The elevator finally screeched to a halt, slamming hard at the bottom of the shaft. Joshua exited alone amidst a chamber of imprisoned fiends. He felt the darkness of the chamber coming to swallow him whole. Only one source of light in the whole chamber and it was at the far end, where one demon sat alone behind a desk.
It didn't seem that far, Joshua thought, Just walk right down the hallway and that's it.
The boy gripped both hands around his booklet, where his treasured cross was tucked between the pages. His shaking feet took their first steps outside.
It wasn't even a foot out of the elevator and something made their presence known to Joshua. The boy jumped where he stood and faced the greatest nightmares of this realm.
There were three of them, trapped behind a thick sheet of unbreakable glass. They looked almost human. Hairless, freakishly thin enough that their pale, leathery skin exposed every bone connected in their shriveled, naked bodies. These were the demons that Joshua's mother had warned him about. The scavengers of the damned. Horrid creatures that stalked through the shadows and kill everything on sight. Joshua heard the many grisly stories of these monsters, both from the demons and his friend Rosemary. How these creatures can swarm around a whole platoon of Doomsguard soldiers and overpower them. How they are capable of destroying an entire village over night, leaving no survivors in the wake. Often they were told to demon children as a way to scare them into good behavior, but they served as a warning that their homeland wasn't always safe. Suppose even demons had their own demons to fight.
The vile monsters slapped their bare, eyeless heads against the glass barrier, barely leaving a scratch. Their rotted, toothy maws bit at the air as they were desperate for a meal. The aching shrieks they emitted was haunting like nails across the chalkboard.
Sure am glad there kept in there and not out here, Joshua thought to himself. But he couldn't help but wonder why scavengers were kept underneath the tower. Were they souls once and they kept them here for research? Research into what? A cure? Extermination?
Joshua kept walking by. He proceeded to walk by from one disturbing cell to the next. One cell contained a prisoner with slimy tentacles extending from the bars, trying to grasp around him but Joshua was too quick. Another cell where he saw dozens of basketball sized eyes poking from inside the dark space, watching closely without blinking a single one. The oddest of the bunch was when he saw a small cage. With it was an even smaller vase. The vase then bounced from its spot and unleashed a horrible, blood curdling roar, forcing Joshua to jump back into another cage door.
The only thing that helped the boy to continue his task was whispering a passage from the Bible. It was something that he memorized to heart, to help give him the courage he desperately needed.
At last, Joshua finally reached the end of the corridor. He approached the demon at the front desk. The pits of Joshua's polo and his brows were caked with sweat.
"Um, excuse me," he piped, "I'm here to pick up something for Lu. The boss."
The sole guard glanced up, tossing aside a magazine he was reading. "Ah yes. I got it right-"
The desk phone rang. "Hold on a sec." the guard answered the call. "Yeah? Now? Alright, I'm be there soon."
He laid the phone down and looked to Joshua, "Sorry. Something I gotta take care of at this moment. Wait right here."
"You're leaving me alone here?" Joshua gulped. His heart raced faster.
"No worries, kid," the guard assured, "Nobody's getting outta those cages. I'll be back in 5 minutes."
The guard got up and left into the backdoor of the containment chamber. Again, Joshua was alone amidst a chamber of imprisoned fiends. He tried reaching for his cross inside his booklet.
He felt nothing. His hands held nothing. His booklet. His cross. They were gone.
All Joshua could do was recite his Lord's words. "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want." he whispered, "He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth-
"He leadeth me beside the still waters." another voice spoke from the dark hallway. Joshua jumped again of the sound of his cold, monotone call as it too quoted the passage. "He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake."
Joshua followed the voice, who continued reciting. A several feet away from the desk he found the source. It was him. The man, or demon or thing, in the dark. The prisoner Lu showed to Joshua a couple days ago. His unusual silhouette sat on top of a ratty mattress. He held something in his hands, a thin book by what Joshua could tell.
"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Psalm 23. King James Version, correct?"
Joshua had no words. The hairs on his neck stood frozen. His throat dry up like a pond under the sun.
"When someone asks another a question, it is usually proper to answer them." the figure calmly berated, "Let me repeat, is that not the correct passage?"
"Y-yes sir." Joshua stammered, finally finding his words. "It is."
"That's better. I'm familiar with that passage. Must have read that a hundred times. A little off putting since the original translation was butchered."
The figure's head turned, facing the boy. His face still masked by the shadows. "I know you, boy. I never forget a face. You were with Lucifer and the others. You're human too, correct?"
"Y-yes sir." the boy answered again. "I am."
"Tell me, boy, what is a human doing among demons? Are you related some way? Any ties with those Gravelys." The last word came out more like a distasteful growl.
"I'm an intern."
"Intern? How interesting. Come closer into the light. So I can see you better."
Joshua didn't want to, yet curiosity possessed him. He stepped a little closer to the bars, but not too close. He was still afraid of the figure.
The figure in the dark stood up, lumbering his way towards the cell door. Joshua heard the rattling of chains each step the figure took. In the light Joshua saw his true appearance.
He was a tall figure, standing over seven feet. His body was that of a muscular man but his head was that of a mountain goat, long and narrow with a rounded muzzle. Dark grey and black fur covered much of his body while his face, hands, and feet were all bare. His ears were long and pointy like a goat's too, and even a the back of his head crowned a pair of long horns.
The figure was dressed in a dark blue prisoner's jumpsuit with shackles and chains linked around his wrists and ankles. His eyes were dark as coal, all three of them. The third eye that hung in the middle of his long forehead frightened Joshua the most, how it continually stared at him without blinking.
The demonic satyr pulled something out of his deep pockets. He held out a round, red fruit before him. "Apple?" he offered.
Joshua studied it carefully. It looked like an ordinary apple, but it could be something more devious. Was it hexed? Joshua rapidly shook his head no.
The prisoner frowned, insulted by the boy's response. "Oh don't worry. I didn't poison it or anything." the prisoner raised his hand, showing off the chains and shackles. "These negate all my powers." he took a bite. The juices leaked out of the fresh bite mark. "If there's one thing I'm grateful for is that those fools continue to give me two things I enjoy in life: a couple books to read and a bushel of apples."
"Who..." Joshua muttered, "who are you?"
"Introductions, I see. In case you're having trouble with pronunciation—or you are illiterate—my name is as it is etched into that wall. I am Mephistopheles, the Master of the Deal and, I suppose, former owner of Babylon too. I was once Lucifer's majordomo—a right-hand man, in case you're not up to par with polysyllables. But now I reside here."
"How long have you been here?"
"Let's see..." Mephistopheles scratched his chin as he pondered. "How long has been Lucifer been married now? Few months? Probably around that time. May longer? I've forgotten. I didn't even get to see pictures of that wedding, come to think of it."
"Why are you in here?"
The satyr grimaced. "I tried to show our king reason. He refused. And here I am." The demon then smiled, showing an uncomfortable friendly side to him. "I shared some things about myself, now you. What do you have to share with me? What is your name, young lad."
The boy didn't want to answer but he did. "Joshua Wordsworth."
"You share the name of a poet."
"My mother claims were related to him somehow."
"And what of your mother?"
"She's the principal of my school."
"A Christian too?"
"And what of your father?"
Joshua bent his head down. He gave the excuse his mother would give. "He's on vacation."
"I see." Mephistopheles realized the truth. "Both my parents are dead."
"I'm not. I killed them."
Joshua's phone buzzed. It always surprised him how well cell services were down in the Inferno. He slipped it out of his pocket. It was a text from Rosemary.
ROSEMARY: Yo! What Lu got you doing?
"Your mother?" Mephistopheles asked, feeling rather annoyed by the interruption.
"Um yeah," Joshua lied, "she constantly worries about me."
"Sounds a bit clingy to me." the three-eyed satyr groaned. "You said you were an intern. I assume he taught you much of our world."
"Uh huh." the boy mumbled. He started texting away at his phone.
What u know of Mephistopheles?
"What have you learned so far?" the demon said.
"Just what Lu does. What he and his friends do. Lots of stuff."
"Did he show you the souls?"
"He did." Joshua sighed. Thinking of those poor, mistreated souls saddened him. Even if he believed that they didn't obey God, he believed deep down they didn't deserve this fate.
"And why do you think he would show you just things?"
"I don't know." Joshua shrugged. "Because its his duty and its for my grade."
Joshua's phone buzzed again. Rosie's messages returned more sporadic.
ROSEMARY: DONT TRUST HIM!!!
TRIED TO KILL US!!!
Joshua's eyes widened. He then glared back at the demon, who's grin was far more sinister than Lucifer's.
"Answer me this: do you really believe you are here because of a coincidence?"
"What do you mean?" Joshua said, a rage was boiling inside.
"Come on boy, I think you know why your here. It isn't by chance, or fate, and it certainly isn't by the will of God. You know the truth, boy. Lu rigged it, right from the very start."
"You're lying!" Joshua fired back.
"And he's not?" Mephistopheles' smug grin grew larger. "What is the devil if not a liar? Come now, boy, you're smarter than that. You don't trust Lu. That's why you carried all that holy water in your bag."
Joshua gasped. His heart skipped a beat. How did he know?
The demonic satyr continued, "Don't think I didn't hear that stuff sloshing around in those vials with every step you made. What do you intend to use that for?"
"It can't hurt you! If crosses can't..."
"Sure about that? He might have shared somethings, but he certainly didn't share everything." All three eyes locked on Joshua. His grin grew more grim. "Did the king tell you what it can do to demons? Did, sometime during the tour, he mention that some souls can get out of their punishments and become full fledged demons, like Balthazar for example? Or how about you why he betrayed the angels in the first place? Or what about his real intentions were for your world once he got hitched?
"Ask him next time. Ask him if he didn't intend for you to be under his wing or he did. See if he'll give the answer you want, or the answer he can scheme up."
Joshua finally heard the backdoor open again with the single guard exiting out. He ran back to the front desk, as far as he could from the deranged prisoner.
"Sorry about that," the guard said. "but thanks for being patient. Here you go."
The demon guard handed a small box, no bigger than a baseball, to the young human. Joshua thanked the guard and made his way back to the elevator. The farther away from the prison level the better.
As Joshua hurried along back, he heard Mephistopheles call for him again. "Oh Joshua." His chilling tone made the boy shudder. "I believe you've dropped this."
A small, black booklet slipped between the satyr's cell bars. Joshua's art booklet.
Joshua crept over toward the cell and snatched back his book. He tried not to look directly at the imprisoned demon. But that eye. That spiteful third eye on the demon's forehead. That eye that looked as though it was staring deep into Joshua's soul, caught the him in a petrified gaze.
"Quite a talent you have there. It's been a pleasure talking to you, Joshua. Take care now. And do tell Lu's family I said hello."