Thursday, June 11, 2009

"The Devil was Dead," Ken Vaughan

From Being a Lesser God
by Ken Vaughan

The devil was dead, or so it appeared. He lay in a pool of his own blood. At least it looked like blood; it flowed and congealed like blood, but the red was so dark it looked black.

Bob stared; he hadn't meant to kill the devil. He wanted to apologize; it was an accident, but no-one was listening. The devil's minions, recently screaming, laughing, and hurling insults, were shuffling around in the shadows, unwilling to approach.

Bob didn't mind them staying away, they smelled, they were hideous. At first sight, they appeared to have skin the colour of rotting flesh, but he had soon realized there was no skin. The smell matched the appearance, rotting carcasses on which flies fed and were in turn eaten.

Bob ran the events through his head, how exactly had it come to this? His day started ordinarily enough, he woke to his alarm, washed, dressed, ate, and left for work. He locked his door, trotted down the stairs, out of the apartment block, and in front of the bus. That's when things had started to change.

The buildings across the street disappeared, replaced by a white mist. In the back of his mind Bob knew this wasn't right, but he was OK; there was no pain, no injury, no cause for concern. In the realm of strange occurrences, this was rather mild, just there one minute and here the next.
In a way, this event was like most of his life, void of emotion. He remembered an interview with a murderer, known as the Green River killer, where the man said, "that feeling thing, I never really understood that"; neither did Bob.

Bob lived his life by a set of rules; mostly religious dogma learned in childhood; don't kill, don't steal, don't swear, but he couldn't claim to understand why. His mind was logical and he could see that millions of people living together needed a set of rules to live by, but he had no emotion invested in any of it. Bob avoided sports, both participating and watching; he avoided parties, functions, teams, and particularly relationships. Any situation where he might have to voice an opinion based on his emotion, left him struggling and uncomfortable.

This was about to change.

The mist disappeared. Divided in two, the hall in which he stood was a black obsidian rock on one side, carved into steps. On the steps lounged a hoard of fleshy, smelly creatures, who appeared decidedly bored. Clearly belonging to the devil standing proudly before them, they should have been in awe, or at the very least attentive, but Bob sensed what he could only describe as attitude. On the other side, also carved into steps, was white rock resembling ivory. The steps were empty.

"Your soul is mine!" thundered the devil, his fearsome laughter echoed, rolling off the walls.

"No need to shout," said Bob.

The devil was stunned; his hoard caught their collective breath and held it, now they were attentive.

"What?" said the Devil, the echo mocking him as it bounced around the hall.

"I said there's no need to shout." Bob repeated

"You will learn to fear me, mortal!" The devil recovered, again thundering around the hall.

Bob wasn't afraid. He knew he should be; the devil looked scary enough; huge, red, teeth, horns. Stereotypical renaissance with the bloodshot eyes, the tail, the hooves, and the trident, but there was something less than convincing about this creature.

"Your soul is mine to torment for eternity!" More echoing, thunder.

"Why?" asked Bob, his first ever feeling being mild annoyance. "I've followed all the rules, I've committed no sin."

"Ha! You're not the first to tell me that." The devil laughed. "I get that all the time. Answer me this. Do you love God?"

"I don't love anyone, I've never been capable of loving any one." Bob was angry now, he was being punished for not having any feelings and it wasn't fair. Being born without emotion was not his fault.

The devil nodded towards the empty white steps.

"They're big on that one!" He smiled, it felt to Bob like the devil placed a consoling arm around his shoulders. "Look, they didn't even show up to defend you."

Clearly meant to instill despair, the remark simply served to increase Bob's anger. He was abandoned. What had he done to deserve that? He'd followed the rules damn it! He had no control over having no emotions, whose fault was that?

Coldly logical as ever, Bob thought he understood why no-one had shown up. It must be that God knows you're around because other people think about you, prey for you. Bob had spent his whole life avoiding any meaningful contact, any commitment; there was no-one to wonder how he was, hope he was OK, offer a silent prayer for him. He doubted if anyone even knew he was dead. He was assuming by now that he was dead. Why else would the devil be demanding his soul?

"It's time to go now." the devil asserted.

"I'm not going anywhere," said Bob. Now he was furious, he didn't care about the rules, he hadn't had a chance.

"You're mine, you didn't love God!" screamed the devil, his minions cowered on the steps.

"Love him," Bob screamed back, "he didn't even enter the equation, I never even thought about him. I never even thought about you for that matter, so I don't belong to you either. You have no power over me! I reject you!”

Now Bob's voice echoed around the chamber. "Reject you… Reject you… Reject you…"

The minions were more than attentive now, riveted would more aptly describe them; they sat forward on the edge of their steps not wanting to miss a thing.

The devil was silent, too angry to speak. In a lazy movement, he reached for Bob. The intent had been to grab Bob by the throat and raise him level to the devil's eyes, but Bob wasn't there. Bob ducked.

Though clearly angry, the devil nonetheless stood motionless, he was also confused. Bob shouldn't have been able to duck. The devil's movement had looked slow to impress Bob and the devil's minions, but in reality, no time had passed between the start of the movement and the end. In theory, there was no way Bob could duck, but he had.

The devil lunged, and again Bob ducked. Four more times the devil lunged; his minions started to jeer, shouting his name, laughing and swearing. Bob actually thought he could hear a few cheers for himself.

On the last lunge, Bob ran up onto the white steps. The devil, out of patience, took his trident and stabbed underarm. The intent was to skewer Bob like an apple, and then roast him over the fires of hell before sucking out his soul and consuming it. Bob ducked.

The devil swiped the trident sideways at Bob, and, as it passed within an inch of his nose, Bob struck out adding his strength to the momentum of the weapon. The extra speed and the trident's weight pulled the devil off balance, and he staggered forward. The trident continued to rotate in his hand, twisting free until the butt rested in the angle of two white steps. The devil, still staggering forward, impaled himself. He smiled; no weapon could hurt him, none but his own anyway. Then his smile faded, and he dropped to his knees with glazed eyes.

As Bob descended the white steps, they began to disappear. By the time he stood before the devil's carcass they had been replaced by decaying rock formations.

“No way to heaven now then?” he thought glancing towards white steps that no longer existed.

Reaching out Bob placed his hand on the devil's shoulder, a shock like electricity coursed up his arm. Knowledge transfer began, and Bob finally began to experience many emotions. Hate was the first; God and Heaven had abandoned him, left him to fight the devil alone; there would be retribution. Malice and loathing integrated nicely with his coldly logical brain. One by one he felt them all, recognized them, welcomed them; fear, jealousy, cruelty, suspicion, he knew he could feel them and master them all. He thought he should be happy, but that emotion was not forth-coming, neither was love, nor caring, or any of the other weaknesses. Never mind he had what he needed; knowledge, emotion, and some unexpected appetites he yearned to explore.

In the transfer, Bob learned that the defeated devil had been great; he had overcome his Godly opponent. He had caused so much strife on the world for which they fought that the God had faded through despair, finally turning to mist and drifting away. Bob realized that this devil had been a hero to the dark entities for which they laboured, and he laughed as he summoned the minions to eat the carcass. He even took the liver for himself. Bob was the victor, and what good was victory if you couldn't exercise a little malice. Besides, this devil had also been stupid; if a devil’s existence depended on battling a God, why kill the God. No wonder Bob had overcome, the Devil's power had faded with his purpose, he had in effect killed himself.

In the recesses of Bob's mind two fiery columns beckoned, one green and one gold. He turned toward them like a shark sensing blood in the water. He saw thousands of souls gathered before them. The thousands he recognized abstractly as food, and they sang, or so he supposed. To him it seemed like a herd of pathetically bleating sheep. Amongst the crowd however, there were children; they were different, not of heaven or earth. The children aroused a thousand hungers in him, each more obscene than the one before, and he knew he must have them for himself.

The two columns of fire blended and became one as he approached. The combined column spoke directly to him, "We are Alberonwyn, and you will not touch them!"

He instantly despised this Alberonwyn, arrogance and party tricks counted for nothing. How did Alberonwyn think the children could be protected from him? Why did Alberonwyn refer to itself using the royal we? Such arrogance! How did Alberonwyn start speaking its name as a male, and end it as a female?

He turned as Alberonwyn looked beyond him, and there against a black sky was a world with deep blue oceans, swirling, white clouds and brown landmasses. This then, was where they would wage war for souls. On closer inspection, there were areas of gold and green within the brown landmasses, but far greater were the areas of grey. The grey, he knew, was his; it was sickly and unwholesome; the devil had given him a head start. No, he decided, the devil had given him nothing; he had taken it. Alberonwyn could not stand before him, any more than the devil had. He'd have to come up with another name though, Bob just didn't sound right any more.


Ken Vaughan's life has divided into three sections. In the first section, small dog syndrome forced him to play rugby for thirteen years, join British Airborne Forces, compete in Gymnastics, Judo, Swimming, Show jumping, Ballroom dancing, and earn his Private Pilot's License. Then he wasted twenty-one years working for Bell Canada. After Bell, to stay employed, he learned every Windows product from PowerPoint to Visual Basic Programming, and to save money, taught himself auto-mechanics, plastering, tiling, plumbing, and carpentry. He's not sure if he writes because he's insane or to prevent himself going insane. His two greatest achievements are raising two kids who don't hate him … yet, and being married to the same woman for thirty-four years without her trying to kill him … yet. On June 10 at CJ’s Cafe, he gave a reading of "The Devil was Dead," which is an extract from a longer narrative titled Being a Lesser God.

Note: For information about Brian Henry’s upcoming writing workshops and classes see here.

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