Home ➨ In the Works | As One Devil to Another: A Stage Presentation
We are often unable to tell people what they need to know,
because they want to know something else.
The scene is in Hell, the office of Grand Master Slashreap, a Devil with centuries of experience in the Fine Art of Temptation and a chain of unbroken success to his credit.
The stage is stark and bare. The floor and back wall are flat, drab, charcoal black. There is an enormous chandelier hanging stage center, over a large nineteenth-century writing desk. The desk's legs are curved and ornately carved. Behind it is a large, matching black chair, though it is more like a throne or a cathedra: the chair of a Ruler, of someone of vast importance. The desk is piled with identical black leather dossiers. To one side is a small hinged box that matches the style of the desk, with a jeweled red light beside it. It is the mailbox for Slashreap's fiendish correspondence. The light lights up when mail has been delivered. On the opposite side of the desk is a cordless, hands-free Dictaphone, with a smaller red light that lights up when it is in use. At stage left is an umbrella stand, a coat rack, and a massive, ornamental full-length mirror. The desk, chair, mailbox, coat rack, umbrella stand and mirror are all highly polished, glossy black, with touches of scarlet and metallic gold.
To the rear, stage right, is a second, highly ornate, free-standing mailbox, blood red, with a large red light, like that on emergency vehicles, atop it. It is covered in cobwebs and dust, though the rest of the stage is clean and tidy. This mailbox has obviously been long out of use.
Beside the desk, stage right, there is an opening in the floor, like a grave, perhaps six feet long, with a stone border, and a stairway leading down into it. It is The Pit, and glows softly with perpetual firelight. It also doubles as the wastepaper basket. The light flares and a soft 'whoosh' of devouring flame is heard each time old correspondence is tossed into it.
At the back of the stage there is an enormous portrait, an oil painting in a gaudy and heavily carved gilt frame, with touches of scarlet and black. The portrait is so large that the base of the frame runs almost the length of the stage. It is hung so high that only a couple of feet at the bottom are visible, the rest disappearing beyond the upper limits of the stage. All that can be seen of the portrait is a swirl of murky, bloody red. At the center of the frame is a gold plaque with the words 'Our Founder'.
The Pit glows softly, the chandelier flickers dimly; the stage is in shadow, the mirror and coat rack are illuminated. Johann Sebastian Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor for Organ is heard in its entirety in the last minutes as the audience members take their seats and the houselights go down.
Slashreap enters from stage left. He is wearing a black silk top hat and a full-length black satin cape lined in scarlet, and clasped about his neck with a gold chain. He is carrying an ebony walking stick topped by an enormous ruby – we will see later that it's shaft conceals a sword - and a shiny black leather briefcase. He pauses in front of the mirror to admire himself, and is deeply satisfied with what he sees. He puts the walking stick in the umbrella stand and removes his hat and cape, storing each. He is wearing formal black evening attire, with a white shirt, scarlet bowtie, matching silk handkerchief in his breast pocket, and French cuffs with ruby cufflinks and shirt studs. He admires himself a second time, adjusts his tie, and smiles. He walks with his briefcase to The Pit and leans over to look into it, his face illuminated in sinister shadows from below. He waves daintily at The Damned. We hear their moans and wails rise in a baleful chorus of despair, then subside. Slashreap grins, then laughs out loud: a deep, hearty, satisfied laugh. His voice is a rich, resonant bass. He is dignified and supremely confident.
He waves his right hand toward stage right. Instantly there is a loud 'whoosh' of igniting flame, and stage right is illuminated from floor to ceiling in wavering, flickering reds and yellows and oranges. He turns to stage left with a similar gesture, and stage left is similarly illuminated. Looking up toward the ceiling, he snaps his fingers, and lights rise on stage center.
Placing the briefcase on the desk, he opens it and removes a black leather dossier identical to the ones already there, places the briefcase beside the desk, and seating himself comfortably opens and peruses the dossier. After a few moments reflection, he nods with a satisfied smile, pleased with what he has read, makes a brief gesture to start the Dictaphone, and clasps his hands comfortably on the desk. There is Work to do.
My dear Scardagger,
According to the report just received from Temptation University, you are quite the fiend—or rather, one day, under the lash and spur of my ceaseless vigilance, you will be. As an Infernal Cadet, you have lived a sheltered life in the rarefied air of the University, but life is not all brimstone and fire and roasting failed souls on a spit. There is work to be done. It is a great joy to be handed such an accomplished pupil to fashion and mold in my own flawlessly accomplished Image and Likeness.
My Elder Brother wanted you for himself. I can hardly blame him. As this year's Commencement Speaker and Guest of Honor at the Tempt U graduation ceremony he was entitled to certain privileges, but the Board of Governors did not deem that match appropriate. Having seen him devour with such becoming gusto the choicest cuts of your incompetent predecessor as his final shrieks resonated against the walls of the banquet hall - always an effective light ceremonial touch to remind you youngsters of the wages of failing the cause of Hell - the Board thought that pairing you with the same Mentor might prove a distraction.
I have noticed that your diabolical Chancellor, Dr. Glitchtwist, has been sending me superb material since his recent stay in our Institute of Reeducation. There is nothing like a little holiday to clarify one's vision and renew one's drive and sense of purpose. You have no doubt read the profusely illustrated booklet of the delights that await one in The Schoolhouse, as we all affectionately call it, as reward for substandard performance. The Staff do so enjoy their work. Of course you need have no fear of their company—at least, not yet—provided you follow explicitly the instructions of your betters.
You enjoyed your portion of the refreshments, did you? They met your expectations? Now you have at last tasted the reward for all our labors, of which you, as a youngster, had only heard. You have seen for yourself that Hell affords pleasures the Adversary cannot offer. There is no music to compare to the final wretched screams of a damned soul. I am glad that we had the opportunity to share this delightful meal together and consequently understand one another.
Your marks are quite impressive. Well done, my boy! I speak not merely as the newly appointed Departmental Head for Young Tempter Development, but as your Uncle, and, of course, your Friend. Temptation University has not produced such a promising graduate since myself: First Class Honors in the Casting of Doubt, the Inflammation of Vanity, the Erosion of Values, the Destruction of Conscience, the Dissolution of Goodwill, the Inculcation of Egocentricity and the Formation of Spiritual Pride. This last is the subtlest and most refined of all our Arts; a specialty of mine. Oh, we shall have great fun swapping stories one day!
I see you received only Honorable Mention for the Chancellor's Essay Prize. Perhaps having chosen a topic as easy as the Augmentation of Lust did not work in your favor. If, however, your disappointing performance is due to your lack of skill in this area, no matter. There is no need to worry. Perhaps you weren't paying much attention during the tedious films they force you to sit through. There is so little challenge for us here in the modern world. I see also that you received only passing marks for turning yourself into an Angel of Light, but don't concern yourself with that, either. Despite the perpetual abrasion of living in a fallen world and eons of evidence to the contrary, very few of the humans actually believe in us, or in anything their spiritual blindness prevents them from seeing, though any tool you can bring to the task will be useful in some way. We'll work on that. You can trust me to look after you.
As a youngster, you will be eager to display your prowess in the most advanced temptation techniques. I feel it incumbent on me as your Uncle, Mentor, and Friend to assist you in keeping your focus and maintaining a balanced perspective. No one wishes you well like I do. We shall review First Principles, beginning with the happy topic of the Demonic Virtues.
Virtue is not a single quality, but a habit of mind. The four earthly elements of Demonic Virtue are Cowardice, Excess, Injustice, and Lassitude.
Cowardice is obvious. It is easily hidden by admitting to it in a humorous light, though it can be difficult to graft on to the fool. It is unusual in this regard, as fools can otherwise be both highly useful and entertaining. Cowardice cannot exist without the presence of fear. The man who is placed in danger and boasts that he is not afraid, because he thinks himself immune to the danger, is our fool. What we want to avoid is the man who willingly faces the danger which the Adversary places before him and masters his fear out of a sense of purpose or duty. In its more subtle form, Cowardice must be handled most delicately. A human who has chosen, for example, to attempt the Way of the Adversary must be made to fear exposing himself to ridicule and be prevented from mastering that fear.
Excess, with modern media advertising, has become almost too easy. We have managed to sell the humans on the idea that the only excess that is unhealthy is alcohol, leaving us free to do as we please with food, sex, and material acquisition. Excess automatically lends itself to the Hellward Spiral, as greater consumption fosters the illusion of scarcity, and thus competition. (Competition is another fine piece of Hellish Handiwork. More on this another time.)
Injustice is central to the cause of Hell. It is so blatantly antithetical to anything the Adversary does that in order to make it pervasive, we must make it profitable. We can. On the individual level, this takes the form of self-justification. We convince the humans that, however reprehensible their behavior, it is acceptable because everyone else does it, or no one will really be harmed that much by it, or no one will know, or they will do it just this once, or—my favorite—they are doing it for the common good.
Lassitude is a kind of Hellish Inertia. We convince our clients that the Way of the Adversary is too hard, or better still, impossible, without ever allowing them to try it. Hard it certainly is. The Adversary makes no secret of it. But the dangerous truth is that He promises to help them. With Him, or so He claims, all things are possible. This is the central idea that imperils our mission.
The three Virtues specific to the spiritual life are Doubt, Despair, and Arrogance.
The usefulness of Doubt is easily seen. If the humans doubt the Adversary's existence, they will not reach out to Him. If they do not reach out, He will wait, and with a little encouragement from us they can be made to interpret patience as absence. If our clients can be convinced the Enemy is not there, they will doubt our existence as well, and we may work with a free hand.
Despair is even better, because it causes the Adversary great distress. Despair is the habit of mind which allows a client to think that the Adversary is there, but that when the client reaches out, the Adversary will withdraw His hand. Sometimes He does, to force them to walk on their own and grow stronger. It is the product of His pushing them ever onward and ever upward. Our job is to convince them in these periods of dryness that He is gone forever, or was never there to begin with.
Arrogance gladdens His Majesty's dark heart most of all, as it is the Virtue most closely associated with Himself. It is the habit of mind that causes a client to set himself up as a judge. It is the complete demonic state of mind. Everything the humans have that is worth having, everything they do that is worth doing, everything they are that is worth being, is given to them. Only a complete fool could be proud of something which was handed to them by Someone Else, though we do have cause for optimism: Our specialty for millennia has been the manufacture of complete fools.
For further reading, I suggest the following articles in the Encyclopedia Diabolica: Cowardice, Excess, Injustice, Lassitude, Doubt, Despair, Arrogance. You will find them cross-referenced under the headings of Courage, Temperance, Justice, Fortitude, Faith, Hope, and Charity respectively. You may, in your reading, also come across references to 'prudence'. It need not concern us, as it is indistinguishable from cowardice.
With warm regards from your loving Uncle and Mentor,
Slashreap gestures to the Dictaphone to turn it off. Lights on stage center fade to black as several measures of the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor play.