He would love her forever. Standing over her grave now he knew it as surely as he knew his own name. Letting go wasn't even an option. She was in his heart, a permanent resident, no vacancies, a lifetime lease. Her wildness had infected him and her spirited independence made him proud that she had chosen him to share even a portion of her life.
She was dead. He had accepted that. Feet planted here now, at the edge of the other place she would never leave, he felt certain of it. It didn't change the immutable, irrefutable, irrevocable truth. He belonged to her heart and soul, body and mind... pocket-watch and handkerchief, socks and shoes... something and... something else.
The last thing he consciously thought was “I think I'm losing my train of thought... it seems to be de-railing...” and then there was darkness. The faint took him so quickly, he never even saw the black earth displaced by Mary's grave rushing up to meet him.
“Peter? Peter, open your eyes, dude. You're scaring me, buddy.”
The voice was like thunder scraping over gravel. Peter struggled to sit upright to look at the speaker but decided against it when he felt the first wave of nausea roll over him in a tsunami wave. He fell back carelessly, not even noticing the softness by which his head was swallowed. The first thing he truly noticed was the smell. Life and death had surely had a battle here and death was the victor, by far. Pungent rotting, covered not at all effectively by a spicy-sweet incense (is that frankincense that's just weird who even burns that anymore jesus god where the fuck am I for chrissakes) filled his nostrils. He could taste a warm stickiness in the air mixed with copper and electricity and
“Where the fuck am I?” he croaked as a big, hot (burning and dank) hand cradled his head and shoulder (goddamn that hand is big how the) and lifted him upright. His head swam and he gratefully accepted an offered mug of thick, black coffee. As he downed the black gold and re-righted his brain, feeling the synapses coming back online one by one, he realized (not in Kansas anymore Toto what the fuck is that a goddamned minotaur or some shit) he was NOT where he last remembered being... which was... standing... (OHGODNO) at Marys grave. Not caring anymore where he was, he gave in to the grief and allowed it to pull him under. His chest heaved and contracted as he sobbed and moaned. The mug dropped from his hands unnoticed and spilled its contents into the bed upon which he was apparently ensconced.
As his hitches devolved to hiccoughs and hiccoughs to shuddered breaths, he took his first real look around the room. He wiped his running nose with a clumsy swipe, picking up the edge of a sheet dampened by coffee and swiping it across his eyes and nose, then rubbing his hands on it, before dropping it onto the (bed is this a bed its more like a coffin with edges and are those chains or god its like some bdsm dungeon or something where the hell am I) bed.
“Dude, you need to orient yourself. And careful with the linens. I got those at Marie Antoinette's Everything-Must-Go and they are the fanciest things I own!”
The absurdity of the statement brought Peter firmly into his present and he finally looked right at the speaker. It was a minotaur.
“I'm not a minotaur. Those don't exist. Dude, seriously. Get it under control. I'm a demon, nothing fancy, nothing major. Just a demon. I don't even have any horns. I'm just a bit blocky and have a square chin and big nose... and maybe my hair is a bit spiky and my nails sorta long... but sheesh! You Americans and your profiling.”
Peter realized he hadn't spoken the word 'minotaur' aloud. Alarmed, he shrunk back, away from the beast and attempted to roll off the (platform is it a platform or some kind of altar ohmygodohmygod he's going to sacrifice me) bed and landed firmly on a blackened stone floor.
'Sacrifice?!?! Do you even think before you think, dude? SHEESH. I'm not going to sacrifice you. Just stand up and get hold of yourself, would you?”
Peter struggled to stand, finally righting himself by holding onto the (be..
“BED! It's my BED, dude! They are safety rails! I have night terrors and they keep me from rolling off! OK? Now STOP FREAKING OUT!”
The bellow of the demon was so shockingly deep and forceful, it seemed to suck the air from the room... from Peter's very lungs... and time seemed to slow. He looked at his captor with fear but held onto his nerves like lifelines. Deep, counted, deliberate breaths became his only focus and he forced the calm to envelop him. It was only after it washed over him completely and submerged his panic that he realized the demon was breathing with him, counting and matching his breaths, eyes closed and huge clawed hands bent into the Gyan Mudra yoga position.
With that image firmly in his sight, he began to laugh, cackle even. He laughed even harder than he had cried only moments before. The demon, startled, seemed puzzled but then was swept up into laughter as well and the two filled the room with unconstrained, joyous release.
When the sound died down, Peter finally asked his first coherent question.
“Where am I?” As he spoke, he took in the room, finally able to focus without fear. It occurred to him that he was way calmer than he should be (probably all empty now spent my fear my joy my grief my pain nothing left).
“Hell, of course, though it's my understanding you never really believed in it, so... SURPRISE!” The demon attempted what Peter thought must be a smile. He quite suddenly knew exactly how the rictus grin of a corpse must appear.
“That's an uncharitable thought, bro. Seriously. I'm doing my best. This is my first solo job and I really am trying to make a good impression. We're off to a bad start. Let me just explain.”
He motioned over to a bench, indicating Peter should sit. Once he was settled, the demon explained.
“I'm sure you remember Mary. Her death, your grief, your unwillingness to let her go and subsequent pledge spell for her to own you, body and soul, etceteras... well, it's my job to see to the technicalities of all that, set the proper binding, get the signatures, file the cohabitation plans... you get the idea. I was just retrieving you when you fainted. I didn't want the guys on the third floor to see how badly I botched the return, so I brought you here first to get you a bit calm before I take you in.”
The demon looked at Peter as if he had just explained everything Peter needed to know and was waiting for a response (as if any of this makes sense as if he just told me was getting a refund on my taxes or needed a cavity filled what the very fuck is this) in order to continue.
“Um. Peter. I think we've already established I can hear what you are thinking, so why don't we use our words, buddy? Instead of being so rude and thinking behind my back?”
Peter nodded and managed to whisper “Please, continue. I'm still a little iffy on the details, um, Mr...”
“OH! How rude! I'm so sorry. I'm Dantalion.” He crossed the room, grabbed the edge of a large desk and dragged it noisily to face Peter, then pulled over an ancient carved oak chair and sat, picking up a set of round spectacles and setting them over his wide nose. Then he reached over the desk and grasped Peter's hand in his own. His huge hand completely obscured Peters, almost up to his elbow. The size disparity between he and his new acquaintance became crystal clear and Peter finally felt a bit of his previous fear creep back into his heart stealthily.
“Now, Peter, let's get to work, shall we? We can just cover all we need to cover here and just do the signing in the office in front of the Witnesses. This is much more intimate and less stressful, don't you think? Now, here we go. I have here the basic agreement, Mary's addendum, your acquiescence forms, in triplicate of course. The riders are all listed in the appendices and cross referenced for your ease of navigation. Will you be needing to have counsel review the contracts for you before we get Mary in the office to sign them?”
The pause was long and deliberate. When Peter finally spoke, it was as if the words were being drug from him without his permission.
“Do you mean... to tell me... that Mary... MY Mary... is here? In... Hell?”
Dantalion let the question hang there in the air. He drew a deep breath and carefully chose his words.
“Peter, I'm just going to stop here and let this sink in while I take a moment to apologize. As I said before, this is my first solo case and I may have rushed you along too quickly. Let's just back up and let me state the particulars. This is Hell. Mary is here because she died with some serious sin chops, I mean, we were really all impressed with her record, WOW. She's the first person in centuries to be given a title and job right away upon entry. Very impressive. I can tell you. Heck, in a few centuries, she'll probably be my boss, real up-and-comer. Anyway, when your pledge to her was noted, she jumped at the chance to have you by her side.”
“Mary... still wants me? Even in death?” Peter felt his hopes rise, even in the current circumstance, to think she still wanted (needs me loves me still oh mary even in death we will be togeth...
“Wait, Peter, please... I think you misunderstand. Mary doesn't want you as her... lover or husband or whatever you are imagining there, buddy. Mary needs a trainee subject, you know, to perfect her OJT.”
The room seemed to darken and lose shape as Peter let it sink into his mind.
“She's gonna torture you, buddy. First one always has to be a volunteer from your own life. Lets you let go of your humanity once and for all.”
Peter was unaware of the tears flowing down his face. He stared at Dantalion and listened as a litany of Marys sins and trespasses mounted. The demon had called it the 'full disclosure' statement and said he had to read it in it's entirety. For what seemed like hours, Peter was subjected to a detailed account of Mary's deeds.
The horror of who she was, how she had hidden the monster she truly was, broke something inside him. She had killed her own mother, sold her own child as an infant to a sex trade ring, slept with countless men for the purpose of rolling them. She had killed several men in gruesome, torturous ways. She had hooked up with another psychopath and doubled down on her debauchery by making a game of murder. In an even more detailed accounting, Dantalion listed off her transgresses against Peter himself.
“...and then, the weekend of March 5, 2003, when your mother died and you called from your aunt's house crying... while she was talking to you on the phone and comforting you? She and her partner were making a kid smother his own puppy in order to save his own life... then they killed him anyway.”
“STOP!!!! I can't hear anymore! Please! I want to go home. I take it back! I was never hers! She was a lie! Please! Dantalion... please (pleasepleasepleasepleaseplease)”
“You... you take it back? You mean, you aren't volunteering? Because the rules are clear, we will have to have a volunteer here, man. Um, oh man, I hope I haven't screwed the pooch on this one, Peter. I mean... Are you sure you won't sign? Mary really needs you.”
Peter stared at the stack of papers in the demons hand. He hadn't even gotten to the current decade and there were hundreds of pages of apparent sins against him still to be revealed. He felt his stomach lurch and his eyes grow dim. (can't no god please I want to go home please)
Dantalion sighed. He hoped perhaps the partner Mary had mentioned might be more forthcoming. This dude was hopeless. He prepared the spell to send him back. Better to have delays in the paperwork than outright mistakes. Nothing less than perfect would get his seal of approval.
“Ok, Peter. Close your eyes. It's all just a bad bad dream. You'll wake up at home, having just fainted at Mary's graveside. Maybe you were just overtired or perhaps it was something you...”
“...ate? I mean how long since he even drank anything?”
Peter could hear his brothers voice distantly and rose up from his aunts couch to the fuzzy sight of his family gathered around him, worried expressions worn by all. He couldn't really wrap his head around how he had gotten here or why everyone looked so concerned.
“What happened? Did I faint or something?” As he asked the question, he realized he could still smell black earth and roses. He glanced at the front of his shirt and saw muddy stains.
“Yeah, man. You went down pretty hard. We have been very worried. You haven't eaten today have you?”
Peter knew his brother was right. He hadn't cared to eat in days, not since Mary had... he expected the next word he thought to sting, to shoot grief throughout his body in great waves... died. It laid there in his mind until he realized...
“I'm ok, I'm ok.”
He managed to sit up. His stomach gave a loud grumble and he realized he could smell his sister-in-laws famous meatloaf mingled with hot bread and something spicy, maybe sweet.
“I'm famished, y'all. Can we eat, maybe?” Concern turned to purpose and as they all sat down to eat and comfort their beloved Peter, life went on, none the wiser.