The invitation arrived the old way, by mail, and unfolded into three ornate handmade sections corresponding to heaven, hell and purgatory. An invitation that in the end no one can refuse and so, on a rumour of a night five weeks later and under oppression of a February arctic front, Nellis, Dee and Wes cut through Centrecity drinking from liquor-filled water bottles, bum-stashes they called them. Dee wore her new jacket, Wes wore his new hair and Nellis was geared out in metallized polyester snowpants.
Their destination was the triplex apartment of the illustrious Ravenzway and co-tenants. Their only clue of what to expect came from the invitation: “…join us as we gather for a dry run of apocalyptic post-life in the event we all die together.” Nellis wondered whether ominous events on the world stage had motivated the party but Dee said those things were not reasons to celebrate and Wes thought the party was probably being held in sly mockery. On approach they spotted what appeared to be penguins walking over the ceiling through an upstairs window, as if from a projection, followed by disturbing footage of an egg being forced back in like a laying in reverse. Wes noted that the hereafter could be just such a reentering.
From a chewing cold their spirits were faltering against the three hurriedly stepped inside the door, bubbly heaven thumping above while hell steamed up the basement. Purgatory occupied Ravenzway’s middle apartment, and entering it they were told to take a number. As with any collection of Centrecity All-Stars there were people there that they maybe thought they recognized but many new faces.
First stop was the kitchen for top up. On the way they ran into their host dressed in the attire of a cosmic librarian, he a curator of beliefs and placer of souls. “Ahh, welcome! Make yourselves comfortable” said Ravenzway in greeting. “It could be a long night” he added with a wink, “as in, without end.” He was busy in the role of host but they did chat with his wife Cerulia, wearing her naughty braids, and Conch, another friend who was dressed in cow buckskin. Suburban scrapbook bands provided the purgatorial soundtrack.
They were feeling warm now, in good spirits, boisterous, generous even. On pouring rum for their associates they earned that stairway to heaven and mount it they did. One flight up, bliss in pill form was being quaffed by angelic ones as balloons and feathers lofted in the firmament. A video projector was casting penguin documentary footage onto heaven’s dome. It was in paradise that they met Ambrosio, an elegant queen from ‘Acapulco’. Dee suspected that he chose that place of origin for the way it made his lips pout when he mouthed it. Ambrosio was vigorously rubbing his shoulder, prompting Nellis to remark “oh you were in class today” and snapping his arm up like an eager schoolboy, implying that Ambrosio had been answering too many questions. Ambrosio laughed, “oh I lauve that.”
They mingled, Ambrosio tailing after them. In dapper wool suit and contemporary scarf he had adapted fashionably to the season. While reclining on sofas in heaven’s living room they learned that Ambrosio worked at Nola’s Salon. “So,” began Ambrosio as he leaned toward Nellis, “are you enjoying the village?” Nellis, misunderstanding the implication, replied “yeah I’m from a smaller city but I like the size of it here. It’s a good size.” Ambrosio’s eyes bulged. He was then driven to confession, his eyes rolling as he revealed a habit of ending up on his back in those ten square blocks.
No one knew where God was. Angels began pummeling balloons around. Nellis accidentally kicked one into the face of a seraph sitting opposite. *BANG* The balloon popped, maybe catching a sharp edge on the man’s glasses. “Go to hell!” someone yelled. Ejected from heaven the three descended the old linoleum stairs to the netherworld, leaving Ambrosio behind and getting soggy socks from the snow that had melted off the shoes piled in the stairwell.
Hell was a raging fleshcore slam dance. The devil appeared to them in the kitchen. “I’m 36, gay and single” he exclaimed, “welcome to hell!” Diabolical laughter. Crowned in plastic horns his body was anointed in red pigment and his limbs were wound with black disposable tattoos. Their nefarious host had lived in the triplex the longest of any tenant. Hell’s partiers seemed on edge, maybe it was the magmatic light and blistering music; the three stuck close together. Popcorn twists and saran-wrapped brownies were the only sustenance available in hell’s kitchen. Their coke was stolen by someone before they returned one flight up.
By then everyone was wasted and raving out in purgatory. Wolf music. Cheap wine drank by the carton. Yembah Yai Yai Heyah chanted the stereo, and they hit the dance floor living room, bodies whirling. Aj is rolled on the dancefloor. Hips carving, heads nodding. Saharan nomad songs. Under animation of Congotron, Dee came to appreciate the visionary state of the music assailing her senses, its futuristic rhythms and abstract periodicity. She realized that musicians from other corners had only begun to master what Africans were doing with sound thousands of years ago. Transfixion. A dominion not confined to those walls.
“Is faun” lisped Ambrosio, and Wes agreed. It seemed to him that those there gathered, Ravenzway, Dee, Nellis, Cerulia and the rest of the purgatorial citizens knew that they may as well enjoy themselves that night — revel in it — because it could be awhile, or not be long enough, and though heaven above and hell below were but simulations, it was a fairer bet that purgatory extended out from either side of the door to the Afterlife Party.