Be careful what you pray for. Literally. How often does a person beg and pray for something, even promising something in exchange for getting what they want? Well, when you make that plea and bargain to a higher power, you better hold up your end of the bargain, or else.
Either my head was spinning, or the room was. The lids of my eyes fluttered as I tried to clear my head, but found that I couldn’t. My mind was like a white out of warm, soft feathers smothering all thought. I shook my head, but it was to no avail. I couldn’t rid myself of the feeling and the room remained as confusing as before.
Pushing harder, I tried to dredge what I could from memory and figure out where I was, and how I got there. My own psyche seemed to be rebelling, though, because all I found was a blank wall barricading my memories.
I glanced around to see if the room had begun to appear closer to normality. Nope. In fact, the longer I was there and the more I saw, the less the place seemed real. The entire room was utter chaos. What I hadn’t noticed until then, though, was that wherever I was didn’t fit the textbook criteria of a room. A room has a floor, ceiling and walls. There were no walls.
The floor was a checkerboard of crimson and onyx marble while the ceiling looming above was an identical pattern, but azure and ivory instead. Chairs and tables of every make and design were splayed everywhere, but only a couple were on the ground. The rest glided idly by, apparently borne for somewhere else. There were pictures and portraits that, unlike the rest of the décor, were fixed to certain spots in space.
I was seated in a comfy grey leather chair, though I had no recollection of ever sitting in it. Testing my legs, I stood up and the world around me blurred in a sudden fit of vertigo. When the effect subsided I turned in time to witness the chair melt away into smoke right before my eyes. A chill ran down my spine, and suddenly the thought of getting out of here was very appealing.
“Hello? Hellooo! Is anybody here? Where am I?” I desperately shouted, but no one answered me. There wasn’t even an echo, the sound of my voice simply seemed to be consumed into the vastness of the void that surrounded me.
I couldn't stand being here any longer than was necessary. Picking a direction at ramdom, I started jogging. My theory was that if I come upon a wall then I could follow it until it hit a door, and that would be the ticket out of here. Heading in a straight line was the most logical choice, but it was difficult to divine what is or isn't linear. The lack of landmarks of any kind was dissorienting, and soon the fear I was just going in circles began to creep in. I began yelling, hoping that I might run into someone.
I jogged. Hollered. Ran. Shouted. Walked. Ran some more. On and on, but to no avail. After what felt like hours of continuous movement the only wall I had found was the one still blocking off my memory, and I had seen neither hide nor hair of another person. My head had cleared with the exercise, but after pushing for so long my legs and arms were shaking with exhaustion. As I stared out over the horizon all I saw was more floor, ceiling, and gravity defying furniture.
Legs buckling, I couldn't bear the weight of my own body anymore, so I let my body fall forward. However, at the last second I face planted into a grey leather couch that appeared seemingly from nowhere. I was still blinking in surprise when a tiny cough caught my attention.
I turned my head and saw a woman seated at a sleek glass and steal desk. Or, should I say, woman-like. She was wearing a formal black dress that cut off just short enough to be suggestive, reading glasses, and her coal black hair up in a bun. Her face was angular, but sharp at the same time. "Well manicured" was a term that sprung to mind, as every facet of her face appeared to be done to perfection. Her brows, her lashes, and not a single hair out of place. However, I did note her nails were wicked sharp and painted black.
A smirk pulled up on one side of her face as she cooed, “Have fun? Dogs do love to run around in circles, don’t they?” She folded her hands together and laid her chin on them, eyeing me from behind her glasses. Her eyes, I noticed, were an emerald green and had slits for pupils. She reminded me of a cat, sizing up a mouse and thinking how she was going to play with it before she ate it.
I shuddered when I looked into those eyes. It felt like I was being dunked into an icy bath and held under.
Rather than stare directly at her I directed my gaze a bit to the left and asked, “Where am I? What’s going on, and who ar- no. WHAT are you?” The question seemed to amuse her. She lifted a single thin finger up to adjust her glasses and her soft pink lips pulled back into a small smile. Her teeth looked like they would have been appropriate in the mouth of a shark.
“To begin with, you will call me Ms. Smyte. Understand?” I nodded slowly, but she shook her head and a new smirk played at her lips.
“I said, call me Ms. Smyte. Repeat it.” I blinked at her in surprise. I didn’t know what to say, because the authoritive tone had left me at a complete loss. This Ms. Smyte just shows up out of nowhere and starts ordering me around? I didn't know who she thought she was, but I knew she most definately was not going be ordering me around like a dog.
When I didn’t repeat her name, though, the couch disappeared from underneath and I fell face first. Jumping back up, I glared at her but all she did in response was wear a sarcastic twist of the lips.
“Now, I know you aren’t that smart, but even dogs learn to sit when their masters tell them. So, sit.” An armchair popped up behind me. I wouldn’t give her the satisfaction of telling me what to do, though. If she was here, then odds were that there had to be someone else. I turned on my heels and marched away, tempted to flip her the bird for added effect.
I had only gone a few steps when she chuckled, “That won’t do you any good. Place and time, those things are only relative here, not concrete. You have nowhere to go, and there is no one else here.” It was like she had read my mind.
“Oh? And where is here?” I queried without turning around.
“Here? Here is right here. Over there is over there. And you? You’re currently heading nowhere fast,” she joked. Something inside me snapped, so I stomped over and brought my hands down on her desk.
Or at least I tried. When I attempted to bring my hands down suddenly the desk was five feet away. Ms. Smyte hadn’t even blinked.
She chortled, “When you feel like getting somewhere, take a seat. I’ll be waiting.” With that Ms. Smyte simply vanished, as though she had never been there in the first place. I strode over to the chair to kick it, but it vanished a second before my foot connected.
I stalked off in a new direction. I waited for something to get close enough so I could hit it, but now it seemed all the furniture and pictures were avoiding me. I spotted a desk and thought of that witch sitting behind hers. The thought alone made my blood boil. I went chasing after it, but like everything else it floated away, faster than I could catch it. But still, I chased it. I didn’t have anything else to do. I had no memory and no clue, and it was all driving me nuts.
Eventually I was too tired to keep up the pace. Panting and sweating, I kneeled over trying to catch my breath. Apparently Ms. Smyte was the one in control of the floating décor, because the desk decided to float about an inch away and even danced a little in mid air. I would have thrown kick or a punch at it, but I had already learned that lesson the hard way. Smyte can just say NO.
I glanced behind, only to find the damn grey armchair waiting serenely for me. I could already feel my pride breaking as I groaned, realizing that I had no choice. Whoever this Ms. Smyte was she was the one in control and had the answers to my questions. Giving in to defeat, I went over to sit, but my bottom hit thin air and I wound up on the ground. Sitting back up I saw Ms. Smyte had returned, watching me a few feet away from behind her desk with a bemused expression.
“What’s my name?” she chided.
“Ugh. Ms. Smyte.” I answered.
Her mouth pulled into a smile that would have done the Cheshire proud and responded, “Oh no, I don’t believe my name is Ugh Ms. Smyte. Just, Ms. Smyte. Try again.”
Standing up I gritted my teeth and said, “Ms. Smyte.” It was borderline painful to not add the F word in the middle.
“Oooh, good boy. Now, take a seat.” The armchair swept in from behind and knocked my legs out from underneath. I landed in the chair and it pulled itself all the way to Smyte’s desk, driving the edge into my gut.
Ms. Smyte folded her hands in her lap and observed me in that same dissecting way before. This close it was even harder to avoid those inhuman eyes of hers. Under that stare I felt like I was being turned inside out and having all my guts set out for documentation.
We sat like that in silence for a few minutes. I looked anywhere and everywhere but at her. Eventually the pain in my stomach from the chair pinning me to the desk, and my own curiosity, drove me to break the silence. I didn’t know what was going on or how I got to wherever I was, but Smyte was the only person in this place that I’d seen, so I was going to have to question her and put my faith in her telling the truth.
I mentally made a list, trying to decide what she would be most likely to answer. I opened my mouth to ask Ms. Smyte my first question, but she beat me to the punch.
“You’re dead,” she said.
“…Excuse me?” I answered.
My eyebrows shot up and I continued, “You mean like, I’m dead meat? I’m in serious trouble?”
Ms. Smyte tilted her head, smiled and said, “Nope. Dead.”
“…You mean, dead dead?”
“Dead dead. Dead as dead can be.”
“But that’s impossible, I’m sitting right here.”
“Are you?” Smyte asked. “Or did you not notice my levitating collection of armoires?”
“Bu- no. No no no, that can’t be! It-it just can’t!”
Smyte simply sat there nodding and stated, “Derek Wolfram, you died.”
Then it happened. With those words the wall in my mind simply shattered like frail glass. Everything that had ever happened, my entire life swam in front of my eyes in an instant, even up to the very last minute of my life. I realized I had been in complete shock the entire time.
It felt like thunder was crashing in my ears, and my stomach heaved, but there was nothing in it to toss. All my stomach did was spasm, hurling wave after wave of pain roaring through my chest until all that was left was a broken and hurting body. My head felt like a drill had bore into it and dropped a smoldering coal in.
I couldn’t remember how I had ended up on the floor, but when I became aware of myself again I was curled up in the fetal position. I clawed my way back into the chair and sat watching Ms. Smyte apply new nail polish. Apparently comforting the recently deceased wasn’t her job, she was just the messenger.
“…So, let me guess. You’re the Grim Reaper?” I grunted.
Smyte waved all of her fingers, admiring her handiwork and replied, “Oh no, what makes you think that?”
“Well,” I answered, “according to the stories, when you die the Reaper takes you to face judgment or something, right?”
Smyte nodded, “Something like that.”
“Heh, they sure did get you wrong, though. A skeleton with black robes and a scythe is what I was expecting. I guess I’m not lucky enough to get that guy, though, huh?” I laughed darkly.
Smyte glanced over at me and said, “I’m not the Reaper. I’m just his secretary. I welcome the recently departed and break the news. After that I send you to meet with him. What happens after that, I don’t actually know myself.”
I tilted my head and asked, “Don’t know? How could you not? Isn’t this your, I don’t know, field of expertise?”
She shrugged and said, “Sorry, but that’s how it’s always been. When it comes down to it, anyone you meet here has no idea what happens when you move on. In fact, you shouldn’t be too terribly surprised if you meet a couple of different religious people around here. Which religion has it right, no one can say, only the Grim Reaper himself has any idea what waits beyond. But until you get there yourself the whole thing is a mystery.” After saying all that Smyte pulled out a tube of lipstick and began applying a blood red to her lips.
I thought about what she said, but realized something.
“Wait, you said “when you get to it.” What does that mean? I mean, I AM really dead, aren’t I?”
Smyte puckered her lips, and then said, “Yep.”
“Well, what’s left then? You have to take some sort of test, or prove yourself worthy? Or- something? What’s the deal?” I asked.
One by one the makeup tools disappeared, then Smyte looked me straight in the eye and replied, “That depends if you have a debt you owe or not.”
“A debt.” She answered.
“What kind of debt? A debt to who?” I asked.
“If you have a debt, you’ll find out soon enough. In the mean time I’ll send you in to meet Death. He’ll take care of everything you need.” On that note she waved her pinky at me, making straps shoot out from the chair and held me down. A hole opened up beneath and I was sent falling into a yawning abyss.
Just before the hole above me closed I could see Ms. Smyte peeking her head over the edge and waving.
“Have a nice day, Mr. Wolfram! And welcome to Nexus!” Then the gap above closed, and I fell into darkness.