Saturday, May 11, 2013

Short story: The Waiting Room

I'm pretty sure I wrote this one in four hours on a Junior Officer of the Deck watch while I was on USS Boxer. It would make sense, considering the subject matter; a man sitting around waiting for nothing pretty much sums up any JOOD watch anywhere. I think I started to work on a "Further Adventures of Waiting Room Man" story at one point, but decided it was best to leave him to his magazine. I'm also pretty sure this story is about 75-78% expletives, so, fair warning.

The Waiting Room

It’s a waiting room.
Hell, I mean. Hell is a waiting room. One of those generic rooms with months-old Good Housekeeping and Highlights for Kids and chairs that are nice at first, but more and more uncomfortable with each passing hour.
It could be a doctor’s office waiting room. The off person coughs and sniffles every now and again, but it could also be a car dealership, or a dentist’s office, or a counselor’s office, or all of them at the same time, but it doesn’t really matter. The fact is, it’s a waiting room, and you wait here forever, reading outdated articles or watching reruns of daytime television or twiddling your thumbs and beating off, but all you’re really doing is waiting.
And waiting.
And fucking waiting.
Do you know how fucking maddening it is to sit and wait for nothing to happen forever? For a month? A day? Five minutes? Pick one, anyone of them will do, because when you’re waiting on nothing, time loses all meaning, all relevance, if you’ll pardon the fucking pun.
I couldn’t begin to tell you how long I’ve been here, because I don’t know. You just got here, and already you’ve been here an age, probably a decade. Probably several.
Did you even know you were dead? No? Me neither. I can barely remember being alive anymore, and what I can remember, the clothes, the cars, food, sex, anything, well… Quite frankly, I’m worried I gleaned them all from the shit they keep running on the TV in the corner.
Other than that, I just remember walking through the door, and then the receptionist’s glass window opened, and she said to take a seat, that someone would be with me shortly. I didn’t know what I was waiting on, I just knew this was where I was, where I was supposed to be for that matter, and that sooner or later my number would be up for whatever. But look around; do you see a fucking door? Where did we come in?
I didn’t even notice their absence at first. What made me realize something was wrong was that I’d been here this whole time, and I wasn’t even hungry. Or thirsty. I wasn’t tired, I didn’t need to piss or shit, all I had was this mindless feeling of anxiety, that something was going to happen at some point, and I had to sit here and wait for it.
And wait.
I thought all of this was a dream for a very long time. No one ever says anything; they just sit there looking bored or nervous. Human beings don’t sit still that long, they just don’t have the patience. I tried talking to them, but they don’t want to. I thought they honestly didn’t know anything at first, that they were just as puzzled as I was, but I began to see it in their faces, the way they read and reread the same articles, how they avoided watching the TV, or looking at the reception window. They didn’t want to talk about it because they were scared of being dead.
So I thought they weren’t real, at first. The receptionist, I fucking know she ain’t real. She’s as much a part of the waiting room as that coffee pot over there that never fills up. It just keeps on brewing coffee that never touches the bottom of the pot, and she keeps sitting there motionless behind that frosted glass. You can see her behind it, just sitting there. I’d believe she disappears when the glass closes, if not for that silhouette. 
That’s it for the guardian of the afterlife, huh? What a laugh. No Saint Peter calling roll from the Book of Life, no angels with flaming swords, no fiery demons, just a vaguely robotic receptionist that tells you to “please take a seat and someone will be with you shortly” before the little window shuts in your face. Always the same damn answer, regardless of the question.
I called this place hell, but I meant it as an adjective, not a noun. I don’t believe this place is the biblical brimstone soul-locker, where unrepentant sinners burn in a lake of fire. For one thing, where’s the fucking fire? For another, where are the unholy torturing demons? And the population hardly fits the bill; look over there, that mother tending to her kids, or the old man reading the tract? What the fuck, Tina? And although I can’t be certain, I don’t feel like I could have been that awful of a person myself.
And isn’t that really the fuck of it? I can’t remember. How am I supposed to repent and atone for some sin I don’ t know about? It doesn’t make any sense, and that’s why I don’t think this place is supposed to be a punishment, though it’s a very fucking effective one all the same. I think maybe, what’s happening now is the result of the briefest afterthought any sentient creator could have had. That whatever fucked up science project good ol’ God had going, he didn’t think of what to do with the by-product. We’re like so much hazardous waste. We couldn’t be gotten rid of, just rounded up and stored in a safe place until he’s done playing ant-farm or whatever the fuck.
I know, I know, yes I have tried to escape. You can’t. You never know where the door is. I don’t even remember which side of the room I entered from. I could have descended from the ceiling or risen from the floor for fuck all, and I’ve never actually witnessed anyone come in. I’ll look up from one of these awful magazines and there will be another slightly confused-looking person sitting nearby.
When escape didn’t work, I tried to kill myself.  Let me tell you, nothing has ever been more difficult. First off, there’s nothing in this room sharp enough to slit my wrists, unless I wanted try paper cutting them. I tried shattering the coffee pot so I could use some glass shards for the job, but I couldn’t break it, no matter how hard I tried. Same thing with the receptionists’ window pane. I tried hitting the fucker with a chair, and all that happened was the bitch popped her head out to tell me to take a seat, and that someone would be with me shortly.
I tried strangling myself with my belt. No dice. I never strangled, no matter how long I cut my windpipe off. My lungs didn’t even start to burn. I’m pretty sure I could get into the Guinness Book of Records for holding my breath for eternity. I tried bashing my head against the walls and floor. My last attempt was a swan dive from the top of my chair, landing on my neck.
I’m still here.
I don’t think we have much longer to wait though. A couple of decades back I picked up the remote and changed the channel on the TV. CNN. I had a hard time making sense of it. Things had changed quite a bit since I’d died, and none of it for the good. Civil war, failed colonization of the moon (which would account for that poor group of folks in the space-suits over there,) religious groups blowing each other up, and a fat bunch of good it’s doing them, and all manner of crazy shit.
But the channel shortly changed back, and I haven’t seen the remote since.
You want to know the truth? It excited me. I’m fucking glad humanity is going to shit. It means that they’re exhausting their drastic measures, and it’s only a matter of time before somebody dusts off the controls to their nuclear arsenal and ends this God-awful (again, pardon the pun) experiment once and for all.
Or maybe it won’t be the end. Maybe we overestimated our importance in the whole thing, and the end of humanity isn’t the end of existence. At the very least, there will be a lot of new, interesting faces around here.
Can you hand me that National Geographic? I’ve had my eye on it, but that old lady has had it for an eternity.

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