“Welcome to the Other Side!” a friendly man in all white merrily greeted us as he sat behind a pearly desk. The marble floors and walls shimmered from a warmly-toned light source, and the glistening, gilded seats wrapped around a carpet so plush that they nearly resembled clouds! As the receptionist checked something on his clipboard, I turned to Phoebe, Ellie, and Ginger in confusion. They, too, seemed bewildered, but how could they not be? We had no clue what to expect when we entered into the Netherworld, but it certainly wasn’t this! I had prepared myself to contend with little, red sprites or perhaps even a large, vicious creature that guarded Babelsama’s domain, but not this! If I didn’t know any better, I could have sworn that we stumbled into an office with so much prestige that it put my old marketing firm to shame! Would this gatekeeper even allow access to the fire we needed to destroy the key? Prior to me querying this gentleman about this, he announced, “I don’t see anyone on the schedule for this time slot! Can I get your name, please?”
“Uh, I’m Connor. Connor Fenmore,” I relayed to him. As I studied the area further, I didn’t see anything that mirrored the brimstone and darkness in the portrait in my guest bathroom, which made me wonder whether or not we had gone to the right location! I don’t know where else we could have gone, but still! Then again, I distinctly recalled communicating with Babelsama directly through that passageway! He had conducted potent magic from this realm to our planet, and he desperately wanted this portal to remain open- how would that have been remotely advantageous to him? I couldn’t picture a faint sneeze let alone a deadly spell interrupting the tranquil ambiance of this room! I speculated that maybe our adversary was trying to trick us until…
Phoebe exclaimed, “We died, didn’t we?” I hadn’t considered that possibility until right then! Did that vortex instantly kill us? I started to panic at all of the grim ramifications of this notion…
Ellie ardently disputed that concept, “Oh, no! No way would I die and get sent to the same place as this creep!” She indicated to Blaise, who stood behind us with his head down low. She had a point, and while I felt alleviated, I couldn’t help but ponder… if we didn’t perish, where did we end up?
“Oh, you’re livings!” the receptionist figured out. He gazed at us with great interest as he inquired, “What brings you here today?”
“He did,” Ginger replied referring to me.
The receptionist genially spoke to us, “Did you guys stumble into an entryway by accident? Don’t worry, it happens all the time! If you go out the way you came in, you’ll be back on Earth in a jiffy, no problem!”
Blaise darted toward the exit, but Ginger and Ellie grabbed him by the arms and barred him from running from our reach as I addressed the receptionist, “Um, actually, we’re looking for the Netherworld…”
“Sorry, we’re no longer allowing interdimensional visits,” the receptionist informed us. “You’ll have to wait until you’re deceased to reunite with any lost loved ones.”
“We didn’t come here to… Wait, you used to let people do that?” I puzzled.
He filled us in, “Yeah, but it got a little complicated, and our organization has no interest in creating chaos for any residents within our care! We strongly believe in ensuring that those who’ve passed on can rest here in peace! Unless they get sent back to Earth, but what happens on the surface isn’t our responsibility! They sign a waiver and know exactly what they’re getting themselves into!”
Phoebe’s brows furrowed as she observed, “You make the Netherworld sound like a vacation resort!”
“Well, the undead perform an essential function for us, and they go through enough torment on Earth, so we make sure their return is as stress-free as can be… unless they break the rules, then they get sent downstairs, if you know what I mean…” he expressed with a wink.
“If they’re so miserable in our world, then why do they even bother to go to it?” Ginger queried.
The receptionist simply stated, “It’s their job!” We stared at him in bafflement, so he clarified, “They’re recruited to create the pandemonium that keeps the natural order of things in check! You see, good wouldn’t exist without bad, so we provide a necessary service!”
Ellie, who appeared somewhat miffed, posted to him, “So, evil-doers don’t get an eternity in Hell? They can return to our land and keep doing what they do?”
“Certainly not! Only the souls who’ve sought forgiveness and seek to make amends for their crimes!” the receptionist educated us. “The souls who delight in wickedness are forbidden to come back up!”
“Yeah, ‘cause only the ones who don’t want to cause trouble are allowed to do it!” I sarcastically muttered.
The receptionist chirped, “Yes! Now you’re getting it!”
I differed, “Not really! I’m stumped.”
“Think of it as tough love,” the receptionist instructed.
“No, I’m not gonna do that!” I responded bluntly. “We had a Netherworld guardian who definitely enjoyed the mayhem he caused us! One of his employees said he has a bunch of vengeful plans against us, and we didn’t even do anything wrong! Tell him, Blaise!”
Blaise hissed, “Shh! Leave me out of this!”
The receptionist craned his neck to get a second look at the person hiding behind us. “Blaise? As in Blaise Casimir?” We stepped aside to allow him to see Blaise in full view, and Blaise meekly waved at him. “Wow! I never would’ve pegged you as one to apologize for your actions!”
“Oh, surely, I repented! I’m, like, totally sorry for what I’ve done! It was not completely worth it like I told you when I first arrived!” Blaise nervously chuckled as he eyeballed the receptionist’s reaction to his claim.
“Hmm…” The receptionist stared at Blaise suspiciously, and for a minute, it seemed as thought he was about to get sent back to his torture chambers, but then the receptionist shrugged and amiably regarded us, “I’ll have to update your files then, I guess! In the meantime, if he’s inviting guests to his quarters, I suppose we can make an exception for your presence! Have fun, but please note, if you cause any disturbances, you’ll face some severe consequences!”
A piece of the wall on the right rapidly opened up into a doorway, and while I wanted to correct his misconceptions on our journey, I didn’t want to risk losing our access to the innermost part of the Netherworld, so before the entryway closed, we rushed in! I felt kind of bad for it since I didn’t disclose the truth, and I fretted that I may have slightly tarnished my odds of going upstairs when my time came, but I reasoned that it wasn’t as though I intentionally deceived anyone! I reassured myself that the outcome would benefit society as a whole, so they were bound to forgive me later! As long as we were successful anyways! If we messed this up and doomed civilization… I crossed my fingers that they wouldn’t discover our plan until the proper moment as we, once again, trekked into the unknown!
We stepped into a foyer area with sleek, black-lacquered walls and two hallways with trace of any movement and an expanse that seemed to stretch ceaselessly. As we soaked in our surroundings, Blaise bargained with me, “I won’t tell your secret if you don’t reveal mine!”
I got annoyed that I had to cover up for this jerk who caused our conundrum to commence in the first place, but my ire ebbed a bit when it occurred to me that he could provide a valuable service for our efforts to bring this predicament to a finish! He had navigated this territory previously, so I decided to give him a chance to redeem himself by asking for directions, “Which way do we turn?”
“I dunno.” Blaise shrugged. “Babelsama sent me out through a tunnel, so I never roamed this terrain!”
“It’s alright, there’s a map!” Phoebe showed me a small podium underneath the corporate logo that was scrawled across the surface to avoid my eruption over his ineptness. “This’ll clear everything up!” The five of us glimpsed at the directory, and then Phoebe reversed her position, “Oh, never mind!”
I couldn’t fathom how the designers of this structure thought this chart would provide any kind of relief to a lost individual! It had so many different zig-zagging lines tangled all over each other that even heir color coating didn’t make the details any less murky! Ellie read out loud, “You are here… Where is here? That can’t be right, there are too many aisles leading off of this spot! I think they mislabeled it!”
Blaise let us know, “Most of those are tunnels. People around here use magic to make hidden channels to the outside since most folks in these stomping grounds prefer to keep to themselves.”
I pondered, “Doesn’t that get lonely?”
“Not really. If you’d seen the characters who lodge in these dwellings, you’d know why!” It was slightly tempting to interrogate him for examples of his claim, but I realized that I didn’t want to think about what lurked within the barriers as we went past them!
“This heavy black line seems to represent the main artery of the complex,” Ginger deduced. “And each color corresponds with different inhabitants! But don’t worry, there’s public access to each of their domains!”
Phoebe canvassed Ginger, “Which one is Babelsama’s room?”
Ginger reported, “It doesn’t say! It just says Guardian One, Guardian Two, and Guardian Three.”
Everyone turned to me for suggestions, but I couldn’t come up with anything other than, “We’ll have to knock on each one and pray that the occupant is friendly!” No one seemed confident about this idea, but nobody else furnished any alternatives, so we reluctantly headed to the right and hoped for the best.
We traversed an array of solid, wooden doors, but instead of the usual office babble that most people would expect to hear in an environment like this, we heard odd noises emanating from nearly every chamber! One sounded like a fish tank, and another emitted the din of rocks rolling throughout their enclosure! The suite that radiated a melody of swamp clamor opened up, and an entity that appeared to have been comprised entirely of slime came out briefly. “Oh, you’re not the housekeepers!” it recognized as it retreated back into its sector. As hard as it was for us to forget it, we had to cast that image out of our brains so we concentrate and move on!
At Guardian One’s entrance, I propositioned, “Let’s do this two at a time so if there’s any sort of trap, we all won’t get stuck at once!” The others agreed, and we all backed away in order to allow the others to go forward. When nobody did, I exhaled exasperatedly and went to the door. Phoebe joined me, and as much as that bolstered my spirits, I still trembled as I tapped the door…
“What do you want?” a male with the body of a man and the head of a jackal bellowed at us.
“I forgot!” I croaked as my thoughts went blank from terror.
The jackal-man laughed, “I’m just messing with you! Would you like to come in? We’ve got a wile game of hand ball going on!”
I politely declined, “We’ll get back to you on that! We’re… trying to say hello to everyone, so we gotta…”
“Say no more! We’ll raincheck that! Hey, no cheating!” the jackal-man scurried towards his colleagues, and as the door closed, we gave each other a shrug and resumed our quest.
“Ooh, is this my lunch?” A vampire who travelled in the opposite direction ogled us voraciously, but when he beheld the stern expressions we bore, he concluded, “Apparently not! Sorry!”
Phoebe whispered, “Ugh! I am so sick of vampires!” We all nodded as we kept going.
After we rounded another corner, Ginger and Ellie gave the door of Guardian Two a knock. It opened up to a luxurious lagoon, and an angry mermaid addressed us, “This better be important!”
Ellie admitted, “It’s not!” The mermaid growled and slammed the door in their faces. Ellie then asserted, “They make them seems so sweet in those children’s movies!”
We turned down a third corner, and a walking bush gave us a courteous nod as it bypassed us. This prompted me to comment, “The population here seems pretty friendly in general; maybe our interaction with Babelsama won’t be so bad!”
“That’s right, my man! Ignore all that stuff I said about him plotting vengeance, he’s a great guy!” Blaise peered at me to see if I bought that bunk. I shook my head, but I proceeded as if I believed in the favorable outcome that he advertised.
“Here we go!” I proclaimed right before Phoebe and I knocked on door three, and we all watched with our anticipation rising high! We inwardly predicted a contentious confrontation, but instead, nothing at all transpired. “He could be busy? Should we leave a message or something?” I enquired to the others. They didn’t have a reply, and I frowned as I mulled it over. “I suppose he thought we would slip him the key under the mat! That coward! He doesn’t have the guts to face us!”
Immediately following that statement, the floor beneath all of us vanished! “Oh, this ain’t good!” Blaise unhelpfully declared as we plummeted through the shadows…