He was inside a bedroom. A motel's bedroom.
There was someone on the floor behind the bed, but Brian could not focus
on who it was, although he knew it was a man, and that he was in great
pain. Great ecstasy.
'I didn't mean it! Any of it! You were
a toy! A nothing! I used you! Used you! You were
With every shrieked syllable Brian convulsed.
This was impossible. This was
'Give me back my ' the woman started to scream, turning round to a cowering and shaking Brian. Her shrill words twisted into one long screech, and everything just started to melt: the walls, the man, the bed, the floor, the very flesh on his sister Rosa, as if the agony of their recognition was dissolving Hell itself.
Bunu looked up at the brightness.
'What have you done?' he asked, quietly, and paused.
The serenity of his surroundings remained undisturbed.
'There was to be no interference. This is a clear breach of contract: the Trinity has agreed ' he started, growing very angry very rapidly, when he sensed a change in the light. A smugness settled lightly into the atmosphere. For a minute, Bunu was speechless.
'Brian.' Rosie spoke with a voice that was not hers,
a voice too nasal, too deep. Yet under that thick blue cloak of light,
he could vaguely see her nakedness, her untouched appearance that had
haunted his dreams ever since her death. Her accident. It had been an
'Brian.' He was standing where the man had lain, a
mere two feet away from the woman. The motel room was now painted white
and gold. Softly, voices sang in the background.
'Do you know what is happening, Brian?' the apparition
asked. 'Do you know who I am?' She smiled at him reassuringly, but he
had never felt so afraid. Not in grade school, when that fat kid had charged
him, not in junior high when he'd just slipped a note into that cute girl's
jacket, not even in the strange lands outside the Gate when Bunu had just
taken him away, where he'd still had resolution, courage, and a sense
of direction where there clearly existed none. Yet now, with answers being
handed to him on a silver plate, he could not speak or think from sheer
'She died a happy person, Brian. She died thinking
of you. Of what you would think.'
He could no longer hold back the tears, which trickled
silently over his cheeks.
'What do you think, Brian?'
'They told me
told me you
she died in a
at a friend's
we were devastated
He had to restrain himself from touching her, from grabbing hold of her
and hugging her and just never letting go again. He had to keep telling
himself where he was. Who he was. Who she
'Who are you?'
Rosie smiled again. A knowing, loving smile. She lowered
her eyes, and turned her head.
'No!' Brian yelled, no longer able to constrain himself, as she turned away. 'No!' He lunged for her arm, and fell into emptiness.
'Brian.' He tried to get his bearings, but he could
just as well have been truly blind. He couldn't see his own body, or even
hear his own feet as he shuffled about.
'Brian. You have been tricked. Come towards me.' Bunu's voice was pulling at him from somewhere to the left. Or maybe from behind.
You have to trust me, Brian.'
Pressing his lips together, his eyes firmly closed,
and his arms stretched out before him, Brian tried to turn into the direction
he thought he could sense the Demon. He was waiting for Bunu to speak
up again, when he gingerly opened his eyes and found himself in the small
hallway outside the second circle. He couldn't see Bunu, but then again,
he wouldn't be able see much besides a blur of the walls and the floor,
bending towards the exit, until he rubbed the tears from his eyes.
'Tricked? Was that my sister, Bunu? Was that Rosie?
' Brian asked, wiping his nose and face clean with his sleeve,
'Is she in Hell?'
'The soul you witnessed died in her sleep with her
lover, when the covers of their bed caught fire from a smouldering cigarette
he had lit after their communion. At the moment of that transgression,
their first and their last, she was betrothed to her boyfriend of 7 years,
and her lover had been married for 13 years to the mother of his two children.
Yes, Brian. She is in Hell.'
she came to me
she told me she died
'I never said sin was without rewards. Let me assure
you though: it is her unhappiness that now serves her as punishment. For
all the enjoyment she had sought, and all the satisfaction she thought
to have achieved, she did not die a happy woman.'
'Rosie poor Rosie I had no ' Brian's thoughts trailed.
'I think there is someone you need to talk to,' Bunu interrupted his reflections after some time. 'He has a better understanding of these matters than I. Come.' The wall further down the hallway quietly split like huge curtain being drawn, leaving an opening just wide enough for a child to pass through. Dazed and confused, Brian stared at it, then hunched a little, and stepped once again into the void. Behind him, just as silently, the wall closed up again, and the circle was left to its unimaginable time-old activities in its broody, muffled silence.
"Please, have a seat. I will be right with you."
a voice said. It was a man's voice, rough and coarse, a smoker's and a
drinker's voice, yet pleasant to listen to. It sounded as if it came from
down a hallway. Brian looked around, and found a chair.
He had entered what looked like an office. It was all
very elegant: a polished wooden floor, a dark oak desk with a masterfully
ornamented satin-covered chair behind it, and several less decorated yet
very comfortable chairs in front of it. There was an unmarked, sullen
looking door in the back of the room, and a large gap in the left wall,
with a couple of wide stairs leading down into another area. It was all
brightly lit, without there being a proper source for the lightthere
was a lampshade with a red cap on the right corner of the desk, but it
was obviously not lit, nor was it large enough to possibly illumine the
whole room, and there were no windows as far as Brian could see. There
were transparent walls a couple of yards beyond the stairs, but as far
as he could make out there was only that familiar darkness beyond them,
so any light present had to come from the inside.
"Do you still not get it, Brian? You are the light." The voice said, now so close it almost seemed next to his ears. Brain swiveled in his chair, and came face to face with a man. He was dressed in a stylish grey suit, torn in places where his body pierced through it, and ripped to accommodate his length and width, which greatly exceeded that of its original owner. The man was smirking.
"Hello," Brian ventured.
"Oh, indeed, my manners," the man said, and
walked over to the chair behind the desk. "I'm afraid I haven't been
in contact with a living soul for so long, I've forgotten all those little
habits that keep you happy. And as you might have guessed, I'm not exactly
in the business of making souls happy, either."
"That's ok." Brian said, trying not to stare.
"You can look," the man said, not impressed
with Brian's politeness. "It is who I am." So Brian looked.
Before him sat a rather suave looking elderly man,
with a long, sharp nose and deeply set eyes. His stature was tall and
proud, and his grey hair made him look distinguished, almost dignified.
His large sinewy hands rested upon the desktop, touching each other only
lightly at the fingertips. There was an air of calmness, of patience about
him that made it easy to forget he was there at all, and only see the
Demon that occupied the same space.
This was the type of red, scaly Demon Brian always
imagined a devil looked like, minus the tail, and the hooves. He was much
larger than the man, almost double his size, yet the chair and the desk
fitted him just as well. There were horns on his head, on his shoulders
and breast, and possibly on more locations Brian could fortunately not
to see. His grin bared sharp, neatly fitting teeth, and his eyes were
brightly green - the same green the man's eyes were, come to think of
it. His hair, if it was hair, was a flat black mass, leaving his pointy
ears uncovered, and stopping short of his muscular neck. He was all muscle,
it seemed, and had the intensity of a predator about him, ready to leap.
For a minute or two, Brian tried not to see the Demon,
and only the human, but the harder he tried, the more prominent the Demon
became. Focusing on the Demon in hopes of achieving the opposite was out
of the questionthis was not the place for reverse psychology. After
a short struggle, Brian settled for a mix of the two which looked mostly
human: the suit covered all of the Demon's body, except for the horns
on his shoulders piercing through, and the red scales on one side of the
man's face and the back of his hands were, though unnerving, an acceptable
reminder of the beast that hid there.
"Shouldn't you be a 'we'," Brian asked, content
that he had found a bearable median that allowed him to look straight
something which he so far had not been able
to do with Bunu.
"Just because you cannot see the whole, does not
mean there are only the parts, my dear boy." The mandevil said, in
unison. The shock of the dismaying voice of the Demon mixed with that
of the man made Brian lose his concentration, and found them morphing
from one to the other so disturbingly he had to avert his eyes.
"Anyway, introductions are in order. I am Bunu's superior. You are in the seventh circle of hell, Head Monitor's Office. You may address me as Bill."
"Bill," Brian said, gripping the arms
of his chair, "could you do the voice in my head thing Bunu does?"
"Will that do?"
"Yes," Brian swallowed, and tried to
force his hands to let go of the chair. "That will do nicely. Thanks."
Not knowing what to expect next, Brian kept silent
and waited, while avoiding a direct look at Bill. There was no noise in
the room, but a gentle patter came from the next, as if a very small person
were busily walking to and fro. Abruptly, the pattering ceased, only to
recommence seconds later.
"So," Brian said, "nice place
you have. Bill."
"It's an exact replica of the office I had
when I was merely human," Bill replied "Go ahead, have a look
"Oh," said Brian, getting up to inspect
the room, "what happened."
"I guess a job opportunity come along that
I just couldn't resist."
"You were recruited?"
"Not exactly. Old Enkin here was hunting
souls on the surface, and found an easy prey in mine: a man of business,
with a heart of ice and a complete lack of scruple. He thought to use
my greed and my vanity to lure me into opening myself up to him, so that
he might possess me. I think that hunting souls in the Dark Ages for so
long had made him overconfident."
you possessed him?"
The room was completely void of any sign of character
- no paintings, no pictures on the desk, no carpets on the floor. This
must have been a very lonely person, Brian thought.
"In a way. We were equally strong willed,
as it turned out, so I struck a deal: instead of resisting the other,
and destroying us both, we opted to cooperate, and become the one being
you see before you. Or would, if your mind would allow you to."
"Oh. So why did you go with 'Bill'?"
"I didn't. I said you could address me as
such. I've always liked 'Bill', and I feel that in adopting it I dispel
much of the distance between myself as a superior and my workforce. My
real name, my complete name, would seriously unsettle you."
"I'll take your word for it."
"Good." Bill said, and fell silent,
staring at Brian as if trying to figure something out. "It seems,
young man, that you have been causing my employee some trouble."
"You mean Bunu?" Brian said, surprised.
"Yes, Bunu." Bill replied, gravely.
"Would you mind describing to me who you saw in Adultry after you
"I saw Rosie. My sister." Brian mumbled.
"Where is Bunu now?" Brian said, walking
back towards to the desk.
"He has some business to attend to. It shouldn't
take him long."
"Have I really caused trouble?" Brian wanted to know.
"Yes and no. You were in trouble, but not
the cause of it. Let's just say there was a misunderstanding between the
powers that be."
"I think she was trying to rescue me."
"Rescue you? What from? You were perfectly
safe. The agreement saw to that, and still does. No, my boy, you were
being cheated. False promises are the trademark of the Higher Up."
"Are you suggesting that God was lying to
"Not Him, but one of His
For a monotheistic deity, he sure has a lot of staff, in my opinion. She
was trying to confuse you."
"I don't get it."
"I know. Do you want to?"
"I think I'd be more comfortable knowing
what this is about, yes."
"If you say so. I'll put it to you as simple
as I can. You were chosen to judge."
"Yes. Don't worry, your judgment is not required. What we need from you is your faith, or rather, lack thereof.
You see, there are some who think there is no
need for Hell anymore."
"Agnostics, you mean? Scientists? People
of reason and intellect?"
"Not people, my boy. Demons."
"So I'm here as a guinea pig? Is the faith
of mankind to be measured by my reactions?"
"Does that disturb you?"
"Uh, yes? So what does all that have to
do with my sister?"
"Apparently, someone Up There thought you
were being shown a too one-sided story, and decided to throw in some much
misplaced mercy, even though there is a clear agreement between the Highest
and the Keeper that there would be no such
interference. They are worried you will lead the Council to decide against
a continuation of Hell's services."
about Hell disappearing? I mean, without evil
"Without evil, my dear boy, without Hell,
'they' would be out of a job real quick. Heaven is, after all, the fear
"Oh dear." Brian fretted, letting himself
fall into the chair again.
To be continued . . .