The Lorelei Signal
There Will Always be Hell to Pay
Written by Diane Arrelle / Artwork by Marcia Borell
Hilda felt a wave of dizziness. She shook her head, trying to clear it, trying to gather her thoughts, trying…trying to figure out where the hell she was and what she’d been doing.
She looked around a large room filled with empty chairs, and, oh my God, a coffin. She suddenly had that really-bad-pain-in-the-gut feeling as she approached the opened box.
She stopped, afraid to look down, but knowing that she had to do it. She forced her gaze down and stared into her own waxen, dead face. She took in the bad make-up job, the fact that she was in a shroud instead of street clothes, and saw stitches holding her cold, stiff lips together and her eyes shut.
She felt like fainting. She reached out and noticed that she didn’t have a hand; in fact, she was just a wispy smoky thing. So, she hovered over her dead self and wondered, what now?
“Well, the best thing to do, Hilda, is wait and enjoy the show…and knowing you, it is going to be quite a good one,” a voice behind her said.
Hilda spun around and saw a thing next to her. It was hairy, grotesquely ugly with short tusks, a misshapen, stunted monster’s body, and goat legs.
“Still disoriented I see.”
Hilda nodded knowing instinctively she had nothing to fear from this monstrosity. “Pardon me, but who the hell are you to interrupt me in my moment of despair,” Hilda sniffed with disdain.
“Good, Hilda, good. The shock is beginning to wear off. In a little while you’ll be your old self again,” he commented and looked at her corpse.
He shrugged. “Well…almost your old self. Man, that body is beyond roadkill. When you do yourself in, you really do yourself in. Shit girl, you’re flat as a waffle and have enough tread marks to look like one too.”
Hilda eyed herself. “I do look deflated, and I vaguely remember having a tremendous set of tits.”
The creature nodded vigorously. “Sure did, an unbelievable shelf.”
Hilda smiled at the compliment, then added, “And who did my make-up? A whorehouse mortician?”
“That’s my girl!”
“Your girl? I think not. Whoever I was, I have always been my own woman.”
The demonic looking monster smiled, his fangs glinting scummy yellow in the light of the tall, tapered candles glowing at the head and foot of the coffin. “Up to a point Hilda.”
Hilda tried to shrug, then remembered that she didn’t have shoulders anymore.
“So, what happened to me?”
“Free will,” he answered.
The doors at the other end of the room open and people started filing in. “Good crowd,” she noted. “I must have been popular, huh?”
“Well…popular isn’t exactly the correct term,” the monster said.
Hilda started to respond but voices stopped her.
“So…Brunhilda bought the big one,” a middle-aged man said as he stopped to stare at her body. “Nice to see somebody finally sewed her mouth shut.”
“Ned, stop it,” a young woman said behind him. “That is in such bad taste.”
Ned turned. “So, bad taste befitted her.
Another small clump of mourners followed. “What a bitch. I hope they give the bus driver a medal.”
“Yeah, he was a real hero!”
“Brunhilda sure won’t be missed, I can tell you that!”
“I hate to speak ill of the dead, but I really am not sorry it happened to her.”
“Yeah, it couldn’t happen to a better person.”
“What a goddamned bitch. I’m glad she’s dead.”
“Ding dong the witch is dead!”
Suddenly the stream of comments was interrupted by a sobbing woman.
“Come on, Ellie, she wasn’t worth your tears.”
“But no one is here to mourn her!” the woman sobbed. “It seems like everybody in the whole world hated Hilda.”
“That’s right Ellie, everyone did. She was probably the most hateful bitch any of us have ever worked with. Face it, the woman had no friends and she probably ate her family years ago.”
Hilda had heard enough. “Doesn’t anyone like me?”
The creature smiled and shook his head.
“Was I really that awful?”
The creature nodded yes. “And that is why we love you so much, Hilda. Now, it’s time to go home.”
Hilda backed away. “Home? Do I live with the likes of you? Where the hell is home?”
The creature touched her formlessness and they popped out of the funeral home and into the bowels of Hell. “Not where the Hell is home, Hilda. Rather, home is where Hell is.”
Hilda shuttered, “I’m in Hell? I’m damned?”
“Look Hilda, you are not just damned, you are damned good. Why, Baby, you are the best of the worst.”
Hilda shook her wispy head and muttered, “I wish I could just remember!”
“You will, just give it time. In the meanwhile, why don’t you just reacquaint yourself with Hell. You’ve always enjoyed yourself here before. Sort of like a vacation between jobs. And this time you deserve a bonus. Not only did you make everyone up there miserable, but you also drove five of them to homicide! Five souls transferred to our side! You really are the greatest!”
This last line was uttered with such awe and respect that Hilda felt herself beaming despite the fact she didn’t know what she had done to deserve it.
“Murder? I drove someone to murder?”
“Sure did. You were waiting at a traffic light and having quite a discussion with your coworkers when all of a sudden the five of them, yes five, shoved you in front of that bus.”
A vision flashed before Hilda: There she was, smiling and telling her five coworkers that she held their careers in her hands. She had caught them at a bar instead of the seminar they were supposed to be attending. To anyone else this might have been a minor infraction, but to the office troublemaker it was a loaded gun. She could manage to twist the entire event out of proportion and get them fired.
Hilda nodded to herself. The creature was correct, she was very good at what she did. “So, tell me, who are you, Satan?”
The misshapen thing laughed. “Badness me, no. I’m just a demon.
Hilda frowned. “An underling? Is that all I’m worth?”
“Hey, now. I’m a major demon, Hilda, and need I add, your superior in rank. I’ll forgive you your insubordination due to your condition, but watch it. You may be one of our best operatives but you’re a minion and still need to tow the line, especially here in Hell.”
Hilda sniffed with obvious distaste. “Do I even like you?”
The demon laughed. “Oh Hilda, dead or alive, you really are the bitch!”
Another vision flashed before her: She was yelling at a young woman in an office setting and the girl was sobbing.
Then another vision: She was talking to her neighbor. “I don’t want to be a gossip and I promised Sally I’d never say a word, but I felt you should know. Mary told Sally that you are putting your house on the market because this neighborhood is too working class for your tastes. Sally is very upset that you feel that way about everyone who thought you were all friends.” Hilda saw the look of annoyance cross the woman’s face. “Of course, I don’t believe a word of it, but you know you ought to watch what you say around certain people. Not everyone is your friend.”
She watched the woman storm off then turned and knocked on Sally’s door. “Hi Sally, I was just talking to Gail and she upset me so much that I just had to see you. She told me that Cynthia down the block saw your husband having a drink with Teresa. Now I’m not one to gossip, but you know other tongues are wagging and I just though you should know. Oh, please don’t cry, Dear, I’m so sorry I seem to have upset you.”
Another vision another neighborhood then another vision and another workplace. Her memory was returning. In every instance she was the center of the action, stirring it up, intimidating people, making life miserable for others.
Somehow, she knew that this was right, that this was her lot in life, and not just one life but other lives. Although she couldn’t recall it, she felt she’d been dead a lot.
“So, what am I, a ghost? A demon?”
“You, Hilda my pet, have been the biggest pain in the ass anyone in this modern world has ever experienced,” the demon told her.
This made Hilda swell with pride. “Yes… it’s all coming back to me now. That’s my job...my…why…my calling. I’m that person everyone dreads. I’m the back-stabbing, troublemaking, vindictive, cunning creep that inhabits every workplace, organization, school or neighborhood!”
“Yep, you remembered it word for word from the training manual. It’s what you do and this time you really outdid yourself. Anytime a job ends in murder, it ends perfect!” the demon said.
“But you got yourself terminated early, and that made boss angry… you weren’t done at that place and now we have to replace you.” The demon scratched his groin shoving his hairy balls this way and that, then responded, “So, Hilda you have stay down here for a while.”
Hilda glowered at the Demon. “And just who are you to decide my fate, I demand to speak to Satan!”
The demon reddened. “Hilda watch yourself or it’ll be back to shoveling the fire pits. Only demons speak to His Evilness. And although you may be the closest thing to Hell on Earth for many people, you are only a grade three minion. Demons, as you may well have forgotten, are born, not promoted. You need to go through life from start to finish as a first-class minion from Hell to become a full demon.”
“All right,” she said to the demon, “send me to my next assignment. The sooner I start, the sooner I get back topside.”
“We need assistant trainers so you will report to the training center immediately.”
“Why can’t I be a trainer? I am management material.” Hilda huffed.
“Because only demons train! Now go!” And the demon snapped his fingers.
~ * ~
Hilda suddenly found herself facing another demon, a humpbacked gargoyle, as hairless as the last one was hirsute. Gray-skinned and wrinkled, the creature waved his tail in agitation. “Well,” it snapped. “I don’t have time to train an assistant. I need an assistant for that. Now, go fetch me a cold coffee.”
Hilda stared at the demon with utter loathing. “Yes, your vileness. Don’t worry I don’t believe a word that other demon said about you. I know it couldn’t possibly be true. Why you don’t have a good bone in your body, and I think you are far, far uglier than he is.”
Then she turned to fetch the coffee.
When she came back, her new demon was gone and the hairy one was back. “So, you think you are clever, huh. Well, you may be one of the worst people ever born, but you still aren’t demon material and no amount of trouble you cause will help you advance. Now go and stay out of my way.”
~ * ~
Hilda found herself facing a new demon. Before she could speak, it held up a scaly hand and hissed through a lipless mouth, "Ssso, little misssss, I’m on to you. Just do what I tell you, and no, and I mean thissss, no gossssip.”
Hilda shrugged and went to work. After a few months of watching and waiting she found she had enough dirt on every demon in Hell. She was back to doing what she did best, sneaking, lying, skulking around, stirring it up. “Yes,” Hilda said to herself at the end of her shift one day. “Soon there is going to be Hell to pay in Hell. All I have to do is wait for my chance.”
A few days later, as she was writing up a secret report on the demon from the Hellfire pit, her old boss appeared. He stood before her and asked, “So Hilda, whatcha doing?”
“Oh paperwork for my new boss,” she replied and blanked out the monitor.
The demon laughed. “Goodness, but you are a bad liar.”
Hilda blushed. “I am not, I’m the best, you just know me too well.”
“Whatever,” the demon said. “The boss can’t decide if you are an asset or just too much of a bother. You just can’t seem to stop causing trouble, can you?”
Hilda shrugged. “It’s what I do.”
“Well, the boss thinks you are too much of a pain in the ass, so he’s decided to get rid of you.”
Hilda felt a wave of weakness. “Oh no, please not Heaven! Not that!”
The demon laughed. “Heavens no, they won’t have you. No, the boss has decided to move you up to minion first-class. Hilda, get ready to be born. Remember, no matter how they fix up the outside, you will be, must always be, a demon child on the inside. You will…must always do your damnedest to make everyone around you sorry you were ever born. If you do the life-training correctly and live a full life, then you will come back here a beautiful demon. No more half-life assignments, no more being an underling. You’ll be one of us with only the Boss to answer too.”
Hilda smiled. “This for real?”
The demon smiled and said, “Think you can handle it? Because there is no turning back now.”
~ * ~
Hilda was stuck in a black tunnel. She felt squeezed, compressed and then suddenly free. Voices echoed through her consciousness.
“Oh my god, it’s hideous.”
“Shut up you idiot!”
“Don’t worry, sometimes babies have tails and they work wonders with cosmetic surgery. I’m sure she’ll…. Oh, wait he’ll… oh my god…”
Hilda listened to the voices and was having trouble understanding them. With each passing moment her grasp of language faded. She felt a whack and sucked in a breath. Then she turned to see her reflection in the silvered metal next to her. She took in her gray skin and deformed face and smiled. Beautiful!
“Oh good, her... its color is improving.”
“I haven’t seen a baby like this anywhere but textbooks.”
“Shhh, not so loud!”
Hilda opened her mouth to say something, but she realized she had forgotten how to speak. So, she screamed…long and loud.
As the last glimmer of linguistic skill left her brain, she understood enough to comprehend the doctor as he said, “Will you listen to the lung power on this baby? That is the loudest cry I have every heard. Boy, are these parents in for a hell of a time.”
Hilda smiled inwardly then let out another shriek.
Diane Arrelle, the pen name of South Jersey writer Dina Leacock, has sold more than 350 short stories and has three published books including Just A Drop In The Cup, a collection of short-short stories and her collection of horror stories, Seasons On The Dark Side. Retired from being director of a municipal senior citizen center, she is now co-owner of a small publishing company, Jersey Pines Ink LLC. She resides with her sane husband and her insane cat on the edge of the New Jersey Pine Barrens (home of the Jersey Devil).