The Cosmic Waiting Room

Submitted into Contest #49 in response to: Write a story that takes place in a waiting room.... view prompt



Danny Evans is dreaming, but not peacefully. In his deep subconscious, Danny assumes he’s dreaming. But, the rest of his brain is busy with the realization that something is wrong. This nightmare is like no other he has experienced. One moment, he’s falling at such a high rate of speed, he can barely breathe, as if falling from a plane without a parachute. The next moment, he’s being pushed or pulled (it’s impossible for him to tell which) faster than he’s ever driven. Back and forth, back and forth, falling then being pushed/pulled. All the while, Danny is surrounded by a blinding white light. Perhaps what scares Dan the most is the silence and lack of feeling anything but terror. Throughout this entire nightmare, he has heard no sound, felt no wind, no heat nor cold.  

Just as Danny reaches the point where he fears his heart will explode from stress and terror, everything stops. All movement, along with all light, disappears. Surrounded by silence and darkness, Danny Evans opens his mouth to scream. Before any true sound can come from his throat, Danny seems to wake up. 

It takes a few seconds for him to realize he’s not in his bed. In fact, he’s not even home. As he turns his head from side to side, Danny realizes he has no idea where he is. After several seconds of trying to process his surroundings, Dan feels that he’s in a very unique, rather glorious waiting room. 

Two white marble walls, one behind him and one in front, seem to soar at least thirty feet high. The marble is smooth for the entire width and length of each wall. No windows or doors are visible. The ceiling is either jet black or so high he can’t see it. Swiveling his head to the right and left shows no sidewall in either direction. There seems to be no end to the room he’s in. Looking down, he sees and feels thick carpeting, white as a snowstorm, and soft as fleece. 

After a few moments, the room seems to brighten, though from no obvious light source. Danny realizes he’s not alone. There are dozens, maybe hundreds, of men and women of various ages and races sitting in neat rows across and down from him, sitting in large overstuffed chairs in various pastel colors. Most are reading magazines or books. It takes a few seconds for Danny to realize that no one is on their phone or Kindle. None of the others seem to be in the same distress he’s in. Danny gets the idea that they’ve been here a while.

As he wipes sweat from his forehead, Danny starts to wonder why it’s so quiet. Normally, a room with such a high ceiling, with multiple people, would echo easily, even with such divine carpeting. Of course, if everyone is reading and no one is speaking, it’s hard to tell. Danny then notices that there seems to be no one to welcome new arrivals. In fact, there’s no desk, no phones ringing, no televisions showing local news, sporting events, or reruns of Family Feud. Nothing but rows and rows of people in large, overstuffed chairs, reading. 

“Don’t worry. You’ll get accustomed to this quickly. We all do.”

Danny turns to his right and notices the man directly next to him for the first time. Dan realizes he’s been looking at the overall size of the room and the people further away more than he’s been focused on who and what was closer to him. The man, Black, is in his late fifties with close-cut, greying hair along with several days worth of matching facial hair. Wearing a white zip-up Nike hoodie and navy track pants, he is trim and looks like he could be heading out for a run or workout.

They shake hands as Danny speaks. “Dan Evans. You been here a while?” 

The man gives a somewhat ironic half-smile and answers, “Nate Wiley. It’s really hard to tell. Time has little meaning in this place.”

“Where, uh, exactly are we, anyway?”

Nate smiles warmly, showing straight white teeth. “A man who was sitting where you are now called it ‘The Cosmic Waiting Room’. Seems as good a name as any.”

“Cosmic? As in, uh, wait, wait, wait. You don’t mean-”

Nate grimaces and exhales softly. He puts a hand on Danny’s shoulder, which draws his green eyes to Nate’s dark brown ones. Danny sees grave concern in Nate’s face and fights the urge to close his eyes in defense.

“You’re dead, buddy. We all are.”

Danny feels his throat go dry. His palms feel sweaty and he dries them on his jeans. He starts to suck in deep, shaky breaths. Dan feels his heart rate climb, as nausea builds up from his gut. Nate’s eyes widen. He moves in and grabs Danny by both shoulders. When Danny refuses to look up, Nate gives his shoulders a mild shake. 

“I’m sorry, Dan. I really am. But, it’s true. All of us in this room are dead.”

Danny takes a long, quivering breath, and lets it out in short, staccato bursts. 

“I don’t even remember dying. How did-”. He stops after looking at Nate’s raised eyebrows. Dan gives a small, rueful smile.

“If I can’t remember how I died, how would you have any idea?”

Nate gives a closed-mouth smile. He then takes a breath as if he is going to continue but then stops. Instead, he picks up a copy of Glimmertrain from his rose-colored chair and begins to read. Dan feels unease creep up his spine, causing goosebumps to rise on his neck and forearms. 

“What aren’t you telling me? There’s something else, isn't there?”

Nate keeps his eyes on his magazine, but answers. “There’s always something. That doesn’t stop when we die.”

Dan rubs the palms of his hands together for several seconds before sitting down in his previous chair, noticing its color for the first time, a seafoam green. He takes a second to look at his surroundings with a more calm mind, hoping for some clues, some clarity, some answers. 

Dan takes a few minutes to observe a few of the others in the “waiting room”. A girl in her mid-teens with hair dyed jet black with streaks of pink and purple, sitting in a soft yellow chair wearing a black hoodie and black ripped jeans, reading Turtles All the Way Down by John Green. An elderly Asian woman sitting in a lavender-colored chair and reading a book of poetry. A white man in his sixties reading a magazine about deep-sea fishing in a sky blue chair. 

Dan observes each person for a few seconds before moving on. But, the next person sitting diagonally to his left keeps his attention. A white man in his late thirties seems to be having an emotional discussion with himself. Normally, Dan would assume this man would be on his phone, using earbuds or Airpods, but Dan sees neither. 

This man, with long, blonde hair so white, it makes Danny think of Legolas from The Lord of the Rings movies, is crying. Dan watches, fascinated, as the man’s brilliant blue eyes widen in shock, then jumps to his feet. This man, with tears rolling down both cheeks, reaches out, as if wanting to hug someone only he can see. Even though this man is less than twenty feet away, Dan can’t hear a word. He can’t even hear the man cry. 

Danny feels as if he’s intruding on something very personal, but can’t turn away. He feels his own eyes widen when the blonde-haired man sinks to his knees, places both his hands atop his head, and screams in silent anguish as he lowers his head to the plush carpet, his shoulders shaking. No sound comes from this sobbing man. Dan watches with a combination of dread and awe as the man seems to calm down. He looks up, his hazel eyes wide in hope and disbelief. He begins to cry again, but this time seemingly in joy, a wide smile spreading across his glistening face. Still on his knees, he chuckles, then laughs as he blows a kiss with two hands to an unseen person. 

Danny, overcome with confusion and wonder, sits back in his chair and looks to the blackness of the ceiling. He shakes his head and takes a deep breath. When he looks back to the blonde man, Danny is stunned to see him gone, a beautiful Black woman in her early twenties in his place, reading a novel he doesn’t recognize.

Danny glances nervously at Nate several times. Nate closes his eyes, smirks softly, then closes his magazine. 

“Someone disappeared, right? And someone else took his place?”

Danny nods, wide-eyed. Nate narrows his eyes at Danny and asks, “Are you sure you want to hear this?”

Danny nods again and answers, “Yeah, I think I have to. Otherwise, not knowing will drive me nuts and I’m already halfway there.”

“Okay. I already told you that everyone here is dead. But, there’s more to it. Everyone here, uh,” Nate inhales and exhales deeply, “committed suicide.”

Danny stands up in such a rush, he loses his balance, nearly falling into Nate, who stands up with his hands raised, partially to stop Danny from falling and partially to protect himself. Nate takes an extra few seconds to steady Danny.

“It’s true. Each of us ended our own life.”

“But, why don’t I remember it? I can’t remember anything right now.”

Nate nods. “I know. It’s like that for everyone, I think. Your memory will come eventually. I believe we’re given some time to acclimate, to all of this,” Nate says and gestures with both hands at his sides. 

In turn, Danny opens his arms wide. “So, where are we? Is this purgatory? Why are we here?”

Nate sighs heavily. “Okay. It’s like I said before. It’s the Cosmic Waiting Room.”

Danny shakes his head in frustration. “I don’t know what the fuck that means.”

Nate looks down at the floor, then looks up directly into Danny’s eyes and says in a lower voice, nearly a whisper. “We’re waiting for our families to confront us when they’re truly ready to show us their anger, confusion, sadness, anything else they’re feeling. There are five stages of grief, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. As they get closer to acceptance, our families are given the chance to talk with us, yell at us, ask us why, whatever they need.”

Danny closes his eyes and runs a hand over his short red hair. “How can they talk to us? We’re dead.”

“One of the lessons I’ve learned in my time here, all kinds of things are possible that I had no idea about before. It usually happens in their dreams. Sometimes in an altered state caused by a stupor of drugs or alcohol.”

Danny takes a few deep breaths, trying to process what he’s been told. “Well, how long until it happens? What do we do in the meantime?”

Nate chuckles with genuine humor. “That's why it’s called a ‘waiting room’, buddy. People grieve in different ways at different speeds. Time is relative here, anyway. I honestly have no idea how long I’ve been waiting.”

“So, you have no idea how long we have to wait for, uh, our turn?”

Nate shakes his head. “Nope. Personally, I think it’s a mix of two things. Mainly, it’s based on the needs of our families. Like I said, people grieve in different ways at different speeds. When your family is ready for the last step, you’ll get your call.”

“What’s the second thing?”

Nate takes a deep breath and exhales in a series of short bursts, making Danny think he might cry. “I think it’s us. The longer we’re here, the more we remember why we did what we did. All the pain we were feeling in the moments just before we died, the desperation, the emotions, they all return, along with a little bonus.”

Nate closes his eyes and winces as if he’s been jabbed in his side by something sharp. He turns his head with an audible grimace. 

“I think it’s almost my time. I remember everything. At least I think I do. I feel all the pain and darkness I felt before.”

“What’s the ‘bonus’? You said we remember everything, ‘along with a little bonus’. What did you mean?”

Nate gives a small smile. “Wisdom. Too late to help me, but I might be able to help my wife and boys. Back on Earth, all I could think about was the pain and self-hatred and desperation and irrational thoughts. Now, I have some wisdom that would have saved my life. I guess...I couldn’t see it then, or wasn’t able to, most likely. With my memories of why I made that choice, along with the wisdom I didn’t have before, I hope to help my family one last time.”

Danny takes yet another deep breath and looks around. The goth teenager and the Asian woman are in the middle of similar conversations he saw the blonde man in earlier. 

“Why can’t we hear what they’re saying?”

Nate shrugs his shoulders. “I think it’s probably a few things. One, a big part of them aren’t here. They’re with their families emotionally and spiritually, which are more powerful than our bodies, anyway. And, I think it’s only for us and our families, not anyone else. It’s raw, powerful stuff, obviously. Also, I think it would spook the shit out of us more than we already are.”

Danny smiles, then freezes when he notices the Asian woman is gone, replaced with a very tall, slender woman of Indian descent.

“What happens after our, uh, meeting? The man from before disappeared, so did the other woman,” Danny says and gestures with his head where the Asian women had been moments before. 

Nate shakes his head grimly and closes his eyes. “I can only guess it’s the next step in our journey. Maybe it’s heaven, maybe purgatory, maybe we’re sent back as someone else to try again. Honestly, I have no idea.”

Danny nods, looks down, and asks, “What about hell? Some people believe suicide is a mortal sin and worthy of being sent to hell.”

Nate chuckles and rubs a hand over his stubbled cheek. “People can believe whatever they want. Personally, I feel if we were going to be sent to hell, we’d already be there. There’s one thing many people don’t consider when talking about hell and suicide. A person who decides to end their life is already in hell. One way or another, one reason or another, their families aren’t enough to save them. No matter what we’re thinking during that agony, we weren’t in our right minds. It’s not possible to be thinking clearly and kill yourself. But, that’s just me talking and who the hell am I? Just some sad sack who drove my car off a bridge to get my family out of debt. I-”

Danny furrows his brow as he notices that Nate is still talking, but he can’t hear a word. He opens his mouth to speak, but stops when he sees Nate begin to cry. Nate’s brown eyes and mouth are opened wide in emotional trauma. Danny realizes Nate isn’t really with him anymore. Out of respect for his new friend, Danny turns his back to give at least the appearance of privacy and sees a new copy of his favorite magazine Runner’s World sitting on the cushion of his soft green chair. He takes a seat, opens the magazine, and begins to read. 

After an indeterminate amount of time, he looks to his right and sees a man in his early thirties, wide-eyed, and sweaty, gasping for breath. As he swivels his head from side to side, Danny gives a rueful smile and nods, waiting for the right time. 

After a few moments, Danny says softly, “Don’t worry. You’ll get accustomed to this quickly. We all do.”

Dedicated to a friend who recently took his own life. I hadn’t seen or spoken to him since high school. But, he was a good, kind man with a beautiful family. I guess I hope something like this actually happens. See you on the other side, Chris. 

July 09, 2020 06:50

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Marcie C
04:10 Jul 16, 2020

I hope for your friend's sake something like this does exist. Sorry for your loss.


Steve Uppendahl
06:06 Jul 16, 2020

Thanks for your kind words, Marcie. I appreciate it.


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