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.
CHRISTOPH REMAINED WHERE she left him. This time, he wasn’t chasing her. Instead he propped himself up against Pit Mountain and waited for the little split personality to get back to him with her confusion and accusations and misremembered events. By the time she returned, he was so angry he didn’t look at her right away.
“You killed me.” It sounded calmer but was still an accusation.
“I’m not handing you this one,” he retorted. “You figure it the fuck out.”
At this point, he wouldn’t look at her. How could she take a memory so difficult and distort it to make him the bad guy.
“I want to know what you did to me.” She stood over him, trying to force him to meet her gaze. He wasn’t having it.
“I did things for you—not to you.” He finally looked her in the eye. “You don’t grasp what that day cost me.” And then he offered a statement that he knew wouldn’t help and would only make her angrier. “You are too immature to grasp this.”
“Fuck you,” she sneered and walked off.
He waited again. After a minute she returned.
“You did things for me? What does that mean?” Her tone was calmer but still incredulous.
Christoph gave her a pursed mouth, no eye contact and a shake of the head. When he told her he wouldn’t hand this memory to her, he meant it. She needed to put it together even if it took the rest of eternity.
After a few minutes, he dared to sneak a look at her. She was squatting in the desert, looking at Pit Mountain distractedly. One arm was wound around her waist. With the other, she put her hand in front of her mouth, then took it away, then shook her head. And then she repeated the sequence. It looked as though she worked on the details of the hand over mouth fragment, which was a good place to start. He left her to it. After five minutes, she stopped mimeing a hand over her mouth. “What that cost you…” she said to herself. Then she put her face in her hands in a moment of realization.
“Motherfucker,” she whispered to herself. Then to him she said, “Christoph, I’m sorry.”
His only response was a still-angry shrug.
“You never remarried did you?” she asked him. He shook his head. “I’m sorry.”
“I don’t see that the two things are related.” He knew he sounded haughty again, but he couldn’t help it.
“For whatever it’s worth,” she pressed, “I am sorry. That was a lot to ask.”
“It was my husbandly duty,” he declared.
Kneeling in front of him, she tilted her head, trying to make him meet her gaze. “It really wasn’t.” Her voice was too mature. It almost sounded like Sabine.
He still wouldn’t look at her. “I did what…” he began.
She reached out and laid her hand on his, stopping his deflection. “I’m sorry I asked you to end my life.”
17 years and 11 months prior, Sabine Wallace Schmidt found her end of life plans were more awry than her husband’s would be in the new millennium. The cancer spread through her so rapidly that one day she sat in the euthanasia clinic with her husband planning her death and four days later the pain stopped her from moving. She was stuck on the hard bed with the itchy sheets in that shitty hotel in Amsterdam, with only her husband to keep her company. When she couldn’t move her arms to take the pill that would end her life, she asked Christoph for his help.
He sat her up, brought the pill to her mouth, with his hand pausing briefly over the lower half of her face and then fed her enough water to help her swallow.
In Hell, Allison curled into Christoph’s arms, nuzzling her nose into his neck.
“I want to get closer to you,” she told him.
“You know everything about me,” he scoffed. “Or you will when you recover your memories.”
“That’s not really what I meant.” She leaned up and gave him a small kiss.
They tried several kisses but few brought the same sensation in the afterlife that they’d produced on Earth. There was no pressure or give, first of all. Their shell skin didn’t indent when pressed. Second, they had no warmth to offer, and of course, no moisture. But they found if they rubbed their lips lightly against one another, there was the faintest spark, a little bit of lightning that radiated out from their mouths.
“Do you want to run?” It was safe to ask, now that he had his arms around her.
“Yes, of course,” she admitted. “Though it seems mental.”
“Your parents’ love came with obligations and caretaking,” he concluded. “But you and I will not love each other that way.”
“I will take care of you. That is what you told me to do.”
“Maybe that’s enough,” she mused. “I may run in the desert,” Allison repeated. “You have to take care of me. I make terrible choices. You have to choose the same.”
He’d told her every detail he could remember about the dream. Now he was relieved to add her interpretations to his own.
“Well, those statements are repetitive. Don’t you think?” she offered. “Running through the desert was a terrible choice. I should have stopped and talked it out with you.”
He assumed this was her version of an apology. “It’s fine.”
“Right,” she beamed. “So that’s been covered. We’ve already done that.” She wound her arms around his neck and gave him a fleeting kiss, rubbing her lips slightly against his. “Hmmm. I love you.”
“I love you too.”
“The rest,” she returned to the dream, “is all wonky. I can hurt and maim and kill…no I can’t that doesn’t sound like me at all. Why would I kill someone? I mean, maybe if I had no food and they had some and I like hit them over the head and whatnot, but that won’t happen here. What would be in it for me here? And Sabine never did either. It doesn’t fit my other personality.”
“We don’t know this place,” he argued. “There is no telling.”
“What was next in the dream?” she asked.
“Sometimes I think we can’t be forgiven. After all we’ve done. Will you have faith in me then? Can you restore our salvation then?” he repeated. “Then you promised to never stop touching me.”
“Well, that part’s true.” She leaned in for another kiss. “But salvation is an awfully big word.”
“Biblical,” Christoph answered. “And I don’t think we are in Hell for anything particular. It must be just a fluke.”
“Yeah, I ended up here, Marcus ended up here. Yeah, I agree. It’s a fluke.”
When they finally rose to move again, they walked the rest of the way around Pit Mountain, high on love and other misguided assumptions.