How to Win Friends and Influence Demons, or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Join the Fallen
by Ross Shingledecker
Finally, I’ve made it to Hell. Now I can really get down to business.
I know it sounds shocking, but bear with me. Most people, even really bad people, either don’t believe in Hell as such or don’t believe that whatever they’ve done really warrants an eternity of suffering in the lava pits of Sheol or the dusty, film-noir streets of Pandemonium. And then there’s the huge crop of people who don’t believe in much of anything at all, who think that what makes them themselves is actually chemistry and little electric shocks in the brain, as unique and mystifying as the fizzle of vinegar mixing with baking soda. But I knew better.
I hadn’t always been canny as to the real nature of the cosmos. As a kid, I’d locked myself away in my room with the Lovecraft corpus and books on shamanism, searching in the pages of fiction and nonsense nonfiction for a spiritual outlook more exciting than the tired Catholicism of my parents and five siblings. It’s embarrassing to admit, but I feverishly held on to these fixations until my mid-twenties, joining and rejecting a half-dozen pagan religions along the way. Finally, though, someone saw through the fanatic to the questing spirit underneath and took me under her black wing: Veronica, my guardian demon.
It’s unfortunate that you’re only reading this, and can’t hear my sarcasm. Writing was never much my forte, but you should be told the truth. I can’t assume you’ll be as lucky as I was, and if I don’t leave you a guide, how will you find your way?
Veronica exposed me to dark secrets, teaching me to sort through the gobbledygook of modern neopaganism and occult jibber-gabber to the universal truths beneath. She taught me to harness my deepest essence, channeling it through mystical rituals, sharpening my will and my determination. Sure, she limited my learning and doled out knowledge in exchange for earthly deeds. Hold on, I know what you’re thinking, and you’re wrong. I didn’t go around cutting the brake lines on buses full of nuns, or leaving books of pornography outside elementary schools, or anything so banal. The War on Earth for the souls of mankind is a subtle one, using small pushes to guide the Unwashed either upwards or downwards. So what if I arranged parties at which promising coeds drank Mickey Finns and thus slept through their allotted LSATs or MCATs or GREs? It’s not as though I poured the booze down their throats myself. Iago might have been in it for the revenge, but I was in it for the power.
A word on demons, though it should go without saying: don’t trust the Fallen. Veronica set me up more than once, and regularly dropped into my lap unholy knowledge that would have scared Poe himself sane. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t play the Game, as I call it. And here’s why: if you live right and proper, you’re going to be on Earth eight or nine decades if you’re lucky, and then you’re going to spend the rest of your God-given soul’s pitiable existence basking in the grace of Heaven. If you make the Lucifer-living best out of your lifetime, you’ll die sooner and spend an equivalent time roasting in Hell. This is well known, right? What they don’t tell you is that Heaven’s as exciting as a wet bar in rural Utah, and that in Hell there’s definite room for advancement.
Does that sound crazy to you? I bet it might carry the subtext of a demon’s plot to lure you into forbidden congress, but let me tell you the straight truth: in Hell, you can go places. The Demon Princes, the real movers and shakers in the Descending Hierarchy, know good talent when they see it, demon and damned soul alike. Most souls in Hell aren’t cut out for anything but an eternity of torment—the lucky get off with oblivion by crossing a powerful demon by accident and getting obliterated for all time. But a soul that’s spent its allotted Earthly time sharpening his will, learning the ropes, and getting a feel for Hellish politics? That’s a soul that can make it to the top.
It might be easier if you think of Hell as LA, but where the casting directors spear you on hot pokers if they don’t like your auditions, and only the demons start with SAG cards. But for every few thousand emaciated and febrile damned soul—the waitresses and temps of Hell—there is one guy who can out-evil Evil itself and earn a starring role. I’m going to be one, and if take these words to heart, you just might get the leg up you need, too.
Lesson One is not trusting your guardian demon. Getting one will be necessary if you want to play the Game, but most would-bes who don’t learn the difference between actual help and demon “help” rapidly become has-beens or wish-they-never-weres. Lesson Two is living a life of moderate sin. You don’t want mobs of angry villagers or the State of Texas’ lethal injection to cut short your Earthly training period, but you can’t be so virtuous that your guardian demon culls you too soon. Lesson Three is to go out with a bang—preferably in the company of some like-minded individuals who are just a bit less clever and canny than you and who you can rapidly backstab once you reach the “Abandon All Hope” sign. Lesson Four is not to stick out on your first day. The biggest and baddest souls get the worst punishment at the threshold, to scare the newly damned into whimpering subservience. Lesson Five is that other human souls are Hell’s dodo birds, equal parts food and amusement, and if you want to make a name for yourself you need to escape that mold for yourself while ruthlessly enforcing it on everyone around you. Lesson Six, the last lesson for a good round number, is that once you’re seen as a human of note, every demon will be even more out to get you than before. If you’re going to move into the limelight, you better have the firepower or the friends to back up your claim. Otherwise, you’re just a bigger and easier target.
I won’t earn the promotion to full demon for a few decades now, so I have no way to get back to Earth and get this message and the ones following it into your hands, whoever you are. But I know some of you have what it takes to trace my path, so I’m getting a demonling in my service to convey it secretly to Earth, to be hidden in places only the properly-minded would think to look. By finding it, you’ve passed the first test, and I hope one day to see you in Hell, as powerful and well-regarded as I soon will be. Good luck, and Satanspeed.
Congratulations, Countess Veerharhug, my loyal vassal—
The tract you sent with your last missive rings of hope (misplaced) and promises (unfulfillable), and is couched most naturally in the modern human tongue, which so few of us have mastered. Does some enterprising young demon of yours show unprecedented facility with its nuances? Or did one of the peon souls in your demesne retain enough faculty of mind after the psychectomy to pen it? Either way, it and the promised future volumes should net more souls for our Principality, and though I will of course take credit for your success, I will look upon you as a useful servant in the centuries to come.
—Marquis Hashtar ul Ledra, Marchlord of the Eastern Wing, and Secretary of the Fetid Files
O Most Ultimate Servant of our Mutual Prince of the Archives, Marchlord of the Eastern Wings and Secretary of the Fetid Files—
Your Eminence, My Lord, Commander of the Grey-Skirted Companies, you do me, your most loyal and humble servant, the greatest of honors by taking my work as your own to present to our Prince and thus by extension to the First Prince, the Lightbringer, for whom we all toil—though noneasmuch as I, a lowly servant. That the work of fiction I have produced pleases you gives me the utmost of dark joys, and contained with this message you will find the first full volume of advice to aspiring practitioners of the Unseen Mysteries, for you to distribute at your leisure. As to the fiction’s authorship, I must confess that it is the issuance of a soul not so damned as it believes. The Lightbringer has taught us that the most efficacious lies are those shrouded in truth, and so it is with this soul.
I have through diverse machinations laid upon him a state of extreme sleep, from which he will never awaken, and have crafted for him a dream Hell not unlike our own, that is described in his initial script. More detail can be found in the aforementioned volume. When there is no longer a need for this author to continue his writing, I will have him slain, and he will no doubt make a capable peon once he has been will-stripped and joined us in the real Hell.
Again, it fills my entrails with euphoria to read your praise and to know that my service will increase your standing. Expect another volume next Darkday.
—Your loyal vassal and humblest servant, Veerharhug