It was fall in Mud Lick, and the Grassy Knoll’s staff spent one crisp morning decorating for a private party.
Jesse Custer, the bar’s proprietor, and his long time girlfriend Tulip had no family in town so they decided to invite a few friends over for a holiday celebration. Cassidy was thrilled at the idea and spent the morning attempting to create shots that tasted like cranberry sauce, turkey and stuffing. Tulip did her part replacing the conspiracy-theory-chic decor with items more appropriate for the November holiday.
Custer busied himself cleaning for the morning and then decided to tackle some paperwork back in his office. Which meant he was very surprised to see the bills laid out on his desk didn’t look like bills anymore when he looked at them again.
They all read the same thing.
“Tonight, Custer. I desire to gloat. —M”
“Cass, Tulip, shut the bar down for the day! The liquor distributor’s coming by for a chat!” Custer yelled from his office.
Custer affectionately called Mephistopheles, the Lord of Hell, the Knoll’s “Liquor Distributor” after the Devil lost a bet with Custer. As per the terms of the bet, the Devil was to keep the Knoll’s alcohol stock constantly replenished. It saved the bar a ton of money.
The only downside was the Lord of Hell took this arrangement as a means for him to come drink and gloat as he saw fit in Custer’s bar.
And something told Custer Lucifer was going to be in a really good mood.
The Prince of the Pit arrived that evening at 6:05 PM sharp, entering the Knoll from a door that wasn’t there five minutes previously. And as Custer feared, Lucifer had a shit eating grin a mile wide on his face the moment he stepped foot in the Knoll.
“What’ll it be, shug?” Tulip asked the arch demon as he sat at the bar.
“White wine spritzer please. There’s one from Barefoot wines in the cabinet to your right behind the bar. It’s labeled “Donna Kelce’s Secret Stash.”
Tulip looked. Sure enough, a can of white wine spritzer featuring the smiling mug of America’s Football Mom was exactly where the Devil said it would be.
Lucifer cracked the can, took a long, loud slurp, and then belched a six inch jet of flame from his mouth.
“Ahh, so satisfying! And Donna Kelce’s such a wonderful woman too!”
Custer, Cassidy, and Tulip all looked at the Lord of Lies anticipating the one question all three knew the demon would ask.
“Soo…” Lucifer began, “Anyone want to ask me how I’ve been, mortals?”
“Okay, I’ll bite,” Custer replied. “How have you been, Satan?”
“Fantastic, thanks for asking!” Lucifer replied, displaying a smile full of glistening, razor sharp teeth. “I’m only getting a massive intake of souls right now thanks to huge returns on a program we’ve worked on in Hell for ages!”
“What program is that?” Cassidy asked. That was Cass. He was fairly direct in his language and obtuse in his thinking.
“My dear boy, we’ve been working for centuries on this one, but it’s a gold mine. We figured out how to weaponize oppression!”
This wasn’t news to Custer, who actually paid attention to the news, or Tulip, who was smarter than anyone gave her credit. But Cassidy played right along and encouraged the Devil to speak more.
“It was brilliant in our approach. We decided to tempt mortals with the notion that anyone who’s oppressed is totally justified in shaking off that oppression by any means necessary. And in making oppression the number one priority in mortals, we’ve gotten so many to sign over their souls to Down Below that it’s quite wonderful! The Hell Forges are hotter than ever!”
Custer gritted his teeth. He’d seen how barking mad the world had gone on TV and he wasn’t happy the guy who caused it was enjoying every minute of this crap.
“So is anyone actually bothering to pay attention to the evil you’re getting them to commit in the name of standing up for the oppressed?” Tulip asked Belial.
The Devil laughed. “Goodness no, child! This is why we start early in education. We train the children from a very young age to hate everything that isn’t handed to them, to see the world in terms of oppressor and oppressed, and we fill their sweet little heads with false idealism and a belief that every single one of you mortals are inherently good and innocent little creatures who’d always do good if given the best opportunities in life.”
“We then keep the pressure on all through little Johnny and Jessie’s school lives. We encourage them to be as oppressed as possible when they get into what you mortals refer to as “Higher Education.” Of course we try and get them to internalize some form of oppression at an earlier age. By the pit, we even tell them if they’re oppressed it’ll get them more attention and social status than ever!”
Lucifer shook with laughter at this.
“And then when one or two of my minor demons puts it into someone’s head that maybe it’d be a grand idea to go slaughter thousands of people it really tears your little fleshy consciences in two! On one hand, you lot understand murder is wrong. After all, it’s in one of HIS stupid commandments. ‘Thou shalt not kill’ and all that.”
Lucifer spat after the mere mention of his arch nemesis. Speaking the word of the divine almost provoked an allergic reaction in the demon so he avoided it whenever possible.
“But anyway, when we drum it into mortal heads the only thing that matters is standing up for the oppressed, it turns out we can lie to you fleshbags all we want and you’ll eat it up! Do you have any idea how hard it’s been to get New York Times journalists to buy into all of our lies? We used to have to make them work for it. Now if we can just say the oppressed had brown skin and live in refugee camps then ‘Decolonization’ is the en vogue word on every progressive mouth! It really is the gift that keeps on giving. To Hell, that is.”
“You’ve got it all figured out, Mephisto,” Custer said with a tight lipped grin. “But I’m willing to bet one thing you don’t have figured out.”
The Lord of Hell perked up at this. “A bet? Ooh, with you? This should be good. I owe you one for the liquor thing, Custer.”
“Funny you should mention that,” Custer said, “because I’ll go double or nothing on that agreement of ours. I win the bet, you’re cooking for the Knoll’s Thanksgiving party and you’ll also fix Cassidy’s bizarre shots so they taste good. You win, and I’ll not only release you from your liquor agreement, I’ll hand over the keys to the Knoll.”
“Deal,” Lucifer said, extending his hand. Custer and the Devil shook.
“So what’s the terms of the bet?” Lucifer asked.
Custer wrote a word on a piece of paper and slid it over to the Devil.
The word was “GHOTI.”
Lucifer looked bewildered. “That’s not a real word.”
Cassidy smiled over the Devil’s shoulder. “Of course it is, your grace,” he said mockingly. “’Twas a word my sainted Nana taught me while I was still a wee lad.”
Custer smiled. “You can give up and I’ll tell you.”
“No, mortal, I twist language to my own uses daily. I’ll say this is…Goaty.”
Custer, Tulip, and Cassidy all erupted in laughter.
“I’m afraid you’ve lost again, Satan. It’s actually pronounced “Fish.”
The Devil looked confused—a sight Custer took in with great glee.
“How did you butcher the word ‘Fish’ to look like that?”
“It’s obscure and something I learned from a hobo years ago, but the GH is pronounced “F” as in “Enough.” The “O” is pronounced “I” like in “women,” and the “TI” is pronounced with an “S” sound like in “Nation.”*
Lucifer rolled this pronunciation around in his head for a few minutes, and then turned an even deeper shade of crimson when he realized he’d been had by a mortal. Again.
“Fine, Custer. A deal is a deal. Your table shall be full of the finest foods this holiday, and I will make Cassidy’s ridiculous Turkey and Dressing drink taste appetizing. But no one said you wouldn’t regret it later. Until next time, barman.”
Custer saluted and smiled. “I expect a decent turkey and a honey glazed ham.”
“My aren’t we the pushy ones. Fine.”
And with that the Devil left through a door that wasn’t there.
The Friendsgiving feast at the Grassy Knoll that year was one for the record books. Custer, Tulip, Cassidy all had wicked indigestion for two days following the meal but they chalked that up to a salty devil trying to save face.
Everyone enjoyed the turkey, ham, and all the trimmings though, and Cassidy wowed all the party guests with turkey and cranberry sauce shots that tasted wonderful going down and packed the wallop of getting hit in the head with a brick.
When Jesse Custer took stock Thanksgiving night of what made him fell most grateful, it was being able to shaft the Devil one more time in a world that he seemed to own.
It wasn’t much, but for this man of the cloth turned barkeep it was a nice way to set the world’s karma back on the right track.
Even if just for a little bit.
*Dear Readers, this is totally true and works if you’ve never tried it. The English language is weird.