The Waiting Room Finale

Waiting room finale

Two weeks ago I had an itch to write some fiction, and an idea that developed into this story popped into my head. After last week’s post, one of my good friends enthusiastically asked if this was part of the “new book.”  That was never a consideration, but this has been an easy and enjoyable piece to write. I am definitely feeling it as my fingers fly across the keyboard, which I can’t say for the story I started over a year ago that has sat dormant for a very long time. Thanks for the suggestion Sharon.

This will be the last episode of Kyle’s experience, but be warned, it won’t provide closure, and you will have to draw your own conclusions. After all, if this is going to be the premise of my second novel , which I guess I am committing myself to, why not give you something to look forward to? Of course, there is that minor detail about getting published, but that is a different story for another day.

“Can we go over this one more time please?”

“Sure Kyle, but do me a favor and please try to relax. I know this is a lot to absorb, and it’s important that you are at peace with whatever you decide. So take a deep breath, and fire away with whatever questions you have.”

“Thank you,” Kyle said. Taking Sarah’s advice, he closed his eyes, took a deep breath, slowly exhaled, and cleared his head of the incoherent jumble of thoughts that were swimming in different directions. Reopening his eyes, he continued.

“To start, how can I possibly return back to that?” he asked, pointing at the tablet that lay face down on the table. “I thought you said I was already gone.”

“Time is different here, remember? They just started working on bringing you back and haven’t declared a time of death. If you walk through that door, you’ll survive to live another day.”

“But didn’t you also say I have a terminal malignancy? Why would I want to suffer through that if I don’t have to?

“It isn’t terminal, yet. Not even close. It will be however if you don’t listen to your body and your wife for a change. But you also need to remember that if you do go back, you won’t remember any of this. You aren’t going to wake up, have a Mr. Rogers moment and change your ways.”

“So why offer that as a choice?”

“Because you’ve earned enough points to have that option.”

“And the other option is to be reborn into a different life and start from scratch? What kind of life would that be?”

“I have no idea, but based on the points you’ve accumulated so far, I’m pretty sure you wont have to deal with the kind or hell you dealt with as a child and adolescent in this life. You’ll have different challenges, of course, and they could be very painful in different ways. Life is always full of challenges, but I suspect you won’t have to deal with anything like that again.”

“There’s three doors, so why don’t I have three options? I saw you escort the last guy that was here through that door, ” Kyle said, pointing to the one on the right.

“That door is the end of the line, and it isn’t an option for you right now. Anyone who enters that door has either failed miserably and has not met the minimum point threshold, or has earned enough points to relax and enjoy eternity.”

“That’s the door to Heaven or Hell?”

“I thought you weren’t religious?”

“I’m not. But I also never thought I’d experience anything like this.”

“Let’s put it this way,” Sarah said after a thoughtful pause. “If you’re wondering if that door will either lead you to a place with pearly gates, angels and harps, or a hot, flaming abyss with demons and pitchforks, think again. Everyone has their own idea of what Heaven and Hell might be, and that door will take you to whatever your version of those are.”

“I take it the last guy didn’t like where he was going.”

“I’m sorry, but that’s really none of your business.”

“Fair enough. So can you give me a good reason why I should consider going through the door that will take me back to the emergency room?”

“You mean besides your wife and kids?” Sarah asked.

“C’mon Sarah, I’m not that big of an asshole! But you did say I don’t have the points necessary to reach whatever the end of the road is, and that if I do go back I will have to deal with cancer. That prospect has always scared me to death, no pun intended. You also made it sound like if I start over and eventually do what what’s necessary to earn the points, I’ll see them again. So why put myself through all that pain and suffering?”

“Because,” Sarah answered, “there are no guarantees what kind of life you will have, what you will be confronted with, or how you will do if you start over. The first part of the life you just left was horrible, but you admirably made it through that gauntlet and did something positive with your life when it could have easily gone the other way. That by itself put you over the top to go through that third door.”

“But you said that wasn’t an option. What happened?”

“Well, you weren’t the most faithful husband or devoted father, were you?”

“Oh,” Kyle said, feeling the embarrassment warm his cheeks. “You know about my, um….my indiscretions?”

“We know everything about anyone who comes here.”

“So why are you here then. Didn’t you have the same choices?”

“No,” Sarah answered with more than a tinge of regret. “If you don’t earn the option to go through that last door one way or another after ten lives, you’re required to serve here indefinitely.”

“That sucks. Then what?”

“It’s like any job, except you are always on probation. I’m not going to bore you with the details, but at some point, the second or third door becomes available. It’s all predicated on how I perform here.”

Kyle sat back for a minute to ponder everything Sarah had patiently explained, and contemplated the most important decision he remembered ever having to make. It appeared he was close to what he thought of as winning the race, but going back would force him to confront a fate that had always terrified him. Yet, he did love and miss Mary and the kids. Why did it take something like this to make him realize that?

“I can’t emphasize this enough” Sarah volunteered. “Regardless of what you do, keep in mind you will not remember any of this experience or our discussion. So don’t plan on having this in your back pocket as motivation as you move forward.”

“Just like in my previous lives?”

“Exactly. Sometimes however, things temporarily sneak through and percolate to the service, but they are like smoke. You recognize something and try to grasp onto them, but they dissipate quickly. You’re familiar with the concept of deja vu?”

Kyle nodded. “Can you at least tell me how many lives I have lived so far? It would really be helpful to know how many more chances I have to get this right.”

“Of course it would,” Sarah said with a knowing smile,” but unfortunately that can’t factor into your thinking.”

“So you can tell me.”

“I’m sorry,” Sarah said, sounding like she meant it, “but no.”

Kyle looked past Sarah to the three doors and pondered his fate. Did he really want to go back and possibly suffer a fate he feared above all others? Since he wasn’t going to remember anything about this experience, there were no guarantees he would become a better husband, father or man, which meant he would be back in this room, having the same discussion, confronted with the same decisions when it ended.

He also couldn’t escape the feeling that if he did return, Mary would learn about his infidelities. How he handled that lovely situation would provide another test upon which he would be judged. Why put himself through all that?

Then again, Sarah did imply door number three, the one that lead to his version of Nirvana, would have been an option if he hadn’t ventured down that path. Plus there were no guarantees he wouldn’t fuck up a new life if he chose that option, and he had no idea how many more chances he had before he got stuck here. That prospect didn’t thrill him either. Kyle kept mulling his options over and over, a seemingly endless loop of internal debate, when Sarah’s muffled voice brought him back to the present.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I wasn’t paying attention.”

“I said our time is up, Kyle. I’ve answered all your questions and provided all the information I can. I understand this is a terribly difficult decision, but, as you know, others are waiting, so we both need to move on. You need to make a decision, so what’s it going to be?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Waiting Room – Part Two

Waiting Room 2

“This isn’t a dream?” Kyle thought to himself. “If I’m not dreaming, then what the hell is this?”

Kyle was a man who gave orders, not one who demurely received and followed them. His supreme self-confidence often teetered into arrogance, but these traits served him well as he escaped from a dysfunctional childhood, earned Valedictorian status in high school, sailed though college, and eventually started his own business, achieving success he only dreamed about when he hid in the closet from his father’s drunken violent rages.

He prided himself as a person who never let obstacles prevent him from reaching his goals, yet here he was, taking orders from a complete stranger. For the first time in a very long time, he not only felt subservient and impotent, but also felt the stirrings of something he hadn’t felt since he was the target of his father’s wrath: fear.

He shuffled across the black and white checkered corridor, pulled the high-backed chair away from the table and quietly sat down.

“If this isn’t a dream, than what is this place and what am I doing here?”

The young woman who sat across the desk (he could have sworn a middle-aged man was seated there for the previous occupant of this chair) smiled kindly and said “In due time, Mr. Callahan.”

“Please call me Kyle,” he responded, transitioning into schmooze mode.

“Alright Kyle, thank you. My name is Sarah, and don’t take this the wrong way, but you can turn the charm button back into the off position. It isn’t necessary.”

“What makes you think I’m being anything but genuine?”

“Please,” Sarah said. “I know you aren’t a bad guy, but I also know you know how to work a room. You wouldn’t have achieved your success without that skill, but it won’t do you any good here.”

Kyle wondered how in the world Sarah knew so much about him, but tried to not let that throw him off his game.

“Fair enough. Am I going to find out what here is any time soon?”

“Soon enough,” Sarah said. “Just give me a minute or two please.”

Kyle sat back without comment as Sarah scrolled through a number of pages on her tablet. Turning around to observe his surroundings more closely, he was shocked to find to find no chairs or people on the other side of the corridor he just crossed.

“Excuse me,” he interrupted, “but what happened to everyone?”

“They’re still there,” Sarah said, not looking up as she continued to scroll through the pages. “You probably saw the last person who was here, but if you remember correctly, you couldn’t hear any of the discussion.” Kyle thought about that for a moment and realized she was correct. “They can see us but can’t hear us,” Sarah continued, “and are invisible to us. There are less distractions that way, and you can speak freely without the worry of being embarrassed or overheard. Plus it shields them from what awaits.”

Kyle turned to face forward again, and gazed at the outline of the doors behind the tables for a while before returning to look at Sarah, who continued to study the screen of her tablet and scroll through each page.

“What are you looking at?” he asked.

“A balance sheet.”

“A balance sheet?”

“You aren’t familiar with the term?”

“Of course I’m familiar with the term,” Kyle spat impatiently. “It’s my business to know what they are.”

“And that is why I used it. But, it isn’t a balance sheet in the true sense of the word, in terms of dollars and cents. But conceptually,  it’s an inventory of assets and liabilities.”

“Of what?”

Sarah didn’t answer for a few seconds as she scrolled through the last two pages. She then placed the tablet on the table, and clasped her hands together on the table’s surface, as she looked directly into Kyle’s eyes.

“Your life.”

“My life? What are you talking about? That doesn’t make any sense at all.”

“Yet it’s the truth.”

Kyle sighed, returned Sarah’s gaze for a full minute, then took a deep breath and slowly exhaled.

“Listen, Sarah. Even though I think this whole thing,” he said, turning and waving his arm in a sweeping gesture to the empty space behind them, trying to keep his emotions in check, “is a charade and complete crock of shit, I’ve been polite and respectful. You tell me I’m not dreaming, but every fiber in my body screams that this can’t be real. Be that as it may, I’ve played along, but I’m not going to say another word or answer another question until I start getting some answers. What is this place? Why am I here?”

“You’re hear because you’re dead.”

Kyle thrust back into his chair as if someone jacked him up against an invisible wall. “Dead?” he finally said. “Is this some kind of fucking joke?”

“No. I’m sorry,” Sarah said calmly, letting Kyle absorb her words.

“Dead?” he said again, more quietly this time, as if he was speaking to himself. “How? When? Why?”

“You had a heart attack at your morning staff meeting. You were rushed to the Parkland emergency room, and they are in the process of trying to revive you, but it isn’t looking good.”

“What do you mean they are trying to revive me?”

Sarah picked up her tablet, tapped the screen several times, then handed it to Kyle, who saw his naked torso on an emergency room bed with and IV needle sticking in the crook of his elbow.  Numerous machines were arrayed around him in a semi-circle. One in particular had a flat green line etched across its screen while a droning sound blared instead of the beep, beep, beep of a normal heartbeat and rhythm.  An army of hospital personnel surrounded him. Someone was feverishly performing CPR, and stepped aside when another person said “Clear” and applied the defibrillator. Kyle’s body jerked upward, then flopped back onto the bed, like a fish out of water. This scene repeated itself before Sarah gently removed the tablet from Kyle’s trembling hands.

“This is still happening?” he asked, and Sarah nodded her head. “But I woke up only several hours ago. It feels like I’ve been here for a lot longer than that.”

“Time here is different. You can’t think of it the same way as you did in the mortal world.”

“A heart attack,” he softly mumbled. “I thought it would have been whatever is going on in my gut.”

“Well, that would have eventually gotten you if this didn’t come along. There is a  nasty malignancy brewing in your intestines. You’ve neglected the symptoms for a while, and it would have eventually killed you if didn’t get it looked at soon.  It wouldn’t have been pretty, either.”

“Why are you telling me this?”

“Because you asked.”

“Okay then,” Kyle said, regaining his composure as the shock settled in. “You still haven’t told me what this place is.”

“It’s a processing center.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Well,” Sarah said. “You are technically dead, but as you can see, they are still trying to revive you. They haven’t made the call yet.”

“So?”

“So, you have some decisions to make.”

“Decisions?”

“Yes, Kyle. Everyone has choices in the end, but those are as different as the individual, and are predicated on how they have lived their lives.”

“So this is some kind of…..interview?”

“Well, I’ve never thought of it like that, but it’s as good a way as any to describe it. Yeah, you can consider this an interview, but make sure you don’t mistake interview with negotiation. Our rules are fixed and non-negotiable.”

“Did that last guy find that out the hard way?”

“So, you were paying attention. That’s good, although I wouldn’t have expected any less from you. I’m not at liberty to share anyone else’s case, but I think it is safe to say he would have preferred more choices.”

Kyle was about to respond but thought the better of it, and just raised his eyebrows in an oh-well type of gesture. Sensing his reticence, Sarah leaned forward.

“Now that we understand one another, shall we proceed?”

 

 

The Waiting Room – Part One

Waiting room 1

It was glare of the lights that stirred Kyle to consciousness. Emerging from the darkness, the back of his eyelids transformed from complete nothingness to a glowing florescence. The sound of disjointed voices, and shuffling chairs, emerged from utter silence.

“Where am I?”, he groggily thought.

His back and neck felt like an alligator was gnawing on them, and his butt cheeks were numb. A cold draft caressed exposed arms and legs that erupted into goosebumps, and he felt himself shiver. Stretching his body like a cat emerging from a long slumber, he discovered that, other than the back and neck, there was no other pain. The burning and often painful discomfort in his abdomen, which had become a constant companion and was a bone of contention between Kyle and his wife, was gone.

Mary was convinced something sinister was brewing inside his body, but Kyle, who worked marathon hours at the hedge fund company he established, had little time to spend on mundane things like his health. Or spending time with Mary and the kids.  The arguments increased as his weight decreased, and the sour stomach and occasional acid reflux turned into frequent cramping and occasional bloody stools.

“Odd,” Kyle thought, but not in a worrisome way. Maybe this proved that Mary’s concern was misplaced, and that he had been right all along. As his Dad was found of saying, he might not always be right, but he was never wrong.

Slowly opening his eyes, Kyle saw that he was sitting on folding white metal chair that had seen better days, and was clad in a white crew neck t-shirt, white boxers, and white crew socks, which would explain why he felt cold when he emerged from…..whatever it was. Looking at his hands, he noticed his wedding band, Oystersteel Rolex watch and the braided gold bracelet were missing. Feeling for his neck, the St. Christopher necklace he had worn ever since his Grandfather gave it to him as a confirmation gift, what also missing.

“What the hell!?”

Looking around, he saw that he was seated in the front row of a square of similar chairs that had to be fifty chairs long and one hundred rows wide, and was among a sea of squares that, like the ocean’s horizon, appeared endless.

The room was massive, bigger than any airport terminal he had seen, but there were no windows, and the predominant color was white. White walls, bare florescent lights, and white furniture. The only item that wasn’t completely white was the pattern of white and black linoleum tile squares that covered the floor, similar in pattern to a chessboard.

“Wait a minute, how did I get here?” Kyle mused. He thought long and hard, but all he could remember was storming out their twelve thousand square foot house after another pointless debate about how he could miss yet another of Amanda’s dance recitals, and speeding out of their gated compound in his Model 3 Tesla.

“This has to be a dream,” Kyle concluded, which put him at ease. This one was certainly more realistic than those he could remember, especially the nightmares, which always seemed to stand out but had a fantasy quality to them. This one seemed benign, and might turn out to be interesting, so he decided to play along rather than wake himself up, which he typically did when a dream became too terrifying.

Studying his surroundings more closely, Kyle saw similarly dressed men and woman sitting in the same seats as far as the eye could see, but nobody sat next to one another. One row of empty chairs served as a buffer between the people that were there, and three empty chairs separated each person in each row.

Seated in the front row of his particular square, he observed that a white table sat in front of each square, across from what appeared to be a long, wide hallway. Young men and women which Kyle presumed were staff, clad in white from head to toe, sat at each table, which was adorned with what looked like a large I-Pad, a pitcher of water and two tall crystal water glasses. Interestingly, the pitchers always appeared full, and the staff never seemed to run out of glasses, even though Kyle could see what had to be hundreds if not thousands of people in this room.

The staff member that sat at the table in front of Kyle’s square was currently engaged in conversation with……what should he call them? He pondered that for a moment and settled on the term inmate. “What the hell,” Kyle figured. “This is my dream so I can call them anything I want.”

Looking at the people in the room that were in his line of sight, Kyle saw men and women of every ethnicity whose ages appeared to range from teenagers to the elderly. The younger population looked unsure and scared, and the older folks looked bored. While he could not see any young children or infants, Kyle sensed they were around because he could hear their distant shouts and cries. Trying to make sense of what this place was, Kyle turned to face an older gentlemen seated two rows behind him.

“Excuse me,” he said, but before Kyle could utter another syllable, the man turned to face Kyle, placed an outstretched finger in front of his lips, shook his head from side to side, then turned to resume staring at nothing in particular. Kyle then turned to a young woman seated three seats to his left and attempted to ask the same question, but got the same result.

“This is too weird,” Kyle mumbled to no one in particular. He decided that he had enough of this foolishness, and that it was time to wake up.

Using the tricks he learned as a kid to escape the clutches of his frequent nightmares, Kyle stopped after finding himself in the same strange room with all these strange people after every attempt. His tried and true methods weren’t working.

“What the fuck,” he grumbled.

Seeing that he wasn’t going anywhere, Kyle decided to play along and followed everyone’s lead. Staring straight ahead, he noticed that three unmarked white doors dotted the walls behind each table before a burst of motion grabbed his attention. The inmate at the table directly in front of his square was suddenly having an animated conversation, waiving his arms frantically, with the staff member that was interviewing him. The staff person repeatedly pointed to doors behind them while the inmate repeatedly pointed to a stack of linens that lay underneath the table, only to result in the staff person sadly shaking his head from side to side. Kyle thought it odd that he could not hear a word of what they were saying.

After a minute or two this stalemate, the staff person reached under the table to press something. Shortly thereafter a large man, who was also dressed in white and reminded Kyle of a bouncer, arrived. Gently but firmly, he reached under the inmate’s armpits, effortlessly lifted him to his feet and half dragged him to the door on the right. Producing a white card key, he waved it in front of the door. A whoosh of air emerged, and the door slowly opened. The large man escorted the inmate, who was now crying and appeared to be pleading with him to stop, into the open door. Kyle strained to see what was behind that door. All he saw was an opaque blackness, but he felt a powerful surge of fear and despair, as if all hope had been sucked out of the room. The large man emerged alone before the door closed, nodded to the person seated at the table, and silently returned to wherever he came from.  The emotion Kyle felt vanished as soon as that door had closed.

This was getting too creepy for comfort,  so Kyle resorted to taking a small section of skin near his ribs, dug the fingernails into his flesh and pinched the flesh as hard as he could,  expecting to jerk awake in his bed. Fear began to emerge when that failed, so he desperately resorted to slapping his face. Hard. He heard the sound of the slaps echo in the vast room, but none of the other inmates seemed to notice. He gave up after a dozen or so slaps.

“What is this fucking place!?” Kyle thought, feeling  his  body shiver again, but not from the cold. “I’m so done with this shit! I’ve got to get out of here.”

He attempted to stand and start walking until he found a means of escape, only to discover he was stuck. Although he could move his arms, legs, and upper torso freely, Kyle’s ass was firmly glued onto the surface of that chair.

“Shit!”

He obviously wasn’t going anywhere, so Kyle stopped struggling and began to ponder his next move when he noticed the staff member at the table the other inmate previously sat at was staring at him. She smiled at Kyle once their eyes met, which settled Kyle’s runaway nerves.

“Please don’t be afraid Mr. Callahan,” she said soothingly. “Nobody is going to to hurt you. Can you please come forward and have a seat?”

“I don’t think I can.”

“Yes you can. Please step forward and have a seat..”

Kyle leaned forward and was amazed to discover he could easily stand. Taking a deep breath, he started to walk towards the table, but not before making one last desperate attempt to wake himself by sliding his right hand under his boxers, and gently cupping his balls, giving them a squeeze. Instead of being greeted by the kind of pain only a man understands and waking up in his bed, he felt felt nothing, and the view did not change.

“I’m sorry Mr. Callahan, but this is not a dream. Now will you please come forward and sit down? We need to have a chat.”