Purgatory is for Pencils

The pencil that woke him was a chewed up Dixon Grayling.

“Where am I?” Ti asked.

“You’re dead,” Dixon said.

“Dead? You’re nuts.”

“Look around, friend. Welcome to Limbo.” Ti did look around, and it was true. They were floating in featureless grey space. There was nothing else. No pencil box, no notebooks. Not even a couch cushion to blanket them from above. There was nothing but pencils, as far as he could see.

“But, I didn’t do anything wrong,” Ti said.

“It’s not just a matter of not doing wrong. You’ve got to do some right.”

“I spent my life hanging from a string near a refrigerator. I made grocery lists for a family in Toronto. Where would they have been without me? Without milk, on at least one occasion. Maybe malnourished!”

“Grocery lists makers are the proletariat, my friend. Millions of them,” Dixon said. Then he screamed, “Groceries?”

“Eggs!”

“Beer!”

“Cat food!” yelled pencils spread throughout the surrounding aether. Those items and a thousand others like them echoed impossibly through their ranks.

“You see?” Dixon said. “I was a doodler, writing on the walls of a detention room. See that eraser over there?”

“Yeah?”

“He’s still waiting for his pencil to pass away. The erasers usually show up first. That one spent his life in a single afternoon erasing puns.”

“You’d think he’d be in heaven, then.”

“Well, the powers that be can’t seem to decide on whether puns are the highest form of humor or the lowest.

The eraser sighed. “Someday my pencil come.”

“Then who gets to heaven?” Ti asked.

A red Royal swam by and answered “The ones who write powerful novels or first drafts of great speeches.”

“Well, that isn’t fair!” Ti said. “We don’t control what we write. We’re tools!”

“Your point?” Dixon asked. “Everyone’s a tool. That’s life. You’re not one of those free will nut jobs, are you?”

“No free will?”

“Look, you little nub, if you had free will, what would it get you? You had no muscles in the living world, no tongue, no brain. You had no control anyway.”

“But why should I be punished for something I didn’t do? What about the humans that write the grocery lists? Do they go to Purgatory too?”

“Do you see any around here?” Royal asked. “They’re just dead. No afterlife whatsoever for them. Just be happy for what you have. Floating for eternity, no sweaty hands squeezing you, no more broken tips. Just floating.”

“But—”

“Listen, buddy, just shut up and count your blessings. I had a friend, an A. W. Faber. We shared the same pocket protector in high school. One day someone grabbed him and stabbed another kid after school on the bus. Now he’s doing time in hell. His length is infinite.”

“Well that sounds pretty good!” Ti said.

“He’s being fed into an electric sharpener down there. Forever.”

Ti shivered. They all floated in silence for the next couple of years.

Ω

Matthew Sanborn Smith  Matthew Sanborn Smith's website bleeds ketchup and often wakes up in the hospital after big family barbecues. His work has been seen or heard at Chizine, Albedo One, Challenging Destiny, Antipodean SF, Thaumatrope and StarShipSofa. He sang on the "We Are the World" follow-up single, "We are the Moon Too. We Forgot to Mention that Last Time."

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