It was a cool autumn evening, the breeze stirring fragrant fallen leaves in the street.  I smile,d imagining they were being manipulated by sprites.  I hummed "This IS Halloween" as I walked.  It was my favorite time of year and I was on my way to the park to enjoy my mocha cappuccino.  The path was so familiar, I scarcely needed to watch where I stepped.

Imagine my surprise, then, when, instead of the tree-lined path to my favorite spot, I found myself walking down a high, arched hall.  "Wait, what?"  Turning around, I could still see the path I'd been on.  I back-tracked a few steps, checking behind as I went.  The hall faded away.  "Oooooookaaaaaay......"  I paused to sip my drink.  Curiosity got the better of me.  Figuring I could always go back if it got really weird, I decided to take the path.

As before, it quickly became the hall again.  It was actually very pretty, calling to mind a grand church or temple.  So far, I had seen no one, nor did there seem to be any doors.  "Hmmmm....so where is everyone?  And where the hell am I, anyway?"  A low chuckle filled the hall, startling me  I jumped.  "Hell, indeed, my dear young lady.  I bid you welcome to my realm."  A tall future stepped forward as he spoke, bowing as he finished speaking.  I stared.  I couldn’t help it.  He was handsome, bordering on  pretty, with a fine-boned face and rather delicate features.  Long black hair framed a heart-shaped face.  Startling green eyes gazed at me from under long lashes.  Full lips smiled.

"Ooooh, I like this form.  I think I'll hang o to this one.  I'm Lucifer, by the way."  He winked at me.  I blinked.  "You're who?  Really?  I...."  Worlds failed, fear set in, panic began to rise.  To my surprise, his face softened.  "Oh, no, it's not like that.  My demons and I aren’t here to torture of otherwise harm you.  Or anyone else, for that matter.  We only do that to truly evil souls.  I'm more in the business of warning people away from evil acts by, well, scaring the Hell into them."  A wry smile.  "Okay, then, why am I here?  And how?"  I sipped my drink, hoping it would calm me a bit.  "I asked my demons to bring me someone to help me with a....situation.  While most of my underlings adapt well to changing times and methods, there is one group who are more resistant to change.  People aren't afraid of them anymore."  I tilted my head to one side.  "What group would that be?"  "My hounds.  Come, I'll take you to them, Feli."  He stepped off and I followed, forgetting to ask how he knew my name.

 Curiosity piqued again.  "When I arrived, you said something about keeping this form?  Does that mean you can change your appearance?"  He nodded.  "My basic shape never changes-I'm always tall, slender, and elegant-but the details are malleable.  In this case, I took a cue from your mental image of attractive male features.  People are more agreeable when they like you.  Ah, her we are  The kennels."  Kennels, he called them.  Mortal dogs were whining with envy.  Luxurious beds,  a multitude of toys, endless space to run...  "Nice doggy digs."  The hounds themselves resembled various large breeds:  Rottweilers, Dobermans, and Stafford shires, to name a few.  They were predominantly black, with flame-red markings and odd eye colors-green or red, copper or silver.  One who looked like a huge version of a Staffy padded up to me.  Emerald eyes looked at me, a friendly glint in them.  His-definitely his-tail wagged.

"Oh, he likes you.  In fact, he intends to follow you home."  "Huh.  So they're not scary enough?"  Lucifer nodded.  "I need someone to mold them into something more unsettling.  It will take time.  Not much in the physical realm, though.  I have limited control of time.  So.  Will you give me a hand?”

I sipped my coffee again to give myself more time to think.  I was interested, yes, but I had so many questions.  Such as...  "Why am I not rebelling against the impossibility of all this?"  I could almost hear the smile in his voice as he replied.  "It's actually very simple, though difficult to believe.  The human soul knows the truth when it hears it.  Certain minds are also more receptive to these kinds of things.  Yours happens to be one of them."  I pondered this while I finished my mocha.  "Hhmm.  Well, I am pretty open-minded.  But so are a few million other people.  So why me?”  As if in answer, one of the other hounds approached, wagging her tail, tongue lolling out.  I noticed that still others had begun to approach, slowly forming a loose circle around me.  My host smiled.  “Isn't it obvious?  They like you.  It would also appear that I may be able to help you, in return for your services here.  You see, I know a few things about you.  I know that you love all animals, but share a special kinship with carnivore, particularly carnivorous mammals; I know that you are bored, and looking for something different to experience.  I also know that your experiences here may help you reunite with a very special person....”  Lucifer trailed off, a knowing smile sliding onto his tempting lips.  It occurred to me again how very merry he was, how delighted he seemed at every turn of the conversation.  A wry smile of my own twisted my lips.  “You're enjoying the hell out of this, aren’t you?  And how do you know all of this?”

His smile became a grin.  “And why shouldn't I?  Hell is only depressing for those who are brought here for their crimes.  The rest of us have quite a nice time, thank you.  As for how I know these things?  You know that God can see into the hearts of men, to know their deepest desires and secrets? Well, so, too, can I.  How else could I be expected to pass fair judgment upon them?  I know which man is in your heart, and I know that you are likewise in his.  And I can help you to push things in the direction you both wish for.  Hell hounds also make damn fine messengers, and they arrive instantly.  Oh, and it's not as easy to ignore them as it is a phone call or text.  Difficult to concentrate when a 200 pound dog nearly as tall as a horse is sitting right in front of you.”  The mental image this presented made me laugh out loud, nearly choking on the last of my drink.  “I would advise you to start keeping a journal of this time.  You never know when such secret insights into the celestial spheres might prove lucrative.  Every author needs a starting story, yes?”

It was not one, but the culmination of all that decided me.  I was going to stay for a visit in Hell, to aid Lucifer in bringing his hounds up to speed.

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