Do you think we can get April back?” Nick asks finally. I sneak a sideways glance at him.
Why do you like her?” I ask him. As soon as the words come out of my mouth, I regret saying them. I follow up my gaffe with, “I'm sorry I shouldn't have said that” before he can reply.
He looks at me carefully. “This is your world, Miss Turtle. Of course, I like April, same as I like you but this is your place.” My body sags and I'm tired, really tired for the first time.
You're right,” I take a deep breath, thinking of the situation at hand, “Yes, we can get her back. And we will.” He nods, pushing up his glasses. I am still rubbing my arm and he repositions himself closer to me.
Here let me for a while,” he says taking my arm. He begins to rub my shoulder gently and then with firmer strokes. He has large hands, his palms seem big and ruddy. The memory of his hands sears my mind and then I push the thoughts away.
I smile at him. His referral to my imaginary world as “home” feels flattering and hopeful to me. “No, it's more like a giant office building. And, oh!” I stop speaking, remembering.
"What is it?” asks Nick, leaning towards me. We hear more guttural sounds and we both freeze when we hear the sounds of the devil's speak. Even after hearing it so often it still sounds harrowing to me. I suppose there are certain things a human should never hear. The demons run by without seeing us.
"Do you know what they're saying?" he asks.
"No, can't say I ever wanted to learn,” I laugh a little. It sounds uncomfortable, a small bark. “Anyway I wanted to tell you there's a portal there to another place. And I have a feeling we'll find the sword there, hidden I assume.”
"Where does the portal lead us to?" he asks.
"To a church in New York City, on Lexington Avenue,” I say. He is too surprised to comment for a moment. Indeed, even as I write those words the very idea sounds bizarre but that's where I last saw the sword.
"It's not so much of a stretch. The sword was found at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, you know," I say. He has stopped rubbing my arm. We can hear demons in the distance now. I wonder where The Stranger is.
"No, i didn't know. Look can't we go to the church in the real world, and find it that way rather than continuing through this place?"
"Well, I don't know if I could get your real self to agree to go with me to be honest and, more importantly, we have to go through the portal to find it. It might have something to do with being able to see the sword when we go through. I don't know. I know for sure we have to go through the portal.”
"Okay, Miss Turtle,” he sighs, “As much as I like being here I do want to go home.” I feel a pang as he looks at me directly. “I don't belong here, and you know it. There are things I need to do. You understand?”
"Yes, I do. Of course, I understand,” I say, “My arm feels better, thanks. We should go now.” He helps me up, and holding my hand, leads me out into the sulferica that is Hell.
***We are walking through the narrow cobblestone streets of Dis. The buildings are beautiful and old even in the harsh red light. The smell of sulfur is everywhere but we've both gotten used to it. Souls of varying ages look at us as we make our way through the crowds. They look at us curiously but don't impede our progress. There are plenty of cafes, restaurants, gambling establishments, bars, and shops.
"It's twisted but this place reminds me so much of Old Town in Prague. It seems wrong to locate it here, though.” We are moving along with everyone else. My feet are hurting again because of the cobblestones. My clothes are dry but stiff from the salt water.
"Why all the shops and eating and drinking places? Do dead souls buy things? Eat?” Nick asks. Right then he's jostled by a large almost solid soul of a man. He glares back at Nick and then moves on.
"Sure they do. They have houses and possessions like any living person. They tend to buy more when they're dead. As for eating and drinking, it's all about the same thing.”
"What's that?” The crowd is taking us to the huge square in front of us. It's about ten times larger than the real square I had so much fun exploring on my own.
"Nostalgia. These souls can't really eat or drink but they try.”
"What happens to all the food and drink?” Nick stops as the crowd opens up in front of us. There are at least six churches surrounding the square, all of them old, all of them very Catholic and huge. His mouth drops open and I sigh shaking my head.
"Much of the food and drink goes to waste, I'm afraid. This is Hell, after all, but they do recycle it and use it to help power the City even if they don't really need to. The churches are a bit of a stretch, I'll grant you, but you won't believe how many people attend church with regularity here.”
"I think I can imagine people wanting to be in church after being dead and ending up here.”
"It's a prayer for salvation, I suppose. The folks upstairs supply them with the plans and sanction the items needed for such worship. As they correctly assumed, people wanted their religious trappings more than ever down here."
"The folks upstairs?” Nick is sounding incredulous now. I sigh again, wondering about my own mind and why it works the way it does. Churches in hell! What a concept!
"Yes, God, Heaven, Angels, that neighborhood.”
Nick can only stand there on the edge of the massive square, thousands of souls walking to and fro, small mechanical carriages rolling by. We spot a demon strolling along on the other side of the square. We smell one walking behind us but don't turn towards it.
"The demons won't bother us. They're taking a break and going to gamble,” I say as I give his arm a tug. We walk into the square. We can smell the meat and pastries being sold by the vendors. I'm starving but don't have any money or at least I don't think so. I check my pockets and locate a couple of dragnets. I check my backpack and pull out a handful of Sevens. I quickly put all but one away and close my fist around it, but the graceful glow is unmistakable in this place and everyone stops and stares at my hand.
"What you got there?” asks a wrinkled old black man with a difficult to place accent. He moves closer and Nick reaches for his sword.
“Stop it, boy. No need to threaten here. Just want to see, is all," the old man says, glaring at Nick.
I open my hand slowly and the Seven shimmers into brilliance. There is silence. And then shouting as everyone reaches for it. People are offering huge amounts of dragnets for it. A hand thrusts towards me, holding jewels. Nick gets in front of me, drawing his sword.