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August 15, 2022

The Road To Hell Is Paved ...

By Paula Petruzzi

It was Halloween night, and two teenaged boys were prowling the dark and looking for mischief. And mischief was something that boys could always locate. Rune, the mastermind of the pair, was a head taller than his sidekick Todd. Both of them were thin and blond and blue-eyed. They looked so much alike that strangers frequently assumed they were brothers. At least once a week they got detention; it was a convenient place for them to relax and think up new schemes, such as tonight's "graveyard ghost hunt".

The boys had gotten into an argument over whether or not there were Catholic ghosts, and they finally decided to ride out to the Baptist cemetery even though it was further from town than St. Paul's. The night was clear, and there was enough moonlight for them to see where they were going.

"Ever mess with a Ouija board?" Todd whispered to his friend as they skulked through Forest Lawn, searching for wayward spirits. There didn't seem to be any around; maybe Baptists didn't have ghosts, either.

Rune shook his head. "No, but I think there's one in the attic. My parents have a bunch of goofy shit up there and I heard them talking about it. Let's go back and see if we can find it."

As they approached Rune's house, the flickering light in the living room windows told them that his mom and dad had settled in for an evening of TV. The boys sneaked in through the back door, crept up the stairs, and quietly opened the door leading to the attic. Rune closed the attic door behind them, arranged an old towel across the space at the bottom of the door, turned the attic lights on, and went up the dusty stairs.

Rune's parents were now solid, upstanding citizens, but they had a colorful past. Remnants of that past had been packed away in several cardboard boxes. With the unerring radar that all children possess, Rune headed straight for the boxes and carried them over into the light.

The first box was packed with books. Taking the books out one by one, Rune giggled nastily as he passed them over to Todd. There were books about crystals, auras, Buddhism, spiritualism, and other esoteric subjects. A small, battered hardcover caught Rune's attention; he glanced at the contents and shoved the book into a pocket of his army jacket.

Other boxes held tie-dyed clothing, curtains made of multicolored beads, weird little statues, tarot decks, and thirty-year-old posters advertising bands the boys had never heard of. Finally they found the Ouija board. After putting the boxes back, they quietly made their way to Rune's room without being spotted and interrogated.

Rune took the board out of its box and set it on the bed, and the boys positioned themselves cross-legged on either side of it. Following the instructions printed on the box, they rested their fingers lightly on the planchette and started to ask "the spirits" questions. Half an hour went by, but they didn't get any answers.

"This sucks!" Todd said. His hands were cold so he stuffed them in the pockets of his sweatshirt.

Suspecting that they had missed something, Rune looked at the directions again. "Nope. We're doing it right. Maybe the questions have to be more specific."

Todd was fed up with the recalcitrant toy. "Okay, try this: Why are we wasting our time on this piece of shit?"

The spirits remained silent, and after a few moments Rune said, "Let me ask one more question. A real one. Okay?" Todd shrugged and put his fingers on the planchette.

"Alright, spirits!" Rune announced in what he hoped was an authoritative voice. "This is your last chance. Here's my question: What's going to happen to us tonight?" He already had plans, but he wanted to see if the spirits agreed with them.

The planchette started to move immediately. It selected letter after letter, dragging the boys' hands this way and that as Rune called out the letters. Finally it stopped, after spelling out Y-O-U-A-R-E-S-C-R-E-W-E-D.

"Cool!" the boys said in unison. After all their boredom, something interesting had finally happened. Satisfied with a job well done, Rune put the board back in its box and put the box under his bed. Then they went outside again to see what calamity awaited them; even a diabolical disaster had to be better than school.

Rune thought they should hang out in their treehouse for a while, because it would give them a good view of any approaching doom. They climbed the rope ladder and assumed sentry positions at two corners of the rickety structure. The nearly-bare branches all around them looked spooky in the moonlight, and there was now a breeze that rustled the dead leaves. To pass the time, the boys ate candy and compared favorite bass-players. After a while, Rune remembered the book in his pocket, pulled it out, and looked at it with a flashlight.

"What's that?" Todd asked as he abandoned his post to look over his friend's shoulder at the book.

"It was in that box," Rune said. "It's full of spells and incantations. Here's a cool one." He tapped a page.

Todd squinted at the print, which was all italics. "It says you need a pentagram."

"So let's make a pentagram." Shoving the book back in his pocket, Rune headed for the ladder. "We could do it in the garage, if we move some junk."

Rune got A's when he wanted to, and geometry was one of his favorite subjects. It wasn't long before he had a pentagram neatly laid out on the garage floor with some chalk he had pilfered from school. He stood back and examined his handiwork with a critical eye; in his opinion it seemed kind of ... bland. No self-respecting demon would get anywhere near it.

"How about some candles or something?" Todd suggested. "Don't we need candles?"

"Yeah, candles and black robes," Rune said. "Might as well go all the way. How much money do we have?" They counted their money, rode their bikes to Dollarama, and bought candles, cheap costumes that came with black hooded "robes", and more candy for fuel. They put the candles at the points of the pentagram, but it still didn't seem to be enough.

"Holy crap!" Todd said suddenly, looking at his watch as if he were late for an appointment. "It's almost nine o'clock and we haven't even stolen anything yet!"

Rune read through the incantation they were going to try, and it gave him an idea. "We can solve two problems at the same time." He headed for the door and motioned for Todd to follow him. There was road-work being done at the other end of town, and the two thieves soon returned to the garage with five traffic cones that had DPW stenciled on them. They put one cone at each point of the pentagram.

"So what do we do with the candles?" Todd wondered. He watched as Rune wrapped duct tape around the bases of the candles and stuck them in the little holes at the top of the cones.

"Are you ready?" Rune asked as he took a lighter out of his pocket and prepared to light the candles.

Todd glanced at his watch again. "Don't we have to wait 'till midnight?"

Rune shrugged. "It's always midnight somewhere. Are you allowed to stay out that late?"

Conceding the point, Todd took his robe out of the Dollarama bag, put the oversized item on as best he could, and pulled the hood over his head. His long blond hair made him look almost like a princess with a black dress on, and Rune turned away while failing to suppress a snicker.

"Shut up, douche," Todd said sullenly. "Let's see how you look!"

When Rune had donned his own costume, Todd had to admit that his friend fit the part; Rune was tall for his age and looked sinister even in a cheap plastic hoodie. Demons would have to obey him. Wouldn't they?

Once they were suitably attired, Rune lit the candles and turned out the garage lights. He had put an extra candle on a workbench so he could see the book. When he felt ready, he began the incantation:

"Behold! I summon the hordes of the Abyss, the bane of all Life, the levelers of Mountains! Come forth, despoilers of the Earth! Undo the six days of Creation in ONE! Come forth! I summon you!"

There was a sudden change in the air pressure that made the boys' ears pop. The letters on the cones began to glow around the edges, and a human-sized figure appeared in the middle of the pentagram. It didn't have horns, or wings, or cloven hoofs.

It had a hard-hat and a shovel.

"Good evening, gentlemen," the demon said pleasantly as he leaned on the shovel. "Got a job for us?" The conjured visitor appeared to be as ordinary as any other fellow on the street. He was wearing a flannel shirt with the sleeves rolled up, heavy work boots, and faded jeans, and a two-way radio was clipped to his belt. There was muffled chatter coming from the radio.

Like many boys, Rune had spent a lot of time watching construction crews at work. He saw that the demon was wearing a white hat, which probably meant that he was the foreman. This was the guy to talk to.

"Um," Rune began, and then he remembered that he was supposed to be a bit more commanding. He took a couple of steps toward the pentagram and tried to look the demon straight in the eyes, which was difficult because the infernal foreman's eyes weren't quite right. "Knock down all the schools," the boy finally managed to say.

The demon's eyes glowed an eerie green, and he put one foot up on the top of the shovel's blade. "Oh, we'll start with the schools," he said in a tone of voice that made every hair on Rune's body want to jump off and hide. "And we'll stop when Creation is undone."

"Wait a minute!" Rune said desperately, but the demon had already reached for his radio and was speaking to some unseen minion.

The boys watched with mounting alarm as one side of the garage faded from view. In its place was some kind of doorway through which the hordes of the Abyss were visible. There were thousands of them, hundreds of thousands. The boys saw fleets of bulldozers, backhoes, and dump trucks. Platoons of demons carrying shovels marched on foot. It was an army.

Rune tried to think of everything he knew about construction sites and the guys who worked on them. He had to figure out a way to banish these demons before it was too late.

The first vehicle to emerge from the Abyss was a pickup truck with big knobby tires. Like all the other demonic machinery, it was a horrible shade of green, the same color as the foreman's eyes. The truck hadn't fully materialized yet, and it passed through solid objects that were in its path. There was printing on its door that identified it as the property of the Department of Pernicious Workings. As it rolled to a stop near the pentagram, the boys could see that the back of the truck was filled with stacks of traffic cones. The driver rolled down the window and asked the demon, "Where do we start, boss?"

The foreman locked both hands over the handle of his shovel and leaned heavily on it. "That young man just gave us our work orders," he said, nodding at Rune, "and ... "

At that moment, Rune had a revelation: there was one simple way to shut down a million-man destruction crew from Hell. He ran toward the foreman, who saw him coming and was watching him with mild amusement. Rune leaped across the pentagram, careful not to touch it, and he gave the demon's shovel a kick that sent it flying to the other side of the garage. The shovel shattered like glass when it hit the concrete floor.

The foreman's humor turned to surprise as he fought to stay upright without his prop. When he regained his balance, he opened his mouth to give his crew their instructions; but he was no longer able to speak, and he couldn't remember what he had been summoned for. The demon was completely unable to function without his shovel to lean on. And his minions couldn't act without orders from their boss. The foreman, the truck, the cones, and the shards of shovel burst into flames and disappeared, and the Abyssal hordes faded from view. The wall of the garage returned to normal.

"Holy. Shit." Rune said, and he sat down on the floor. The boy who got A's when he felt like it had scored a hundred percent on what had nearly been his final test.

Todd fumbled his way over to the wall, felt around for the switches, and turned the lights on. "You can say that again."

His mind nearly as blank as the foreman's, Rune repeated himself. "Holy. Shit."

"Give me that book," Todd said. Rune was still clutching it, and Todd had to pry it out of his fingers. "Come on, let's get the art off the floor and then burn this thing." They scrubbed the pentagram away with brooms and put everything in the garage back where it belonged. Then they got flashlights, made their way to the creek out behind the grocery store, built a little fire, and burned the book page by page.

Shaken by their experience, they stayed out of trouble until Christmas.

Article © Paula Petruzzi. All rights reserved.
Published on 2009-10-19
5 Reader Comments
Effie Collins
10/19/2009
05:38:28 PM
Very interesting read, well written. I very much enjoyed this.
Twilly
10/19/2009
06:28:08 PM
Rune is back! That was awesome, glad to see him. Good job!
Paula
10/20/2009
06:51:36 AM
The artwork captured the scene perfectly. Thank you, Sand!
Alexandra Queen
10/26/2009
03:20:23 PM
Tremendously charming! I didn't bother to read the comments because I know how people are. ;) I also know that this story was a lovely lunchtime getaway and, dealing with bureaucracy as I must, I found your presentation of hell to be deeply satisfying.

Thank you, Mz. Petruzzi!
Paula
10/26/2009
04:54:07 PM
Thank YOU, Mz. Queen!
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