Purgatory, Part Three
5 March 2006
It took us the better part of a day to even find the place where the dirt road would be, based on Matteson’s directions. We didn’t realize until we began actually engaging with them that at least half of his notes were contextual in a way that made no sense to people who were not familiar with local landmarks or the way roads are numbered in rural Pennsylvania. I have begun to understand why Henry once joked that Pittsburgh was designed by three drunk guys with a mean streak, if this is how they do things around here.
But once we found the remnants of the path, and they really were just remnants, we had to figure out how to follow them to a town that may or may not exist when we get there. Most of our early attempts failed, and we came to understand it was because we were not going exactly where the path must have gone, and had to start over. We finally managed to find ourselves on a paved road that just emerged from a field, looking ahead at buildings arrayed like the walls of an ancient city, shortly after sunset on the third day.
We entered and found it largely as it had been described to us. It appeared to be a functioning city, everything was maintained and even looked like it had been in use recently, but there was no direct evidence of people anywhere, and no lights on in any buildings. The city was dead silent, and perfectly cleaned, and sterile. We walked across a park where all the playground equipment showed signs of wear, and the benches had spots that were more worn from use than others and little engravings in them, but the grass was perfectly cut and there was nothing left behind by people. No bits of trash, no lost toys, no scraps of picnics that were overlooked or mittens lost in the recently-thawed snow. The city felt clean, not just on the level of having no trash in the streets, but down to the very spiritual level. As if not only were the humans gone, but the lingering spiritual influence of their existence had been purged. I could sense that my own effects on the spiritual realm were not hindered, but they were alone for the first time in my life. Akshainie explained that, as a fully spiritual being, she does not affect the spiritual realm when she is not actually in it, but she had no answer for the silence beyond that and seemed disturbed at my asking about it.
It was the most unnerving and desolate place I had ever seen, and the complete absence of any physical or spiritual detritus made both Akshainie and I deeply uncomfortable. She had taken on legs in case we ran into any humans, and we both walked in the stilted and hesitant manner of people that know a trap is waiting but don’t know where.
We had been in town nearly an hour, walking along empty sidewalks in front of dark stores and houses, before we heard any noise that wasn’t made by us. As we rounded a corner, we heard an engine rumble a few blocks away, and slipped behind the wooden fence of a nearby house to wait. The noise grew closer, and soon we watched through the slats as a glossy black garbage truck, with a red spiral painted on the side near the back, slowly cruised past our location. It stopped nearby, waiting, and Akshainie offered to slip into the spiritual realm to sneak up on it. She tried, and began to partially vanish before she screamed in pain and incarnated again, her body covered in what looked like chemical burns. As soon as she did so, the truck rumbled into gear and made a quick turn, heading straight for us.
I realized that Akshainie was in no condition to move, so I picked her up and ran across the lawn. The truck followed, smashing through the gate and tearing up the grass in its pursuit. When I glanced back, I saw the fence and the grass mend themselves perfectly, completely erasing the damage of the truck as fast as it was being dealt. I knew I couldn’t outrun a truck, at least not for long, and tried to summon fire to throw at it, but nothing materialized. Akshainie was slowly healing, but I needed to buy us time if she was going to be able to finish. As I ran across the street, I noticed a narrow alley too small for the truck to fit. I cut to the side and made for the alley, and the truck had to slam its brakes and cut the wheel to keep track. We made it to the alley just ahead of it, and when it slammed into the buildings I was hit in the back by broken pieces of brick and black metal. The truck back up and rammed the walls again, and afterward I stopped and looked back to see the truck and walls return to normal as soon as the truck backed up. It drove off, and as I turned around again I realized I was nearing the end of the alley and the truck was probably cutting us off. I backed up a bit, and began looking for another way out of the alley. I saw a manhole cover, but was unsure how well I would be able to open that and get Akshainie down into the sewers. I looked up, and saw a set of windows on the second floor of one of the buildings. I set Akshainie down, jumped up to grab the ledge, and opened the unlocked window before dropping back down. I picked her up again as the truck slammed into the exit of the alley, and made a show of trying to escape out the other end. When the truck drove off again, I apologized to Akshainie, jumped, and threw her into the open window. She was aware enough to grab the ledge, and pulled herself inside while visibly struggling to hold in more screaming. I waited until she was clear, then jumped and to grab the ledge and pull myself in. I closed the window behind me, and turned to find Akshainie laying on the floor in front of a dozen ghosts.
“What have you done?” one of them demanded, a young man with freckles and dark, unkempt hair. The others recoiled back, staring at Akshainie and I with wide eyes.
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Evidence compiled for use during the trial of Father Benedict de Monte.
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