The Bible Basher

Leo Kerslake sat in his living room, as happy as any man bored with daytime television can be. He had finally become bored with the nine-minutes-per-hour of advertising products he didn't care about. Channel hopping had offered him dishes he couldn't dream of cooking himself, quiz shows that an eight year old could have won first prize on, and he really, really didn't much care about the survey on whether or not most women used sanitary towels or tampons. He had flicked the standby button on the remote and watched that for a few minutes instead. It proved to be easily as stimulating.

Instead of the brain-jellifying options of television, he turned to his not inconsiderable book collection. He realised just how long it had been since he had read a really good book. Looking at the titles, he realised why he didn't read much anymore. As a teenager he had been a major Stephen King fan, but now, he decided that horror would not suffice on a lazy Monday afternoon. Nor would Science Fiction, fantasy, war stories, and thrillers. Leo wasn't sure what to read.

‘What did people do on their days off?’ he thought. Perhaps they all go through this 'what shall I do now?' syndrome. Only most people probably had a better reason for having a day off than purely being sick of the humdrum of factory shift work. Most people would go on a day out, stop by a relative’s, or pop down to the local for a drink; maybe even do some decorating. Leo weighed up these options, shook his head, and reached for his battered copy of The Worlds Greatest Mistakes.

He returned to the living room and glanced through the window. There were few cars in the street at this time of day; not like when he was working the graveyard shift. Many a time had he come home to find the nearest parking space was in the next street. The blue Cavalier of his next-door neighbour sat slowly rotting further behind his own battered Mk. III Escort. The only other car was a gleaming black Jag, owner unknown.

A man walking his dog passed by, but there was little else to see.

As an afterthought to lighting another cigarette, Leo went into his kitchen and retrieved a solitary can of lager from the fridge. The can had been left over from one of the wilder parties he had thrown recently. He cracked it open, smiling at the reminiscence of what exactly had happened at that party. Blowing smoke out through his nose, Leo wondered whether he really should have phoned her; as he had promised to do.

"Treat 'em mean, keep 'em keen." he said to himself with a smile.

He went back through to the living room, deciding that if he was going to slob around for the day, he may as well go the whole hog. The over-filled ashtray was moved from the clutter of his chair side table and placed on the floor in front of the sofa. The rubbish, unpaid bills, and final demands were swept from the sofa to the floor. He moved a cushion onto one arm of the sofa, swinging his body down, and placing his feet on the other arm. A sip of lager and a draw on the cigarette later, and Leo was comfortable.

He turned to the first page of the book. He had read it a few times before, but it never ceased to amaze him. Some of the people in it were so stupid! There was the man that bought the Eiffel tower, and John Farynor who is best remembered as the baker who started the Great Fire of London. Leo didn't really consider this a mistake; most of the part burnt away was apparently tenement. All in all, the book was full of stupidity, ignorance and carelessness. Three of the greatest human attributes delivered in true comic style.

He came to the first article. There was a knock at the door…

It always goes like this; it appears. You're in the bath, and the phone rings. You're about to go out, and a friend calls. You're about to start reading, someone knocks on your door. It doesn't really happen that often, but that is certainly the way it seems.

Leo looked up. Usually, if it were someone he knew, they would peer through the window after knocking. There was no-one peering through the window. He stubbed the cigarette out, stood up, and walked across the room. He opened the door to a young man. He was wearing a short sleeved cotton shirt with a red tie. His trousers were iron grey; and he wore brown shoes. His eyes were ringed by red-rimmed spectacles. Leo immediately suspected him of being a Labour party canvasser.

"Yes?" he said hastily, frowning. He hoped his coarse manner suggested to the man that he had disturbed him from doing something very important indeed.

"Hello!" the man replied in the specialized tone of voice usually reserved specifically for receptionists. "I was wondering," and now he produced a leaflet from a back pocket, "do you have faith in the wonders of the world offered by our Lord?"

The smile was the cheesy grin of all purveyors of doorstep religion. The smoothed sensible haircut should have told Leo that this was the line that the man was in. Labour canvassers tended to have scruffier haircuts, and were less well shaven. Leo gave him the sort of smile that torturers give their victims.

"I'm not interested in whatever religion you are." he said nastily. "I'm a practising Satanist.” With that, he slammed the door in the man's face.

He sat back down on the sofa, slightly irritated. The overtly cheery disposition of the average Bible-basher irritated him. He wasn't a Satanist; but used the expression for dealing with these people. The fact was that he didn't care about religion at all. He didn't believe in God or Satan, but didn't mind that other people did; just so long as they didn't preach at him. All he knew was that saying you were a Satanist was a guaranteed method of being rid of the pests.

He picked the book up and started to read. In minutes he had completely forgotten about the man he had left on his doorstep. Occasionally he would look out of the window whenever someone walked by. He paid particular attention to a young lady he knew to live further down the street. Whenever she walked past he would pay close attention; especially after she had gone past. That was, in his opinion, the best view.

The can of lager was emptied. Several more cigarette butts joined the hundred or so others in the ashtray. People began to park their cars in the street as the working day ended for those with an early start. Leo continued to read.

There was another knock on the door. Again Leo looked up. It was reasonable to assume that one of his friends, on finishing work, had called around; but there was no face peering in at the window. Again he got up and made for the door; this time with heavier footsteps.

He swung the door open violently. "Yes?"

"Hello!" the man replied in a familiar tone of voice, usually reserved specifically for receptionists. "I was wondering," and now he produced a leaflet from a back pocket, "do you have faith in the wonders of the world offered by the Lord?"

The smile was the cheesy grin of all purveyors of doorstep religion. The smoothed sensible haircut told Leo that this man was in the same mould as the first unwanted caller. The only differences between them were that this man had darker hair, wore no spectacles, had black trousers, and black shoes.

"I've just had one of your lot 'round!" Leo growled, causing the man to step back and drop the grin. "Don't you people get it? I'm a Satanist! I don't want your religion, whatever it is!"

The door was slammed significantly harder this time. Stamping back through to the cluttered kitchen on the off chance of finding another can of lager, Leo cursed all Bible-bashers, canvassers, and salesmen to Hell.

He yanked the fridge door open, causing a salad cream bottle to tumble to the floor. He swore under his breath, replaced the fallen bottle, and scanned the fridge contents for another lager. There was not one.

"Damn." he said.

In addition to the irritation the two visits had caused, Leo had acquired a headache. He was about to stand up and go to the cupboard that contained his various medicines for imagined ailments when there was yet another knock on the door. He stormed through the dining room, into the living room, noticed the lack of faces at the window, and swung the door open. He didn't speak. The second Bible-basher was standing there, as though he had never moved. His expression and stance told Leo that he was not a happy man. There was a line to his mouth that more than hinted his displeasure.

"Leo Kerslake?" the man said. He seemed to have lost the singsong voice; replacing it with a sombre baritone. The kind English T.V. cops use. It was a marked change.

"Yes. How'd you know my name?" Leo asked suspiciously.
 
"It's our business to know peoples names. May I come in?"

 The manner of the man unnerved Leo. Why that should be so, he wasn't sure. The man was lightly built and inches shorter than Leo, but he seemed to loom over him purely with eye contact. He stepped back, allowing the man to enter his home without ever knowing why he had done so.

The man stepped inside and closed the door himself. He took in the chaotic scene as though he approved entirely. The floor was littered with paper of all sorts. Cigarette packets were scattered about the waste paper bin, having been thrown across the room with no chance of ever landing in it, due to the fact that it was already stuffed full of rubbish. The mantelpiece was dotted with compact disc cases, screwed up paper, broken ornaments, and an unused oil burner that now served as a shallow but perpetually full ashtray.

The man spun on Leo, who stood watching him intently; as a cornered mouse might watch a cat. The man grinned, and pulled a slender electronic notebook from his back pocket. He began fingering the buttons, never ceasing the odd grin.

"Who the hell are you?" Leo asked, trying to mask his fear (Why fear? he thought. I could knock seven bells out of this wimp...).

"My name is immaterial." the man replied flatly, still pushing at buttons.

"That's a funny bloody name." Leo said sarcastically, glaring at the man. There was something about him...

The man looked up, his grin fading to a chilling grimace. He stood with his head turned against the light of the window. The dark walls of the room lent an eerie quality to the lines of his face. "This is no time for jokes, Mister Kerslake. No time at all." he said in a dull monotone, drawing the last sentence out with an ominously lowered voice and a slow shake of his head.

Leo didn't reply. He just watched the slow tapping of letters and numbers into the credit card thin notebook, noting the occasional slow nods of the other’s head; all the time thinking he had never seen a notebook that thin before — electronic or otherwise.

"Mm-hmm." said the man, nodding slowly. "Seems to be in order." He looked up at Leo. "Sit down, Mister Kerslake."

Leo was unresisting. Intrigue was playing a curious role alongside irrational fear and growing anger. As he sat on the sofa, his eyes never left the other, and his never left Leo's.

"We have here," and the man waved the slender notebook in front of Leo's face. "Forty blasphemies, seven hundred and ninety profanities, and five declarations of allegiance to Satan." He paused. "That is this calendar year alone."

Leo's eyes widened. He got a grip on himself, shrugged and said "So what?" in a belligerent tone.

"So," the other continued in the slow baritone, "it seems that you are suitable to come with me."

"Go with you?" Leo said angrily. "Go with you, where?"

 "To Hell."

 

Leo's jaw dropped. Was he hearing what he thought he was hearing? This man claimed he was from Hell?

"Are you sodding mental?!" Leo shouted, rising from the sofa like Cthulu from the deep. Fists at the ready, he screamed at the man. "Get out of my house you nutter!"

The man did not move. He simply placed his notebook back in the pocket and folded his arms, rolling his eyes as though he expected this response. "Nevertheless, now you are dead, you are going to Hell."

Leo started. Dead? He wasn't dead. He had had a headache, but that had gone. Dead was certainly what he wasn't.

Advancing on the man, Leo erupted completely into a rage. "I am not dead you idiot!" he snarled. "You will be if you don't get out of here, though. Now get out!"

"I think not." said the other. He stepped back, peered through the dining room and into the kitchen. He pointed in its direction. "If you are not dead, then what is that in the kitchen?"

Leo moved over to where the man stood, following the angle of the pointing finger. What he saw horrified him more than anything he had ever witnessed in his entire life. More even than when he saw a school friend knocked down by a speeding motorist all those years ago. What he saw could not be believed; was not rational as he stood there looking at it.

It was himself. He lay in a crumpled heap on the floor in front of the fridge. Its door was still open. So were his eyes. His hands were clutching his head. Grimly, Leo remembered doing that when the headache had struck. Walking over to the corpse, there was no mistaking that it was him. So if it was him lying on the floor, the face white with death, who was doing the looking?

"Oh my god." he whispered.

The man stood beside him, his hands planted firmly in his pockets. "No. You have no god. Of course, there may be an appeal, but in light of the life you have led, and the pledges you have made, I wouldn't bother personally."

Leo turned his horrified gaze on the man. "You... you're a demon?"

The man looked taken aback. "Demon? I suppose you could say I'm a demon, yes. Yes, demon is a fair description. Although my title is actually Soul Retrieval Operative (U.K.). We don't go in for the horns and trident malarkey these days. Anthropomorhics aren't what they used to be when people really believed." He sounded quite wistful at that comment.

"But... but... I saw you when I was alive! I was alive wasn't I?" Leo whined.

"Ah! You did, you did. It's the new policy, you see. We get a list together of all the imminent worldly demises. Heaven get the list too. Then those of us in the respective SRO departments pop in and see the potential client. It's all done very fairly, on a free market basis." He continued in a breezier, less formal way. "Of course, we don't do much business. Nor do Heaven. Too many atheists and agnostics about these days. Takes the fun out of death." He shook his head sadly. "You're a lucky find though. Old Gabriel will be well disappointed to find I've got another one." He chuckled. It was a decidedly evil chuckle.

Leo couldn't believe it. He had died. He was going to Hell. Jesus Christ, there really was a Hell! And he had been pledging his allegiance to its ruler for five years or more. What heart he had left sank. The pit opened up before him, and he was even more horrified to see that this was quite literally what was happening: Leo Kerslake was going to Hell.

The cluttered floor of his terrace house fell away into a bright orange glow. The walls shimmered like a mirage before dissolving into an equally orange haze. All around, the fires of Hell burned brightly, but were not noticeably hot. The fire seemed to have definite shapes, as though sculpted. One might have expected demonic figures constructed of infernal flame, but this was not the case. The flames formed roadways, buildings, and a red-clouded orange sky maintained in their form by some unseen infernal power. It was as though an artist had decided it was time for an orange period, having only variations of orange to paint with.

The demon began to walk towards one of the bright orange buildings. In a trance, Leo followed.

"Where are we going?" he asked.

The demon from SRO did not turn around. "To fix you up with accommodation and employment." he said flatly. "Everyone in Hell has a place to live and a job to do."

Leo frowned, dragging his heels as he followed the figure. It seemed much larger now. "Doesn't sound like Hell to me."

"Well of course." the demon added. "You know Hell so well don't you? You've been here lots, I imagine."

"That's not what I meant." Leo grumbled.

"Quite. Here we are. Step inside, Mister Kerslake."

The furnishings of the buildings interior were all too familiar. Cheap plastic seats in garish orange were fixed firmly to a tacky orange carpet. The carpet itself had butt-ends ground into it, chewing gum stuck to it for all eternity, and gaffa-tape holding down various tears. Along one wall, bleak-faced humanoid figures sat glowering at a long line of miserable looking people of all races and religious belief. Most were accompanied by the larger than life figures of what could only be SRO demons. The bleak faced figures sat behind plastic counters with a thick layer of slightly dulled transparent perspex.

There was no doubt in Leo's mind: this was a carbon copy of his local Job Centre. He had been a regular visitor in his youth. On reflection, he realised that he hadn't been that regular a visitor at all. Most of the time he couldn't be bothered. He had been at Grason and Stallow (Bearings) for eight years now. Had been.

Something plagued his mind. Hell was nothing like he had imagined. Okay, he was an atheist, and not even supposed to think about what Hell might be like should it exist; but he did, and Hell did not seem like Hell. They were going to offer him a job. They were giving him accommodation. It sounded like an easy afterlife.

There might have been time here. The analogue clock on the wall behind the counter had stopped at what should have been midnight. The roman numerals, black on a nicotine background were somewhat vague. Was it XII or XIII at the top? What was the time? Was there time? Something passed. It may have been time. Whatever, it felt like forever before Leo made it to the front of the queue.

He was there for what could only have been ten seconds. The woman behind the counter did not even speak. The thin, sallow face and dark ringed hopeless eyes never changed in the intensity of their expression. She looked as though she hated Leo with all her heart as she handed him an orange card.

It read:

GLUTTON AND COWARDICE (BEARINGS) Ltd.

REPORT FOR EMPLOYMENT

YOU HAVE NO OPTIONS.

Leo stared at the card for a moment, and then returned to his assigned RSO demon looking perplexed. "What do I do now?"

The demon took the card, read it, and sniggered. "Now I take you to your new 'home'." he said, rising from the chair.

Leo did not want to imagine what it would be like.

"Could we see where I will work?" He asked hopefully. "Only I'll need to be on time, won't I?"

Again the demon sniggered. "Oh you're new alright! Believe me; you will know where to go. Believe me, you will know."

Leo didn't like the tone. Already Hell was beginning to seem like Hell. The demon's manner had become brusque, regarding Leo as one would regard canine excrement on the sole of a shoe. In addition, the streets of Hell were crowded with ignorant, shuffling people; all getting in each other’s way. None apologized, he noticed. All wore expressions of intense distaste, anger, and most noticeably, hopelessness.

Another thought that troubled him was one of the reasons he had come to be here in the first place.

"Will I get to meet Satan?" he said warily, watching for the demon's inevitably coarse response.

"Yeah right." he replied dully. "Like you want to. Tell me Kerslake; when you worked for Grason and Stallow (Bearings), they were owned by Montgomery-Neilson Holdings, yes?"

"Yes."

"Okay. So did you ever meet Lord Arthur Montgomery-Neilson?"

"No."

"There you go then. You will have to view it in the same way. Besides, I assure you that you do not want to meet Our Master." Then he stopped. "Right. We're here." He opened another orange door, and stepped inside.

The room was untidy. The floor was littered with paper of all sorts. Cigarette packets were scattered about the waste paper bin, having been thrown across the room with no chance of ever landing in it, due to the fact that it was already stuffed full of rubbish. The mantelpiece was dotted with compact disc cases, screwed up paper, broken ornaments, and an unused oil burner that now served as a shallow but perpetually full ashtray. It was all too chillingly familiar.

The dining room table was cluttered with dirty plates and cutlery, an overflowing ashtray, a copy of Sunday Sport. A bookshelf on one wall was littered with the expected horror, sci-fi and fantasy titles along with pamphlets, an ashtray, and discarded sweet wrappers.

The kitchen begged description; but was going to be disappointed. Fortunately, there was no corpse in front of the fridge. The view from the kitchen window was an orange parody of Leo Kerslake’s unkempt back garden.

The demon turned to Leo, grinning at his bemused, idiot expression. "Just what did you expect, Kerslake?"

"I..."

"Ha! It matters not what you think. This is what Hell will be for you. This is 'the bed you made'."

"Now lie in it." Leo said grimly.

"Forever." the demon laughed.

Leo never realised what a terribly dull echo the walls of his house produced until it was too late.

*   *   *   *   *

Leo Kerslake sat in his living room, as happy as any man bored with daytime television can be. He had finally become bored with the nine-minutes-per-hour of advertising products he didn't care about. Channel hopping had offered him dishes he couldn't dream of cooking himself, quiz shows that an eight year old could have won first prize on, and he really, really didn't much care about the survey on whether or not most women used sanitary towels or tampons. He had flicked the standby button on the remote and watched that for a few minutes instead. It proved to be easily as stimulating.

It was like this every so often. Every once in an innumerable while, his boss would give him a day off. Just one day. There were no 'one and a quarter days per calendar month' holidays; just one day every eternity or so. And every time he had that day off, he had only one book that could be prised from the bookshelf. It was a very battered copy of The Worlds Greatest Mistakes. Unlike the copy he remembered having, this one seemed to be a much later edition. The last entry was about a man who gave away his soul for the sake of a few misplaced words.

Leo didn't find the story very funny.

It started like this:

Leo Kerslake sat in his living room, as happy as any man bored with daytime television can be. He had finally become bored with the nine-minutes-per-hour of advertising products he didn't care about. Channel hopping had offered him dishes he couldn't dream of cooking himself, quiz shows that an eight year old could have won first prize on, and he really, really didn't much care about the survey on whether or not most women used sanitary towels or tampons. He had flicked the standby button on the remote and watched that for a few minutes instead. It proved to be easily as stimulating......

For an eternity onwards, Leo Kerslake (deceased) wished to whoever would listen that he had said he was an atheist. Things might have been a whole lot better if he had said he was an atheist.

© Ian "Ed" Henderson 1996