“Come forward Hope! Show us yourself!” The Warden’s cry shot spittle onto Bill’s face.
Slowly, Hope and Jezebel came out of the darkness. The light illuminated their bodies from the bottom up. Jezebel led. Hope followed. With her hair finally removed from her mouth and her oversized pajamas collecting dust from the ground, Jezebel came into the light first. The light shone down on Hope’s legs and moved up her body. It soon became evident that she was completely naked. Bill’s eyes widened and then he looked away, equal parts aroused and embarrassed. He felt the blood vessels in his penis dilate. Immediately, he reached down and twisted his nipple in an attempt to kill the erection before his captors sensed his excitement.
The Warden grabbed Bill’s neck violently and shoved his head forward so that he stared directly at Hope. He squeezed the incontinent pastor’s neck so hard that veins began popping out of his forehead.
“Don’t you take your eyes off her until I tell you to, Perverter! Do you understand?” The Warden’s voice boomed. Even Perdition flinched; his lone eye did a flurry of blinks.
Bill nodded shakily and stared back at what was once his fantasy: seeing her naked and vulnerable. She was ripe for the taking. Intense and fearless, her expression was akin to a runway model.
Why is she so comfortable walking around naked?
She stopped several feet in front of Bill, but didn’t look him in the eye.
“Say hello to your forbidden fruit, Perverter.” He pulled Bill to his feet so that his eyes met Hope’s. A not-so subtle phallus was steadily rising from his crotch.
“Hi Hope. I guess we didn’t make it to the conference. At least I didn’t give CNN a sound byte of me cussing out a reporter.” He could hear the insecurity in his own voice.
“I guess not.” Her monotone response told Bill that she wasn’t happy to see him. She was looking at him, but not into his eyes. He felt her gaze piercing through his forehead.
There was an awkward silence while she stared vacantly. Bill tried to think of something appropriate to say, but couldn’t. The Warden, who evidently frowned on dottling, broke the silence.
“Perverter, we come to the first stage of your baptism. You are charged with adultery. You are charged with spiritual rape. You are charged with greed and vanity. You are charged with blasphemy. Normally, the debt that you owed would be taken from your flesh and I would be the taker. However, because of the exceptionally vile nature of your sins, we have devised a special ritual so that you can get a taste of your own medicine.”
“Your debt will be taken from Hope’s flesh…and you will be the taker.” While the Warden spoke, Hope grimaced and clenched her eyes shut. Bill thought she was going to draw blood from biting her lower lip.
Outstretching his arms, Bill got on his knees and turned to the Warden and Perdition.
“No! No! She didn’t do anything. It was me! Don’t punish her for my sins. I beg -”
A right hook from the Warden knocked Bill down. He immediately stood Bill up; dazed and confused, Bill’s gums and lips were bleeding.
“You are out of order. Please curtail your groveling, Perverter.”
Bill just shook his head.
“She did nothing.”
“That’s a lie. She was your second-in-command. You even said that you couldn’t have done it without her. Hope was your accomplice. You may have been Ahab, but she was Jezebel.” The Warden and his daughter looked at each other and shared a grin that sent chills down the two prisoners’ spines.
“We made a deal. There’s no need to be a hero, Bill.” Hope said.
“What do you mean?” asked Bill.
“Should I tell him?” Hope looked to the Seraph and the Warden for permission.
“I will tell him.” said Perdition. The Seraph walked over to Hope and faced Bill. “We have come to an arrangement. For her participation in your baptism, Hope will be accepted into the Kingdom of Heaven.”
“She wasn’t even a Christian…” whispered Bill under his breath.
“And you were?” Perdition scoffed. “When her work is done here, she will be taken to paradise. The Warden has the Edict, signed by the Father and the Son.”
Perdition tilted his head towards the table and the Warden held up a gold-plated sign that resembled a Roman sigil. It was peppered with symbols that Bill couldn’t understand
“This is the Seal of the Yahweh, Perverter. It’s only given in the rare case of an eternal pardon.” said the Warden
“I see.” Bill was visibly envious that he wasn’t offered such a deal.
“It just needs one more thing to be validated.” The Warden walked back over to Hope.
“What’s that? Are you changing the deal?” Hope raised her voice.
“I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that tone. No, I’m not altering the deal at all. We just need your suffering. The energy that you’ll release during the session will be absorbed by the seal. Once it has reached the level prescribed by the Godhead, eternal life is yours.”
Bill could see the terror in Hope’s eyes. It had to have been what Jesus looked like in the Garden of Gethsemane.
“How long will it take?” she asked. Her stoicism was fading and vulnerability took its place. She scrunched her legs together and hid her vulva with her hand.
The Warden looked to Perdition, seeming uncertain of how to answer. The Seraph cleared its throat.
“As long as God wants you to suffer for.”
Tears streamed down Hope’s face but she held her composure. Her chapped lips quivered.
“Proceed, Warden.” Perdition went back to the table and sat down.
The Warden sprang into action and looked at Jezebel.
“Bring the bindings.”
“Yes, Master.” Jezebel ventured back into the darkness. Bill wondered if she had some form of night vision that allowed her to see in the dark.
Just like Buffalo Bill…
He could hear the rattling and clinging of metal, like she’d knocked over a set of pots and pans.
With his hands folded, Bill looked at Hope.
“I know this means nothing now, Hope. But, I’m sorry for yelling at you. I’m sorry for letting my vanity and insecurity get the better of me. I’m sorry that I’m the reason that you were on that plane. You thought buying it was a stupid idea. You were right. I didn’t deserve everything that you did for me. You were the reason for my success. I’m sorry. I’m sorry for all of this…and for involving you. Please forgive me. I know I’m a worthless piece a shit and I don’t deserve your forgiveness, but I still hope that you will give it. I’m so sorry, Hope. I’m so sorry.” He wept shamelessly. Snot ran down his chin and dripped onto his robe.
Hope had caught glimpses of Bill’s genuine emotions before, but they consisted mostly of anger, bliss and nervousness. Remorse had never really been on display. Bill understood the gravity of his error and he was praying that Hope could sense the pain in his voice. She sat down on the cold concrete, wrapped her arms around her legs and placed her nose in between her knees and then looked into his eyes.
“I forgive you. Bill…I…” She followed his lead and broke into sobs. He tried to curtail his tears so he could comfort her.
“What is it, dear? It’s going to….” He knew it wasn’t going to be okay, at least not for a little a while.
“…I…I’m so scared…I-”
“Hope, honey, it’s going to be okay. You’re going to heaven after this. You’re saved.”
The Warden stood back and watched the two prisoners converse with curiosity. Perdition did the same. The Seraph couldn’t help itself and whispered into Bill’s mind.
“Look at this tender empathy, penitent Perverter. There may be hope for purification after all. Quite unlikely, but still I want you to know there’s a little Hope to grab onto. Pun intended.”
Bill tried to push Perdition’s sadistic laughing out of his head and focus on one of the few people that he truly loved in his life. He grabbed her hand and she reciprocated.
“Bill, what are they going to make you do to me?” She was rocking her body back and forth like a seesaw, her butt was the fulcrum.
“I don’t know. But remember, you’re going to heaven. This doesn’t matter. This is just a bad dream and you’re going to wake up real soon. That much I do know.”
Abrasively reminiscent of nails on a chalkboard, a noise was coming toward them from the darkness. Hope’s hand broke embrace with Bill’s before she spun around to face her doom. Bill closed his eyes to offer one final cry to the King of Kings.
Forgive me Lord. I’m sorry.
Perdition only laughed, but spared him more verbose torment.