“You have to understand, whore, none of us really wants to be here.” The pudgy Asian man, whom I could only think to refer to as ‘Balloon crotch’ seemed to be a little less interested in keeping things friendly. “We’ve chosen to be here because this is what’s necessary.”
“Necessary for what, exactly?” Like I cared. But I figured if they got a chance to pitch their sci-fi thriller, they might just take a moment to consider letting me go.
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” Blaine interrupted. “Let’s just start at the beginning. You’ve seen us around a few times, Emma.”
Shit. They know my name. Of course they know your name, idiot! They’ve clearly been stalking you for weeks!
“Oh, you mean during my drugged-up hallucinations? Yes, I did see two of you popping up in rather unexpected places. I hope that was fun for you because it almost landed me in the looney bin.” I was losing my patience. I’d been sitting around there for too long – clearly they weren’t there to hurt me. It was time to get to the goddamn point.
Blaine fueled my irritation by laughing. “That was my idea.”
Penny rolled her eyes. “It was a stupid idea, idiot. I can’t believe you talked me into it.” She turned to me with a sardonic smile. “We had to make sure you could see us. Most people who travel to the other side begin seeing is immediately but you had some kind of…delay. We’re not sure why. To ensure that it was us you were seeing, we had to be a little bit, uh, over-the-top. You know, scare you and see if you responsed. Blaine just has a penchant for theatrics.”
“It was worth it. Totally worth it. You should’ve seen your face, Emma.” He was still chuckling, his face turning beat red.
Blondie and Balloon Crotch started laughing too and, for the first time years, I completely lost my shit. I stood up and threw my stool against the wall. “Who the fuck are you people? Why am I here? WHERE am I? And when I can go home? Will someone please explain something?”
The laughing stopped and everyone seemed relieved. “It’s about fucking time. Whore is stubborn, that’s for damn sure,” Balloon Crotch mumbled.
“About time for what? And why the fuck so you keep calling me a whore? Will you please stop talking in code; it’s driving me mad!”
Penny put my stool back in place, glowering at the others. “Geez, guys, you remember what this was like. Take it down a notch.” She rubbed my shoulders. “It’s okay, we can explain now. We’re not allowed to say anything until you ask. Most people get frustrated a lot sooner than you did – you really have a knack for stuffing your feelings until they pop like a crescent roll tube.”
I tried to calm my breathing. “Just tell me what’s going on. Please. I’m not in the mood for a panic attack.” I buried my head in my hands waiting for whatever ridiculous explanation they had.
“We have a mission to complete and we need your help,” Blaine began.
My hands dropped and my forehead hit the table. Seriously? Rock bottom it is.
“Heaven is crumbling – you saw part of it. It’s a wasteland full of lifeless people who have completely lost their way. We can’t let it continue like this or existence will crumble with it. The Plan as it has been laid out is crashing in on itself and the only person who can lead us to stop it – Star – is buried in a prison.”
“Star.” I stared at them in disbelief. They didn’t sense my sarcasm.
“Star – this is the name of your savior…” If I’d said his name was ‘Jesus Christ’ they’d have been no less shocked.
“Yes. Star.” Balloon Crotch clarified impatiently.
“Okay. As if this wasn’t ridiculous enough already…” An unexpected giggle escaped my lips. Then a laugh. Then I broke into an all-out guffaw, throwing my head back with the absurdity of what I’d just heard. I wiped tears from my eyes. “Okay, so let me get this straight. You want me to help you save heaven. Heaven: the place of perfection, purity, and eternal happiness – in other words, everything I’m not. And you’ve got to get some weirdo named ‘Star’ – who may have been imprisoned for shaming the concept of names – to help you do it. And not only that, if I don’t help you, the entire universe will explode? I mean, you’re kidding right? You want me to save the fucking universe. Now that’s good comedy right there.”
They looked at each other with concerned expressions. “That’s the basic idea…” Penny said, her eyes wandering around the room evasively.
“What? Is there something else? Am I supposed to give birth to a God too? Because, I hate to break it you, but I’m definitely not a virgin.”
“Like we said: that’s the basic idea.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I shook my head and smacked myself in the face to make sure I was awake. It was hard to say for sure, but all signs pointed to this being real. “Okay. Okay. I can deal with this. Here I am sitting in an abandoned magical labyrinth warehouse you’ve brought me to after stalking me for weeks to make sure I could see you so you could kidnap me and get me to join you in a battle with the Big Guy Upstairs – the one I’m not on a great terms with right now.”
Blondie turned to Penny and opened her mouth, “Penny, I think we should – “
“No!” Penny yelled, slamming her hand on the table. It was hard not to feel a little bit unsettled with such an overbearing outburst from such a little girl. “We already talked about it this – she only needs to know the basics.” Penny eyed Blondie intensely as if attempting to force her thoughts via telepathy. Another piece of information I wasn’t privy to.
I sighed. “So how exactly did I earn this honor?”
“You didn’t,” Blondie piped in. “Nobody does. It’s just the way it happened. The only way to…uh…save heaven is to reach it. And the only people who can reach it are those who have broken through before and lived to tell the tale. You’re just one of the ‘lucky ones’.”
She air-quoted the words with disdain and I realized she was about as enthusiastic about her involvement in this arrangement as I was.
“Are you talking about that hallucination I had? About being sucked into the tube and meeting that hot – I mean, beautiful – angel guy thing?” They nodded, again in unison. “That’s how I broke through?” They nodded. “And that’s why you want me on your little religious God-fearing mission?” They nodded.
“Do you guys always nod at the exact same time?” They all paused for a moment – then nodded in unison yet again. I sat back on my stool, crossing my arms over my chest. This wasn’t quite what I had in mind when I woke up that morning.
“So what? Do these out-of-body experiences not happen very often or something because I swear I’ve seen at least 20 books about them and yet here there are only four of you.” They exchanged knowing glances. “Oh come on, you just told me I’m supposed to save the universe and you think the next bit of news is worse? Trust me, I’m all shocked out.”
Blaine cleared his throat. “There are others who have broken through. Many others – not the ones who have written books about it, though, those are bullshit – but there are two things you need to know. First of all: nobody is forced into to doing this. In fact, there’s not even any reward. But there’s no punishment for walking away either. The whole reason we’re going up against – I mean, the whole reason we’re doing this is because we want to restore true agency to the world. Choice. Between good and bad and everything in between.”
“Whoa, whoa, hang on…you mean I don’t have to do this? I don’t even have to be here?” They nodded solemnly. “So I can leave and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.” Their nods were much less animated this time and a scowl was breaking out on Blondie’s face. “So if I…” I stood up and took two steps towards the door. I glanced around cautiously. “Nothing? No torture or threats? No murder of my firstborn child if I walk right back out that door?” This time they didn’t even move.
Blaine ignored my bluff and continued. “The second thing you need to know is that everyone who has done this – gone back to heaven, I mean – they’ve all failed except us.”
“What do you mean they failed? They ended up in hell or something?”
“No. What I mean is…” He shifted uncomfortably. “Okay, let me explain it this way: how did you feel when you were in heaven? After you woke up on the grass in the field?”
My chin dropped. I actually hadn’t thought about that moment for almost an hour – it was a record. The memory flooded back like an tsunami. “Elated. Ecstatic. Emphatic. Wonderful. Like I was having ten orgasms all at the same time. The complete opposite of how I feel at this very moment.”
He nodded. “It was the same way for the others.” He cleared his throat. “The only way to fight heaven is to go back. To revisit that place so we can find out where Star is imprisoned. The others who broke the barrier like you…” He glanced at Penny and she nodded reassuringly. “They never came back.”
“Wait, they never came back? They died?”
“You were there, Emma, you understand the pull of that place. It’s enigmatic. Did you want to come back?”
“God no. I’ve been in an irreparable depression ever since I woke up. Suicide has seemed as reasonable a choice as having Cheerios for breakfast.”
“That’s how everyone feels. It’s an addiction. An addiction no one else has been able to resist.”
Realization hit me. “Except you four.”
Blaine shrugged. “Well, us two – Blondie and Balloon Crotch.” I blushed – the mind-reading they had going on was getting awkward. “I’m a guardian angel – well, a fallen angel. I’m banned from heaven for eternity.” He shrugged. “Not that it stops me.”
I nodded warily. “And Penny?”
“It’s not important right now. The point is: your drive to return is the reason you’re still sitting here right now. But at the same time, it’s also the reason you could get stuck in hell for eternity.”
“I don’t know what kind of person you think I am – if you’re under the impression that I do anything good under any circumstances, you’re very, very wrong. In fact, according my religion of birth, I’m pretty much as damned as they come. Hell would be like going home to me.” I snickered. Once again, my joviality wasn’t returned.
I took a deep breathe. “Ok. Wow. Well, that’s a lot of information.”
“Take a break for a day or two and let it sink in. We won’t send you back until you’re ready.”
“Send me back? No, no I’m good. Appreciate the thought, really, but I’m just gonna go home. Good luck saving the universe though.”
I stood up to leave. The shock on their faces when I opened the door caused me to pause.
“Emma, think about the choice you’re making first,” Penny pleaded, “you have a chance to change the course of the universe here.”
I looked back at them and pondered for a few seconds, tapping my lip with my finger. “Change the course of the universe…” I shook my head. “Nah, it wasn’t on my to-do list today. And if it were, it would be after beer, cartoons, sex, finding a place to live…” I considered their stricken faces for a moment. “So if I can leave, why did you block my exit before? Are you going to do the same thing because I don’t really want to have to navigate this building three or four more times?”
“I don’t think so,” Penny murmured.
“Okay…” I stuttered
Penny shook her head. “You don’t understand: no one has ever said no before. Emma, you remember that place right? How can you resist the urge to go back?”
I didn’t really feel the need to explain but the look of horror and pain on her face was impossible to ignore. “I can’t. But I have to. I don’t know what kind of seership abilities you guys have, but I have a bit of a jaded past. Those feelings are too familiar – they enslaved me for too long. The only thing worse than not going back there is getting sucked in again.”
Ugh. This was getting way too over-the-top. I wiped a tear and dug my toes in. I’m relaxed, unconcerned, living in the moment Emma now. There are no tragedies.
“Look guys, this really isn’t my thang, ya know? I’m not the right girl. Check your crystal ball again, it probably has a smudge on it. And anyways, I just really….Okay, see ya.” I couldn’t’ help it. The intensity in that room was overwhelming and I was starting to feel like I couldn’t breath. I slammed the door and took off down the hall, already anticipating the smell of fresh air and cigarette butts. But something occurred to me and I realized I had to go back. I turned around and burst back through the door, startling everyone in their moroseness.
“I’m sorry, but I have to know something. How come I already knew your names before anyone said them? Can you read my mind?” Any hope that had glimmered in their eyes upon my reentry quickly faded and I felt a little bad for crushing their spirits for the second time.
“Names are circular,” Blaine said. “Whatever name you call us is the name you hear us speak. But we probably all have different names in our heads. It’s just the way it works.”
I crinkled my forehead. “Really?” I looked at the pudgy man. “So your name is really Balloon Crotch if I want it to be?” He shrugged. “Why do you keep calling me whore? I’m pretty sure that’s not an idea I came up with.”
Blaine butted in. “He’s not saying whore; he’s saying ‘Hor’. As in short for ‘Horus’. It’s Egyptian for Savior. Balloon Crotch had it in his head that you were going to complete our circle and help us make this mission a reality. Which is stupid because fate and destiny don’t exist.” He glared at Balloon Crotch. “It goes against everything we’re fighting for.”
My face fell. Now I really felt guilty. I stared at the four mourning people before me. They were so animated earlier and now they just seemed…dejected. The guilt was starting to build; the poison I had no desire to drink ever again. I knew I had to hit the trail before I let it get the better of me.
“I’m sure you’ll find someone else. Someone far more noble than me.”
Blondie scoffed. “There is no one else.”
I took one more glance around the room, quietly shut the door, and scurried back to the entrance.