Satan slouched on his throne, one leathery wing idly beating time to the off-key tune its owner hummed.
He watched the parade of souls stream by him. Some quailed and screamed at the sight of the overlord of evil; others, hoping to be spared a little misery, genuflected before the throne, not realizing that Satan fried every 417th person to do that.
As the endless line of wrecked humanity slunk past him, he would meditatively torture one in a particular fashion and another in a different way. For the better part of an hour, he drilled holes in various sordid souls so that he wasn’t the only one in Hell who was bored.
A flash of movement caught his eye; he turned his horned head to see one of his lieutenants rushing toward him. The demon bowed before his infernal lord.
“What?” Satan demanded.
“My prince, there is … something odd. Something new, and none of us in Admissions can explain it.”
Satan lifted an eyebrow. “What is this odd new thing?”
The demon pointed down the line of the damned and caused a red arrow to hover over the oddity. Satan sat up on his throne and peered into the distance. He blinked a couple of times to clear his vision, but the oddity persisted and slowly moved in his direction.
“There’s something you don’t see every day,” Satan agreed. “I think I’ll call this in.” The prince of darkness turned to his right to the speaking tube that ran between Heaven and Hell. It had been installed at the insistence of the former and unsuccessfully opposed by the latter. But, Satan admitted privately, it was occasionally useful. He made a loud, disgusting noise into the tube.
“What?” the Archangel Michael demanded from On High.
“Why is there an orangutan down here?”
“Orangu–? Oh, how about that? I hadn’t realized Satan had died.”
“Yeah,” the archangel confirmed with a nasty chuckle. “That’s his name. Clever, huh?”
“Hysterical. But, honorable name or not, why is this animal here?”
A thoughtful pause was heard. “I’ll tell you what, Lucy.” The former archangel known as Lucifer glowered at the nickname, and the demon from Admissions quickly looked away. “If a month from now you’re still the Satan in charge down there, I’ll tell you all about the primate. Bye.”
The devil made the rude noise a few more times, but the archangel was no longer taking calls.
During the conversation, the line had moved forward. Now the red arrow and the orangutan beneath it were directly before the devil’s throne. The orangutan snatched the arrow from over its head, broke it in two and tossed the pieces toward the lord of the realm.
Satan used a tiny fraction of his power to retrieve the pieces of the arrow; he did something just mildly horrible to the orangutan with them. The ape screamed once but then took the torture in stride and glared hatefully at the devil.
“There is room for only one Satan here, my little friend,” the ruler of Hell announced. “Find a quiet corner to spend eternity in, and don’t cause trouble.”
The primate Satan gingerly removed the arrow from its person and tucked the pieces under an arm. He gave the other Satan a challenging look before sprinting off, climbing up and over and down the others in line ahead of him.
“Your orders, my prince?” the demon asked.
“Have someone keep a loose eye on that thing and keep me informed as necessary. Mikey’s taunts notwithstanding, I think we can handle the corrupted soul of a base animal.”
“Yes, my prince.”
* * *
The complaints began almost immediately; a mob of suffering souls presented themselves in front of the hideous throne to make demands.
“Look, it’s one thing to be thrown in the lake of fire by your demons,” said a onetime used car salesman from Bayonne, New Jersey. “And to suffer whatever else you have in mind. But I’m not taking anything off that damn monkey!”
A hundred or so voices were raised in agreement.
“Monkey?” Satan asked. “What–? Not that orangutan, surely.”
“Yeah, that. I don’t care what kind of ape it is. I just know I outrank it by virtue of having been a human being.”
“There’s a word one doesn’t often hear,” Satan mused quietly. More loudly, he asked, “What is the animal doing?”
The individuals in the mob aired their grievances simultaneously, one shouting about an indignity the ape had committed, another complaining about various perversions the animal had inflicted, still another showing puncture marks where the orangutan’s teeth had been. The shouting went on for a lengthy time compared to how long Satan the Orangutan had been in Hell.
Satan, prince of darkness, was of a mind to be amused until the used car salesman said, “That ape seems to think it runs this place.”
The words kindled Lucifer’s memory of his conversation with Michael. “Oh? And how does the animal give this appearance?”
“It’s going around saying, ‘I am Satan, ruler of Hell. You will bow before me.’ Then it does something awful to us.”
Satan I’s countenance darkened dangerously. At the left side of the throne, a demon attendant edged away slightly and tried to look casual about it.
The salesman continued, “A lot of us thought it was you, at first. Like you’d taken another form for whatever reason. But we finally figured out it’s just the soul of a demented damn monkey. We’ve got enough problems without this. Hell is for humans!”
And the mob took it up as a chant.
“Hell is for humans! Hell is for humans! Hell is for humans!”
“Silence!” the Great Satan roared, and it was so. “I will deal with this. For presuming to come to me for a redress of grievances, you will each make ten laps of the lake of fire, and you must touch the ends for it to count. Away!”
Satan heard the used car salesman tell some of the others, “I think that went pretty good.”
“You think ten laps of the lake is doing pretty good?” someone asked.
“Hey, it’s Hell. You gotta take the rough with … the rough.”
Satan ignored the conversation. Once the crowd had dispersed, he summoned the orangutan with a thought.
The animal did not immediately appear.
Satan – unaccustomed to this sort of failure – gave the mental command again, and this time the orangutan materialized before the throne.
“You’re ignoring my advice,” Satan said to Satan. “What is much, much worse, you’re pretending to rule in Hell.”
“If I’m getting what I want,” the animal said, “it’s not pretending.”
Lucifer ignited the orangutan. Satan grimaced pitifully but suffered in silence until the devil put the flames out.
“What manner of creature are you?” the lord of Hell asked.
“I’m an orangutan. An orangutan who was picked on in the jungle, and so I became strong and feared there. I was captured for a zoo, and so I became stronger and was feared by my human captors. I was sent to a laboratory to be used for experiments. I endured and became stronger and still more feared. I killed three of my tormentors with their own tools, escaped from the lab, wrecked the cafeteria, left the building, and terrorized everyone I came into contact with. I was on my way to seize a TV station when I was killed by a police sniper in a helicopter. And now that I’m here on a permanent basis, I mean to run things.”
“That’s a pretty good resume for an ape,” the devil allowed, “but there are a great many humans with even greater accomplishments down here who dance to my tune.”
“Then they’re weak, and they’re fools.”
“Let me show you who is strong and smart,” the prince of darkness said. He rose from his throne, and from his fingertips and his eyes and his mouth blasted forth a torrent of hellfire which engulfed the orangutan. The ape gasped and shrieked, but it endured and gradually put up its hands and blocked the stream of flame.
Lucifer ceased fire. “That is impossible,” he whispered.
“You haven’t had to fight anyone for eons, Devil,” the second Satan said. “You’ve gotten weak, and you’ve gotten lazy. You’re all show and no substance now.” The orangutan grimaced and grunted, and Lucifer thought it planned to relieve itself as a sign of defiance. That happened, too, but it was not the more interesting result: horns sprang from the orangutan’s head, and leathery wings sprouted from its back. The ape flapped the wings and hovered experimentally a couple of feet off the ground. “Now … it’s time to see who really rules in Hell.”
* * *
A couple of weeks later, unable to bear the strain of wondering how things were going, the Archangel Michael called down to Hell.
“Satan, prince of darkness, speaking,” he yelled up the tube. “Whaddya want, Mikey?”
“Why, Lucy. Is it really you? Are you still sitting on your throne?”
“Mikey, I’ll admit that things were touch and go for a little while. The orangutan was a worthy opponent, and he was right that I’ve been pretty slack lately. But slack or not, I’ve been around awhile and know some things the animal doesn’t.
“And I learned something, Mikey, that might be of interest to you: even Hell is ruled by the consent of the governed. And when everyone realized that they were going to be tortured for all eternity by an orangutan rather than a fallen archangel, they got pretty upset. They kept chanting something about the ‘damned, dirty ape’ as they rushed to my aid. So yes, the fiery fist ruling the Pit is still mine.”
“So what have you done with the other Satan?”
“He doesn’t get to call himself that anymore. Do you, Peaches?”
From a small cage guarded by a phalanx of demons, the orangutan called out, “I have all eternity, Devil! You will submit to me!”
Satan laughed. “I trust I’ve satisfied your curiosity, Mikey. I’ve got to go, now. It’s time to give Peaches another lesson in manners.”