Wednesday, August 22, 2012

God Knows What Lines the Devil's Pockets

(Image taken

Beelzebub’s eyes flashed once he realized the winning hand he held in his claws. All about him in the caves of Hell, flames erupted from hubcap sized craters in sporadic bursts. The fireballs sprouted from the cavernous floor like palm trees. The screams of the damned echoed in the tiny Poker room, which only had a single felt table in the center and some uncomfortable stools encircling it. This was the full extent of recreation in all of Hell, and only Big Daddy’s top generals could use it.
Beelzebub rubbed his unctuous, black hair and leaned back on his stool as if he didn’t have three Kings and two tens in his possession. He remained as cool as a melting ice cap, which really wasn’t that cool at all, but it would have to suffice. He brought his cards close to his hairy, bare chest and made sure the flies circling his head couldn’t see them. They had terrible Poker faces.
            “I’m in,” Azazel said, cackling. He was sitting across from Beelzebub. He scratched his furry neck and clopped his right hoof as he threw down four poker chips. The souls trapped within them banged their fists against the ivory surface of the chips, screaming to be released. Azazel looked up at Beelzebub and smiled, revealing both rows of the baby fingers that were his teeth.
            He’s bluffing, Beelzebub thought. He watched the fingers in Azazel’s mouth wiggle outwardly. They looked like strands of paper being blown by a fan behind them. He should learn to keep his damned mouth shut when he bets.
Whenever Azazel had a good hand, Beelzebub always noticed that the baby fingers would wiggle inwardly, as if they were strumming a bass, rather than outwardly. Beelzebub had also always listened to the nervous clopping of Azazel’s right hoof. Your face may be saying yes yes, but your hoof, and your TEETH, don’t lie, boy. I’ve got this in the bag.
            “I fold,” the god known as Ba’al grumbled, sitting to Beelzebub’s left at the circular table. The frog that was on his right shoulder puffed out his chest, while the cat on his left shoulder licked itself. “A lousy game I’m having today, huh, fellas? I’m going to go get a drink. You guys want anything?”
            “I’m good,” Beelzebub said.
            “I’ll take one,” Azazel said, the baby fingers still wiggling outwardly.
            “What about you, Pazuzu? You want anything?”
             “Naw, I’m good, man. Thanks anyway,” Pazuzu said, sitting to Beelzebub’s right. He was rail thin and his right hand looked like he was waving while his left hand looked like he wanted to slow down traffic, as one hand was up in the air and the other was pointing downward. He hid his cards in his left hand, concealing them underneath the table. If Pazuzu had been better at Poker, the others would have forced him to take off his sunglasses and keep his cards where everybody could see them. But Pazuzu wasn’t the hottest pepper in the enchilada, and they let him play however he pleased. It was the least they could do. After all, Beelzebub and Azazel did get most of his chips at every hand. The only one at the table who didn’t bet against him was Ba’al, and that was only because he was the nice one. Beelzebub often wondered how Ba’al got to be a general in Big Daddy’s Army in the first place. He probably cheated on other things, he thought. Like his wife. Or his taxes.
            “Suit yourself.” Ba’al said. He stood up and pushed in his stool. The cat on his right shoulder hissed and Ba’al swatted it on the nose. Once hit, it slapped its lips together as if it had a hair stuck on its tongue and shut up. Ba’al got up and scurried out of the room with his enormous spider legs. When he was gone, Beelzebub nodded at Pazuzu.
            “Alright, so what’s it gonna be, Pazuzu?”
            “Umm,” Pazuzu said, lowering his sunglasses with his scorpion tail to get a better look at his cards, “I think I’ll—um—I think—um—well, let’s see,” he pushed the human souls forward with his tail and then, took them back. Pushed them forward again, and then, took them back again.
            “Hurry up already,” Beelzebub said after a time.
            “Yeah, hurry up,” Azazel whined, “I’m not even supposed to be here right now. I was scheduled to work twenty minutes ago.”
What?” Pazuzu said with his mouth wide open, “What are you doing here then?”
            “What are you, my wife? Come on, just play already. The sooner we get this game over with, the sooner I can get back to work.”
            Beelzebub just shook his head. Azazel was such a flake. One of these days, Big Daddy was going to catch him goofing off and then where would he be?
 “You in or you out?” Beelzebub asked Pazuzu again.
            “I fold,” Pazuzu said, dropping his head, “I didn’t have anything anyway.”
            He laid down his cards and there was a four, a five, a six, a seven, and an eight, mixed about, and all of them diamonds—a straight flush.
            Both Azazel and Beelzebub’s mouths dropped, but the latter cleared his throat, and the former nodded in recognition.
            “Yeah, uh, tough break,” Beelzebub said.
            “What a lousy hand,” Azazel agreed, “Good thing you didn’t play it.”
            When Ba’al scuttled down the stairs and returned to the room with a two bottles of fire, he looked down at Pazuzu’s cards and nearly dropped the drinks right there on the floor.
            “Holy smokes, you have a—”
            With Pazuzu’s head turned, Beelzebub cleared his throat even louder and Azazel shook his head while cutting his hand in front of his throat.
            “Tell me about it,” Pazuzu said in response to Ba’al’s exclamation, “Not even a lousy pair of twos.”
            Beelzebub saw Ba’al’s eyes flash in his direction for a moment, but then, he shook his head.
            “Yeah, that sucks,” Ba’al said while the frog on his right shoulder was making a bubble, “Here’s your drink,” he said to Azazel, and when he gave it to him, his low-lidded eyes give an expression of, “Shame on the two of you.”
            “Uh, thanks,” Azazel said, “I owe you one.”
            “You sure do,” Ba’al said, sweeping up his chips, “Hey, Pazuzu, you want to get out of here? I foresee some more bad luck in your future with my infinite wisdom if you stay.”
            “You do?” Pazuzu asked, almost whining, “Aw, man. Well, okay.”
            He scooped up his chips and they screamed as they fell into his pocket. He headed out with Ba’al, who turned his head only slightly to shake it again at them. Beelzebub could care less. This game had gone on long anyway. They started two hours ago after his shift had ended. Two less demons was a good thing.
            When the two of them walked up the steps and disappeared, Beelzebub brought his cards close to his chest again. His eyes were slits.
            “I raise you,” he said, tossing in three more souls. They were of much higher value than the paltry ones he threw in earlier. There was a murderer in this pile, as well as his defense lawyer, and also a philanderer as well for good measure.
            “I see you,” Azazel said, smiling, throwing in three convicts, “And I raise you this,” he said. And he tossed in an extremely rare soul—that of a U.S. President.
            Even the flies around Beelzebub’s head stopped buzzing to take notice.
            “Is that?”
            “The one and only,” Azazel said, nodding, “Old Hickory himself, Andrew Jackson. So, do you fold, or what?”
            Beelzebub grew nervous, but steeled himself. Still, the damage had been done. His confidence faltered. He held the cards closer to his chest, not even realizing that he was doing it.
            Could he really have that good a hand? Beelzebub thought, looking down at his own cards again. He recollected all the times he had played Azazel in games and wondered if he had ever been this confident before? Dammit, he couldn’t remember! All the games they played in the past were a blur as he sat there, looking at America’s seventh president staring up at him, raising his dukes.
But he had a Full House, dammit. A Full House! He just had to meet his call, even if it wasn’t a bluff. He made his decision just as he saw something that made his eyes pop out of his head. The first thing he saw was the form-fitting black Speedo walking down the stairs. Next, he saw the red torso with the six, six, six pack of abs. Finally, he saw the thick, black horns and black wings, and there was no escaping what he was seeing now. Big Daddy, standing nine feet tall behind Azazel, had his claws balled up into fists. He was not amused.
            “Azazeeeeeel!” He screamed, and Azazel jumped, “What did I tell you about playing games on company time?”
            Azazel’s baby finger teeth started to wiggle in disarray as he turned his head.
            “I, uh,” he stammered.
Just then, Beelzebub, realizing that his friend’s confidence was now shattered, pulled out one of his most prized possessions: His Henry VIII Poker chip.
            “I call,” Beelzebub said, tapping the crowned head on his chip, “And raise you.”
            Azazel took a quick peek at the chip and then, looked back up at Big Daddy, who shot flames out of his spiked wings.
            “You dare turn your head from me to look at a Poker chip?” Big Daddy bellowed, his serpentine eyes burned like hot coals.
            “I uh, I,” Azazel stammered, and Beelzebub grinned just a teensy bit. Big Daddy crossed his arms over his incredibly buff chest and pouted.
            “You know what,” Big Daddy said, “Save it. I’m tired of your excuses.”
            He pushed Azazel’s hands forward and looked at his cards. His pout deepened and his eyes grew lower and colder. The whole room felt about 30 degrees hotter.
            “I’m going to make you a deal,” Big Daddy said, pulling the cards back up in the trembling hands of Azazel, “If you win this hand,” he said, “Hey, are you listening to me?”
            “Huh?” Beelzebub said. His eyes had been focused on Azazel, “Me?”
            “Yeah, you, dummy,” he said, reaching into a pocket on his tight-fitting Speedo. He pulled out three chips. “If you win this hand, I’ll give you these,” he said, and he flipped the chips in the air and when they stopped spinning on the table, Beelzebub nearly had a heart attack. Lying in front of him were the chips of Adolph Hitler, Pol Pot, and Saddam Hussein. They all looked up at him and scowled. Beelzebub looked up at Big Daddy next. And Big Daddy looked pissed.
            “I—” Beelzebub said as he looked at the chip and then up at Azazel, whose complexion has gone from wood brown to milk white.
            “Silence,” Big Daddy said, looking down at Azazel with sheer contempt, “If you lose, Azazel, then you’re going to be taking the place of those chips.”
            Beelzebub’s eyes darted over to Azazel, who swallowed a hard rock down his throat. The goat man then looked back up at Beelzebub—his friend Beelzebub—and Beelzebub could read the fear on his friend’s face. He didn’t even have to see his teeth wiggle to tell how scared he was. The demon was depressed. Seeing this, Beelzebub had a change of heart. Having the big three evils that were sitting on the table would make him the top dog of demons in Hell. But he couldn’t do that to a friend. Not even one as lazy and as annoying as Azazel. Beelzebub laid his cards face down on the table and lowered his head to Big Daddy.
            “I regretfully decline your offer, my Lord,” he said, “I’m sorry, but I feel—.”
            “It’s either him, or you,” Big Daddy said curtly.
            “A Full House,” Beelzebub said, flipping his cards over after he heard his ultimatum.
            Big Daddy grabbed the cards from Azazel’s hands and flipped them over on the table, “A pair of fours,” he said, “Let’s go, Azazel.”
            And with a blast of black magic, Azazel poofed into a ball of smoke and ended up wobbling on the table in the form of a Poker chip. Beelzebub could hear his friend screaming as he pounded on the inside of the chip next to Hitler on the table. Not even in his wildest dreams had Beelzebub ever imagined seeing one of his buddies in the form of a Poker chip. It meant that it could happen to anybody. Even him.
            “No good, lazy bum,” Big Daddy muttered to himself, picking up the chip and shoving it into his pocket, “You’re going to have to cover his shift now, Beelzebub. Move!”
            “Yes, sir, right away, sir!” Beelzebub said with the image of Azazel still screaming in his head. He shot up from the table and rushed up the steps when he heard Big Daddy calling him.
            “Hey,” Big Daddy shouted, and Beelzebub jumped.
            “Yes, sir?”
            “You forgot these,” he said, walking up the steps and handing him the chips he had won.
            “Oh, yes, sir, thank you, sir,” Beelzebub said, the flies bowing in unison with him.
            “Don’t end up like him,” Big Daddy said, pointing to his own pocket.
            “Oh, no, sir, I won’t, sir,” he said, standing at attention for at least a few seconds before Big Daddy spun his wrist around.
            “Well,” he said with flames burning in his eyes, “Get moving!”
            “Yes, sir, right away, sir!”
            And Beelzebub ran up the steps to the seventh circle of Hell. He was sorry for his friend, but happy that he had a whole bunch of evil souls in his pocket and wasn’t a soul in somebody else’s, let alone Big Daddy’s. Beelzebub could hear his master walking up the steps behind him with the sound of his friend’s screaming coming from the bottom of his Speedo pockets. He wondered if the other Big Daddy up in the clouds had ever done a similar thing with His souls. But he tried not to think about that right now. He had a shift to get to, and the last thing he wanted was to be late. He rushed out of Hell’s recreation room. He wondered what Big Daddy’s pockets smelled like. Possibly smoke. Possibly fire. But one thing was certain. He didn’t want to find out.

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