“Purgatory on Earth” read the flyer as it flapped unevenly in the wind, poorly stapled against the wooden post of a power line. It was an interesting title, not exactly the alluring intro phrase most religious recruitment ads used. For what I knew of Purgatory, it wasn’t exactly a place most people were itching to get into in a hurry. Still, I was curious enough to see exactly what sort of sales pitch this group had prepared, and I had nothing better to do than wait for the bus to take me back home from work.
Are you tired of suffering? Are you tired of feeling guilty? Are you sick of having to confess your sins each and every time you stray from the path? What if you could say goodbye to all of that? What if you could purge your sins and all of those negative feelings for good?
We don’t mean when you get to Heaven. We mean NOW. TODAY! Cleanse your soul forever by hearing His voice. The Choir of Heaven will deliver you to peace on Earth. Join us. Salvation is waiting.
Something was weird about the entire message. On one hand, it seemed like a normal new-age Church, drawing followers away from more traditional confession-based religions. On the other hand, it was quite the lofty promise that their Church could make a person never suffer or feel guilt ever again. Hearing the voice of God (whom I assumed they were referring to) and the Choir of Heaven just seemed like fancy ways of telling you they read from the Bible and sung church hymns. In their defense, it couldn’t be easy trying to lure people to a startup Church. We were in the Southeastern United States, after all. You could find churches of every denomination with ease, whether you wanted to or not.
At the bottom of their flyer there was only a website. No address or phone number to be found. I figured this was either a very new church or a glorified religious podcast.
“More like ‘Purgatory on Tape’,” I muttered to myself with a smile, overly amused at my own joke. I took a photo of the flyer with my phone and loaded onto the bus that had finally arrived.
A couple of weeks passed before I even thought about that flyer again. It had only been a passing curiosity while I waited for the bus. I wasn’t particularly looking for any religion in my life, let alone “salvation.” I was swiping through my pics in a vain attempt to find a better profile picture when it came to mind again. Thoroughly convinced I looked like a dad who had just discovered selfies, I came upon the photo I had taken of the website. Curious and with time to kill, I typed in the address and was redirected to an unremarkable page. The website was no more than a white slate with a play icon and a single sentence in black text that read “Please use headphones.”
I searched through my cluttered desk for a set of earbuds, wondering why I was going through all this trouble for what was probably no more than a low-budget sermon. Finding a tangled pair, I impatiently unraveled them, plugged in, and clicked play. I awaited to hear this ‘magical secret’ to living a life free of all guilt and pain.
The sound that came through those headphones did not belong to any preacher or church choir. I wish I could find the right adjectives to describe the horror that flew into my ears. It feels as though any word belonging to the English language is unworthy of being attached to it. Calling it a high pitched shrill might give you an idea, but it would be like giving you a candle so that you might understand the Sun. Imagine if glass could scream. That’s the only way I can put it.
I vomited instantly, ruining my laptop, and reeled back to escape the sound. My chair fell back and the earbuds yanked free of me. I came down hard on the ground, my head smashing into thin carpet. I felt nothing. The Sound did not stop. I flailed about trying to get to my feet. I could tell I was screaming. I could not hear my own screams, or feel them vibrate in my throat. But I knew I was screaming. I stumbled to my desk, grabbing my puke-covered laptop and ripping out the battery.
The Sound did not stop.
I vomited again. I could not taste it. My confusion was dwarfed by the Sound. It burned its way through my mind; my thoughts could not compete with its Scream. My legs buckled and I collapsed onto the desk. My entire body trembled. I didn’t want to move anymore, as if laying motionless would bring me some comfort. There was none. No sleep ever came, but darkness did. I was blind before sunset.
I don’t know how many days passed. I only knew the Sound, and that it was the reason I lay unmoving in a puddle of my own filth. I wanted the end to come, but the Noise drowned out even my desire for death.
Then there was no sound.
There was only a Voice. I could not understand what it said. Its words were fire and light, and they enveloped me in a brilliant flash. I felt myself burn away, my last thoughts a mix of peace and ash. That was three days ago.
I’m writing this now from a print shop nearest to my apartment; my laptop is unrecoverable. I know you want to know what happened, but I cannot give you any explanation that will satisfy your curiosity. Nothing I can say will graze the surface of what I have witnessed. Only the Voice can show you. I can only tell you that I have found peace, and it burns.
I have to go, my flyers are ready and there is so much work to be done.
Credit: Jameson Curnick