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  • Writer's pictureJames Fowler


“Why do my minions have to be such damned idiots?”

Though chapped beyond all patience (admittedly, a low threshold in his case), he grins at the witticism. Somebody has to glimmer in this darkness.

Having quickly returned to glowering, he sends visible tremors through the ranks of his retainers. Heads, arms, and legs will roll before long.

“Most dread Majesty...” begins his chief toady.

“Itching for a dip in the lake, are we?” Effective beetle-browed menace. “One would think the Loosifer episode enough of a warning, wouldn’t one?”

That was five centuries ago, practically yesterday in the grand scheme of things and his elephant memory for slights. A laborer who’d only had experience carving gargoyles in life chiseled that creative spelling on a plaque. As if his master’s unparalleled iniquity came down to a question of looseness: lax morals, the gyrations of a floozy. Plus, it contained the barely veiled implication that the Creation’s arch-rebel was no more than a cosmic loser. When bored, he sometimes visits that hapless peasant forced to incise the correct spelling in his soul’s flesh without end.

It’s pleasant to be supreme punisher. He points a wickedly long fingernail at three random victims, now slated to be baked, broiled, and fricasseed.

“All hail the boundless might of Emperor Satan!” Normally he would deign to accept such a tribute, but just now it only serves to remind him of another insult, a single-letter flub.

Let’s see, how did that go:

Shake, O Earth, from pole to pole;

Thy liege lord, Satin, takes his stroll.

Aside from that ridiculous image of him on a leisurely constitutional, he apparently struck fear into the world as a paragon of textile smoothness. When one of his ministers tried to spin the boneheaded gaffe into praise of his silky seductive powers, he had the fellow rolled up in a bolt of molten lead. Satin indeed. He could practically hear his underlings smirk as he strolled past.

And now this: death by contraction.

The edict was fiendishly stringent. Performance reviews for tormentors would no longer be based on testimonials from the tormented. That practice led to quid pro quo deals: laxer inflicting for stellar assessments. Instead, objective data from newly installed shriek meters would be used. These things are sophisticated enough to distinguish the real article from fake no-stop-you’re-hurting-me cries. But at the bottom of the directive, where the name of absolute authority should have ended all discussion, lay the chummy sign-off Stan.

Stan rakes leaves in a cardigan sweater. Stan drives his son’s Cub pack to a jamboree in his minivan. Stan has a power-washing business that specializes in removing tough stains from vinyl siding. Stan does not exult over introducing sin and death into paradise. Stan cannot take credit for stoking numberless souls with despair one customized dejection at a time. Stan will never know the hellish satisfaction of infinitely spiteful pride.

So he sits on his throne literally steaming with resentment and malice.

Emperor. Are they comparing him to a penguin?


James Fowler has authored a poetry collection, The Pain Trader (Golden Antelope Press, 2020), and a volume of short stories, Field Trip (Cornerpost Press, 2022).


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