The L Section

by E. M. Lohr

Purgatory is a curious place. A way station for undecided Souls. Bureaucratic, perplexing, and ambiguous. Not a destination of choice. Especially L Section, abode for Liars, Losers, and Leeches. But even these Souls must transition. Both Sides vie for them but is one way really better than the other? Is anything really what it seems?


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Chapter 1

Purgatory wasn’t bad, just different. You get used to the different after a while. When I unceremoniously arrived, someone determined that I belonged in the L Section and that my job would be the Section Administrator. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that whoever is in charge of the universe doesn’t have a sense of humor.

Getting to Purgatory was easy. Not paying attention one morning, I stepped into the crosswalk at a busy traffic intersection. I never knew what hit me. One minute I was on my way to work at my mid-grade government job and the next, I was the Administrator of the L Section in Purgatory. Chalk up one for the cross town bus.

The L Section is one of what seemed to be an endless number of sections in Purgatory. Souls are assigned to a specific section based on some evaluation that is done as they arrive. And the ‘L’ in L Section stood for Liars, Losers, and Leeches. Not the most glamorous collection of souls, but definitely an interesting bunch. The ‘L’ may explain why I got assigned to the section but it certainly doesn’t explain why I was made the Administrator. I think it is my penitence for all my years as a government employee.

The bureaucracy in Purgatory is much like what one would encounter when dealing with or working in any government organization. There is never-ending paperwork to fill out, meaningless meetings to attend, and a system not understood by many, including those who work within it. No one really seems to have any decision-making authority and getting meaningful answers to questions is next to impossible.

One would think that being the Administrator is an important job and would give an individual insight into how Purgatory works. Yeah, not really. Boring and uninformative may be better descriptions. I attend dull and dreary meetings that never provide answers to anything important and sign endless stacks of paperwork. Mostly it is mundane and uneventful. But every so often a soul will come by and talk about their problems related to transitioning. At least that relieves some of the monotony as most of their stories are interesting, and some even bizarre. Like the lady who couldn’t remember her wedding anniversary.

“Is it so wrong that I can’t remember when my wedding anniversary was?” she asked, looking all sincere. She had waltzed into my office uninvited and insisted on sharing. “I mean, I loved the man so why should it matter. Besides, it’s complicated. We had to hide our being married from my daughters, one of which was getting married the following week. I didn’t want to overshadow her happy day, if you know what I mean.”

She paused and looked to see if I was listening and I put on an ‘I’m interested in what you’re saying’ face so she went on, “Hey, it’s not that I planned it that way. My man and I were already in Las Vegas and we had been talking about getting hitched for some time. So we did. But then when we went to my daughter’s wedding we had to pretend that we weren’t married and later had to make up a fake date when I told them I had. Now I can’t remember when I actually got married. Only the fake date I told my daughters.”

Why this soul was hung up on remembering her wedding date was beyond me. But my listening was supposed to somehow help with her transitioning so I patiently let her ramble on until she was satisfied. Then I went back to staring out the windows in my office.

My corner office has two windows with very strange views. The scene out one window is always gloomy and rainy while the scene out of the other window it’s always cheerful and sunny, which makes for a strange atmosphere while I’m at my desk. When I first saw the different scenes from the office windows I wondered what was going on. I came to learn that the scenes were metaphors for the two ways out of Purgatory. And I had always understood the bad way was the hot way. Apparently someone got it all wrong on Earthside.

Earthside. Now that was a new concept for me too. We speak of Earthside when referring to our previous existence. I can’t really say it was a previous life as this is life in its own way. Our images in the mirror reflect how we looked on Earthside, but my hair doesn’t grow and I don’t seem to age. No one looks like they just died a horrible death, although many like me have. So something in the soul projects an image that is at least congenial for all to see. No missing limbs, gashing wounds, or horrific scars; just everyday plain looking people; except for the clothes.

The clothes are more like coveralls that you might see a mechanic wear with short sleeves and collar. And different sections have different colors and shades. L Section has a non descript grayish blue with similar color shoes. There is no spiked hair or shaved heads, and interestingly enough, no tattoos. I noticed my ‘girl on an anchor’ that had been engraved into my right forearm was gone the second day I was here. It probably was gone when I got to Purgatory, but I didn’t notice till later.

I don’t think I have to eat but there is food and drink. No alcohol or spicy food. Everything is just sort of bland or neutral. Like eating at a fast food hamburger joint… not really bad, just not all that good. More filling than enjoyable. Maybe it is because Earthside food was so important that it is offered here to help with the transition.

Time is kept in units of hours, the first half of the day is in Absolute Time and the later part is in Cloud Time. And days are a relative term and referred to as cycles. My day or cycle is broken into two parts, a work part and what I call a social part (it happens during Cloud Time). The work time part is longer than the social time and there is no sleep time. Nor do I get sleepy. During the social part, groups of people sit around talking about why they think they are in Purgatory and why they think they should go to the Sunny side exit. Therapy? Maybe. More like punishment. Not the telling of one’s own story, but rather having to listen to everyone else’s.

As the Administrator I do not participate in the social part. Frankly, I don’t know what to do with myself during the social part. I have no private room or any place to go, so most of the time I sit in my office, stare out the windows, and wonder what is going on. Maybe that is my punishment.

For some reason I don’t miss my wife. Or any other person for that matter. I wonder if it is a defense mechanism to help with coping or I hadn’t really been attached to her or anyone else. And the souls I observe and talk to don’t mention missing their significant others either. But transitioning is a personal affair and maybe that’s why there are no emotional attachments that could get in the way.

During the work part, I sign stacks of paperwork and attend meetings with the representatives from the Gloomy and Sunny sides. I don’t think of them as the good and evil, as one does not have a tail and the other a halo. They look to me like ordinary business men, but instead of the coveralls we souls wear, they have tailored clothes. A sure sign they are not from the L Section. Each of them has several assistants in similar attire, some male and some female.

An interesting observation I made after a few of these meetings was that the leader of each team was the same entity but could look different each time. Sometimes they would even change gender. The leader of the Gloomy side was at times an especially hot looking female. Not that I ever mentioned it to her or him.

I look and feel out of place in these meetings. My not so fashionable attire clashes with their smart looking business clothes and I sit on one side of a long non-descript table while they all sit on the other side. And I am always being criticized for not meeting some goal of having so many souls move on to one side or the other. Maybe this is my punishment in lieu of the social time the rest of the souls in the L Section endure. My last meeting went something like this.

“Why is your section behind all the other sections in Purgatory?” both the Gloomy and Sunny representatives demand. “There are more souls to process and only so much room.”

“How much room do we have?” I asked.

“That’s not important,” the Sunny side male responded sharply. “What’s important is to keep the souls moving.”

“I see,” I answered, although I really didn’t understand.

“Look,” he lectured, “if you can’t get the job done we can find someone else to do your job and you can move on.”

This caused the Gloomy side representative, who was a hot female today, to smile. I guessed if I was replaced that meant I failed somehow and would move to the Gloomy side.

“Not to be negative,” I protest, “but this is the L Section and liars, losers, and leeches are not much to work with.”

“This is true,” the Sunny side representative acknowledged reluctantly and went on to insult me. “And that is obviously why you are here. You’re a loser, like the last Administrator before you.”

“Perhaps you are ready to give up and come and join me,” the Gloomy side female suggested casually with a sly grin. “I always have room for losers at my place.”

“Not so fast,” the Sunny side male snapped at her. “This soul has not been here long enough to be judged. It may be that he will be able to gain the necessary score to come to my side.”

It felt good to be fought over. Sort of. I think they have quotas to meet and neither seemed anxious to see the other do well. As for me, it seemed that I was supposed to want to go to the Sunny side. But what was the difference between the two sides? Things are not always the way they seem. Maybe it was better to be in the Gloomy side and have some status versus being an ordinary soul in the Sunny side. The old little fish in a big sea versus a big fish in a little pond or something like that. I wondered if either representative could offer me anything other than abuse.

The meeting continued for a while without anything meaningful transpiring. Just like most of the meetings I used to attend on Earthside. Finally when they were satisfied with verbally abusing me, the meeting ended. As they were getting ready to depart, I took a chance and caught the eye of the Gloomy side female and she nodded. Waiting for the rest to leave, she remained seated across from me at the table. We looked each other over for a moment before she spoke.

“So what can I do for you?” she asked in a cheerful tone, casually playing with a pen.

“Can I trust you?” I questioned hesitantly.

“No, not really,” she replied with a smile. “But you can trust me as much as you trust our Sunny side friend.”

“I see,” I responded, shifting uncomfortably in the chair.

“So what kind of deal can I make you?” she asked, getting right to the point. I had the distinct impression she had done this sort of thing before.

“What kind of deals do you have to offer?” I wanted to know, trying not to lose my nerve.

“The usual stuff,” she answered with a casual shrug. “Cars, women, power, and other assorted things.”

“What good are those things in the Gloomy place?” surprised at her response.

“None really,” she acknowledged openly. “But they sound good.”

“So you can’t really offer me anything,” I observed, getting a little depressed.

“That is not entirely true,” she countered slyly. “You asked about things in the Gloomy place. How about something here in Purgatory?”

Now she had my interest. Purgatory was so bland. No bright colors, no pictures, no art. The walls were non-script off white and the tiled floors a boring semi-light grey. It was like being in a sterile hospital room with nothing to stimulate the senses.

“What would I have to do for you in order to acquire some favor here in Purgatory?” I probed cautiously.

“Oh, just move a few of those liars, losers, and leeches my way,” she responded nonchalantly, looking down at her bright red fingernails.

“And in return?” I was very interested in her response.

“Did you know that they have sex in other sections?” she cooed, leaning forward so I could see down her designer blouse to some nice looking orbs and cleavage.

Sex was not so much banned in the L Section, just that there didn’t seem to be any interest in participating. I had wondered about that as I still had the ability to function, so to speak.

“No, I was not aware of that,” I replied, trying not to show too much interest in her very sexy looking bosoms and not succeeding.

“Look you’re a man and I’m a woman, at least today,” she began, smiling seductively. “I can arrange to see you later in your office for, shall we say, an event.”

An event. What the hell was an event? That could mean almost anything. But what did I have to lose. I wasn’t committing to anything to meet with her.

“If you want to come by later I’ll be in,” I invited, trying to appear indifferent and probably failing miserably.

“Good,” she beamed and stood up. “I’ll see you later than.” I watched her leave the room, not taking my eyes off her firm buttocks swaying gently back and forth in the tight black slacks.

Gathering up my papers and what was left of my ego, I walked back to my office contemplating our conversation. I was deep in thought as I entered my office and didn’t notice at first that I had a visitor.

“I thought we should have a talk,” I heard as I put the papers on my desk. Startled, I whirled around to see the Sunny side representative sitting in a high-backed chair in front of my desk.

“What about?” I asked, trying to hide my surprise at finding him there and not succeeding.

“You’re going to have a visitor shortly,” he stated matter-of-factly.

“Could be,” I acknowledged, nervously sitting in my chair.

“Look, Administrator,” he continued with a look of genuine sincerity and a lecture in his tone, “I know you’re new here and still getting used to your position and I want to help. It’s in everyone’s best interest for your L Section souls to get to the Sunny side.”

“Why is that?” I inquired, interrupting him.

“What do you mean?” He looked a little annoyed, obviously not used to being interrupted.

“Why is it in everyone’s best interest to get to the Sunny side?” I repeated, curious of his answer.

“Well, it’s obvious,” he asserted, a little indignant.

“I guess it’s not obvious to me,” I countered boldly. “Seeing how I’m new here, can you explain it to me?”

“Well everyone knows that Sunny is better than Gloomy,” he stated as a fact.

“Have you ever been to the Gloomy side?” I pushed.

Looking distinctly uncomfortable, he admitted reluctantly, “No.”

“When I was Earthside no one ever talked about Gloomy versus Sunny and yet that is what is presented here. It was always bad versus good, or up versus down, or hell versus heaven. If they had it all wrong Earthside and you haven’t been there, how can you say one is better than the other?” I continued to press him.

“I’ve been told that on good authority,” the Sunny rep stated firmly.

“By whom?”

“My boss.”

“Who is …?”

“Look,” he stated, avoiding my question, “I’m not going to argue this with you.”

“How can you say you are going to help me if you aren’t willing to tell me?” I responded, getting a little irritated.

“You will have to accept it on faith,” he retorted.

“You want me to help you transition souls from the L Section to the Sunny side based on my faith that it is a better place than the Gloomy side,” I paraphrased.

“Yes,” he responded, indignation all over his face.

“I see,” I remarked. “And what’s in it for me?”

“Your performance as the Administrator is being judged to determine your fate,” he shared.

“So I gathered,” I acknowledged and said more to myself then to him. “But who is doing the judging and on what criteria? Is it based on how many souls go to each side? It can’t be just the Sunny side making the determination otherwise I would just recommend all the souls be sent there. No, there has to be some balance of power that is doing the judging.” By the look on his face I could tell that I was pretty close to the truth, at least as he knew it.

“Are you involved in my evaluation?” I asked curiously.

“Not directly,” he admitted reluctantly but continued with a firm tone, “But I do turn in reports to my boss.”

“Who is?” I questioned again.

“The Area Supervisor,” he finally answered after a pause.

“Maybe I need a crash course on the management chain here,” I observed.

He proceeded to tell me of his understanding of the various levels in his chain before it finally got to the top. It seemed that there were numerous levels between him and the top. And I got the distinct impression that he wanted to be higher in the food chain. After he finished, I thanked him for the information and then asked, “So back to why you came to see me. What can I do for you?”

“I started to say that you are going to have a visitor shortly,” he began. “And I wanted to warn you about making any deals or decisions based on information that comes from the Gloomy side. As the Administrator you have some influence on what direction the souls in your section are ultimately heading. The Gloomy side intends to try and bribe you to help with sending the souls their way.”

“So you are here to warn me not to get involved with the Gloomy side,” I paraphrased.

“Yes. And to remind you that your actions are taken into account when your final destination is determined,” he added with a bit of threat in his tone.

“You said something about wanting to help me earlier,” I reminded him, ignoring his attempt to intimidate me.

“If you see fit to work with the Sunny side then I will reflect that favorably in my reports to my supervisor,” he stated, making it sound like he was offering me the world on a platter.

Leaning back in my chair I studied the situation. It was obvious to me that both the Sunny and Gloomy sides had an agenda. And that they couldn’t just order me to send the souls their way. It seemed that my performance was somehow tied to the processing of the souls in the L Section, but it was very unclear how.

“So,” he interrupted my thinking, “are you willing to work with the Sunny side or not?”

“I will give the Sunny side every consideration in reviewing each soul’s disposition,” I promised.

“What does ‘every consideration’ mean?” he demanded to know. “I know how you bureaucrats can be with language.”

“Well,” I answered truthfully, “I think that is the best I can commit to at this point, unless of course you have something else to share.”

“No,” he responded, not at all happy with my answer and after a moment, he got up and left.

It was some time later when the Gloomy side representative came to see me. She was still dressed in the low cut blouse and sharp business pants suit. Coming into my office without knocking, she sat down in the same chair the Sunny side representative had occupied.

“Hello,” I greeted, trying to sound friendly but not too forward.

“Having a good day?” she inquired politely.

“One day is just about the same as any other and today was no different,” I stated neutrally.

“I take it that I’m not your first visitor today,” she noted with a smile. “But then again, I’m not surprised. The Sunny side rep can be such a drag. With all his ‘doing the right thing’ speeches and warnings of not getting involved with the wrong kind of people. I bet he stopped by today just to warn you about me.”

“As a matter of fact, yes,” I answered, a little surprised with her candor.

“So what are you going to do?” she asked curiously, with almost a demand in her voice. “Am I wasting my time here or do we have something to talk about?”

“That is up to you,” I responded, trying not to sound anxious about the whole situation.

“You mean what I have to offer, right?” she stated, getting right to the point.

“That and maybe what information you are willing to share,” I countered.

“What sort of information are you interested in?” she asked, looking at me inquisitively.

“Well for one. How do things work around here?” I questioned, getting a little excited. “What is the process that determines where the souls go? Is there really any difference in the Gloomy and Sunny sides? Is this just another phase of life or is it really the end?”

“You don’t want to know much do you,” she stated cynically.

“If I don’t ask then you don’t know what I want,” I countered, burying my irritation.

She looked at me for a long moment and then settled back into her chair before answering, “Well for one,” she began slowly, crossing her long legs, “I don’t know the answers to all your questions. I can say that you are much more curious than anyone we’ve had here before. The last soul in your position just wanted to figure out how to move on. For two, I already told you that you couldn’t trust me so why would you believe me if I told you what you wanted to know?”

She had me there. But then did I trust the Sunny side representative anymore? Probably not. Better the devil you know, no pun intended. Of course I had nothing to lose if she did share some information with me. Pushing on I answered, “It’s true that you said I couldn’t trust you and I took that as sound advice. However, anything you share with me might be helpful to me in figuring out this place.”

“Well, I’ve been here for what seems forever,” she continued unhurriedly after a moment of contemplation, “and I don’t know the whole process of how a soul’s fate is determined. I do know that the paperwork you sign all day long is sent to some place to be processed and is incorporated into some formula that is used to determine the direction the soul is sent. I also know that I am pressured to influence what you write and sign to increase the chances that the soul will go to the Gloomy side. And the Sunny side rep has the same pressure from his boss.”

I was very interested in what she was sharing. Not too sure I could believe all of it. But as in all lies, there usually is a nugget of truth. What parts where true and what were lies was up to me to figure out. Leaning forward I listened intently as she went on, “Personally I don’t think it matters whether you end up in the Gloomy side or the Sunny side. It’s just a big game and the score is the only important thing.”

“Have you ever been to the Sunny side?” I asked pointedly.

“No,” she admitted. “But then, why would I want to. I’ve got a pretty good gig going on here on this side.”

“How long have you been doing this gig as you call it?” I inquired, fascinated with the information so far.

“Time, as you know, is different here than it was on Earthside,” she answered, looking a bit bored. “But I can say that I have lost track of the number of Administrators that have sat in your chair.”

“Where have most of them gone? Gloomy or Sunny?” I questioned a little anxious.

She looked at me with her big blue eyes and laughed, “You know, that is the funny part. I don’t have a clue, and further, could care less. They come and they go. All I care about is my gig not getting changed. I like it here and am content to keep things as they are.”

“You’re a cold hearted soul,” I observed bluntly.

“You better believe that if you don’t believe anything else I’ve told you,” she replied and smiled unabashedly before continuing. “But on to business. Tell you what. I’m going to arrange to have some help assigned to your office. No strings attached. Just my way of showing you that working with me can be a good thing.”

Some help would be nice. I didn’t have any support whatsoever. I answered my own phone, which, come to think of it, only rang once or twice a week. And then it was either the Sunny or Gloomy representative pestering me about quotas. But still, an Administrator should have a staff. With a staff I could get through my paperwork faster and have time for other things. Things like, well I wasn’t sure, but I would think of something. She was waiting for a response and I didn’t want her to change her mind.

“Some help would be appreciated,” I conceded.

“Consider it done,” she exclaimed and rose to leave. “We’ll talk again soon.”

With that I watched her sashay out of the office. I sat there in deep thought contemplating our conversation. Wondering just how much of what she shared was real and what parts were lies or half-truths, I mentally picked through our exchange. We had talked about a great deal of things, but one thing was for sure, we had not had an event.

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