The pocket of reality that surrounded the set of Wheel of Fortune was bathed in the eerie glow of the ever burning forge of hell. All around its perimeter tortured souls bobbed and seethed in a great sea of flesh and fire. Gusts of flame blew down from the skull volcanoes that towered on all sides and washed around the invisible forces that held their destructive fires at bay. It was 78 degrees and 30 percent humidity on the set. Lucifer liked his performers to be comfortable within reason, though reason held little interest for a being as powerful as the lord of all hell and earth.
"Mankind has been decimated." Director Mark Goldstein sighed and wiped nervous perspiration from his brow.
"Traditionally that term means 'reduced by one-tenth.'" Host Pat Sajak explained unnecessarily as he dipped his honey raisin muffin into his cup of coffee. "The Romans would kill every tenth person in a village as a means of retribution, although the word has come to mean destroyed or nearly so."
Vanna White sighed and looked up from her crossword with irritation. She wanted to snip at Pat for constantly being mister know-it-all but the situation had gone well beyond minor annoyances like his behavior.
"Whatever it means, I mean that we're wiped out. We're all that's left. This is it, Pat. I'm probably the only Jew not boiling for eternity out there." Goldstein gestured to the great brimstone caldera in which the set rested. "I'll be lucky if he doesn't get tired of me and turn me into…"
Mahl-Nigguth spins in celebration of his victory over Texlus the Ten-Tongued and Jared from Pasadena.Goldstein's gaze wandered meaningfully over to prize procurement department head Lydia Reynolds. Three weeks earlier she had been a stunning blond with just a little too much sun and age in her skin and a tendency to wear just a little too much makeup. She had come back from a vacation in 2001 with miraculously bigger tits and a tenacious rumor had started about them being implants.
It turned out they were, as proven beyond any doubt when the infinite power of Lucifer turned her skin inside out and projected her organs and bones through her flesh in curving, vein tangled mechanical armatures. Since then she had been sitting in the corner of the planning room moaning softly, resting on a pedestal of impossibly curved leg bones, farting and shitting and churning out a steady stream of wheel and prize entries. The armatures worked with a grisly clacking and Lydia's boneless head flapped as she regurgitated stretched lengths of intestines. Onto these her quill-tongues (she had five) inked the demands and instructions of the staff's unseen "benefactor."
Janet Kaufman tore the sheet of intestine parchment from Lydia's lipless maw with a dry rasping and looked it over once.
"The big man wants us ready for a new show in two hours." Janet brushed a lock of auburn hair from her face as she read. "He's going to release one of the humans from purgatory, some holy roller with an unrepentant adulterous affair named Nina. He wants to match her up against Gorgoroth the Maker of Kings and Agashiel the Sanguine Angel of Murdered Dreams."
"Prizes?" Goldstein put a question mark on the end of the word.
"Hot fetal marrow, the tortured delights of virgins, a night of torrid groin scalding in the living venom pits of Malachi, five hundred healthy humans shackled to disemboweling rods, a vacation trip to Hawaii."
There was a sharp intake of breath for the last one. When the untold host of hell had overrun the face of the earth Hawaii had been transformed from an island paradise to the 666 level citadel of agony of Lord Rotspittle the Fetid. His corpulent majesty was skilled in not only torture but also the myriad forms of painful diseases over which he claimed mastery. An NYU junior named Pete had won a trip to Hawaii two days earlier. Following Pete's arrival at Hawaii Lucifer had pumped 24 solid hours of his wailing into the studio for his own amusement.
Melissa is introduced to returning champion Marshall Gassuth of the Thrice Damned Legion."So," Sajak finished his muffin, "can we say 'the usual' and leave it at that?"
Janet nodded and fed the parchment into the mewling shredder that had once been office intern Guy Nanky. He hissed with momentary pleasure as his gut saws tore apart the intestine and pulled it into his drooling digestive membrane. He offered his thanks by jiggling and bursting one of the suppurating pustules that covered his body. A dark mixture of blood and pus squirted across Janet's face and she gagged and stumbled away.
The meeting broke up and Vanna retreated to her dressing room. As she settled in her vanity chair she regarded the huge mirror that she had been forced to cover with a sheet. Concealed beneath that sheet was a permanent view of her parents being raped and devoured day after day by a pack of hyenas. She turned her attention to the much smaller makeup mirror she had reverted to using and began applying a liberal shading of base. She still had her looks at least.
In fact, the unknowable powers of hell had gifted her with a regression in her aged appearance. Crow's feet and frown lines had all but faded from her face. With a wince she glanced over her shoulder in the mirror and spotted the stage dress that had appeared on the hangar by her door. As usual, the Unlord's taste was impeccable. There was just a dash of sequins on the blue dress, perfectly accenting the very modest neck and hem lines. Had she not witnessed the skewering of her personal assistant by an immense translucent phallus firsthand she might almost think Lucifer a bit of a prude. That sudden welter of gore and demonic humors had betrayed his real capacity for perversion.
Vanna was just zipping up the back of the new dress when someone knocked at her door.
"Come on in," she shouted, all pretenses of modesty forgotten in the aftermath of the end of all things.
Pat opened the door and stepped inside, his own features more youthful than usual and his high thread count suit immaculately pressed. He had an annoying bounce to his step. It was the perfectly normal energy of pre-air made suddenly repugnant to Vanna by the knowledge that their broadcasts were going out to a dead world and the legion of immortal vultures hell had vomited out. They weren't polishing plates on the Titanic; they were in a bathysphere diving to the ocean floor to polish the doorknobs.
"Gorgoroth just arrived in the green room with his…" Pat hesitated. "His entourage."
Gorgoroth arrives on set.Vanna sighed. "Rowdy?"
"Not exactly." Pat laughed. "It's going to be a wild show. Gorgoroth talks in these weird machine noises that no one can understand and he has to 'coronate' one of his followers every 57 seconds. That looks pretty much like tearing their head off with these big rock claws he has and then sticking all of these tendrils that come out of his weird red eyes down their neck stump."
"How charming." Vanna lied poorly.
Later, as the staff and crew made the final preparations for the show a quiet dread insinuated itself within the set's safe zone. Agashiel the Sanguine Angel of Murdered Dreams had arrived as a dark whisper, coalescing from shadows and bad memories inside the green room. Gorgoroth turned with surprise and clacked his stone claws as his entire retinue of royalty fell into terrible nightmare-haunted comas.
"Nnnngnnnnnn." Gorgoroth cursed in a grating monotone, his many red eyes dancing malevolently about the room.
Agashiel returned his baleful gaze with empty sockets and for a brief instant Gorgoroth saw his own end taking shape in the Morphean abyss of Agashiel's hollow eyes. He snapped his claws shut dramatically and turned his back on his foe just as Jake McDaniel's walked inside.
"Hey guys, how is the snack platter holding up? Everything cool? Need anymore bottled water?"
"Nnnngnnnn." Gorgoroth replied and with a snip removed Jake's head.
When the show began Lucifer waited until the very last minute to send his human competitor onto the set. He had learned rather quickly that leaving the fragile human contestants in the green room tended to streamline the competition in ways the Morning Star did not desire. Nina appeared in her game position behind the center contestant panel next to the big wheel. She reeled dizzily and had to be steadied by one of the assistant directors. Gorgoroth regarded her with a half-dozen glowing red eyes and chattered a claw in expectation.
The camera lights went on and Pat painted his game-winning smile across his face. He introduced the show, the contestants, and then stepped over to the big wheel to have a quick chat with contestant number one.
"Agashiel," Pat began and did his best to sound friendly and at ease. "I am told you are the psycho-physical manifestation of human nightmares. You must not get a lot of sleep."
The grotesque flesh-marionettes of the studio audience erupted with a shrill and uneven staccato of laughter.
"You make your residence in the ephemeral substance of slumbering fear and as long as at least one human is paralyzed with terror you will always have a home to return to."
A susurration of confluent rivers of paranoia, horror, and despair emerged from Agashiel's rictus mask and formed a prickling approximation of English.
"The sweet meat dreams of me." Agashiel intoned. "Dreams of me."
He reached out as though to caress Pat Sajak's face but the host was wise enough to pull away. The audience laughed even more enthusiastically than before.
"Moving on." Pat smiled to the crowd and then regretted it once he saw the gaunt and slack faces of the flesh marionettes Lucifer twisted on his spindle. "Nina…before the end of mankind and all he built you were working part time doing data entry for Minneapolis Children's Hospital. How was that?"
"Oh, it was great Pat." Nina beamed. "My husband and children ascended to the right hand of God and left me behind to suffer eternal torment on the scoured plains of earth. I'm just so glad to be here because I really would like to go to Hawaii with my lover who is currently spitted outside the walls of Malevian Keep."
"Well, good luck to you, right Vanna?" Fear swam across Vanna's face as the camera swung unexpectedly in her direction.
"Right, Pat." She chewed her teeth.
Pat attempted to ask Gorgoroth a few questions but he could not get within ten feet of the demon and his snapping claws.
A lucky break for Gorgoroth."Nnnnnnggnnnnn!" Gorgoroth howled.
"Our first puzzle is a person, place, or thing. Agashiel, the wheel is to you."
Agashiel stared at Pat, his skeletal hands folded elegantly.
"Any time." Pat urged.
Agashiel stared for a few more seconds and then looked down at the wheel, up at pat, and finally back down at the wheel again. The Sanguine Angel of Murdered Dreams languorously reached down and spun the wheel.
"It has got to go all the way around. Give it another spin." Pat urged as Gorgoroth began to grow even more restless.
A second spin and Agashiel came up with 400 sinless children.
"Render upon my somnambulant altar the letter 'S', forever more." Agashiel hissed.
"I'm sorry, there are no 'S's."
Nina spun and came up with a 100lb bolus of abyssal maggots expelled by Hapharath, the idiot spawn of Lucifer said to be larger than a mountain.
"I would like the letter 'N', Pat." Nina said.
"Yes," bong, bong, bong, "there are eleven 'N's."
Vanna pointed to the letters and they spun around to reveal almost the entire puzzle. Nina spun again and lost her turn. Gorgoroth did not wait to be prodded into spinning the wheel. He lashed out with a barbed claw and sent it spinning so hard that it took over a minute to come to a stop on 83 and 1/3rd gallons of semen from the loins of consecrated pedophiles.
"Gggnnnnnnnnnnn." Gorgoroth instructed Pat in his insistent monotone.
"Uh…yes…there are…three 'G's." Vanna revealed the last three letters. "I assume you would like to solve the puzzle."
"Nngnnnngnnnng." Gorgoroth hammered his claws down on the top of his scorecard.
"Yes!" The audience applauded.
Nina prevents Agashiel from overtaking her lead.The game progressed well for Nina. Gorgoroth, stymied by his inability to speak anything other than the letters "N" and "G", remained locked at 250 gallons of semen. Agashiel surged ahead briefly only to lose it all, then come back to the top, then get beaten out by Nina's superior ability to solve incomplete puzzles. Agashiel seethed quietly at his impending defeat. Gorgoroth flailed in rage, his voice a ceaseless tone of consonants, his wiggling red eye tendrils questing over and over again for the spurting necks of his comatose entourage.
As the final spins passed Gorgoroth and Agashiel by with little chance of achieving a victory Gorgoroth began to pound his claws over and over again on his score panel. When Nina solved the final puzzle and secured her victory Agashiel evaporated into a miasma redolent with the telltale spices of fear and sought sanctuary in the dozing mind of one of the more foolish staffers in the control room. Gorgoroth expressed his discontentment more violently. He overturned the entire wheel and scoring stations and split poor Mark Goldstein's belly open with a swipe of his claw. The world's last Jew clutched at the loops of intestines as they spilled like eels out of his belly.
Pat backed away towards the letter board. Nina attempted to flee at the last moment. Gorgoroth slammed a closed claw through her back and out her chest. Thick blood sprayed from her mouth and her eyes lolled wildly in her head. The audience began to laugh. Gorgoroth precisely snipped her head off with his other claw like a retiree attending to his garden. Her spraying arterial blood painted the overhead lights, sizzling and smoking and bathing the set in an appropriately unearthly red light.
"This is it!" Vanna cried, clutching at Pat's jacket. "He's not going to stop that thing this time."
The fire of hell burns and heals.Pat could see she was right. Lucifer plainly had no intention of intervening on behalf of the surviving staff of Wheel of Fortune. Gorgoroth rampaged unchecked behind the cameras. His stony hide was awash in blood and gore and his tendrils whipped from stump to stump as he decapitated every man or woman that fell into his grasp. He charged headlong into the audience as they perversely applauded their own mass slaughter. Vanna and Pat backed away towards the invisible point where Lucifer's protection ran out and the studio floor disappeared into a sea of churning bodies and fire.
Gorgoroth could have cut them down. Instead he gazed in their direction then charged towards the ripe flesh awaiting him in the control room.
With nowhere else to flee Pat and Vanna squeezed their hands together and leapt out into the ocean of suffering beyond the studio. The air seared their flesh, so hot and dry that their hair disappeared in a burst of flames. Even as burrowing lava worms and chattering skull witches set tooth and nails to their tender bodies the terrible regenerative powers of hell were already remaking them anew. The pain of death exchanged for the pain of eternal life in torment.
Pat Sajak awoke in his house in the Hollywood Hills. A sheen of sweat coated his body and dampened his silk pajamas. His wife stirred next to him and advised him to go back to sleep. Pat staggered out of bed and filled a glass with water. The dream had been so real. So very vivid. He took two valiums and swallowed them down with a great gulp of the lukewarm water. A few minutes later the relaxing heat of the valium began to suffuse his body. He was in a pleasant cloud that carried him back to his bed and the comfort of his sleeping wife. He pulled the duvet all the way up to his neck and let the darkness reclaim him with a smile.
With a crackling laugh like a thousand sun-bleached bones breaking all at once Agashiel sent Pat Sajak screaming back to hell.
"My Dance of Healing will mend your wounds. It takes two days, though."
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