Perdition reached into Bill’s mind and wrestled it awake. Bill sprung to consciousness, as if he’d been awoken from an nightmare. He tried to sit up, but the only movement possible was a slight head tilt that brought his chin to his collarbone. Bill’s neck had never felt fatter. He was fastened to a wooden plank, which was sloppily painted white and was only a few inches longer than he was tall. Bill inched his head forward as far as he could to get a look at his bindings. His feet and hands, which were placed on his sides, were locked in white shackles drilled into the plank.
Well, it’s not a cross. I guess I’m not being crucified. Well…at least not yet.
He was moving down a long, stone hallway with no ornaments or stylings. There was barely any light, which made it difficult to see, but it looked to Bill like they were in the midst of a vast labyrinth. Dark corridors and dead end hallways branched out like tree roots from the main path. Bill found one silver lining: he was no longer naked. He was donning a black, loose robe with a hood that could have belonged to the Grim Reaper.
“God’s prophet has awakened, I see. What an honor it is to escort you to your baptism.”
Startled, Bill looked up and saw Perdition standing over him, cheesing an eerie grin. Part of his robe’s hood hung over Bill’s eyes and that made it difficult to see his captor’s full face. He was able to discover what the only source of light was in the medieval stone maze. A faint light emanated from the Seraph’s robe, which served as a lamp in the dark hallway. The quality of the light was the opposite of fluorescent. It reminded Bill of the sticks of liquid that would glow in the dark when cracked. Unlike Wrath, Perdition’s teeth were the same shade of black as its skin. Its white robe made the black teeth especially jarring. Bill noticed backpack-like straps that criss-crossed around the angel’s neck so tightly that he imagined the angel was in a good deal of discomfort.
“Are those straps cutting off your airway? Is that the only thing holding me up?” Bill figured that was the only explanation for the straps.
“It is. Don’t worry I won’t drop you. That would be cruel.” Another chuckle left the Seraph’s lips. “I don’t breathe prophet. One of the luxuries of immortality is the abstinence of respiration.” Bill worried that Perdition had a darker sense of humor, along with a more cruel interpretation of whatever the prisoner protocol Wrath referred to.
“Where are we? Is this purgatory?”
“Indeed. The Governor processed you and congratulations, you passed inspection. We’ve been walking amongst heaven’s hopefuls for some time now. It’s a shame most end up just a bit south of there.” Perdition mockingly gnashed his teeth a few times.
“Who is the governor and what do you mean I passed inspection?”
“The Governor presides over all of Purgatory, but the Tribunal issues the judgments. The Governor answers directly to Gabriel, but between you and I, it’s really just a glorified babysitter. The inspection is always just a formality, part of the intake process. Once the Governor gave his blessing, we embarked on the descent. That was six hours ago. I’ve been lugging the human burden, that is you plump body, ever since.”
“Oh my G–… Oh dammit! I need to stop taking the Lord’s name in vain.” Bill banged the back of his head against the plank.
“You’re about to be baptized in the Temple of the Seventh. You have sins far greater to answer for than some Evangelical superstition. The Godhead, to use your vernacular, doesn’t give a shit about your tongue slips.”
“Fine. Oh my God! Jesus Christ! Hail Mary! Cock. Balls. How’s that?” Bill had found his spunk again.
“Careful, prophet. I’d better not sense any emotion besides dread from you.”
Bill rolled his eyes and ignored the comment.
“It really takes six hours to get through purgatory?”
“Each level isn’t a floor in a building, prophet. It is a separate, parallel universe. You can’t run to the sixth level from where I’m taking you. But the sixth universe is only accessible from the fifth and the seventh only accessible from the sixth and so on. You’d have to hold an angel hostage. No small feat.” Another laugh was let loose at Bill’s expense.
“How do you go between them? If there’s different dimensions, why are we walking in a dungeon hallway from the Middle Ages?”
“Only the Seraphs of the Tribunal can transmigrate purgatorial and hellonic dimensions. This is the membrane.”
“Huh? Membrane? Like mucous?”
“Yes, prophet. We transmigrate through the aid of snot. I swear, humanity is insufferable. I’ll never understand the Godhead’s obsession with your race. Mankind is a pebble in the shoe of the cosmos.”
“I’m just curious. I’m trying to be respectful and scared or whatever you want.”
“Yes. A pitiful attempt, but an effort nonetheless. Any place where a nexus between two universes exists, there’s a fogginess to reality. Each one bleeds into the other, so it’s necessary for our corrective institutions to be located a safe distance away from the unstable gateways. We’re almost to the Seventh’s Temple.”
“Why is it called the Temple?”
“The Godhead calls this realm the Temple of Judas because the Seventh is where the Tribunal does its most audacious purifications. Here is where those who’ve fallen the furthest from grace are baptized. Think of it as the intensive care unit of the afterlife. Some are capable of redemption, some are not. Affectionately, we renamed it the Temple of Tormented Souls. It paints a more tangible picture. Wouldn’t you agree?”
Perdition stuck out its tongue and flicked it side to side for several seconds. Bill did his best to compose himself, but felt his long-dormant bowels awaken.
A few moments of silence passed while the Seraph carted him through the endless network of stone and shadow. It became evident that they were approaching something large. The near total silence was being replaced with a static din, high in pitch but with a dense texture to its sound. Bill guessed it was being produced by machinery similar to whatever parted the concrete walls at Heavens’ Gate.
“What’s going to happen to me now?” Bill’s eyes widened as the noise crescendoed with each step that Perdition took.
“Did you not listen to Wrath? Your charges will be enumerated as the punishments are dispensed.”
“Dammit, why do you sadistic bastards have to explain things like a women’s studies professor with a stick up her ass? Jesus spoke in parables so that people could understand him easier. Why don’t you give that a try?”
“Careful, prophet. You cannot recklessly invoke scripture against me. You forfeited that privilege when you used it to defraud your flock. That aside, remember – Jesus was speaking to people he was trying to save. I speak to you from a different vantage point.”
“I thought there’s a chance of parole!”
“Sometimes everyone needs a dash of hope.” Perdition released a laugh, this time without restraint. His borderline psychopathic wails echoed through the stone chambers, but Bill could barely hear it with the temple’s impending sound of doom.
“What are you saying? It’s been decided?! Seraph, answer me!”
Perdition stopped walking and looked deep into Bill’s eyes.
“If you raise your voice to me again, I will deliver you to the Adversary himself and won’t leave his company until I see his legions admit you into the hellfire. Speak no more until I deliver you to the Warden!” Perdition’s breath was so violent and scalding that Bill had to shut his eyes. “Now, verily I say unto you, the gateway to the Temple is ahead. Your baptism is at hand.”
The light from Perdition’s robe dimmed to almost nothing. The hallways and stone ceilings retreated from visibility. Bill could only see as far as his knees. The din of doom continued to grow louder. Its vibrations traveled through the stone floor and eventually to Bill’s wooden plank. Far off in the distance, Bill saw a faint light. It was flickering, like a candle blowing in the wind.
Perdition’s pace picked up from a jaunty stroll to a fascist march. The glow of the mysterious light grew along with the oncoming roar. As they continued toward it, Bill became certain that the light was the source of the thunderous din, or at least next to it. Whether that was good or bad, he didn’t know, but what he did know was that the noise wasn’t a giant piece of machinery. It was hundreds, maybe thousands of voices that harmonized together in monotone perpetuity. The choir wasn’t singing a note of worship. It was a symphony of human misery.