The Waiting Room

Submitted into Contest #221 in response to: Write a story where ghosts and the living coexist.... view prompt


Speculative Fantasy Fiction

A pot noodle is not an acceptable breakfast for a homeowner, but the cat’s got conjunctivitis and there might be a nuclear war. The diesel shudder of the crowded bus made a cocktail shaker of my nervous gut and my vibrating seat was mixing up the dirtiest of martinis. It took a super-human effort not to add a bellyful of rehydrated beefy noodles to the oily hair that spilled over the back of the the seat in front of me. The number thirteen mercifully puked me out before the consequences of my lifestyle choices were exhibited before the jury of its lower deck.

Another check confirmed that my phone had not buzzed again. Eight percent battery. Compulsive checking of the time and non-existent messages cost me a further two percent battery life, but kept the short walk to the surgery free of anxious thoughts about my appointment. I should have charged my phone. I should have had a healthy breakfast. I should have done lots of things. I should have got a tattoo in Kathmandu. I should have fed the cat this morning. Cat man didn't. Shit, never mind, there's half a pot noodle on the bench, if he can find it with his pussy eye. 

I slumped tiredly into a plastic chair in the surgery waiting room. After a few minutes of semi-conscious scrolling my phone battery died and left me alone and bereft with only my out-of-shape imagination for consolation. A brief look at my reflection in the lifeless screen confirmed that the lack of a mobile phone was the only thing I had in common with my younger, healthier twenty-something self.

I looked around the small, grey room. The wall opposite me was decorated with a poster of a smiling cartoon colon who suggested that I should eat more vegetables. Ignoring the sanctimonious exhaust pipe, I stared instead at the heart disease and dementia care posters until the motion-sensitive lights forgot that I was there and winked out. In the half-dark room, my head began to nod.

"I'll put something green on my shopping list," I sighed, defeated by the colon's stare, as my head dropped to my chest.

"And don't forget cat food," admonished a glossy dementia carer from their place on the notice board.

"And how about walking home instead of getting the bus?" said a heart with a stopwatch.

A small boy approached a desk and held up a ticket. An angel silently took it, and scraped a ledger with his quill. A soft-eyed smile sent the boy on his way into a forest of light.

With a sudden jerk of my neck, and a rush of embarrassment, I was back in the warm, grey waiting room. There was nobody there to see me dopily rearranging myself in the creaking chair, so I relaxed again, tired enough to find comfort in the hard blue plastic.

Weak sepia light leaked from the reinforced pane above the consultation room door. The dementia carer looked down at me kindly from the wall. It couldn't be much longer now. I pondered becoming a carer. It would be more interesting than endless spreadsheets and management information reports. Bedsheets not spreadsheets, and a bit of appreciation, no more bone-idle colleagues. Lazy, sleepy colleagues. None of the work, all of the credit. So tired.

Tickets were taken and the ledger was scraped. The beginning of the ledger had never been seen and hung somewhere below the fathom of figures which trailed over the edge of the desk.

"How goes it, Defessus?" said Fucus, lounging against the desk that the ledger sat on.

"The list grows, Fucus," said Defessus, taking a ticket from a beaming man in a brass-buttoned blazer.

"Our work is endless," said Fucus, crunching a golden apple from the forest of light, looking at the queue on the spiralling staircase. "The queue goes all the way down to the dirt now."

"Could you help me, Fucus?"

"A fine idea, Defessus! Alas, I am too busy," said Fucus, taking the quill from Defessus' hand and examining it closely. "You are losing your point, brother."

"So I am," said Defessus, reaching behind him to pluck a new quill. Turning back to his desk, he saw Fucus wandering away towards the forest of light. Defessus reached for the ticket of a gleaming Knight.

My head sagged forward onto a cushion of too-much-chin and I was back in the room with a snort. I shuffled in the plastic seat, pleased that there was nobody there to witness the dopey lolling and drooling of an over-tired idiot who could never sleep the night before an appointment. Except that now, there was somebody there.

An old man stared at me from the chair opposite. The colon peeped out from behind him. To avoid both of their gazes, I studied a notice above the heart with the stopwatch. Apparently, delays and longer-than-usual waiting times were to be expected. 

"Morning," said the old man.

"Oh, good morning," I said, straightening slightly in my chair. "I might have dozed off there. Have you been here long?"


I must have been asleep for ages then. The motion sensitive lights would have been activated by his entry, but he must have been there long enough that they had gone off again. Another potential new career beckoned, master detective. 

“They’re running late, what time is your appointment?” I said.

“Haven’t got one.”

“I don’t think they do walk-ins. You better see them at the desk.”

“Nah, don’t need to see anyone,” said the old man.

“Ah, ok.” I nodded slowly at the smiling face of the dementia carer who looked kindly out from the poster above the man’s flat cap. “Just waiting for someone are you?” I said, looking back at the old man.

“Just waiting.”

“For the doctor though?”

“Nah, don’t need doctors anymore.”

“You’re at the doctors',” I said speaking more slowly and pointing at the non-slip floor, “this is the doctors' waiting room.”

“I remember these places. Spent plenty of time in these places. Doctors are no use to me now though, already dead you see,” said the man.

“Alright. Ok… I’m sorry,” I said, nodding again and glancing at the door to the consultation room.

“It’s alright, it’s been ages,” said the man with a flap of his hand, “not too bad really.”

“You’re very brave.”

“Why’s that then?”

“Putting a brave face on it. Dealing with your illness if, you know… if they can’t do anything else for you.” 

“I’m not ill,” beamed the man, "not anymore."

I nodded and returned the smile. “Good to stay positive.”

“Yeah, it is, but I’m really not ill,” said the man. “Dead,” he said, jabbing a thumb at his chest, “told you. Brown bread. Daisy pusher. Ex-coffin dodger.”


“A coffin lodger!” he said with a grin.

“Ok,” I said, slumping in my creaking seat, looking back at the glossy eyes of the dementia carer. She looked like she ate a healthy amount of vegetables. I thought about my unhealthy shopping list, and remembered the unfed cat, and closed my dry eyes.

"How goes it, Defessus?"

"The list grows, Fucus," said Defessus, looking up from his ledger. "Any news of the end?"

“I’m afraid not,” said Fucus, taking the ticket from an open-mouthed druid. “My, that is a low one. Not seen one that low for a while. Better speed things up, Defessus. Must be getting pretty crowded down there on the dirt, if we’re still getting those through.” He dropped the ticket on the desk in front of Defessus and turned his attention briefly to the druid. Fucus made a theatrical gesture towards the forest of light, before turning on his heel and disappearing into the mists. The druid stumbled away from the desk, wringing his robes in white-knuckled hands and casting glances back at a platoon of grenadiers who now fell smartly into line to present their near sequential tickets.

“What d'you have for your breakfast then?” asked the old man.

"What?" I said, woken by the half-processed question. “Oh, er, toast,” I lied.

“Toast!” said the man with a wistful look to the polystyrene ceiling tiles. “I remember toast. I used to love toast. Can’t go wrong with buttery toast.”

“Ah, yes, well I suppose you don’t need to eat any more, do you? Now that you’re dead and all,” I said. 

“Don’t need to and can’t anyway. Miss it more than anything. Well, almost anything,” the man said, looking down at the floor before raising his eyes brightly, “no toast for a ghost!”

“Good one,” I said, smiling kindly.

“How did you get here then?" asked the man.

"Bus. Why?"

"Bus? Ah, I remember getting the bus. I used to love getting the bus. What was it then, hit by one? Too busy looking at one of those phones you all have now?"

"What? No, I came here on one. The thirteen."

"Ah, right, I see. You’re not one then, are you?” said the man.

“Not what?”

“A ghost, a phantom, an apparition, a dead 'un, like me,” said the man, leaning forward, jabbing a thumb at his chest once again.

“No, er, quite alive thanks. I must be, I had that toast for my breakfast, didn’t I?”

"Oh yeah. Yeah, I remember…"

"You remember, you remember; you remember what?” Tiredness overcame politeness. “The Industrial Revolution?"


"The Crimean War?"


“When all this was fields?”

"No,” said the old man, his eyes narrowing and darkening, “toast, I remember toast."

"Pre-decimal toast?"

"Yes, actually, you saucy little prick."

I shifted uncomfortably in my hard plastic seat, embarrassed to have been so rude in front of my moral superiors, the carer and the colon who decorated the wall behind the man. "Sorry, I didn’t mean to snap. I'm just a bit nervous about my appointment. I didn't sleep well."

“Well, that's alright. You’ve got a lot on your mind. But I was just saying, I loved toast. It was the best thing since sliced bread," he said with a triumphant smile.

"Nice one," I said smiling. "It's just that, if you don’t mind me saying, you seem pretty lively to me."

“Don’t believe me do you, boy?” said the man, leaning forward, his smile gone and his eyes darkening in the low light of the waiting room. The air around him smelt like the sulphureous fug of the bus.  

 "Have you got someone with you?”

“No I haven’t, you cheeky little bastard. I’m dead, not mental. Rude. I was just checking. You didn’t know that I was one, did you? You could have been one too.”

“Look, I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be rude, it’s just that I don’t believe that you’re a ghost.”

“Well, how have I got this then, smart arse?” said the man, pulling a long slip of paper from the breast pocket of his brown tweed jacket. He removed several yards of thin paper, the end of which never emerged from his pocket, bundling it in his hands and holding it up for me to see.

“What is it?” I said.

“My ticket. Got to wait until my number’s called,” said the man. “Been waiting a long time,” he said pointedly, as he carefully wound the paper around his hand and slid the roll back into his pocket.

“You’re here, you’re talking to me, you’re sitting in that seat. You aren’t a ghost. There’s no such thing,” I said.

“Bloody well is. There are loads. More than there should be actually, waiting times are a bloody disgrace.”

“Look, pick up that leaflet,” I said, pointing at a leaflet that lay on a low table near the man’s seat. "Go on, you remember leaflets, I bet you love leaflets."

“Dealing… with the… Menopause,” read the man out loud. “You taking the piss, sunshine?”

“No. Look, no, just pick it up. If you were a ghost, you couldn’t, could you?”

“Well, I can’t, ‘cos I am.”

“Just try anyway though.”

“So, if I pick it up, I’m not a ghost?”


“So, if I don’t pick it up, then I am a ghost?”


“You pick it up.”


“Ooo, you’re a ghost!” cackled the old man, throwing himself back in his seat flapping his hands at me.

I sighed at the floor and shifted uncomfortably in the hard plastic seat.

“Don’t worry, son, I’m only messing about,” said the old man kindly, stifling his laughter and regaining his composure.

“Yeah, thought you might be,” I said in a gently sarcastic voice.

“Yeah, nothing for you to worry about, not yet, not for a long while yet, eh?”

“Fingers crossed,” I said, not bothering to cross my fingers. I glanced at the consultation room door and smiled back at the old man before letting my eyes fall once more to the scuffed non-slip floor.

“Well then, I suppose I’d better be off, see if I can join that queue yet. Nice chatting to you. Filled a bit of time. Watch how you go, lad,” said the old man.

“Ok, bye then.” I looked up and saw only the smiling cartoon colon grinning back at me. I was alone once again in the warm grey, silent room.

“How goes it?” said Fucus as he emerged from the forest of light and approached Defessus’ desk.

“The list grows, Fucus. Any news from the higher-ups?”

“That there is, Defessus! I have been raised up to the ranks of management in order to address the backlog. We’ll solve this together, brother! Keep a sharp quill now, Defessus, much work awaits you.”

Defessus took a ticket from a cheerful old man in a brown tweed jacket and, after recording the number and ticking the correct box, dropped it into the chute by his desk. The long ticket fluttered twistingly down through an airless starscape and into the stuffy greyness of the waiting world, past all of its mysteries and beauties, known and unknown, past a cat on a kitchen bench squinting skeptically at a pot noodle and then beyond, into darkness and down, down to curl and burn in the eternal fires below.

October 21, 2023 13:02

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Laurel Hanson
09:44 Oct 27, 2023

Wow! This is fantastic. What a way to grab the reader: "but the cat’s got conjunctivitis and there might be a nuclear war." Absolutely everthing after that holds to the same standard - "-cocktail shaker of my nervous gut and my vibrating seat was mixing up the dirtiest of martinis" / " before the consequences of my lifestyle choices were exhibited before the jury of its lower deck" and so on. I can't mention them all as I would be guilty of plagiarism. But wait, the colon and clock - such brilliant (and amusing) characterization of the inan...


Chris Miller
13:12 Oct 27, 2023

Hi Laurel, Thank you so much for your kind words. I'm glad you enjoyed it. I think it's just the discarded ticket that flutters down to Hell, not the old man. It was just to put it all in a bit of context. I also like the visual of the queue spiralling up into the sky with tickets tumbling down from the celestial desk. Thank you for reading and taking the time to leave such a lovely comment.


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Tamarin Butcher
19:58 Nov 03, 2023

Loved this! Very well told. the ticketing system was a great addition. I kept thinking that maybe the MC was dead, but hadn't realized it yet. Perhaps their impending death is what they're at the doctor's to talk about?


Chris Miller
03:14 Nov 04, 2023

Thanks Tamarin. Yes, the news at the doctor's might not be great, or the anxiety of the situation might just be fuelling his imagination, or both! Thanks for reading and taking the time to leave such a lovely comment.


Tamarin Butcher
17:01 Nov 21, 2023

You're welcome!


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M.A. Grace
06:28 Nov 01, 2023

Great concept and dialogue.


Chris Miller
08:05 Nov 01, 2023

Thank you.


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Bethany Brown
01:30 Oct 31, 2023

This was wonderfully written! Thank you for sharing! Absolutely great!


Chris Miller
07:43 Oct 31, 2023

Thank you very much, Bethany.


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Michał Przywara
20:37 Oct 30, 2023

Great opening! It promises an interesting story, and the rest delivers. The narrator's voice here is perfect - strong and opinionated. He's got his worldview and he's not going to let anyone upset that, which leads to an amusing confrontation with the ghost. "tired enough to find comfort in the hard blue plastic" - I like that. "Yes, actually, you saucy little prick" - this whole exchange :) There's a second story, of course, and that's the backlog in ghost processing. Is there a link, between the tired, aimless, cellphone addicted mem...


Chris Miller
21:48 Oct 30, 2023

Thanks, Michal. The opening was uncreative non-fiction, written when my cat had conjunctivitis and there was a reasonable prospect of nuclear war, but I am proud to say I have still never eaten a pot noodle for breakfast. I had all sorts of ideas going on in this one, some that worked out and some that didn't, but mainly it's just very silly. Glad it was fun and interesting. That's the best I can hope for.


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Nina H
11:48 Oct 29, 2023

The first sentence twisted my brain around 😂 this was a fun read! I love how the MC examines his life choices, making plans he won’t keep. (The greens, “bedsheets not spreadsheets”, etc) The entrance of the old man was perfect. Just “killing time” as he waited for his ticket to be called 👻 Fun story, Chris!!!!


Chris Miller
12:36 Oct 29, 2023

Thanks Nina! Thank you for reading. Really pleased you enjoyed it.


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Claire Marsh
10:00 Oct 29, 2023

I thoroughly enjoyed this story. The viewpoint character's internal world is deliciously chaotic and self-deprecating and the dialogue with the old man had me smirking throughout! Being able to weave the different POVs and not pull from the story or impact the unity of it is a real skill. Thank you for sharing Chris.


Chris Miller
12:35 Oct 29, 2023

Thank you very much, Claire. Very pleased you enjoyed it.


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Shirley Medhurst
01:39 Oct 29, 2023

Fabulous wacky style!


Chris Miller
08:38 Oct 29, 2023

Thanks Shirley!


Shirley Medhurst
08:51 Oct 29, 2023

My pleasure 😊


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Rebecca Miles
06:15 Oct 25, 2023

Great concept with this one; a really clever re-working of the waiting room and I enjoyed the fantasy incursions to add to the idea of bureaucratic backloags wherever and whoever you are. The old man is gold, just gold: his banter! The seemingly flippant tone between the two (pre-decimal bread- like the cheek; coffin-lodger not dodger- echoes of the dead parrot scene here ,-)) disguises their affinity- or soon to be. Lots of clever clues to the reality lurking behind it all: colon posters and the dodgy pot noodle plus the phone going lifeles...


Chris Miller
07:08 Oct 25, 2023

Thank you very much, Rebecca. The daft humour is definitely a bit dead-parrot. The whole thing came out very British, queues, waiting rooms, sarcasm etc. It might not work for everyone. Really glad you enjoyed it though. Thanks for the encouraging comments. Good luck with whatever you are working on.


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Mary Bendickson
21:50 Oct 24, 2023

Another of your originals. 🫥 Thanks for liking my cookie story.


Chris Miller
06:53 Oct 25, 2023

Thanks Mary!


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Kailani B.
02:00 Oct 22, 2023

First story of yours I've read; you definitely have the gift for writing. And I love the British humor.


Chris Miller
08:48 Oct 22, 2023

Thank you very much, Kailani. Pleased you enjoyed it.


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13:37 Oct 21, 2023

. I should have got a tattoo in Kathmandu. I should have fed the cat this morning. Cat man didn't. That alone is worth a win! Really creative Chris with a great voice. The MC is such a real believable character. Too real! Loved the seques into the dream or other world though admit I may have missed some of the intent. And not sure if the ticket falling past the cat into hell (?) is suggestive of something?? I may be a bit tired! Brilliant though thoroughly enjoyed the banter between the two


Chris Miller
17:20 Oct 21, 2023

Cheers Derrick! Hopefully a few readers will see something relatable in the main character. The falling ticket is suggesting a couple of things. I think it's open to interpretation though. Really pleased you enjoyed it. Thanks for reading.


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