Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Labyrinth of Insanity

   This week's Flash Fiction Challenge is the Fantasy Character Generator.   I chose "a foppish oracle is seeking the Labyrinth of Insanity."

Labyrinth of Insanity

   Memnin was an embarrassment to all.  It was said that he was the most foppish oracle who ever lived.
   As a child, he had been proclaimed "oracle" by the elders, but he just couldn't live up to the tribe's expectations.  Every time he gave a prophecy, the exact opposite would happen.  It was as if the gods had created him as a practical joke.  Not even his own mother took him seriously any more.
   It was on this fateful day that he was summoned to a council meeting at the sacred stones.  One didn't require a third eye to see the disappointment on every face.
   The elders shook their silver heads at Memnin.  Earlier that morning, he had given the wrong prophecy for a third time, and now he feared for his life.  
   "The public is crying for your head.  The Order can no longer protect you," said Grecon, the head elder.  "We are sending you on a quest to find the Great Florchar.  Only she can help you.
   "She lives in the heart of the Labyrinth of Insanity," Grecon continued.  "You must pass three tests before you can reach the center.  These tests will evaluate your heart and mind.  Pass them, and she can correct your chakras to make you a conduit for the gods.  Fail, and you will be doomed to serve as a groundskeeper in the Labyrinth for all eternity."
   Memnin gathered only what he needed for the trip, and hurried on his way, right before dusk.  He knew what would happen if he was caught by a member of the angry mob.  The last time an oracle angered the mob, she was torn from limb to limb and fed to the goats.
   After what seemed like an eternity of walking, Memnin saw it.  The Labyrinth's doors were carved wood that featured the nine Mysteries of Spyrth. 
   The doors opened with a cryptic creak as Memnin approached.  As he entered, a grey fog curled around him like the grip of death.  
   Memnin made his way through the corridor, sensing an impending doom creeping all around him.  His heart skipped a beat as he came upon the first test.
   A skeleton held a box with an eerie green glow that penetrated the narrow opening with razor-sharp light.  Memnin shuddered as he lifted the lid, the inside of which was inscribed with a riddle:

What is that which cannot be seen, but is beheld only by the eye?

   Memnin stopped to think for a minute.  He vaguely remembered something like this in his oracle training class.  He never paid attention in that class, and now he wished he had.
   He made a wild guess.  Reaching inside the eye socket of the skeleton, he pulled out an eyeworm.
   Suddenly, the ground shook.  The walls melted into the floor, and The Great Florchar appeared before Memnin.
   "That's your answer?!?"
   Thinking he had gotten it right, Memnin proudly shook his head with a dumb grin on his face.
   "How can you be so stupid?!?  That wasn't it at all!"
   Dumbfounded, Memnin looked at the Great Florchar in shock.
   "Wha ... what was it?"
   "Nevermind that now.  I had a bad feeling about you, and you proved it right," she sighed as she headed to the center of the Labyrinth.  "Come, come.  Let's get you ready for an eternity of servitude."
   "You mean I don't get a second chance?  What about the other two tests?"
   The Great Florchar laughed.  "There's no point in evaluating you any further.  You're just not oracle material.  Some things are just meant to be accepted in life, my child.
   "The worm is never meant to fly.  He only finds himself soaring through the air while gripped by the jaws of death," she said.  "Just so, not all who aspire to greatness are meant to achieve it."

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Space opera ... men's adventure?

   This week's Flash Fiction Challenge involves smashing two unrelated genres together.  Using the recommended random number generator, I got the numbers 1 and 5: Men's Adventure and Space Opera.  Being completely unfamiliar with either genre, I had to do a little homework on them before I could squeeze this out of my noggin.  As just about anyone venturing for the first time into a middle-Eastern buffet would say, "I hope this comes out OK."

Fantastic Journey Into Flumboskat

   Chet Johnson was a specimen of a man.  He was the most decorated Navy Seal in U.S. history.  
   He had just finished an important, top-secret mission, and he was getting ready to enjoy a much-deserved vacation in the Hawaiian Islands.
   Staring at his reflection in the mirror, Chet checked out his chiseled jaw from every angle, and plucked out a rogue hair peeking out of his left nostril.
   Suddenly, the doorbell rang.  A mailman waited at the door with a certified letter.
   "Looks like my vacation's gonna have to wait," Chet sighed as he read the letter.  It gave specific instructions on when and where to go for his next assignment. 
   15:15 Hours, Tuesday, June 12, at an abandoned bus station
   Chet arrived, early as usual in his perfectly-pressed uniform.  He scanned the area, looking for any sign of life.  For a second, he wondered if this was some sort of practical joke.
   Right at 15:32 hours, a uniformed man suddenly appeared out of nowhere.
   Chet snapped into a salute.  "Officer Chet Johnson, reporting for duty, sir!"
   "I'm Chief Officer Conner.  I'm from the future, and I'm recruiting you for a rescue mission.  In my time, we are on the verge of a major war with planet Flumboskat.  That planet's entire economy is based on the  largest interplanetary trafficking operation we have ever encountered.  Women are being abducted from every planet and forced into prostitution.
   "We have an officer who is being held hostage there -- Officer Vanessa Luskin is the niece of Earth's planetary president, so this mission is of top priority."
   Chief Officer Connor retrieved a small remote from his pocket and pressed a button, disabling a cloaking device.  A sleek, blue-and-silver chrome ship appeared, and he opened the door with his remote.  They entered, and strapped themselves in.
   After weeks of preparation, it was time to set out.  Armed with the finest military weaponry, Chet and his team of highly-trained soldiers flew under the cloak of night to Flumboskat.
   Intel had determined the exact holding spot where Luskin was kept.  Chet knew the weak spots of the compound, and his night-vision goggles showed the guards' posts.  One by one, they dropped like flies as Chet and his team fired their stealth guns.
   Once inside, a giant flengowchi monster kept watch over the main door.  The hulking creature resembled an enormous warthog.  It roared at the intruders, trying to gore them with its tusks.
   The soldiers ran to every corner of the compound, as the flengowchi went on a killing spree, stomping, biting, and goring the men to death.  Chet made a dash for the door, when the flengowchi began charging straight for him.
   "Over here, motherfucker!"  Rick, one of the best soldiers on Chet's team, threw rocks at the monster to distract him.  Chet ran inside as he heard Rick's blood-piercing screams.   He shuddered as he realized no one else from his team was left.
   Fueled by adrenaline, Chet went through the compound with expert speed, killing the rebel soldiers left and right, until the entire building was secure.  He found the control room, and opened all the doors that imprisoned the women there.  He called Chief Officer Connor.
   "We're in the clear, except for one beast of a motherfucker outside!  The flengowchi killed every last one of my men.  We're going to need reinforcements to help get out of here!"
   Chet looked through the crowd of brutalized women as they flowed toward the front of the compound. Some were human, some were from other planets, but they all had a worn, emaciated look about them.  Suddenly, he found her.
   Vanessa Luskin was chained to the wall.  Tears streamed down her face when she saw him.
   "Please, get me out of here!"
   He used his laser gun on low heat to carefully melt the shackles off of her, then cradled her in his arms.  She buried her face in his neck and cried as he lifted her and carried her to the door.
   Outside, the rescue shuttle had arrived, and some soldiers trying to kill the monster only served as a distraction while the others ushered the women to the spaceship.
   "We're going to have to risk this to get to safety," Chet said to Vanessa.  "Can you walk?"
   Vanessa showed Chet where the rebels had crushed the bones of her ankles.
   "I'm so sorry," Chet whispered as Vanessa cried into his neck.  He peered outside to see the flengowchi destroying every soldier who tried to face it.
   "We can't wait any longer.  We have to go," Chet shouted.  He dashed off with Vanessa draped over his shoulders.  The monster charged toward him.
   It swung its massive paw at him, knocking him and Vanessa to the ground.  He and Luskin crawled backward as the flengowchi loomed over them, trying to decide which one to eat first.
   It went for the meatiest one first.  Lunging at Chet, the monster took him in its mouth.  Chet kicked the roof of its mouth, and it screamed, then snapped as it released Chet.  A laser went straight into its left eye, blinding it.  Chet looked behind him to see Vanessa firing away at the monster.  He then looked down to see a bloody stump where his right foot once was.  A darkness took over, and he passed out.
   15:33 Hours, Tuesday, June 12, at an abandoned bus station
   Chet and Vanessa suddenly appeared at the same station in 2013.  They had both received awards and accolades for their service, and were honorably discharged for the wounds they received while in service.  The government determined the safest place for Vanessa was back in Chet's time, to which neither of them objected.  The two had been inseparable during their recovery, learning together how to walk again using prosthetic limbs.
   The government demonstrated its gratitude for Chet and Vanessa's bravery in service with a substantial retirement fund, enough for the two to enjoy a comfortable life for the rest of their days.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Five Random Sentences

   This week's challenge is "Five Random Sentences,"  where we get to choose from a list of randomly generated sentences to add to our stories.  Being the deviant that I am, and inspired by Delilah S. Dawson's entry a while back, I chose the one I thought was the weirdest: "The rough sex arrives by adhesive smoke."

Close Encounters of the Kinky Kind

   Jessie woke up with a throbbing headache.  The bright lights pounded at her head like 14-wheeler slamming into a brick wall.  She shielded her eyes and grimaced in pain.
   Where the fuck am I, and how the fuck did I get here?!?
   This wasn't the first time she woke up somewhere strange, but it was the first time she woke up naked on a cold, metal table.  She tried to get up, but even the smallest move made her head swim.  She surrendered again to sleep.
   An unknown number of hours later, strange, almost-metallic voices filled the room.  Jessie startled and opened her purple glitter-covered eyes.  False eyelashes dangled from her eyelids like tassels from time-worn curtains.
   Strings of drool sparkled in the harsh light as they trickled down to form a puddle on the table.  They stretched and broke as she awkwardly sat up.
   She looked around the room -- stark white walls were made painfully bright by stark white lights.  
   A strange man in a white coat entered the room with another man, and asked him something about a time stamp that proved the consent form was signed before the subject was sedated.  The other man nodded.
   The closer they came, she realized they weren't men after all.  Their faces were an inhuman shade of green, like aliens.  Or maybe it was just her mind playing tricks on her.  She wasn't sure.    
   Before she could climb off the table, the creatures stopped her, muttering something about safety, then strapped her down and gave her something that knocked her out again.
  When she woke up later, the lights were almost completely out.  She saw no one in the room, but she sensed that something was there.
   It was a matter of seconds when she realized what she was sensing.  She could barely make out the strange smoke as it entered the room, and crept over her like a thick blanket.
   Jessie tried to scream, but the smoke filled her mouth before sound could come out.  The smoke had a sedative effect, relaxing her like a warm bath as it began to flow over her body.
   Suddenly, Jessie realized the smoke was not just over her, it was inside her, and it was growing hard inside her like a 14-inch cock.  And it felt Really. Fucking. Good.  Her hands gripped each side of the table as she felt her body being taken, deliciously consumed by this barely visible force.
   It felt like no man -- or vibrator -- ever had.  And Jessie had had quite a few -- of both.
   Waves of overwhelmingly intense pleasure crashed over her body like fierce waves from a tropical monsoon, building in intensity.  Her back arched higher than it ever had as the driving force inside her went deeper and deeper.  Just when she thought she had reached the highest point her body could handle, it pushed her higher.  Harder and harder, faster and faster, the unknown force pounded her.
   Oh, fuck!  Fuck!  FUCK, she thought.  Her body thrashed on the table like a flailing marionette, controlled by an orgasm whose power she never knew existed.  Again, she opened her mouth to scream.  But this time, the smoke released its hold on her in time for her to release an other-worldly, ear-piercing shriek that could wake even the deadest of the dead.
   Her body collapsed on the table like a leaf suddenly released by swirling winds.  Completely spent, Jessie surrendered again to sleep, more satisfied than she had ever been in her entire fucking existence.
   Behind a two-way mirror, a team of scientists applauded and cheered.
   "Ladies and gentlemen, congratulations!  Our first live experiment was a success," exclaimed the man in the coat -- who was, in fact, a man after all.
   A man in a suit raised a hand.  "Exactly how does this work?"
   "The rough sex arrives by adhesive smoke," answered the man in the lab coat.  "The subject can, of course, select the precise intensity and speed of their experience -- this particular subject has an under-sensitive G-spot, so she requires more intensity than the average person.  Regardless of one's preference, this is guaranteed to be be unlike any other sexual encounter a client has ever had.
   "Not only can the smoke penetrate smoothly, it penetrates quickly and efficiently.  And because it is, in fact, not solid, it can go deeper and fuller inside the subject than any solid object.  It can become dense and hard, and still reach places that any human or phallic object will fail to reach.
   "Here at Incubus Enterprises, we strive to bring the most pleasurable experiences known to men and women alike.  This is the first of many products we will launch within the next five years.  Our products will save marriages, fulfill fantasies, and make the world a better place to live.  Studies have shown that people who are sexually satisfied are less stressed, make better decisions, and are generally nicer people to be around.  Ultimately, by ensuring sexual satisfaction to the masses, we can one day bring about world peace!"
   Beyond the control room, a large conference table full of well-dressed onlookers was sold.  One by one, they swiped their credit cards in the machines provided, donating billions of dollars to fund the project.
   The following day, Jessie woke up on her couch, completely rested and feeling better than she had in years.
   That was a weird-ass dream I had last night, she thought. She'd had erotic dreams before, but never any that were that fucking bizarre.
   She ran a hand through her messed-up hair, and as she sat up she noticed something on the coffee table.
   It was an unmarked business envelope.  She opened it hastily, tearing through the top flap.
   Inside was a copy of her consent form and a thank-you letter, along with a $10,000 check addressed to her.  She shuddered with sobering awareness as she read the business card:

Incubus Enterprises
It's our pleasure to give YOU pleasure

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Paved Meat: A Roadkill Romance

   This week's Flash Fiction Challenge is to choose from a list of titles and write a story around it.  I chose my personal favorite:

Paved Meat: A Roadkill Romance

   Duke had never tasted anything so good in his entire life.  As he sank his teeth in the fleshiest bit of the 25-pound cat left flattened by a speeding 14-wheeler, the blood ran down his chin and dripped to the ground.  He licked it up greedily, savoring the juices from the meatiest meal he'd had in a long, long time.  
   Ever since his people left him, Duke had been on a strict diet of squirrel and raccoon meat, or whatever trash he could find wandering up and down the road.  He was dropped off three months ago in the middle of nowhere, on I-10 between Houston and Beaumont.  His once-paunchy Rottweiler body was withering away, and his ribs were beginning to stick out.
   This meal was a gift from the gods, and Duke was enjoying every bit of it.
   That is, until she arrived.  He smelled her long before he saw her.  Duke's eyes shifted fiercely as he growled a warning at the bitch creeping toward his meal.  
   It's MINE!  Go find your own!
   Rhonda was desperate.  She was homeless, and the dog who got her pregnant left her to chase after another female.  She needed this meal.  She hadn't eaten in days, and she knew the puppies would die if she didn't get food soon.  She whimpered, pleading with the other dog for some of his food.
   Duke was about to snap at this bitch, but something in her eyes softened his resolve.  He looked at her -- a well-muscled Rhodesian Ridgeback frame with a blue coat and Pitbull's square head -- and decided to investigate a little closer.
   Rhonda stood still as Duke sniffed her butt, taking in her pheromones and learning about the puppies she carried.  He licked her face, and shared the rest of the cat with her.
   Rhonda devoured the remains of the cat hungrily, then licked Duke's muzzle clean.  
   They ran toward the trees, marking territory and wrestling together.  As dusk settled in, they snuggled together for warmth in the Autumn night.  A waning moon seemed to smile on them as Duke licked Rhonda's head, then nuzzled into her neck.  Of all the other dogs he had come across, this one somehow seemed different.  
   That special spark -- the kind that tells you this is the one -- hit him earlier that day.  There was just something about the way she rolled around in her own shit.  And the way she smelled afterwards knocked him off his feet.  He knew he was in love.
   For so long, he had to walk alone, fending off his food from other dogs, snapping at vultures that tried to descend on his skid-marked meals, braving the elements as he struggled to survive.  Now, he had someone to share his life with.  No matter how harsh the sun was, or how cold the storms, Duke had someone beside him.
   As the months passed, Rhonda's belly became more and more pronounced.  Her nipples started to droop, and she started to sleep more during the day.  Duke would spend his days finding food, and bringing Rhonda whatever he could find.
   One morning, he woke up the sound of Rhonda whimpering,  He knew it was time.  One tiny puppy emerged after another, squeaking a helpless greeting to a brand new world.  They were so tiny, so precious with their little ears, their little paws, their little mouths crying out for food.  It was the most magical moment Duke had ever known.
   The fourth puppy wasn't so easy to birth.  Rhonda screamed in pain as she tried to push, but it wouldn't come out.  For hours, she tried, but couldn't help the puppy find the outside world.  
   As the puppy suffocated inside her, she became weak and passed out.  Duke tried to wake Rhonda up to feed the puppies she had birthed, but she wouldn't open her eyes.  The puppies cried out for milk, but Duke had no way to help them.
   Duke whimpered, helpless to save the mother or her pups.  He tried for days to wake Rhonda, to find any way to sustain the puppies.  One by one, they all slipped away.
   There was nothing Duke could do.  The smell of death rose off of their bodies like vapors off a scorching-hot road.  A Sadness he had never known gripped his heart.
   Over time, the Sadness slowly smothered his will to live.  Days passed, and the Sadness crept beside him like a deranged stalker as he wandered the empty roads, unwilling and unable to eat. 
   His nights brought him no relief.  Dreams of Rhonda and her puppies haunted him.  Even the happy dreams were cruel, because the mornings that followed reminded him of what he had lost.  
   The Sadness grew bigger, eating Duke alive as he grew smaller and smaller, until one day, the strength completely left his body and he collapsed.  A single tear slid down his cheek as the Sadness began to devour what was left of him.
   In the darkness, a large red pickup slammed on its brakes -- too late to stop from hitting the big black thing in the middle of the road.
   "Shit!  What was that?!?"
   Two men got out of their truck to see what they just hit.  
   "It's a dog.  I thought it was a baby deer at first!"
   "Well, if he was alive, he sure as shit ain't now!"
   "Whaddaya wanna do with it?"
   "Ehh, just push it to the side of the road.  He's nothin' but roadkill, now."
   The men pushed what remained of Duke out of the way, then drove off into the night, leaving blood-soaked tread marks in their wake.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

I'm wayyyyyy behind on Flash Fiction Challenges ...

Due to a ton on crazyshit going on, I haven't done Flash Fiction Challenges on a regular basis in a long-ass time.

I'm going to make up for it, starting today, and work backward to where I last left off.

This Flash Fiction Challenge: The Secret Door

Dream House

   Before you stands an old door, hidden in an archway carved into a 10-foot-tall hedge of lush greenery that taunts passers-by with its plethora of secrets.  Many times, you have wondered what lies beyond that hedge, but it has never been open ... until now.
   As you enter, a surreal scenery unfolds.  You see a cozy craftsman bungalow with scalloped eaves in sage green contrasting beautifully with the maroon shutters that adorn its bay windows. A generous front porch with squared-off marigold pillars flank the midnight blue arched beveled double door inset with hand-made stained glass and surrounded by a bright coral door frame.
   As you walk around the house, you see a massive oak tree with a tire swing, hanging off of a branch thick enough to support an adult's weight, so you take it for a test drive.  Suddenly, you're a child again, feeling the breeze blow through your hair as you lean back and surrender yourself to the relaxing motion of the swing.
   After a few minutes pass, you realize it's time to explore some more, and venture further out into the back yard.  A huge dining table topped with a bright yellow and white polk-a-dot tablecloth sits underneath a vast, multi-hued chandelier and surrounded by chairs of every pastel color known to man.  Some of them are wooden, some of them are cushy, wing-back chairs.  At any moment, you expect to see a white rabbit scurrying about, rambling about the time.  Louis Carrol would be proud.
   Curiouser and curiouser, you think to yourself.  There's just something about this place that seems familiar.
   You decide to try the sliding back door and find it unlocked.  "Hello?  Is anyone here?" you ask as you look around for any sign of life.  After a moment of silence, you walk in slowly, half-expecting someone to scream for help or whack you with a cast-iron skillet.
   No cries for help or swinging cookware greet you as you turn on the light and enter the master bedroom.  Instead, you see a king-sized bed whose canopy extends to the entire ceiling like a silk tent in every shade of blue and purple.  The bed is piled high with jewel-toned pillows, and the comforter is a sapphire blue, swirled with lilac purple.  A plush, thick lavender rug stands out against a dark hardwood floor.  The master bathroom continues the purple theme, with a royal purple contrasting with turquoise throughout.  A claw-foot bathtub in purple and white is framed by darker purple curtains, and shelves on the walls feature more candles than a Catholic altar.
   The hallway continues the blue, purple and turquoise theme, with a cream-colored chaise lounge accenting the center.
   In the center of the living room is an elegant antique purple velvet hump-back couch, with a silver-plated back.
   The kitchen takes on a slightly unexpected French theme, with a red-and-white argyle backsplash over black marble countertops, and a black-and-white tiled floor leading to the breakfast area, where an antique white bistro sets against black lacquer walls.
   You wonder what kind of person lives in this bohemian paradise, and suddenly, you realize:  Ten years ago, when you were a naive dreamer, you created a notebook full of pictures from magazines that resembled every aspect of this place.
   Curiouser and curiouser ...
   Suddenly, a purple fairy emerges from a sparkly cloud that appears out of nowhere.
   Your heart skips a beat and you back away in shock.
   "Don't be alarmed, sweetie," she says in a soothing voice.  "This is your house!"
   You stand there, stunned, with your jaw dropped to the beautiful hardwood floor.
   "We've been watching you for years, and we didn't like the streak of bad luck you've been given."
   Your mind goes over the rolling series of disappointments that has been your life in recent years.  The broken dreams, the job layoffs, the bitter break-ups ... Yep, life has been quite the bitch lately.
   "We searched through your subconscious and found these images.  We discovered they were part of this book you discarded after you lost your house," the fairy said.
   "Wait a minute ... who is we?"
   The fairy laughs, and you realize she's not a fairy at all -- she's an alien.
   "Sorry, please allow me to introduce myself.  You can call me Sandy -- that's the closest thing in the English translation from my alien language.  You were randomly selected for our anthropological study.
   "Now, I know what you must be thinking -- we've seen every movie, every X-Files episode, and we know humankind doesn't trust anyone from outer planets.  Please, let me assure you, we only want to study your culture."
   Still in shock, all you can do is blink in response.
   "We don't normally interfere with humans' lives, but we took a particular interest in yours.  We decided to separate you because you are an ideal candidate for our experiment.
   "This is where you will be spending the rest of your life.  You will want for nothing.  We will supply nothing but the best food, clothing and anything else you desire.  We are currently searching for a suitable mate, so you can be fulfilled in your domestic life.  Please let me know if there's anything else we can do for you."
   Curiouser and curiouser.   Well, it's not like you had any real freedom in your former life -- always having to slave away at a crappy job you didn't like, to pay for a crappy apartment with paper-thin walls where you couldn't get any sleep, that was full of crappy furniture you picked up from the side of the road.  You lived a solitary life, with no friends and no love life.  You had nothing worth missing, because you had already lost everything.  You shrug.
   "Sounds great, Sandy!"  You take in a deep breath as you look around at the beautiful surroundings, and head straight for the cushy bed.  Hell, you didn't even care if the aliens themselves decided to impregnate you.  If this was your new prison, you were ready to do time.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Flash Fiction Challenge: Choose Your Opening Line

A Special Place in Hell
by Kristin Mireles

   This week's Flash Fiction Challenge is called "Choose Your Opening Line."  It reminds me of when I was a kid and I would read the "Choose Your Own Adventure" series.  Those were so much fun!  Anyway, here's my entry:

   “You must walk three paces behind me,” she said.  “And never raise your eyes to mine.”
   Dan thought it was a weird request, but he followed obediently.  Hell, why not.  I'm up for anything.  He had never met anyone like Vickie, and he couldn't wait to get to know her better.  
   He met her after stepping out the back door of his favorite restaurant for a cigarette.  
   Dan needed to get away from the tension after witnessing a woman raise all kinds of hell and flat-out refuse to pay her bill because she and the rest of her table didn't like the food -- even though they ate all of it.  
   He lit up, and a gorgeous, slender 6-foot-tall brunette with a little red dress came up from out of nowhere and asked to borrow a cigarette.  The way she looked, she could have asked to borrow his soul, and he wouldn't have denied her.  
  They laughed together as they talked about the obnoxious restaurant customers, and as their cigarettes were almost completely burned out, she put her hand on his arm and said, barely above a whisper, "Wanna see something you'll never forget?"
   And now here he was, going down this crazy path.  He thought it might be something cool, like an underground club.  It turned out to be literally underground.  
   "Hey, aren't you even going to give me a hint about where we're going?"
   "I promise, Dan, you've never been anywhere like it."
   She flashed a smile and said, "You know those people who are always assholes to salespersons, who run restaurant servers around like they're their personal staff, who abuse receptionists and other customer service workers?  
"Because they made these workers' lives hell on Earth, they will have a special place to serve in Hell."
   Vickie lit the pathway with her iPhone, carefully descending steps that finally came to a huge, concrete brick archway with a sign above it that read, "This will not end well."
   Exactly what I was just thinking, Dan thought.  A chill crept up his spine as they passed through.
   Vickie stopped at a doorway that revealed a room full of terrible screams.  Dan looked in to see people trying in vain to soothe screaming infants and puppies.  
   "This is the first circle," Vickie said.  "These are customers who -- just like colicky infants and puppies suffering separation anxiety -- were innocently unaware that their constant demands for attention made extra work for those whose job it was to help them. They will have no rest."      
   Further down, the second circle revealed people chained behind a desk, with thousands of hands grasping for them from all directions because in life they selfishly acted as if they were the only customers who mattered.  
   In the third spiral, people were walking up steep hills carrying enormous sacks because each of them became an impossible burden on society by habitually trying to work the system for discounts or free meals.  
   A disturbing scene opened up to Dan when Vickie brought him to the fourth circle of Hell, full of giant, oozing globs of ... people?!?
   "These were those who worked in management, and never backed their employees when customer complaints came up," she explained. 
   "Let me guess ... they have to go all eternity without a spine, since they never really had one in life," Dan said.
   "Exactly," Vickie said with a satisfied smile.
   The circles of Hell that followed were each a great spectacle.  In the fifth circle, those who would bully and yell at people in the service and retail industry were confined to a concrete cell echoing with piercing shrieks that would ring in their ears for all eternity.  
   Unfortunate souls in the sixth circle were made to walk back and forth, without a rest, because in life they would constantly enter a store right before closing.
   Vickie led him to the seventh circle, reserved for managers who played political games with their employees.  
   "Because spiritually, they were such vile creatures in life, these sinners would be forced to become one of the most vile creatures that ever walked the Earth -- cockroaches, constantly having to run away from a giant foot.  After being stomped, they would black out, and wake up again as new cockroaches, running around until they are squashed again."
   Dan shuddered all the way to the eighth circle, full of people who would take up a commissioned salesperson's time with hours of negotiations, only to take that deal to the competitor's business. 
   "Isn't that what the salespeople were there for?" Dan asked. 
   "Commissioned salespeople are not paid by the hour.  If I wanted you to go mow my lawn, pull all the weeds, and trim all the hedges and told you to do it for free, what would you tell me?"
   "Hell no!  That's hard work!  I would expect you to pay me for that shit!"
   "Exactly.  These people are essentially stealing valuable time and labor.  That's why they will spend all eternity in the trenches of Hell, doing hard labor without reward."
   The ninth circle was the most disgusting.  People who would give condescending lectures to customer service personnel who didn't kiss their ass were stung by a million buzzing bees that never died, while stuck waist-deep in a steaming vat of dung. 
   Dan's nostrils were burning from the olfactory assault. 
   "Are you ready to go back?  I think we've seen enough today," Vickie said after she looked at her watch.
   Dan was relieved.  He couldn't stand the smell any longer.  
   As Dan resurfaced, he turned around to see the obnoxious family leaving the restaurant, complaining loudly.  Clearly, no amount of free food would appease them.  
   When he looked back, Vickie was gone.  He quickly went back to the bar and closed out his tab.  His bill came to $41.23.
  "Here, thanks for the great service.  Keep the change," he said as he gave the server a $100 bill.  The server stood there in shock as Dan smiled, then walked out of the restaurant, knowing he had made someone's night.