Brigid followed two women who had recently decided against wearing a hood over their head. They stood either side of their young leader as they crossed the compound behind the false houses. Red sand covered the vast area. Lights reflected from the red and yellow rectangles that appeared periodically on the tall stone perimeter. Well used metal poles protruded out of the walls to add extra enforcement. Rings of sharpened wire and flames lined the top of the walls, just in case anyone found themselves in that impossible place and felt obliged to take a look into the compound. The whole area had been designed to be the most secure facility in Hades. There was one way in, which was the same way out, though the façade of a derelict house. It was so simple it was brilliant. It had been designed by the greatest minds in Necropolis after all. A slight breeze whipped up a few grains of sand. Despite this, Brigid’s guides still did not lift their hoods over their heads.
“Progress has been made,” one of the women advised her. It was the same woman with the tight hair bun who had spoken in the assembly. Brigid had personally asked her to show her into the crevice. “I’m sure that you will be pleased,” the old woman said with a smile.
“Let’s hope so,” Brigid said. She turned her face away from a heavy gust of wind. It died down as quickly as it rose. “Is there a name?”
The two guides exchanged wide eyed looks. Enthusiasm beamed from their wise, old faces.
“Yes,” the same woman said.
A few steps across the dusty space and Brigid asked, “Am I allowed to know what it is?”
“Oh,” the woman with the tight bun collected herself, “yes. Of course. Mark 536.”
Brigid processed the name in her mind. “Mark 356?” repeated. Is there a logic behind that?”
“Of course,” the woman said.
“One simply cannot put the greatest minds in Necropolis together without creating some kind of logic,” the quieter woman said.
“Genius, if you will.”
“Right,” Brigid said sceptically, “Would you care to explain it to me?”
“Mark,” the woman with the hair bun explained, “Three, fifty six.”
“Yes…” Brigid encouraged.
The quieter woman smiled until she nearly exploded. “Be not afraid, only believe,” she said.
“I’m sorry?” Brigid asked the woman. “I’m a mathematician. I’ve never enjoyed riddles.”
“It’s the gospel,” the quiet woman squealed.
“The gospel?” Brigid said.
“Matthew, Mark, Luke and –”
“I know all about the gospels,” Brigid interrupted, “I just don’t understand how a group of esteemed academics, mostly scientists, settled on a biblical reference for the name of their afterlife’s work.”
“Precisely,” the woman with the bun said with a smile, “That’s the genius of it.”
The boy floated through shadows. Papa had told him to follow, and the boy had obliged. He copied Papa when he stepped out of the window and dropped into a shadow between the building they were in and the next one. Papa, in his white jacket, walked at a pace in the darkness and the boy followed. It was all he could do. The young man, this confused boy who had left the overworld too soon, still was not sure of his current circumstances. He had no choice but to follow the man who had plucked him from the crowd.
Shrouded in darkness the two travelled in the shadows between buildings. They floated in silence and passed through Necropolis unseen by any other soul. Papa and his new protégé were the real ghosts in a ghost city.
After a rapid journey Papa slowed his pace. The boy stood next to him and together they walked around a corner. The stark white scene in front of him stung the young man’s new eyes.
“Quiet today,” Papa muttered, mostly for his own benefit. With his arms outstretched, he turned to the young man. “This is the place boy,” Papa announced, “This is the place where you become the man you meant to be. You can vent your anger. Release that hatred. Get your vengeance.”
The pain relented as the boy’s eyes adjusted to this new scene. Darker shadows started to show themselves and defined the scene in front of him. A wall ran around and almost over the space which gave the feeling that they stood in a cavern, despite the fact that they were exposed. It was like nowhere else the young man had seen before.
“See here,” Papa continued, “is usually the place where folk come to speak to the living, half living and other such mumbo jumbo.” He winked at the young man and flashed his golden teeth. “Except this place looks like someone got a bit, shall we say, overexcited?”
Hollowed spaces, like white termite mounds, filled up an area that was hidden from the hazy iridescence of the Necropolitan daylight. Except it was bright, as though snow had fallen on it, or the whole place was covered in ash. It looked to the boy as though a forest had been destroyed. All the trees had been severed during a bleak winter. All of the inhabitants had run away. The obscure glade was silent. No other soul was around. This did not feel like a happy place.
“Looks like it would’ve been quite the spectacle,” Papa said as he stepped into the space, towards a far wall. His feet left imprints in the chalky white surface. “I wouldn’t have minded bearing witness to that.”
Papa dragged his cane across the surface of an empty hollow. It left a dark trench where the grey matter flaked to the ground. He came close to the edge of the space.
“Now usually,” Papa said as he tapped on the solid rock in front with his cane, “folk need to be in some kind of slumber when they make contact with the overworld.”
A hollow sound came from behind the wall.
“But if you ask me, and I know you would if you could, they doing it all wrong.”
Papa held his cane against the rock wall and tapped lightly three times. On the fourth tap he forced his cane through the surface. The rock face cracked. Its noise should have echoed around the glade but it was absorbed instantly. Papa repeated the movement until the rock started to crumble.
“I mean,” Papa rolled up the sleeves on his white jacket and pressed his knuckles against each other to produce a series of cracks and pops, “what’s the point of having access to another plane if you just snoozing, you hear what I say?”
Papa plunged one hand into the freshly made hole in the wall. He inserted his entire arm, up to the shoulder, and tore the rock away. Light seeped out of the rock.
“And it’s distracting and all sorts up there. People just get so desperate. They sees an opportunity to talk to their living loved ones, they momma, the kids or cat or whatever and it turns into a struggle.
“Like I say kid, they doing it all wrong. But not you. You the lucky one, you better than all that. That’s why I found you.” Papa shook red dust from his arms and returned the sleeves to his wrists. “I saw that passion burn inside you the second I clapped eyes on you soul. You got it right boy, you got a talent for it. And I’m here to show you how to use it.”
The young man stepped towards the small cave that Papa had just created. He creased his confused brow at Papa.
“Show me how to use what?” Papa said in a comically high pitched tone to mimic the question that went through the young man’s mind. “Show you how to get your revenge on them folk who are still up there.” Papa pointed to the eternal grey light above them. He then wrapped his arm around the boy and ushered him into the space behind the rock.
It was small. The young man had to follow Papa along a short, darkened path. Ahead of them the boy saw the darkness start to break.
“I feels we nearly here,” Papa said. His voice echoed around the empty cave.
The young man felt cool air rush past him. The path opened. It was wide enough for the young man and Papa to walk side by side. The cool air rushed over their heads. There seemed to be no ceiling. Above them, the cave ran on into infinity. It was darkness, crowned by a perfect white circle that was an immeasurable distance away. This was where the light came from. By the time it reached the bottom of the cave it had been diluted to nothing more than the suggestion of a glow.
“You see boy,” Papa said, “in this space I will teach you a great many thing. I will show you how to get to the overworld without been seen. I will show you how to go to the places you used to know. I will show you how to torment the ones you left behind. I will show you how to make fun of them, aggravate them, scare them. You, my boy, are special. People will fear you. They will talk about you. You be famous boy, you be remembered forever. All you got to do is listen to my say.”
The young man turned to look at Papa with his usual face of confusion.
“Just close your eyes,” Papa said, “and think of where you’d like to go back to first.”
The boy did as he was told.
“Now,” Papa said, “I need you to really see this place. Feel the air on your skin, the ground under your feet, that roof over your head – if that’s the kind of place this is. See the people. Feel they warmth. Feel they humanity. Smell it. Taste it. Taste that whole putrid place. Live it boy, live it.” Papa’s voice had shrunk to a whisper, “You just nod when you ready.”