Drew Marvin Frayne © 2017
All Rights Reserved
“Everybody…everybody, please, quiet down,” Mr. Stopheles intoned, clapping his hands together to try to generate order. “Let’s get the meeting started. We’re already five minutes behind. Everyone, please,” he repeated as the assembled throng began to shuffle into their seats. Mr. Stopheles sighed. He hated these meetings. For that matter, so did everyone else. Even though the conference room was impossibly long, it still took too much effort to get everyone inside, and the end result was always cramped, stuffy, and stiflingly close. Bodies were piled on top of one another, which made keeping the attention of the group difficult in the best of circumstances.
Over the years, Mr. Stopheles had tried to improve these meetings. When he was first promoted, he bought lavish breakfast buffets—pastries, doughnuts, crullers, even fresh bagels and lox—but too much went uneaten, and all of it went unappreciated. He used to try friendly icebreakers as a way for the team to bond, but most of the staff halfheartedly participated at best, and some outright refused. He had tried meeting in smaller groups, sacrificing his own time for the sake of everyone else. But the results were always the same—bored faces, distant gazes, jaded attitudes. And so, he figured, if they had given up caring, he could too. These days, he stuffed as many bodies into the conference room as he could. He discouraged participation and questions. And he was pretty sure the half-dozen stale bagels and half-eaten log of cream cheese sitting in the center of the table were leftover from last month’s meeting. Not even the office gluttons were going to touch them.
The din in the conference room finally lowered to a hush, and Mr. Stopheles cleared his throat before speaking again. “Okay, thank you, thank you. We don’t have a long agenda today, but I want to get started, so let’s begin by—”
He was interrupted by the hurried arrival of a late straggler, who flung open the conference room door noisily and then immediately cringed when he saw that his fellow coworkers had already assembled.
“Sorry,” he said, first to Mr. Stopheles, and then, to everyone else, “sorry,” and then, finally, to no one in particular, he said it one last time: “sorry.” He moved to take his seat, but at the last minute, a fellow worker pulled the chair back, and the latecomer fell to the ground with a great whoosh! The room erupted into a tittering snicker as the straggler struggled to get to his feet.
“Real mature, Aglettith,” he said snidely, side-eying the laughing employee behind him before removing a ceremonial athame from a sheath on his belt and stabbing his coworker in the neck. Black blood spurted from the wound, dousing the plate of stale bagels and cream cheese that sat at the center of the conference table. Many in the assembled crowd laughed and hooted in approval, though a few older workers just rolled their eyes or tittered their wings in annoyance.
Mr. Stopheles held up his hands, but it was clear even to him he had lost the crowd. “Everybody, please, please,” he spoke wanly, but few paid him any heed. Many were congratulating the athame-wielding laggard, while a few were consoling the poor schmuck with the knife sticking out of his neck. Mr. Stopheles waited for the commotion to subside, but it was evident that without some intervention, this meeting would never get underway.
At that moment, though, a large fist slammed against the conference table, causing a lengthy crack to appear in one side. “Will you all shut the heaven up!” a thunderous voice bellowed. The words had the desired impact, as most of the group quieted immediately, some out of guilt, others out of fear.
“Thank you, thank you,” Mr. Stopheles sputtered, as startled by the loud and forceful intervention as everyone else. “Thank you, uhh—” Mr. Stopheles squinted and peered over his glasses to see who had shouted— “Demon of Wrath, yes, thank you, thank you very much, though there is no need to be so profane in your language, please.”
“Just get on with it,” the Demon of Wrath rumbled, crossing his arms and giving Mr. Stopheles a baleful glare. Most of the room finally turned their attention to Mr. Stopheles as well, though one or two still whispered in the back, and a Gluttony Demon, finding the black blood-soaked bagels now too tempting to resist, used a pudgy claw to surreptitiously inch the tray toward his gaping maw before devouring the entire plate of breakfast items in one large gulp. Mr. Stopheles ignored this breach in decorum and protocol and plowed ahead.
“Okay,” he said, relieved to finally get the staff meeting underway, “we need to talk about All Hallow’s Eve.”
A collective groan rose from the crowd, and Mr. Stopheles knew he was dangerously close to losing their attention again. “Everybody, demons, please,” he said, holding his hands up once more. Luckily, while the group continued to mutter their disapproval, they allowed him to proceed. “I realize All Hallow’s Eve isn’t quite what it used to be—” More groans from the group; Mr. Stopheles tried raising his voice, though when he did so, he had a tendency to become shrill. “—but it is still the most important night on the demonic calendar—”
This was also met with a collective sound of disagreement and more than a few dissenting voices. “The Super Bowl!” one demon shouted. “The Oscars!” a more flamboyant voice suggested. “Election night!” another voice offered, to raucous support.
Mr. Stopheles harrumphed loudly. “Election night is not an annual event,” he said disapprovingly, although he added with a sly smile, “though we did do a bang up job on the last one, didn’t we?” The group bellowed its agreement. Finally, Mr. Stopheles thought. He had their attention. He cleared his throat a third time. “Now, please, can we just get on with it?”
Everyone grew quiet, because they realized the sooner the meeting was over, the sooner they would escape this room. “As you know,” Mr. Stopheles began, “All Hallow’s Eve is the only night of the year that the veil lifts and we can walk freely amongst the humans. What this means, for those who are new,” Mr. Stopheles added, gesturing toward two hatchling demons and a freshly recruited imp, “is that All Hallow’s Eve is the one night of the year demons can take corporeal form on Earth. The rest of the time, we are simply ethereal, whispering to the mortals or showing them visions in the hopes that they will stray from the path. But on All Hallow’s Eve, we are made flesh. We can have direct contact with them. This makes it a prime recruitment period. I’m talking about souls, everybody, souls and sins.” Mr. Stopheles began to pass out sheets of paper to everyone. “Rather than waste time handing out individual duties, I’ve listed everyone’s assignments here, on this master list. Mark your quotas, please. Last year was the first time in over a decade we actually hit our marks. So naturally the head honchos—in their infinite wisdom—have raised them. Again. I need everybody at their best.”
A hand shot up in the back of the room.
“Yes?” Mr. Stopheles sighed. He hated interruptions, questions, and those demons who interrupted him with questions. He peered over the crowd of demons to see who the hand belonged to, but a rather stout gluttony demon blocked his view. “What is it?”
“What’s the point?” a disembodied voice asked. Mr. Stopheles bobbed and weaved, trying to see the face of the questioner, but it was no avail; the gluttony demon was penned in by two sloth demons, who were each fast asleep and not budging an inch.
“I’m sorry?” Mr. Stopheles said, pretending he did not quite hear the question and cupping a claw around his bat-like ear. “What was that again?”
“What’s the point?” the demon asked again louder, this time standing up to be seen. The speaking demon was rather nondescript, appearing quite like a mortal with only the usual small horns, forked tongue, etc. Without any more significant, telltale markers, Mr. Stopheles wasn’t quite sure who was speaking.
“Well,” Mr. Stopheles bristled, “the point, as it were, is to induce the humans to sin, and as such—”
“I get that part of it,” the demon interrupted. Inwardly, Mr. Stopheles seethed. He knew he would never get the flow of the meeting back on track, but he let the demon continue. “But the humans are already full of sin. They are sick with sin. They are worse than some of us. So, again, what’s the point?”
Mr. Stopheles took a linen handkerchief from his pocket and hastily blew sulfur out of his nose. “I’m sorry, I don’t quite recognize you. What circle are you from?”
“The second,” the demon stonily replied.
Mr. Stopheles nodded. “Ah, yes, lust,” he said. The demon wasn’t inaccurate in what he was saying; lustful offenses had risen 5000 percent in the last century alone. Still— “Every demon must play his part,” he started, and then, noticing the angry glare of a succubus, he quickly inserted, “or her part”—looking pointedly at the succubus and noting with relief her nod of approval—“and so therefore we must all—”
“What’s the point,” the insistent demon interrupted again, “when the humans are doing it all on their own?”
Mr. Stopheles peered over his glasses at the petulant demon before him. Clearly, this demon couldn’t take a hint and was not going to let the matter drop. “I’m sorry,” he said again. “You are the demon of—” He waited for the other demon to fill in the blank.
“Masturbation,” the demon glumly added. A juvenile envy demon tittered at this word, but a bulky wrath demon smacked the envy demon on the back of his head, causing it to pop off and roll across the table. No one else stirred; they were too riveted by the conversation unfolding before them.