by Summer Hanford
How Satan Died
One unremarkable, breezy September morning, a graduate student was cleaning rat cages. Now, most of her rats were housed individually in fine 9 x 12 x 9 inch highly durable plastic bins, but four of them lived together in a colony cage. These four rats were naive Long Evans males, recognizable as 19, 20, 21 and 22 by their earmarks, and were currently on water deprivation in preparation for a study.
It happened that as this student was moving her rats from a dirty bin to a clean one, she glanced up and saw a fifth rat poised on the stainless steel shelf of the cage rack. It was also a Long Evans male and appeared to be observing her with great interest.
“I’ve come to inform you that your cruel exploitation of these creatures has landed you a spot in Hell,” squeaked the rat. “However, if you will consent to do my work on earth for the rest of your mortal life, I shall see that Hell isn’t so bad for you.”
“Nonsense,” replied the graduate student, unperturbed at finding an extra rat on her shelf. “This is science.” And she tossed him in the bin with the others.
Don’t be misled into thinking that Satan didn’t try to jump right back out, but the graduate student was accustomed to recalcitrant rats and caught him firmly by the tail. Grabbing up the stainless steel cage top, she plunked the stunned Satan once more into the bin and snapped it closed.
“Don’t you realize who I am?” squeaked the rat as loudly as it could, but she had already headed down the hallway to dispose of the trash bag full of dirty shavings.
Several weeks passed and Satan tried at every opportunity to escape his confinement, but a quick hand on his tail always yanked him back. He spent his spare time cowing his cage mates into submission, which involved a fair amount of eye gouging and genital nipping, since they too failed to recognize his inherent right to dominate them. Of course, he had an advantage over them since his claws and teeth were eternally razor sharp and he did not succumb to fatigue.
Once they had been properly subjugated, Satan proceeded to lead his subordinates in several escape attempts, which involved the clever plan of eating as much food as possible off the cage cover and then trying to push it open. Unfortunately, it is rather difficult to eat a lot of dry food pellets when you have no water, and the other rats didn’t really put their hearts into the effort.
They would ask him, “Why would we want to escape? We have food, and fifteen milliliters of water a day, and humans to provide it and keep our home clean.” Then they would return to digging about in the shavings.
Trying a new strategy, Satan regaled them with tales of the horrors their human was likely to perpetrate upon them. The other rats shook their heads.
Number 21 disagreed. “We’re for some odor detection task. She won’t do any of that to us.”
“Why don’t you give up all this escape stuff?” asked number 19.
“Here she comes!” squeaked 22, running to the front of the cage and waving his paws through the bars in the top.
“Come have some water!” suggested 20 as he tried to squeeze his nose through the hole for the waterspout. Satan sighed, stepping forward to jostle with the others for access to a drinking tube.
Constrained by the laws of the universe to keep his rat form until he either escaped or accomplished his mission on earth, Satan was obliged to form a new plan. He would ask for a single cage. This, he hoped, would have a lighter top. The next time the graduate student came to clean, Satan moved to the back of the cage, waiting until her attention fell on him.
“Come here, little Satan rat,” she soothed, reaching toward him.
“I want my own cage,” he proclaimed. “One of those individual ones.”
“Your own cage?” she repeated, frowning. “Why?”
“This cage is too full, and the Vet won’t like it.” Satan had considered his arguments and presented this one first, deeming it the most effective.
“True,” she drawled, obviously unconvinced that the rat didn’t have other, more selfish motives. “And?”
“And I don’t see why I have to be on water deprivation!” Satan put a lot of feeling into this, trying to be convincing. Of course, he was Satan and didn’t actually need water, but he hoped she would take pity on him.
“Hmm, well, I guess you’re right.” She paused, considering. “I’ll get a cage, and hold it right next to this one. I want you to jump in, and none of your escape attempts!”
She departed, presumably to get a scoop of shavings for his new cage. Satan was elated. Now he would have his chance!
When the new cage was presented, Satan jumped in and immediately tried to jump back out the other side, mostly for show. Escape that way wasn’t his plan. As he expected, she slammed the lid in place, admonishing him.
SLAP. A bright green tag was affixed to the outside of the container. It read #13, as his earmarks denoted him, and Class: Practice HRP. BAM! A scoop full of food came down on the lid, and a bottle of water slid into place. To keep up the act, Satan rushed over and pretended to drink feverishly. He felt the cage being lifted and slid onto a shelf. He could hear his former cage mates talking in happy relief about his departure, but he was so elated at the prospect of his now certain freedom that he didn’t care. Wait until he secured his release and could resume his true form. That girl was going to be the main course at his next banquet in Hell!
Satan peered about the small chamber, trying to discern if she was still present. He regretted not specifying that he wanted a clear cage, but that may have seemed suspicious. To be safe, he waited for the loud click of the timer that preceded the sudden darkness of a laboratory night. He was stronger at night.
In the darkness, Satan moistened his mouth and began gnawing away at the food that weighed down the cage lid. Even though he worked with fervor, it took until nearly dawn for him to clear it. Bracing his back legs, he pressed his nose against the top.
It didn’t budge. He frowned, turning to place the flat of his head against the bars, and pressed harder. The lid didn’t even shift. Frantically, he cocked his head to one side, peering upward. There was no food left!
The water bottle, he realized. It was too full, adding weight. He reached for it, placing one paw against the tube and allowing the lukewarm liquid to run down his arm, dampening the cage floor. It was intolerably slow. Satan dug his claws into the rubber stopper, yanking it free. Water rushed out, soaking him and flooding the cage. He shook his head, flipping water from his eyes and off his whiskers. Once again, he pushed at the top with all his might.
It was fastened tight. Satan sank into the shavings-water slop that now coated the floor of his prison. He had miscalculated. The tops on the individual cages fit much more tightly than those of the colony cages. He was trapped.
A dripping and sullen Satan didn’t even try to escape the next morning as he was gently placed in a dry cage.
“I know you were thirsty,” reprimanded the graduate student, “but you could have shown more restraint.” She placed a new scoop of food on the top, and provided a full, tightly-stoppered water bottle.
Satan didn’t answer. He lay limply at the bottom of his prison. The graduate student shrugged and left. Later, she checked on him again, providing a spoonful of peanut butter to cheer him up. Satan sat, eyeing the peanut butter malevolently and sulking. So caught up was he in this new emotion, depression, that Satan did not bother to maintain his rat body and, over the next few weeks, he became thinner.
By this time September had ended. October had come and gone. Now, as November came around, it happened that the graduate student needed an extra rat to practice her newly acquired HRP skills on. The HRP, or horseradish peroxidase, was injected into various locations so neural connections could be tracked. It wasn’t the most fun for the rats, because the only way to find out where the HRP got to was to put thin slices of their brains under a microscope, but the graduate student was sure the skills she was acquiring were very important to the future of mankind. Looking over her rats, she spied the Satan rat, pining away.
“Here, cheer up,” she told him, removing his cage from the shelf and looking down into it. “It will all be better soon.”
Satan peered up at her through the bars. “You are going to free me?” He felt a painful twinge of hope.
“Well.” She shrugged. “Let’s just say that I’m sending you on to a better place. You’ll be free of this life.”
“What do you mean?” Satan asked suspiciously. “Be careful what you do to me, I’m Satan!”
“Yes, I know,” sighed the graduate student, by this time a little tired of the rat’s boasts. Really, she thought, I’m sure Satan would appear as an albino rat, with beady red eyes. Still, I better be careful injecting him, just in case. Who knows, if he is Satan, puncturing him might let out all sorts of nasty stuff.
She weighed Satan, put him in a fresh container lined only with a paper towel, and headed into the surgery room.
Later, with Satan successfully injected and the top of his head shaved, she placed him firmly in the stereotaxic head holder and reached for a scalpel. There were some black wriggly things that dodged away from beneath the blade as the incision was made, but she scraped them impatiently aside, searching for the bregma, a landmark on the surface of the skull. Amongst the strange tangle of cracks that covered the exposed skull, she selected the one that looked right and moved the drill into place, anterior to the bregma and slightly posterior to the eyes. Zzzzz, the drill chased away dark purple crawly things, etching a line in the skull. Setting the drill aside, she reached for the scraper, but hesitated and instead first administered some local anesthetic. After pausing for a moment to allow the anesthetic’s effect to spread, she placed the scraper against an offending piece of muscle.
“If possible, scrape, don’t cut,” she muttered to herself. “Causes less tissue damage.”
She retrieved the drill. Zzzzzz. After revealing an olfactory bulb, the graduate student moved the stereotaxic holder into place, reaching for the HRP where it lay on its bed of ice cubes. With saline-soaked gauze, she wiped away the strange greenish ooze that kept welling up to obscure her target.
“Must have hit a bleeder,” she sighed, as the green stuff reappeared almost as soon as she wiped it away. Still, she made a small hole in the durra covering the bulb and inserted the micropipette.
After the injection was made and sufficient time had elapsed, she extracted the pipette and closed the suture. Satan was removed from the head holder. Pulling out his tongue with a pair of forceps, she injected HRP into it as well. Finally, Satan was returned to the paper-lined bin and placed on the heating pad.
When Satan awoke, his groggy brain registered that he was someplace warm and dark and he sighed contentedly, knowing he was home. Well-satisfied, he fell back into sleep, only to be rudely awakened seemingly moments later by gloved hands.
“Don’t fight, little Satan rat,” the graduate student recommended. “There, there. Time to go to sleepy land.” And he did.
Interlude in Heaven and Hell
Thus it came to pass that Satan stopped attending his weekly chess matches with God. For several years, God was quite pleased with this. He rather fancied that Satan had caught wind of the increased prowess with which God was playing. God had beaten all of his angels, after all, and they had been under strict orders not to let him win. Yes, chortled the Almighty to himself, Satan is afraid to come to our chess matches lest he lose in the sight of All that is Holy. Anyway, admitted God, he always sends his minions out when he knows I’m distracted by a good chess game and wreaks chaos and evil across the lands, so perhaps it is best if we skip a match or two.
So it was that God did not think much about Satan’s absence for the first two or three years.
In Hell, things continued to run smoothly unsupervised. Being an accomplished CEO, Satan had his domain arranged so well, it could practically run itself, barring any major emergencies or the occasional apocalypse.
Beelzebub was not sure where the master had gotten to, but after several millennia of devoted service to the Lord of Evil, he didn’t much care. Beelzebub found that being top dog in Hell was infinitely better than being second in command. He had his choice of any succubus that caught his eye. He could send the lesser demons to do his bidding. Best of all, no villainous-looking man in a single-breasted black blazer would appear every now and then to torture him, “just in case he’d forgotten who the Devil was around here.” Now that Satan was gone, Beelzebub had eliminated suit-wearing all together. Satan liked to keep up with the times, but Beelzebub was a demon of tradition and deemed loincloths the only suitable garb for a demon of Hell.
One dark afternoon in Hell, just about the time Beelzebub had stopped looking over his shoulder in stark terror every time there was a large puff of smoke near him, a searing ray of light blasted down, bathing him in vile radiance.
“Beelzebub!” boomed the voice of God.
Beelzebub winced, rubbing his forehead and wishing he had not over-indulged the night before.
“Beelzebub!!” The voice boomed more impatiently.
The demon considered pointing out that he was in the middle of lunch, but put the notion aside in view of how the white light was starting to make his skin smoke.
“Um, yes, Oh Lord God?” Not recently having occasion to speak directly to the master of Heaven, Beelzebub wasn’t sure of the current proper form of address.
“Vile child of Hell, where is thy master?”
The air around him seemed to vibrate with each syllable God spoke. Beelzebub tore his gaze from his arm, where he was sure the skin was beginning to blister from all that holy radiance, and squinted upward. “Well, that is, um, I’m not really sure, Lord God,” he stammered. Was or was God not supposed to be all-knowing? Beelzebub frowned.
“Find your master, Cretin of Hell, and remind him that we are due to play chess this Friday,” boomed the imposing voice of the Almighty. “Fail in this and ye shall know the wrath of God!”
With an ear-shattering peal of thunder, the white light was gone. Beelzebub sat staring at his lunch for a moment and rubbed his arm. Sighing, the great demon rang a small gold bell, calling several succubi to him.
“You there!” He pointed at the first one, who bobbed her head enthusiastically, setting her exposed bosom to bouncing. “Go get me a sinner to torture.” The creature hissed and scurried away. A good torturing after lunch always soothed his digestion. “You, get me fresh food.” He pointed to the one with the largest fangs. The light of Heaven had completely flattened his soufflé-of-the-flesh-of-murderers. “You!” One black-nailed finger snaked out toward a particularly round-looking little hellion. “Rub my neck, and you,” to the last, who stepped forward eagerly, her eyes darting about. “Get me something for these blisters! Damn holy light,” he muttered, scowling at the wound on his arm. Beelzebub relaxed into his neck massage, summoning his flies while he waited for the other succubi to return.
As it happens, flies tend to frequent places such as animal holding areas, so the minions of Beelzebub discovered where Satan had last been seen long before God returned the next Friday. Beelzebub was again eating lunch, but this time, he put up an umbrella over his chair to keep from acquiring any more burns. The ones he already had were healing poorly and kept him awake with their insistent itching. Looking up from his steak and kidney pie, Beelzebub once again found himself confronted by the voice of God, and this time, the Almighty seemed to be in an even worse temper, as Satan had missed yet another match.
“Beelzebub!” the voice of the Lord boomed. “Where is thine Master?”
“Well, that is, Oh Mighty God –” Beelzebub paused, for in truth, he did not know exactly where Satan had gotten to and God had asked a direct question.
“Tell Me now or feel the wrath of God!” the voice boomed testily.
Beelzebub fidgeted, wiping his hands on the tablecloth.
“Well, you see, Oh God, we don’t exactly know right now,” the demon began. The light of God intensified, causing the air to crackle around Beelzebub and setting his umbrella on fire. “But we know where he was last!” Beelzebub cried, throwing his hands up to shield his face.
The light dimmed slightly. The fly lord lowered his arms, continuing. “And we know who he was going to corrupt,” he added hopefully.
This seemed to satisfy God, for the light dimmed to an even more bearable level.
“Tell me, and I shall spare you, Child of Hell,” the voice boomed. And Beelzebub did, sighing slightly as he observed the smoking shambles of his lunch.
The Imprisonment of God
The next blustery November morning, on which the sun shone fiercely as it tried to convince everyone they did not really need warm hats, found the graduate student cleaning pigeon cages. Her pigeons had lovely stainless steel cages with stainless steel grating to poop through on the bottom and stainless steel grating to look through on the top. The removable trays beneath the birds had been designed to make cleaning them easy, but pigeons often found it more entertaining to smear the walls of their cages with filth, so each one had to be removed while the whole cage was washed in the sink.
Removing pigeons from their cages was actually a rather entertaining undertaking for the graduate student because she had trained them to jump out of the cages head first into green plastic pitchers. They were beautiful White Corneu pigeons, and their clipped tail feathers stood out brightly against the green plastic as they balanced heads down in the pitchers on a shelf above the sink.
Reaching up for the soap, she noticed one of the birds was free of its pitcher and was looking down at her.
“Here now,” she said to the bird. “Get back in your bucket!”
If she spoke a little harshly to the bird, it was understandable as she did spend two hours a week scraping bird feces off stainless steel cage walls and had never received much appreciation from the pigeons in return. The graduate reached for a clean bucket and held it out to the bird. The pigeon, however, did not jump immediately in.
“This is the voice of God!” it cooed, strutting up and down the shelf.
“Oh bother,” muttered the graduate student, drying her hands on a paper towel. “Come here, you!”
With this, she grabbed the pigeon, expertly wrapping his own wings around him to keep him from flying away and to put a buffer between his sharp claws and her hands. Tucking him firmly under one arm, she reached out and opened an empty clean cage.
“There you go,” she soothed, depositing the struggling bird and locking the door shut. “Let me just get you food and water.”
Returning with these, the student hooked them to the outside of the door. Turning back to her cleaning, she frowned in perplexity at the shelf above the sink on which the other pigeons still waited, tails sticking up from their pitchers.
“I dare say you are new,” she told the bird, counting the number of tails on the shelf. “Well, that makes you number seven.” And she wrote out a tag for him.
“Thy impudence is beyond measure!” ranted the pigeon, flapping its wings about and shaking its cage, but the graduate student did not appear to be listening.
“How much do you weigh, then?” she asked the bird as she wrote.
“Four hundred and eighty-three grams,” replied the pigeon, flaring his tail feathers in agitation. “But you must let me out, for I am The Almighty Lord of Heaven and Earth!” This the bird cooed as loudly as he could manage, puffing out his chest importantly.
“Yes, well, All Fatty would be more fitting,” she replied, frowning at him. “You are going to need to lose twenty-five grams so I will be taking this back.” And she removed the food tray once more.
God looked mournfully after the disappearing seeds of corn, for he had found that as a pigeon, he was nearly always ravenous.
All night, God rattled around in his cage, filling the room with noise as he tried vainly to pry open the door, for none is so tightly bound by God’s rules as God, so he would have to keep his new form until he escaped or accomplished his mission. The ruckus he made kept the other birds awake, and they were not appreciative.
“I will not be able to concentrate well enough tomorrow to choose between the green and the blue keys!” complained 4.
“Listen, 7, why can’t you leave off and let us sleep?” demanded 5.
“I am not really a pigeon!” exclaimed God, rattling his cage all the more. “I am The Almighty Lord of Heaven and Earth, and I cannot stay here in this cage!”
“You will not have to,” temporized 3. “I am sure tomorrow, you will get to come out just like the rest of us.”
God looked suspicious, but he settled down to wait for tomorrow and the other pigeons finally got some sleep. He awoke the next morning to the sight of a green pitcher obscuring the entrance to his cage, which was now open. As any inexperienced pigeon might, God immediately thought to take the opportunity to try darting beneath the pitcher instead of into it, to gain his freedom. The graduate student, however, was not inexperienced, and had been waiting for just such a ploy. SLAM! God’s head rammed into the bottom of the bucket as the student moved it down to intercept him.
“The other birds tell me you were agitated last night,” commented the student. “While you’re working today, I will put a toy in your cage for you.”
Along with the other birds, God was carried down the hall and dumped into a dimly lit chamber. Facing him was an array of colored keys and an empty black square. He eyed these dolefully.
“What in the name of Heaven is all this?” God wondered aloud, his stomach rumbling.
“Peck the keys,” one of the other birds cooed from nearby. It sounded like 1.
So God pecked the keys. He found that some keys did nothing, while others did something, and he soon became engrossed in trying to discover what combinations of keys would cause food to appear momentarily in the black square.
“This is nearly as fascinating as chess,” he observed to himself, and so God passed several pleasant days pecking at the keys and trying to decode their meaning. In addition, he found that there was indeed a toy in his cage now. It was a collection of colored trapezoids with a bell at the bottom. The bell made a fine tinkling sound.
By the middle of his second week as a pigeon, however, God began to feel the need to return to his duties in Heaven. Additionally, he needed to find that fiend Beelzebub and punish him, for he saw no evidence of Satan in this place. He was God, after all, and would not be given the run-around by a lowly minion of Hell. The next time the graduate student cleaned cages, he decided to discuss it with her.
“Ahem,” he cooed from inside his pitcher, trying to get the graduate student’s attention. “I say, My Child, this has been rather entertaining, but I will need to be getting back to Heaven soon.”
The water in the sink turned off, and his pitcher was taken from the shelf.
“What do you mean?” she asked, removing him and holding him up in two hands, his wings wrapped around him. “Getting back?”
“Well, yes.” He frowned, preening his neck feathers.
“But, you’re in my study now!” exclaimed the graduate student, looking distressed. “You can’t go yet! I have too few subjects for attrition. I mean, one does not factor in having one’s pigeons just up and leave!”
The pigeon blinked up at her, considering. “Study? What are you studying?” God asked, trying to assess the importance of the situation.
“Why, whether or not increasing the work rate required for a specific reward forms a monotonic or a bitonic work rate response curve,” she replied, as if it should be obvious. “I would only need you to stay until I graduate,” she added hopefully. “Then I am going to donate all you pigeons to the zoo, and I am sure you will be happy there.”
God considered this carefully, looking up into her pleading eyes. He knew how hard the student was working on this project, for he had been working on it too, seven days a week, right along with her.
“I do not want to go to the zoo,” he countered. “I am The Almighty Himself and I will need to be set free to go back to my domain in Heaven.”
She pondered this. “Well, what if I promise to set you free on the way to the zoo?” she suggested. “Just stay until I get my PhD, and I will free you. You have my word.”
She did seem a nice sort, God observed. Perhaps he would continue to find enjoyment in deciphering the keys. Furthermore, he had become aware, since she worked all day Sunday, that she was not a religious person, and indeed appeared to be an outright atheist. Did it not behoove him to spend at least some time trying to convert her? How many years could one PhD take anyhow?
“All right, then,” he agreed, fixing his red pigeon eyes on her. “I will stay for the duration of your degree, and you will free me when you are done, and,” he added firmly, “in return, you will listen to all I have to say about the pursuit of a more God-Fearing lifestyle for yourself.”
The graduate student let out a happy exclamation, nodding. “Oh yes, of course,” she replied. “That sounds only fair!”
Smiling, she placed him back in his pitcher. He heard the water in the sink turn on. Contentedly, God snuggled down in the green plastic and began to speak of the beginning.
And so it was that Beelzebub continued as lord of Hell and the angels made sure Heaven ran smoothly, not letting each other win at chess, and humankind continued on, oblivious, being just as good or evil as they always had been.
Copyright © 2012 by Summer Hanford
Summer Hanford was born in Syracuse, New York, in the spring of 1975. She grew up on a dairy farm west of the city where she and her siblings had plenty of space to build castles, slay dragons and keep themselves well amused.
Summer graduated from Marcellus High School and left New York to attend American University in Washington DC. Summer’s original plan was to combine her love of art and writing with a psychology degree before moving into advertising, but she soon became enamored with research. After obtaining her undergraduate degree in experimental psychology, she went on to do two years of graduate work in behavioral neurology, followed by two years of doctoral work in the same field.
Eventually, Summer realized her true passion was the one that occupied her childhood, writing fantasy and science fiction stories. She turned away from research and now lives with her husband in the thumb region of Michigan where she is a full-time writer.