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.
MAX EXISTED IN A CONSTANT terrible position. He had places he needed to be as ordered by two different leaders. If Marcus told him to do one thing, Virgil often wanted him to run over and inform his side of the task before completing it as ordered. It was one of the reasons he needed to run twice as fast as anyone else in Hell. For Max, the key to surviving his spy status was looking for opportunities. Once, Marcus remarked that Max was the fastest Newly Dead person he’d ever seen. Max took this as an unintentional cue to slow down. He used that opportunity to spend a little more time with Virgil, causing him to arrive a little later for Marcus. If Marcus wasn’t going to be around for three days, Max had ample time to lead the new recruits to the City, meet up with Virgil, exchange information and return to the Camp as ordered. But now there was an additional task he felt compelled to perform and he just didn’t know how to fit it in.
The new recruits loved the river. They’d seen it before, of course, but their feeling of relief was turning into real relaxation and excitement. They kept asking him about the City.
“Does it have enough fires for everyone?” Sun asked, eyes wide.
“We don’t need as many,” Max explained, “because the City is the only place in Hell with electric light.”
This was met with cheers.
“I am so tired of stumbling in the dark!” Yi Soo groaned.
“The fires are just for warmth then?” Sun asked.
Max laughed. “They should be but….” He wasn’t allowed to give out the fire’s other purpose. “Let’s just say you will see.”
“So mysterious,” Sun whispered back in a mocking tone.
“Are there lots of people?” Someone else asked.
“And there are stores; I heard there were stores,” Yi Soo asked.
“Why do you want to shop?” Sun laughed.
“What else are we going to do?” Yi Soo responded.
“Look, it’s not the Emerald City,” Max explained. “It’s just the City. It looks like the cities on Earth.”
This was meant to calm them but instead it provoked more excitement. As he explained this, Sun decided to float on her back. Yi Soo dove under the water for a swim, and Max got an idea.
“How long do you want to play in the river?” Max asked the group in a faux patient parent tone.
“We can stop again on the way, can’t we?” Sun asked.
“You won’t want to,” he advised her. “Once you see the City in the distance, you will run at it like a moth to a flame.”
“Can we stay a little bit here, then?” Sun pleaded, exactly as Max needed her to.
“Can we agree to an hour?” he asked the group at large. In response, he saw smiles and nods. “Fine. An hour. I am going to rest over here.”
“Everyone say ‘Thank you Max.’” Sun sing-songed.
A chorus of ‘Thank you Max’ came from all around. Max waved and smiled in response, waiting for the moment when they would all return their attention back to the water. Then Max ducked behind a boulder and removed all his clothes.
For the last half mile, Max screamed Heinrich’s name. He needed to get to that German bastard before said bastard made it to the Waterfall. Finally, Max turned a corner and nearly ran smack into the glaring brick wall of a man.
“What?” Heinrich demanded.
“You need to go back,” Max began. “I don’t have much time. Marcus is leading a group of guards into the Pit. Those people you left are destroyed if you don’t help them.”
The disbelief on Heinrich’s face might have been comic if Max had time for that kind of crap.
“Look, I’m with Virgil, okay? I’ve been passing bad information to Marcus for months. Virgil doesn’t have the numbers Marcus thinks he does. He needs every soul you just left in the Pit, especially the uniforms. Virgil has to have them if he’s going to defeat Marcus.” Disbelief dissolved into realization on Heinrich’s face. But Max didn’t have time to wait for Heinrich to express this or gratitude or anything else for that matter. Heinrich was Virgil’s man; he would do the right thing. With the message delivered, Max turned and ran back to where he was supposed to be.