Joe’s feet hit the floor with a thump and he shook his head. The pre-game show hadn’t started yet, so he couldn’t have dozed off for very long. He shoved the hassock out from in front of his chair and stood to look over the kitchen clock. Ten forty-three on a Sunday. Who the hell was…?


He snatched open the door and immediately wished he’d looked through the peep-hole first. Black slacks, white shirts, dark ties—at first Joe thought it was the gawd-damned J-Ws or the Mormons or maybe even the Baptists again, then he took in his visitors’ ruddy complexions and stubby black horns. There were two of them, one tall—well over six feet—with slicked black hair and an oiled goatee. The other was squat and bald with curly black hair on the backs of his hands past his knuckles.

“Good morning, Mr. Worley. We were wondering if we could have a few minutes of your time?” Both figures smiled reassuring smiles, the short one displaying pointed, shark-like teeth.

“Is this a gag?”

The taller of the two shook his head. “No gag, Joe. We’re taking a page out of the competition’s playbook and hitting the streets with a special offer. We knew you’d be home, and thought you might be interested. My name is Azaerel, and this is my associate, Mr. Burke. May we come in?”

Joe was awake now, and it didn’t take him long to find a reasonable answer. “I don’t think so, no.”

“I understand.” Azaerel said. A hint of sadness touched his smile. “You’re not quite ready to invite two agents of Satan into your living room this lovely Sunday morning. I understand entirely. Why don’t you just step out on the porch with us, then?”

Joe sneaked a look back over his shoulder for his wife, Mary. “Don’t worry, Joe. Mary’s out sunning herself on the back deck, waiting for the Smith boy to start mowing the backyard next door, so she can ‘accidentally’ turn herself over without doing her top up and give him an eye-full. She won’t be back in the house for at least an hour.”

Joe stepped out on the porch and pulled the door shut gently behind him. “What are you talking—” The sound of the mower starting up behind his neighbor’s house made him chop his question short. “What do you want?”

Azaerel chuckled and leaned back against the porch rail. “What, hadn’t you noticed how nicely kept the Smith’s lawn has been this summer? No? Never mind. You’ve got a sweet thing going on with your secretary anyway, right? Oops, that’s not what they’re calling them anymore, is it? I mean your new administrative assistant. You know. Jenny.”

“How did you—”

“How do you think?” Azaerel gave him a look much like the ones Joe’d received from his guidance councilor in high school. “Don’t worry about it, Joe, we’re going to make you a good deal.”

“What kind of deal?”

The two devils glanced quickly at one another. “If you’ve given it any thought,” Azaerel said, “which I’d guess you haven’t, you probably realize you’re going to hell, right?”

“Now wait a minute!” Joe’s ears reddened.

“Chill, Joe. I’m not telling you anything you shouldn’t all ready know for yourself,” the devil said. “You’ve played fast and loose with more than one commandment over the years. Hit most of the deadly sins pretty regular, haven’t you?”

Joe pushed off from were he’d been leaning on the door. “What commandments?” he asked angrily. “What deadly sins?”

“Come on, Joe,” the devil said. “We’re not here to rehash your whole life. Were you honoring you mother and father when you used to dig through their closet in search of your old man’s skin mags? Don’t you remember how you used to watch Patti Barlowe?”


“That redhead who lived next door to you, back in your first apartment. Beeler Street? The one married to the Air Force sergeant? Remember how you used to think about her when you woke up in the mornings? I’d say that was a pretty clear case of coveting your neighbor’s wife.”

“Hee hee hee,” Mr. Burke chuckled. “Plenty of sins on your slate, mate. Sloth on Sunday mornings, lust, gluttony at the buffet line, wrath—remember punching that guy in the bar? Back when you and the missus was just dating.”

“The point is that, like most people today, you’re likely going to find yourself toiling in the eternal furnace,” Azaerel said. “Sure, there’s always the chance for a death bed act of contrition. Let me tell you, Joe, hell is full of people who counted on a last minute change of heart. Isn’t it, Mr. Burke?”

“Chock-full,” his partner agreed, “and getting fuller every day.”

“That’s right,” Azaerel went on. “Do you know the two most common ‘last words’ of accident victims today, Joe?”

“Um, no.”

‘Oh, shit!’ And ‘Oh, fuck!’” Azaerel informed him. “Neither of which will open up the pearly gates for the departed soul. So, if you’ve been counting on that—”

“And we think you have, mate,” his partner injected.

“Then we think you need a backup plan.” Azaerel held up his long, red hands in a broad gesture of supplication. “If you manage to chip in an act of contrition at the end; good for you. Give Gabe, Mike and the guys a wave for me when you get in—I haven’t seen them to speak to for millennia. If you don’t make it, —and like I said, most don’t—I have a better deal for you to think about.”

“What kind of deal?” Joe couldn’t help but show some skepticism. After all, deals with the devil were infamous.

“Nothing complicated,” the devil assured him. “We’re not after your soul, Joe. Fact is we pretty much have that locked down already. Since you’re coming our way anyhow, we thought we’d offer you a leg-up once you check in.”

“How’s that?”

“I’ve confused you. I’m sorry, Joe. Let me back up and give you a better picture of how the afterlife works, down with us.

“Hell isn’t all fiery pools of eternal torment. It started out that way, back in the way-back, but we moved past that, ages ago. Originally the fallen host toiled away tormenting the souls of the damned and that was it. I’m one of the original fallen myself, and I remember. We tormented, the doomed suffered and pretty much everyone was miserable—which was the whole point, of course. But the doomed souls kept rolling in, well, shuffling in anyway, and the fallen host wasn’t getting any bigger. After a while we were getting overwhelmed. Instead of suffering exquisite agony for every second of eternity, the doomed were just suffering ordinary torment most of the time, until one of us could get around to giving them a moment’s personal attention.

“This didn’t please the boss. He had a contract for us to torment souls and, if things went on as they were, soon most of the doomed would be whiling away most of eternity in only mild discomfort, waiting their turn for a tormentor. That would never do.

“So just about the time of the first reorganization, when we made the original boss chairman-of-the-board and put a new devil in as day-to-day manager, we started a program of promoting doomed souls who’d already suffered a good bit of eternal torment and used them to spread the agony among the newcomers. That’s where Mr. Burke and his ilk come in—he’s not one of the fallen host, but instead has had to work his way up from the pits to the post he has now.”

“Which is?” Joe asked.

“Pit-fiend, first-class,” Mr. Burke declared proudly. “One of the first of my era to make it, too. I’ll be due for a promotion to Devil, third-class, in another century or so.”

“And when did you, er, die?”

“I was crucified by the Roman Emperor Augustus.”

“That was…”

“More than two-thousand years ago,” Azaerel said. “Unfortunately souls like Mr. Burke are quite uncommon. Sinners, alas, are all too common. Administration is turning into a major problem. One of the solutions we’re come up with is what I’m here to talk to you about today, Joe. How would you like to reserve yourself a fast-track slot in Hell?”

“What if I don’t want to go to Hell at all?” Joe asked.

“Well, I suppose it’s never too late to start living a virtuous life, Joe,” the devil answered him. “But who are you kidding? You like the life you have. You like fucking off on the weekends, watching football and drinking beer. You like cheating on your wife, cheating on your taxes, cheating on your golf score. You cherish your grudges—you can’t wait to cut out Kenny at the office and finally get that big promotion he so richly deserves. Things are going pretty good for you in the here-and-now, and you don’t really want to make a change, do you?”

Joe straightened up from where he’d slouched against the door. “I might,” he said.

“Ha, ha, ha!” Mr. Burke laughed right in his face. His breath smelled of sulfur and old vegetables. “Sure you will. You’ll give up that sweet thing from the office, stop going to titty-bars with the guys, file an amendment on your last fifteen tax returns and stay home every night, reading the Bible. You won’t give in to wrath or lust or vanity, and you’ll say your prayers every night. Good luck with that, chum.”

“Before you go undertaking any life-changing events, Joe, why don’t you hear what we have to offer?” Azaerel asked. “Despite our side’s reputation for contracts, the terms are really quite simple—with no fine print.” From his back pocket the tall devil produced a single slick sheet folded in three, like a tourist brochure. The front covered in red flame with a black box containing large yellow letters proclaiming “A Hell of a Deal”. He opened it to the first page and extended it toward Joe. “You cut your initial term of torment to a maximum of one century, no matter how many sins you rack up.”

“Is that good?” Joe asked.

Mr. Burke snorted. “Kid, I did a thousand years in a fiery pool before I ever picked up a pitch-fork! Even with the new programs, most of the doomed souls never get out of the pits at all. There isn’t much to distinguish one soul writing in agony from another, so promotions get to be…a little random.”

“Which is one problem this new program is designed to fix,” his partner continued smoothly. “Everyone going to hell gets tormented—that’s the whole point—but with this deal you’re in and out and on your way with a minimum of fuss. See, here is the torment clause in black and white: “Torment of the consigned soul limited to ten years for every grievous sin with a maximum total of one century.” That’s less than you’d get right now, should anything happen to you. Much less than you’re likely to rack up in the next thirty to forty years, the way you’re going.”

“Unless I repent…” Joe said.

“Yes, the repentance clause.” Azaerel turned to another flap on the brochure. “Right here: “If the consignee manages an act of contrition and repentance abrogating his consignment to hell, all obligations under this agreement, by both parties, are null and void.” Pretty cut-and-dried if you ask me. If you manage to hook your way in with the harp-and-halo crowd at the last minute, well and fine with us. It’s not as if we’re dealing with any shortages of doomed souls, after all.”

“Hardly,” Burke croaked. “Quite the opposite.”

“As a matter of fact, our coming to you now has already given you an edge on most mortals,” Azaerel continued. “You’ve seen us, you know there is a hell and you are going to it. We expect a certain—small—percentage of our clients will undergo a renewal of their lapsed faith. In fact, we’re counting on it.”

“How’s that?” Joe asked. “I thought you guys were all about tempting humanity from God and into eternal damnation?”

The devils both winced at the mention of God. “Please, don’t bring Him up like that.” Azaerel pleaded. “Its true, our game plan has always been to encourage sin. That was before the current manager had his big idea, more than a hundred years ago. He was just an underboss then—”

“What idea was that?” Joe asked.

“He was fascinated with political and economic theories,” Azaerel explained. “He started inspiring different, competing ideologies in the territory he was running, which was Europe. He had this crazy idea—The details don’t matter. The result is what you see today.”

“Things don’t seem so bad today,” Joe observed. “Compared to the Middle Ages or…or just about anytime, I guess.”

“Thank you, Dr. Pangloss.” Burke’s sneer exposed even more teeth than his smile. He worked a stubby black-nailed finger into his collar and continued, “Did it ever occur to you there might be reasons—”

“That’s enough.” Azaerel gave the fiend a quelling glance. “I think it suffices to say a certain amount of suffering on Earth was supposed to generate more hopes of reward in the hereafter, and we succeeded in screwing the balance up. As a result, many marginal souls who would have just squeaked in to heaven in the old days—through the sheer numbing pervasive actions of near-universal worship if not actual faith—are now queuing up for eternal torment from us.

This brings us back to you, Joe, and our offer.”

Joe took the brochure from the devil’s hands and looked at it. “This is all about the afterlife? Nothing in the here-and-now?”

Azaerel smiled. “Not directly, Joe. Just the certainty of hell. Consider how that might affect you, though. If you knew that you were already maxed out in the sin department, might that not give you some edge?”

Joe thought about that one, scratching where sweat had started running through the stubble on his chin. The sound of the mower had stopped some time back—it was almost time for the pregame show. “You guys want to come in? The game’s on soon and I’ve got beer on ice.”

Azaerel smiled softly. “Maybe for a minute or two.”


# # #

Knock Knock by Michael D. Turner
originally published in the Winter 2011 print edition



Michael D. Turner is a writer from Colorado Springs, Colorado. His writing has appeared multiple times in Big Pulp, and in Aberrant Dreams, AlienSkin, Between Kisses, Flashing Swords, Every Day Fiction, and Tales of the Talisman.

For more of Michael's work,
visit his Big Pulp author page


This feature and more great
fiction & poetry are available in
Big Pulp Winter 2011:
Interrogate My Heart Instead

Purchase books and subscriptions
in the Big Pulp book store!



Purchase books and subscriptions
in the Big Pulp book store!


Store ø Blog ø Authors ø Supporters ø Submissions ø About ø Exter Press ø Home
Art gallery ø Movies ø Fantasy ø Mystery ø Adventure ø Horror ø Science Fiction ø Romance

All fiction, poems and artwork © the authors. Big Pulp © 2012 Exter Press