In life, we are plagued by the uncertainty of an afterlife, and it is often expected that when we die, everything will suddenly make sense. But when a group of strangers, similar only in their time of death, find themselves in the afterlife, they are faced with more questions than ever before. Are they in Heaven or Hell? If they’re in Heaven, why is there a Nazi wandering around? Why are there no children? If they are in Hell, what universal law did they break? Is there a way to repent and move on to a better eternity? At least one man seems to have some answers. Marcus, a Roman dead for 2,000 years, gains the group’s trust by leading them through the perils of their new reality. But soon it becomes clear that Marcus is only telling them half the story.
L. A. Barnes is public librarian in the southern US. She is a Nerdist podcast listening, South Park loving, Twin Peaks conspiracy theorizing, Stephen King reading and Joss Whedon worshiping geek. The Pit is her first novel. She plans to explore the Watchmaker’s universe through four more novels.
REGAN HAD FAILED AS A recruiter over and over. She could get men to talk to her, especially on the platform, but after that things always fell apart. Once the men understood their genitals were gone, they often wandered off. If Marcus would have let her, she’d have taken potential recruits from the platform straight to the 12 o’clock stairs. Doing so, Marcus argued, would mean recruiting people she’d failed to evaluate first, which meant wasted time training someone who might not work out, had to be destroyed—or worse, would leave them to join Virgil. He climaxed his argument with the fact that drawing attention to the 12 o’clock stairs too soon after Heinrich’s exit might mean dozens of people realizing that was the exit on the first day, causing a steady stream of random souls leaving the Pit for unknown destinations. Therefore, Regan needed to stick with the recruiting plan given to her by Marcus or suffer the consequences of disobedience. Since she was already facing consequences of failure, having found no recruits in three months, she began to wonder which consequence would be worse.
South America handed Regan her potential salvation in the form of a woman named Sister Jesusita Juarez. That week began as any other, with Regan doing her crying thing on the platform, trying to attract men who wanted to rescue her. As always a group of Newly Dead Brazilians, South Americans and Argentines gathered around her asking the pretty girl why she was so sad. Her lie for why her pale-skinned ass died in Brazil was because she’d been working as a missionary there. While being a missionary had negative connotations in parts of the South American continent, Marcus insisted Regan stick with it because a negative reaction was better than having her lie questioned. Regan cried, pausing to look up big eyed and sad at any men who dropped to the platform, gathering men to her like flies to shit. Once she had six of them, she moved on from the crying in favor of advertising her fears over the big Pit full of scary people and the blast. This usually led to the men offering to accompany her into the Pit. Instead, the whole charade was interrupted. Sister Jesusita, round, pushy and dressed in a light blue habit, shoved the men aside to reach Regan. Grabbing Regan’s arm, she pulled her up and announced that they needed to stick together. The men readily agreed. Jesusita put her arm around Regan’s waist. “Let me look out for you, and you will look out for me. Where you go, I can go too. We can know the same people and come to our rest together. We can be sisters in this life.” Obviously, Jesusita explained this in Spanish.
There was something about the way Jesusita looked at Regan that the younger woman found stunning. When men gathered around her, there were always two forms of attention: a dominant/conscious one and a non-dominant/subconscious one. The dominant attention involved helping Regan because she was in need. It involved making eye contact, listening, and solving whatever problem she claimed to have. But the non-dominant attention was full of expectation. While they made eye contact to connect, their eyes often flickered down to her breasts if she looked off for a second. While they might listen, it was a half-attention searching for a solvable problem that would turn them into her hero. It was not a genuine attempt to understand. At the end of the day, men always wanted something no matter how much they claimed to be good Samaritans. The obvious thing they wanted was sex, and that desire ran underneath 90% of her interactions with men. But the other 10% still expected what they would define as appropriate, non-sexual attention from a woman. If they changed a tire for her, they expected her gratitude to come out in huge fawning thank yous. If they helped her down the stairs into the Pit, they expected complements on how safe they made her feel and how wonderful it was to have them around. Every small action on their part, they assumed, deserved some grandiose response from her that validated them as both men and human beings. Jesusita wanted none of this. She reached out for Regan with so little agenda that Regan couldn’t figure out if she should push her away for being odd or cry in relief.
Within that first day, Regan decided she should have cried in relief at the presence of Jesusita because the 70 year old nun was a natural people organizer. She kept the men up and moving bodies around, allowing Regan to evaluate each of them in turn. She checked in with Regan frequently, a helpful habit as the Pit filled up. And she made Regan feel safe in a way she hadn’t since she died. When Alex arrived at the 5 o’clock fire looking for people who wanted answers to come to his big meeting, he spoke to Regan first. Regan took him straight to Jesusita and translated between them, facilitating the addition of herself and her recruits to what would become Alex’s Tribe.
Once it was time for the truth to come out, or at least part of the truth, Regan ignored the male potential recruits and pulled Jesusita aside. She apologized for lying about when she died. She admitted she’d been part of Marcus’ team all along and that they would soon lead the whole tribe out of the Pit via the 12 o’clock stairs. “Why do you trust this man?” Jesusita asked Regan in Spanish.
“He found me when I died. He said I was the best person he’d found in a year,” Regan answered.
“He saw something in you?” It was rhetorical question. “At least he and I have this in common.”
With that, Jesusita, unknowingly, lost her first opportunity to save her friend.
Their assignment was simple but vital: find objects that can be used as weapons and bring them back to Marcus. On the 7 o’clock platform, Regan found the one object that would finally fulfill her potential in Marcus’ eyes. After showing it to Jesusita, the two of them rushed down to the group immediately.
The problem was, Alex’s Tribe was now over 150 people, and Marcus was short. Regan and Jesusita had to stand on their toes to search for his bobbing head among all the others. Because the pajamas Regan died in lacked pockets, she was left to hold the precious item with all the other metal weapons in her arms.
“Oh good, you’ve returned.” Sid appeared out of nowhere. For some reason, his neck was cracked.
Helpless due to having full hands, Regan watched as Sid picked up her biggest triumph yet to examine it calmly.
“I’ve never seen one of these up close.” Sid laughed. “Only in films.” He turned it over in his hand. “It’s quite heavy. I thought sometimes they used plastic parts—”
“I really need that back,” Regan interrupted.
Sid’s head snapped up, his eyes narrowed. “Why?”
“I’ve promised Marcus if I found one, to bring it to him,” Regan answered.
Jesusita, still next to her, gave her a sharp look. Marcus’ instructions to the two of them were to find anything hard, with metal being the best material, for passing out to the soldiers. Jesusita never heard anything about super special objects that went straight to Marcus. But Regan told Jesusita in confidence that certain items were more valuable than others because they could be traded in the City.
“Why?” Sid asked again, holding it wrong, with one hand on the barrel and the other on the handle.
“We bring all this to him,” Jesusita told him with great authority. “For him to give to the soldiers.”
It was the truth. The military people would stand on the outside edge of the tribe as they escaped with the weapons, acting as perimeter guards.
“Well,” Sid smiled. “If the odd little liar with the child’s face wants it, he can come ask me.”
“Sid, I’m begging you,” Regan pleaded. “That thing is worth more than my existence to him.”
Sid looked her face over for a beat. Regan could feel Jesusita examining her from her right as well. Something she’d said was coming off as suspicious.
“That says nothing but terrible things about him,” Sid responded. “No one’s life or afterlife should be worth less than an object.”
Regan scoffed. “There are always more Dead. The world just keeps providing on that score.” This was a statement she’d heard Marcus use. “But very few people die with guns in their hands and then leave them on the platforms. It’s incredibly rare. So I need it because if he knows I had it and I let you take it, I’m in trouble.”
Regan’s begging seemed to concern Sid and Jesusita more.
“There is something I don’t like about him. And you’ve summed it up well, Regan,” Sid explained.
“No, you don’t understand. If my afterlife should be worth more than an object, then fine, whatever, that’s not how it is. By taking that you’re putting me in all kinds of danger. I’ve failed him so much. That gun could be my first real success. I could move on from the Pit, Sid. Please don’t take it. It means more to me than it does to you,” Regan begged.
Sid looked at Jesusita. Regan couldn’t bring herself to follow his gaze. The nun would not be favorable to Regan working with someone who put her in this state. “If he wants it that badly, I can’t trust him with it,” Sid responded.
Regan thought she might cry.
“I won’t tell him I have it.” Sid looked at Jesusita. “I suggest neither of you bring it up. What he doesn’t know…well, you know the phrase.”
With that, Sid put the gun in his waistband and walked off.
Regan let out a low moan. “Oh God, I’m useless.”
Jesusita lifted Regan’s chin up to face her. “You stay with me,” she told her young friend in Spanish.
“Please don’t tell him,” Regan whispered.
“No, we don’t tell him,” Jesusita agreed.
With this promise, Jesusita gained her first opportunity to save her friend.