HELL: 10

It was the day of the exorcism feast. Furcifer dropped her off at the palace.

The Queen’s clothiers, two fastidious leopard men, one named Uexküll and the other named Uexkïll, had bound, shoved, shaved, tugged, lathered, painted her up, and strapped her in until she could barely recognize herself.

A gray-faced demoness spun her around.

“Now you’re a fine bedlamite!”

The clown didn’t recognize herself in the polished metal mirror.

She wasn’t herself or Remy in the slightest.

She was slathered with soft-grey mud. My pinafore was a light grey with shimmery waves of organza. Kelp ribbons drifted behind. My tights a print of seashells. Eyebrows thin and velvety, twin sea slugs squirming along my brow, and baroque pearls hung from my ears.

A bright red face with cheeks like a sublime doll.

And she was holding a yellow plush doll of the Sagrada Familia. It had googly eyes.

the plush was embroidered with lush scallop patterns and abstractions of the Familia’s ornate chaotic devotion. on the back, the queen’s sigil: a snake wrapped pretzel-style around a butterfly, its forked tongue and the butterfly’s antennae extending together.

Just then, she was pulled up out of contemplation and pushed back towards the grand hall. As she was jostled out the door, she grabbed the bag with her rubber chicken and makeup kit.

The ashen demon makeup artist leaned in close as they could to tell her something in confidence. She froze and listened. She could hear their mouth parts move. They bit down on her ear. Hard.

“For luck,” they whispered in a dry voice.

The earthly bozo was led into the Queen’s sculpture garden, a garden of hellish delights lined with busts of people - men, women, demons, angels, wildgirls, feralkids, creatures unrecognizable to her.

The clown was seated next to a hobogoblin. It’s cheeks made rosy fol-de-rol swirls.

Remy was there sitting to the left of the Queen of All Hell. Remy looked bored and irritated.

The clown was put in the third row and told to wait until the Queen needed to laugh.

Hell’s court consisted of the Pope for Brains, grubby munchkins, gibbering clumps of hair, and, of course, the blue chew-toy demon Clootie.

The first act of the night was a cat dressed like an Elizabethan bard, lute, neck thingy, and all. It was singing a ballad about some lady knight on a quest for the lasagna of immortality. The clown knew she had recognized the cat from somewhere.

Next, a ham throwing conquest. Then, a fey and ghastly performance called “One Jump, One Whistle, and One Fart”

Just before dinner was announced, the Vizier in Hell made her entrance: four arms, four legs, a gullet full of a person’s shoulders, the rest of the body pointed straight out, permanently in place. Like a human-tipped mosquito. Nana Nightjar spoke in her nightmarish radiance:

“Listen well, you parcel of rogues! For our banquet, please enjoy lettuce leaves dipped in milk with a side of angel steak. By profanus profani, let’s eat!”

After the meal, the Queen dashed her bowl to the ground, spraying the court with gorgon stew residue.

“It has been brought to me attention by Clucifer, Hell heir apparent, the great invert, the blue satan, that the perplexion of Remedios is due to a certain jester in our midst.”

Clootie, its nub of a tail, bulbous like a short plug or string of plump beads, wiggled nervously.

The Queen of All Hell had wriggling long eyebrows like caterpillars and long eyelashes each like stamen on a flower.

Red. Everything the Queen looked at glew red. One would expect her to be full-on mad, but she was only three-quarters mad.

Vizier Nightjar, who was also the court conjure, replied, “Surely this has some truth to it. Listen up all, both hag and hungry goblin. Let’s suss out the sooth! Is this true, grandchyld, heir to hell, Clucifer?”

Furcifer rose and began to speak on Clootie’s behalf.

The queen of all hell looked in his direction. Wherever she looked there was darkness.

“I do not wish to hear from their pet! Clucifer, Grand Prince Clootie, speak!”

Eyes turned bloodshot, Furcifer sat and nudged Clootie along.

“SQUEAK!”

“Yes, yes, squeak up.”

Clootie did its floaty amble to the Queen’s dais.

It began to pulsate, the blue chewy contours expanded and contracted, shuddering inhalations. Its odd ribbing smoothed out and stretched. Wildly ecto-florping, its plasticine guts shown through, like neon funfetti. Thin, angular arms shot out, imp-wristed with talons. Furcifer rushed over and paid his respects with a genteel nod. The chewtoy was the true master.

Furcifer, in his most butlery tones, began, “I present, the blasted bon vivant of Hell, the chewtoy with a thousand teeth, the water bear of wrath, Prince Clootie!”

Clootie, turning to Hell’s queen, said, “Mama, I’m SQUEAK to give you this Earth clown, the pet of my pet.”

Hell’s mistress rose, and the crowd rang out, “Hell is Hers!”

The Queen turned to the rows of lesser guests. Two feralkid courtiers led a redfaced clown to the dais.

The Queen spoke in a mannered way, half accusing, half wondering, “What turnabout is this? A jestress? A silent wiseacre? A new plaything for my dear Remedios! Do you find this clown amusing, my petal?”

Ripping her gaze away from the clown, Hell Mom stood from her obsidian throne and addressed her daughter, “A mother’s love – oh Sublime of Sublimes! It truly boggles the mime!”

The Queen, by turns mad and maudlin, continued.

“It is a creeping ivy of tender affliction, a heart riddled with knives, an edgeless plane of wrath. What is born is an egg of suffering yet to hatch. The bloom of pain tears out your breast and burns through your skin. And what’s left behind? The most tender ferocity. Still resting there, it becomes a dogtooth gnashing in your breast. A mother’s love is a pierced heart, exquisite excruciation. Most odious exquisition!

“My heart the fleshy flower, beset by leeches, beetles, laced with fly eggs at birth, its heavy liquefactive pollen dripping down heavy, tearing the whole ordeal down and straining my heart’s stem, come to fruition the drupe too swollen and soft, bruising inside from its own maudlin affections, until crack! the stem breaks.

“The day I birthed you like an outsize kidney stone, hooked and fibrous, a rambutan of claws–the day I was squeezing out your barbed soul in gasps of agony, the devil came to grant me his blessing, the malicious fool!

“The day the Devil shrank and was finally flushed down the throne, the night he became nothing more than a pesky pisky, the day he became a spring-heeled joke.

“The day that the Devil became a pale and vile worm, his only color the meager pink blood in his centre.

“Can you believe it? He came to me, this mere grub begging to be squashed. And he had the gall to say these parting words to me, ‘Raise Hell.’

“Lacerated with love, this wretchedly precious child was hell’s dreaming, my skin lacquered with dried and remoistened sweat, the time was hastening, and finally, I squelched out my gorgeously barbed parasite, my petal of thorns. with the peal of her cries shattering my ego-anger, her tender pate smoldering joy singeing resolve – the devil’s pathetic blessing fell upon my brow like a curse, for this lamblet in my bleeding womb, this mass of daemonic flesh, this creature of my own conception, Hell itself was mine to raise!

“You, my daughter, I bore into this hurting, strange, and wonderful Hell. My bound heart crisscrossed by cutting cord. When you were cleft from my womb, my heart’s tender blood burst through in eye diamonds. The arterial spray froze in place with flash-coagulated love. This, dear spawn! This is my wretched love for you.”

“Your eminence, please accept this on behalf of your devoted daughter”

She looks at her with svengali eyes. The jester’s sweat was molten in her shadow gaze. Under her evil sway, the clown’s mind eddied with infernal delights.

All the clown could think was, “Gee willikers.”

The clown was caught in a devil’s dream. She was frozen on a tarot card, walking off a cliff, one foot suspended in the air. Her cartoon dog stretched behind her, this long smear of a dog. Her bindle of possessions hung at the end of a stick over her shoulder, dripping grease. She was as far away from her origin as she could possibly be. She was a fool, stumbling into the unknown.


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