“I never thought this was a real place, you know?” Geronimo said.
Magpie shifted in her chair. “I don’t think anybody thought this place was real.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” said Peregrine. “I always had this feeling. I mean it’s obvious now, but even before, I used to think, this couldn’t be IT. There has to be more.”
Magpie stared at him. “I am sure that this,” she gestured around the dank, damp, depressing room, “wasn’t what you had in mind.”
“Not quite.” Peregrine nodded.
Her two companions were as different from each other as it was possible to be. While Geronimo, with his slight and short build, shifty baby blue eyes and thatch of straw coloured hair, looked like a terrified, sniffling teenager; Peregrine looked like a cool, collected twenty-something adolescent, with a stocky, reassuring physique, thick arms and a pair of bright grey eyes blinking through a mop of jet black hair.
He was sprawled on his chair, legs crossed in front, hands beneath his head. He would repeatedly tilt his chair as far back as it would go and fall forward with a thump every other minute. It was annoying. Looking at him, you’d think he was about to take a power nap, not waiting in line for Judgement Day.
Magpie didn’t know what she looked like. There were no mirrors in the room; nothing reflective anyway. She had thin wrists and ankles, a narrow waist. Her skin was smooth and unmarked, like a baby. The ends of her shoulder length hair were a deep chestnut brown.
Although her skin didn’t show any wrinkles or liver spots or any other signs of aging, in her mind, she felt young; probably somewhere around Nimo’s age.
They were dressed in similar navy blue overalls, white name tags stitched across their chest pockets.
Hi! My name is Magpie. Call me Pie!
Hi! My name is Geronimo. Call me Nimo!
Hi! My name is Peregrine. Call me Grine!
The outfits were stupid. As were the names. What sort of a name was Magpie? Like, seriously.
The room was nothing special either. It looked like a roughly hewn stone cave, with exposed stone walls, blackened torch brackets in niches that held a couple of candles, and a grate on the far side of the wall that must have been a fireplace, although there was no fire burning in it.
There was no furniture other than the three chairs upon which they each sat. The polished wooden armchairs felt a bit off to Magpie. They didn’t go with the room. They felt like someone had hastily assembled the furniture with whatever was available, just before they had arrived.
The chairs faced the only door to the room; a solid block of wrought iron, arched like a dome at the top and studded with rusty nails and faded artwork.
“I don’t like it,” Nimo whimpered.
“I know. This place gives me the creeps,” Magpie said.
“It’s a room. It can’t do anything to you.” Peregrine yawned. “Not that anything more could be done to you, seeing as you guys are pretty dead already.”
“And you are not?” Magpie retorted.
“Oh, me too.” He nodded solemnly. “Of course.”
“Anyway, it’s not the room. It’s what’s waiting for us out there that scares the bejeezus out of me,” Nimo groaned.
“Why? Did you do a lot of bad things when you were alive?” Grine asked.
“I… I can’t remember! I mean, I know who I am… or was. But I can’t remember anything specific, not other people, the place where I lived.” He looked at Magpie and Grine. “Can you?”
Magpie scrunched her face trying to recall something of her past life… well life, but try as she might, the finer details slipped through the crevices of her mind like sand through fingers. Everything was mist and foggy colours.
“Me neither.” Grine agreed. “It’s alright though. I suppose they have everything filed.” He jerked his thumb at the door. “I mean that’s kind of their job, isn’t it?’
Magpie nodded absently. “I guess.”
She stared at the door. The digital display next to the rusty door frame read:
Deceased No. 3859568377 to 496079488.
Kindly stay inside and wait your turn.
She looked at the fiery pink, plastic, token clutched in her hand. Token no. 5071780599.
“How long will we have to wait here?” She asked the room at large. “How soon do you think they’ll process those many people… er, souls?”
“Does it matter?” Grine smirked. “Dead, aren’t you? Got somewhere to go?”
Magpie opened her mouth to argue, but thought better of it. She was dead, of that, she had no doubt. The feeling, it was in her bones. She slumped back into her chair. Well, this was stupid.
“Hey, Pie,” Grine said thoughtfully and Magpie scowled at him. “What?” She asked.
He was reclining back on his chair, staring up at the dark, unseeable ceiling of the room. “Do you think we are in Hell?”
“H.. Hell!” Nimo squeaked. “Ah! Don’t say that man!”
Pie threw an angry look at Grine. She didn’t like this guy. There was something off about him too.
“I don’t think we are in Hell,” she said looking around the room. “We haven’t been judged yet. This is a waiting room. It’s out there, where they will weigh our good deeds and bad deeds and then decide where we ought to go.”
“You really think that’s how it works?” Grine stared at her.
Pie shrank back. That stare was unnerving. His eyes looked like a dark, blank pool of nothing. An abyss.
“That’s what everybody used to say up there,” she shrugged. “At least that’s what I picked up. I never paid any attention to all this stuff.”
Who did? She thought. When you are alive, things like Judgement Day or Afterlife seem like foolish concepts; some vague, aspirational fantasy that people tell each other to deal with Death. Or more appropriately, to not deal with Death.
“I don’t want to go to Hell,” Nimo said. He looked so scared, Pie thought he’d break apart at the slightest touch.
“Calm down, Nimo. Whatever’s out there, I am sure it wouldn’t be too bad.”
“What is your problem?” Pie demanded.
“Hell wouldn’t be too bad?” He rolled his eyes. “Hell would be… well, like Hell. Burning in eternal fires, frying in hot oil, rivers of despair and walking on hot coals.” There was a manic gleam in his eyes that Pie did not like.
“Stop it!” Nimo screamed. He was trembling from head to foot. Tears seeped from his eyes and his nose ran. “Please! Let’s not…” he sniffed, “let’s not talk about that, please!”
Pie glared at Grine and he shrugged as if to say, fine by me.
Nobody spoke for a long time. Pie couldn’t be sure how long. Time seemed fluid here; inconsistent. Sometimes it sped up, sometimes, it dragged like a drunken sloth.
She couldn’t wrap her head around the strangeness of the room. It seemed like a haphazardly patched up idea of a room. The weird furniture didn’t match, the digital door display just added to her frustration. Nothing seemed to belong here.
They didn’t belong here.
Why couldn’t they remember their lives? What was the point of having them wait there without any sense of time? Everything seemed too deliberate. But why? For what purpose? To confuse them? To hide something from them?
She huffed in anguish. “That’s it. I’m gonna go out and ask some questions.” She stood up and walked towards the door.
“W..what?” Nimo stammered and he too stood up from his chair on wobbly legs. “But the sign says we gotta stay inside.”
Pie shook her head. “But, we have been sitting here for so long, Nimo, and nothing is happening. I am just going to look around and see if someone can help us.”
“But what if there’s something bad out there, and it hurts you! Or us?” Nimo wailed.
That’s true, she thought. She didn’t know what was out there. Were Nimo’s fears really so unfounded?
She looked at Grine and to her enormous frustration, he yawned pointedly.
“Does it not bother you at all that you are dead? Do you not want to know where we are and why we are here?” She asked him, incredulous at this laid back approach to a situation that might end in an eternity of pain. “It almost seems like you are happy to be here.”
Grine shrugged. “So what if I am? I feel good. For the first time in what feels like years, I feel…,” he thought for a second. “Nothing. I feel nothing, and it’s good. So, do me a favour Pie, and stuff it.”
“You, stuff it!” Pie hollered. She was pissed off. “Fine. Stay here and rot, you jerk. I am going!”
“Noooooo….!” Nimo’s cry echoed in the stone room.
Pie jerked to a halt, her hand stretched out to grab the iron door knob. Nimo rushed towards her and started yanking her hand to pull her back.
“No, Pie,” He cried. “Please! I am so scared! What if we lose our turn at the Judgement and get sent to Hell? What if they catch you and you can’t be judged? Please, don’t go! The sign says to stay inside.”
He was crying now. Howling and begging her to step aside. She looked at Nimo and had a sudden, wild urge to get away from this big, bawling baby; as if he was dirty.
From the corner of her eyes she saw Grine was watching them with mild curiosity.
“Nimo, nothing bad is going to happen,” she said in a calm, measured voice, trying to inject some of her confidence into him.
“We need to know what’s out there,” she said. “I cannot explain it. But, I know there is something wrong and we need to go out there and find out what it is.”
“But, but…” Nimo stared wildly around the room. “But, how can you be sure? What’s wrong with the room?”
“Nimo, it’s just a feeling,” she said, trying to put into words her sense of urgency.
The silence that followed, filled up the empty room. In the other corner, Grine stepped off his chair, his expression inscrutable. Nimo gave a long, pitiful cry of despair and his shoulders slumped. He wiped his face and looked at Pie.
“It’s always something with you, isn’t it,” he said softly.
“What… What do you mean?” She said.
“Well, out with it,” Nimo said, his tone clipped, suddenly business-like. “Was it the decor? The dress code? What was it?”
“I don’t understand?”
“Oh, foolish child,” he sighed. “Stop the act. There is nothing out there. Your Judgement is long since done. You were sentenced to eternity in Hell; in fact, this is your Hell and I am your Keeper.”
Pie stared. She couldn’t comprehend what Nimo was saying. It couldn’t be possible. It just couldn’t be!
Nimo sneered and started pacing, throwing dirty looks at Pie like she was something nasty stuck to the underside of his boots.
“You have had about 5071780598 cycles of punishment here. After the first few hundred years, I got bored. I mean, even a Reaper deserves some entertainment.” He spread his hands in a gesture of defeat, but the look of disgust on his face didn’t gel well with it.
“So, I did a bit of tinkering. I made it so that the room resets itself every two hours. Two very, very long hours. A different version every time.” He looked at the room with something akin to affection and pride in his eyes.
“But, you.” He strode forward and looked down on her. She cowered in his shadow. She wondered how he had grown so much taller than her?
“You managed to figure out it was a sham. Even after I wiped your memory, gave you false identities, different lives.” He shook his head like he couldn’t believe how anybody could be so annoying. “You figured it out. Every. Effing, Time!”
Pie felt a wind pick up inside the room, it whooshed around her in rapid bursts and her eyes swam, as her mind was seized with sudden flashes of memories.
Room, after room, after room. The space around her morphed into an underground bunker, a submarine, a lavish apartment complex, a bar, an elevator, a lavatory… And on and on it went, the blurry outlines of the three of them in each setting.
Her vision blurred. She gasped for breath and fell on her knees. Her head was about to burst with the weight of the memories; the realisation that she had been here for an eternity, and was going to be here for an eternity yet to come.
“No,” she croaked, “No…. Stop.. please!”
Nimo drew a smallish notepad from his pocket and a pen from another. “Now.” He said. “What was it this time? Tell me! What gave it away?” He seemed to be changing from a scared little boy to a hooded, impish, evil looking creature.
There was a sudden blur of movement across her peripheral vision and a wooden chair flew across the room and hit with a loud SPLAT onto Nimo’s head. He crumpled to the floor, his notepad went down with him and his ballpoint pen rolled away.
Grine stood panting behind him, looking at Nimo’s unconscious form with contempt.
“It was you, sunshine,” he said. “You gave it away.” He spit on Nimo and walked towards Pie.
“You okay?” He offered his hand and Pie took it. She stumbled to her feet, her breathing ragged.
“You.. You think he was telling the truth?” He asked.
She looked at him in shock, her eyes wide, her heart fluttering. “You mean, you didn’t see all those things? The memories?”
He shook his head.
“And you still bonked him on the head with his own chair?”
He shrugged. “He was starting to annoy me.”
They looked at their Keeper in silence, neither wanting to broach the subject of – what now?
Eventually, Grine sighed. “Well, if he really is this Keeper bloke, I guess the room will change in two hours?”
“Okay, then. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be here when this guy wakes up.” He grabbed her hand and grinned. “You ready to see what’s out there?”
For the first time since she’d awoken in this bizarre reality, Pie smiled. She squeezed his hand. “I am ready.”
Together, they opened the rusty old door, and walked out into the darkness.
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