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.
WHERE WAS A MOMENT IN Pati’s marriage where both parties believed it would work. It took place at the end of day three. They’d just had their first fight, which lead to Pati’s first hard punch in the chin. With this blow, her husband fled the room. Even then, Pati thought, coward, as she watched his fleeing back. After a moment of reflection, she sought out her new abuser. He was new to all of it. Ten years her junior, he’d never been married or maintained a long-term relationship. Before meeting Pati, he felt he would only marry if the situation were perfect and if he were in control of all necessary elements. That fight proved how much his need for external control came from a lack of internal control. In the bedroom, Pati found him sitting with his head in his hands. Throughout the altercation, she’d tried to connect with him, but even something as rudimentary as eye contact seemed impossible. His side of the verbal debate didn’t reflect any of the things she offered on her side. Only if she made a slight error in her argument did he respond to her words, and in that case, he jumped all over the mistake, using it to reflect her overall wrongness. The one thing she wanted and sought upon entering the bedroom was for him to look at her. She reached out to pull his hands away from his face. He turned his face to the wall. She reached for his chin; he shrugged her off. Finally, she knelt in front of him. Because of this action, he turned to her. Once he looked into her eyes, the tears began. She held him and accepted he’d made a mistake. If she could handle him when he was at his worst, these two reasoned together, then they would be ok. They were wrong. What actually happened in that moment was that the cycle of fighting, abuse and apology had begun in earnest and would not end until one of them was dead.
Once Pati’s legs and head were restored in the river, she returned to the Pit, looking for only one person. Her husband’s body wasn’t there, she already knew that. How could he have fallen without her coming across him? She believed Allah had a plan for this tribe and that he had not planned Hell haphazardly. The handful of members who discovered bodies all had several bodies to find or had killed someone in a war. The theme was not lost on her, even if she couldn’t communicate it to most of them. Her husband would be elsewhere. Now she had other business to attend to in the Pit.
Heinrich sat surrounded by the shards of his enemies. Since she’d lost her head (literally) before Heinrich’s return, Pati had no idea how the thing went down. But based on the waves of self-loathing coming off her friend’s slumped body, she guessed it had been brutal. It didn’t matter anyway. She didn’t intend to judge.
Standing in front of him, she kicked his boot to get his attention. He looked up, and Pati held out her hand to help him stand. Heinrich shook his head and then returned his gaze to the ground. Undeterred, Pati kicked his boot again. As he looked up, she once again thrust her hand forward, offering to help him up. He threw both hands in her direction, implying she should shoo. Pati kicked his boot a third time. This time when he looked up, she held one finger up in the air at him. In the west, a middle finger is often used to express Pati’s sentiment, in the Arab world an index finger works for the same purpose. His lip curled into a ‘what the hell’ sneer. Pati’s response to his sneer was naturally to offer her hand to help him up. Heinrich’s expression turned into anguish, and he bowed his head. This too failed to discourage the Nazi’s would-be helper. Instead she leaned forward and placed her (occasionally insulting) index finger underneath his chin and pushed it up. Their eyes met for the first time: his Aryan blue and her deep brown behind a thin veil. After a moment this way, Pati straightened up, and for the last time, offered him her hand. With no other options before him, Heinrich took her offer.
They were getting looks, as well they should. It’s not every day a person dies, goes to Hell, sees a Nazi sitting among people parts looking all sorry for himself, and when he finally gets up is then dragged around by a tiny lady in a burqa. The image was so stupefying, in fact, that it protected the principles from a similar attack based on the Nazi’s uniform, at least until they reached the concentration camp body. Luckily, Sid and Nadia paused from their argument long enough to see The Dead at 6 o’clock pointing and discussing Heinrich as he gasped and bent over one of his bodies.
The two reluctant leaders of Alex’s Tribe were, up until that moment, engaged in an argument about the body between them. At their feet lay a body Nadia recognized due to having examined it just after she died. It was the body of a middle-aged man with blue eyes. The very one that fell on Allison as soon as she stepped down into the Pit. Because Allison mentioned recognizing him but could never remember where from, Sid decided this must be one of her bodies. Nadia countered that even if it was, what did that matter now that Allison had gone over to the dark side? Sid wanted to carry the body out of the Pit. Even if he couldn’t take it to the river for her (Heinrich assured them earlier that bodies can only be sent off by their murderer) he could at least remove it from the Pit for her. Before Nadia could press on the importance of letting the irresponsible teenager complete the task on her own, she glanced past Sid and saw a problem forming.
Crossing the Pit in labored hops, she made it to the pointers before they’d reached a decision on what to do about the Nazi.
She greeted them with, “Hello, he’s actually with us.” Her statement was off-putting enough to give time for Sid to catch up and join the conversation.
“You make the strangest friends in Hell,” Sid joked. Glancing back at Heinrich, Nadia saw him dancing around the body and talking excitedly to Pati. In response, all Pati could do was nod.
“We’re in Hell?” one of the pointers asked, horrified.
“I’m afraid so,” Nadia informed them. “We’ve all taken the life of another….”
As Sid listened to her explain the basics, he too felt the need to check on Heinrich. Their Nazi had the body up on his shoulder but was still talking non-stop to Pati. Sid didn’t remember Heinrich ever saying this many words to anyone except Christoph, and that was only because the professor spoke German.
“Pati has terrible taste in men,” Sid muttered under his breath.
“…and he actually taught us some of this,” Nadia concluded.
“Of course, he’s been dead a while,” reasoned one of the pointers, crossing his arms over his chest.
“Right,” Sid took over, “there are others who’ve been dead longer….”
One last check from Nadia revealed Heinrich to be on his way up the 12 o’clock stairs.
After Sid and Nadia concluded the introduction to Hell for the football fans (also sly distraction from swastika) they followed Heinrich out of the Pit. Most of the tribe members with bodies were milling around by the river, getting ready to send them off. Hiro had a WWII era U.S. Marine at his feet. Next to him, Yato demanded Hiro narrate the whole experience and leave nothing out. Do Jin, carrying his North Korean, was accompanied by Woo Bin down the worn path. Ahead of them, Lt. Fox carried his Iraqi insurgent alone.
Catching up with Heinrich, Sid asked the inevitable question: “Do you know this one?” He indicated the body Heinrich bore heavily on his shoulder.
“He is David.” Heinrich sounded unnecessarily breathless.