Short Story: Hell’s Kitchen (Happy Halloween)
I watched as a guy in a dark suit dug up Beatrice Beaumont Virgil, April 5, 1965 – August 19, 1998. Funeral flowers still fresh, dirt still moist, Until we meet again her epitaph.
I stood in the shadows and dared to watch a moment longer before deciding I would just make note of his car license on my way out. If I had to say, I would guess his height as six feet and give him a generous build of medium. And I would only use this information if there were questions. Otherwise, I’d rather my secret after-hours visits stayed my secret.
As I turned to leave, the moody clouds drifted, allowing the full moon to tattle. I limped away as fast as I could, but my bad knee had started acting up again. I could only hope I was far enough to seem a ghost. Just as I began to breathe, I heard the man shout, “Hey you… stop!”
A gun fired; the bullet ricocheted off the tombstone next to me. I stopped.
“Now, get over here,” he said. “Slowly.”
As I approached the grave-site, I could see that he had dug about halfway down into the grave. He held a shovel in his right hand and a gun in his left. “You’re not going to run, are you?” he asked. His appearance seemed rather ordinary— until our eyes met. I’m not easily spooked, but his keen stare alarmed the hair on the back of my neck.
“No,” I said.
He tucked the gun into his pants and then threw me the shovel. “Start digging.”
I dropped the shovel down into the thigh-deep hole and grunted as I followed it inside.
“What are you doing out here this time of night?” he asked as he sat down and wiped his brow.
“I’m the groundskeeper.”
“That’s strange. I did my homework; there are no employees at night.”
“I’m not supposed to be here either.” The shovel sank into the dirt easily enough, but my muscles complained when I started shoveling it out of the hole.
“Hmm,” he said. “So, what are you doing here?”
“It’s peaceful at night.”
“So you work here … and come here to hang out? Kind of an eerie guy. But I suppose the right kind if one has to exhume a body.”
I kept digging, and the man kept watching until the shovel caused a clunking noise.
“All right,” he said. He sat with his legs dangling over the side of the hole. “Now start digging on the sides so we can open my treasure chest.”
When I had finished my task, the man jumped in beside me. It took quite a few hard pushes before we finally had the lid all the way open.
I generally have to be content with a mental image of my residents. I couldn’t help but comb my hair with my fingers to tidy up a bit before I met her.
Her long blonde hair flowed gracefully over her petite shoulders. Rosy cheeks and ruby lips highlighted powdered fair skin. “Beautiful.”
POW! I felt the deafening discharge from my fingers to my toes. Beatrice received a bullet hole in the middle of her forehead. I had stopped breathing.
“Hmm,” the graverobber said. “Grab her arms.”
It took him aiming his weapon at me before I comprehended the instructions.
“Grab her arms. I’ll get her feet.”
Heavier than she looked, the first attempts at getting her out of the grave were grotesque. I wanted to lay her back in her bed, fold her arms back across her body, smooth her hair.
Finally, we had her in a somewhat normal position lying in the grass next to her assumed final resting place.
My dilated eyes absorbed a sudden explosion of light. When I regained my vision, I realized the man was snapping pictures.
I couldn’t withhold my curiosity a moment longer. It had fused together with fear and sympathy for Beatrice and formed a knot in the pit of my stomach. “I do realize that this is none of my business, and I really shouldn’t be asking you anything, but—”
“I don’t off chicks,” he said. His chest heaved in and out, just like mine.
“That’s why I’m doing this. That was your question, right?”
He pulled a flask out of his jacket, put it to his mouth, and took a drink. Surprisingly, he handed it to me. As the unexpected bland taste of the pure water quenched my dry tongue, he spoke, “Some asshole hired me to kill a woman. This is just what I do when I’m put in that situation.”
I swallowed hard. The liquid felt like a tank going down my throat. The man standing beside me murdered people for money. And he’d said I was the creepy one. “So you’re going to pretend that Beatrice is the woman you were supposed to kill?”
“Beatrice,” he said and stared down at her. “They don’t want them at their doorstep. All I need is proof. I did a lot of obituary searching to find her. Same facial features, hair color, age.”
“What about the real girl?”
“She’s on a plane as we move our lips.”
We stood there for a moment: the atmosphere thick with the smell of death and the moonlight animating tree shadows across Beatrice’s face.
“Why did someone want her dead?” I asked.
“Don’t know. Didn’t ask. Let’s get her back down.”
The chore of replacing her didn’t take as long as excavating her, but I hated our method. We just dropped her in.
We climbed in after and put her back in the casket. Except for the bullet hole and the dirt in her hair, she looked like she did before we disturbed her. I said my goodbyes and shut the lid.
When I looked up at the assassin, his jaw was tense and his eyes and gun were focused on me. He said, “You know, I have to kill you now.”
I stopped to inhale the earthy air, to scratch my nose, and to think about my new home with Beatrice Virgil’s address. Until we meet again, my epitaph. “Yeah,” I said. “I know.”
John knew the old saying: Revenge is a dish best served cold. But he had to disagree. Because this time, his revenge would be cooked and served sizzling hot.
Being the cook for the Beaumont family had definitely been hell, and it seemed as if he had already worked for them an eternity. When he saw his murderer, standing there on the auction block, another saying seemed right on: What goes around comes around.
New arrivals went straight to the auction house. Both demon and H.S.L. (Human Soul Laborers) bought souls for a variety of reasons—the juicier the more they cost. John’s assassin was already up to a stellar price.
The red demon auctioneer had the whole house animated with energy. He was saying, “This soul here has no moral backbone. He killed over fifty men. He’s a thief, a cheater, and a murderer. Do I hear seventy-five?”
When John held up his auction paddle, his assassin looked him in the eyes. John remembered the last time their eyes met. The next thing he knew, he was in hell, standing exactly where this guy stood now. John had committed minor sins in comparison to murder, so buying him to eat would have been like buying a sickly, skinny cow. Not worth eating.
John had been purchased as an H.S.L. by one of the more prestigious demon families. Some souls were bought for pulling wagons, for building roads, for housewives, for… dinner. He understood how lucky he had been that he knew how to cook. His duties included buying groceries at the auction house.
He didn’t win the bid on his murderer just for pleasure; he would also make a fine meal. The Beaumonts planned to have a dinner party for twenty guests. John purchased two other plump souls as well.
When John arrived back at his kitchen, he put the three men into his tall, refrigerated cage. They needed to be fresh. Much longer out in the heat, and they would have been tough. He himself had developed skin close to the texture of leather. He hadn’t lived in Hell long enough to figure it all out, but he reckoned all the demons started out looking the way the human souls did, but in time they adapted to the atmosphere, causing their crimson, rutted skin.
Once John shut the cage, the hit man said, “Funny meeting you here.”
“So, you do remember me.”
“I never forget a face.”
“Of someone you killed or just in general?” John reached in a drawer and pulled out his knife sharpener. He wanted to give this guy the full treatment. At that moment, if he had ever wondered before, he recognized one of the major reasons for his descent. He kept deep hatred in his heart. Hmmm. He began to grind the knife across the sharpener.
His murderer said, “What are you doing here?”
“I’m about to make dinner.”
“I mean, in the hole. I never characterized you for a sinner.”
“We all have our sins. It’s the people who realize it too late that end up down here.”
At this, the hit man nodded his head. “So, what are you making?”
The two other men in the cage looked downright terrified.
John looked down at his knife. No matter what kind of show he put on for his murderer, this wouldn’t be any easier than any other meal.
He inhaled and then nodded his head over to the man standing to the right of the murderer. “Leg of Sam,” he said. He glanced at the next guy, “Barbecued ribs.” He looked directly into the hit man’s eyes. “And roasted pig.”
“You don’t have to be so nasty. Just making conversation.”
“Perhaps we should save the small talk for the guests.” Meals had always just stood in the cage awaiting their fate. Once in a while one would sing or one would cry, but never did he actually have to talk to one before he prepared it.
“For what it’s worth,” his murderer said. “I apologize. I was just doing my job.”
John thought about this for a moment. He wondered if he would have repented if given more time. If he had not been killed at that moment, would it have caused a different finale? He doubted it. Just doing my job. “All right,” he finally said. “I’ll accept your apology. I have an apology of my own.”
“I suppose you do,” the man said.
John said, “You know, I have to cook you now.”
“Yeah,” the hit man said, “I know.”
Hell’s Kitchen was originally published in the anthology, Split 2008.