An Artist Goes to Hell – Excerpt 6

30 Nov

‘Well, my locker’s on this floor,’ one of the waitresses said, mousily. ‘I think I’ll just … go there quick and go to the bus station.’

Swindell frowned at her. ‘Are you sure?’

‘Yeah.’

‘You want us to walk you there?’

‘No, it’s fine. This happens like once a quarter.’

‘This isn’t a floor I’d like to be on,’ Pensivemo said. ‘I’m getting back on.’

‘You want to go back up?’ Swindell said. ‘You’d be absolutely nuts to go back up there. Remember level E?’

‘Well, maybe I’ll try C.’

‘C isn’t gonna be in anything resembling good shape, I can guarantee you,’ Swindell said.

‘Why not A then? It’ll get us further from the damage.’ Swindell stepped out of the elevator. ‘It may be further but A will have a very different trouble waiting for us, I can tell you that.’

‘Hey,’ Pensivemo called to the waitress who was already ahead of them. She turned around. ‘You wouldn’t happen to have smokes, would you?’

She shrugged. ‘I just quit. My dad died of heart disease.’

‘Oh it’s okay,’ Pensivemo said. As she turned and left, he felt peculiar for excusing her father’s heart disease.

Swindell made his way down the hall behind her. Pensivemo followed him to the end of the hall which opened into a large lobby area. It was completely vacant and, like the hall, scattered with goods, papers, boxes, toppled beds, bullet shells, bed covers and blankets, bits of fake flower petals and flimsy fake moss along with real bits of flower petals and real plants with real moss. There were smears of blood along the floor but not as much as in the hallway.

‘Tell me,’ Pensivemo said, ‘what about level A could possibly be worse than this floor?’

The sound of a big whirring engine accompanied a big jeep in beige camouflage entering the lobby area from the right hallway. Men in uniforms matching the colors of the jeep stood on the vehicle’s end: one manning a large, mounted gun, the other some sort of rocket launcher.

Swindell ducked low and ran for the nearest corner and Pensivemo followed him. The remaining kitchen staff separated and spread out. Having ducked behind a series of black leather couches, Pensivemo asked Swindell, ‘Which way? Should we to back to the elevator?’

‘I think that’s as good a move as any.’

‘Is it clear?’

‘I don’t know. Will you check?’

‘You check.’

‘But you asked.’

Pensivemo groaned and raised his head slowly over the edge of the couch. The jeep went quickly down the opposite hallway and one of the men on the back started firing at someone in short spurts.

‘Come on,’ Pensivemo said, quietly.

They both got up and went back to the hallway from which they’d come. Just as they arrived, a figure emerged from one of the rooms to the side. Pensivemo knew the corpulent shape well. It was his favorite guard from before.

‘Now I got you, bitch,’ he said.

‘Hold on a minute,’ Swindell said, stepping in front of him. ‘What seems to be the problem here?’

‘This is one sick son of a bitch, you know that?’ the big man said. ‘You his lawyer or something?’

‘I’m Rover Swindell, the Dean of Grievances, and if I’ve found out that you’ve been harassing my or anyone else’s clients, I’ll see to it that you lose your position, you hear me?’

‘Yeah … I hear ya,’ the big man said. ‘I hear you throwin a title in my face … A title I aint ever heard of.’

‘Now you listen to me,’ Swindell said, getting close to him and sticking his finger in his face.

The big man looked past Swindell, pulled out his pistol and fired at someone behind him. Swindell jumped out of the way, plugging his ears as the big man continued to fire.

Pensivemo ran down the hall to the elevator and Swindell followed him. Once there, he punched the button and waited for the doors to open. The big man kept firing at someone on the other side of the lobby. The elevator doors opened and the two of them spun into either side of it. Pensivemo, having ended up on the right, hit the button to close the doors and they began to move just as a series of gunshots reached the door and sprouted holes in the opposite elevator wall. Pensivemo then hit the level-A button and the elevator started moving down.

Swindell, breathing heavily, shook his head and said, ‘A’s no good.’

‘It’s better than sitting around,’ Pensivemo said.

The level-A button was lit but the elevator kept moving.

‘Why aren’t we stopping?’ Swindell said. ‘Did you hit some other button?’

‘I hit A,’ Pensivemo said.

‘We’re going lower. Did you hit another button?’

‘I said I hit A,’ Pensivemo grumbled.

‘Then where the hell are we going?’

‘It’s just not to A yet.’

The light at the level-A button shut off but the elevator was still moving.

After a moment, the elevator stopped. Swindell was breathing heavily and wiping his forehead. ‘We went lower,’ he said. ‘Dear God, we went lower.’

‘What’s the big deal?’ Pensivemo asked.

The door opened. The hallway immediately in front of them was not a hallway so much as it was a cave. It was ovular, made of dark stone with dim lights placed all the way down the wall until it met another door. From where he stood, Pensivemo could see two ugly gargoyles by the door, both muscular and doggish yet strangely human with horns, both with tongues sticking out as though slobbering over something tasty, both dark but well let by the dim yellow of the surrounding lights. The door they protected looked like it was made of dark, polished wood. A wood door—a place that didn’t need protection.

‘I’m not getting off here,’ Swindell said. He went to the buttons and pushed the one meant to close the door. Nothing happened. He pushed it again, putting all of his body weight into it, panicking.

‘Listen,’ Pensivemo said, ‘I’m gonna go take a walk down that way just to take a peek and see what’s down there. Unless you know something I don’t.’

Still pressing the one button, other buttons, every button, Swindell said, ‘This level is cursed.’

‘Does it have anything to do with the storm on level E?’

‘I don’t know and I don’t wanna find out.’

‘I thought you were the Dean of Grievances,’ Pensivemo said, slowly. ‘Doesn’t that mean anything to these people down here?’

‘Look,’ Swindell said. ‘You saw what level B was like. You saw all that blood. What makes you think it’s gonna get any better the lower we go?’

Pensivemo shrugged. ‘I don’t know. I just thought it was contingent to proximity. I didn’t think it would have anything to do with descending.’

‘Do you even have an aesthetic fiber in your soul, man?’ Swindell said, frowning, frenzied and pale.

‘Well, I’ve been accused of aesthetic fibers. That’s probably because I’ve also been accused of being a poet.’

‘Don’t you know what it means to descend aesthetically?’

‘Well, one can speculate,’ Pensivemo said, shrugging.

‘Well you can find out on your own. I want nothing to do with this.’ Swindell kept trying to push the buttons on the elevator. After a moment—in which his teeth were bared like an angry chimp, his face like a crying child without tears—he gave up and sat in the corner of the elevator, hugging his knees. ‘Maybe it’s a power issue,’ he muttered. ‘It’ll work eventually.’

‘You’re gonna sit there?’ Pensivemo said.

‘I’m gonna sit here.’

‘You don’t wanna see if maybe there’s somewhere better we can hang out?’

‘If there’s one thing I know for sure, I know there’s nowhere better to hang out beyond that door.’

‘Suit yourself then,’ Pensivemo said.

He took a few steps down the hall, got about halfway and looked back at the open elevator door. By then, Swindell was no longer visible, having sat in the unseen corner. Pensivemo faced the wooden door again, the awful gargoyles, the dim lights. Such omen. It couldn’t be serious, could it? It was certainly a bit much.

Once he came close enough to the door to push it open, he hesitated and looked at the seam at the center. The door had that feeling of sleeping evil. That feeling of evil waiting for non-evil to come near and compromise itself. An evil that didn’t need to try too hard.

Pensivemo pressed the right door open with a squeak. The door led into a great open hallway. The hall, like the previous little cave tunnel, had rock walls and a rock ceiling which joined them in an ovular curve. The ceiling was incredibly high—about forty feet up. There was a giant chandelier hanging from the roof that looked like it was made of crystals pulled from deep caves. The floor was marble and shiny with splashy designs and on the other side of the great room was another set of doors, incredibly tall and wooden like the last pair. On either side of this set of doors were two giant lion statues made of stone. Their faces were calm, their eyes slit. The image was very Babylonian, it struck him. He glanced back at the other set of doors from which he’d come and considered going back and waiting it out with the Dean of Grievances.

Many words had been thrown around loosely, over-used frequently and sapped of all seriousness since he woke up and found himself in that great establishment. Some of those words were ‘firm,’ ‘marketer’ and ‘branch.’ They were used that often because that was ultimately all they were. All crime was a matter of competing sensibility. The only punitive authority was time and chance.

Before he even came very close to the door, a great baritone voice, heavily amplified and echoing all throughout the foundation, spoke to him saying, ‘What is the name of the client?’

Pensivemo looked around for whoever had spoken but saw no one. Was there a camera somewhere? If there was, it could have been hidden in just about any place. His attention turned to the only things in the room that visibly had eyes—the statues. ‘I’m sorry?’ Pensivemo said.

‘What is the name of the client?’ the voice boomed again.

He hesitated. ‘Pensivemo Croce.’

There was a heavy breath and the voice said, ‘Be patient while we process your information.’

‘Very well.’

The chandelier seemed to dim a little as he waited. The shadows of the two lions were swallowed in the greater darkness. The giant doors began to open slowly with the great noise of its grinding gears. On the other side was a dark, peaked hallway with a well-lit, white wall at the end and another door.

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