I work in the complaints center. Usually, my job is nothing but standard protocol. I’ll sit on my little cloud, making geometric shapes out of post-it notes at my desk, when a piece of parchment will appear in a poof of glittering white smoke and feathers. A complaint. More often than not, the complaint is something trivial, filed by a creature who felt they did not get the attention they deserved. My biggest issues involve pixies (they send a ton of prank letters) and unicorns (they can never get enough attention). Today was… different. I received something completely unexpected.
The letter arrived in a cough of filthy black smoke and a few smoldering cinders. It was like a tiny nuclear explosion erupted on my desk, reducing my post-it note dodecahedron to a pile of ash. I had to wait until the letter stopped glowing red with heat before I could pick it up. After a minute or so, I carefully flattened out the parchment and looked over its contents. My breath caught in my throat. It said:
I am requesting a private meeting with you in regards to the specifications of my job. I am displeased with the lack of rest opportunities I am given, in association with the amount of work I need to fulfill. Therefore, I expect us to reach an agreement on certain terms by no later than ten minutes after you read this message.
P.S. This is urgent. Hope you’re “dying” to see me!
I looked up from the letter. Ten minutes? What did that mea-
All of a sudden, my chair burst into flame. I jumped up, flailing and swatting at the embers that caught a hold of my pants. Next thing I knew, my desk erupted with fire, my geometric shapes launching in every direction like flaming meteors. I shrieked internally. What if I burst into flames next?! A few workers sitting above me looked down and regarded my burning things with mild annoyance. They’d never really cared much for the complaints department. One worker, a guy in charge of constellation communication, asked if I needed help, or “something.”
“No thanks! I’m fine,” I called up to him, halfheartedly. I frowned at the mass of fire before me and put my hands in my pockets. Everybody went back to his work, leaving me to stare at my blazing chair and desk, wondering how the heck I should put them out. It wasn’t every day that something randomly caught fire in Heaven. I didn’t have enough time to consider my options, because the next thing I knew, my entire cloud disappeared, and I started free-falling (along with my desk and chair) at a rapid pace. I shrieked out loud this time. My wings weren’t working! I barreled through cloud, after cloud, after cloud. Workers everywhere shouted at me, and asked if I was okay, obviously not really caring (In Heaven, employees must do their best to stay positive towards their coworkers no matter what, or else). I drew my head into my knees, like a human cannonball, hoping I wouldn’t slam into someone’s filing cabinet. The rushing wind was cold and loud, it completely dried all moisture from my eyes, and I was certain I was going deaf. Through a space between my chest and my arm, I could see the Earth getting closer.
Here it comes! I braced myself, hugging my knees even harder and squeezing my eyes shut. I waited to make contact with hard ground, but it never happened. Instead, the air instantly got warmer—hotter. I felt like I was baking in an oven. The heat seamed to choke me, making it hard to fill my lungs with oxygen. I realized that I was hurtling straight into H-E-double hockey sticks, and there was nothing I could do about it. Good. Heavens.
After about three minutes of nothing but falling, I finally unfolded my knees from my chest. Then I nearly screamed. I was sitting at my desk (still ablaze), across from a man who sat with his hands clasped in front of his mouth. He glared at me with a tired, impatient expression.
“Are you done?” he asked.
I looked around. The whooshing that I thought was from wind was actually coming from a small, electricity-operated fan that was standing next to the man’s desk (it was also on fire). The underworld looked nothing like how I pictured it. All of the walls weren’t made of red, charred stone; they were a bland white. Several framed inspirational quotes hung on the far wall, like “you won’t succeed until you fail,” or “not trying is worse than messing up.” A Mickey Mouse clock ticked softly above the man’s desk.
“You’re not who I was expecting.” The man said. “Where’s Mr. G?”
I swallowed. Was this the devil, himself? “You sent the letter to the wrong department.” I mumbled. “The complaints department. If you wanted… Mr. G… to see it, you should have sent it directly to him, up in… Headquarters.”
The man sighed and rubbed his temples. He did not speak for some time. The Mickey Mouse clock ticked. My desk still burned. I made sure not to touch it.
Another minute passed before he spoke again. “I need a vacation.” He stated.
I waited for him to clarify, but he never did.
“I need someone to take my place while I’m gone.” He continued. I was at a loss for words, and I could tell the man was getting irritated.
“You’re from the complaints department, you say?”
“Then here’s my complaint: I. Am. Overworked.”
The man unclasped his hands and stood up. He slinked over to my desk and leaned on it, the flames not fazing him at all. His name-tag clearly said Mr. Devil. I pursed my lips. Oh. My mind wasn’t working properly. I think I asked him why everything he owned was on fire. The Devil sighed. Then he pointed to his Mickey Mouse clock.
“You see that clock?”
I nodded again.
“I received it from a good friend of mine. Nearly 50 years ago. I love Disney, but I have never had the chance to go to Disneyland myself. Mr. G might have it easy up in Heaven, partying alongside those who truly deserve it, but I don’t have that luxury. I’m in charge of organizing and rehabilitating millions of terrible people every day, without so much as a single break. Until now. You’re filling in for me today. Ok?”
“Ok.” I whispered.
Mr. Devil’s tone changed instantly. “Great!” he chirped. “See you in 24 hours!”
He vanished in a puff of dirty smoke and fire. I sat staring at the place he had just stood. I had just made a deal with the Devil. I had just taken over his job. Oh, good heavens.