HELL: 11

All the world loves a clown.

Looking simultaneously like a hangdog and deer-in-the-headlights She’d given anything to go back to the ComediDrome and get stabbed with her own nasty knife. Anything but get sacrificed right then and there.

One thing falling into another, the muddy haze lifted from her eyes. The bumper rails on the bowling lane of life suddenly sunk down.

Up until this point it had been a museum-level trip to hell. A nice touristy indulgence laced with minor frights. Nothing much expected of her. She just soaked up the sights. But now something was expected.

With a “What, me worry?” look on her face, the clown began. She opened the bag with the eggs and the rubber chicken, and two small snakes slithered out. The rubber chicken was scaly and green with fangs and read eyes. She took it and sang

O Cockatrice,
hat of grease,
heart a’ peace,
eyes all fleece.
Make my crowd
much less loud:
In a trice,
twice as nice,
still as ice.

Whereupon the Queen and her court all turned to stone. The clown felt her nerves melt away, and she danced as she might in the winter woods alone. She moved her hands, adjusting an invisible cat’s cradle. Closed her armpits, leaning forwards. She lifted her head, balancing an invisible toy on her nose. She pranced, head bobbing like a drinky bird. With precise gracelessness, she displayed her arms to the Queen and made her skin goosepimple in the red lack of sunlight.

Morris-dancing, heavy with invisible bells unburdened but dancing covered in clanking bells and hankies

a soundless, thoughtless prayer to the great god Viz Gag

Then, five positions in rapid succession

waving an inflated pig bladder on a stick

After her dance, The two snakes that hatched in her bag crawled up the clown’s ankles and at their own tails. She was now the holder of two ouroboros anklets. The clown stood on her head and told her joke:

“Ghouls and I would like to present a story straight from the Devil himself. Every ruler feels pangs of doubt occasionally, and the Devil was no exception. One day he was at the public library, trying to find a book on ruling for rulers. Hell’s librarian directed him to ‘Monarchical Maxims,’ a massive tome 3 meters long and 2 wide.

“‘Monarchical Maxims’ was a very magisterial tome. It’s subtitle said it all: Kings rule, peasants drool.

“Flipping through, the Devil turned (very slowly, mind you, it’s quite a tall volume) to page 8, which contained the “Ruler Ruler,” which read:

“‘Must Be This Tall to RULE,’ where the four letters R-U-L-E spanned both pages in immense, gnashing letters.

“The Devil, wishing to put test his mettle and digest his doubt, wanted to see how he measured up. He propped the book up against a shelf and leaned in to stand up tall. The Devil, if you recall, was never a very tall demon, but he stretched his body tall, standing on his right tippy toe, reaching for the top of RULE.

“In a flash that towering tome snapped shut, devoured him hole, except for that single big toe, the grub.

“And that’s what the Devil told me. Verb ate him.”

At that, the crowd melted and laughed a trifle.

Not a big laugh, mind you. More a sigh of relief.