“Morula!” Lieutenant Gastrula called out into the fire.
     Sergeant Morula was supposed to be tormenting the spirits in Hell. But instead he was quietly watching the beautiful colors of the dancing flames. It was as immoral for a demon to lust after peace and beauty as for a human to masturbate, and Lieutenant Gastrula had caught him doing this many times. Sergeant Morula reported to his superior officer, expecting another reprimand.
     “Time for a furlough,” Lieutenant Gastrula announced.
     Sergeant Morula was astonished. He hadn’t rested (demons don’t need to sleep) since his last vacation a thousand years earlier.
     “The place is Minnesota. Still want to go?”
     “Sir! Is it winter up there?” Sergeant Morula asked. But Hell itself would freeze before he would turn down this opportunity.
     “No, it’s early summer. Take it or leave it,” said Gastrula.
     “You crazy? I’m taking it,” said Morula. “Sir!”
     “You know the rules,” said Gastrula. “You can stay six hours.
You gotta get a human to trade places with you, or else come back here. Good luck—but I’ll probably see you in six hours.”

     Immediately Morula’s invisible form was sitting on freshly plowed earth in rural Minnesota. The soil was cool with moisture and fragrant with fungi. The green corn was just emerging, a color Morula had nearly forgotten down in the land of Red Light. Immediately mosquitoes began to land on his invisible flesh, drawn by the body heat, and to drink invisible blood. He realized that he was now part of the physical world, part of the ecosystem of eater and eaten, breather and breath. Even the mosquitoes’ stings and itches were welcome after the slime, grime, sweat, swell, and swill of Hell. Around the corn field, the brome grass was already a half meter tall. (Hell uses the metric system.) He listened to the susurrus of the grass leaves. The breeze was fresh with pig manure.
     He walked into a small town and into a simple, square frame house with white siding. The curtains were all drawn in a room where an old man sat on a couch. The room was hot and glowing red from the television. The man jabbed another cigarette into the pile in the ashtray. Morula snapped his fingers and leapt into the man’s body, displacing the man’s soul into Hell. Maybe the man wouldn’t even notice the difference, just think it’s another television show. If he could only hold out for five and a half more hours...
     Morula, now in the old man’s body, stood up. He switched off the television, and opened the curtains and windows. A flabby wrinkled woman with red cheeks and black rimmed glasses came in, looking amazed.
     “What’s gotten into you?” she asked.
     “It’s a beautiful day, dear. Green leaves! Sunshine! Fresh air!” answered Morula.
     “Albert!” She almost smiled.
     So, that’s my name. Now if I only knew hers. “Well, darling...How would you like to go for a walk?”
     “It’s a little hot right now, but maybe this evening...It’s been years since you wanted to go out walking...Well, I’ll be damned.” She smiled.
     Morula glanced around for something to read, and found a pile of old magazines. He started to read about how to have a firmer butt for the summer swimsuit season. Then Morula had an idea.
     “How’s the garden? I feel like doing some work,” he said to the woman.
     “Albert, you haven’t done any gardening in...but be my guest,” The woman said.
     Morula didn’t realize how decrepit Albert’s body was until he crouched for an hour to pull weeds. He had to call Veva (he saw her name on the mailbox) to help him get up.
     At supper he crammed his mouth full of roast and potatoes.
     “I never seen you enjoy dinner so much,” said Veva. “Damn my soul, Albert, what’s goin’ on?”
     “I just had a...a vision, guess you’d call it, and realized I haven’t been enjoying life like I could. Not many men have it better’n this.” Morula was proud of his mastery of rural American English.
     “Not what I heard you say before,” said Veva with a wry smile.
“Complained about being stuck in rural Minnesota, with a frumpy old wife, while your brother zings around in New York with his lover.”
     "Shut up, woman. I’m enjoying the first food I’ve had since Charlemagne.

     “You sure you want to walk this far?” Veva asked him as they started around yet another block of plain houses that Albert looked at as if he’d never seen them.
     “I could walk all night,” he coughed. But he was so stiff that he barely made it home.
     “You’re gonna sleep okay tonight,” his wife said.

     “What are you doing?” Veva almost screamed as Albert started pulling her clothes off in the bedroom.
     It’s been five hours, and Albert’s spirit hasn’t objected to the exchange yet. Just hold out a little longer...
     “Holy matrimony,” he replied to his wife.
     “With this?” She showed him her withered bosom.
     He kissed her nipples. Remus and Romulus, Deimos and Phobos, he thought.
     She pulled back. “Tickles!” she smiled.
     His overalls fell off, and he twisted out of his plaid shirt.
Robes and tunics were better for leaping into sex. The sudden thought that he might be able to stay here, even if it meant dying (soon) as a mortal, made him just a little tumescent.
     Veva slipped out of her pants. Albert leapt on her from behind, pressing against her. Suddenly he felt the pain in his chest, the warm shivers, the faintness, the tense stillness of his heart. He clung to Veva as tightly as he could, but silently slumped down as she turned around. Her pelt, scraggly as a possum’s, met his face but he couldn’t see it.
     Veva laughed. “You little demon!”

copyright 2008 Stanley A. Rice

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