by Joseph James
This was just a place. Nothing more than a solid spot in the effervescence of time and space. A lump of rock, dirt, and moss that sat like a stone in the middle of a torrential river giving a short respite to the wild currents of reality. Above the place was a sky that was a boiling tempest of color. Rolling clouds that bore only wind and rain with flashes of lightening that gave the mass a flickering illumination. In addition, there was a rain that never stopped but only slowed to a spray and a wind the roared in this never ending storm. Presently the rain was little more than a mist and the roar was down to a low moan, but anyone could tell a typhoon was on the way.
Beneath this storm was a house. A solitary building that was little more than a low stone hut made up from the local rock. Grey stone on the sides with a black slate roof it blended well with the surroundings. Only a yellow light from the lone window in the house gave any sign of warmth.
“We need to get inside Ari,” Magnus said to the young man with him. Magnus was a tall man with a neatly timed goatee and a three piece suit he blended into this place as well as a peacock at a zebra convention. The young man, Ari, wore an ankle length black duster over workmen’s clothes both looked windswept and travel weary. Stooping to get into the doorway, Magus knocked on the battered wooden door. A moment later the door opened and a haggard looking man in overalls and a flannel shirt appeared. He smiled, “Magnus do come in I was expecting you.”
The two walked in and looked around the room smiling. Unlike the outside, the room was cozy and warm. Soft lighting kept the place feeling joyful with soft music playing in the background. Plush carpeting and upholstered furniture completed the homey atmosphere.
“Make yourselves comfortable,” the man in overalls said as he closed the door and shuttered the window. Turning to the group he added, “No need to let the weather in here.”
Magnus took a seat on the couch and Ari took a seat next to him. The chair he sat in seemed to envelope him in a warming comfort. He wondered where this man found a chair like this in a place like this.
The man sat in a chair opposite the two and smiled, “My name in Nergal,” he said to Ari. “Magnus has a tendency to forget the niceties of social interactions. My excuse is my lack of contact with the outside world but he has none.”
Laughing Ari nodded, “He has yet to tell me where we are or where we are going.”
Nergal laughed and told Magnus he was an oaf. Then standing up he said in a prestigious voice, “Welcome to Limbo!”
Ari looked shocked, “This is Limbo?”
Nergal sat back down, “Actually this is just the edge of limbo.” Pointing up he added, “That is Limbo.” It was then that the winds became louder and rain pelted the roof loudly.
“Does it do that all the time?”
Nergal shrugged, “Just like a person living near a railroad you stop noticing it after a while.” He then stood up and said, “Let me show you around. This is the living room. I receive guest here and relax between projects.”
“It is a very relaxing room,” Ari said struggling to get up. Looking back at the chair, once he was standing, he added. “That was the best chair I ever sat in.”
Ari led them to a side room, “This is my kitchen.”
Here was an old fashioned stove. Black and cast iron it kept the room hot even from a distance. Across from it was a butcher’s block on wooden legs and a sink with a hand pump for water.
“What fuel do you use?”
“Coal,” He smiled at Ari, “There is an outcropping of the stuff nearby.”
“This is a bit old fashioned when compared to the living room,” Ari said looking around.
Nergal flinched, “It is functional.”
“Yes,” Ari said walking up to the stove, “but an electric stove and running water would improve this room.”
Nergal smiled at that without comment. He then led them to another doorway. Here was a small room filled with potted plants lit with rows of sunlamps. “I try to keep a healthy diet,” he said with a grin.
“Where are you getting the electricity from?” Ari asked looking at a ripening tomato plant.
“Wind power,” he said brightly. “The wind here never stops.”
He led them through another door to a room filled with books. There were shelves on all four walls from the floor to the ceiling crammed with books of every type imaginable, “My library.”
“Have you read most of these?” Ari said with awe.
“All of them twice,” he said leading them back to the living room. That was how I learned to build the windmills and set up the electrics. Between the daily tasks necessary for life.”
“Sounds boring,” Ari said. “Almost like a prison.” He then stopped and looked at Nergal. “This is a prison isn’t it?”
He looked at Magnus who had kept quiet the entire time, “Why did you bring me here?”
“To release Nergal,” Magnus said flatly.
“You are not planning on leaving me here are you?”
“It is only for a Century,” Nergal said. “After the first decade the time goes fast.”
“I am not like you. My life expectancy is less than that!” Ari complained. “Humans seldom live beyond eighty years and I am in my thirties.”
Nergal laughed, “Here you are virtually immortal.”
“Besides,” Magnus added, “What do you think we are?”
“Aliens?” Ari offered.
Nergal laughed, “He is a Swede and I’m from New York.”
“So why me?” Ari asked. “I didn’t commit any crimes did I?”
They both just stared at him.
“I have a right to know my crimes!” he shouted.
“Not in these realms,” Magnus said.
Nergal nodded, “Ignorance of your crime is part of your crimes.”
“I don’t understand,” he said. They just stared at him. After a moment, his shoulders slumped in surrender. “So I just sit here and rot for a century?”
“Of course not. The house gives you tasks to keep you busy. My predecessor decorated the interior of the house, I built and organized the library and Nergal set up the electrics and garden,” Magnus replied. “Now we need a plumbing.”
Ari made a face, “But what did I do to deserve this punishment.”
They both looked at him in silence.
“We cannot tell you,” Ari said.
“You will not know until the task is done,” Magnus said. “Then you will say your crime and Nergal will come and free you with your replacement as I did him and Ravi did me.”
“What if I do not agree to stay?”
Nergal smiled and pointed at the door, “That is the way out. The portal out of this place is on the hill on which you arrived. You have but to walk up to it and leave.”
Ari looked at the door. Then he looked at the room. Finally, he looked at Magnus and Nergal. He sighed aloud and looked back at the door. The door was there, he knew the exit point and he even knew how to activate it and go almost anywhere. He just lacked the will to go there. In short, he didn’t want to go.
“Want to stay,” said Nergal, “don’t you?”
He smiled at Nergal and agreed. He looked at Magnus, “There are books on plumbing and kitchen appliances aren’t there?”
“All that you need to remodel and modernize the kitchen is here in the house.” Magnus smiled, “We will leave you to your tasks.”
“If you need me just say my name,” Nergal added. “I will come as soon as I can.”
Ari nodded, smiled, and went off to the library without them. Once he was out of the room Nergal looked at Magnus with a smile, “I still remember that feeling. The urge to do something.” He then looked around and told Magnus he was ready to leave.
Outside the storm had slowed to a low wind and slight mist. The grey clouds still churned but they seemed somewhat less menacing. Nergal took a deep breath and then he bent over and picked up a pebble.
“A souvenir?” Magnus asked.
Nergal nodded, “Believe it or not, I will miss this place.” Then looking back at the stone house he said, “It is a strange prison that makes you want to stay.”
“While teaching you a skill and the wisdom needed to travel the multiverse,” Magnus said in a low tone.
“What was his crime?”
“The same as your crime,” Magnus said taking him by the shoulder. “The same as mine, the same as everyone’s.”
With that, they disappeared into the mist and began their journey.
* * * * THE END * * * *
Copyright Joseph James 2015