A middle-aged woman, dressed in a flowing patchwork skirt and an embroidered white cotton blouse, topped with a swirl of silver, teal and magenta curls, lounged in a chair in Gleason’s office. Her right, bare foot tucked under her, and her left foot, her knee bent almost to her chin, planted flat on the chair seat.
“So, how long does he have?” Sunny Phillips fussed with a string of mala beads hanging from her neck.
“It’s difficult to say,” Gleason said, frowning at the woman’s casual posture. “He is very old and weak. It could be today, it could be next week, but I don’t think he is long with us.”
“Then it’s probably time I give you this,” she rummaged in a hemp tote bag and presented Gleason with a circular tin. “I was to give this to someone he trusted when his time was up.”
“How do you know he trusts me?” Gleason held out his hand to take the metal box.
“We’ve been in contact,” she said, resuming her nonchalant sprawl, but offering no more information. “He told me how much he liked you and that you, as he put it, ‘had your shit together.’ He bequeathed that to you, even though he’s not dead yet.”
“What is it?” Gleason said, turning the tin over in his hands.
“It’s a film or rather a copy of a NASA recording,” she said. “Gramps was an engineer with the Mariner 10 mission.”
“I’m not familiar with the purpose of that mission,” Gleason said, gingerly putting the tin on his desk.
She nodded toward Gleason’s desk, unfolding herself to sit up straight, her hands gripping the chair arms until her knuckles were white. Her nonchalant demeanor shifting to agitation.
“It was in the 70’s,” she said. “A NASA probe flew passed Venus and Mercury, and ended in an endless orbit around the sun. Because of what he discovered, because of what he saw, they exiled him here.”
“I don’t understand,” Gleason said.
“Find a projector that can show 8mm film, watch it,” she said. “It will all make sense.”
Gleason open the tin to find a movie reel, the label on the front in precise engineer-style block letters, “Level 7”
“Do you know what Level 7 is?” Gleason asked, his guest having stood up, was at his office door.
“‘All hope abandon, ye who enter here’,” was all Sunny said as she left, nearly colliding with Carrie as she hurried out of the room.
“What she just said,” Gleason said. “It’s familiar. Do you recognize that quote?”
“English Lit wasn’t your forte?” Carrie brought in more patient folders for Gleason to peruse. “It’s from Danté’s Divine Comedy. I think from the first part, ‘Inferno’.”
When Gleason didn’t react, she continued.
“You must have read it in school,” she rocked back on her heels, hands on her hips, head tilted in a mild taunt. “Danté’s journey through the many circles or levels of hell?”
Gleason blinked as the memory came back.
“There were nine levels, right?” He said, eyeing the tin. “What was Level 7?”
“If I remember correctly, that was the level where violent sinners were punished.”
When Gleason swirled his hand for more information, she continued.
“It had rivers of blood, burning sand, fire and brimstone, Centaurs armed with fiery arrows…” she said. “Want me to go on?”
“No, that’s fine,” Gleason frowned. “I’ll be leaving early today. Please make sure Mr. Phillips is comfortable.”