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The Waiting Room
The fluorescent lights flickered as they cast a bright light upon the humans sitting beneath them.
As she looked around the room, she noticed that everyone looked unwell. Faces drained of color, skin pulled taught across their cheekbones, complexions tinted with a subtle shade of green. She wrote it off to be the lighting, wondering why every Clinic had to choose such harsh, unnatural lightbulbs. She wished for the warm glow of dimmed incandescent lights, and made a mental note to suggest a change to the receptionist.
And then there was the smell: an overbearing aroma of antiseptic wafting up her nostrils and permeating her mind like the thick fog of early morning. Something else was there too. A subtle undertone of rust, perhaps, resting beneath the disinfectant. But she could not determine where the smell of rust could possibly be coming from inside the spotlessly bleached Waiting Room.
She swallowed an Aspirin to relieve herself of her slowly worsening headache.
And then there was the sound—or lack thereof. The heavy weight of silence pressed down upon her ears, and her shoulders, and her lungs. As she sat in the silent room, her breathing became more shallow, less consistent. Get a grip, she thought. There is no good reason for you to act like this. She made a mental note to recommend some background music to the receptionist.
But as she sat in the Room, she began to realize that it wasn’t simply the absence of noise that bothered her. It was the presence of sheer nothingness. She strained her ears to listen for a sound. Any sound. Coughing, breathing, the slight shifting of someone in their seat. Nothing greeted her eardrums. She began to fear that she had permanently lost her hearing.
How long had she been waiting for? Surely multiple hours. Perhaps something had gone wrong in the Operating Room. It was a Routine Operation that she was waiting for, required for every male and female human when they reached the age of twenty three. She had not given much thought to it before she arrived at the Clinic. But the wait was taking so long. They never told them how long the wait would be. Had They forgotten about her? How could They have even managed to do that? She was sitting right there, in the third chair to the left of the window.
Of course she was. Of course. She could see the other chairs around her. She could smell the disgusting, pervading stench of disinfectant. She could feel her goosepimpled skin against the scratchy seat. She could see the other humans also waiting.
Except, she realized, she couldn’t see herself.
So, regardless of what she could observe, could she truly be certain that she was in fact there, observing it? And, even further, by what means could she possibly verify the existence of her own consciousness?
The fog thickened.
She swung her head wildly, glancing from chair to chair. She was certain that a twenty three year old female with long auburn hair had been sitting across from her. And a young male with a neatly trimmed beard had been sitting to her right. Where had they gone? Where had they gone? Could she have missed them getting called into the Operating Room? Why hadn’t she heard the nurse call their names off?
She knew then for certain she was deaf.
The Aspirin was not helping with her headache. In fact, it was making the headache worse. She had never experienced adverse effects to Aspirin before. She had taken an Aspirin, correct? She hadn’t accidentally grabbed a pill bottle of something else on the way out the door. But her headache was worsening. She felt her skull cracking. She felt her head scream as it split in half.
She knew then that she had grabbed a bottle of poison. She didn’t keep pill bottles of poison tablets in the house, but she had woken up in the middle of the night for no apparent reason a few days ago. This meant that an intruder had entered. He probably exchanged her Aspirin for poison. He knew she would be coming to the Clinic, He knew she would need a pain reliever, He knew, He knew, He knew.
She was dying. Time dragged on. It was taking hours. Days, maybe. She had no way of knowing. Had her whole life passed in the time she was in the Waiting Room?
“GET ME TO MY GODDAMN OPERATION,” she screamed at the emptiness in the room. Her copious amounts of patience were now wearing thin. It was taking so long in the Waiting Room because there had been a murder in the Operation Room. She had figured it out. She patted herself on the back for her intelligence. Her pride quickly subsided and was replaced by sheer terror.
She was next. They were out to get her. The smell of rust grew stronger. Now the Waiting Room smell was filled with the scent, with the disinfectant still lingering at the base. She looked down at her hands.
Red stained her white skirt, white shirt, white floor. Her nailbeds had red coming from them. Her fingernails had a rusty substance lodged in them. Her fingers hurt like hell. She put it all together, slowly. No. She hadn’t done that. She hadn’t unknowingly picked at her nailbeds until they bled. She would have noticed. He must have done it. They must have done it.
But there was so much blood. So much metallic smell. So much so much so much and she scratched at her hands. She yanked on her fingers. She tried to pull them off. She didn’t need them anyway. She heard something snap.
She let out a laugh, a strangled coughing sound. And she heard it. She thought she did, at least. But if her consciousness was unverifiable her actions were nonexistent and her observations were void and every act every movement every sensory experience was nugatory nugatory nugatory.
She heard a smack of latex gloves against skin. The time had finally arrived. She was being lifted, and she saw brightness. Those hideous goddamn fluorescent lightbulbs shining in her face. Taunting her. Doctors surrounded her. The time had finally arrived. No more Waiting.
The smell of rust grew stronger.
She realized, in a fleeting flash, that she did not even know what the Operation was for. No one had ever bothered to ask, though, so why should she? And, anyway, it’s not like she existed. She was free from human form.
She felt a sharp prick in her side. She began to succumb to the anesthetic.
And she laughed.