She caught his eye as she approached his customary spot at the lobby and she saw him clock out and join her. She smiled as they walked to their usual place and he prepared some tasty food for her. They weren’t too hungry today, not after their sleepless night and their anxiety over her friend, and so he made a fairly simple sandwich and salad trey and cooked up some soup as well. She was always pleased when she saw that someone could make soup from scratch, with a taste for herbs and seasonings and fresh vegetables as well as meat. Before too long they were seated at their table and eating. Because both of them were thinking about what to say, the first part of the meal was rather straightforward in that both of them engaged in fairly dull pleasantries and talked about the weather and were mostly silent as they ate. Sensing that both of them were about to engage in some serious conversation, though, the bellhop made sure to clean the dishes after they ate so that there would be nothing distracting them from a more serious conversation later on. Each of them wondered in what way this would prove to be a serious conversation. Would it be serious because they would bring up serious topics, or because they would discuss the nature of their relationship itself. They both knew, at least intuitively, that relationships worked best when the relationship itself wasn’t the subject of the discourse, but at the same time there would likely have to be some kind of conversation related to their obvious interest in each other.
The bellhop, ever the gentleman, let Kate speak first. “Do you know where we will go after our week here?” “No, I don’t know.” “You think you’ve been here for decades, right?” “Well, time works funny here. I don’t know how much time has gone on in the outside world, but at least here, I have read the Bible dozens of times, and I read a certain amount each day, so yes, I have been here for decades.” “What do you mean by the outside world?” “I mean the world where people live and interact with each other and where history occurs. This is not that kind of place.” “What kind of place is it?” “If I were a Catholic, I would call it purgatory, but I’m not a Catholic and never have been, and so I don’t really have the words to describe this place in justice. It’s a place of trial and testing, at least it is for me, but it’s not a place where we can interact with others, or know what is going on in the outside world.” “What are you trying to say? Are we alive, then?” “Not exactly. We are all dead, as far as the outside world is concerned. We are alive, at least, in the sense that we are conscious here. We don’t have to eat to survive, but we do eat because we enjoy it. We breathe, at least we appear to, because in our own consciousness we are somehow alive, but what we do has no influence whatsoever on the outside world.” “So that’s why this place seems so much like a prison then?” “Indeed. This place is the most isolated place I could imagine, aside from some sort of island like the ones you read about in novels like Robinson Caruso or the Swiss Family Robinson or the Island of Blue Dolphins, and even those might be less isolated because there was some kind of hope that rescue would come, some sort of animals that one would see. Here, all there is is existence where one knows there is an outside world but one cannot remember it at all.”
At this point there was a slight pause as Kate tried to figure out what to ask next. “How did you die?” “I killed myself in a moment of deep despair.” “How did you do it?” “I shot myself in the head.” “Why did you do it?” “That’s a more complicated question.” He took a breath and began to talk about himself, at least how he remembered it. “As long as I can remember, and honestly I can’t remember much, I had struggled deeply with loneliness and depression. At several points in my life I had managed to fight off the urge for self-destruction, where I could feel myself wanting to drive off a bridge or something like that, but there came a time in my life where I succumbed to despair and could not bear the crushing isolation of my existence.” “And so you ended up here, in a particularly isolated and lonely place that was a continual reminder of your despair?” “That’s right.” “And you had to bear it for decades?” “That’s right, at least until you and your friend came. How did you die?” She took a long pause and remembered the nightmare she had this morning. “I died in a car accident.” “Who was driving?” “Ashley.” “Why was she driving?” “I don’t remember the reasons why. I remember we had been out at the club on a Saturday night, something we did a lot. I’m sure that Ashley had too much to drink–she usually did–but for some reason I couldn’t get her to hand the keys to me or to take a cab or anything like that. Anyway, on our drive home, we ran into something and we both died. I remember it being fairly sudden, so the crash must have been pretty horrific.” “And that’s how you both ended up here?” “Yes, that’s right. I think Ashley suffers more because she was more to blame, but I must be here for some reason.” “Yes, there’s a sort of cosmic justice about this place that sometimes bothers me. You must have been seen as having some sort of failure in not keeping Ashley from harming herself, from knowing what the right thing to do was but being unable to do it.” “Is this place really that strict about morality?” “Absolutely. The management here is very strict about such matters.”
There was another pause. “What would have happened had Ashley escaped? Do you know?” “I’ve escaped from this place a few times before, but it’s never done any good.” “What do you mean?” “There’s nowhere to go. Once, for example, I made a homemade glider out of the materials here in the hotel and I sailed off of the roof in the direction of the setting sun, hoping I could make it at least to the coast, and while I made it a good distance into the forest, when I fell asleep, I found that I woke up in my hotel bed as before.” “That was when you were a guest here, right?” “Right, I was a guest, but there was no one here when I was. Since the time I’ve been here, the only time I have not been alone was a few times when some people came to give me some training and to make sure I was following the rules on how to take care of the hotel, but for the past few years I have mostly been ignored. You and your friends have been the first guests I have ever had.” “That’s really weird.” “Yes, I agree that it is.” “Have you gotten out any other ways?” “Yes, I got out the same way that Ashley was trying to get out, but it wasn’t any use because I ran for miles until a tree branch hit me, and when I came to I was back in my hotel bed again.” “So there’s really no escape from here?” “No, there’s not.” “Where do you go when you leave here?” “I don’t know. It is my assumption that the blessed sleep until the resurrection–that is why there are so few here after all. As for what happens for those who are not blessed, I hope I don’t find out. I can’t believe that I am suffering for no reason. As long as I am here in some form, I have to believe that there is some hope for me, and so there is some hope for you and for your friend as well.”
There was a beat in the flow of the conversation. “Do you think there is hope for us?” “Of course I do.” “Do you want us to have a future?” “I’m not sure what course that future will take. We know, after all, from scripture that those who enter into the kingdom of heaven are like the angels and do not marry and are not given in marriage. I also know that it is against the rules for us to have a relationship as long as I work at this hotel and you are a guest here, but I do believe that we will have a future, and that there is hope that both of us will live forever and be able to enjoy each other’s company for all time, and yes, I would want that.” “I’m glad to hear that.” “I’m glad that you would want a future as well.” “Do you have to obey the rules, though? I’m sure that we would be able to do whatever we wanted.” “I’m sure we could do whatever we wanted here, just like it is possible to do whatever we want in life. But in life, as well as whatever sort of afterlife we are living in now, there are always consequences.” “And the people in charge, the management as you say, are the ones who enforce the rules.” “That’s right.” “What happens if you fail here?” “I don’t know and I don’t want to know.” “Do you sleep the sleep of the blessed?” “Not as often as I would like. I usually wake up with terrible nightmares, almost every night in fact.” “Do you ever sleep well?” “I slept well the night we held each other under the stars, but that is the first time I can ever remember sleeping well in a long time.” “Why is that?” “I don’t know. I don’t think I ever slept well. The mind has to work out its suffering and its trauma and nightmares are one of the main ways it does that.” “Was your life traumatic?” “Very much so. I don’t think I would have been as gloomy a soul as I was otherwise.” “I lived a pretty normal life, and for the most part it went well.” “But we both ended up here anyway.” “That’s true.” She smiled. She sensed that the conversation had come to a natural conclusion and that both of them were reasonably content with life and uncertain about where to go from here. She knew that he would not take advantage of her and that though he was obviously attracted to her, that he had certain rules to obey and was not the sort of person who would casually break them, even to gratify his own longings.
The two of them squeezed each other’s hand and got up from the table. He put his arm around her waist and she leaned her head against him and together they walked to her room. He gave her a deep kiss and she made sure that the kiss lingered until they were both quite out of breath. Even if they were dead and trapped here for the time being together in this room, there was some reality they shared and certainly something to enjoy. She opened the door and then closed it behind her, and laid on her bed. She didn’t fall immediately asleep, though as she had before. Her mind was occupied on what they had said. The people here were all dead, and there was no way to go back and enjoy life. They would never marry, have children, and anything they did was being judged by beings who were clearly capable of making life extremely difficult and unpleasant. She wondered what it meant and what would be facing her. Would she have to endure decades of loneliness like the bellhop, who was clearly a decent person if someone who had also suffered deeply. Was there really no escape from her existence, which, if it was not hell, was certainly not heavenly in most ways, except for the company of the gentleman whose kisses she had been enjoying for the past few days. She took off her dress and rested under the covers, hoping that if she could not make love with the bellhop that somehow she could imagine holding him close and feeling that bond of lovers with each other. And somehow, eventually, she was able to fall asleep.