tagNonHumanA Brief Stop in Purgatory Pt. 01

A Brief Stop in Purgatory Pt. 01


Brother Silas gets stuck in transit to heaven—and meets a mysterious woman who may not have his best interests at heart

"Hey, over here!" He heard the words off to the left, shaking him out of a deep mental fog. He found himself standing in an actual fog, thick as pea soup. There seemed to be a reddish light where the voice was coming from, though he couldn't make it out very well.

Where am I?, he thought. The last thing he remembered was walking down a stairway and catching a foot in his robe.

"Over here!" He walked toward the woman's voice, through a monochromatic sea of gray. Eventually, a large, low-slung building came into view. Roman columns framed the entrance, above which a red neon sign blinked the name of the place, Luci's. Beside one column was the woman who'd been calling out to him. She was young and lovely in simple flats, a modest navy calf-length skirt, and a loose white button-down blouse. Her blonde hair was pulled back into a ponytail, away from her face. And what a face, he thought as he got closer—high sharp cheekbones, radiant skin, blue eyes as deep as swimming pools. A face like an angel.

"I'm Luci," she said, smiling infectiously.

"Luci?," he said, eyes flitting up to the sign.

"Yes, the proprietress! Let's get you in out of the damp."

"I'm..." he trailed off, unable to summon his own name.

"Silas," she said, gently. "Your name is Silas." She took his hand in hers and turned, looking back at him expectantly. "Don't worry, it will all come back in a few minutes. Won't you come inside?" So beautiful, he thought, like a fresh flower. He nodded and she led him through the door.

I. Pride

Inside was dark, although a glow seemed to surround them, pushing the darkness back a few feet in every direction. Luci led him across a polished stone floor to a large leather couch, her elegant 2-inch heels echoing in the silence. As she walked, his eyes wandered up her toned, shapely legs to her fashionable, cerulean above-the-knee skirt, and then to the fitted white top that showed off the narrowness of her waist and high swell of her breast. Wait, what? He stopped short and shook his head to clear it.

She looked back at him sympathetically. "You're a little confused. It's normal. Here, sit down with me and everything will become clear."

They sunk into the couch, and she touched him lightly on the chest. "Lean back a little, relax. Just watch," she said. Then she drew her hand up toward his eyes, thumb and forefinger just an inch from his eyelids, before flicking her hand outward. All around them, as if on movie screens, scenes of his life began to play—his orphan's childhood at the monastery, his year of silent prayer under the guidance of the abbot, his work interpreting scripture and organizing charity, the long hours of prayer and meditation and reflection that he had poured into every day of his adult life. And he remembered everything, even the sudden, disorienting tumble down the abbey's stairs, ending in blackness.

"So, what is this place, then?" he whispered uncertainly, voice faltering.

"It's purgatory," she said, resting her fingers gently on his arm. Her head was cocked a little, a few loose curls from her wavy, shoulder-length hair falling winningly in front of her eyes. Her expression remained beatific.

"Oh," he said simply after a brief silence. "I guess I should have done better. I guess I always really knew I wasn't doing as much as I could..."

He smile reappeared, warm and bright as the springtime sun. "No, Silas, you don't understand. Down there, you're in a coma. You can't reach the place you deserve to be until your body lets go—that's the reason you're here. But you're a very special guest. A very special man."

He thrilled a little as she said it, but quickly tamped that feeling down. "Just an ordinary man," he said quietly, trying to take it all in.

"No, Silas, that's not true. You're an exceptional man. Certainly better than anyone on this plane. Better than almost any man walking the earth." Her eyes—he could get lost in them--seemed almost adoring.

"It's obvious. Look at your halo." She pointed above his head, but when he looked up he couldn't see anything. She laughed gaily and from nowhere produced a hand-mirror. There it was, unmistakable, about six inches above his head, and bright as a light bulb—that's what was providing the illumination around them, he realized, incredulous.

His hand dropped a little as he tried to fathom what it all meant and began to contemplate the mystery and wonder of God. But she pushed his hand and the mirror back up, bringing him out of his reverie, speaking low and close into his ear. "Go ahead, Silas, admire it. Look how bright it shines. Look at what you've earned by your extraordinary life. More than earned, I'd say." She'd leaned into him a little, her breasts pressing softly against his arm—pleasant, distracting.

It did look handsome on him, he thought absently. He turned and dipped his head this way and that, watching it turn and dip in tandem.

He shook his head again suddenly. "It is through none of my own doing," he said. "The Lord, be praised, has absolved me of my failings and favored me with his grace."

"Oh, you're far too modest," she said, playfully slapping his knee. "I saw the scenes of your life -- the ceaseless devotion, the thankless work, the tireless efforts to increase the abbey's reach. Most men live pinched and passive little lives. But not you. Your path was righteous and unswerving. You are a leader of men, and they flock to you. You should be proud of what you've done."

"It's not my place to compare myself to other..."

"It's all quantifiable, you know," she said, an eyebrow arched coquettishly. "Everybody has a number attached to their soul, a running tally of the good and bad they've done. When they die, the size of the number determines where they go."

"Wait, you're telling me a number determines whether you get into heaven??"

"It wasn't always that way, but you know," she said, waving her hand vaguely, "it's all algorithms these days." Her fingertips settled lightly back on his knee. "Anyway, the souls stuck here have a chance to build up their number until it's high enough to move on. But their numbers, well, they're pitiful compared to yours."

"How do you know...?"

"Oh, they're plain to see here," she said, interrupting him brightly. "All the souls in waiting have their number over their heads—a sort of real-life video-game score. You do, too, your halo just kind of obscures it. Here, let me see exactly what it is."

She rose up a little off the couch, turned, and then planted a knee in the cushion and a hand on his shoulder to get a better vantage point. The action brought her exceptionally well-formed breasts directly into view, just a few inches from his face. She seemed cheerily oblivious, craning her neck a little above him, causing her cleavage to jiggle and sway. She smelled nice, he realized. Really nice.

"Oh wow," she said, a little breathlessly. "Oh jeez. I've never seen a number so big. I mean, it's soooo big." Her knee had slid up against his thigh. He felt a sudden flush.

She spun back around, falling excitedly back into the couch, its soft cushions sloping inward, pushing her against him. She looked up into his eyes, suddenly earnest. "You're nothing like other men, common men. You're stronger than them. Purer. More worthy. Better in every way."

Something was wrong with what she was saying, he thought, and some part of him counseled protest, faintly. But the way she said them sounded so right, so true. He found himself wanting to agree with her, please her.

"You're a special man, Silas—soon to receive the divine rewards you richly deserve. You should take pride in that." Her long eyelashes batted. Her hand had come to rest more fully, reassuringly, on his knee. She seemed to be waiting for him to say something.

"I mean, I guess I have done more than most men," he said, hesitantly. She nodded eagerly, mouth open a little, as if expecting him to continue. "When I look back, I did accomplish a lot in the Lord's name, and I always stayed true." The words were coming easier; she felt so warm against him. "I've always stayed humble. But surely false humility is as much a sin as boastfulness." His conviction grew as looked into her eyes; it felt good, he realized, to give voice to something he'd really always known about himself, but had kept tucked deeply away. "Now that I think about it, you're right. I have lived a righteous life—a life few others have the faith and devotion to lead. There's no denying it. And why should I, after all?"

For the briefest of moments, her eyelids fluttered and her knees clenched. He thought he heard something like the scrolling of numbers somewhere above and behind him, as the barest hint of a moan escaped her lips. His penis twitched unmistakably—not for the first time since they'd sat down, if he was being honest with himself. "So pure," she whispered faintly, as if savoring something.

He cleared his throat and edged away from her on the couch a little, his sense of propriety reasserting itself. "Are you an angel?" he asked, his voice betraying a measure of hope and wonder—and a seed of doubt.

She smiled again—but more coyly, he thought—and sat back up from her slouch. "I'm the proprietress."

2. Gluttony

He looked away into the darkness, confused. His head was swimming from everything she'd told him. On the one hand, he was feeling pretty great. The afterlife, everything he'd believed in—it was all real. And he'd earned his eternal reward! More than earned it, actually. A warmth suffused him, buoyed him, body and spirit—to think that up here, it was plain to everyone what a special man he was. Yet something nagged at him.


He turned back to see a glass extended toward him. "What? Uh, no, I..."

"Come on," she said. "Let's have a toast to celebrate that halo." Her eyes twinkled merrily, with just a hint of mischief.

"I really shouldn't." He rarely touched alcohol.

"Oh, Silas, don't be such a stick in the mud! It's just a drink. The Big Guy has no problem with it in moderation—it's excess that punished." Her tone was breezy, her smile once again brilliant and uncomplicated, although he thought he heard just a hint of severity dropped into the final word. "Here, have a drink with me and I'll answer all your questions about this place." She extended the glass further, bringing her cleavage more prominently into view. "You must have so much on your mind."

He licked his lips nervously, trying to keep his eyes on hers, not down where they seemed inclined to go. Maybe just the one wouldn't hurt, he thought: this was something to celebrate, after all. He took the glass, relieved--and also in a small, long-suppressed corner of his mind, disappointed--when she leaned back again.

"Yay!," she cried, clinking her glass with his. "Here's to you getting everything you deserve." Her eyes seemed to bore more deeply into his as she said that last bit, and her voice seemed oddly mirthless, despite her smile. But then the moment passed. "Bottoms up!," she cheered, draining her glass. He sipped lightly at his and began to lower it, but she pushed back up on the stem, tipping it toward him and giggling prettily. He found himself gulping it down. The warmth of the drink spread quickly from his throat to his stomach and then outward, and he sunk back into the couch.

"So, Silas, let me fill you in about... all this." She motioned around them briefly. "Purgatory's a gray and featureless place—there's really not much to recommend it," she said, crinkling her nose. She refilled their glasses nonchalantly as she talked; his was full before he thought to protest. "But there are two, well, concessions here—places where people can get out of the wind and fog for a while. This is one of them. The other one's up the road a piece, but it's pretty boring." She waved her hand dismissively, crossing one leg over the other. "Not like mine."

He sipped his drink absently, trying not to stare at her legs—they really were spectacular--as she bobbed her foot gently. The champagne was delicious, he realized. He swirled some more into his mouth, watching her shoe dangle from her heel out of the corner of his eye. It took a few seconds for his mind to catch up to her words. "But this is just a couch in a dark, empty room," he finally said.

"Well... not exactly, Silas." Her voice had turned a little sultry. "I've blocked out everything around us so you could remember, get oriented, understand your position. That's a duty of mine, just like it's a duty to always tell you the truth. You can trust that." She nodded as she spoke, and he found himself nodding with her. She was topping off his glass, helpfully.

"So, the souls here wander restlessly, lamenting their sins and seeking atonement. Over time—a long, long time—they can replenish their spirit. But the endless days are wearing. It's a lonely, austere existence." Austere, he thought: he could relate to that. He'd denied himself so much, for so long, in his spiritual pursuits. But it had all been worth it. He tipped up his glass again, luxuriating in the taste and still-spreading warmth. He couldn't remember anything that had tasted so good.

Luci was ready with more as he brought the glass back down; it had somehow gotten empty again. He put his hand over the top. "It'll go to my head," he said, a little thickly. In fact, his head was already buzzing, an unfamiliar but quite delightful sensation.

"But it's champagne, Silas! Once you uncork a bottle, you have to finish it! Waste not want not."

She did have a point, he thought; it was a proverb after all. Wait, that wasn't really what it meant, though, was it? He was having more trouble with this than he should have been. Her foot kept bobbing gently, metronomically, at the edge of his gaze. "Nah, thass probably enough," he finally said.

"But I've already poured it." He looked down to find she was right. Somewhere in his puzzling, his hand had come off the top of the glass, and it was full again.

"Besides, that's the point of a celebration, isn't it? To have a little too much? Come on, just this once. You know you want to--I won't tell if you don't." He looked unsteadily at the glass, full of tasty, brain-tingling goodness. Actually, everything was tingling at the moment, he thought, eyes flitting furtively down her ripe, perfect body. "Ole," she said, clinking glasses and raising hers, eyes on his. So gorgeous.

"Fuck it," he heard himself say--the words just slipped out. He found them unexpectedly hilarious, and a snort of laughter escaped him. She put a hand to her mouth in mock astonishment and laughed easily along with him. Her glass was still raised, waiting. He shrugged and drained his, pleased with his wit. Her eyes rolled up as she shuddered again, clutching briefly at her breast. The light around them seemed to dim a little.

He hiccupped and wiped his mouth with his sleeve.

III. Lust

"I think somebody's a little drunk," she said, looking at him sideways, eyebrow arched. "I think somebody likes it."

"I'm not jrunk," he said. He'd never felt better.

"Of course, not, baby. I'm just teasing. You don't mind a little tease, do you?" The way she said it made him shiver again, and his eyes flitted back to her body. He blinked. Something was definitely off this time, he thought woozily, resolving to figure it out. He fixed her with a coolly appraising eye. A few wavy locks of her long, lustrous hair cascaded over the front of her bare shoulder, and he followed them slowly down to her insubstantial white halter top. Had she been so... up-front before? Had her... oh... had her nipples pushed so prominently against her top?

He forced his eyes to resume their slow investigative journey--down her flat bare midriff, then onwards, past the briefest interlude of fabric, to her long bare legs. Her clear plastic platform shoes displayed her dainty bare feet; their six-inch heels accentuated her perfect calves, which led his eyes slowly back up, up, up to where her supple thigh met the neon-blue of her mini-skirt. That alluring border pulled and held his gaze like a gravitational field. His moth hung open. Some question tugged faintly at him. He realized she was talking again.

"...anyway, like I was saying, the days are monotonous out on the plains. So God allowed the creation of two concessions--shelters, of a sort, where people could come to forget their cares for while." She smoothed her skirt and re-crossed her legs. "One is run by angels. People huddle there on its plain wood pews—unimaginative, if you ask me--to pray and sing and seek spiritual nourishment together. The other one, this one, offers various earthly pleasures—balms of a different sort." Her fingers toyed with her hem.

A silence hung between them as his besotted mind strained to process her words. Realization dawned uncertainly. "So you...? You're the...? And you're juss here to tempt these poor...?" He sputtered, having trouble finding the right words.

"Oh, Silas, please don't be mad!" Her eyes were wide and vulnerable and little-girl innocent--an effect complicated by the lush sexuality radiating from every other part of her. Her hand clutched at her gently jiggling breast. A jumble of opposing impulses surged incoherently within him; long-muted urges murmured sweetly. "I'm just doing my job. The spirits here must be given a range of choices; they must be free to choose their path." She was nodding slightly; he vacantly followed along. Her words, "earthly pleasures," kept rolling around his head.

"Besides, some people here really need to just blow off a little steam once in a while." Her voice had grown lower and smoother and more self-assured again. "There's a cost to that, but some find it worth paying... at least, in the moment... if they don't overindulge."

Worth paying, he thought. Blow off a little steam. No, wait: this was all wrong. Dangerous, even. Wasn't it? Her fingers continued to trace her hem, back and forth, back and forth. He found his eyes following them. Her skirt had ridden up a little, and the tantalizing shadow between her crossed thighs made him shudder suddenly. His manhood had unfurled into an insistent wakefulness, straining hard against his robe.

"I shouldn't be here," he finally said, thickly.

"Are you certain, Silas? A man like you surely has nothing to fear from a place like this. And aren't the souls who could really use your help more likely to be in here than out there? Besides, you haven't even really seen what 'here' is yet. Let me show you. You can leave whenever you like."

He sat there—mute and befuddled. Parts of him didn't seem interested in leaving just yet.

"I'll take that as a yes," she said, and waved her hand, lifting the darkness around them. The air left his chest in a long low whimper. On a series of stripper stages extending far off in every direction, impossibly perfect women writhed and danced, nude or nearly so. On couches intermixed among the stages, they attended extravagantly to purgatory's denizens—feeding them grapes and liquor, flirting and teasing... or openly rutting, their moans and encouragements audible in snatches over the throbbing house music that filled the place. The scent of sex and perfume was in the air. I want, an ancient part of his brain proclaimed as he scanned the room, eyes glazing. Amidst the sensory onslaught, he became dimly aware that some of the girls had small horns, and some tails, and some eyes black as night. It didn't matter. Not with the way they looked and moved. I need.

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