“The devil is an optimist if he thinks he can make people worse than they are.”
― Karl Kraus

In a blink of eye there was darkness all around.

“Where is this?” Karóunwí asked. “Where are we?”

“The Void.” Lucifer answered. “It is the space between worlds. Take my hand. Think of your land and I will take us there.”

Karóunwí thought hard and in another moment, the murky darkness gave way to a world of sound and colours and light; they were now in front of a church.

Lucifer looked around, his brown eyes scanning all the souls as they passed through them without sparing a glance.

Karóunwí circled as a woman with two children passed through him with ease. “Wait, they can’t see us?” He asked, eyes wide.

“No,” he said walking towards the building. “They cannot.”

“Mad.” Karóunwí muttered.

“So,” Lucifer asked, “where is the first place you have brought us?”

“The Redeemed Christian Church of God, there’re plenty here in Lagos.” Karóunwí said with his arms up. “You want me to show you that Nigeria is worse than Hell, ehn? Well, this is the first place.”

Lucifer looked at Karóunwí, placed his face in his palm, and started counting to twenty. When he was done, he looked up and Karóunwí was still there grinning like an idiot.

“Soul,” Lucifer said. “I am not sure how long you spent in Hell but you do know who I am, do you not?”

Karóunwí nodded.

“So,” Lucifer continued with a sigh, “you know about the dispute between I and…Him.

Karóunwí nodded again.

Lucifer flexed his fingers. “Then why, soul,” he said, “armed with this knowledge would you proceed to take me to one of the places he resides? Were you this stupid while alive or did your intelligence diminish as you died?”

Karóunwí’s smile widened. “See, my guy,” he said, “that’s the thing. The churches here are…different. Just come inside and you’ll see.” And he walked in, joining the stream of people.

Lucifer paused for a moment.

The last time he had entered a place of worship had been a painful, harrowing experience. One he swore on the three rivers in Hell to never repeat. But something in him told him this was different. It was the same something that made him accept a challenge from a soul who had insulted him.

The same something that had led him to rebel.

Lucifer walked in with the sea of people, bracing himself for the excruciating pain that would follow. He balled his fists and grinded his teeth but…

Nothing happened as he crossed the threshold. Nothing at all.

Karóunwí was standing beside him, still grinning. “I told you.” He said. “The churches here are different.”

Lucifer observed the people as they began to pray in tongues, the man at the pulpit shouting and jumping like he was on fire, leading them.

“I cannot feel him in this church.” Lucifer said, putting his hands in his pockets and fishing out a cigarette. “Throughout the world, wherever His presence touches, if you’re attuned to the rhythm, you can feel Him; He’s like a bad smell you can’t shake. Even centuries after, you can still feel the shadows of his fingertips. But here…he has never been here, not once. Not ever.” He snapped his fingers and the cigarette lit with a blue flame.

“That’s Pastor Philemon Joshua.” Karóunwí pointed. “He’s a guest pastor from the Holy Blood Ministries, richest church in Nigeria. He has, what, three wives? Sha, if you add mine, four. The bastard came out of nowhere and whoosh, that was it. Became the most popular pastor in Lagos, and my children’s favourite father, those ungrateful cows. That’s all they are: cows.”

Lucifer listened and turned back to the pastor as he kept jumping on the podium. The man paused and took a white handkerchief from his chest pocket and wiped his forehead with it.

“Children of God,” he began, his voice booming through the microphone, “It is now time for you to put your offerings toward God. He is the one that has given you life and prosperity and so, it is time to give back.” He suddenly closed his eyes, clasping his chest. “Silence!” He shouted and silence fell in the hall like dew in the early morn.

“Yes…” he said, putting his hand to his ear and nodding like he was listening to a message. Lucifer cocked his head. “Mhmm. Oh, oh, oh, okay. Are you sure…Ah, I would never dream of questi — well okay, Bros Jay, thy will be done.”

He opened his eyes and addressed the congregation soberly. “Well, my people, the Lord our God has spoken.” He said. “He wants every single person here to donate nothing less than ten thousand Naira or Hell is imminent. And don’t worry if you don’t have money on you,” he said as he gestured behind him and men and women in white came out with machines in their hands, “we also accept Mastercard, Visa and now, Verve. Praise be to God!”

The congregation shouted in response.

“These people don’t have much,” said Lucifer, watching a little girl with pale dark skin close her eyes in fervent prayer.

“They don’t have anything,” Karóunwí said. “We didn’t have anything: we were all poor, hungry and tired. All we had was God, all we had was church. Our pastors, them they never cared when we told them we didn’t have enough, they’d tell us to give more and more, that God would provide.

“Pastor Philemon Joshua is on his fifth private jet; when I died, I had only eaten twice that week. These men and women that run our churches here ehn, they’re horrible. At least the demons in hell let you know how evil they are. At least they tell you how they’ll hurt you. But when Pastor Philemon Joshua came into my life and took everything from me; I never saw it coming.”

Lucifer nodded. “Hmm,” was all he said as he reached out to Karóunwí. It was time to leave.

And as they left into the murky darkness that was the world between worlds, Pastor Philemon Joshua was touching a voluptuous woman’s chest, trying to cast out the demons of Satan.

Though, Lucifer had not sent a demon to her, or any human for that matter, in centuries.

Anthony Azekwoh is a Nigerian-based author and artist. He has written five books so far, and is now working on the sequel to his fourth book Ṣàngó, Oya.