Balance in All Things
John Buentello and Lawrence Buentello
When Aloysius died he didn’t expect to be rewarded in
the next life, such was his desire to lead a pious
existence without the hope of reward. So when the
Archangel Michael raised him from his final resting
place beneath a beautiful olive tree on the grounds of
the monastery he’d built with his own hands, Aloysius
was delighted to find himself, his essence, his very
spirit, in the company of so beatific an entity.
Together, hand in hand, they moved away from the retreat
he’d called home for the last sixty years (and from
which he’d traveled many times to perform charitable
duties for the people in the surrounding villages), over
the face of the wide world to a beautiful range of
mountains and through a snowy pass as gorgeous as the
vision of the Kingdom in his most chaste dreams.
He dared to gaze on the shining face of his towering
guardian from time to time, wondering to what strange
land they would finally arrive, until they stopped
before a lovely glen verdant with snow flowers and swept
by crisp tendrils of mountain air.
“You’ve lived the purest life of any person in the
world,” Michael suddenly announced in a booming, though
melodic voice. He reached down and stroked Aloysius’
clean white hair. “And because you’ve kept the faith in
such a unique fashion -- quite unlike that whiner Job,
let me tell you -- you’ve been chosen to be reincarnated
into the most holy duty your Creator has left in the
hands of a single spirit. For the rest of eternity shall
you stand guard in these sanctified peaks over the most
precious treasure known to earth!”
Treasure! Aloysius had never expected to be so richly
rewarded for merely obeying the covenants of God. He
smiled as broadly as his humble ego would allow, for he
felt he was about to find himself in the most beautiful
place in the world.
When they entered through the valley though, Aloysius
There before them, in a very small field, hunched a
large, brooding, pustulous monstrosity chained by the
neck to a gigantic stone. Next to the creature stood a
small shack with a single window. The shack seemed to be
occupied, for he saw a pair of wide, red eyes bob up and
down beyond the glass. He stared again at the creature.
The grass surrounding it was sere and dead. It raised
its head lazily at their approach, exposing long, curved
horns protruding from either side of its cranium. It
blinked once, yawned, and then recovered it previous
“Behold!” announced the radiant archangel.
Aloysius beheld -- to the best of his ability -- but he
was still profoundly confused.
At last he dared to speak, allaying any fears he had of
offending the majestic spirit.
“I’m sorry, but I’m at a bit of a loss.”
Michael stared down on his charge beneficently.
“Behold the treasure of Heaven!”
Aloysius studied the creature again, thinking that
perhaps the treasure lay beyond it, or possibly
underneath it, but finally grinned good-naturedly and
“Where exactly is this treasure?”
“Right in front of you.”
“Yes, yes, behold. But perhaps, if it wouldn’t be too
much trouble, you might enlighten your humble servant of
the particulars of all this?”
“Forgive me, my son,” Michael said, patting Aloysius on
the shoulder. “I tend to forget that the human spirit is
not prescient. What you see before you is the greatest
treasure known to Creation. It is the Devil himself!”
Aloysius scratched his ethereal chin.
“The Devil is the greatest treasure in the world?”
“You were expecting diamonds?”
“Actually, something like it, I have to say.”
“Think of it as a trope.”
Michael went on to explain that the Devil -- Old
Scratch, The Great Deceiver, the Prince of Darkness,
Satan himself -- had been locked out of the world
long ago by some crafty saints. The saints had been
charged with a holy crusade after it was discovered
that, through the boundless offices of Lucifer, the
world had become much more evil than good. In fact, evil
was leading good by a ratio of two to one, a situation
that simply couldn’t be allowed to endure.
They lured him to the high mountain valley to ostensibly
attend a riotous orgy at a high retreat. Once less than
lucid on some very good Scandinavian wine, he was fitted
with a blessed and unbreakable collar of silver mined
from the virtuous mountain itself and chained forever to
the immoveable Stone of Providence.
“Once Diabolus was removed from the equation,” Michael
said boomingly, “the balance returned to the earth.
Should he return to his old ministrations, the balance
of good and evil would be grossly compromised. All
things must be in balance, and so only the purist souls
have been charged to stand watch over the most impure.
In this case, the most impure. For a thousand
years we’ve kept the Devil chained, but until now there
has always been a problem.”
Aloysius bit his lip, then said, “What is that?”
“That even the purest souls have been tempted by the
relentless dialogue of the archfiend. It’s a harrowing
job, as you can imagine. Observe.”
Michael turned toward the shack.
“Francis! Come out! Greet us at our bidding!”
After a moment the weathered door of the shack opened on
the field, and a small, bent, ragged figure stumbled
through the threshold. His tattered robe fluttered
obscenely on the wind, and his gnarled cane stabbed
awkwardly in the grass. His head was a mass of long,
unkempt hair, his face a dark whorl of shaggy beard. He
walked to where they were standing and nodded
“My good St. Francis, how goes the watch?”
St. Francis smiled toothlessly, laughed, and nodded in
an exaggerated motion. He stared at Aloysius and winked.
“Francis has been a stalwart steward of the watch for lo
these last few hundred years,” Michael said. “He was the
purest soul we could find and has been guarding Apollyon
since his death. But my poor Francis has been worn down
over the years by our mortal enemy’s constant harangue
and has been on the verge of setting our little treasure
free several times. Isn’t that right, Francis?”
Francis puckered his mouth, waved a finger at Michael,
then turned and winked at the creature by the rock.
“Yes, well, it’s time to leave temptation behind, isn’t
it? Francis, I hereby relinquish you of your charge.
Your replacement has arrived.”
Michael smiled radiantly at Aloysius.
“I beg your pardon,” Aloysius said quickly, raising his
hand. “If I understand correctly, you intend for me to
take over the duties this most venerated saint could not
sustain. Is that wise? How am I more worthy than....”
“Well, Francis has been a pretty fair fellow, but you
have to remember that he was somewhat of a dandy early
on in his life. That small bit of corruption in his soul
was enough to make him vulnerable.”
Francis mumbled something slightly salacious and clapped
“Come, my friend,” Michael said. “You’re free to go.”
Francis started down the path, but Aloysius managed to
hold onto the man’s filthy robe.
“Far be it from me to challenge your wisdom,” he said,
“but I am completely unworthy of this task. I am foul,
terribly foul and unworthy creature compared to--”
“Nonsense,” Michael said, slapping Aloysius’ hand away.
Francis tottered quickly down the mountain. “You are the
purest, kindest, gentlest soul ever born. Why, as far as
human beings are concerned, no one before you has lived
so chaste and faithful a life. You’ve never said a cross
word to another human being.”
“That’s true, I suppose.”
“You’ve never even had a negative thought about
“You have me there.”
“You gave all your money to the poor, you practically
starved yourself by giving all of the food you grew in
your monastery to the hungry, you crawled on your knees
from Arles to Chartres just to humble yourself before
“That could be seen as an act of bravado--”
“Nonsense. From the moment you were born you’ve led the
purest life of any person living or dead. You even rose
from your deathbed to give directions to some lost
tourists looking for the sepulchers of the Paris
“They had all the wrong maps.”
“Aloysius, you were born for the glory of this mission,”
Michael said. “The Devil has no chance of tempting such
a pure soul.”
“Well then,” he said hastily, “let me ask you about a
point of logic. If the chain is unbreakable, why do you
need anyone to watch over the Devil at all? It would
seem to me that you’re only inviting temptation.”
“An excellent question! Not only are you pure of heart,
you’re wonderfully astute. The answer, of course, is
that we can’t be absolutely certain the chain is
unbreakable. How could you know such a thing, unless, of
course, we had someone around to keep an eye on it? If
we left the Devil to his own devices, he just might find
a way to escape. So we need to have someone watch over
things to make sure no unforeseen weaknesses in the
apparatus are exploited.”
Aloysius sighed. “I guess that makes sense.”
Michael clapped him cheerily on the back. “Excellent.
Now, let me leave you to your reward so you can thank
the Almighty for these blessings bestowed upon you.”
And the archangel Michael vanished in a whirlwind.
Aloysius, standing alone at the top of the world,
regarded the Devil silently.
The Devil opened one eye, licked his nose, and fell back
After giving humble thanks for his unique appointment,
he rose from his knees to assess the landscape. But the
landscape refused to change its odd juxtaposition of
natural beauty and supernatural hideousness. He sat on a
stump studying the chained incarnation of Lucifer for
days, unimpressed by the fallen angel’s laconic
demeanor. Every once in a while the Devil rose on his
stumpy legs, stretched like a cat, scratched at the
silver collar locked around his neck with a long talon,
and lapped water from a nearby mountain pool. This
seemed to be the extent of the Devil’s interest in his
environment. Aloysius found it difficult to believe that
this was the true Prince of Evil, but he was too wary of
falling victim to the Devil’s charms to regard the
creature from anything but a safe distance.
He’d been given a divine duty to protect the world
against the Great Knave, and who was he to argue with
God’s judgment? Still, he had to admit, deep in his soul
he’d hoped for a better afterlife than the one now
looming before him.
The small shack contained little of interest save for an
uncomfortable cot and a table covered by little mountain
people Francis had evidently woven from laurel leaves.
The mountain people were brown and sere as the grass
surrounding the rock. Since he wasn’t really alive
anymore, Aloysius had no need for food or drink, though
he thought a nice lager after a long day of watching
wouldn’t have been too terribly much to ask for. He
wouldn’t have turned his nose up at a little
companionship, either, someone to talk to other than
By the end of the first month he was just desperate
enough for human interaction to approach the creature
and disregarded his previous fear of subjugation. He
stood bravely before the Devil, expecting a fiery fount
of flame to envelope him, but the imp simply opened his
eyes and blinked.
“Can I help you?” Lucifer asked.
“You shall not beguile me with wicked temptation!”
Aloysius intoned, striking a pose, his right hand
pointing to the sky. “Do not attempt--”
“Calm down,” the Devil replied, waving a talon. “I’m not
going to try to tempt you.”
“But you’re the Prince of Beasts. Surely you’re going to
try to beguile me.”
The Devil shrugged. “Have it your way.” He rose on his
belly and cleared his throat. “If you release me I shall
give you everlasting life! All you have to do is break
this chain and....”
“I will never betray the will of my Lord!” Aloysius
declared proudly. “No temptation from your lips
He paused a moment, thinking. Then he said, “Wait a
minute, I’m already dead, aren’t I? I already have
The Devil nodded sagely. “You see my point. Since you’re
already spirit, what temptations of the flesh could I
possibly offer that would be of any interest to you?
Really, this entire scenario is pretty much of a lock,
“What do you mean? Surely you want to escape?”
Satan sat on his haunches. “Sure I do, I’d like nothing
better. But those saints who lured me here really knew
their stuff. You see this?” The Devil lifted the chain
in his claws. “Well, it can only be broken by a pure
soul. The more evil the soul, the denser the material
becomes. I don’t mean to brag, but they don’t get any
more evil than me, so I have absolutely no hope of
breaking the thing.”
Aloysius pondered this concept for a moment, then found
the weakness in the Beast’s argument.
“But if you beguiled a pure soul to break the chain for
you, then you would be free!” he said, delighted with
his analysis. “Therefore, you will inevitably try to
tempt me into breaking the chain.”
“But if I tempt you into trying to break the chain,” the
Devil rejoined, “then your act of greed would taint your
soul, and you would become incapable of breaking the
chain. Do you see how devilishly clever this prison is?
It’s certainly worthy of my admiration. I have a
reputation for creating devious provisos, don’t you
“Yes, I’d heard.”
“I was really in my prime, too. The scales were tipping
decidedly my way. The world was becoming a real cesspool
of filth, violence and debauchery. But someone up
there has to have a thing for spiritual symmetry,
so here I am--stuck at the top of the world while my
minions try to hold serve until their lord can get back
in the game. ‘A balance in all things’ my eye. I call it
“I’m sorry for your predicament.”
“Really, you’re too kind. Still, I guess that’s why
you’re here, isn’t it?”
Aloysius put a finger to his lips. If all this were
true, then the Devil really had no means of escape. And
if that were true, there really wasn’t a logical
reason for anyone to watch over him. And if that
were true, too, then Aloysius would have nothing to do
for the rest of eternity then stare out over the glen
only to have that beautiful vista forever polluted by
the sight of Mephistopheles.
“Say,” the Devil said brightly, “can you yodel? That
last guy could really yodel. This is a natural
amphitheater; the acoustics are wonderful.”
“No,” Aloysius said, wilting a bit in his robe. “I’m
“That’s too bad,” the Devil said. He sighed, settled
back down against the rock and closed his eyes. “A
pitiful waste of the natural resources,” he murmured
before falling asleep.
Aloysius, chagrinned, was left to mourn his lack of
Six months passed. The quiet began to wear thin. The
most perfect soul in the world began wishing for the
company of the fragile, trembling souls he’d spent his
life saving for God. He recalled his many miraculous
conversions of menacing street denizens into
mild-mannered knee-benders. He tried to dredge up every
word, every syllable they’d whispered, recounted, or
cried within the walls of the monastery. This saw him
through another three months of his eternal reward, but
after that he began searching for a different pastime.
After discovering some gardener’s tools behind the
shack, Aloysius gathered the seeds from the fruits of
the nearby trees. He culled the buds of the flowers for
more seeds, dug in the ground for bulbs and roots. When
he had enough he marked out the boundaries for a garden
and set to work. He dug in the earth and planted the
seeds and carried water from the stream. Little green
buds appeared in the dirt. Aloysius envisioned a time
when his garden would bear wonderful fruit trees and
beautiful flowers. Once it did, he stood basking in his
accomplishment. Then he noticed that the garden
resembled every other part of the country around him --
all he’d accomplished was to reproduce the perfect
landscaping that already existed. He returned the tools
to the rear of the shed and let the garden wither and
die. The Adversary barely stirred from his rock in all
Aloysius then decided to explore the area beyond the
small field. He set off one morning with a lilt to his
step and a song in his heart. The song died abruptly
when he saw that his steps eventually returned him to
the shack. He tried another direction and arrived behind
the shack. He tried a third route and somehow found
himself sitting on the large grey Stone of Providence
next to the Devil.
“This is so unfair,” Aloysius said as he hopped off the
“Tell me about it,” the Master of the Underworld
mumbled. “How does it feel to be trapped in paradise?”
Aloysius was about to answer when he remembered his
fealty to the Almighty and the deviousness of his
charge. “I am not one to question the ways of my
Master,” he replied with a strained tone of acceptance.
“Which makes you the perfect idiot for this job,” Old
Nick snickered. “Say,” he said, sitting up on the rock.
“Since you seem so content being the perfect martyr,
would you mind trimming my talons? They’re beginning to
become a bit unsightly.”
“I’m not your slave,” Aloysius said. “I’m your jailer.”
“The jailer jailed,” the Prince of Darkness snorted
before lying back down on the rock. “Perhaps you weren’t
so pure in life after all. Why else would He put
you through such eternal torture? Even I never
came up with a punishment as fiendish as having to be
stuck watching over me.”
“This is my eternal reward!” Aloysius insisted.
The Devil yawned and expelled a noxious odor from one of
his many orifices.
After this display of poor manners, Aloysius swore he
would not exchange another word with the Evil Incarnate.
He remained in the shack as much as possible. But as
each day was eternally beautiful as the next, and as the
shack seemed eternally gloomy, he eventually ventured
forth again. He’d gotten into the habit of playing with
the mountain people Francis had left behind, and the
morning when he realized he was actually having a
conversation with Papa Mountain Man over the annoying
habit Little Mountain Boy had of crumbling in Aloysius’s
grip every time he picked him up, Aloysius gazed from
the window at the figure lying on the rock and sighed.
He got up and went outside.
“We have to talk.”
El Diablo sat up and scratched his rear. “Talk about
“I just can’t sit here and watch you for all eternity.”
“What choice do you have?”
Aloysius hated the way the Devil threw his words back at
him. He said, “I have plenty of choices.”
“Is that why you’ve been playing house with the laurel
Lilliputians in there?” the Devil said, pointing to the
“I, uh, was practicing for a play I’m planning to have
the children at the monastery perform for the poor,
“You were chewing on your cracked noodle,” the Devil
replied. “And face it Aloysius, you aren’t ever going
back to the monastery.” He tugged on the chain. “This is
it. For eternity.”
“Don’t say that. And don’t call me by my given name!”
“Okay. How about I call you Ally, for short?”
“How about I call you a cab? Oh wait, I forgot. You
can’t ever leave here.”
Aloysius felt his face flush. His hands balled into
fists. He remembered the oath he’d taken as a novice to
never hurt a living soul, never resort to physical
force, no matter how wicked the act, how wretched and
vile and loathsome the creature perpetrating it might
be. He opened his hands and tried to smile. He would
turn the other cheek; walk in the footsteps of that
other great soul who once tread the Earth with hallowed
“You must be frustrated being chained here.”
“You must be a fairy,” the Devil replied.
“Now look here!”
The Cantankerous One expelled more gas. The air became
foul around them.
Aloysius howled with rage. Before he realized what he
was doing, he reared back and punched the Horned One in
the face. A fount of blood spewed forth from the Devil’s
pointed nose. The Light Bringer tumbled off his rock
and fell to the ground. He lay on his back twitching.
Aloysius stood with his right hand covered with the
Michael appeared a moment later. He gazed first at
Aloysius, then at the Devil lying prone on the ground,
and shook his head. Using the edge of his magnificent
robe, he wiped the blood from Aloysius’ fist.
“You smote him a good one, I see,” Michael said as he
let his robe fall. The blood miraculously seeped from
the shining cloth and drenched a patch of nearby
flowers. They curled, browned, and died. “Not exactly
what we had in mind by watching over him.”
“I struck another in anger,” Aloysius said, shaking. His
soul wept hot, burning tears. “I don’t deserve to be in
Heaven,” he told Michael.
“No problem there,” Michael said as he toed the Devil in
the side. Satan sat up and wiped his bloody nose. “This
isn’t Heaven. It’s more of a....”
Aloysius sighed. “Then what?”
“A meadow,” Michael replied. “Didn’t you notice the
grass?” He smoothed his robes out. “Be that as it may,
here thee be and here thee shall stay.”
“But the beating I gave the Evil One--”
Michael produced a scroll. It seemed made of spun gold
and shone with an unearthly light. “I, God, do hereby
forgive Aloysius Crumbody....”
The Great Liar roared with laughter. “That name should
be good for about a hundred years of jokes!”
Aloysius glared at him and raised his fist. The Devil
closed his mouth.
Michael continued. “... forgive thee for anything thee
might inflict upon Lucifer while guarding over him for
eternity. So said and witnessed. Signed, the Almighty.”
Aloysius was about to ask a question when Michael
vanished. The majestic archangel apparently knew how to
effectively dodge a counterargument. The Devil stood up,
spat out a mouthful of blood, and went to the stream to
get a drink. Aloysius picked up the glowing scroll.
There didn’t seem to be any writing on it at all.
Aloysius couldn’t be certain, though, because it, too,
vanished. From the edge of the stream came the sound of
slurping. Aloysius suddenly turned and rushed at the
Devil. Grabbing hold of his neck from behind, he thrust
Satan’s head deep into the stream. The Devil thrashed
violently, trying to get a grip on Aloysius’ hands. The
thrashing slowed, then stopped altogether. Aloysius held
the Great Serpent’s head beneath the water for a good
fifteen minutes until there was no movement. He was just
beginning to relax his grip when the Prince of Darkness
threw him off onto the grass.
The Devil laughed, water running down his chin. He wiped
it off with a talon. “You can’t kill me, Aloysius. I am
beyond living! I am He Who Is Eternal!” The clouds
rumbled. The Devil winced. “That is, after the big guy.”
“But I bloodied your nose!” Aloysius said. “I beat you!”
The Devil snorted. “No one really beats me. I let
you bloody my nose for kicks.”
Aloysius dropped to his knees. “Heaven help me,” he
The Devil dropped to his knees mockingly. “Heaven help
us both... get the hell out of here.”
It was in this moment of his deepest despair, when he
was about to accept with heart and soul the terrible
fate to which he’d been consigned, that Aloysius had an
epiphany. It struck him down on the grass and left him
writhing in wonder. It cleaved the darkness from his
soul and opened up the light of Heaven to shine down
upon him. He even suffered a nosebleed, an acceptable
sign of stigmata indicating he was on the right track.
The truth was obvious, and so beautiful to behold! He
lifted up his hands toward the light and gasped.
Aloysius finally knew his purpose.
Rising from where he’d writhed the grass down to its
roots, Aloysius came to the Devil. He knelt and lifted
the Fallen One to his feet and helped him to the stream.
The Devil began squirming again, suspecting that
Aloysius meant to continue his drowning attempt. But
Aloysius sat the Devourer of Men’s Souls down on the
grass and began washing his face with water from the
stream. He then proceeded to cleanse the Great
Deceiver’s arms and legs. When he set to work on Satan’s
hooves the Devil howled and squirmed free of his grasp.
“What in the world do you think you’re doing?”
Aloysius smiled. It was a beatific smile. “I’m washing
you clean. Oh, we start with the body, then work our way
up to the mind and finally scrub out all the dirty
corners of your rotten soul, but eventually all will be
The Devil blinked. “Pardon me?”
“You’re a fallen child of God. I’m here to redeem you.”
Aloysius allowed his smile to warm the heart of his
newest convert-to-be. “You’re no different than any of
the damaged souls that came to me on earth to find
salvation. Just the first one with hooves.”
Aloysius’ smile became a bit strained. “I’m going to
help you find God!”
“I already know where He lives,” Satan sneered. He
jerked a talon skyward. “And thanks, but no thanks.”
Aloysius felt the warmth of Heaven wash down upon him.
His eyes were blazing with unearthly light. “Don’t you
see? That is why I’m here. To redeem your soul for the
Lord. You’re not meant to be kept here for eternity.
You’re here to be saved. By me!”
The Evil Incarnate tried to run. His hooves left clods
flying in the air behind him, but he forgot about the
chain around his neck. He ran out the length of it, then
tumbled backward onto the grass when it snapped taught.
Aloysius was at his side in an instant, anointing the
Archfiend’s head with laurel leaves.
“I was so blind!” Aloysius said. “Don’t you see? The key
to both you and I being free of this terrible prison is
your salvation! Once you accept God and come into the
light the chain can no longer hold you. It will become
as insubstantial as the eternal ether. Then you and I
will be free!”
“Kill me now!”
Aloysius slapped his palm against his head. “We could
have spent the last few months purging the demons from
“Some of those demons are my friends,” the Devil
replied. “My sister married one of them.”
Aloysius gently patted the Devil on his horned head.
“Let’s start with the reason why you fell. Did you feel
isolated, left out up there? Were there some gatherings
of infinite celestial beings where you felt all alone?
Were you an awkward angel?”
Satan began yanking at the chain around his neck.
“Denial is the first step on a very long, but passable
road to salvation,” Aloysius told him. “How do you feel
about the Lord our God? Could you accept Him as your
personal savior if you really got to know Him?”
“A thousand fiery spears burning deep into my eyes
rather than this!” the Devil cried. “A million! Chop me
to pieces and boil me in a vat of my own leaking fluids!
“Try saying this to yourself. ‘Have I been searching for
answers, but did not know who to call?’” Aloysius
kneeled and laced his fingers. “Why don’t you put your
hands together -- no, all the fingers stretched out, not
just the two. Come, let us pray together. It’ll be fun!”
“May the fiery furnace take you! May the legions of
damnation sweep you away!”
“That’s it!” Aloysius cried as he knelt beside the
Devil. “Let that ancient evil out. Purge it from
“May Cerberus chase you eternally through all the
circles of Hell!”
“Marvelous!” Aloysius said. “Say, you’ve a very good
imagination. You should be directing perhaps, or
“You think so?” the Diabolical One asked modestly. “I’ve
always liked jotting down my ideas. Nothing serious,
just scribblings, really.”
Aloysius nodded sagely. “Perhaps the Lord has filled you
with such talent to achieve some glorious end of His
“WHAT?” The Devil, recovering his fury, collapsed before
Aloysius. The chain rattled on the ground as he writhed
on the grass. “I am the Devil! The Dark One! Lucifer!
Mephistopheles! Somebody help me!”
Aloysius bent close to the Devil’s ear and whispered.
“Admitting your sins and humbling yourself before
the Lord. We may have you saved, redeemed, and purified
sooner than I thought! Can I get a Halleluiah?”
The Devil whimpered and tugged at the chain. A tiny
crack appeared in the link next to his neck. Aloysius
noted it, smiled, and finally felt at peace.