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.
Virgil and Deborah don't agree on all things Heinrich
The Pit: Watchmaker’s Hell: Book One
THE FUNDAMENTAL CONFLICT BETWEEN DEBORAH AND VIRGIL
Heinrich von Helldorf
The Waterfall, Hell
MISHA’S REALIZATION THAT THEIR next set of bodies were impossible to get to affected Heinrich deeply. He still had bodies to do and, at first, he continued to work on them alone. But his work produced diminished returns. The experience of sending a body off was as powerful as it ever had been. But every body put him closer to the no-win situation of having no bodies in the Pit and having to face the Camp. The more depressed he became at the prospect of going to the Camp, the more reasons he found to be depressed about it.
First of all, he didn’t want to see Otto again. Whatever had happened to his friend in Hell was clearly awful. And if it was worse than Auschwitz, it had to be bad. Heinrich reasoned that the man he’d met at the Camp gates in Hell wasn’t really Otto Mueller anymore. That was a shell of the man he once knew or worse, that was what would have happened to Heinrich if Deborah had not intervened.
Second, the guards were conducting regular raids on Deborah’s group of do-gooders (Vigil’s name for them). In response, the do-gooders developed excellent defense strategies to combat these raids. The main defense was simply to run and keep running until one was sure the guards in pursuit were gone. This meant leaving the other do-gooders and not worrying about them until one was safe. Heinrich hated this strategy and couldn’t see himself carrying it out. It would mean running when Deborah was in danger instead of standing and protecting her. That just wasn’t happening. But Deborah would never see it that way. The whole thing was bound to lead the two of them into conflict.
Lastly, everything about the Camp made him angry. He couldn’t stand to look at the place. Every glimpse of those gates made him want to tear them down with his bare hands. He wanted to take a sledgehammer to the arch at the entrance, dismantling the brick structure with as many whacks as he could muster. He hated what the earth equivalent had made him: a murderer. He hated what the Hell equivalent had done to Otto because deep down he suspected that if Otto met Deborah, Otto would come around. But anger was dangerous because those feelings made him reach for the all-too-easy solution of violence. And he’d promised Deborah not to put himself in these situations anymore. No more fighting—ever. He’d promised and he intended to keep his promise.
In the 2000s, Heinrich’s body work slowed to a crawl and then stopped entirely. Instead he waited for visits from Deborah, Virgil, Misha and, very occasionally, David. That was his existence now, and he told himself it was enough. These were the people who remade him, and it seemed fitting that they would become everything to him.
When Virgil and Deborah arrived alone in 2010, Heinrich knew something was wrong. As they walked up, he could tell they were in deep conversation, both of them with their faces pointed to the ground, Deborah with one arm wrapped around her middle and the other hand on her chin. Virgil had his hands clasped behind his back. They looked as though they were solving a problem. Instinct told Heinrich the problem was him.
Naturally, he greeted them in front of the waterfall, but they wanted to sit by the fire. Everything about Deborah’s tone as she said it implied she was resigned to something. Once they sat down, it finally became clear.
“Heinrich,” Deborah began, leaning closer to the fire, causing its warm yellow to light up her face. “How many bodies have you done since we last saw you?”
Heinrich hung his head, unable to answer.
“That’s what I thought,” Deborah sighed. “You can’t do nothing, Heinrich. A purposeless existence can be dangerous. I think you are trying to find purpose in being our friend. That’s beautiful, but it won’t be enough. We can’t be everything to you.”
“We’ve been talking, as we walked here, about ways to motivate you.” Virgil offered his most serious tone. “We’ve agreed—”
“Let him talk,” Deborah interrupted. “I only agreed if we could hear from him,” she added angrily.
Heinrich couldn’t remember the last time Virgil and Deborah had argued in front of him.
“There is no hope,” Heinrich answered, barely above a whisper.
This statement affected Virgil the deepest. “I swear to you, I am working on a solution. Marcus can’t control things forever. And I’m going to fight him. I’m telling everyone it’s for all of us—for all of humanity that we fight. But here, now, between just us, I will admit that I can’t stand to see you come as far as you have and then not be able to finish—not for the sake of that lying, two-faced maggot.”
Virgil moved closer to Heinrich and placed his hand on the back of Heinrich’s neck. “Listen to me. You are my boy.” The connotations of the word ‘boy’ in reference to an African-American man are numerous. But in this moment, Heinrich took no offense. When Virgil said this to him, it meant they were something closer to brothers more than a superior soul and an inferior one. “I want you with me. I want you to fight by my side.”
A sound of disgust came from the other side of the fire. Deborah leapt to her feet and walked away, clearly angry.
“Molinsky, there is no unseating that man without a war,” Virgil called out to her. “There is no other way.”
Finally, Deborah turned back, not out of understanding but to confront her friend. “I will find another way, Virgil. We have eternity to work with.”
“No, you, Heinrich, Misha and I have eternity,” Virgil reasoned. “Because you died and went to the Gate and because Heinrich, Misha and I lucked our way out of the Pit. How many more aren’t so lucky? How many are destroyed with no chance at salvation every week?”
“I hate this. No logic you offer will make me not hate this,” Deborah countered. “And I asked you not to say these things to him. You don’t understand what it means. You endanger his progress with your plans. Why can’t you just leave both of us out of this?”
“I want my boy with me. I fight for him.” Virgil looked at Heinrich, who felt both chastised and attached at the same time. “This is a thing you cannot possibly understand.”
Deborah sat back down and placed her face in her hands.
“How could we defeat Hitler without a war?” Virgil reasoned. “Marcus is evil—”
“You know how I feel about that word,” Deborah interrupted. “You’re saying it to justify doing things you know are wrong. Where will it end Virgil? Will you destroy Marcus’ people? End their chance at salvation?”
“So that millions of others might have a chance, yes. I will,” Virgil answered.
Deborah’s face returned to her hands.
“It’s what happens next.” Virgil shook his head.
“Not to Heinrich.” She crossed to him, grasping his hand with both of hers. “For now, just stay here and do your bodies. Don’t worry about Virgil and his awful plans.” She paused, stroking Heinrich’s hand and crying. “We’ve decided the only way to motivate you is to take away everything but your work. We are leaving you alone. We must stop visiting you. If you want to see us again, you will have to finish in the Pit and then come find us.”
The news hit Heinrich like the transparent ripple that ripped his soul from his body.
“Then you can come see me. You can work with me.” Deborah hit the word ‘me’ especially hard. “Or if you must, you can join Virgil in the City.”
“Please.” Heinrich fell to his knees. “I will do anything. Please don’t leave.” He wrapped himself around Deborah’s lower half. The warmth of the fire made it feel as though her body were still warm. The connection was more comforting than it could’ve been anywhere else.
The pause before her response was so long, Heinrich would later conclude that Virgil and Deborah were exchanging a wordless argument above him.
“We must go. Believe that I love you. Believe that you can finish your bodies. And please believe that you are a better man than when you arrived here.” Deborah kissed the top of his head and unraveled his arms from her body.
It was the last thing she said to him for a year.
Virgil remained after Deborah fled. It was a small comfort Heinrich would only be afforded for another few minutes.
“I want to show you something,” Virgil explained, trying to get his distraught friend’s attention. Out of Virgil’s pocket came a thing Heinrich gave up as useless a long time ago: a gun. “I had two on me when I died. I lost the one I fired, but this was still strapped to my calf.”
And Heinrich had his rifle, but knowing how much blunt force it took to destroy The Dead’s shell bodies confirmed that his rifle was better for hitting people with than shooting them. Virgil’s weapon was a black handgun, and a .38 at that, which created a hole no larger than a penny.
“What good is it?” Heinrich mumbled.
Virgil popped the clip out of the handle and showed it to Heinrich. It was nearly full, a total of nine bullets. “There is a man in the City; he trades weapons. He’s got sticks and bats in almost infinite variations, but what he doesn’t have, what he prizes, is inside here.” Virgil popped one of the bullets out of the clip and held it up for his friend to view. “There is something inside this little bullet that exists nowhere else in Hell. It creates things that normally only God can create in the afterlife.”
Heinrich put it together himself. “Gunpowder.”
“Yes, with gunpowder we can make a fire or an explosion, and those are far rarer than any stick or bat. The weapons dealer is offering five weapons for a single bullet. I have enough here for 45 weapons. I have twice that many men. With those two things I can build a foundation, I can begin to push back against Marcus. I want you to have hope, Heinrich. But you have to do your part too. You have to finish here. I would take you now, please believe that. But Deborah would never forgive me if I put you off your redemption in order to draft you for a war. So, please, finish in the Pit and when you are ready we will fight together.”
Heinrich never fought in a war while alive. His time in the army was between the wars. By the time Germany invaded its neighbors, he was at Dachau. Could he fight for Hell? For the rest of humanity? It didn’t sound like him. But Virgil’s eyes were wide and his expression so welcoming to someone he should’ve hated. If Virgil wanted to fight with Heinrich, how could Heinrich say no?