When the devil makes you do it, it really hurts. In the short term, not so much, but in the long term, the grief in interminable. It gets worse over time.

That’s why I’ve taken to exposing Satan and all his minions whenever I can, which is most of the time seeing as I’m unemployed and on disability.

I’m so sick of grief! Are you? Maybe some people haven’t yet suffered enough, but I sure have. My dues have been paid and then some. So I am now under no obligation to languish in remorse or bathe in sorrow. I have been washed in the blood of the Lamb!

One cannot simply eliminate temptation from one’s life. Wrestling with the devil will get you nowhere but sweaty and smelling like brimstone. You can’t win that wrestling match and he can’t defeat you, because you have God on your side, even though you don’t act like it most of the time. Victory is ours! Why don’t we feel good about that?

Because we are led astray by sin. We are trapped by multiple snares. It will only be when this life is over that we can see clearly, for now we see as if we had some kind of goop in our eyes.

If Satan won’t get behind us, how are we supposed to advance? With him blocking our field of vision, all we can see are the snares of sin. Unless you look at it closely, a trap usually doesn’t look like one. It looks like something normal and common, or like nothing at all.

Devious intent emits no obvious warning signs. No odor, no sound, no visual hint that someone who hopes to benefit from your downfall has targeted you. You can’t even look down and see the glow of a laser sighting device dancing over your clothes. It would be convenient and easy to assume that evil does not exist, that everyone in your ken has your best interests at heart. But that’s simply not the case. Not by a long shot.

But why have I been targeted while my more devious and sinful peers have not? Did their mothers pray for their offspring with more fervor than did mine? More novenas, implorations to the Blessed Mother for intervention?

Maybe I should be proud that the Father of Lies has noticed me at all, much less chosen to recruit me in his cause. Did I come to his attention because of my essential goodness or its opposite? Have I displayed a talent for malevolence or is it something that is merely latent in me, but noticeable to those proficient in the Dark Arts?

I’ve always wanted to excel at something, but evil has never been on the list. I once had a roommate in college who was very strange and might have made a better candidate for “Handmaid of Satan” than I. She enjoyed being alone to an asburd degree. Most people if left alone for a day would find something to do with the time. Not her. This was before cellphones, but if you took a young woman of today and locked her in a room, she would immediately take out her phone and start scrolling or texting and taking selfies. This lady preferred to do nothing at all. We had an old clock that ticked away in a solemn way one doesn’t hear often nowadays. The ticks echoed through the still room. She sat absolutely still, often with her eyes closed, not moving, barely breathing, and seemed quite content. I figured she was either mentally ill or posessed by evil spirits. I never found out which was true because at the end of the semester she moved away and I never saw her again.

It occurred to me later that maybe she wasn’t even enrolled as a student. She could have been a trans-dimensional being who just need a place to hang out for a while.

Or maybe she was just a strange and possibly mentally ill college girl a long time ago, and I’m still making too big a deal about all of it. After all, I was no Boy Scout at the time. I was doing my best to ape the hippies I read about, Timothy Leary, etc. My use of psychedelics was routine. I’m just lucky I emerged relatively unscathed. In every college town I lived in, you would come across one guy walking barefoot in the winter, his long hair matted, fingernails black, accompanied by a dog he had adopted, and either rummaging through trash or asking for spare change. Someone would always tell me “that’s Crazy Bob. He used to be an English major, but then he took too much acid.”

There but for the grace of God go I.

Fun and Games

The women were sitting on my bed when I checked into the room. They didn’t seem terribly interested in talking to me, which was fine, because I was tired from my trip and just wanted to relax. Maybe they came with the room. I was too fatigued to care.

At first I assumed they were twin sisters, because they were dressed alike, pretty in the same way and about the same age. But then I realized they didn’t even speak the same language. Neither spoke a language I could identify. I decided this was one of those dilemmas that would turn out best if simply left alone. I didn’t cause it, I couldn’t cure it.

I took a shower and came out of the bathroom wearing a the complimentary plush bath robe that came with this VIP room. By then the two women had stopped sitting on the bed and were playing chess on an elegant mahogany table near the window. The view of the city below was astounding. The women seemed so wrapped up in their game they didn’t notice it, or me, for that matter. However, I noticed what seemed like a mob of people running down the street in front of our hotel. You could see tanks and trucks coming at the mob from the other direction. Flames.

When I turned on the TV all the channels showed the same thing: an announcement reading Peace and Unity. Patriotic music. Later, I would find the conference I had come here to attend had been cancelled. The Prime Minister was in hiding. The army was in charge. I should prepare for frequent power outages. Food and water may temporarily be in short supply. Stay tuned for further developments.

Twilight came and I must have fallen asleep. When I woke in the middle of the night, the two women had already left. In the morning, there was man sitting at the same table at which the women had played chess. He was eating breakfast.

“Sleep well?” he asked, as I sat up.

“Fine. Who are you?”

“The name is Joseph Jameson. I’m here to make you an offer you probably won’t want to refuse. Care for breakfast?”

I didn’t feel like asking who was paying for our meals, though I had the sinking suspicion I would ultimately be the one to pay for room service upon checkout. But when would that be, anyway, now that martial law had most likely been declared?

“We need a caucasian expert to talk on television. Do you have a doctorate?”

“I spent a couple of sememsters in a community college in Iowa,” I replied.

“We’ll refer to you as Doctor anyway. We need to assure the populace that everything is under control.”

“Is it?”

“Sure. Someone is in charge. That’s all they need to know. Just remember to downwardly inflect your voice at the end of each utterance to imply certainty. These are facts, not opinions. You’re not looking for approval or reinforcement.”

“And after that?”

“We’ll confer with the Ministers of Environment and Interior. They’re hiding in the basement of the Palace of Democracy. We need to give them some talking points. We’ll be traveling with a retinue of beautiful young women. In this country that’s important, it shows that you’re somebody important.”

“And then what?”

“And then we pay you several thousand dollars for your time and ask you to be available again if needed. We don’t know how long this period of uncertainty will last.”

There was a car waiting in front of the hotel, with the two beautiful women who had been sitting on my bed when I arrived and three more, very pretty younger women. Here I found they are called “pretties” and are valued only for their looks and youth. They were demure and shy, but made sure to sit as close to me as possible wherever we were, because that was their job.

The man who had negotiated with me drove, but before he took the wheel he donned a chauffeur’s cap and leather driving gloves. I guess here if you want to be taken seriously you have to look the part.

At the TV station I sat in front of a green screen while the man and woman who interviewed me sat in folding chairs in front of me. I glanced at the monitor and saw that through electronic wizardry it seemed if we were sitting in front of a lush, tropical forest, with a swimming pool off to one side. I repeated the lines that I had been coached to say, “This was nothing out of the ordinary, just the routine growing pains of newly emerged democracies. Of course other nations sympathized but were not overly concerned. If called upon to help, they would gladly do what they could. The United Nations was on our side. Everyone was on our side.”

Apparently my handlers were pleased with my performance, for on our way to visit the Ministers In Hiding the girls snuggled even closer to me. The general mood was optimistic. A few bombs and sirens going off at random intervals failed to spoil the mood. Much.

When we found him, the Minister of Health was in the basement, hiding behind a copy machine. He didn’t seem much like a Minister, and was dressed in dirty coveralls, looking very much like a janitor at the end of a hard day. It soon occurred to me that his appearance was deliberate.

“What do they want from me?” he pleaded, looking at me imploringly. I feigned compassion as best I could.

“It’s not about you. They want democracy,” I assured him.

“We tried that before. It didn’t work. My people are not ready for demoracy. They want a strong leader, someone to believe in.”

“Where is the Prime Minister?”

“I wish I knew. I would punch him in the nose.”

Another voice joined us, coming from a nearby closet. “He’s not at fault. It’s the Army. You know that as well as I do.”

Another man stepped out. My guide introduced him as the Minister of the Interior. I expected him to talk about politics or the state of the nation, but he had only one thing on his mind. “Please, get me out of here. I’ll do anything.”

We offered to let him ride in the trunk of the car, hidden under some blankets. He managed to climb in unnoticed, and even though we stopped for drinks and didn’t invite him along, he wasn’t resentful. We dropped him off at the bus station, and he shook my hand warmly. “Maybe I’ll see you in Chicago someday. Or Omaha. I have a brother in law in Omaha.”

We took the girls to an enormous apartment building that ran along the river. They smiled and said something in their language, and I smiled back and waved. That was it. Then the driver took me to the airport and paid me more money than I’d made for one day’s work in my entire life. I hoped to hear from him again, but he never called.