Mary had only just died when she woke up. It took her another minute before she would realise that though the bright white void was to be expected, the jumbling and constant crackle of sound wasn’t, especially when it seemed oddly familiar. A double-ring of a bell, the patter and shush of rail tracks, the call of commotion, the brush of a breeze, and the flop and strain of a door opening. This sounded nothing like the hospice.
The heavy, surrounding pressure around her was the sense of feeling, miraculously reappearing only hours after she lost it as she lay dying, aided by the morphine pumps. Despite sensing she was lying on a flat surface, she could feel neither heat nor lack thereof. It felt textureless, smooth, like marble. She flexed what felt like her hands, her feet, and her back; simple joys the cancer had robbed of her. Though she was sure she was dead, she still managed to sit up and face a giant billboard which read, in big black block letters on white, “How Do You Want To Wait?”
She read and re-read the question, confused and sure she had made a mistake. Maybe there was a car or phone number somewhere that gave context to this advertisement? But no. The white billboard met only a black boarder, held up by nothing. There was an equally white void behind it, yet the billboard cast a shadow upon it, like a speck of dirt upon clear glass. Directly below it, just as suspended in the void, was a single light purple door, flaking in places, revealing an undercoat of paler purple. The door also cast a shadow, both vertically and horizontally. Mary only now lowered her gaze to the ground, and she jolted, screaming in fright as she was seconds, so she thought, from falling into nothing.
With her flailing limbs slapping the surface, and the slow, calming, and embarrassing, realization she wasn’t falling, she stopped herself long enough to see, like the billboard and the door, she too had a faint gradient of black translucence beneath her body, appearing as alien and detached as an aura would. She looked up to see what light source could possibly exist in this bizarre realm, but her mind was only further sent into discombobulating pangs of nonsense.
It was a collage of culture and history, yet oddly misshapen and misremembered. A trolled train shuttered and shunting and groaned as it climbed a steep hill of houses, as the skyline further on was swallowed by contrasting skyscrapers of glass, twisting stone steeples, and mangled, malformed metallic monuments, all providing obstacles and hurdles for the whining swarm of planes to skim around. In one corner, tucked away in what few gaps were left, the royal mauve of heather can be seen on a mountainside. Amazingly, if you can even say that, this sense was still rather narrow, despite the cavalcade of chaos, as though this was a two-dimensional plane limited in depth. Mary was too transfixed to notice there was no sun, only more void. Thankfully, she still managed to hear the call of Michel.
Mary turned around to see a man approach her, half jogging, looking both ways before crossing the trolley tracks. Mary glanced behind her, floored once again to find another stretch of crooked Shinto shrine gateways, stocky Amish barns, huge redwoods, and a flock of paragliders circling overhead. Michel reached down, offering his hand. Though he spoke French, Mary only heard English, as if his voice was dubbed over in real time.
“Are you alright?”
Mary took his hand and stood up, trying to bring herself back to… well, not reality, but wherever this was.
“Y-yes, thank you. I was… I am…”
Michel, thankfully, recognised Mary’s stuttering and darting glances, coming across it before, and even having done it himself when he first arrived. His beautiful smile grew across his face.
“Oh! You’re new!”
Mary stopped, staring and studying Michel. Though unsure what exactly she was “new” to, she slowly nodded, agreeing. Michel stood back, his body expanding in excitement.
“Okay! Wow! So, my name is Michel. And you’re dead. It’s okay; I’m dead too. Um, this-”, he gestured to everything, “is The Waiting Rooms. So we all stay here until it’s time to go.”
Mary continued to stare silently, not fully taking in the words until she was sure Michel was finished. Sensing this, Michel stepped forward, placing his hand on her shoulder.
“I know all of this is a lot. Especially after the whole dying thing, but it’s okay, as long as you remember one important thing.”
Mary nodded, waiting patiently. Unfortunately, just as Michel was about to announce this crucial information, his eyes unfocused, his grip upon Mary’s shoulder slackened, his body wavered and he fell slump on the ground.
Mary, in disbelief, simply stared down at the lifeless body of Michel. She would run off screaming, if it wasn’t for the slow creak of the purple door opening up, revealing a solid black rectangle of nothingness, pulling Michel’s limp and lulling body towards and into itself, quietly closing shut.
Only after that did Mary run off screaming.