I meet the Devil?” she asked quietly.
“Some say the Devil is in all of us,” Janet said with a bright smile. “God, too.”
Mary stepped through the door.
Will was lying in a crib. Mary looked down at him, too afraid to touch him, and then up at the woman.
“Was it true?” Mary asked. “That they always made their best guess?”
“I don’t know,” said Janet.
Mary put one finger into the crib and for the first time in technically millennia her child reached out and touched her.
“But you’re right,” Janet said, in a much more human voice, “that’s not how things work.”