I have three short stories on the go at once here. My mind is fully occupied and I have the head-clamp turned up to full concentration mode to keep me on track. These three, assuming none of them get stuck, will give me enough to complete a decent-sized short story collection and I’d very much like to finish it this week.
Click has charge of the laboratory. I am studiously ignoring the occasional sound of breakages. I will deal with him later. Senga has taken Caligula to visit her parents for a few days which absolves me from parenting duties and means I don’t have to watch out for his developing patricidal talents. I have peace and space for writing.
So it was not a good time for Red Stan to visit. Which, I suppose, is why he did. He’s like that.
I knew it was him as soon as I heard the clink of horn on granite and the barrage of expletives that followed. Another pair of dents in my mantelpiece. There was nothing for it but to release the head-clamp and set aside any thoughts of writing until he had gone. It might not be a total loss. Sometimes he does give me ideas for dark tales.
“It’s not a good time,” I said.
“Yeah, I hear that a lot.” Red Stan settled into the iron-framed chair, the only one that doesn’t ignite at his touch. “So, how’s things?”
“Busy. I’m trying to finish a book.”
Red Stan sat up. “Am I in it this time? Must be my turn by now, surely?”
“Not yet. These are just short stories. I’m saving you for something much bigger.” To be honest, I had no ideas yet for any worthwhile stories involving Red Stan and was bluffing.
“Something big, eh? Do tell.”
“What, and spoil the surprise? Besides, I’m trying to concentrate on what I’m working on right now so I’m not going to say anything about any other projects.”
Red Stan relaxed in his seat with a wicked smile. “I see. You know how to torment someone, Dume. I like that.”
“Good.” I indicated my computer. “As I said, I’m busy, so if you could get to the point I’d appreciate it. We don’t all have eternity, you know.”
“You will. I have a place all ready for you.” He shifted in his seat. “But that’s not why I’m here. I’m looking for advice.”
“Advice?” He had my attention now. “You have a problem?”
“Me? Of course not. No, it’s some of my underlings. I try to bring them up right, you know, debauchery and wickedness and cruelty and evil but it all goes wrong when I send them out to possess someone.” He rubbed his nose. “They’re supposed to do unspeakable things when they’re here. They’re supposed to set in motion the events that lead to the End of Days.”
“They don’t do terrible things?”
“Oh, they do. The trouble is, they do it to themselves. As soon as they get into a body they get hold of booze and drugs and just get wasted. Most of them forget what they came for. A lot of them have even forgotten who they are.” He leaned forward. “You’re a parent, Dume. How do you keep your kid off the straight and narrow?”
I had to think about that one. “It’s never been a problem. Dumes aren’t interested in drugs nor indeed in anything that expensive. Never have been. Are all your, ah, offspring affected?”
“No, fortunately. Some of them make it into government and a few have set up fake charities to pressurise people into having a miserable life. They’re doing well. It’s just taking such a long time with so few doing what they’re supposed to do.”
I could see no problem with the apocalypse taking longer than planned. There are many more story ideas to get through and if I turned up at Red Stan’s place without a story about him, my stay there might not go so well.
“Okay,” I said. “So it’s not all bad news. Just concentrate on the ones you have and ignore the duff demons. It’ll take longer, but you do have eternity. So really it’s just a matter of being patient.”
“I’d thought of that. It’s just that I have the armies of Hell on permanent standby and they’re getting restive. They really want to ransack something and the boredom is getting to them. By the time I’m ready to send them out there might not be a sober one among them.” He sighed. “We watch the news, you know. With what’s going on on Earth, if we don’t get a move on there’ll be nothing left to ransack. Your lot will have done it all.”
“Yes, but we have a tendency to rebuild things we’ve smashed.” I winced at the sound of something else getting smashed in my laboratory. Maybe I should send Click down to dust the dungeons, although last time he did that he flushed several important relatives and polished their urns.
Red Stan scoffed. “Only so you can smash them again.”
“Yes, well…” A brief review of human history showed the truth of his conclusion. “Even so, we keep building. There’ll always be something to break. You don’t have to worry about that.”
He looked pensive and ran his hand over his horn. “I think there’s a new stone-chip there. I’ll have to get that fixed.” He shrugged and rose from his chair. “Well, I suppose there’s not much I can do about human depravity. My only worry is that if you lot get any worse I’ll be out of a job. If you’d stop corrupting my emissaries before they can do what they’re supposed to, that would be nice.” He headed for the fireplace. “Then again, it is a war of sorts. No point asking the enemy to play fair, I suppose.”
“No, I suppose not. I’m sure it’ll all work out in the end.”
He ducked into the fireplace and vanished while I mulled over the new idea forming in my head. No, no, I have to concentrate.
I made some notes, replaced my head-clamp and resumed working.