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.
There is more to Alex than the whole Mormon thing, which Marcus is counting on.
The Pit: Watchmaker’s Hell: Book One
ALEX IS A BAR ROOM BRAWLER
Nadia, Marcus & Alex
The Pit, Hell
NO MATTER HOW SIMPLE THE plan, someone had to interfere. And with Marcus’ luck in the last few years, the interfering party would be the exact person he wanted miles away.
Marcus had two options: India or China. The fires at the bottom of each stair often became a source of tension. Standing near the fire made The Dead’s skin feel warm, tingly and alive. Everyone wanted to be near the fire. This was only possible for the first few hours, depending on the fire’s location. The 8, 9, 10 and 11 o’clock platforms saw the most Dead as they connected to Asia, the most populated continent. Even though dozens of countries utilized these platforms and stairs, the two larger nations, India and China, usually took over at least two of the adjoining fires because they had enough people to dominate. Eventually, even with all The Dead from little neighboring nations gone, the Indians and the Chinese still felt cramped as more and more Dead arrived. When humanity is pressed for resources or space, they come to the same conclusion: Dead or alive, fight to keep what you have, kill to get what you don’t. The natural violence Marcus knew was coming would begin with India or China, it always did. This was not because of lack of character on a part of these Dead or lack of peaceful philosophy. Instead it was due to need.
Alex wanted to seek out more Dead to talk to. The group he’d gathered, much to Marcus’ annoyance, had yet to disperse. They stood near the original meeting place, talking over each other’s stories and theorizing on why they were there. It was time consuming, distracting, and Marcus feared it would draw the recruits away from him and his people. Marcus suggested they seek out Dead among the harder fires to breach, Asia. Unfortunately, Nadia overheard this and volunteered her Hindu and Punjabi language skills. As thrilled as Marcus was that Nadia also spoke several languages, she was the last person Marcus wanted with them.
Within the crowd of Indians gathered near the 10 o’clock fire, dozens of people waited in long lines, radiating out from the fire like spokes on a wheel. Perfect, Marcus thought, nothing puts people in a crappier mood than waiting. He weaved through the crowd waving and saying hello in Hindi: “Hailo.” Behind him, Alex repeated the word nervously. Turning, Marcus saw the wild excitement on his face. Was this Alex’s first foray around the world without the Navy backing him up? Marcus concluded that might be the case. But Alex’s narrowness of experience would also make him more attached to that damn cross on his chest.
“Wait we’ve lost Nadia.” Alex grabbed his arm.
Nadia kept getting distracted, talking to people. “We’re here to find people to talk to. If she finds someone then leave her to it,” Marcus argued.
“We need her to translate,” Alex protested.
“She’ll catch up, it will be fine.” With that, Marcus pulled Alex deeper into the crowd.
Searching the lines radiating out from the fire, Marcus saw the two things he wanted. He pointed out the second one to Alex. “See those ladies along the wall? We should start with them. They’re talking and laughing. Everyone else seems kind of tense.”
Alex nodded, looking around. Of course he agreed everyone else was tense because he felt nervous.
Marcus approached the other thing he needed: a huge dude in a teal tunic set looking put upon for having to stand in line. In order to get to the wall ladies, they would have to cross that line. Marcus moved sideways and, saying nothing, squeezed past the big man, deliberately moving far too close to him. Just to emphasize the insult, Marcus shot him the quickest of annoyed looks—too quick for Alex to see. The big man immediately protested, shoving Marcus, finally severing Alex’s grasp on him. Marcus put up his hands in mock surrender. “Sorry. Just walking by.” Marcus shouted in his most conceited tone. Big man took the bait, to Marcus’ utter joy. He grabbed Marcus by the t-shirt, causing Alex to intervene.
“Hey, he’s said he’s sorry…” Alex protested as he inserted himself between the big man and Marcus. Big Man shoved his finger in Alex’s face while yelling at him in Hindi. Alex continued putting his hands up, shaking his head. Marcus backed up to let the fight play out.
“Oy,” Nadia shouted in the direction of the argument. Marcus ran to her side, grabbing her arm.
“It was an accident,” Marcus began, pulling on her arm to imply an insistent message when in reality it held her back. “Now he’s getting all upset.”
Nadia wrenched her arm free without a sideways glance. She shoved her way into the middle of the argument, screaming responses in Hindi to the big man’s threats.
This was why Marcus didn’t want her to come along. How was the lawyer going to back away from an argument?
Then Alex did Marcus a favor, however unintentionally. “Get her out of here,” he whispered to Marcus urgently.
Marcus obeyed, dragging Nadia away by the arm. Alex backed away with them, his hands still up, still protesting that he meant no harm. Big Man wasn’t backing down and didn’t like the reasonable act this American was putting on. As the time-honored tradition of the asshole, he responded to Alex’s hands up gesture with a small shove to Alex’s shoulder. Alex put his hands down, feeling less reasonable and clearly offended. With a grimace, he explained again that they meant no harm and would be leaving.
Naturally, this was when Nadia wiggled herself out of Marcus’ grasp. Reinserting herself into the argument, she explained in Hindi that Big Man had no right to push her friend. Her statement was received with an eye roll.
The ladies from the wall started shouting at Big Man as soon as he shoved Marcus. Apparently, he’d been pushing people around all day and they were tired of it. The shortest lady inserted herself into the argument, knocking Alex out of the way in the process.
“Excuse me?” Alex exclaimed to her back.
Nadia shouted to the woman to stay out of it, causing her to round on Nadia.
Meanwhile, Big Man said something nasty and untranslated to Alex over the two women’s heads. Marcus examined Alex’s expression closely. With his hands on his hips, Alex looked like he could go either way. He could be a credit to that cross on his chest and walk away from the clear insult that he couldn’t understand. Or he could be a credit to the sinner he once was, the bar room brawler who sent his own brother to the hospital, and respond in kind.
For her part, Nadia began backing away from her shouting adversary. She wasn’t making any headway with this hot head. Shooting a worried look at Marcus, she put her hands up in response to the woman’s barrage of angry words.
Then one useless motion broke the stalemate. The Big man leaned forward and faux spit on Alex’s feet. The man had no saliva left to expel. Nothing left him or landed on Alex. But the meaning was clear.
Alex punched the Big Man in the face. And Marcus let out a sigh of relief no one heard. The momentum would take the two men to where he needed them: destruction town. Now he just needed to get Nadia out of there.
Big Man got Alex in a headlock. Alex punched his arm repeatedly, cracking and breaking the man’s grip. Big Man used the other arm to elbow Alex in the face, knocking him to the ground.
This knocked the screaming woman toward Nadia. In response, she grabbed Nadia by the hair. Nadia screamed.
“Get her out of here,” Alex ordered from his spot on the ground.
“I’m trying,” Marcus yelled back.
Marcus grabbed the woman’s hair, yanking her off his potential recruit. Once the woman was tossed to the ground, Marcus put his arm around Nadia and looked up. He suddenly realized everyone was watching this fight. They were surrounded by a ring of shouting, pointing bystanders.
“I’m not sure who’s with us and who’s against us here,” Marcus admitted to Nadia.
“Let’s get Alex and go,” Nadia responded. She held up her hands and announced to the crowd, in Hindi, that they didn’t want to fight and would leave willingly. Another woman from the wall screamed something unintelligible at Big Man. Then she and her friends set themselves on him. She pounded his chest until it caved in while the other ladies worked on his limbs and head. In the scuffle, Alex was getting trampled. He kept kicking and hitting the legs near him. This caused one of the women to focus her attention on Alex, diving to the ground to straddle his chest and beat him on the face and shoulders. Behind him, the other women got Big Man to the ground. The damage went beyond cracks. The man’s head came off and was trampled. His arms and legs were severed intentionally by the women. Then they attacked his torso, leaving his clothes deflated on the ground. Within moments he’d gone from actively starting a fight to missing. His only remains were a collection brown shards and a bit of hair. He was gone.
Nadia screamed. A wall of sound rose around them, drowning Nadia out, as the crowd offered cheers and protest to the sight of Big Man’s destruction.
Turning to see Alex fighting with their friend, the other ladies joined in. But Alex was no longer fighting; he was overwhelmed, with his arms over his face, his torso already deflated.
The situation was out of Marcus’ control. He meant to start a small fight, not enter an arena used for fighting to the death. It was time to abandon the ‘little boy who doesn’t know what he’s doing’ act and save Nadia from this murderous crowd. Marcus threw Nadia over his shoulder. She gasped. With one last glance, he saw the ladies hold Alex’s head up for a crowd reaction of cheers and boos. Marcus ignored the triumphant image and pushed his way out of the crowd.