My Summer Vacation in Hell

Steven Bergom

Why do mirrors have to show you exactly what you don't want to see? Right now it was showing me a thin body, small breasts and stringy brown hair that never did what it was told. In fact, I doubt even Ally McBeal would be jealous of what I had! I know, I know; I'm only fifteen and need wait because things will change.

Yeah, right. I've heard that speech a thousand times, and it has yet to convince me that there is anything to be gained from waiting.

I continued to stare at my my depressing reflection, idly itching at my arms. My little hellions of twin brothers, Jesse and Jason, had taken to coating various items in my room with itching powder. Last night it was my bed and it seemed that no amount of showering was able to wipe all of it away. There needs to be a constitutional amendment that all little brothers will be summarily drowned at birth for all the trouble that they cause.

"Hurry up, Rebekah! We want to be out of here and on the road in half an hour!" Mom shouted through the bathroom door. What she said wasn't completely true. When she said, "We want to be out of here in half an hour," she should have made sure not to include me in that sweeping generalization; I wanted to stay right here. I even let her know that in the most reasonable manner possible shortly she sprung the debacle on me.

"Mom," I said to her one day last month. "I know you've been planning to visit Uncle Nick for quite a while, but I don't think the plan to take all of us is in your best interests. For one, the station wagon would be very cramped during the eight hour ride to Uncle Nick's place. One less person would provide ample room for family comfort and decrease the load of luggage thereby providing more space for souvenirs. Second, there are many things around the house that you have said you would like to get done but haven't had time to do them with so many people around. If one person — say, me — were to stay behind, all those chores could be accomplished without any headaches. Third,…" etc. I had ten well thought out points built with an impeccable logic. All of the questions that she could have asked were anticipated and countered. Instead she smiled and nodded and, when I had completed my list, calmly told me to make sure that I packed enough underwear.

How do parents do that?! Is it some kind of inborn ability to ignore a perfectly good argument? Do they have to go to school for it? Does it come with the birth of their first child?

However it comes I am not one to ponder the meaning of my own existence so I sighed, left the bathroom and walked back to my bedroom, hoping that 'Thing 1' and 'Thing 2' were unable to break the lock on my door this time.

The lock was untouched and after a quick check assured me that nothing was awry, I got dressed and went downstairs to a kitchen that already resembled a moderately organized zoo. Mom was herding Jesse into packing the cooler while Dad walked around peeking in piles of supplies that had yet to be stowed in the car, griping about his missing fishing reel. Jason, in the meantime, could just be seen out the kitchen door making sure that his baseball and glove still worked. Mom took only a moment to look away from her organizing to tell me that they had used up the last of the milk and that there were bran muffins in the microwave for breakfast. "You need more fiber in your diet," she informed me.

I ignored the whole mess and went back to my room where it was relatively safe, waiting for the final role call. Maybe they would forget about me and leave me here, alone, for the next two weeks. Any time spent away from the rest of my family would work wonders on my present outlook.

Unfortunately it was not to be and, less than half an hour later, I found myself stuffed in the back seat of our station wagon with two annoying little monsters already starting to throw things at me pulling out of our driveway and into an eight hour car ride. Gilligan had it so lucky.

The air conditioner broke at noon. The batteries in my CD player went dead at one. Jesse and Jason started arguing about baseball at one-thirty. Mom started griping at Dad to use a map at two. Jason threw my book out the window at two-fifteen, and Mom stopped listening to my pleas shortly after that. If I didn't know any better, I could swear this was hell.

It only got worse.

We were driving on a back road in the middle of nowhere with red sandstone cliffs rising on both sides of us when the earth started to shake. I didn't worry because I'd been in a couple of earthquakes before and this one wasn't special. My brothers, as all boys and most men are wont to do, shouted out their fun and tried to get Dad to drive faster. I didn't really agree with them until boulders from the top of the cliffs decided to fall down on us and Dad had to swerve to miss them. That would have been enough but some sadistic freak felt it was necessary to shake the ground harder and occasionally toss us in the air. Suddenly the road buckled leaving a gaping hole that couldn't be avoided. The car drove in and we soon discovered the meaning of 'bottomless pit'.

For every time the car somersaulted my stomach went through two flips of its own and, just as I was about to relive the burger that I had for lunch, we came to a sudden stop, landing with a bounce at the bottom of whatever hole we had fallen into. Mom, with an understated humor, asked Dad, "Are we there yet?"

Evidently we were because a voice told us, "Get out of the car!" The voice was horrible; it reminded you alternately of fingernails being scraped across a chalkboard, a car being being driven without a muffler and that same car being crushed into a cube all while echoing in the space between your ears.

The voice repeated its instructions and we left the station wagon, closing the doors behind us. I took the time to look around and noted that we were in a giant cavern where the only light came from a spotlight centering on our car and stopping about ten feet out. Beyond that was darkness broken only by pin-pricks of light that came in pairs, about the same width as what eyes would be. The lights bobbed and weaved to the sound of whisperings and quiet laughter. With an unheard command the chattering stopped and a figure in front of us began to move forward.

It was huge. Its glowing eyes stood at a dozen feet in the air at the center of a form blacker than the shadows surrounding it. "I've been waiting for you," its voice came again. As it stepped into the light the darkness burned off of its scaly red flesh like water on a hot griddle. "Welcome to my demesne, mortals. Welcome to Hell!"

Now fully in the spotlight we could see the figure for all that it was. His massive trunk displayed every muscle in washboard perfection. Two arms sprouted from his chest like mighty oaks and between his furless goat legs was the piece of equipment that marked him undeniably as male. Batwings that could cover several square yards served to frame his horned head with its two glowing eyes perched over a smile that showed off teeth that could easily bite any of us in two.

He was, without a doubt, Satan.

We stood at an impasse, my family and I staring ahead and Satan breathing bronchially and flexing his claws in anticipation of our demise. A clock somewhere ticked in time to the cracking of each of his knuckles. Catching a movement out of the corner of my eye I turned my head to see my two little brothers running…

…straight towards Satan!

When they reached him they jumped up and down grabbing hold of his arms and yelling, "Uncle Nick! Uncle Nick! Can we torture the damned souls now?"

The mighty demon kneeled down and put one arm each around Jesse and Jason. "I don't know. Have you been good little boys?" He looked up at my parents who were emphatically rolling their eyes. "What say you, Mom and Dad: Can they help their uncle at his job?"

"I guess we can take some time out for doing things not strictly on the gameplan," said Dad. He motioned to all the demons around him. "What was with all the sub-demons and lights? You didn't really need to go through all the rigamarole of setting this up for use."

"Besides," Mother added joining Dad at the front of the car. "The melodrama doesn't suit you."

Uncle Nick put a hurt look on his face. "But it was all for you! I just wanted your first visit in two years to be special and I planned this for weeks—"

"Save it, bub!" Mom interrupted. "I know you; you just threw this all together at the last minute trying to impress us. And speaking of long waits between visits, when was the last time you visited us? Hmm?"

"Well, there was that time four years ago when—"

"It was Halloween and you were in the neighborhood. You stopped by, scared a couple of the neighbor kids and ended up eating the last of our caramel apples. We saw you for a total of twenty minutes." Don't argue with Mom; you won't win and Uncle Nick knew it so he switched tactics.

"Gerald," he said turning his attention to my dad. "What've you been up to? Still working at that insurance company? It doesn't look good to have Satan's little brother peddling insurance."

"I don't 'peddle insurance' as you put so eloquently. I am the head systems administrator for their network."

"Well, it's good to know that you're still in practice! Why don't you relax and take a load off."

Dad smiled wryly and shook his head. Taking a deep breath he seemed to almost relax himself and his whole body expanded to a size just smaller than his brother and looking remarkably similar. When he was done Dad put an arm around Mom and turned back to his sibling. "And I thought I remembered telling you a couple thousand times to stop calling me 'little brother'. If I recall correctly, we were coalesced shortly before the arrow of time was created so the question of our ages is a moot point."

"Details, details. And little Rebekah," he said turning to me, "you've grown so much! How would you like it if I carry you around on my shoulders and show you the sights?"

Is it really that hard for them to realize that I'm not a little kid anymore? "I'm almost sixteen, Uncle. I don't do things like that now."

Uncle Nick exchanged amused glances with my parents. "Getting to that age, I see."

"With all the bells and whistles," Mom replied. "Are you sure that you didn't have anything to do with teenagers turning on their parents?"

Raising his hands in defense Uncle Nick looked innocent. "Now you know that that 'children causing pain for their mother' thing was not my idea."

They laughed at me! Will no adult take me seriously and treat me with the respect that I have earned? Obviously not because as soon as I announced that I was going to go for a walk my erstwhile respectable elders countermanded my decision and dragged me along to see where we would be staying for the next two weeks. Mom even had the gall to tell me that I'd feel better for a little vacation. Fat lot she knew!

Uncle Nick, Mom and Dad led the way talking up a storm while a couple of demons followed after us carrying the car. My brothers conspired to cause one of the pack-demons to drop the car on his foot but one look from our mother put that idea out of their heads. Instead they ended up excitedly discussing which group of sinners they wanted to assist in the punishment of first.

We eventually arrived at a little cottage seated on a grassy knoll overlooking the river Lethe. The whole setup was rather idyllic if you discounted the fire, brimstone and agonized screams that existed a hundred yards out in any direction.

We each had our own rooms, a fact that made me eminently happy since I wouldn't be sharing any more space with the twin terrors than I strictly had to. Unfortunately I didn't get long to enjoy my safe haven because immediately after refreshing ourselves from the trip we were invited to Uncle Nick's mansion for dinner.

What can I say about supper except that it was excellent? Hell really does have the finest of whatever you want, whether it be food, clothes, flesh or whatever. Afterwards Dad and my uncle shared a hookah which Uncle Nick offered to my brothers and me. Mom met Jesse's and Jason's enthusiastic response with an enjoinder to take the twin terrors back to the cottage because the adults wanted to stay up late and catch up on all the things that old people do.

So I did as she asked with as much politeness as I could muster and herded the failed attempts at live offspring I was forced to call my siblings back to the cottage. There I left them to fight over the remote control for the satellite TV and I locked myself in my room to ponder the next two soon-to-be-wasted weeks of my life. Thus ended my first day in Hell

My parents were still asleep when I woke up. I didn't give too much thought as to why they were so tired — trust me, there is such a thing as too much information — and slipped out of the cottage giving my brothers the message that I was going for a walk. That way when Mom and Dad caught up with me and give me the 'why didn't you tell us where you were going' speech I could deflect some of the punishment at Jason and Jesse. Hoping that all my bases were covered I started exploring.

Okay, so maybe 'exploring' doesn't describe my aimless wandering all that well. I was, however, searching for a spot, semi-secluded, where I didn't have to deal with all the little annoying things in my life, like my family.

Eventually I found a little ledge set down about ten feet from the edge of a canyon. From there I could view the entire gorge and, oddly enough, it was beautiful. At one end the burning river Phlegethon fell down in a waterfall and looked nothing so much like a sunset as the flaming waters traveled to the rocks below. At the bottom where the waters collected in a pool imps and other small demons cavorted in the shallows, trying to drown their companions. All in all, though, my view was quiet and that is all that I wanted.

The solitude, however, was not to last. I had been watching a rather nasty little demon bashing an imp's head open with a rock and imagining it was Jesse when my silence was interrupted. She was short, a bit overweight, had wavy auburn hair and blue eyes. With her happy demeanor she reminded me somewhat of a Sunday school teacher I had once.

"Oh, my!" she exclaimed when she rounded a bend in the path to the ledge. "I didn't think anyone— I mean, no one usually comes— Oh, dear!" she said suddenly realizing something. "You're not one of the damned, are you?"

"No," I said warily. "I'm still alive."

She thought about it for a moment. "Then that would make you Rebekah, wouldn't it?"

I nodded. "How did you…?"

"Oh, not very many of the living ever make it down here and when they do, everyone knows who they are. Especially me; I'm Satan's secretary," she announced with a face that was part pride and part consternation. "Do you mind if I sit? I'm Lizzie, by the way. I tried changing it to 'Lizbeth' once but 'Lizzie' just stuck."

Again I nodded. Her incessant babbling was annoying but oddly comforting. Primping skirts which looked like they had gone out of fashion long before World War I she settled herself on a spot next to me.

"I like this spot. Whenever I'm on my lunch break I try to come out here and see the view but I'm not always able. Gotta' fend off all those demons, you know. Anyway I just love the view from here what with the waterfall and the pool at the bottom. So what brings you way out here?"

I was a little stunned as Lizzy finished her monologue. Somehow she had managed to fit everything she said into a single breath, something that I would have trouble doing even though I was on the swim team at school. "I, uh, guess I wanted to get away from my parents," I said blinking away my confusion.

"Ah, parent trouble," she replied sagely. "Parents will always find a way to lock you down. They're not mean, they just don't understand."

I sniffed. "You can say that again. I swear, when I'm all wrinkly and gray they'll still be treating me like a little kid. How do you stop them from doing that?"

"You could always try poison," Lizzie said somewhat humorously. "Or whatever object seems to be lying around. But with your father I don't think that would be much of a solution. I think the best thing for you is to find a quiet place to think things through, and this is probably a good spot to do that, then. Not many people come here that would disturb you and I know how much you like heights—"

"Wait a minute!" I interrupted. "How do you know I like high places?"

"I told you: I'm Satan's secretary. Secretaries always read their bosses mail and, more importantly, we write their mail, too."

I was again stunned by what was becoming a series of revelations. "You mean, the birthday cards and notes…"

"All probably came from my pen," she finished. "Of course, Satan had the final say but usually he just added his signature and I mailed them off. I guess you could say that I know you as well as you know yourself." Lizzie acted proud of this but when she saw my face her shoulders fell. "Oh, I'm sorry, Rebekah. It's just that, well… I never had any children and neither did my sister so I really like the idea of being able to play the aunt, if you don't mind."

"Oh, no," I reassured her. "That's quite all right. I didn't really think about it but when I look back, I guess some of the things in the letters from Uncle Nick were just a little bit feminine. Thanks, I think."

We stared out over the canyon for a while in an awkward silence. It was kind of like the time I found out that Fred Rogers, icon of children's programming, every morning swam laps in the nude. Information like that makes you re-evaluate your entire childhood, at which point you hope you don't turn into an axe-wielding maniac. Fortunately Lizzie didn't have that particular effect on me and I decided we could be friends.

"So, how is it that you have a lunch break?" I asked. "I didn't think that you were supposed to get any kind of reward while in Hell."

"Well, Satan really is a nice guy deep down. For those of us that do useful work for him, he gives out little things. In my case since I am one of his secretaries — and trust me, being his secretary is more than enough punishment — I get a half-hour lunch break per day, if I want, with only one stipulation."

"Oh, what's that?"

"I'm always late. Even if I get back early, I'm considered late and he can punish me any way he wants."

"But can't he punish you anyway? I mean, this is Hell!"

"Yeah, but he likes to do things officially. Random pain isn't his thing. Satan is actually a very neat and organized being when you get down to it, and he spends a great deal of time planning all of his atrocities." Lizzie turned to stare thoughtfully out over the canyon. "He's actually quite creative, too. I remember when I started he found several new ways of killing someone with an axe. It was kind of interesting." Laughing at something that she remembered Lizzie added, "I love it when he gets on his theme kicks!"

"Theme kicks? What do you mean?"

Lizzie smiled at me. "Sometimes he picks a theme and runs with it, like the decapitation binge he was on. I was beheaded with a guillotine, a knife, several types of sword, a spoon, a saw blade, a—"

"Wait a minute, a spoon? How can you decapitate someone with a spoon?"

"Very painfully. Right now he's doing a pestilential theme. Last week I suffered from boils and a couple of days ago I was eaten by a swarm of locusts. The worst thing about that was that they later vomited me back out at the office so that I could get back to work."

My uncle was really good. I had thought that most punishments were long ago determined and he just meted them out as needed. Of course, the fact that my two little brothers were spending so much time with him had me wishing I knew what he was teaching them.

"What do you think he'll do today?"

"I couldn't even guess, nor would I want to! It's actually exciting to see what comes next, and if I knew what was coming whatever Satan did would end up doing something ten times worse. Of course, if — ERRRPT!"

I hate it when a conversation is cut off in the middle, but then this was Hell so it should be expected. I looked around for Lizzie before I found her, a little shorter, but still sitting beside me. "Frogs today, huh? Well, I guess it could be worse." Lizzie shrugged, which looked kind of funny since frogs really don't have shoulders. "Can we talk again sometime?" She ribbited an agreement. "Good. Well, I should let you get back to work before you get really late. See ya' later!"

Lizzie ribbited a farewell, turned and hopped back to the main office complex. I was a little saddened by her leaving because, although I had wanted to be alone, companionship made the loneliness more meaningful. Plus I was finding that I liked the idea of possibly having another pseudo-aunt. Mom had a couple of siblings of her own but Dad, as can be guessed, doesn't really have what you could call relatives. I wanted to ruminate more on this but, alas, it was not meant to be.

"Hey Beks! There you are! I've been searching all over for you." Jason approached me eating something that looked like french fries from a brown paper bag. Why is it that they always find me right when I want to be alone? Do little brothers have this radar that draws them to the person that wants to be around them least?

"What now? Can't you just leave me alone? I try to get away from you for a purpose, you know."

"Mom wants you. She said we're going to go on trip to the old Greek setting. Something about it being educational." He took another fried object from his bag.

"If I want to see guys pointlessly pushing large heavy objects around, I'll go to a football practice. Can't you go without me?"

"Mom said to get you so I got you." He really must like whatever he was eating because he took another and popped it in his mouth.

"What is that you're eating?"

"Frog legs. A demon back there gave 'em to me. Ya' want some? They taste just like chicken!"

My uncle was better than I thought! Maybe he could give me tips on dealing with my brothers… "Nah, maybe next time. Let's go and get this over with."

The old Greek setting, as you can imagine, was a bust. The station wagon would never have gone over the rough terrain of Hell so we got to ride in sleds pulled by a pack of slavering hellhounds. That were randy. And they smelled. And they had beans for lunch. And they stopped to eat the occasional roadkill. Did I mention they had beans for lunch?

When we got there we saw the usual spectral phenomena. You know, ghosts, moaning spirits, etcetera. Personally I saw scarier monsters at the haunted house that the local Jaycees put on every year. My brothers, of course, ate it all up and couldn't stop talking about every little miniscule detail that could be wrung out of the experience. I had left my walkman in the cottage so I had no way of drowning the weasels out.

Dad, though, got in hot water with Mom when he started walking off to the temple of Aphrodite. He said something about wanting to see if it was as accurate a replication as he remembered. Mom was having nothing of it and dragged him by his ear back onto the path she originally planned. I almost laughed at the image of a one-twenty pound woman dragging a demon massing nearly a ton while angrily talking to him but my enjoyment was short-lived when Jason and Jesse both felt it necessary to jump in a squared-off puddle of blood, splashing me from head to toe. Angry as I was, I think the blind poet who was trying to drink from the puddle was even more annoyed.

I tried to complain to Dad about how his sons were acting but he just said, "Boys will be boys," and some drivel about them just having innocent fun. To Mom I tried to explain the damage done to my blouse but she told me that I had enough clothes as it was. Doesn't she know anything? I tried getting her to reconsider until she threatened to send me back home — which I almost took her up on — but she quickly led us off down to where a demon stood waiting to be our tour guide.

On the brighter side of things we got a quick tour of the main Hell complex where Uncle Nick had his office. I tried to find Lizzie but could only catch a glimpse of what I though were her legs as she stumbled by with an armload of papers. Otherwise our trip was wholly without entertainment.

So to recap we have flatulent fidos, unscary spirits, babbling brothers, maddened Mother, parched poet and a blood-soaked outfit. It was, without a doubt, a wonder that I hadn't killed or maimed anyone by the time that I locked myself in my room when we got back to our cottage. Oh, well. Tomorrow would be another day and, eventually, someone would be set on fire.

"Back here again, I see!" Lizzie said brightly as she approached me from behind. I was back at my lookout spot at the canyon for some peace and quiet. I guess I had really been waiting for her and was grateful when she took a seat beside me. "What's up today?"

"Nut n' much. Brothers are still annoying, parents still causing me a headache. When will they learn that I've grown up and stop treating me like a child?"

"It's a parent's nature to protect their children. Think of it from their viewpoint: every year that passes, every time you assert your independence, you make them feel just a little bit older. People don't like to be reminded about their mortality."

"Great, but that doesn't explain my father."

"Demons feel the passing of years, too. Before, he didn't have anything to gauge his time on earth. Now that you're around, he feels that time acutely. A great man once said, 'Who wants to live forever, when love must die'? He knows that he will outlive everyone that he has attached some sort of significance to, and that scares him.

"Rebekah? Are you okay? I mean, you're scratching." She was right. I had been idly digging my nails into my arms and legs since I woke up.

"I think my brothers put itching powder in my bed last night. Lizzie, what am I going to do with them? What do I do with family members that are annoying to the extreme?!"

She listed several very good ideas. I was personally inclined to follow the ones that included dropping Jason and Jesse from a great height but I felt my parents would object to me doing that. Instead I laughed at her comments and we turned the conversation to other things, like boys, school and fashion.

Eventually Lizzie's lunch break was over and, mid-sentence, let out a strangled gasp; When I looked over, I could see a giant, red-clawed hand protruding from her chest. Standing behind her was my uncle, grinning as he wiggled his fingers in the gore he had created. "You're late, Lizzie," he said. "Again!"

"Guess this ends our chat, huh?" I said to Lizzie and she responded a gag and a dribble of blood from her mouth. "Can we talk later?" She painfully moved her head in what I assumed was agreement and another gout of blood came from her lips.

Seeing that we had finished Uncle Nick lifted his arm and, with one great heave, hurled her overhead toward the main complex where I assume she landed in the chair in front of her desk. "Sorry to interrupt your conversation, Bekah, but rules are rules," he said brushing the charred blood from his arm. Uncle Nick's body produces enough heat to char flesh instantly though he turns that off when he's around us. He can be a very considerate person.

"Yeah, but at least she knows the rules. I can never tell from one second to the next what rules Mom and Dad are going to make up!"

"Ah, but that's your mistake," Uncle Nick said. "Parents don't make rules."

"You could've fooled me!"

"No, really. This is gonna' take a while; mind if I have a seat?" I shrugged and he settled into the spot that Lizzie was vacated from a few moments earlier.

"Parents don't make rules, Bekah, because parents cannot foresee everything that will happen. They have a Purpose in raising their children, like helping them to survive to their eighteenth birthday with as few broken bones as possible. When they are in a situation they have not specifically planned for, they consult that purpose and adjust their actions accordingly."

"That still doesn't make sense," I said. "If they want me to grow up to be a responsible member of society who isn't afraid to confront new situations I don't see how they didn't let me stay home rather than come on this stupid vacation!"

I probably would have been quite satisfied with the look of consternation that came over his face but I was suddenly engrossed with a sudden itch that appeared on my back that was just out of reach. Uncle Nick saw my plight and was able to scratch the right spot. Gratefully I sighed, leaning into his hand.

"Unfortunately it's not that easy. Let's say that you and your best friend are on the roof of your house. Your friend tries to convince you that she could step off the edge of the roof and hold herself up by grabbing herself by the scruff of her neck. What do you do?"

I shrugged. "I drag her back from the edge and call the looney bin," I said and wiggled my back around so that my uncle's nails could work on several more itchy patches on my back.

"Very good!" he complemented me. "Now, let's say that a new club opened in town just on the edge of the seedier district. You want to go so you ask your parents. Do you know what they see?

"They see you trying to hold yourself up by the scruff of your neck."

"But that makes no sense!" I said and turned to face my uncle. "I know what I'm doing when I go to that club!"

"And will you be the one to shove your friend off the roof? Look," he said pushing himself to his feet, "You'll never understand until you have your own kids someday. Until then you have the whole of Hell to play around in and I was sent to get you to join the rest of the family for a nice little tour of the area reserved for mass murderers."

I complained bitterly, of course but Uncle Nick, like Mom, ignored my arguments. Eventually he got the conversation turned around to trying to get me to ride on his shoulders, "for old times' sake". I initially refused but he looked at me with such a hang-dog expression that I had no choice but to give in. Hanging onto his horns for dear life I rode back to the cottage I shared with my parents and brothers.

If it's at all possible, I was feeling worse. We could have gone anywhere: New York, Europe, California. Heck, I wouldn't have even minded North Dakota, but instead we had to go to Hell! It was either too hot or too cold (yes, parts of Hell are frozen, contrary to popular belief). It was humid or dry. There were flies all over the place and the screams of damned souls were starting to get on my nerves. And do you know how long it takes to get the smell of brimstone out of clothing? Months! I had several outfits that were now ruined from the sulfur in the air and today Mom wanted to go 'sunbathing' in front of the burning river Phlegethon!

"Put some lotion on, honey," Mom said from her lounge chair. I had been scratching my arms all morning and the itching sensation wasn't letting up. I didn't remember rolling around in poison ivy but I also didn't remember my brothers putting itching powder in my bed — again! Of course I wouldn't put it past them to do something like that, especially since they had been hanging around Uncle Nick all week.

"Rebekah, I told you if you want to stop itching to get some lotion. Besides with as bright as the river is today you could easily get a burn." The river. I looked down at the bank and briefly watched the unholy terrors throwing starfish (actually they were damned souls) that they picked up with asbestos-gloved hands back into the flames. In the river Dad and my uncle were playing catch with a couple of more unfortunates, trying to be the one to make them scream loudest.

I turned back to my arms when a particularly nasty itch made itself known. "Rebekah—"

"I did, Mother, but it's not helping!"

"Let me have a look." I watched, idly scratching, as my mother got off her chair and came to look at me. "It doesn't look like a rash," she said examining my left arm. "Did you have any liquids splashed on you in the last couple of days?"

In answer I rather viciously dug at a tickle that had suddenly appeared on my forehead. I thought that I had drawn blood but when I took my hand away I found that I was instead holding a large chunk of skin. Mom, in the meantime, was staring wide-eyed at my forehead.

"Gerald!" she yelled not taking her eyes from my face. "Come quick!"

I felt spacey as I watched Dad climb out of the river and then pumped his wings to skim over the ground. He spared me only a moment before snarling, shoving Mom out of the way and grabbing me by the neck, sinking his claws in deeply. I barely noticed that Mom was saying something to him, musing instead on what it would be like to have a full-grown and angry demon tearing you limb from limb. I didn't get far in my imaginings when Dad hurled me toward the river.

This, of course, broke my reverie and I screamed.

I can remember it clearly as if it were in slow-motion; I flew through the air flapping my arms and hoping against hope that I would somehow figure out the trick to flight before I hit the ground. Pausing at the top of my arc I thought that I had indeed learned the secret of flying but was soon hurtling downward toward the river instead. Dad, just like his brother, has very good accuracy and I had a good view as I dove toward the flaming surface of the river Phlegethon. My breath was knocked out of me when I hit the river surface.

It took me a while to get over the disorientation but by then I realized that I was well beneath the river's surface. The odd thing was that I didn't panic at first; I knew where I was, intellectually, but the fact that the liquid around me was hot enough to instantly boil lobster hadn't quite reached the rest of my brain. Instead I floated, as in a hot tub, enjoying the sensation of being flayed.

I was going to die. It was that simple; no normal human being could survive what I was going through, and even damned souls screamed in pain at being dunked in the Phlegethon. I began to have regrets; I regretted that I never kissed a boy. I regretted that I had yet to win a swim meet. I regretted that I never said good-bye to my friends. I regretted never being nice to my brothers.

No, scratch that last one. Little brothers were put on this earth for one thing only — to annoy their sisters — and no pity should be wasted on them.

My parents, though, were another matter. I decided that I should at least try to get to shore so that they wouldn't have to drag the river for little bits and pieces of me to take back home for the funeral. Maybe they could reanimate me so no one would know… In any event, I struggled to the surface of the river and parted the flames with tired strokes and hoped that the direction I was going was toward my family.

I finally made it to the edge of the river and laboriously pulled myself out. The rocky bank dug into my palms and water sheeted off me, leaping into flames when it hit the ground. When I was fully out of the water I stopped and vomited the part of the river that I had swallowed. Wavering on hands and knees I wiped my mouth off and then pushed back my hair which had fallen in front of my face.

You know, when you jump into a pool of strong hydrochloric acid, isn't your hair one of the first things to go? If so, why was my hair still attached to my head, and why was it thicker than before? Something else hit me, then: even if I had been pulled out of the river as soon as I was dunked under my body should be screaming in pain. Instead, I was feeling only slightly tired after swimming across half the river. In fact I was slightly euphoric over the experience.

I went back to examining my hair. Before it was a mousey brown color, something which I had never been particularly proud of. Now it was a thick and luxurious shade of red somewhere between the color of coagulated blood and a shiny black. As I turned this wondrous growth through my fingers I noticed my hands since they, too, had changed. My skin had changed to a dark blood color and was thick and leathery over muscles that could probably loft boulders across the Grand Canyon. My fingers were long and strong and topped with fingernails that could easily be referred to as claws. I ran my tongue over my teeth feeling the many points that indicated a dentition that only a veterinarian could love.

Chuckling I knew without looking that my eyes could only be a pupilless, glowing yellow. With a growing strength I began to slowly push myself up to my feet. I was taller now, much taller, and that was helped by the fact that my feet were now as digitigrade as a feline. I could now see that I had indeed picked the right direction when swimming because my mother and father were standing with their arms around each other and smiling at me encouragingly. Uncle Nick was nearby, too, and he was grinning so broadly it looked like his face was ripped in half. Jason and Jesse only looked at me with awe.

I couldn't help myself at that point and stretched, pushing my arms, legs and new wings to their fullest extent, letting out a scream of triumph. By the flames of Hell I had been cleansed of the last raimants of my human form and was now a powerful demoness, capable of rendering torture and torment on human souls for eternity. I looked back at my brothers and saw that they were now cowering before me. Smiling evilly I took a step towards them…

…and promptly fell flat on my face. Hey, you try walking on completely reformed legs for the first time and see how well you do! The twins were laughing and so was my uncle. "Izh nohs reegy ahit nooks!" I said, but this only sent the threesome into bigger gales of laughter. A forked tongue was not as easy to use as it looked and it looked like I had a lot to learn about this new body of mine.

As I sat drumming my fingers on the ground I pondered the reactions of my family. Uncle Nick I could understand. He was required to laugh at the helpless; it was a rule. I had even seen the little book of rules he keeps and there on page six it was written, "Laugh at the helpless and weak for laughter encourages anger and provides an easy path toward damnation." My brothers, on the other hand, had no such rule that they needed to live by and so, even though they were already first on my list of people to do horrid things to I mentally circled their names and put a star by them.

"Are you okay?" Dad asked as he stepped near me.

"I wall me thoonth I cad hut then," I responded motioning to my two brothers whom Mom was taking to task for laughing at me. They didn't look at all contrite, though.

"Don't worry, Bekah. You've got one up on them now." Uncle Nick leaned down and gave me a hand up. "I'd say sorry for laughing at you but I'm not."

As I stood wavering between Dad and Satan a thought occurred to me. "Ooh noo I bee-um ish?" Of course, in English not encumbered by a odd-shaped tongue that translates to, "You knew I would become this, didn't you?" I was hoping that they could understand me, and they did, owing mostly to the fact that they pre-dated the fracturing of language at Babel.

"We suspected it," Dad began, "but weren't sure if my genes would pass to any of my children. You were actually the first child to be born between a demon and human so there was a lot of guess-work involved."

"Yeah," Uncle Nick agreed. "There were a lot of demons raping humans, but no progeny. And before you point out Merlin, let me tell you that he was not one of my offspring; he was just a crazy old man who got into some bad 'shrooms."

"Ah, but you had fun with him, didn't you, brother?" Dad asked looking at his brother.

Uncle Nick smiled at the memory. "Ah, the good ol' days of medieval England. Some days I wish I could go back…" he shrugged. "But that was the past and we must look to the future for more evil."

Mom had, by this time, quieted my brothers and walked up to us. She stared at me long and hard, touching my skin and brushing my face with her fingertips. Finally she pulled my face down and kissed me on the top of my head. "My little baby is growing up," she said and I couldn't help but notice a tear glistening in the corner of her eye.

I spent the rest of my vacation learning how to use my body again. I learned to walk fairly quickly but talking took some practice. My brothers, on the other hand, had our mother's full attention and were dragged to every little Hell-spot that Mom thought was even remotely educational. At one point I suggested that Jason and Jesse should write an essay on what they learned so that I could know all that I was missing and, with a bright smile, she agreed. Hell, whether a vacation destination or not, should never be pleasant for the living.

One of the most important things I learned was to disguise myself. Hiding a half ton winged demon is not as easy as it sounds and so it took most of the allotted time in figuring out how to do so. In theory all I had to do was compress my body back to it's original size and change my outer layer of skin to look like human skin and clothing. In practice, it takes practice. And lots of it. Uncle Nick showed me the basics of looking normal so that my friends wouldn't be able to tell the difference but other forms were something that I would have to work at on my own. I kept the dark hair, though.

I also learned the theory of what I was able to do as a demoness. I could change my body to whatever I wanted, (again with practice); this included shapes both bigger and smaller than me, animal, vegetable and mineral. I couldn't affect someone else's form but I could play with their minds, inducing hallucinations, fake histories and make them my own personal slaves. Again, that would take practice, but I had two very willing subjects…

When I wasn't having my head crammed full of "Demonology 101" I was involved with something else that I could do now: flying! Those giant bat wings on my back, though somewhat clumsy on land, allowed me to soar all over Hell and back. Dad and Uncle Nick would fly with me and we would race through the caverns of Hell, dodging stalactites and volcanos, an activity Mom always expressed concern over even though she knew that I was nigh immortal. I would probably live forever but could still be killed, though it would take something in the neighborhood of an atomic bomb surgically implanted next to my heart to probably do the job.

It was on one of our afternoon flights when Uncle Nick pointed toward a figure hurriedly trekking back to the main processing complex of Hell. Saying only, "She's late," he motioned for me to do the honors.

Lizzie screamed when I swooped down and lifted her high in the air. I grinned at her showing teeth that could rip the flesh from her bones and she screamed louder. After a while, though, she stopped and looked at me more closely. "Rebekah? Is that you?" I nodded. "Oh, how wonderful! I had heard that you changed… Congratulations! Is this my punishment for being late?"


"I hate to say it, but it isn't really scary. You might want to work on that."

"Hey, it's my first time. I'll get better with practice." We chatted for a while but all too quickly the complex neared and I had to let her go. I meant to drop her so that she would land at her desk but my aim was a little off. She missed her desk and the building entirely, instead coming to land unceremoniously on a nearby flagpole. Though I didn't do as I had planned I later got a note from Vlad Tepes praising me on my "creative use of a flagpole to impale an enemy." I still have that note somewhere.

As Mom had predicted I felt much better by the end of our vacation. I must have been itching to get out of my skin before we left and that was probably what made me so surly and short-tempered. I apologized to Mom and Dad but they just hugged me understandingly, mumbling something about "growing pains."

We finally packed up the car and Dad and I pulled our human forms back on. Lizzie, Uncle Nick and a few other demons waved as Dad started the car and drove us home. Jason kept crowding me at the beginning but when I flashed him my claws he gave me more than enough room for the rest of the trip.

All in all I had a good time. I met new people, saw some relatives that I didn't know that I had and learned some new tricks. Now, I know all the hype that has been written up about my uncle, but when you get down to it, he really can be a nice guy; it's just his job to annoy the heck out of everyone he meets. Before we left he even offered me a job for the following summer. Of course, my summer job in Hell is another story altogether.