SATANIC GRAMMAR — Ashley Naftule
He had spent his life hunting typos with the kind of fervor one normally reserves for ferreting out Nazi war criminals. When his daughter found him lying face down in a stack of student papers, she screamed at the sight of his bloody hands… until she realized the blood was just red ink. At his funeral his wife said he was the kind of man who would rather hug a pedophile than shake hands with a writer who didn’t know the difference between “their” and “there.” The crowd laughed, not realizing that she wasn’t joking.
He could hear their laughter through the gray haze swirling around him. He knew he was dead. He didn’t dwell on the particulars of his death; he was pushing 70, he drank a pot of coffee a day, and his diet would have clogged a whole herd of elephant arteries. If he felt any surprise at his demise, it was that it hadn’t happened sooner. He was more irritated at the thought of all those ungraded papers lying on his desk than at the fact that his body, at that moment, was being lowered into the earth.
He stood in that gray haze for a little while longer, until he had heard enough of his own funeral. All the testimonials, the sobbings, the little white lies being painted onto his memory: he couldn’t bear to listen to another second of it. Walking out deeper into the haze, he could hear the old world behind him getting quieter with each step forward. It felt like he was walking on nothing at all. Ahead of him he could hear familiar sounds: the shuffling of papers, the scribbling and scratching of pencils, the soft cursing of hands that couldn’t keep up with their thoughts. Sounds that made his pulse quicken; his pace quickly followed suit.
He stepped out of the haze into a vast white space. The only thing he could see in that luminous expanse was a desk. Solid polished oak, just like the desk in his study. Sitting behind the desk was an angel. The angel was dressed in a flowing robe that was the same color as the haze he stepped out of; the tunic seemed to flow and undulate around the angel’s skin like smoke. The angel had wings that looked burnt. He couldn’t tell if the angel was a he or she. The angel smiled at him, its steepled hands resting on top of a huge crimson leather book.
They stared at each other silently for what seemed like an eternity. Or perhaps it was a few seconds: he wondered if time had meaning Here, wherever Here was. He coughed and broke the silence: “Am I supposed to go Up… or Down?” The angel smiled and laughed. Its voice sounded like liquid metal being shaped into a bell. “Why up, of course!” the angel said. “Cleanliness is godliness, and no man on the earth kept his words cleaner than yours.” The man beamed: finally, someone appreciated his work! “But before you go Up,” the angel said as it rose from its desk, “could you proofread my book?” It tapped at the huge crimson leather book, resting on the table. “My grammar is angelic, but I fear that even I may have left an error. Could you not cast your unerring eye on my pages?” The man agreed: “I have an eternity of time to kill. What’s the harm in proofreading one book?” The angel stepped around the table and gave the man a hearty slap on the back; it sounded like the pounding of a judge’s gavel. “Excellent! I’ll leave you to your work, then.” The angel headed towards the haze. He sat down at the desk. He found all the supplies he needed in its many drawers. He picked a red pen, the same kind he favored back in his old life, and got to work.
It only took a day to read all six hundred and sixty-six pages of the book. He got to work fixing the typos, hunting down the fugitive periods, exorcising the ghost apostrophes, and performing plastic surgery on all of the deformed misspelled words. And then he read it one more time, to make sure he didn’t miss anything. He found more errors, and he corrected them.
And then he read it again, and found even more errors. Even the pages that he knew he had left pristine and immaculate, he found the wrong words, the grammar molested and shivering in the corners of the text. He proofread those pages for so long he hardly noticed when his wife and daughter passed through the grey haze to ask when he’d be going Up. He waved them away, muttering “I just need to make one more pass.” When a few centuries passed and the Earth fell into flame and ruin, re-emerging as the New Jerusalem, he was too caught up in his work to pay attention. And when the devil, after ten thousand years, broke his chains, escaped the lake of fire, flew Up and massacred God and all the angels, stringing their guts across the horizon like crepe streamers over a birthday party; he was too busy proofreading to care. As the light of creation started to dim, the man pressed his face close to the page, straining to see the words before the blackness swallowed them up. And it was only then that he truly read the words for the first time. Really read them. He saw that the entire book, all six hundred and sixty-six pages of it, was just the same five words written over and over again: YOU ARE FREE TO GO.
Ashley Naftule is a writer & performer from Phoenix, AZ. He’s been published in Four Chambers Press and the Phoenix New Times, organizes the Trunk Space’s annual H.P. Lovecraft Birthday Party Show, and won 3rd place in Phoenix’s 2014 Air Sex competition.