Discover more from Raids on the Unspeakable
The waiting room
> This very cogitation carries with I don’t know what secret, hidden horror … one finds oneself wandering in this immensity, … denied limits and center and therefore also all determinate places.
It had been some time now since he slipped through the door, yet though the receptionist then said it would be but a second—still there was no sign. She seemed hardly to have breathed since those words: “They’ll be with you in a moment.” He sat and looked around the room, barely saw the others waiting except to register their similar situation. Some seemed awfully haggard, and he wondered what they could possibly be waiting for; then again, he felt himself also incongruous and so the thought soon fell from his mind. Again looking at her—still she seemed almost dead; staring intently for signs of life he found after a while some small pulse upon her neck. How long now had she sat just so, intermittently her right index tapped the air.
Something in him burst, standing he strode to the desk. “Could you call then, to see when they’ll be free?” She looks blankly, sighs and bends towards the phone; it rings—and rings, all the while he waits patiently though never knowing where to look. Standing there and trying to act ordinary, as if there weren’t a weight within which threatened pull him through the floor. He felt himself first too warm, too cold; back again and whenever some sense of comfort gained, the floor shifted once more. Still the phone rang, heard tinny held loose to her ear. She sat bored a while, then as if to prove a point turned her gaze to stare at him. “Alright,” he said; she pressed the phone softly to its cradle as he returned to sit now one of several shabby souls.
Head in hands, he thought of his arrival—how long now? The snow had eaten sound that day, his heart an empty hall; perhaps the cold had slowed his blood. Whatever the case, something had fallen at that first call. She said simply an appointment unspecified, urgent; an unfamiliar address. All the while on the way the city lay in snow; here and there ice slicks seemed mirror him in distorted perspective. He walked quickly as could be safe, arrived to find upon front door a sign—the entrance was out back. A little alley clogged with snow, long way around then; there a blue door barely visible behind the drift which caused his detour. A while pulling upon the door, stopping to clear snow; pulling further, clearing some more—finally a gap sufficient for him to slip through; as he closed the door a thump followed the falling drift.
Perhaps until then he might have turned around, though all this seemed inevitable; the only way out was through. Now he sat sunken reflecting what animated that walk, whose feet were these that knew the way—where was he now? The street he knew but the building hid by snow, an old villa like so many there yet somehow other. The call said his attendance urgent, or did her voice speak thus below any words; or worse, had he felt that there instead—where once memory sat sure now floated possibilities; it was impossible to decide. Each reasoned either way, yet reason was without grip in this groundless place. He shook his head to throw off drips where warmth had melted snow.
All the while he sat quite still upon that chair surrounded yet by those there earlier; all waiting at most shuffled some, else the room sat cold and silent. No sound either from beyond. He tried remember whether he had heard anything on his way in, though it had been outside his attention at the time; all he remembered was his heartbeat—or was that now? Despite this stillness he felt himself falling further and further from the room; though he blindly grabbed the chair, still he fell inward. His body fell here through itself and somehow backwards; the room slipped away and with it others, receptionist, lights—all fell inward through. A nausea followed this like water flowing through a drain. Clenching the seat his head twitched as if to shake himself awake—how long now?
At last breaking free of himself he leapt up, still dazed set course towards the receptionist—arriving at her desk he found it empty; a door behind snipped shut slicing, he thought—yes, slicing the soft sound of laughter. He had not even seen her move, only her absence now indicated anything—had she been there when he stood? Standing there he felt the eyes of others on him. They had been there when he had arrived yet still waited patiently—what was the matter with him? He sat down again and looked around, looked at the others as if also people now; wondered what they were waiting for. As he considered the first, he found himself falling again for an instant before hands clenched chair again: what was he waiting for?
So long had been here now that the anxiety which initially impelled him to frantic efforts was softer, he slipped half into a doze of patient waiting; at some point the receptionist had returned yet he made no effort to repeat his earlier impulse. His inward weight still fell within but this was now as much a part of scenery as the grey lady with red hair in the far corner; as much as the middle-aged man he sat beside who sniffed regularly every several minutes yet seemed all the while struggling against the urge to sniff far more. The impulse must have built within him all the while, and if one looked closely they could see he breathed in through his nose slightly more forcefully than he breathed out through his mouth; as if an effort to forestall the inevitable. This was the regular pattern until, just as much of selfsame rhythm, some greater effort was intermittently required.
There was a clock in the corner which ticked silently; it sat above a pretty girl. For a while he stared at this clock absentmindedly, at some point he felt her staring at him; saw that she was staring at him staring at her—or so she thought, and suddenly the scene shattered into self-consciousness as paths diverged. He could try to explain but she was too far away, would have to speak too loudly; or worse, approach her. He could gesture at the clock, but that seemed silly. He could … none of these, instead his eyes darted away almost immediately. There was nothing to be done now, though with this his sickness only grew at the sense that in her eyes here he had admitted guilt. He had hardly seen her but for the silent clock—did she even know it was there? The time, what was the time? He had forgotten amidst all this; now dared not turn his gaze again that way. Every averted glance felt a further admission, would she sense his eyes now avoiding her? He felt himself falling again.
As if slipping now into a rut before thought began he leapt from falling to his feet, propelled himself forward and toward the desk—again she was gone. She had surely been there moments before, yet this time never even heard the door snip shut. He leaned over and looked at her desk. There was nothing of interest, or what was of interest was there as absence. The computer, for instance, was off; it was not apparent that the screen was even connected to anything. There was a small pile of paperclips segmented into colours, yet nowhere was there any paper on the desk. Nowhere were there any personal items obvious from this angle, but as he leaned over the desk he felt a roomful of eyes upon his back; again he was falling, a hand shot out and grabbed for something to steady himself. Somewhere in this he knocked something over—eyes flicked to see a matryoshka doll telescope across the desk, the littlest fell away to the ground. Quietly he withdraw his hand and went quickly to sit again, there tried pretend that nothing had happened.
Here he sat again by the sniffling man, felt himself slip into the rhythm of little breaths and big; nothing here interrupted this. The man was clearly trying to be polite and yet there was a sense that perhaps if he only gave it one good effort then this halfway game might be unnecessary, at least for a while. Somehow he still carried this admirable effort to hide himself; still it was somehow worse for all. Yet for any that recognised this, any that understood, how could they spurn this effort expended on their behalf? Any that would do so needed a broader view, a perspective widening with each turn; opening up until someone might at last brusquely hand over a tissue: “Just blow your nose already, man!” Of course, none other seemed even to notice this or anything; all here were on the whole waiting quietly within themselves. For an instant he thought to turn to this man, to ask him what he was waiting here for—would that be rude? The situation itself altogether unclear, any appropriate standards impossible to define amidst so much fog.
Himself, well, he felt now that whatever lay at the bottom of his falling—that was what he was waiting for; it seemed an inevitable doom down there, yet all the same he had no reason to think this something awful. The darkness leapt in only in the absence of any light, not necessarily for the presence of any evil. Unfortunately this was yet another place where reason would not reach. If only he knew where she was, that she had called then to tell him of the appointment—would she be there? He felt an impossible distance now between them, and what of they for whom he waited; it was a name he did not recognise, neither face nor even profession came to mind. The room around him was blank of any indications, all seemed torn from a set of the same yet prior to any features; it was a stock-standard reception that could serve as well in any hundred different capacities.
Those around him, they were no more help. Take the man beside him, that perhaps he was sick; it may well be a doctor’s office—yet there was no reason to suppose this, since he may be sniffling for the snow outside. Or even if sick, still that said nothing definite; sick people also attend appointments. What of the receptionist? He looked again and saw she was back in her seat frozen as much corpselike as before. There was something uncanny in one so still suddenly moving so as to be but a blur. The first time he thought this ill chance, now he suspected some strange intent. He thought to try again, somehow more subtly this time. There was a water cooler to the side, he would turn there then tack left towards her—that way see.
Before standing he turned his body to the water cooler, made a show of looking towards it all the while attending to her out of the corner of his vision; she barely seemed to register any movement. He stood and stepped towards the cooler, so far she remained still at her desk. When he was two steps from the cooler he swung his right leg mid-step and with it swivelled his body to face straight towards her. Before he could speak she had leapt for the door, moved with frightening speed; it was as if she was scared of him. This time he saw through the door before it closed, there past the receptionist an abyss. His heart dropped, falling again. Of course, in that brief instant there was no clear sight; yet it was not so much light of that there seen as darkness into which he tumbled then. The room fell through him and faded black.