Author's Notes: Weirdest request for a story I've ever received. That's all I have to say about this. No harm, no foul, no meaning to offend anybody either. This will be a short story, I guess, so only expect one or two more chapters.
~ . ~
Ain't nobody gonna love you like the Devil do,
ain't nobody gonna love you like the Devil do.
Well, I ain't been saved, honey; what for?
If I went to Heaven I would only be bored;
ain't nobody gonna love you like the Devil do.
- Devil Do, Holly Golightly
~ . ~
A place of torture, anguish, despair, and isolation. A place uniquely fit for each individual whose time ceased on the soil above and was forced to endure an eternity in the pit for their transgressions. Hell was an awful place, and it was Arthur's job to direct where these abandoned souls were to spend their wretched existences.
He loved the irony as The Greeter for this magnificently abhorrent place.
"Hello," Arthur smiled, eyes squinted in a grin as he observed the trembling individual in front of his nicely polished desk. "Welcome to Hell. Name, please."
The man, no older than his mid-thirties, no doubt, continued to wring his hands nervously at the distant echoes of pain down the hallway behind Arthur. He waited patiently for the man to gain his bearings, surely understanding how nervous anyone would be to be standing in front of some spawn of Satan's desk, awaiting certain torment.
Arthur snapped his fingers when the brunette's eyes began to wander to the paintings of flowers and rainbows on the wall. If anyone appreciated condescension, it surely was Arthur.
"Excuse me, sir. Name, please," Arthur requested, smile never wavering.
"R-Raymond Clark," the male spoke, voice like a crumpled sheet of wax paper.
Arthur nodded, kicking his heels back and sliding in front of his filing cabinet. He carefully pulled open the drawer labeled "C" and began shuffling through the manila folders. After a moment, he glanced back over his shoulder to the frightened individual. "This will take a little while. Feel free to relax. Have a chocolate."
Raymond hesitated before looking at a small bowl of candy on the edge of Arthur's desk. Arthur nodded, turning away and humming under his breath.
After locating the file he was looking for, Arthur hauled the hulking folder onto his desk with a loud bang, kicking the cabinet drawer closed with his foot along the way. Oh, Arthur was delighted to see Raymond partaking in his offer, noticing a discarded wrapper crinkled by the glass bowl.
"Okay, Mr. Clark. It appears you've been a very bad fellow," Arthur announced, thumbing through the paperwork. He tsked and shook his head, green eyes scanning thoroughly through what was important. "Murder for money. Well, the least you could've been was clever about it. I can't tell you how many people I see in a day who pull the same garbage and use a fire to make it appear as an accident. But what can you do?" Arthur shrugged.
By now Arthur could hear the brunette's knees clacking against the desk. He smiled. "Your punishment is the coal room on level 238, room 43B. Please sign here and stick out your hand."
"C-coal room?" Raymond stuttered, dumbly signing the paper in front of him, eyes desperately watching Arthur's movements. Arthur never understood that look, though he received it frequently enough. Perhaps it was a silent plea for help, like they thought he had the power or authority to erase their sins and correct their mistakes. He wanted to laugh; his profession was the opposite of helpful. To souls, anyway.
"Oh, yes. Don't tighten your muscles when they shove it inside. It'll only make things worse, believe me," Arthur informed, carefully dipping his seal in the hot box beside him. It sizzled with a breath that blew sparks of ash out of the box. He grabbed Raymond's hand and pressed it down, fingers holding tight when he began to scream and fought to rip his hand away from the brand. "Shh, there now. That wasn't so bad," he said, releasing when the charred flesh was deemed fit.
Raymond cradled his hand, tears in his reddened eyes. Arthur smiled. "Legal purposes," he explained. "To show that you've been through the welcome center. Have as pleasant an eternity as you can. Be sure to take a nametag."
With that, Raymond was led out of the office and down the hallway where all souls eventually met their fates. Whatever happened beyond that doorway was out of Arthur's control and interest.
He was just the welcome wagon, after all.
Arthur loved his job even though by definition alone a job was supposed to be detestable. But what could he say? He was a people person at heart.
Besides, begging and crying didn't faze him on any level. Yes, the plethora of ages, gender, race, and personalities that crossed through that hallway were too numerous to count, but Arthur just understood it as the natural balance of things. They shouldn't have been such bad people if they didn't expect the worst, he believed.
However, every now and then Arthur would come across something that was a bit out of the ordinary and pique his curiosity, and when a young blonde stepped into his office one afternoon, he knew it was just going to be one of those days.
"Hello," Arthur greeted, smiling at the withdrawn individual across the room. "Welcome to Hell. Name, please."
The boy refused to meet his gaze, as many chose to do, and instead looked around the office cautiously. He looked so out of place here in his faded jeans and brown leather jacket. Arthur mentally made a note of how scraggly these souls appeared while he sat in the best pressed suit and tie that he owned. First impressions meant a lot, or maybe Arthur was the only one who seemed to value them anymore.
"Do you want some water?" Arthur asked, noticing the boy eyeing his water cooler. Blue eyes zipped up to meet his and Arthur tilted his head at the strange emotion resting there. Regardless, he continued to smile. "You may want to take advantage of that. There most likely won't be any of that where you're going."
The blonde watched Arthur carefully, never moving from his spot by the door. He frowned, his fingers flexing anxiously at his sides. "Where am I going?" he asked slowly.
Arthur shrugged. "Let's find out. Name, please."
The boy looked away, eyes trailing the paintings of landscapes and warm colors on the walls. ". . . Are you the Devil?"
Arthur couldn't help a bark of laughter, indecent as it was. "No, lad. Do you think the Dark Prince would be doing paperwork and handshaking?" he inquired, raising an amused eyebrow.
The youth finally took a step away from the doorway, eyes still tracing the patterns of the paintings, the triangles on the wallpaper, the ribbons blowing out of the air conditioner. He stopped, though, after one step, and folded his arm over the other, eyebrows furrowing.
Arthur could see the fear there, but more curiously, he could see the confusion.
"So you're, what, a demon, then?" He chanced a glance at the desk.
Arthur continued to smile.
"Where're your horns and tail?" he asked, staring unabashed now, as if comparing and contrasting how he viewed demonic beings with what he was presented. How Arthur hated staring.
"You want clichés? Isn't it just possible to look decent without a goatee or fangs?"
"You look like Donald Trump."
"I'll take that as a compliment. Name, please."
The boy resumed his ignoring of the civil servant across the room and strolled slowly to the water cooler. Arthur watched as he filled a cup up, downed it, and repeated.
"It's cold in here," he muttered into the edge of the foam cup, blue eyes watching the bubbles spring up from the bottom of the jug. "I thought Hell was supposed to be on fire or something." His voice rang uncertain, like he was thrown off guard. Arthur sighed, placing his palms onto his desk and pushing his chair back. He snickered quietly to himself when the blonde became rigid, eyes springing to the suited individual making his way towards the cooler.
"I'm not one for the heat. I like to keep it fairly cool in here. It keeps from sweating through all of my nice clothes," Arthur said, leaning down to get a cup of water himself. The boy eyed him cautiously all the while. "Besides, not every room is hot down here. It really depends on your sentence. Now, are you going to give me your name or do I have to pull it out of you?"
It was an indifferent threat, but the impact usually worked.
"Alfred. My name is Alfred," he said, eyes guarded and apprehensive.
"Splendid. Does Alfred have a last name?" asked Arthur, taking a sip of his water.
"Jones . . ."
"Brilliant. What a charmingly common name. Well, Alfred Jones, what say we see what gave you a one way ticket down to the biggest regret in your life, hm?"
Arthur didn't spare Alfred another glance, throwing his cup into the trash bin and pivoting his feet, already going through his file cabinet. There were so many people with the surname Jones; it would take a great deal of effort to find this file. He really did wish all of this could be done technologically, but he trusted his own filing and eyes rather than some machine; too much room for error when he wasn't manually doing it.
"I'm not supposed to be here," Alfred spoke after a long silence, voice thick and rough around the edges.
"I highly doubt that," Arthur murmured. Alfred certainly wasn't the first person to run that line by him before. "You wouldn't be here if you weren't supposed to be here."
"As am I."
Alfred's mouth pulled into a thin line as he approached the desk, staring at Arthur's back as he flipped through folders. "There's been a mistake. You're a professional looking guy – file a complaint or something! Go get your boss or whatever you need to do and fix this. I'm not supposed to be in Hell!"
"Lower your voice, lad. You don't need to yell at me. There is never anyone to blame but yourself," said Arthur, frowning for the first time in the long while he'd been working. He could tolerate a lot of things, but being yelled at for something that wasn't his fault wasn't one of them.
Alfred stubbornly continued to glare at Hell's civil servant, holding his position, regardless of the terror residing in his eyes. Well, Arthur had to give him that at least. But pride goeth before the fall, and that sort of attitude would have this boy broken in a matter of hours.
"I like your eyes," Arthur announced, smirk pulling at his lips as he turned away from Alfred's gaze to locate his file once more. He could hear rather than see the gawk that happened.
"What?" Alfred asked.
"Your eyes, boy. I like them. Not a lot of souls give me that look. I like it."
Arthur began to hum quietly to himself when Alfred struggled to come up with a response to that admission. Arthur didn't know why he seemed so uncomfortable. He should learn to take a compliment when he hears one.
"Look," Alfred began, his tone changed as he spoke slowly, "Please. I know you must get this a lot, but I need you to give me a break. Listen to me – I'm not just being some desperate loser who's scared and grasping at straws over here. There's been a mistake. I didn't do anything wrong."
"You're right," Arthur responded. He heard Alfred shift behind him, probably clinging to whatever inane hope he kept. "I do get that a lot." Alfred's hope was stolen away with Arthur's words in a quiet release of air from his lungs.
If Arthur was really capable of pity he'd probably give it to this young boy. He did sound very earnest, but rules were rules, and Arthur was good at what he did. See aforementioned loved his job statement. Fingers paused when he finally located Alfred's file, eyebrows furrowing and frown forming when he touched it. Arthur straightened up, holding a red folder in his hands, so thin it seemed impossible. There was a strap on the side with a latched lock.
Arthur's eyes slid towards the confused individual watching him with apprehension. "I think I do, in fact, need to give you a break, Mr. Jones."
The way Arthur spoke with such certainty made the hairs on Alfred's arms stand on end. He took another unconscious step towards the desk.
Arthur sat down, the air of playfulness dissipating when he reached into top desk drawer and pulled out a small key to unlock the folder. It wasn't often that he came across a red folder, though it wasn't unheard of. But a folder this small was concerning in its own right. He'd never seen one this empty as he peered inside. There were only twelve pages present in Alfred Jones's file, and Arthur continued to frown when seeing most of it was blacked out with ink as dark as night.
"It appears you really haven't done anything wrong. Congratulations," announced Arthur after a moment of silence, green eyes observing Alfred's twitchy facial expression. Alfred remained silent; he was waiting on Arthur's every word. "However, there is no mistake, sadly for you. You are meant to be here."
Alfred's stomach dropped. "What the hell does that say?" he demanded, hissing in disdain when Arthur pulled the file out of his reach when he moved to look.
"Souls cannot read directly from their private files. Please refrain from touching, thank you. And it says that you are a wonderful boy. You do your schoolwork, are quite popular with your peers, volunteer a great deal with the community. You're making me feel guilty being in your company," Arthur joked, gaining his groove back and smiling offhandedly. Alfred's round eyes were enough to make his mirth genuine. "But aside from your saintly attitude, there is a line in your paperwork that forces me to continue with your sentencing process."
Alfred swallowed, feeling antsy.
"You made a deal, lad," Arthur reminded. If the look of alarm was anything to go by, Arthur surmised Alfred was hoping that would've been overlooked. Hardly. "Your ill brother's recovery for your soul? Oh, you truly are a saint. I can't look you in the eye." Arthur shook his head, something deep inside of him cringing away from Alfred's presence. He was starting to become uncomfortable in the proximity of somebody so . . . good.
"I . . . I didn't know it was real," Alfred breathlessly muttered and looking like he was about to positively vomit. "It was real, then."
"Looks that way."
Alfred's eyes darted around, resembling a trapped animal, before staring holes into the red file. "It was a coincidence. I signed that stupid book but it wasn't supposed to be real."
Arthur watched impassively as Alfred tried to reign in his building panic attack. "You signed a contract with Lucifer, asking for a miraculous recovery for your terminally ill sibling, and when it happens two weeks later you presume it a coincidence? I thought you were a bright chap, Alfred," he tutted.
"It was a joke!" Alfred screeched.
Arthur remained steadfast. "It appears to be on you, then." He sighed and closed the file, locking it carefully. There was little Arthur found disagreeable about his job, but the damning of a pure soul was at the top of that short list. It would've made him less uncomfortable if Alfred sold his soul for a more selfish reason, such as greed or lust. Arthur rather enjoyed those instances as much as the usual lot he served.
"What were you doing at a psychic?" Arthur asked, though he already knew the answer. He busied himself with the paperwork as he waited for Alfred's answer.
". . . How long," he muttered. "I wanted to see how long Mattie had."
Arthur put the pieces together easily. He obviously hadn't liked the answer he was given, and in an act of desperation signed a pact from the Book of the Damned. Where the psychic acquired that book was beyond him. The boys running this joint only released ten of those things globally.
Really now. Humans should've known better than to sign that blasted book. If a deal was too good to be true, it probably was.
"You, Alfred Jones, do not deserve to be here. Please sign here and stick out your hand," Arthur said, void of any expression when he beckoned Alfred, needing to be as professional as he could. He prided himself on his work after all.
"I don't want to sign anything else," Alfred said, voice cracking as his eyes misted over.
"It's not optional this time. Your hand, please." When Arthur saw that Alfred wasn't going to move, he shot his arm out like a coiled snake and snatched Alfred's, quickly dipping his brand in his fire box and holding tight when the smell of burnt flesh reached his nose.
Alfred hollered, writhing when his skin started sizzling. Arthur allowed him to snatch his hand away, the process only a matter of seconds before the desired result. Alfred breathed heavily through his nose, eyes wide and forehead sweaty as he looked at the mark on the back of his hand with a wave of nausea.
"Sign, please," Arthur repeated, sliding a paper across the desk. He watched as Alfred reluctantly signed, his branded hand shaking against the sheet. It took him a few attempts to keep the pen steady, and Arthur hardly missed the looks he was shooting him, perhaps for mercy of some sort. How much Arthur wished he was capable of mercy.
"Oh, God," Alfred breathed on a miserable moan of disbelief when observing his signature below him. Arthur silently wondered if Alfred regretted his decision to save his brother now or not.
"Do not curse in here." Alfred blinked down at Arthur with a pause. "Your punishment will be the black room on level 6, room 6C. Be sure to take a nametag, though I do not believe it's necessary where you're directed."
Arthur saw the twitch in Alfred's form when he mentioned his sentence, but it was what it was. Alfred had free will on earth; no one forced him to trade his soul for his brother's. It was just an unfortunate turn of events that Alfred had been hit by a drunk driver three months later. Not quite the deal of the century, but still.
It was then that something caught Arthur's eye and he sat up, halting Alfred's movements when the doors behind him were opened by two of the escorts. Alfred jolted at Arthur's sudden movement, but Arthur merely held out his hand with a tight expression.
"You cannot take that past this point, I'm afraid."
Alfred gave a strange look before he followed Arthur's vision. If anything, his posture broke even more when he fingered the silver cross around his neck. It looked like the action pained him in its own right as he removed it and gave it to Arthur. When it touched his skin Arthur felt ill, but he nodded anyway and allowed Alfred to leave.
With one last look from a hopeless man, Alfred was led out of his office and down the hallway by two bulky figures whose jobs were only to guide the lost souls to their proper destinations. When the door clicked shut Arthur stood from his chair and placed the file back with the rest.
And if Arthur took a moment to stick his hand into his branding box until the pain of melting skin burned away the queasiness from where the cross made contact, well then that was just fine with him.
He threw the object in his wastebasket as the next soul was led in and he smiled despite the sweat he adjourned on his pale, wincing face.
"Hello. Welcome to Hell. Name, please."