Bill was a hundred feet away. The flickering candle wasn’t a candle. It was a square hole in the stone floor that let loose violent storms of light.
What the fuck? Are those strobe lights?
The brightness and pure whiteness of the light signaled that it was probably coming from some kind of industrial LED light bulbs. The lights were fading in and out spastically, as if the light’s power source was unstable. His ears started picking up individual voices within the legion. Different languages. Different ages. Some cries sounded like they couldn’t possibly be coming from human voices.
Perdition started to sprint toward the opening. The plank rattled like a spaceship blasting through the atmosphere. Bill’s head and limbs slammed painfully onto the plank with each step, but Bill didn’t dare disobey Perdition’s order of silence.
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
Ten feet away from the entrance, Perdition came to a halt. The lights flashed so rapidly that Bill thought that a shootout from a Quentin Tarantino movie might be underway. The blood curdling screams’ clarity made Bill lose control of his bowels. Gooseflesh sprung up across his body while he imagined the horrors that he was about to endure.
Bill felt Perdition reach inside his mind again.
“If you have a prayer, say it now. The Godhead does not entertain prayers from inmates of the Temple. Once you pass the threshold in front of you, you will be severed from their census of creation. Whether that is eternal or temporary remains to be seen. I’ll give you one minute to offer the Godhead a final plea.”
Bill prayed, truly prayed, for the first time in his life. He repented and admitted his sins. Tears streamed down his face while he implored God to forgive him for a life of greed and decadence. He opened his eyes, looked up at Perdition and nodded his head.
Perdition descended into the hole in the stone floor. At first, Bill thought he was just going to drop him in, but instead the Seraph walked down a series of wooden steps that had, up to that point, evaded Bill’s field of vision. The steps and walls were all the same grungy, rough-textured white as the board that he was shackled to. As Perdition lowered him down into the pit, Bill witnessed a world around him that defied every expectation he’d developed since Wrath’s sentencing.
It’s like if a condemned Detroit crackhouse was underground…
The staircase descended into a long hallway that resembled an abandoned apartment building. Long tube bulbs were haphazardly placed on the ceiling in random intervals and locations. The flashing made it difficult for Bill to focus on any one aspect; it had the same effect as flash grenades being constantly detonated. The surfaces were all grungy; blood stains coated the walls and floor, while something that looked and smelled like feces was smeared all over the walls and ceiling. The floor was solid concrete but covered with a deadly blend of broken glass and a host of other bizarre dressings. Barbed wire, splintered wood and bones were among the ingredients.
Bill could feel the crunch underneath Perdition’s feet, but he couldn’t hear it. The screams assailed him. The onslaught of the cries paired with the Bush-era interrogation lights were maddening.
Perdition proceeded forward at a snail pace. Bill knew he was just trying to fuck with him. He felt the Seraph once again slip into his thought.
“You soiled yourself before we even made it to the Warden.”
Bill tried to shut out his telepathic mind games, but he couldn’t. The Seraph’s sadistic teasings were louder than any of the tortured cries.
“Look at you. You’re learning to not speak. You can follow directions after all, Rev. Dr. prophet. What do you think of your new home? Is it what you expected?”
Please, make it stop. Please make it stop. Jesus, I know you can hear me. There are no limits to your love and grace. I beg you, have pity on me…on your child.
Formulating a thought was a struggle while being carried through the cacophony.
“I told you, the Godhead is indifferent to your cries now. The Warden and I decide your fate now. I am your God.”
Jesus loves me this I know. For the Bible tells me so…
The madhouse seemed to be designed without a purpose, other than to confuse its inhabitants. Long hallways and doors, some closed and others open, dotted both sides of their path. The harsh flashes illuminated walls that were littered with gashes and scratch marks. The damage to the walls looked like a schizophrenic giant had suffered a complete mental breakdown. Bill’s head swiveled back and forth as quickly as possible while he tried to gain some kind of baseline sense of his reality. Massive swaths of some kind of mucous coated the lower portion of the walls. Perdition grazed the plank along the right wall so that some of the substance seeped onto the plank and touched Bill’s right foot. Whatever it was, it was warm.
“I think you know what that is. Sometimes the Warden enlists the help of other parties to bring the pain. As you can tell by that fresh spluge, some parties enjoy a little fun in the Temple.”
…little ones to him belong. They are weak, but he is strong. Yes…
A garage door-like contraption opened from the ground up at the end of the hallway ahead of them. Bill’s eyes instantly latched onto that focal point because the light coming from that room was constant. The interior looked like a police interrogation room. There was a table with several wooden chairs, two of which were occupied, but he couldn’t focus enough to see any features of the occupants. The floor, walls and ceiling looked they were solid concrete, but the ground was completely cleared of any debris. Bill was grateful that he was heading for a location where the walls weren’t covered in body fluids.
“Here comes the pain, prophet. Soon, you’ll gladly eat the contents of your soiled garments just to get a few seconds of relief.”
…Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. For the Bible tells me so.
Bill could now see the occupants of the room, sitting at the table. There was a muscular man who looked to be about fifty wearing a black jumpsuit. He was bald and rugged-looking; Bill thought he could’ve been a coal miner or a mechanic. The other inhabitant was, what appeared to be, a pre-teenage girl. She was barefoot and dressed in white, flowing pajamas whose color matched her anemic skin tone. Bill couldn’t tell how old she was because her Rapunzel-length, black hair was draped across her face like a scarf. She was chewing the cud with her locks.
“Soon, prophet. You’ll be praying to me, praying to the Warden, even praying to the Warden’s daughter.”
Jesus, PLEASE HEAR ME! HEAR ME!
“That’s what pain does, prophet of whores. It grants divinity to the punisher. I’ll thank you in advance for your deification. It’s a great honor to partake in your baptism. I know that we’ll find serenity in your suffering.”
Perdition walked onto the smooth concrete and the second they cleared the room’s threshold, the door lowered itself back down. Once it closed, Bill’s shackles opened up.
“Roll yourself onto the ground, Dr. Hilton.” Perdition spoke out loud this time.
Bill obeyed and spilled onto the concrete floor like a drunk. The panic-induced diarrhea coated his ass cheeks, which made the robe stick to it as if he’d run through a downpour. The table was close to the door. Behind Bill, the room went back for quite a ways, but the light only illuminated it about ten feet past where he was. Perdition crouched and laid the plank down and then slid his head from the straps’ grip. He walked over to the table and sat down next to the two natives.
“Prophet of whores, until you leave the confines of the Temple, you will now be solely addressed by the name Perverter because that is what you are. If you are capable of purification, you will receive a new body and a new soul. Rev. Dr. William Hilton is no more. You are a soul without a name. Do you understand?”
Bill struggled to his feet and nodded. Perdition turned to the other two at the table.
“This is the Warden and his daughter, Jezebel. They run this operation. I’ll turn it over to them to begin your orientation.” Perdition bowed his head toward the Warden and leaned against the vertical door.
The Warden smiled at the Seraph, stood up and carried his chair over to Bill. Bill pegged him to be at least 6’5’’.
“Sit.” He grunted. Bill thought that, in another life, the Warden could have made a fantastic batman voice actor.
Bill sat down in the metal chair. One of its legs grazed his bare calf. The cold metal sent shivers up his spine. It felt too cold for the room’s climate, which was the only normal thing so far about the Temple. The room was a comfortable seventy degrees: an odd instance of familiarity in the Seventh layer of Purgatory.
“Your charges will be enumerated as the punishments are inflicted, Perverter.” The Warden was looking down into Bill’s trembling eyes.
“I think I’ve heard that before.” Bill said. He had attempted humor in a misguided effort to build rapport.
The Warden nodded his head to Jezebel, who walked past Bill into the darkness; her hair was still stuffed into her mouth. The bottom of her white fluttering pajamas was too long for her height, so they dragged across the stone like a redneck wedding dress.
“We have many transgression to address together and we won’t address your offenses in chronological order. It’s more fun that way. But don’t worry. We’ll get to every single one. The constitution of your soul in this realm is much more durable than your human body was on earth. I could cut off your head and you’d survive it; you’d even be able to see, talk and walk. A soul’s damnation or purification is a matter of will, not blood loss. Before we begin, I’d like to go over the “why” behind your stay here. So, let me ask, why are you here?”
Bill looked confused.
First I get asked if I’m comfortable and now I get asked why I’m here. They love the fucking mind games.
“As Perdition told you, We can hear and see your thoughts. Try to silence them because if they piss me off, you’ll suffer more. And frankly, if you want my professional opinion, you’re already fucked. I’ll ask again, why are you here?” The Warden’s profanity made Bill take a gulp with his mouth shut.
“Um…because I sinned. Because I was a fraud?”
“Wrong. All humans sin. Your race was made to sin, but only a few lucky contestants make it to me.”
“Okay. I thought that was the reason. I guess, I’m here to be….purified.” Bill shuddered as the word left his lips.
“You’re here because you fell from grace. God hates you. He objectively hates you. The Godhead has always been vengeful, even sadistic. It created your race just so that it could destroy it. Nothing gives the Godhead more pleasure than destroying a human who blasphemously wasted the blessing that he was given. All you had to do was follow the law. But your greed got the best of you. You didn’t just break the law, you used it to fatten your wallet. You are the moneychanger in the temple. What do you have to say to that?” While Bill struggled to come up with a reply, the Warden walked back to the table and paced around its front.
Tears streamed down Bill’s face but he refused to sob. Hitting rock bottom paradoxically had given him a shred of dignity.
“I have nothing to say, sir. Can we please get on with it?”
The Warden and Perdition both looked at each other and grinned maniacally.
“Nothing would give me greater pleasure, Perverter. Jezebel, would you kindly bring the sacrament for the baptism?”
“Yes, Master. How would you like the flesh prepared?” The sound of her voice indicated that Jezebel was at least thirty feet behind Bill’s position.
“It will be done, Master.” Jezebel’s submissive voice creeped Bill out. Some children just have disturbing voices.
Perhaps it’s because I didn’t see her mouth. Is that why it sounds like one of the girls from “The Shining?” I’m probably going to have to come play with her, though.
The Warden walked back and forth, still near the table, but his posturing looked like a shark circling its prey before the kill.
“One more question, Perverter. I promise this is my last one for a while. Despite your vast wealth, what was something that you couldn’t possess? Something that you wanted but could never obtain?”
Bill looked puzzled. He felt like this was a trick question and he didn’t understand how he was supposed to answer. His brain was foggy. It was a challenge to police his thoughts for offensive material and speak at the same time.
“Well, sir…I suppose that there’s quite a few things that I didn’t experience. I mean, it’s not possible to experience everything in the world. Can you be more specific?”
“What is a pleasure that you wanted to experience but didn’t? Something that wasn’t due to lack of effort on your part.” The Warden made it clear to Bill that his line of question involved someone denying him something. He thought about it for about ten more seconds and the answer came to him, out of nowhere.
“There was a woman that I lusted after, but she didn’t feel the same way about me. I think that’s probably what you’re referring to.”
Both the Warden and Perdition walked forward and stood over Bill.
“Yes, Perverter. It is. Thank you. Tell us more about this unrequited love.”
“She was my assistant. She did everything for me. She’s the reason that I made it big time, honestly. I couldn’t have done it without her. I always wanted her. More than anything else.”
Her memory brought a wave of nostalgia to him that was exponentially more painful due to his circumstances. He’d never see Hope again and the last conversation they had was a shouting match.
“What was your assistant’s name?” asked the Warden.
“Her name was -” Bill turned around towards a voice.
“Hope. My name is Hope.” the voice was far away and hidden by darkness, but it was unmistakable. It was Hope.