Pleasant Purgatory - Cover

Pleasant Purgatory

I’ve been here four days, I think. My only judge of time is the frequency of meals they slide along the dirty floor through the bottom gap in my iron door. Yesterday, a guard got chatty, grinning eyes through the viewing slot as he banged on my door with his baton. His attempt to bait me was poor, repeating the circulating rumors regarding my capture. And a heroic capture it was. After walking barefoot for ten miles, I had to beat on the gate of this fine establishment for several minutes before someone opened the gate.

Not a pleasant place, but not too bad either. I’ve got a private room with everything I need—a sink, a commode, a mirror—all shiny stainless steel, no exposed pipes. A window would be nice. My bed is slightly more comfortable than the slate floor—no pillow, no blanket. I’ve lived in worse places.

The jailers met my request for reading material. When asked, I told them the first book in the library would suit my needs. Yesterday a volume slid under the door of my retreat: Zoology. Either they have a small library, or someone thought it a fine joke. I don’t care. I won’t be staying long.

I’ve made a thorough study of my crypt. Knowing the exact length of my bare feet gave me an advantage. The cell is exactly twenty-seven cubic meters—a cube—about the same size as the quarters on my ship. Since they didn’t trust me with a pencil or paper, my calculations were mental mathematics. I eat with my fingers off a cardboard plate.

***

 

I woke sitting up, chest restrained, not in my cell. My keepers don’t move me when I’m awake. I don’t blame them. The inspection of this new place was brief—a mostly bare, windowless room, a swaying, cone-casting overhead light. Too much of a cliché, a trope, a laughable attempt to make me talk. They hadn’t needed to go to such trouble. I was going to talk. You bet your ass I was going to talk.

This is a release of sorts, sitting face to face with another human, hearing a human voice again since the void crash. I want to reach across the scratched wooden table, touch my interviewer’s skin, make a connection, even if a vile one. Perhaps, after we’re done here, they’ll let me carve my initials in the faded wood, joining dozens of others. New grooves to distract the eyes of the next victim.

“So, you actually expected to get away with it?” he asked.

“Get away? No, I didn’t want to get away. I’ve been away for too long.”

“Where did you hide it?”

“What do you mean by hide?” My inquisitor’s fingers drummed the table, a staccato beat of nail clicks. Mine remains below the edge. His are clean, mine not.

“Where did you leave it? Where did you see it last?”

Leaning forward, I whispered, “In my dreams.” His fuse is short, but I resist the urge to ask for a light—saving the thought, savoring it. Patience.

“We know where you went before you left, who you talked to. You think we’ll give up. Hope to outlast me. You think being coy will delay the inevitable.”

“If you’re going to speak for both of us, why am I here?” Tick-tock, tick, tock—some clocks run fast, others slow.

Before he spoke again, I asked, “What would you do if you had it?”

“None of your business. I’m asking the questions.”

“I’ll answer them.”

“Do you know what it does? What it’s for? How to activate it?”

“Yes.”

“Well?”

“Well, what?”

“Okay, smart ass. What does it do?”

“It takes me places.”

“What places?”

“I’m not sure. Just places I’ve never been before. Places I didn’t think existed.”

“For instance?”

“Twisted places.” He’ll learn more than he cares to, more than anyone should bear.

“Can you be more descriptive, more precise?”

I brought my hands to the surface of the table, enjoying the feel of the open wood grain, tracing the etchings others made.

I asked him, “Have you ever been to one of those crazy houses? The ones for tourists, built with weird angles, skewed perspectives, not knowing if you could or should trust your eyes?”

He crossed his arms and started tapping his left foot. “I’ve heard of them. Seen photos.”

I smiled. “Like that, only more so.”

“What did you do there? How did you cause such—”

“All I did was travel. Met a few… Uh, people, I suppose you should call them. I learned a few things.”

“Back to business now. Where is it?”

“I already told you. Would you like to see it? Touch it?”

My inquisitor’s eyebrows raised, not expecting my offer so early in his attempts. I suspect he was looking forward to several interviews, breaking me down, step by step. After a moment, he grinned. “Yes, I would.”

“You would what?”

Leaning in, his fingers resumed tapping. “I want to see it, touch it.”

He made the same mistake I did. I opened my left hand, released the marble-sized sphere, sent it rolling across the table, a slow journey, bumping over the defects in the wood. The small, dull thing sought its new owner. Triumphantly, he scooped up the sphere, his fuse burning hot—a sparking flame advancing to the inevitable. His explicitly voiced demand freed me from that thing, broke my bondage.

“How does it work?”

I shrug. “It doesn’t. You do.”

“What do you mean?”

“Think of something pleasant.”

I waited a few minutes, savoring my freedom, enjoying the creaking chair, the scrape of my nails, scratching the wood, marking my involvement. Time to move along. I bellow, “Hey! We’re done in here.”

Keys jangled, lock tumblers fold back, door hinges complain. The blue-jacketed jailer looked around from the doorway, seeing me, the table, two chairs—one empty. He asked, “Where’s the colonel?”

“He just stepped out. Won’t be back for a while.”

A very long while, if ever.