Work is Hell
by Dan Charles Wild
Daniel Charles Wild, otherwise known on reddit’s writing forums as user BecauseISaidSoToo, is a long-time contributor to Tall Tale TV. The short story ‘Work is Hell’ is one of the many wild tales included in his brand new short story collection, ‘Stories For Imaginary Friends’
Other TTTV Stories by Daniel Charles Wild
When the demons first appeared, they started showing up everywhere—naked, typically appearing at crime scenes, nightclubs, and unfortunately for them—churches. Humanity, predictably, freaked out.
The new arrivals were bright red, had horns, cloven feet, pointed tails, and smelled like brimstone—really the whole works. As you’d expect, they were typically attacked on-sight, many were killed immediately, but a percentage survived long enough to get arrested and questioned, and eventually humanity pieced together what they were and what the hell was happening.
They were what they appeared to be, literally demons from Hell, and now they walked (or clopped) among us.
Sure, scientists and political pundits offered theories to the contrary. There were talking heads on television and articles online claiming that they couldn’t be actual demons. They were likely creatures from another dimension, another planet, that they were psychic manifestations from the gestalt, etc… But the creatures could talk and though they didn’t say much about where they had been, they said what they were, and they were pretty convincing.
They claimed that Hell was full, and that they were formerly damned souls who were sent to earth to have another chance at redeeming themselves in the mortal realm. That’s all they’d say, that they couldn’t say anything else—their lips were sealed.
Even though they refused to share much more than that—what they shared was enough, and at the end of the day (well, actually a four-year quarantine) most first-world countries chose to believe them, and there was an honest attempt to gradually integrate them into society.
It wasn’t a smooth process by any means. There was a ton of resistance—but at first there were also a ton of government incentives as well. If for example, you were a business owner and you employed one, their salary would be paid, and your business would be tax-exempt as long as they were an employee.
As the owner of a small coffee shop on the verge of going out of business, it was a matter of being damned if I did and damned if I didn’t, right? So I decided I’d be damned, and I hired a bright (and bright red) demon named Hargathorp to work at my cafe.
He was smart as hell, worked like the Devil, and the novelty of having an honest to God (honest to Satan?) demonic creature behind the counter got my business some publicity and even attracted a few new customers at first.
My other employees got along with him for the most part, I did too, and it was working out fine—at least initially. But the demons attracted a lot of negative attention too. My shop was vandalized, me and my other employees were harassed, and we had to deal with regular protesters. It was a damned hassle. More of a hassle then the tax breaks were really worth. And when the legislation was passed that made demon-free zones tax exempt for religious reasons, I had no reason to keep Hargathorp on staff, and I let him go. It wasn’t just my idea. Me and my staff agreed it was what we had to do.
We all knew he’d be inconvenienced. Jobs were scarce for his kind. They were all having difficulty being re-assimilated into society—it wasn’t news. But at least we weren’t killing them outright like they were in some countries. I mean sure, a lot of them “went missing” but that’s not my problem—maybe they went back to Hell, disappearing as mysteriously as they had appeared in the first place.
But Hargathorp didn’t go to Hell. I’d occasionally see him panhandling on the interstate off-ramp, or rooting through dumpsters in the alley behind the shop. He was looking (and living) pretty rough. It wasn’t my problem, but I felt a little bad about it. I’m not a bad guy, I just couldn’t do much to help him. It wasn’t my responsibility and it wasn’t my problem to solve. That’s what I told myself. That’s what we all told ourselves.
Eventually I heard from one of my employees that Hargathorp had been found frozen under an overpass. It had been a cold night, and they freeze faster than normal people. There were actually jokes in the local news about it. I personally didn’t think the jokes were funny. That should count for something, right?
Eventually all the demons disappeared. But, yeah, most died from neglect. Many were violently killed by fundamentalists, but most starved, or got sick from malnutrition, or froze to death during winter. It was a tragedy, sure, but they weren’t wanted, they honestly made a lot of people uncomfortable. These were demons we’re talking about here. I mean, sure “hell was full” and they were “getting another chance” and all, but they had done something wrong, right? To go to Hell in the first place? Maybe it was for the best in the long run that they were gone for good. Thats what we told ourselves at least, collectively as a society.
Then the angels showed up. Appearing to select people around the world, telling us to share their message with others.
One of them appeared in my cafe as I was closing up for the night. It (he/she?) was beautiful. Clothed in flowing white robes and glowing with white light. Its bare feet floated a few inches off the ground, and it had huge wings that spread out behind it like a parting curtain to a celestial show. The angel’s face was almost too bright and beautiful to look at but I couldn’t look away. Its eyes were mesmerizing and they drilled into mine, seemingly seeing into my soul. When It spoke it was with a voice that sounded like music that I could feel in my bones.
It said that Hargathorp was fine, that he had been forgiven and was in Heaven now—that all the freed demons were. That their time on earth had been a test for them and they had all passed with flying colors. But their arrival on earth had been a test for humanity too—one we failed miserably, and we would be punished.
Hell wasn’t full after all, it was waiting for us. That was the final judgment for humanity the angel said, and then the angel began to weep.