angst noun: a strong feeling of worry about what you should do, how you should behave, or what will happen in the future
The pungent smell of brimstone wafted through the corridors as Herman hurried along, tea slopping out the sides of his cup as he waddled side to side. His gait was an awkward combination of hop, shuffle and stumble as the ears of his fuzzy bunny slippers got caught on the rough stone surface of the dark hall. It was midnight, the moon was full, and the brethren of hell were gathering.
And Herman was late. Again.
Throwing himself into the door carved with the faces of a thousand souls cursed with eternal damnation, he managed to open it just a crack and slide into the meeting room.
The voice rattled through Herman’s skull and made his skin crawl.
“Yes. Yes sir. I’m so sorry, sir. Won’t happen again.” With every word, the diminutive demon bowed his head and spilt a little more tea on his knit cardigan. Shoving his spectacles up on his squat nose, he took one last bow and fled to his stool at the end of the long meeting table. Herman was short and round, especially for one of the denizens of hell. He didn’t fit in any of the majestically carved stone chairs that the other demons occupied. Some of the guys had thought it would be funny to make Herman sit on a stool like a small child. It had started as a cruel joke, but eventually, he had come to terms with it. And it was quite lovely to be able to see over the tabletop.
Pulling a coaster from his pocket and placing the teacup on top, Herman shoved his spectacles further up his snout and settled in for another long meeting. He had often heard humans refer to their own meetings as a sort of “living hell”, but he couldn’t imagine what they would think of a board meeting held in literal hell. Herman’s shuffling in his seat was met with a fiery glare from the scaly beast seated at the head of the table.
“May we begin?”
Herman squeaked and ducked his head.
“And so, we shall call this meeting to order. We thank Steve for bringing the delicious deep-fried treats to this table.”
Steve, the demon of sugary treats, waved a jelly-donut impaled on a talon in acknowledgement of the murmurs of appreciation. A cloud of powdered sugar arose in a puff from under the table as someone slipped a treat to one of the horned imps scurrying along the floor. Even the embodiments of pure evil needed to be bribed with snacks to attend a meeting.
All meetings began with a roll call of the demons and what particular act of depravity they were most proud of. The best made it onto the slideshow at the annual holiday party. Speeding tickets, decaffeinated coffee and people who talk in movies were some of the highlights from previous years. Bubbles, the demon of gluttony, was incredibly proud of his inventions of pie-eating contests and all-you-can-eat buffets. Nobody was quite sure how Bubbles had acquired his name. Still, there wasn’t anyone, even another demon, who was particularly inclined to disagree with a 400lb scaly mass of flesh and pointed teeth. You didn’t get to be the demon of gluttony without eating a few enemies here and then.
Herman never did particularly well in these meetings. No matter how hard he tried, he was never able to come up with anything particularly demonic. And even when he did have a brilliant idea, it always seemed to backfire on him. He cringed, remembering his attempt at the last meeting. While he’d thought that the idea of an awkwardly shaped piece of kitchen equipment with razor shaped edges had been brilliant, one of the other demons had kindly pointed out that turning vegetables into noodles actually made their consumption more palatable for the human younglings and even the pickier adults. Hell was not in the business of encouraging vegetable consumption, no matter how many struck drawers and sliced pinky fingers it caused.
The rules were that the demons were not allowed to implement any torturous devices that they themselves were not willing to endure. Unfortunately, this meant that meetings lasted a minimum of seven hours and included at least one slideshow presentation where the presenter read every single point off the projected screen in a monotonous voice and mispronounced all the names and regularly placed the emph-ASS-sis on the wrong syll-AH-bull. The first attendant to fall asleep would then be treated to an enthusiastic lecture on the importance of proper meeting etiquette. Martin, the demon of endless meetings, quite enjoyed the opportunity to break into his favourite lecture. He’d even figured out a way to make fire and brimstone shoot out of the fireplace and engulf the entire table when he reached the crescendo. Everyone had quickly learnt to make sure all the donuts had been eaten long before they got to the presentation part. The powdered sugar left horrible scorch marks and smelled terrible. Far better to eat the donuts, or even feed them to the imps than the be the one stuck with cleaning their charred remains off at the end of the meeting.
Herman usually volunteered to sweep the floor. He would have cleaned the whiteboards, but he wasn’t tall enough to reach the top. There were definite disadvantages to being three feet tall. (Anyone with a tape measure or even a sharp eye would be able to tell you that Herman was 2’ 10” at the most, but that would just be cruel. He was barely taller than the imps and was quite sensitive about the fact.) Being the last person to leave the meeting room meant that he was unlikely to catch the eye of any of his brethren, and he could retreat back to his room without being bothered. He had important matters to return to, primarily a good book and a warm cup of tea. Alas, his future was not set to be that peaceful.