by Lyda Morehouse
Tuti sat in the pew in the very last row and prayed so hard that she could see the whites of her knuckles where they gripped the polished wood. With her head bowed, she rocked back and forth with barely contained emotion.
She whispered in supplication: "For fuck's sake, don't blow it, you goddamn, green-assed, sorry-excuse for a priest."
Prayer, obviously, was not her forte, despite the fact that she'd spent nearly her whole existence in one kind of holy place or another--mosque, synagogue, church, or meeting hall. Tuti's job was to skulk around the edges waiting for a moment like this one: where an untried or drunken officiate mumbled, mangled, or skipped a word during the performance of a service. Then, she whisked the corrupted essence of the word straight to Hell.
Tuti was a demon.
And right then, she was a demon praying to Hell not to have to do her job. If this young priest missed a "the," just one, stupid "the," the simplest of all the words to miss; it was over.
The trouble was, Tuti had been around for a long time. Sadly, it didn't take but a thousand years, if that, to collect all the words for a multitude of services in Latin, Arabic, French, and a veritable Babel of other languages. Yet, English was new enough, and kept changing so radically that the boss always wanted to have the most current version--no mixing Middle English with the mod stuff, you know? Even so, Tuti was one stinking "the" away from having it all.
Once she had it, she was out of a job. And, you've got to figure Lucifer wasn't the kind of boss who would simply reassign her to some other department. If she was out of work, she was out of the picture. Though she'd always wondered where demons went when they died, Tuti didn't really want to find out.
Her head snapped up to attention, as the nervous young priest began Communion. She whispered the words along with him, waiting. Tuti had been called to this church by an earlier mistake of his, luckily the word he had mangled before was one she already had--though it was an important one. She was always surprised how many people screwed up the name of God. Tuti guessed the young ones had a tendency to get especially nervous at the mention of the big guy's name.
Then it happened. The priest mangled the one word she needed.
She closed her eyes with a trembling flutter of defeat, willing herself not to notice the missed article drifting to the granite floor of the church. If only she could deny her nature, and leave it lying there, whimpering pitifully, until it's essence dissipated. Unfortunately, articles were stronger willed and longer lived than most words, and especially the definite one. Recognizing her, the article was already crawling weakly down the aisle. With a sigh, she slid out her mortal disguise. Tuti scooped up the weeping word, cradled it to her breast, and descended to Hell.
Ho kategoros, the Adversary, waited for her north of Heaven, at the gates of Hell.
No matter how many times she came this way, the enormous dark doorway never failed to impress her. From a distance the gates appeared to be ornately carved teak or mahogany. The closer you approached, the more obvious it became that the tortured figures were real, shifting souls trapped in a place that was neither Heaven nor Hell, but Purgatory.
The Adversary, who intently watched Tuti's approach, ran his hand along two deep, scorched pits etched in the gates. They were scars, remnants of the passage of the dying and rising God, the half-breed son of a bitter enemy, who stormed the gates of Hell with flaming sword in hand for the souls of holy heathens.
"Do you have it?" The brightness of Heaven's light reflected orange highlights in the Adversary's hair, turning it into a glitter of red-gold. To Tuti, for a moment, he looked a bit like he might have before--when he was the greatest and best of all the angels.
Tuti ducked her head to hide the blush that crept up her cheek to burn at the pointed tips of her ears. Truth was she'd always had a bit of a crush on Lucifer. Hell was often a dark and brutal place even for a demon, and Lucifer's brilliance shown like the morning star.
As she came under his arm to pass through the gates, she lifted a protective hand to show him the quivering article. The corner of his cruel mouth tipped in a mockery of a smile. Though it was clear that he was pleased, Tuti shivered.
"Good," he said, "The time of our revenge is nearer."
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