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.
ALLISON’S WHOLE RELATIONSHIP with sex was underdeveloped. In many ways, she felt underdeveloped. The dawning of lustful feelings began around her thirteenth birthday and very slowly increased over the next four years. She was fifteen before she thought of these feelings as relating to sex. Between thirteen and fifteen, it was more like she wanted to give a lot of full body hugs and long kisses to various males she came across. Then her nipples and crotch seemed to slowly turn from nonexistence to a slow hum to full volume. Still, she wasn’t entirely sure what to do with this new noise. She could imagine sex based on descriptions, but what good did that do for her? For once, her parents were helpful. The one area in which Anna and Ben Yates excelled was talking to her about difficult teenage topics, namely sex, stress and social confusion. They promised her everyone developed at different rates and there was no point comparing herself to others; she was normal and would get there in time. Ben even offered stories from his own boarding school days when he realized the other boys were masturbating and he was not. It took him until he was 15 because he too was a late bloomer. But being decent parents meant they always coupled these open discussions with warnings on the responsibility of choosing to cross the line into adulthood. It meant unwanted pregnancy, an extremely weighted term in their household and/or possible disease. Since Allison didn’t need any more responsibility than she already had, she decided to postpone sex until college.
For Christoph, the announcement that sex was possible in Hell left him with a slew of contradictory emotions. First, he was pleased to consummate his reunion/new love. Allison needed to be taken care of, and he’d promised to do so. And sex for him always felt like the most care-taking thing he did for his partners. He could be insolent and self-involved, but when making love, he set that aside. After all, the most pleasure he could find came from the orgasms of women. He once told Sabine he could come on the spot when she did but often held off to see if she would come again. In Hell this commitment to female pleasure was what caused the most confusion. How was he supposed to take care of Allison, sexually, in these new bodies with some kind of new lovemaking that belonged to The Dead? He would be failing her if he didn’t come into this thing with a plan, wouldn’t he? But how could he form a plan for a thing if he’d never done it before? On earth, he had years of experimenting alone and a shorter period of touching and testing girls around him. It didn’t happen all at once. So how could he go from virginal to adept lover in a day?
After six months together, Sabine told him how she came to lose her virginity. When she finally felt ready, she picked someone out, dated him and slept with him. But she’d been in an all-girls Catholic school up to that point. There was little experimentation leading up to the big event. Christoph was shocked when she gave him the timetable. She’d never kissed a man until she met her first lover. A week later, he touched her, the first time anyone had touched her sexually. A month into the relationship, they had sex. Unsurprisingly, almost nothing happened for her in terms of arousal.
“That is insane,” Christoph answered.
“That’s life as a woman,” Sabine explained. “Hugely discouraged from touching ourselves—forbidden from exploring sexually. Then it’s time to grow up and do a thing we barely understand.”
Christoph couldn’t let nothing happen for Allison in terms of arousal. He had to be a million steps ahead to usher her into this thing that could feed them for centuries. Otherwise, his promise was already broken.
The Dead have sex using the fires in Hell. If The Dead in the Pit realized this, the place might turn into an orgy. Or they might start fighting faster, depending on that generation’s feelings about sex. At any rate, Lauren gave Allison and Christoph the low down before sending them to one of the fires that dots the desert landscape. Lauren herself would remain a pre-determined number of paces away for three hours. They were expected to return to her. She asked them not to put her in the position of having to come and interrupt them—basically, don’t be late.
As they approached the fire, Allison started to move faster, dragging Christoph behind. Within a foot of the thing, she whipped off her tank top.
“Whoa,” Christoph begged. “Slow down. Let me.”
He pulled her within inches of the flames. Then he realized he was shaking.
“Are you nervous?” she asked. She looked like she might laugh at him.
“I’ve never done this before,” he answered defensively.
“But don’t you see? That’s what so great about it.” This time she wasn’t laughing. Maybe she hadn’t been earlier. She wanted to share her joy.
“It can be great. I will make it great,” he began.
“No you don’t understand.” She stood on her tip toes to lean her forehead against his. “We’re in the same place. Neither of us has ever done this. With a thirty-year age difference; this won’t happen very often. I want to savor you not knowing what to do.”
At this he laughed and shook his head. “I don’t want to disappoint you.”
“It’s not like that,” she begged. “Don’t say it like that. This isn’t a thing you do to me—it’s something we figure out together. I want to be with you more than I want you to do things for me.”
With that, Christoph finally relaxed. This wasn’t the lovemaking of an older experienced man guiding a virginal girl. This was two children exploring their capacity for pleasure together.
It is good they decided exploring was the objective because there were certain things that just weren’t going to happen.
Naturally they began with kissing. Where they could only make a slight spark by rubbing their lips against each other elsewhere, standing a breath from the fire, their lips felt warm. Using that same rub, they created an electric sensation radiating out from their lips. The first time they tried it, the current radiated to Allison’s earlobes, forehead and neck. The second time, the current ran further to her décolletage and all around her head. By the fifth time, the current reached her nipples, which came alive as if the fire were inside her instead of beside her.
Kissing led to touching with their clothes on for less than a minute. Once the clothes were discarded, Allison went from aroused to feeling a little crazy. Every touch prompted more touching. If he ran his hand over her breasts, she was powerfully torn between enjoying the sensation and the sudden necessity to touch him everywhere. It became a tug of war, as neither of them could sit back and enjoy a sensation for more than a few seconds before rushing to touch the other.
It was a matter of time before touching was also too little. Allison climbed into Christoph’s lap, secure in the electrical current it gave them both at the same time. But she had her legs wrapped around his hips. Her crotch, the most sensitive of areas even in death, was against his lower stomach. It was nice, but there must be a better position, right? They tried the tired but often used man on top of woman position, but that made additional touching difficult. Then they tried side by side, but it meant one of them was closer to the fire and therefore receiving more sensation, so they abandoned that. They even tried a scissors position with only their crotches touching. This position was abandoned the fastest due to limited skin-to-skin contact everywhere but the crotch, and they wanted as much skin on skin as possible. Basically, they wanted everything and crotch touching at the same time. Finally, they settled into a severely bent scissors arrangement that worked nicely. And fifteen minutes after that, they realized it was time to go. They left the act feeling unfulfilled.
“I’ve never stopped doing anything that I liked that much,” Allison confessed on the walk back.
Christoph laughed. “We didn’t finish though. Are orgasms possible here?”
“I have no idea,” she responded. “Should we ask Lauren?”
They both imagined the conversation. Frowns settled over their faces.
“Let’s find this out on our own,” Christoph suggested.
“Like I said, we explore together,” Allison announced.
And they wandered through the desert, high on sex and other unfulfillable ideals.