Purgatory

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Reluctant

One perk of being a champion was quick healing of open wounds. However, it was not something that happened in an instant. On awakening in the morning, Dante discovered his hand, covered in some kind of bandaging, was throbbing. Loosening the bandage, he discovered a cut on his palm from just below the index finger to below the little finger. He couldn’t remember how it got the there, but he knew it had something to do with a knife.

Dante worried that he had been sleepwalking and was handling cutlery while doing so. It seemed clear to him that something happened with a knife. What had he done, dropped a knife and then tried to catch it? Foolish enough, but something Dante felt wasn’t beyond him. Whatever the case, he had no intention of letting on that he might have done it while sleep walking. He would take full responsibility As he told the department secretary, “I was using the sharp knife to cut bread and left it on the counter. When I was shifting my coffee maker to add water, I knocked the knife, and it fell off the counter. By sheer reflex, I tried to grab it and caught it by the blade. Should have just let it fall. It wouldn’t have hurt anything”

The secretary tsked, but all she said was, “That’s an interesting bandage. Did you go to a doctor?”

The bandage was interesting. It was a kind of cloth, but not gauze, something you didn’t see often. He told the secretary he didn’t think the wound was too bad and didn’t bother going to the doctor. Despite that, Dante’s wound was an item of interest for the staff. Even Merilee came by to take a sideways glance at it. When she did, Dante looked up at her and smiled as sweetly as he could.

Merilee turned away. Her back and head seemed more relaxed as she walked off, nevertheless, she walked away. It made him feel a little better. She didn’t seem to be as angry with him as she had been earlier.

The fact is that since that evening at Dante’s place; she had been wracking her brain trying to figure out where he had gone. The apartment was small. She would have heard the door if he tried to sneak out. She was only a few feet away and he would have had to walk right by her. To the best of her memory, no windows were open. “I should have looked in his wardrobe. Maybe,” she chuckled, “he had gone to Narnia.”

The thought caused her to chuckle, but it made as much sense as anything else. She felt less vindictive towards him. She knew he was painfully shy. Perhaps it overwhelmed him having her at his apartment and he needed to hide. “Poor guy,” she thought, then shook her head, “What am I saying, poor guy? Whatever reason, he did bug out on me.”

Even so, it wasn’t easy to stay angry at the guy. His sweet, shy smile was hard to resist. His disappearance that evening was a mystery she knew she could never solve. At no time did she see a change in his behavior towards her. Even when she was the angriest, his reaction to her was always one of bemused confusion. She saw it but didn’t understand it. It was as if he had no knowledge of what he had done. This wide-eyed space cadet behavior only made him more endearing to her. The worst of the embarrassment had passed, and she realized what had happened between Dante and her hadn’t gone beyond that. In fact, she began to think even Dante didn’t know what had occurred that evening.

The same day at lunchtime. Adam and Earl arrived one after the other at his desk, asking if he would like to go out for lunch. Several weeks had passed since what Dante called the Merilee incident. He called it this because during his daytime life he didn’t have any inkling what had happened. Dante sensed his two friends wanted to have one more go at him about the Merilee incident, and he was in no mood to face it. His hand was sore, and he was thinking he would rather find a sofa somewhere and grab a bit of shut-eye, than fight off the outrageous curiosity of Adam and Earl. He thanked them, saying he had too much to do and would work through lunch.

While his friends knew better, because of their loyalty and respect, they accepted his refusal to join them and left. Dante put his head down on his desk and within moments of their leaving he was fast asleep. As he faded off, he heard a familiar but unidentifiable voice saying, “if I may suggest, next time try catching it by the handle.”

The next thing he heard was the concerned voice of Merilee, “Hey, Dante, are you alright?”

Walking past his desk, she saw he was sprawled out across his desk. She tapped him on the arm, but he didn’t respond. His arm where she tapped him was firm and muscular. This had surprised her. When she spoke, Dante sat bolt upright, his hair falling over his face, his eyes blinking in confusion. There was something different about him. It was as if she was seeing him for the first time.

Before this she hadn’t noticed how chiseled his face was or how his chest and shoulders strained at his shirt. She didn’t remember this Dante. Neither did he. He had was finding he had to pull his belt tighter to keep them from slipping down, making his pants look and feel baggy. His shirts felt tighter around his shoulders and chest. When he looked in the mirror to shave, it was as if he was looking at someone else, like a more fit twin. He was still half asleep when he showered and shaved, and that’s the way it had been every morning for the past few months.

“You have been working out,” exclaimed Merilee, “Have you been going to the gym? You look fabulous.”

“I guess I have,” said a confounded Dante who was guessing somehow, he had, but couldn’t remember when. He wondered if he was some sort of split personality; someone who became someone else and headed off to the gym each night. There was a faint recollection of engaging in tough physical activity, but it was in a gym unlike any he could remember having seen in this neighborhood.

“Sorry,” he said as he wiped a droplet of drool from the corner of his mouth with his sleeve, “I don’t know what is going on and I am so exhausted. And strange things have been happening to me.”

“I had all that muscle pain a few weeks back. As that cleared, I sprained my ankle. I don’t know how. Today I wake up with a knife cut on my hand someone, I don’t know who, has bandaged.”

He undid the bandage to show her. To his shock, what had been a deep cut that morning was now nothing more than a pinkish line across his palm. Merilee couldn’t resist, “Are you seeing someone?”

“I don’t know, maybe,” responded a bewildered Dante. “I have brief visions of a beautiful woman dancing around me, but not that kind of relationship. She is like my mentor.”

As he spoke, his recollection grew a touch clearer. “It’s like she’s training me to be a medieval warrior. You know, swords, spears, bows and arrows and such.”

Dante really didn’t know where these thoughts came from. They seemed so bizarre. “The thing is, these brain flashes I have, they seem so real, and at the same time, so unreal. But, none of this makes any sense to me,” he squinted at her, “do you have any idea what I’m talking about?”

“Can’t say I do,” she said, looking beyond him toward the elevators, intending to conceal her puzzled expression.

She could see Adam and Earl there, “Oh, the boys are back. Gotta go. Talk to you later,” and she walked off back to her part of the office, disappearing behind her cubby wall.

She had to admit, Dante was not your usual kind of guy, but he was far more muscular now than he had been not so long ago.

Dante looked up from his desk as Earl and Adam sauntered into view.

“Sure, looks like you were working through lunch,” said Earl in a loud voice, glancing toward Merilee’s cubicle.

“We just spoke for a moment,” said Dante in a defensive tone.

“Of course, you did,” grinned Earl.

“Give the guy a break, Earl,” said Adam.

He turned to Dante, a serious expression on his face. “I know how you feel about sports, pal, but our slow pitch season is starting a week next Friday right after work. We only have eleven players since Korinsky and Janice left the firm. I hate to ask, but do you think you could come on the team as a backup? You wouldn’t have to play unless someone got hurt or couldn’t make the game.”

Adam was used to Dante making excuses before outright refusal. To his amazement Dante, with no hesitation, said, “sure.”

“Really!” exclaimed Adam.

“Why not? It could be a lot of fun,” said Dante.

Adam turned towards the general office area. “Hey everybody,” he called out, “Good news, Dante is joining slow pitch.”

Participants and regular spectators on the floor, which meant most of the staff, applauded at the news. It didn’t matter if a new, non-player joined the team. They tended to be among the weaker teams in the mercantile league, anyway. They doubted Dante’s joining the team would make much of a difference, but it meant he would be back as a regular at the after-game socials. They liked that.

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