The Satanic Brief


Probably the most ambitious short story I have ever completed, “The Satanic Brief” was written during my period of depression and soul-searching in 2002. I don’t really recall how I came to write it, but it’s one of my favourite pieces of work.


About the first thing I can remember of the whole affair was when He
came into the little conference room. Bowing briefly, he said, “Your
Majesty. It’s been too long, Sir”.

He was sharply dressed – very sharply dressed indeed. His immaculate
suit, his shining shoes, and his neat little briefcase all screamed
Successful Sharpie at me.

“What did you call me?”
“I called you ‘Sir’. You’re my boss”.
“Your boss? I’m your boss?”

I’d never seen him before.

“Yes sir. My Liege, Lord and Master”.
“Uhhhhh … Right. So, you are …?”
“I’m Asmodeus, Your Majesty’s faithful servant and Prince of the Game.
I’m here to represent you in today’s trial. May I just say that it’s
an absolute honour to be representing you, Sir”.
“I’m sorry. Did you just say ‘trial’?”
“Yes, your Majesty. You are being tried by the Supreme Court of the
Divine Kingdom of Heaven. Apparently you got in here by mistake. The
trial is about having you expelled back home”.
“What the fuck? The Supreme Kingdom of Heaven?”
“Yes sir. The Kingdom of Kiss-Ass. They’re trying to expel you. Again.
Back home, your Majesty”.
“Home?”
“Your Dark Fiefdom, Sir”.
“My Dark Fiefdom?”
“Indeed Sir. Hell, Sir”.

He looked at my face of utter, total bewilderment. I must have looked
like an entirely confused idiot. Who? What? Huh? Or, to quote PJ
O’Rourke: ‘What the fuck? I mean, what the fucking fuck?’

“Sir? Have you forgotten?”
“I think I have. Erm. Remind me?”.

He looked at me, and slow surprise crept across his face. But then he
turned back to a crafty look. And finally he began to laugh, slightly
nervously.

“Aha! Your Majesty was ever the kidder!”
“Look, I don’t understand what you’re talking about”.
“Very funny, Sir. But seriously-”
“I am serious! Who the hell am I?”
“This isn’t a test?”
“No”.
“A trick? Are you sure, your Majesty?”
“I’m sure. No tricks. Just tell me who I am”.

He paused. Then:

“You’re the King of Hell, Sir. You are His Supreme and Terrible
Majesty, Lucifer Lightbringer the First. Emperor of Evil, King of
Hell, Prince of Darkness, Father of Lies. The Great Deceiver. The
Morningstar. The Devil. Old Nick. In a word, Sir, you are Satan”.

Now, take a moment aside here and try to put yourself in my shoes. You
wake up with no memory of anything. A strange lawyer-type comes in and
tells you are on trial in heaven, and then, Oh-By-The-Way-Your-
Lordship, that you are Satan, The Devil, all that jazz.

It’s not precisely what one expects.

“Oh, I get it”, I said. “This is Candid Camera, right?”
“No Sir”.
“I know: it’s some kind of sick psychology experiment”.
“No Sir”.
“Look, this isn’t funny anymore. Just let me out of here before I
call my lawyer and have all of you sued to hell and back”.
“But Sir, I am your lawyer, and I’m trying to get you sued back to
Hell”.

I just looked at him dumbly. He smiled impishly, adding: “In a manner
of speaking, your Majesty, I have become the Devil’s Advocate”.

  • *

If you’ve ever seen the Supreme Courts of those countries stocked with
humans who are still alive, you’ll see that they take a fairly high
opinion of themselves. Almost all of them seem to think that the Greek
Pantheon was the pinnacle of good taste. Columns and arches dominate
the architectural thinking of court buildings everywhere.

The Supreme Court of the Divine Kingdom of Heaven was another story
entirely. It’s hard to convey the architecture of Heaven to anyone who
hasn’t been there. You’ve seen it or you haven’t. Suffice it to say
that you might consider Heaven’s courts to be pretty darn impressive.
I swear I got a crick in my neck trying to see the roof.

The Court itself, I was to find, was composed of the Five Hundred and,
of course, The One. The Five Hundred were the most respected
Archangels of Heaven. Whilst sitting in Court they were referred to as
Divine Judges. Heading up the Five Hundred was Dominic, Archangel of
Judgement, who was Chief Divine Judge. The One Himself never actually
attended court, but was often referred to in His absence as the Divine
Justice. I’m sure that this clever wording made the bureaucrats very
happy. In His absence, the Archangel of Destiny, Yves, was sent to
observe proceedings.

Actually the Five Hundred didn’t usually attend. It was easy enough
for them to place their Heavenly person in one place, and their minds
in several other places simultaneously, especially whilst they were in
Heaven. The only one who turned up for the entire trial was Dominic.
Yves was there most, but not all, of the time. The other Archangels
would materialise almost at random to ask questions, and then
disappear after they heard the answer. I felt sorry for my lawyer at
the time. It must have been very confusing.

It didn’t help that Dominic was always grumpy. I was told that Dominic
had been grumpy ever since I had, as Archangel of Light, lied to a
much younger, much more trusting Dominic on the fateful morning of my
rebellion against The One. God had sent Dominic to see if the rumours
were true, and I had bedazzled the young Archangel with my brilliant
ability to lie. The subsequent eruption of hostilities in Heaven had
therefore made of Dominic a fool. The stinging verbal abuse he was
dealt by Michael, Archangel of War, turned him into the suspicious and
accusatory bastard whose angst had helped to animate the Spanish
Inquisition. This is how Asmodeus explained Dominic’s cold, unfriendly
manner in the court. All of this was news to me, of course, but it did
seem as though Dominic was itching to convict me of something or
other.

My Advocate seemed to building a complex legal argument about my right
to visit Heaven whenever I wanted to. Already he had recited a litany
of cases, coming in particular to rest on the case of Judas Iscariot
v. The Divine Kingdom of Heaven. In that case Judas had been allowed
into Heaven because of the doctrine of the omniscience paradox. It
went something like this: since Jesus had known that Judas would
betray him, it was functionally equivalent to him telling Judas to do
it. Indeed Peter had testified that he’d thought that’s what had
happened, even though he’d left it out of the Gospels for harmony’s
sake.

Apparently this meant that I, as Satan, was likewise expelled from
Heaven under God’s direction. Under the Judas case, I should be
allowed to come and go as I pleased.

Eventually Dominic got sick of the long rambling.

“Apart from drawing strained analogies with the Judas case, Advocate
Asmodeus, where is this argument leading to?”
“If you will indulge me, Chief Divine Judge, I was just about to start
discussing the doctrine of divine retribution in relation to the case
of Moses v. David”.

At this point the Archangel of Fire, Gabriel, popped into view.

“Ahhhh, good morning Divine Judge Gabriel. May I just say that you
look beautiful this morning. Last time I saw you, you were that ugly
brutish fellow who went to dictate the Qu’ran”.

Gabriel ignored the jibe about his/her transsexuality.

“Advocate, you mentioned Moses v. David. There are several cases of
that title. Could you please give us the citation for the relevant
case?”.
“Indeed, Divine Judge Gabriel, I can. I was referring to 104BC
Supreme Court Reports Volume 1581 at page 42,396. In his judgement,
Chief Divine Judge Dominic said that-”
“I’m well aware of what I said, Asmodeus, and I assure you that it has
nothing to do with what you were going to say it does”.
“If I may have your Honour’s leave to dispute his Judgement in Moses
v. David?”
“Leave denied”.
“Very well, your Honour, but I do mention in passing that your
repeated thorniness may lead to your Honour’s being once again
overruled by an Appeal-in-Unity to The One”.
“Advocate,” said Dominic tiredly, having heard it all before, “You are
coming close to contempt of court. Please focus on the matters of
divine law, not of base politics”.
“But surely, your Honour recognises that his wisdom may be from time
to time supplemented from the Advocates who argue before him?”
“Firstly, I do not consider the bleatings of a rebel and traitor to be
‘wisdom’. And secondly, I defer only to the infinite wisdom of the
Divine Justice. Isn’t that right, Assistant Divine Justice Yves?”

Yves, who had been present that day, smiled his beautiful smile, and
said: “It is, Chief Divine Judge Dominic. May I also observe that I
personally agree with the Chief Divine Judge and Divine Judge
Gabriel. And I suspect that the Divine Justice would rule Moses v.
David irrelevant to this case”.

At which Gabriel disappeared, and my Advocate tried a different tack.

This kind of arguing, by degrees petty and grand, epic and pathetic,
dominated the weeks I sat in my little box.

To be honest it didn’t make very much sense. I was puzzled, basically.
Suppose for a moment that I am, in fact, Satan, King of Hell. The
first question which springs to mind is: why don’t I remember being
Satan? I think it’s fair to say that being Satan would hardly be a
thing to slip one’s mind. Perhaps another way of looking at is: Why
did I forget I was Satan? Is being Satan so stressful that I just
forgot who I was?

I’d like to once more take you, the reader, aside. I’d like to ask you
to refrain from trying to pop psychologise The Devil. Believe you me I
tried that treatment on myself and it was *not pretty. O, how I
struggled to recall my Freud, my Jung, and my neurophysiology. I had
evidently been an educated lout. I tried to meditate my way to
memories. But there didn’t seem to be anything in there. Satan, it
seemed, was suffering from a case of Multiple Personality Disorder.

In the course of my self-analysis, I naturally thought hard about the
divine instruments that I met. In doing so, I learnt an interesting
thing in my time in Heaven about Angels, both the Blessed and the
Fallen. They were Amoral. What separated them from the humans they
basically aimed to serve or subvert was that they could not grasp
real, gut-feeling morality. They knew, somewhat intellectually, about
“right” and “wrong”, but they were never so much bound by any
internal engine of morality. It’s hard to make this clear. Let’s try
an analogy.

If you live on Earth, you are bound by gravity. Gravity holds you
down, and limits sharply the things you can do. Now if you go into
space, gravity no longer really bothers you. But you will still act
for some time within the assumptions that gravity is there. And how
could you not? Your entire life – and your entire species – has always
been created and raised under gravity’s control.

Imagine for a second that you were born and raised in space. Forget
all the scientific stuff about what that does to you, just pretend
that it can be done. What does gravity mean to you then? Nothing,
really. Sure, you can understand it on an intellectual level. You
could memorise Newtown’s equations, mass one times mass two over the
square of distance, all that jazz. You could come to terms with
Einstein’s theories, how space and time bend. And so on.

But you’d never really understand gravity. And so it was with the
Angels and Demons. They were not made with moral mechanics. They were
made just-so. The only thing that binds them to their respective
masters, it seemed to me, were the remaining human emotions of Fear
and Love.

This made them eerily inhuman at times. They could say things, really
amazing things, and never even feel any guilt or joy in them. Asmodeus
would talk about torturing person X in all sorts of horrible ways, but
it didn’t mean anything to him. He can see the pain, he understands
what pain is and how it feels, but he has no sympathy. No compassion,
no empathy binds him to anyone else.

And it is these things that made me suspicious. Frankly I was
horrified by most of what Asmodeus would discuss in our quiet moments
alone. Which meant that maybe I wasn’t actually a fallen angel. Maybe
I was human.

  • *

Now you Jesus freaks who are out there in my audience are probably
just fucking itching to hear about the Great Man Himself. Yeah, I met
Him. Yeah, He’s really very cool, in His own dorky kinda way. I’ll
tell you more about Him in a bit, but first I’ll explain how we came
to meet.

About six weeks into my trial, everything changed. I came into the
Court and my box had been moved to the other side of the room. Where
it had been there was now two rows of seats, one behind the other. It
took only a few moments to recognise that this was seating for a jury.
A big jury, in fact, far more than 12 by the look of it.

Asmodeus came up to me smiling one his “Shit-I’m-Good” grins, of which
there were at least three dazzling varieties. And dammit if he didn’t
just have the nicest fucking suit in the joint. But I really wasn’t in
the mood to swap notes on where to find good tailors. I readily admit
that, suddenly, I was very afraid, and as Asmodeus shook my hand, I
drew him close to me and hissed: “What the fuck is going on,
Asmodeus?”

“Your Majesty’s trial has moved into its second stage”.
“Second stage? Why is there a jury?”
“Ah, your Majesty is as perceptive as ever. So far I have been arguing
questions of law, but last night the Supreme Court settled all the
relevant questions. Now we move to the trial proper, which will be a
trial on the facts of the case”.
“So the last six weeks have been a waste of time?”
“Your Majesty, when you were here in the Kingdom, six weeks was
nothing. Heck, six *years here is like a long sunday back on earth.
You’re going through the process of adjustment, Sir, it will pass”.
“You didn’t exactly answer my question, Asmodeus”.
“Your Majesty continues to demonstrate his intellectual dominance. To
answer your question directly, sir, I spent the last six weeks arguing
important points of divine law with the Court. The Bible! If only
it were you arguing the case, Sir, nobody knows that fucking book
like you do. How The Father ever expected divine law to be based on
such ambiguous wording I never understood-”
“Asmodeus. Have the last six weeks been a waste of my time? Answer the
question”.
“I just answered that question, sir”.
“No you fucking didn’t!”

A few sober eyes looked at us then. The walls and distant ceiling
seemed to amplify my angry words, almost as much as they softened the
usual blah-blah of Court work.

Asmodeus looked about nervously. “Please, your Majesty,” he began,
“you’re hardly doing yourself any service by getting angry at me. I
fought tooth and hoof to get this commission, Sir, I really did. Do
you have any idea how coveted this assignment was? Shit, the deals I
cut with Prince Kronos, Prince Malphas. They were bloody wrenching. Do
you think I enjoy arguing with that fucking pickled prune Dominic?
That I relish looking at that smug little smile that Yves gives
whenever he looks at me? I’m doing this for you, Sir, and I’m just a
little hurt that you’re impugning my motives here”.
“Asmodeus. You’re a demon. Please. You were born to lie”.

He shrunk back from me, visibly upset.

“Has your Majesty begun to believe their propaganda? Then all is
lost! I beg you, Sir, drop this pretence, or your Crown will fall to
one of your ambitious lieutenants – Prince Baal, or Prince Malphas
maybe-”
“Or Prince Asmodeus?”
“Never!” he cried, loud enough to draw attention to us again. “I am
always and everywhere your Majesty’s humble servant. Nothing will ever
change that, not even your Majesty’s growing insanity”.

And at that he left me.

He went to the bench, where Dominic was already seated with several of
the Archangels. There was apparently interest in my first day of
“trial proper”. The bench fell silent as the Prince of the Game
approached it. Asmodeus looked up into the seven eyes of Dominic and
said, “Your Honour, I would like to apply to have my client considered
to be insane”.
“Leave is denied”.
“Assistant Divine Justice Yves, I’d like to appeal the Chief Judge’s
decision”.

Yves narrowed his eyes, and glanced at me.

“One moment, Advocate”, he said, and vanished. A few moments later he
reappeared, saying: “I have consulted The Father. He will be sending
The Son to act as Divine Justice”.

So that’s how, in the course of being charged with Divine Trespass, I
came to meet Jesus, The Son. He also got called Messiah (if you liked
Hebrew) or Christ (if Greek was more your thing). But He was happy
with “Jesus”. As divine beings went, He was a first-name-basis kind of
guy.

He appeared at the bench, next to Yves, with his back to me. They
spoke quietly for a few seconds, then Yves pointed to me with his
hand, in a very curious manner, with his hand palm-up, like he was
handing something to me. Jesus turned around and looked at me. And
smiled.

Now I have previously said that Yves’s smile was Beautiful. But
Jesus’s smile was perfection itself. It made me happy, content, full
of life and love and all things bright and beautiful. He came down
from behind the bench, still smiling, and came over to me and shook my
hand, as one equal to another. “Hi”, he said unpretentiously. “I’m
Jesus”.

I’m Jesus. Just like that. Hi, I’m John Doe, I’m Jimmy Citizen, I’m
Joe Bloe. Ho hum.

“Jesus Christ?”
“No need to be formal up here. Just Jesus will do”. He smiled again,
and I suddenly loved Him, always had, because I knew He gave a shit
about me. Cared about what I thought, about what I wanted. Was upset
when I was upset, and happy when I was happy. I knew it better than if
I’d sat in some dull fucking church singing boring hymns all my life.
This was physical, real, the God-Man in the flesh. He smiled, and I
was His forever. And although I didn’t really notice at the time, in
the corner of my vision, Asmodeus was frowning.

“Hello, Jesus”. Silly me. It was all I could think to say.
“How’re you today?”
“I’m doing OK, sir”.
“Jesus”.
“Sorry sir- er, Jesus. I’m OK. Jesus”.
“Good, I’m glad to hear that”, and it felt like he really, really
meant it. Then he said: “Is everyone treating you OK? Do you feel the
trial is being fair to you?”
“To be honest, uh, Jesus, I don’t uh …” I trailed off, not knowing
how to say that I thought Asmodeus was trying to pull a fast one on
me.
“It’s OK”, he said soothingly. “You can tell me”.
“Well, Jesus … I think that … I think that Asmodeus has been lying
to me”.

It didn’t seem to surprise Him, but then, He didn’t seem be disgusted
by it. These were the facts. It didn’t perturb him either way, He was
only concerned that I was treated with love and respect and that I got
justice. I got the feeling He felt that even Asmodeus – even a Demon
Prince of Hell – was worthy of redemption. Even at the last trumpet
call, the Divine get-out-of-jail-card was this Man.

“OK,” He said. “Well, I’ll have to talk to the other judges about
this. But you just wait here, OK?”
“OK”. He smiled again, and my heart broke.

He walked in a very calm, very at-home fashion to the bench, where
Dominic was already looking at him, apparently unsure whether to smile
or to frown. They exchanged a few words, Dominic sighed, then said:
“By order of the Divine Justice, the trial will be suspended until
next week”. He banged his gavel, and that was that.

  • *

The first thing I remember after that – it’s all a blank, I swear to
you – the first thing I remember is sitting in the same neat little
cell as when I first met Asmodeus.

Once again he was there. No. Let me explain that better. At first, I
saw on a chair in the corner a fairly ugly demon-type of guy. Quite
frankly he scared me: horns, hooves, tail. And he was evidently pissed
at me. I think the steam coming out of his glowing-red eyes made it
clear.

And it took me a few moments to realise that – holy shit! – was it
really Asmodeus? And it was. For the first time, Asmodeus, as-he-was,
without one of his beautiful suits, without the briefcase. Naked, in
fact. Naked and angry at me.

“Asmodeus? Is that you?”
“No, I’m not Asmodeus”.

I was a little nervous. “Uhhhhm…”
“Look, I *told you I was Asmodeus. So yeah. If you think I look like
the guy who defended you at the trial, then lo, ‘twas I”.
“Um. I… uh… what-”
“Fuck. Look, who do you think I am? Three guesses, Einstein”.
“I don’t really know Hell that well. I mean, I should, being Satan and
everything, but you said I’d lost my memory or something and-”
“Oh for fuck’s sake, stop yapping. You’re not Satan”.
“I’m not?”
“No”.

Have you ever had one of those moments, one of those moments of
complete blankness? One of those that lead to an embarrassing silence?
I hate those moments. This was one of those. There I sat, dumb-eyed,
whiffle-brained, completely silent.

“You’ve got three guesses left, bucko”.
“Guesses?”
“Guesses. About who I am”.
“Oh. Right. Are you …” I searched my mind here for ideas about who
it might be. Maybe it was an angelic trap, a trick? “Are you Dominic?”

He broke up with laughter. He hooted and stomped his hooves. The
movement made it suddenly obvious that he was chaincuffed, behind his
back, to his chair.

“No, matey boy, not Dominic. Wheeee! You were off on that one! Try a
demon next time. You’ll get closer”.

I searched my mind again. Maybe it was one of these other demons he’d
mentioned, during the trial. “Uhm – Malphas?”

He grunted this time. It wasn’t so amusing, apparently. “No. Not
quite. I’ll give you a clue. I’m his boss”.

I stared at him. Blinked as it hit me. Then whispered: “You’re Satan”.

“Shit, the kid gets it in three. Nice moves pal. Nice moves. Since
we’re such old friends, you can just call me Lucifer, but everyone’s
thought they were funny by calling me Lucy. Don’t try it, it isn’t
funny, it wasn’t the first time, the second time or the thirty
millionth time. And nobody laughs about it twice”.
“What? I mean, you said I was you, and you were Asmodeus, and there
was the trial, and … I mean … what the FUCK is going on here?”
“Hey,” he said, shrugging. “I’m the Father of Lies, remember?”

Another uncomfortable silence. He just looked at the floor.

“Lucifer?”
“Yeah?”
“Why? Why did you do it?”
“It’s a little complicated. Short story, I was trying to smuggle your
soul into Hell”.
“You mean burn me? All that?”
“No. Smuggle. You’re earmarked for Heaven, Hellfire would bounce off
you like water from a squeezed bottle”.
“So – you wanted to smuggle me into Hell, because…?”
Looking at the floor a little blankly, and speaking softly, he said:
“Because I’m lonely. That’s why. I wanted the company”.

He began to cry, in complete silence. I didn’t know the Devil could
cry. We tell stories about the Devil, about what a hardcase he is, how
nasty and mean and remorseless. He cried. And suddenly I felt so sorry
for him, sympathy for the devil and all that. He was lonely. Six
thousand years old, surrounded by squabbling servants who hated him
and wanted to see him go. Loathed and feared by generations of humans,
vehemently despised by the Kingdom of Heaven and all of its angelic
inhabitants. Out of the whole order of Creation, Satan was the
loneliest creature of all. Nobody could love him, laugh at his jokes,
listen to him relate his fears or secrets or hopes. He had nothing. He
had nobody.

When the cell-door banged open, he didn’t even look up. Michael,
Archangel of War, and Laurence, Archangel of the Sword, had been
dispatched to take him away.

“Come, Lucifer”, said Michael. He was pitiless, without any feeling of
sympathy for the pathetic creature in front of him.

They took him to the edge of the Kingdom, to the same place where he
and his servants were pushed back on that fateful day of rebellion,
so long ago. I was allowed to watch. The entire Heavenly Host looked
on, in a very unholy, expectant silence. Jesus was there too, but He
was not smiling His perfect smile.

Dominic, standing right on the edge of the Kingdom, said “Bring the
Prisoner to the Edge”. Michael had Lucifer by a come-along hold, and
Lucifer was grimacing with the pain.

Dominic’s voice carried far in the horrible silence. “Do you have
anything to say, Lucifer, before we cast you down to Hell?”

He shook his head.

“Very well. Michael, I charge thee, cast out this foul beast”.
“With pleasure, Dominic. Didn’t I tell you not to come back Lucifer,
you fucking awful goat?”

And with that, he cast Satan out of Heaven, back to his lonely throne
as King of Hell, shouting after the tumbling form: “And stay out!”

And standing nearby, Jesus’s shoulders began to shake. And then He
fell to His knees, crying.

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