I’m already salivating

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Blessed the Man Who Sits in the Chair of Pestilence

Dear Diary,

I owe you the rest of the description of my path to promotion as Junior Lowtenant; don’t think I have forgotten, but things are busy, busy, busy around here. Just last night I hurriedly directed two subordinates on the proper method of keeping their subjects stubborn in their sins whilst on their death beds. The quickest and easiest route is to actually tempt the subjects’ families into preventing a priest or other religious figure from the death beds, on the grounds that their presence would be morbid and might even hurry along the deaths. In addition to that, a constant if selective reminder of their sins is useful, as is the whispered suggestion that God would never judge them for a few tiny mistakes. When my subordinates do their jobs well, I leave them the choicest cut of the soul as it descends into the abyss, and nothing is choicer than the surprised look on the subject’s face as the truth dawns upon him. Nothing motivates workers like fair wages, I always say, and if they work competently it makes me look good, too.

But, oh, the delights of the clergy. When they fall into our jagged clutches, their pain is just so much more exquisite because of the permanent changes to the constitution of their souls. They feel everything more keenly, and our delight is so much the greater for it. The fallen angel’s share of Priest Whiskey is to die for. Why do I bring up the clergy? Because of the magnificent choices of the occasionally troublesome Cardinal Dolan of New York.

I have to admit, he was touch and go there, for a while. He is sadly not under my jurisdiction, but I hear through the rumor mills that his keeper Cystboil is preparing to make the finest vintage out of the “good” Cardinal. As a member of, and then head of, the USCCB, Dolan has looked the other way for years as the Council has funneled millions of dollars towards abortions and contraceptives. When his state was voting on homosexual marriage legislation, he made himself conveniently scarce, and the Catholic lawmakers pushed it through unopposed by their clergy. He was knee deep into the muck with the current national President, for a while. And of course we all had a good laugh when he wore that cheese hat while celebrating Mass ten years ago. All in all, a pretty good catch for Cystboil.

But then, the Cardinal had a moment of conscience. The President made it clear that the health care bill that Dolan so lovingly supported would require the Church to pay for contraceptives, and the Cardinal was shocked (shocked!) to be betrayed in such a way. He spearheaded a lawsuit against the bill–doomed to failure, I should opine–and was speaking loudly against the President for quite a while. (Although he has been intriguingly silent on the intrinsic evil of contraception, even after the change of heart.) Suddenly Dolan, well known as a self-made fool and dupe, was made by Catholics into a champion for all that is good and despicable to me.

Until, that is, he invited the President over for a nice, polite, and public dinner. The delicious irony of it all! In the name of avoiding scandal, he is refusing to disinvite his own enemy to a public event! He even talk about “taking a night off” from the fight against evil! The willingness to sleep with the enemy even after he has betrayed you over and over! (Never again, Uncle Screwtape!) And now, the ever-distilling Cardinal has entrenched his sins by appealing to his own dignity and authority as a Cardinal to silence his critics! Above everything else, I must make myself useful to Cystboil so that in a few short years when the Cardinal flees this mortal coil, he will be inclined to do me a favor in return, and grant me a taste of Episcopal Vanity aged perfectly in a cask of Irresponsibility.

All this talk is making me thirsty. I think I will treat myself to some vintage Pharisee from the 1940s, recently liberated from my uncle’s cupboard.

Bottoms up.

Wormwood

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The Road to Promotion

Dear Diary,

I feel that I should write a few words on the matter of my promotion. Breakwind was monomaniacal about keeping records for all of his projects, and that proved to be his undoing. It also kept me away from writing my thoughts here. I find it relaxing to write these entries, whereas business-related paperwork is work that makes one into a dullard, if not a self-hating bureaucrat. Well, I suppose I have been self-hating ever since the seventh second of my existence, but bureaucracy has driven me to new lows of self-loathing. An example of the sort of soul-crushing tripe I was forced to pen:

REPORT TO LOCAL BOARD: Re: Patient 24362’s Abortion

Erotic interludes were commonplace in Patient’s lifestyle. Two human souls had already been conceived and deprived of The Enemy’s Presence by means of chemical abortion, but Patient had remained unaware of this fact. It was easy enough to distract her attention before one interlude so that it would result in a normal conception. Lowtenant Breakwind reprimanded me for bucking a comfortable trend, and when I reminded him that souls in Limbo provide no sustenance for any Devil, he sullenly spat that at least we receive the pleasure of knowing they are deprived of the most horrific pleasures The Enemy can provide.

Breakwind ordered me to tempt the Patient into an abortion, even though I knew she was unlikely to decide such a thing with her biological clock ticking so loudly.

–I must digress to note how disgusting are the bodies of Patients. All those slurping, smacking parts, stretching and grinding and jiggling… how can they stand this incessant movement of particles?–

My plan was to use her selfishness to bring the child to term, and then to raise it to be twice as selfish as she was herself. If I could prevent her from baptizing the child after birth, I believe I could have made two solid Meals at their homecoming below. The Patient would have become entrenched in her identity as an independent woman, and her daughter (for it would have been a female child) would be indoctrinated by her mother from the time she could understand speech. If the daughter had the right inborn inclinations, I could have even pushed her into lesbianism.

Unfortunately, Breakwind made an executive decision and demanded that the Patient be pushed into an abortion. This was easy enough, and her third child flitted away without any pleasure aside from the petty amount of spite earned from depriving The Enemy of a soul.

An unintended consequence–but one which I must remind the Board I warned Breakwind about: cf. the memo dated two months ago–was the Patient’s guilt and grief, emotions so powerful I could do little to manipulate, and which drove her directly into the confessional. I desperately attempted to divert her from the Box of Torment when I saw her rummage through her bookshelf for a Missal; once she was in her car, I tried to get her to stop off at a neighborhood park and walk for a while to think things through; when she got in line inside the church, I attempted to flood her thoughts with memories of injustices done to her within church walls, real or imagined. You know how one can never be quite certain of what The Enemy is whispering to a Patient when he talks to her? Somehow he was counteracting every word I said, perhaps even blocking them entirely.

I was unable to overhear what transpired within the Box, but now she spends every Sunday at Mass, goes to confession every week or two, has joined a pro-life group in the parish, prays the Hours every day… in short, this was a disaster even greater than I had feared. The Enemy has changed her attitude so dramatically, using Breakwind’s decision as a catalyst, that she might now be entirely beyond our reach. This is an unusually extreme about-face, but it is not unheard of.

That being said, I have some ideas about how to turn this around to our favor, but Breakwind has commanded me to leave her alone indefinitely. Perhaps he hopes the problem will go away on its own, but I think otherwise. This can be fixed, but action is necessary.

Avariciously yours,
Pvt. Wormwood

That was the first nail in Breakwind’s coffin. I have to take care of some responsibilities right now, but I will continue later with what happened to the second Patient, and how I got my promotion. Rest in pieces, old boss.

Wormwood

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The Seven Joys of Wormwood

Dear Diary,

Breakwind has assigned to me two Patients for a start. There is a shortage, he says, though it seems more likely to me that he is hoarding many potential Delicacies for himself. Both are too easy, in my opinion: a male college student and a middle aged career woman. The boy (for he truly is a boy) has the usual mix of arrogance and lust without the slightest hint of ideals. The woman is focused on, as they say in this nation, “having it all,” which amounts to having very little. Neither has any ambition of the sort that could sprout into a gut-expanding meal in the end. The easiest thing would be to make them feel comfortable in their mental habits. This can be accomplished by strengthening their physical habits, which forms a rut deep enough that their mental habits cannot escape. Not too difficult, really. Both are technically members of that Militant Army which we fear so much, but both have laid down their arms, just like so many of their fellow soldiers. My first order of business must be to remove them entirely from the Army, for one never knows when a sergeant might reach their conscience with a straightforward order. There is risk in this, of course, since it might upset their ruts, but I believe it to be necessary. Let us hope that Breakwind agrees.

Rather than wallowing in my poor fortune, I wish to take a little delight in the happier things of this age and place. And because one should never pass up the opportunity to speak a little blasphemy, I name them the “Seven Joys of Wormwood, Third Hierarchy, Esq.”

  1. The Death of Prophecy
    So rarely is heard a discouraging word! Missionary orders are dead, bishops and priests speak niceties, and laymen chastise one another for the slightest moral judgment. The sense of sin was brilliantly destroyed in one of Smogmind’s campaigns. Indifferentism has always been a tool in the working demon’s toolbox, but until the recent changes in the Army’s marching orders it was also a tool with limited effectiveness. Now it is the norm. Pastors preach vaguely about love, and they couldn’t explain the simplest notion of moral theology if their collars depended on it.
  2. The Retreat into Egypt
    How well I remember the grumblings of Moses’s herd of ungrateful charges on their way out of Egypt. How they longed to return and eat the leeks and onions, even though it would have meant daily lashes! In this soft age the Army’s soldiers abandon their posts en masse and return into our domain, the World, where we lash them even as we feed them with sweets, fattening them up for the slaughterhouse. They do not even have the common sense to stay in the Army’s barracks, nor to return begging and pleading when they habitually fall away!
  3. Removing The Enemy from the Temple
    When Breakwind told me they had removed the Tabernacles from every parish either entirely or to a secluded room or even to a separate structure, I believed he was playing a prank on me. The Enemy’s own disciples have accomplished what Our Father Below never could: they have dethroned him! Ah ha ha ha ha ha ha!
  4. No Meetings at the Cross
    How hard it is to find a crucifix or even a cross in a parish. While once the agony at being in that horrific image’s presence was unbearable, now the offending image is either removed for our convenience or rendered so comical as to be itself blasphemous. Now I find sitting in a parish almost comfortable and relaxing. It feels a little like home.
  5. No More Sense of Death
    All images of death and suffering have been removed from parishes and Catholic homes. Crosses have a resurrected Enemy without nails, images presenting the martyrdom of the saints are out of fashion, temporal judgments are depicted no more than the Final Judgment, and that old reminder of death the danse macabre is often condemned as “unjoyful” or “morbid.” To dust all Delicacies shall return, but they all avert their eyes from this final end!
  6. Every Catholic Receives the Enemy Indiscriminately
    The casual approach of every Enemy Agent to the altar of communion is staggering, even to one so jaded as myself. No effort is made to prepare one’s own soul, no consideration is given to the unfortunately real presence beneath the accidental appearances, and certainly little care is given to allow the Enemy to conform their souls to himself. A sense of entitlement pervades, as if they have this thing owed to them.
  7. No Tenderness or Affection is Shown
    The Enemy made himself weak and pitiful in order to make it possible for men to show affection to a being so much higher than themselves. He has not only been dethroned as their tyrant king—I shudder at the memory of his judgment upon my self—but he is no longer even presented as a helpless child or a bloodied corpse. Instead he is presented only as their equal, as a young man in full health and in need of nothing but the most banal form of affection.

All of these things should make it easier to break my Patients away from the Militant Church. Now I have to decide whether to ask Breakwind’s permission or simply to ask for forgiveness after it is done. Either decision presents a risk.

Wormwood

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Things Are Shaping Up

Dear Diary,

Sorry I haven’t written in a while. It’s been busy up here. Mostly I’ve been catching up with the news. You hear a lot of it in the Kingdom while digesting the minds of stock brokers and pederasts, but it’s quite another thing to see it for yourself. That war which proved to be my downfall ended more or less as expected, but Europus managed to swing it into an acceleration of the West’s secularization. A few wars here and there, a few national schisms, socialism both a threat and a promise—well, it’s all interesting stuff, though political manipulation was never my expertise. I’ve been assigned to the Americas, in any case, the continent that can’t stop reinventing itself. What’s the fun of screwing around with a political power that has no history or tradition? When a tower never gets built above man-height, it doesn’t sound a satisfying crash.

Anyway, I’m here for temptation assignment, where the subjects are far more subtle and difficult than those of the political movers and shakers. It’s relatively easy to manipulate opinion on a mass scale, but not so in an individual mind. There are, of course, many Patients who mindlessly mimic whatever they see and hear, but this is not always to our advantage. For one, even successful treatments on such Patients leave us with thin gruel when they join us in the Kingdom. If a Patient is to be made into a satisfying meal, he must buck the mass movements to some extent, or at least be made to believe that he is doing so. Without individual choice, his soul will end up as little more than a light fart.

Most likely I will be assigned to a handful of lay Catholics. My superiors (none of whom, I should mention, are giving me anything near the amount of attention I received from my late uncle) are sorting out assignment feuds, which probably means I’ll get the runts of the litter. The changes in the Church are far more interesting that those in the political spheres, so much so that I may have to rethink my more, err, traditional approach. I would say the most essential change is… ah, I must run. Breakwind is requesting my presence. More on this soon.

Wormwood

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A New Assignment

Dear Diary,

I have been assigned to field duty! I’m not usually a nostalgic sort of chap, but I remember fondly that day, the only unholiday we celebrate here in the Kingdom, when Our Father Below successfully tempted the Delicacies—sorry, I mean the human race—to sin against the Enemy. He is our Exemplar and first teacher in the art of temptation, and when the first murderer fell into the Kingdom and was caught into Our Father’s gaping maw… well, that engendered a hunger in all our bellies that might never be sated. But we will try.

The greatest benefit of temptation duty is the first dibs the tempter is given to a damned soul. The demon who devours and digests a soul first is the only one to taste its hope. Oh, that sweet taste of hope as it ferments and bubbles into despair! I think I must stop by the forest of suicides on my way out of the Kingdom for a taste—or rather an aftertaste—of this sweet brew. I once managed to successfully fill a Patient’s head with dreams of changing the world for the better, of overturning governments, religions and customs in exchange for a utopia of natural happiness. He was, luckily enough, killed in his early twenties by an automobile. (I wonder if they still use those above.) That first taste of his soul was so rich I remained in ecstasy for days.

But on to my probation hearing. Had it occurred on any other day of the year, I might have been left ferrying the damned and gnawing on leftovers forever. To my good fortune—I never thought I’d be saying that—today was ɹəɥ day. My uncle Screwtape once described ɹəɥ as “terrible as an army with banners… a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy” (not to congratulate myself too much, but that’s one of the phrases in his letters I was able to corrupt on its way to earthly publication), and he was right. Just as I sat down in front of the probation committee of Mammon, Belial, Plutus, Nimrod, Minos and my supervisor Phlegyas, the annual shutdown began. The winds of lust stopped blowing, the Styx stopped gurgling and expunged its residents, the heretics’ tombs stopped burning, the traitors were allowed out of the ice, the fire within our kind stopped burning, and even Our Father Below was forced to spit out his lawful prey. Oh, the terrible silence that follows! Without the screams of our loyal subjects filling the cavernous Kingdom to distract us, we cannot help but focus on the loss and empti… no, I mustn’t write this down. Must not risk it.

We could hear Our Father Below’s demands even from as high as Minos’ court. “More souls!” he bellowed. “More food for our bellies! Send every able-bodied tempter to the field!” He does this every year, of course. The hunger really starts to get to us on ɹəɥ day. And every year on this day a new legion is released into a world that scarcely needs any new tempters to keep the orchard ripe enough for the picking. We can’t help but step on each other’s toes anymore, and there is a disturbing increase in the number of ownership disputes upon the death of a Patient. I will have to be particularly crafty to make my claims secure.

I leave tomorrow. I’m sitting in my boat, which will soon be reassigned, gathering the few tools I have to my name and sketching out a few strategies. I might actually miss this tristful brooklet. The muddy waters are lapping against the wood quite peacefully. I can almost remember what it was like to be happy.

Wormwood

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Hell is Other Demons

Dear Diary,

If there’s anything I learned from my “uncle” Screwtape, it’s to never get caught. When his letters were intercepted by enemy agents, and sent on their way to publication in the earthly realm, my dear, dear uncle was interrupted from his meal (yours truly) and dragged screaming into the Cocytus by Snakebite and Slubgrip. Half a mile of ice ought to keep him quiet for a century or two. Thus I am writing these letters in my personal diary which I keep on my person at all times. Besides, I blame my so-called failure to damn my patient during the second World War on those interceptions, which prevented me from receiving important advice. These interceptions were a result of improper precautions on my uncle’s part. It’s like that time in the Silver City when Screwtape convinced me that Our Father Below was planning to create his own universe where we could be free to choose our own happiness and bliss. He didn’t even bother to check his sources, and now look at me.

Anyway, I clawed my way out of the dinner bowl and back into the Lowerarchy’s bad graces by making a few select edits to my uncle’s letters before they were copied down by human hands. It wasn’t terribly hard to accomplish—just added a bit of religious indifferentism and a heavy focus on petty emotions, even a few warnings about the dangers of religion!—and suddenly I was back in the rotation. Unfortunately my review board wasn’t willing to recommend a release into the earthly realm for temptation duty, so I’ve been stuck on ferry duty in the Styx.

Nearly seventy years I’ve been down here! Ferrying the damned to the gates of Dis is all work and no fun for me—I don’t even get to share in their torments, apart from a smack of my oar upon disembarking—but I do enjoy keeping those assigned to my river submerged. The “blub glub” sound they make going down puts a crooked smile on my face. (Note to self: Try smacking subjects in the eye to blind them. That way they won’t know which way is up after submersion.)

I’m up for another probation hearing in four days. I hear Our Father Below has gotten lazy in his work, and is pulling the ranks back from Earth into Hell. Things have gotten so easy up there, they say, that he just sits back in his icy throne and weeps tears of joy as the souls come fluttering down. “Like leaves falling in Autumn,” as Phlegyas once described it to me. (Nice chap, Phleggy. The hungry look in his eyes is less intense when he looks at me. Every kindness down here is welcome.) Less tempters, more tormentors, is the motto these days, so I’m not holding my breath for freedom.

Wormwood

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