Written by: Personalias
Everything had come down to this: Dante’s death, the Judy’s, Lysa, Midori, the Newborn Room, Caroline, regressing, Jamal, Vivian, Kevin, his Grandparents, the truth about Lysa, approaching the threshold, finding his anchor, singing, standing, being punished, Saint Jude, things getting even worse, and now this. Dante was about to commit his one last act of defiance against the forces of Heaven and their jailors in Limbo. They would see the mortals in their care as something to be respected, not manipulated; that they were more than just simple children to be rewarded or punished as deemed appropriate.
Some very small part of Dante questioned himself; felt guilty. Maybe the Judy’s were doing the right thing in the long run. Then he remembered that the Devil was once an angel as well. Not even angels were perfect. They only held onto that pretense. These things were just as capable of fault, pride, and monstrousness as any sentient creature. They just had special tools to help them in their designs. Hopefully Dante’s plan would shock them bad enough to where they’d think twice, but he wasn’t doing this for them. Not at all. Fuck them with a giant spoon and twist it sideways.
Dante always thought that guilt was the last thing to go. Apparently not. He had so many other emotions running through him that he couldn’t register them all. Anger, fear, hope, even a little bit of pride. He’d never felt like this.
He counted to a hundred slowly, as the stroller moved along the winding narrow path. Then he counted backwards from a hundred just to be sure. He wanted to be at about the half-way point before he started, too far away from Limbo or Heaven for reinforcements to arrive in time to make a difference. It was fortunate that the Judy in the green dress hadn’t stripped him of his ability to count. Dante smiled. Then again, maybe she did, and he was just taking it back anyways.
Dante knew exactly what song he wanted to use. It wasn’t “You Gotta Keep ‘Em Separated”, but he liked it better in this instance. “You Gotta Keep ‘Em Separated” was a story about punk kids that shirked responsibility and consequences. “You’re under 18 you won’t be doing any time. Come out and play.” That wasn’t who Dante was anymore.
This song, Dante’s new song, was about all the wonderful things that people had inside of them, and how they shouldn’t shut those things away. They’d be incomplete without them. It was about how indomitable the human spirit was and how in the end, everything was going to be okay. That was Dante now. It wasn’t what people wanted him to be, but it was what he chose to become.
Dante started tapping his foot in the stroller, counting to himself to keep the beat. It was in 3/4 time so it was trickier than your average pop song. The strongest part of the beat came on the downbeat at the beginning. Kind of like a waltz. ONE-two-three, ONE-two-three, ONE-two-three. Okay Judy, let’s dance.
Dante began to sing, just barely above a whisper. Weaving his final, greatest spell. He sang:
“the selfish, they are all standing in line,
faithing and hoping to buy themselves time.
me i figure as each breath goes by,
i only own my mind.”
He felt the strength and coordination return to his arms. He could picture the words in his head, with actual letters.
“the north is to south, what the clock is to time.
there’s east and there’s west and there’s everywhere life.
i know i was born and i know that i’ll die,
the in-between is mine.
i. am. mine.”
Lysa looked over at him. She had heard. She started tearing up in realization. She mouthed the words “No”. Dante kept going into the chorus. Louder this time, with pride, so that Judy could hear. He unbuckled himself from the stroller.
“When the meaning gets left behind,
All the innocence lost at one time”
The stroller stopped suddenly. It shook a little as the angel tried to unsuccessfully spank Dante through the back of the stroller. It was too padded and reinforced to make it through. Dante sang on in wait.
“Significant behind the eyes”
Dante looked to his left and waited. With the road being so narrow, it was Judy’s only route.
“There’s no need to hide.”
He reached out and jabbed the Judy in the stomach. The angel wasn’t used to full strength contact and doubled over.
“We’re safe tonight!”
Dante lunged sideways out of the stroller, and like a tiger swiped at his captor’s head. A smile formed on his lips and Eddie Vedder’s guitar riff sounded that much louder when he saw her ear plugs fall out. Dante glanced around. Just like last time, every angel that could hear his voice was still and entranced.
Especially, to his satisfaction, the Judy in the nursery scrubs. Time to bring it home.
“THE OCEAN IS FULL CAUSE EVERYONE’S CRIED”
He stood up on his own two feet.
“THE FULL MOON IS LOOKING FOR FRIENDS AT HIGH TIDE”
He ripped off the blue baby t-shirt.
THE SORRY GROWS BIGGER WHEN THE SORROW’S DENIED
The diaper followed.
“I ONLY KNOW MY MIND”
He strode up to the Judy, the hairs on his body sprouting out of him, stubble coating his face. Dante reared his fist back….
“I! AM! MINE!”
The Judy stumbled back from the force of Dante’s blow and tumbled off the side, down through the celestial sky. Apparently, having never been designed or purposed to leave Heaven or Limbo, these so-called angels lacked wings. Dante nodded his approval and grinned. His turn now.
“What in God’s name is happening to the Judy’s, Molly?!” a familiar voice rang out in the stillness. Dante’s head whipped around. His grandparents were no more than 30 feet from him. What were they doing here? He turned to face them.
“Frank, he’s staring at us…and he‘s naked,” Grandma whispered a little too loudly. “Do something.”
“Uh…sorry to interrupt.” Grandpa stammered. “We got permission to walk on down this road and pick up our grandson early so we could spend some more time with him.” Dante saw that Grandma was holding a child’s potty under her arms, and Grandpa had a package of what could only have been Pull-Ups.
“Wait a second, Frank.” Dante’s grandmother said, squinting at Dante. “He looks just like our Bobby did when he was a teen-” then it clicked.
“Dante?!” they both said in unison. The plastic potty chair rattled as it was dropped to the ground.
Dante smiled. It wasn’t a happy smile, but it was for them. An idea occurred to him.
“Hey Grandma, hey Grandpa!” he shouted. “Tell everyone what you saw here, and give my regards to the Big Guy. Pass this along to Him for me, would ya, Grandpa?” Dante raised his middle finger in the air. His grandparents didn’t move. Only nodded.
Dante peered over the side. Nothing but clouds blocking his view, but Dante knew what lay below them. Here goes nothing.
Dante felt a hand grab his wrist. A Judy. It had been too long since he had stopped singing. He spun around and swung his fist at top speed. His fist stopped an inch from connecting with Lysa’s face.
LYSA! She was standing…SHE WAS STANDING! Just like him she was standing, and completely naked.
“Please don’t go.” she said, looking into his eyes.
“How?” Dante asked. “How did you-?”
“As soon as I realized you were singing, I started talking to myself. Lying. I kept telling myself lies again and again, and next thing I know, here I am.”
“What lie did you tell yourself?” Dante questioned.
“That everything was going to be okay.” A single tear danced down her face.
They just stood there. Holding each other between two after-lives. Not a word was spoken. Enough words had been spoken, lies had been told, and songs had been sung to last an eternity. Dante surveyed his battle field.
Judy’s were starting to come to, shaking their heads as if they were waking from a dream. As soon as they laid eyes upon Dante and Lysa, the Judy‘s gasped. No shouting of “Orpheus“ or “Contact the Saint.” No battle cries or bum rushes. Instead, each angel knelt down and bowed their head.
They were in the presence of the Adam and Eve of Limbo. These two were idealized perfection about to fall from Grace. Whether from some form of reverence or pity, the Judy’s all stayed their hand, and waited.
“Come with me,” Dante whispered.
Lysa shook her head. “I can’t,” she told him. “I can’t leave Caroline. Stay with me. Don’t go to Hell. You don’t deserve that.”
“We all deserve it,” Dante said.
“Doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be avoided at all costs.”, she pleaded. She hugged him harder. “I’m not letting you go, Dante. I refuse.”
“BOY!” an ancient voice boomed out. “STOP THIS MADNESS!” It was Saint Jude. Floating in the air above them. “STOP THIS AT ONCE AND I SHALL SHOW YOU LENIENCY!” He commanded.
“SORRY OLD MAN!” Dante shouted back defiantly. “YOU DON’T GET TO MAKE THE RULES! NOT THIS TIME!” He leaned over and whispered in Lysa’s ear. “I love you. I’ll always love you. I am so sorry.” Then with all his might he bit down into her ear. Her screams echoed out into the open air. The Judy’s all covered their ears at the sound of her pain. Dante torqued his neck and clamped down on her ear.
With horrendous effort, followed by a sickening ripping sound, Lysa’s ear came lose in Dante’s mouth. She let go of him and covered herself retreating back into the fetal position. The hair on her womanhood was already beginning to recede. Dante spit the ear down next to her so it could be reattached. Then, he took a step back and unfolded his arms, mimicking a cross. He fell back into nothingness.
He freefell into oblivion, past the clouds. The scene changed to an ever darkening night sky, the stars twinkling like candles in the background. Long drop. Very long drop. Dante’s descent seemed to slow for an instant.
“NO!” Saint Jude’s voice boomed from the clouds. “I CANNOT LET THIS PASS!” In half a second, he was on Dante, his gnarled hands reaching out to snatch him up and drag him back to Limbo.
“NOT THIS TIME MOTHER FUCKER!” Dante roared. “THIS TIME, YOU LOSE!” Dante swatted away the old man’s hands with one arm and struck at him with another. Dante felt a satisfying crunch as he connected, breaking the self-righteous bastard’s nose. Not dismayed, Saint Jude reached down and grabbed Dante by the wrist. Dante’s fall slowed to a stop. Jude’s grip like a vice. Dante dangled helplessly by his wrist.
It couldn’t end this way. It just couldn’t. Through sheer willpower Dante pulled himself up and bit into the Saint’s arm. The old man cried out in pain as Dante tore with his mouth like a dog with a bone. (Thanks Dori) Blood poured into Dante’s mouth…so a Saint could bleed after all.
The grip on Dante‘s wrist loosened and Dante didn‘t hesitate to swing with his free hand. He stiffened his palm and swung his hips the opposite direction as he connected with the Saint’s elbow. A sickening, satisfying cracking of bones greeted Dante‘s ears, and Dante laughed in the old man’s face as his elbow bent the wrong way.
“Finally free“, he thought, as he fell into the blackness. Finally Free. He was a man.
Dante was awake before he opened his eyes. Either that or he was in complete darkness. Soft tinkling music permeated the air, like a lullaby.
“Wakey wakey, baby Dante,” a Judy’s voice caught his ear. “Time to get up and start your first day.” He hadn’t made it out after all. He slowly opened his eyes.
Wooden bars were in front of him. He was in a crib, again. The fleecy feeling on his skin told him he was in footie pajamas and the crinkle and bulge between his legs confirmed he was back in diapers. Something was wrong though. A Judy peered down at him in the crib, smiling wickedly. Not just any Judy though; the Judy in the nursery scrubs. His Judy. And she was enormous.
He brought his hands up in front of his eyes. They were tiny, pudgy little things. He reached to the top of his head and felt only a few wisps of hair poking out. He screamed in shock and a high pitched squeal came out instead. She wasn’t giant; he was now in the body of a baby. Fuck! He had to sing, he had to sing, he had to sing. He had to get out of this place!
“Blabble abbbble goo gaa!” came out of his mouth instead of any actual words or identifiable melody.
“Poor, poor, STUPID…BABY…DANTE!” the nanny said mockingly. Her eyes literally flashed red for an instant. “You couldn’t think of any worse torture than being treated like a baby for all time. Well you know what? Neither could we.” She unbuttoned her blouse and reached down and picked Dante up. “We just made some improvements.”
“I was sooooo mad at you when you knocked me off the path.” she continued, “Taking care of little babies just like you was all I knew how to do. But now, I have a new name and a new purpose. And that purpose is making sure that you’re the best baby ever!” She brought Dante’s lips closer to her nipple and shoved his face in.
Dante cried as he began suckling. All hope abandoned. All bravado drained.
“Don’t worry though, baby Dante,” the fallen angel cooed as she stroked Dante’s bald head, every word honeyed with venom. “this isn’t angel milk, any more. You won’t forget who you are, or regress, or anything. But I’ll still get to feed you and burp you and dress you and change your diapers and bathe you and read to you and play silly little games with you. You’ll just be a big strong MAN trapped in a BABY’S body. Doesn’t that sound fun? Mama Lucy will take such good care of you.”
It had been three days since Dante had leapt into Hell. Three days since Lysa had failed to stop him from going. Failed. Again. Failed. Failed. Failed. Lysa was a failure at everything. Lysa sat in her playpen feeling sorry for herself and mourning Dante. She had expected to be taken immediately to the Newborn Room and share a cot with Caroline for all eternity, but that‘s not what happened.
Instead, her ear was reattached with a kiss, she was redressed as a baby, and carried back to Limbo. All of Limbo had been in such disarray after Dante made his stand that she suspected that she had just slipped through the cracks and she would be punished for her part later when it was convenient.
New Judy’s, one’s she hadn’t recognized, had been popping up all over the place, either transferred from other nurseries or created out of thin air. Lysa didn’t know why. Her current caretaker had short black hair and brown eyes. Instead of nursery scrubs, she wore a modest white blouse and black skirt; just this side of school marm.
Other than that though, everything was still the same. Calling themselves “Mama Judy”, cooing, tickling, feeding; the whole nine yards. Lysa had gained back control of her emotions, speaking, and all that other semi-adult stuff. It was almost as if Dante had never existed. She didn’t have words for how awful she felt for thinking that.
The new Judy came over and checked her diaper. She was wet, she knew, but Lysa didn‘t bother telling her that.
“Ugggh” the angel groaned as she placed Lysa on her hip. “You’re getting’ heavy, Lysa. Pretty soon, Miss Judy isn‘t going to be able to carry you anymore.” Miss Judy? Hadn’t heard that one before. Where had that come from? Lysa shoved the thought from her mind before.
“A moment, if you please, Judy,” a raspy voice called out. It was Saint Jude- the old man who had flown after Dante and only came back with a bloody nose and a broken arm. He looked fine now…if you could still look like an old prick and be fine, that is. No broken bones or anything.
“Please leave us,“ he instructed and the Judy complied. He pulled Lysa up so that she was sitting on the changing table. “I wish to talk.” he said. Lysa just stared at him. She let her silence be her opening volley. The old man sighed. “We’ll be putting up a guard rail along the narrow path so that something like this never happens again.” There was a long silence.
“That’s what you came to tell me?!” Lysa spat. The old man opened his mouth. Then closed it again. He shook his head.
“Ye-…No.”, he replied. “What I really wanted to say was that I am sorry for your loss. The boy was very special to you. Given time he could have been something special to all of us.”
“His name is Dante,” she scolded, “and this is all your fault.”
“I am aware,” Saint Jude replied. “Now I am anyways. I did not realize that the Judy’s were capable of such cruelties, that they would resort to the sort of treatment that pushed the boy…Dante, to his act of rebellion. I am Regent of Limbo, but there are many more nurseries than this one, and I am not omniscient. I wasn’t alerted until it was too late.”
“How’s your boss taking the news?” Lysa asked, looking for something to rub in the Saint’s face.
“The Father was less than amused when an old man told him the story of his grandson rebelling against his treatment and then gave Him the finger. Do worry,” he added, “the Lord did not unleash his anger upon the messenger.”
“Who did He release it on?” Lysa pressed.
“There’s the less than satisfying part.” the Saint conceded. “ The two conspirators that set this into motion- one is already in Hell, and the other was allowed to be unmade. She chose non-existence over an eternity in the Inferno and so the Lord unmade her. Beyond that, it is up to me to decide where we go from here.. A task that I do not enjoy, but…I am the Saint of Lost Causes. It is my duty.”
“So what now?” Lysa asked.
“First and foremost,” the old man spoke, “we’ll be changing the rules around here. Any resident of Limbo who can maintain their hold on themselves for more than a month without slipping back into innocence will be given the option of moving to a different section of the nursery. There they will be cared for as infants- physically at least- but they will be given the respect they deserve as dignified, intelligent, and experienced human beings. Those that wish to become as they once were in the beginning will of course be allowed to stay and embrace their innocence.” Lysa waited.
“That’s it?” she finally asked.
“For now,” the Saint said as he turned around and began to walk away.
“That’s not fair!” Lysa called out after him, still sitting on the changing table in a wet diaper. Saint Jude stopped in his tracks and spun around. He marched up to Lysa, lightning flashing in his eyes.
“Not fair?” he asked, “You know what’s not fair? Postponing your eternal reward for a lifetime of devotion and-”
THWACK! Lysa slapped the old man across the face. He just gawked, rubbing his cheek.
“No!” Lysa stared him in the face. Unblinking. “You don’t get to play that card. You’re not the martyr right now. You don’t deserve that feeling of being right, cause you‘re not!”
“This is my fault,” the old man repeated. “But I am not perfect. To err is human, to forgive di-”
“Quit that!” Lysa scolded. “You don’t get to do some prepared speech or wise old saying, shrug, wink, and then walk away. You talk to me like I’m a person damn it!” Saint Jude was taken aback. No one in Limbo spoke to him this way. No one.
“I’m sorry…” Saint Jude stuttered at the girl.
“You could have saved him.” she insisted.
“I don’t think I could,” Jude defended himself. “I honestly don’t think I could have. He wanted to go, and if I had pursued him any further, I would have gone to Hell myself. I have no power there. Everything of me is invested in this place. I‘d be trapped, just like him.” All of the pomp deflated out of the man. Practiced humility gave way to the genuine article. “I’m sorry. There’s nothing I could have done. None of the other Saints could have either. They‘re already in their appointed roles and tasks. We can‘t defy our purpose, girl. We just can‘t.”
“Just because he wanted to go destroy himself, doesn’t mean you let him,” Lysa countered, her righteous anger building. “You don’t let a baby touch a hot stove or bang their head against the wall, do you? And even if you couldn‘t have saved him, you could have tried harder. Some things are worth fighting for, even if you know you‘ll lose.”
Saint Jude looked up. “What did you say, girl?”
“You heard me,” she folded her arms across her chest. The old man smiled for the first time.
“My dear,” the Saint said looking her in the eye. “I can’t believe I’m actually getting to say this, but you don’t belong here anymore. You’ve grown up.”
“Huh?” Lysa was confused. “I died when I was 16. I don’t’ go to Hell. I won‘t leave Caroline.”
“No, you’re not going there. Not yet, anyways. As for your daughter, we normally don‘t allow babies to leave Limbo for any long period of time. But exception can be made…for Saints.” His eyes twinkled with happiness and mischief. Lysa didn’t know what to make of this. “I have a present for you.” he said as he reached under the changing table. “It’s not much, but it’s a start.”
He lifted her up off the changing table and set her down. She was standing on her two feet again, under her own power. She was so frightened she was shaking. With his free hand, Saint Jude untapped her diaper and let the sodden garment plop down to the floor. He took a baby wipe and cleaned her between her legs while she stood. Lysa dared not move.
Then he showed her what he had in his free hand. He presented her with a diaper. No quite, actually. It wasn’t white. It was pink with a picture of Cinderella on it. It was thinner too, and no tapes. Kind of like a cross between regular underwear and a diaper, Training panties, Pull-Ups. Lysa started to cry. The moment that she never thought was going to happen was happening.
Saint Jude popped the training pants open. Lysa stepped into the leg holes and he slid the Pull-Ups up her hips and around her waist.
“It won’t be easy,” he said to her. “And it will take a while. Possibly longer than you’ve even been here, but I think you’re ready.” He stood up and gave her a hug.
“Lysa Strata. Your training begins today.” Lysa was still trembling.
“Judy!” the Saint called out. The Judy came. “There seems to have been a change of plans. Lysa does not belong here anymore. She’s grown too big. I want her enrolled in the Purgatory Pre-School immediately!” He laughed.
“Oh, Lysa, I am so proud of you!” the Judy beamed, and took the girl by the hand. Walking her out of Limbo. “You’re such a big girl now! I have got just the cutest little outfit in mind for you.
A purple shirt with some matching pants, and the cutest little white sneakers. You’ll love them! Then there will be your big girl bed and your big girl clothes and your big girl-” Lysa tuned her out, lost in her. A whole universe was opening back up to her. But most importantly of all, she had a hope.
“Hold on Dante, everything‘s going to be okay” she promised, not a lie this time. “I’ll come for you.”
The author would like to dedicate this story to his wonderful wife.
She found out my secret, loved me for it anyways and married me.
Without her encouragement, this story would never have been written and I would still be lurking on these sites, too afraid to even post a comment, dreaming
Special thanks to all who read this story and commented on it. It was good to know that there were people actually reading what I wrote. It made the vastness of cyber-space feel a little less empty.
It’s been a crazy ride. Thank you all for riding it with me.