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.
DONE AND SHAKING, HEINRICH couldn’t face the others in Hell for a full minute after his return. Behind him, Sid and Nadia figured out the significance and then Sid explained to Pati in Arabic. Pati entered the water unbidden and hugged Heinrich’s back. This brought Heinrich back to the present.
Based on their expressions as they squatted at the edge of the pool, Sid and Nadia wanted to discuss something with him.
“We want you with us,” Nadia began, “when we leave the Pit.”
Heinrich sighed and hoisted himself out of the water. He helped Pati out partly because it felt natural and partly to stall for time.
“The other German says right. I am monster. I am dangerous,” Heinrich finally explained.
Sid shrugged. “This place is dangerous. I’m not afraid of you.”
“You’ve protected us Heinrich—helped us. I don’t want to move forward without you,” Nadia argued.
Pati chimed in with Sid translating.
“I think you don’t know the difference between what you did earlier and what you did during the war. Maybe there isn’t one. God seems to have decided there isn’t. But to me there is. You tried to protect me and then you saved the rest of us. It’s not the same thing. It’s not evil. I know you lost control. You regret that. I understand. I just wish you realized this began not because of your evil but because of that European and Marcus. They dragged you into their fights. It would have been so hard not to respond to that—superhuman or something. I couldn’t do it, I shoved that man. I’m not blaming you or hating you because you couldn’t walk away. You aren’t less to me because of what happened. I wish you knew that. I know violent men. I’ve had a sudden education in violent people this year. But you aren’t one of them. Not to me. I can see the difference, even if you can’t.”
In response, Nadia smiled. “Well put. Thank you Pati.” Sid missed parts of the incident Pati alluded to. At that time, he was still at the river with the Japanese. Pati’s description left him with a question. “Did that man attack Pati as well as yourself?”
“Well then we are stuck,” Sid explained, “because there is this whole Arab thing, with the tribe and so forth and I’m not big on it. But in this place I feel I should be. And Pati’s not leaving without you. Which means Abdul, who is Pati’s actual family, is not leaving without you. And then I can’t leave without you because…er…solidarity and so forth….”
“Try sounding a little less English when you say it,” Nadia chided.
“Woman, that’s how irony works,” Sid retorted.
“What my ethnically confused friend is trying to explain,” Nadia summed up, “is we can’t go back to the tribe people without you,” to which Sid laughed. “We’ve already lost 45 people. I can’t lose you as well.”
“So if you don’t come back with us,” Sid surmised, “we have nothing better to do than spend eternity, here, with you, possibly sitting in a circle staring at you as we’ve nothing better to do.”
Heinrich sighed. This particular social pressure was so odd. He was accustomed to being ignored or threatened or cajoled based on love of the Fatherland. He didn’t know what to do with ‘we will be weird until you do what we say.’
But still he was reluctant. He couldn’t express to them where the hesitation was coming from. Its root lay in his inability to decide between joining Deborah or joining Virgil. Should he face the place he once worked and thought he couldn’t stand to see again or should he join the fight in the City, which might be easier but might alienate him from Deborah?
Heinrich did his best to explain this in English. “I do not know where to lead you,” he concluded. “Virgil has bullets, he can make war….”
“Wait,” Sid interrupted him, the realization dawning. “Bullets are valuable?”
Heinrich nodded. Sid looked at Nadia. She shrugged and nodded her head. With his own shrug, Sid pulled the gun from his waistband and handed it to the new leader of the uniforms.
It amazed Sid how differently one person handled this object versus another. He didn’t know how to hold it, except as if he were shooting it, with the handle in his palm. But that seemed wrong if he weren’t planning to shoot anytime soon. And there were little levers and buttons all over it. The only one he could identify was the trigger. The rest were a mystery to him—but not to Heinrich. With his large hands, the commandant of the guards popped the clip out of the handle. It looked full. He looked up at Sid and Nadia to see if they grasped the riches they’d been carrying around for the last five days. He was met with an open expression on Nadia’s part and a shrug from Sid. It was impolite, but Heinrich had to groan at the naivety of these two.
Down on the ground he popped the round out of the chamber and did the same for each bullet in the clip. In all there were 30 rounds.
“This is so much,” Heinrich groaned. He wished they hadn’t shown it to him. “This is enough for war.”
“I don’t want to go to war,” Nadia stated simply.
Sid translated for Pati. She was fine with going to war.
“I don’t know,” Sid groaned when it was his turn for an opinion. “Marcus needs to be removed. But I haven’t a clue how to win a war.”
Nadia thought as her friend spoke. “Your dilemma, Heinrich, is now ours. How do we choose? Where do we go? Deborah or Virgil?”
Pati suggested that they needed to take Heinrich to Deborah because their friend needed to reconnect with her teachings. While Heinrich agreed, the bullets at his feet drove his own needs to the side. It wasn’t just about him anymore, especially if he was now trying to protect these people.
“Here’s the thing,” Nadia opened her argument, “I’m not ready. And,” she groaned, “look, we tried to attack Marcus in the Pit, before you returned.”
Sid moaned and put his face in his hands. “Please don’t tell him,” he entreated Nadia, clearly embarrassed.
“We were rubbish, Heinrich,” Nadia explained. “We didn’t hurt him a bit. We aren’t ready to fight a war. We can’t go straight to Virgil. We won’t be any good to him yet.”
“What battle experiences will we gain with Deborah?” Sid asked rhetorically.
“We don’t, I know that,” Nadia conceded. “But we’ll learn more of Hell.”
Sid translated along for Pati. Their burqa-laden friend interjected with, “You expect her to talk us out of the war, don’t you?”
Nadia answered with a pained smile. “Perhaps.”
“If you need learning or to learn,” Heinrich announced, “we go to Deborah. It is best place to begin.”