The Devil’s Test

So now you’re probably thinking, what’s Hell then? I know what you’ve been told, that it’s some kind of detention center for bad people, or anybody who hasn’t accepted Jesus Christ as their personal lord and Savior. Jesus wasn’t even his real name, by the way. That’s why there’s no reference to him in the official historical record. Also, a certain someone was commissioned to go out into the world and erase any mention of him. God and his quirky ideas of Faith. There can’t be evidence because then it isn’t Faith. And people must have Faith, in order to keep Him alive. The old magics are tricky like that.

But Hell wasn’t made for people, originally. It was made for them. For the Ones that came Before. And their pets, the Remnants. There’s no way to kill a Remnant, regrettably. You can only banish it. Of course, in order to banish them, there has to be a place to banish them to. Hence, Hell.

No prison is perfect, and escapes do happen. Most people, if they’re very lucky, never encounter a Remnant, but most people have heard of them. Their legend persists in human lore. Wraiths, poltergeists and that sort are the most common. It is a difficult task indeed to imprison that which has no substance. Sometimes other things escape, too. Fearsome little creatures that people come to call trolls, imps, gremlins, chupacabra. They are usually defined by their sharp, pointy teeth. A Remnant’s very favorite thing to do once unleashed on Earth, however, is to take possession of someone. Anytime some cute, blonde little eight year old starts throwing up pea soup and claiming to be the Devil, that’s a Remnant you’re dealing with. Even if the Devil had any interest in torturing the parents of eight year olds by using their children to make elaborate prank phone calls from Hell, he is far too busy to actually do so. Not only does he have a kingdom to run and sacrifices to make, he’s got to chase down stray Remnants and return them to their prison. It’s the Devil who comes and takes them back, you see, but God usually gets the credit for that.

You can’t banish the Devil back to Hell, by the way, no matter how much holy water you throw at him, not that you would ever be in a position to try. Crosses do not burn his flesh and the power of Christ certainly does not compel him. All of those things do work on the Remnants, though, so by all means, if you find yourself face to face with someone claiming to be the Devil who is not impeccably dressed and quite handsome, give it a go.

Of the billions of bodies and millions of souls that have passed through the world, only about a thousand or so have been so unlucky as to be sent to Hell. Hell is for very special people. The thing that everyone in Hell has in common is that they all failed the Test.

He comes to you, at your most desperate hour. He makes you a deal: something you want, something you think you need, for your soul. He’s very explicit with you. He tells you where you’ll go and what will become of you.

Most people take the deal, truth be told. Most people, for all their high talk of Heaven and Hell; of psychic reverberations and what-you-do-here-echoes-in-the-hereafters, live only for the now. Eternity doesn’t make sense to a human being, because their lives are so short compared to it.

So, you take the deal. Things start to go well for you. You get comfortable. You get this close to what you want, what you’ve always wanted, what you think you need, and you have a brush with Death. There, in the moment between whether you live or whether you die, Time freezes.

He comes to you. He offers you a choice between what you need and what you love. When the moment ends, either you will die, and someone you love will never need again, or you will live, and someone you love will die.

A person and their child is his favorite. Anyone who chooses themselves over their child clearly doesn’t get it. The past must be sacrificed to the future. There is no other way. A child and their parent is another favorite. He agrees with the children who choose themselves, but he takes them all the same. Sacrifice isn’t supposed to be easy.

Anyone who chooses the other, not the self, they win. They do get to live, and happily ever after at that. Happier than most people. He sees to it. They don’t go to Heaven, though. Nobody does. Only two people have ever gone to Heaven, and only three ever will. Most souls are recycled back into the great cosmic machine that powers the universe. Sometimes right away, sometimes ages later. Time, as people know it, is a tricky thing. The human plane is the only plane it exists on and the only reason it’s there is to make sure people die. Sooner, rather than later, at the rate that lot populates. Time is, in itself, a kind of sacrifice. It is forever offering itself up to itself; whole parts of it disappear into the past, even as they are reborn into the future. But it does the dirty work itself, and that’s why Time is widely respected.

In lieu of Heaven, the lives of those who pass the Devil’s Test will be easier. Charmed, people will call these souls. “That person has the luck of the Devil,” will be said of them. It will be quite true. He feels for them, actually. All their lives, their heads are filled with streets of gold and palaces in the sky and none of them will ever get to see it. Life just goes on and on for them. Either it never ends, or they fail the test, and face a fate much worse. The second worst fate there is, for a human soul.

Those that don’t pass the Test, they live, too. For a while. Someone they love dies, and they live every day acutely aware, in a way they never thought they’d be, of the sacrifice that has been made for them. To top it all off, he even gives them what they want. Exactly what they want. And, of course, it ruins them, every last one. It isolates and shrivels and burns them from the inside out. No matter how they wail, how they beg him to take it back (and they do; they all do), he doesn’t. They don’t see him again until they die for good, bitter and alone, usually. All their lives they harbor the secret, poisonous hope that he’ll give them another choice, another chance, but he won’t. He doesn’t say a word to them. He takes them and throws them to the Remnants exactly as he said he would and they suffer a thousand terrible torments until the Remnants have devoured all there ever was of them, and he has to go out and find another.

The Devil, you see, always delivers on his promises.

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