I’ve lost track of time. I couldn’t say for sure if it has meaning in a place like this. If it ever had meaning at all really. There are no clocks on the plain wood paneled walls. Just the red display that steadily clicks upwards. The plain voice that calls the numbers out through hidden speakers. I tried for a while counting slowly between the changing digits. Trying to determine how many second between hazy figures rising and walking down the hallway in the front of the room. I got to three hundred and twelve and forgot why I was doing it.
The room has that effect. You just become desensitized. Nothing matters. You aren’t bored. You aren’t curious. You just are.
I hate it.
After half of a life wishing the pain would stop, praying for some kind of release from the dull ache. Well. It turns out it was better than this. By far.
I know I’m dead. I get it. I do. But shit. I would give anything to feel like I needed to pee. Just to feel something. Numb from the bald head down.
Five hundred and seventy eight flashes.
There is something disconcerting about the room as well. Something off. Besides the obvious nature of it being purgatory that is. The wood paneling for one. I swear the grain moves. If I look at it dead on it is still. Like it should be. If I look at it from the corner of my eye though. Maybe I am going mad.
Do you drink your coffee black as well?
The pattern in the wood seems to writhe. Like it is alive. Or something inside of it is trapped and seeks to escape. The more I think about it the more I feel myself not caring. But I should care. It is not right. Is this what happens to souls that get stuck in purgatory? They become animate inanimate things for eternity.
Who cares? It’s just walls.
No. I won’t go numb. Not all the way.
Brown eyes. Her big brown eyes looking up at me with love. With tears welling in the corners. The loose lock of hair I have to push back behind her ear. I can see her face. Smell her hair. She is my everything.
What’s her name?
I want to rage as the room tries to take her from me as well. I want to stand up and kick over the chairs carefully lined up. Pull the display off the wall.
You cannot have her. She is mine. I wasted too long thinking she couldn’t exist for you to just rip her out of my heart. Out of my mind. I refuse.
Five hundred and ninety nine flashes on the display. The voice calls out for five hundred and ninety nine. An indistinct person stands and heads to the hallway in the front of the room.
Allie. Her name is Allie.
The carpet is beige. For all the traffic it must see it seems pretty resilient. It seems to sway slightly. I lower a hand to hover above it but feel no breeze. If I let my eyes unfocus it seems to dance. I lower my hand towards it and it almost seems to sway as far from it as it can. Which is crazy. Like a wall shifting. Like driving for ice cream and ending up in this place.
What is that painting? The guy with the light bulb shaped head on a bridge. His hands like the kid in that movie where he brutalizes the would be burglars. The name Munch swims lazily through my mind. The strands of carpeting look like that guy. Not the kid. Not Munch. The painting guy. The Scream. The Expressionist, Edvard Munch.
Six hundred and twenty eight.
Then my eyes grow wide. I see a dog padding down the aisles between chairs. Occasionally it stops and sniffs an occupant. The people it sniffs seem to vanish. I wonder if they were there at all. I don’t like it. Not a dog person. Always preferred cats. Had a pet dog when I was little and it attacked me endlessly. I remember running through a glass storm door to escape it. Five years old laying on the ground at the bottom of the stairs with shards of glass glittering like diamonds around me.
Six hundred and fifty seven.
Suddenly the hound is in front of me. Staring at me with blood red eyes and fangs bared. A low rumble like thunder emanating from it’s powerful chest. I am frozen with fear as I stare into the eyes of what instinctively I know is death beyond death itself.
“Stand down boy.”
The hound’s ears lie flat against it’s skull and it skulks away with a low whimpering sound.
Six hundred and sixty five flashes.
I watch the numbers flash unwilling to look at the source of the voice. A voice calls out into the waiting room, “Six hundred and sixty six please come to the back now.”
He is staring at me with a slight grin on his face. I couldn’t tell you what he looked like exactly. Just that his eyes burned with crimson fire as he stared into mine.
“That isn’t my number.” I hate the quiver in my voice.
“Are you so sure?”
“I don’t have a number. I was told to wait.”
In my hands was a slip of paper. Three sixes appeared to be burnt into it instead of drawn. “No. This isn’t right.”
“Come. We have much to discuss my new friend.”
I stood on shaking legs. The fear so strong it cut through the numbness inherent in this place. We walked back down the hallway. Past the offices. Past the interrogation room.
“Where are we going?”
“Is that the quiver of terror I hear in your voice?”
“Look. I just want to go home.”
“But why? What is there for you?”
“What if I told you she would be better off without you? That you were holding her back?”
I stopped. It isn’t as if these thoughts hadn’t been in the back of mind. In my dreams. She is beautiful. Smart. She hated when I told her she was perfect. But she is. At least to me. But what did I really bring to the table
Depression. Self doubt.
She would be so pissed at me if she knew I was thinking this.
It was our third date. I had already decided I was head over heels for her. Which was a little bit of a shock to my system. All my previous relationships had been built on a bedrock of sex and indifference. I was afraid. There was something new inside of me. She made me nervous. When she smiled at me I realized I would do anything to make sure she smiled forever. Her smile fit into my broken soul like a key in a lock and made me whole.
So I ran. When faced with everything I had ever wanted in a world of pain. I ran from it. A coward and a fool.
Luckily. She wasn’t about to let that stand.
“I would not believe you.”
His eyes flared at me and he began walking again. I followed him at a distance. He reached the end of the hall and stood before a door. This one was solid black. Unlike the rest of this building, where all was indistinct and just out of focus, the door stood as if daring you to look at it. He opened it and the smell of rotten eggs assaulted me.
Compared to the sparsely nature of everything I had seen so far in death, I was not prepared for this. The room was in different shades of black. Everything was like a shadow. If you stood at the exact right angle I imagined it would look empty. But at the angle I stood at it was pure opulence.
“I am sure you know who I am.”
“You must have questions for me then.”
“Well, the afterlife is a jarring transition.”
“No. Why did you do it?”
He tried to put on a face of indignation. “Do what my son?”
“It was your dog. The hound with red eyes. You put it in the middle of the road. You caused the accident. You are what took me from her.”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“Send me back. If it was a mistake. Send me back. Please.”
He ignored me. Stepped behind a bar and poured himself a drink. I watched as he added a handful of olives. He gave me an ashamed look. “I know they are bad for you, but I cannot help myself. Would you like one?”
“Your loss. I’m told I make the best martini in the afterlife. It reeks of sycophantism if I am honest. I could piss in a glass and no one would say it wasn’t anything but perfection.”
I just stood and stared at him.
“So. Wondering why I brought you here?”
“What if I told you I could make all your dreams come true?”
“I can go back?”
“In a way.”
“Sounds like you cannot make my dreams come true then.”
“You are so caught up on this girl. There are billions of women. Literally. Who cares about just one? I can send you back. I heard about how you would have bought Apple stock when it was low. What if I made you a billionaire?”
“So you could live the good life. Imagine it, a private island of your own with a bevy of beautiful ladies to fulfill your every desire. Every desire. Whatever you can think up they will gladly do.”
“I could use my wealth to bring Allie to the island. We could live in seclusion.”
“You would give up paradise?”
“Ask God, if that is who that was. I already have given up on paradise. Maybe we see it as two distinctly different things.”
“Fair enough. Fuck paradise then. You could do good for those that suffer. Donations and advancements for the poor. Cure diseases. Anything. It would all be at the tip of your fingers.”
“Do you have a folder on me?”
“Somewhere, I’m sure there is one. Why?”
“Because I feel you misjudge my altruistic nature. What do I care about helping people?”
He sipped his martini and little sparks of flames danced in his eyes. “You seem adverse to this.”
“I don’t see why. You sent that hound of yours to kill me, or as good as. Now you offer me anything I could want except for what I truly want. You ramble on about cures and paradise. I had my paradise. I had my cure. If we are done here I will go back and sit in the waiting room.”
“Surely there is a deal we can come up with that satisfies both parties.”
“Send me home. To her.”
He took an olive from his glass. The room seemed to twitch for a second. The olive in his well manicured fingers becoming an eyeball gripped in a talon. It was only for a second but I felt my testicles retract into my body. Then he popped the olive into his mouth and bite down with a squish. I would have felt nauseated if not for the numbness. As it was a knot of cold fear grabbed my stomach and balled it up tightly. He smiled at me as if he knew what I had seen. As if he had let me see it. His handsome face with the well groomed goatee and pointed mustache. Not the mass of burnt flesh…
“You are interesting to me. Very interesting. I offer you the world and you refuse. My father offered you heaven. Another refusal. I don’t mean to sound judgmental, but you seem to be an idiot.”
“Not the first time I have been told that. Why did you send the dog?”
“What if I told you I didn’t? What if I told you that father did?”
“I would say you lie again. I saw the look on his face when I asked about it. What would be the end game for you here? It makes no sense. I was not hurting anyone. I was getting ice cream. Just ice cream. I did nothing to anyone.”
“Maybe that is why. So perfectly balanced between sin and saint. So uncaring about either. You would give up heaven. You would give up a second chance to have what any man would dream of. Piss it all away for a broken woman.”
“You know what? Fuck you. Fuck your opinion. I would have gratefully sold my soul to you anytime over a span of twenty years. You wait until I finally find peace! Finally find the missing piece! No, you can take your fucked up face and go back to Hell. I’ll be sitting in the waiting room until she shows up. I haven’t needed you this long in my life and I sure as fuck don’t need you now.”
I walked to the door and reached for the knob. The room flickered again. The door was still black as night but covered in words I could not read. The door knob went from a simple brass handle to the snarling face of a rabid wolverine type creature. I jerked my hand back as it snapped towards my fingers.
“I am not finished with you.”
I turned and looked at him. He wafted between furious and trying to appear likeable. I flipped him off and opened the door quickly. The pain I expected did not come and I hurried back into the hallway.
“We will talk again! Soon!”
I stumbled down the hallway with my head turned behind me. I feared he would follow. The black door vanished as I watched it. As quickly as it was gone I questioned whether it had been there at all. When I turned back around I found myself running directly into the hazy figure of…
“God?” I muttered as I fell to the floor.
“What? Oh yes. It’s you. The rain. Rocky Road, wasn’t it?”
I nodded as I picked myself back up. “I just met your son.”
“The two of you are similar creatures. Thick headed. Tenacious. Single minded. What did he want?”
“You already know.”
He chuckled. “I do. What was your answer?”
“You know that as well.”
“I don’t actually. Part of the whole thing.”
“The whole thing?”
“Come. You are not going to like this.”
He led me down the hall. This time a golden door stood waiting for us. He opened it and waved for me to enter.
“Please be seated.”
“I don’t want to sit.”
“You sound defensive. Sit. I can have snacks brought in?”
“Would you like coffee? Black, as always?”
“No thank you.”
“What can I do for you?”
“We both know the answer to that. But you will pretend you cannot. So latest try something different.”
“And what would be different?”
“Even if that truth is not something you will want to hear?”
“When is the truth ever been what someone wanted to hear?”
“Fair. How well versed are you with the Bible?”
“Ever heard of Job?”
“The name is familiar. I prefer Greek mythology.”
“Cheeky bastard. Job was a virtuous man. He spent his whole life doing good. Satan rather disliked him. So he came to me with a wager. He swore he could make this virtuous man a sinner. He failed. It infuriated him.”
“Over the years he has attempted to prove his low opinion of man.”
“And this low opinion, how often is he right?”
“Roughly half the time.”
“So he had his hound stand in the rain…”
It was raining. Brown eyes with sadness. It had been a bad day. She just wanted Rocky Road. Big fat drops hit my bald head. All I want is to make her happy. I love her. I love you, Allie. I love you. More than anything. More than life.
“…this was all a game? A test? Would I forsake everything for heaven. Or return to Earth but give up on…”
Do you drink your coffee black as well?
“…to give up my love. A game. It’s all a fucking game.”
“Yes. I was unaware. Normally he picks good men. Ones without sin. Then you mentioned the hound. He chose differently. One who walked the razor edge. An unbeliever. Instead of sin he wanted a test of love.”
“I am impressed with you. You willingly walked into death. Without a second thought. You refused to accept it was over. You recognized the hound. The circumstances. Then when given the choice of eternal light and salvation, you still chose her. Three times you put her above all else.”
This couldn’t be a fucking game.
“Then Satan himself offered up all the riches and pleasures of the mortal could. Do you understand the magnitude of loving someone else so fiercely?”
“It was all a game. Just a stupid game to pass the eons. I was just a pawn.”
“No. You were proof.”
“Love. True love.”
“Yet I lost it because of a simple game played by two bored immortals.”
“Can you forgive me?”
“No. I said it to him and I’ll repeat it to you. How many times did I beg? Did I pray? Did I offer all of who I was to you for a break from the pain? You watched with indifference.”
“You are correct.”
“Yay. I was right. Whoopty fucking Doo. Pardon my language.”
He stared at me. I don’t know what expression was on his face. It is impossible to focus enough to see detail. I imagine it to be the look a lost puppy gets. And then he raised his hand and snapped…
It is raining. It always starts with the raining. Always. I run to the car as the first cold wet drops splat on my bald head. I press the button, hear the door unlock, jump in and press the ignition. The car starts as the drops fall faster. They are loud and only grow louder as they fall. But not as loud as the music. Crunchy guitars assail me in the thumping rain.
One, Two, Three, Four!
I jump as it the music starts. Always forgetting how loud I had it as I drove home from work. I reach to turn it down to normal levels but stop myself.
She was a star dressed in black, dressed in black. When I’m so cold all of the time, all of the time.
I sing along. I always sing along as I put it into reverse and back out of the driveway. I see her watching me from the window. A small, apologetic smile on her beautiful face and a slight wave. I throw the devil horns to her and smile back as I flip on the headlights.
This isn’t right. What is happening? I don’t understand.
My phone rings and the music cuts out. Allie flashes on the display. “Hey beautiful.”
“Never mind going to the store.”
A hound with red eyes. The car flips. Blood and ice cream ooze together in the rain.
“It will only take a minute. You had a rough day. It is no big deal.”
Send me back to her. Send me back.
“I just checked the freezer in the basement. There is three pints of Rocky Road already. And that abomination vanilla. I don’t know how I missed seeing them. Come back. I miss you.”
I stop and pull over. My hands are shaking. Beige carpet like living souls. The wood grain shifting. I feel sweat blossom on my head despite the chill outside.
“Did you hear me? Please come home. Dinner is almost done. And I need a shower with a scary looking psychopath to wash my back for me.”
“I love you Allie. So very much. You know that right?”
“You ran out into what could be the storm of the century to get me ice cream. I think I know you love me. I love you too. Now hurry up. I’m starting the shower. There is just enough time before dinner.”
“I am a couple blocks away. See you soon.”
I don’t understand. But I am smart enough to not question it either. I make a u-turn as the rain begins to really fall. The music come roaring back and my fingers unconsciously tap the steering wheel.
The water splashing against the windshield made it hard to see even as the wipers worked overtime. As I pulled up to a stop sign I watched the lightning flash across the sky. It was so vivid. It really felt as if I had died. I could recall nearly every detail. Am I losing my mind? Finally slipping over the edge?
Oh my oh my oh my, What if it was true? Oh my oh my oh my tell me it was true. Did he did he did he, die upon that cross? And did he did he did he, come back across?
The Violent Femmes snap me back to reality. I laugh at the song choice the shuffle gods sent to me. Jesus Walking on the Water as rain falls from the sky and I daydream about purgatory and snarling hounds with red eyes. I shake it off and sing along with the Femmes as I continue home. A nice shower and some beautiful brown eyes taking over my head.
As I pull away from the intersection a movement catches my eye out the side window. A man standing in the rain waves at me. The water running down the window makes his face a blur. I roll down the window to see if he needs a ride. Another flash of lightning arcs and the boom of thunder makes me jump a little. I blink the spots from my vision. The man is no longer there. If he ever was to begin with.