I approached the desk with purpose, taking in the scent of furniture polish and pine cleaner. A sliver of light came in through the curtain’s edge and illumined a small slice of the rich mahogany desk. The receptionist approached, a tall man in a suave black suit. His dark eyes sparkled with delight as he offered to take my jacket and cap. I declined.
“May I ask your name?”
“Howard,” I said simply.
“And the nature of your visit?”
“I got hurt,” I said, pointing to the sling on my left arm. “My boss said I should recuperate.”
“Ah, yes,” he replied with a twitch of his dimpled mouth. “We’ve got everything you need. Would you like a tour?”
Something about his demeanor unsettled me. He was too eager, too expectant, too glad about something he wasn’t telling me.
He seemed to detect my hesitance.
“Of course, the doctor would be glad to show you around, as I have several tasks to complete,” he purred.
As if on cue the doctor appeared in the doorway, a rotund figure in a pale blue coat with a stethoscope around his neck and a pocket bulging with pills in packets. A shiny bald head peeked out from the center of a bushy white coronet. Years of experience had lined the sides of his eyes and completed the look of a very knowledgeable gentleman.
“Ah, come in and view the facilities,” he chirped. “You look like you could use a good rest.”
I followed him to the staircase, treading lightly upon a carpet of deepest blue, trying not to make a sound. The house somehow seemed alive, and I got the feeling it did not take kindly to disturbance. I had half a mind to bolt out the door right then and there, but I needed a valid reason to give my employer and his insurance agents. They had seemed so insistent that I obtain therapy.
I was pleasantly surprised to find several large, empty rooms, each with a large, empty bed covered with fluffy down comforters and feathery pillows.
“These are our finest resting rooms, but we have so much more to show you!” chuckled the doctor.
The hallways ended in three huge white cavernous dormitories. One was filled with shiny silver poles, attached to which I saw huge hammocks in shades of green, brown, and gray. Here and there a man or a woman was resting in one, flipping the pages of picture books and drinking from glass decanters filled with ice and a thin brown liquid.
I approached a young lady. Half awake with a dreamy expression, she glanced at me and went back to her pictures.
“Excuse me,” I said. “Do you like it here?”
She nodded and smiled weakly, then let her head drop back into a peaceful snooze. The doctor smiled in satisfaction and motioned me to see the next room.
“What were they drinking?” I asked him.
“Sleep draught,” he said. “It’s our own special mixture. Chock full of nutrients!”
In the next room we saw bean bag chairs so huge you could not get into them without a stepladder. Fortunately there were stepladders placed by each and every one. Several people had curled into a deep slumber, others were lazily looking at the ceiling, and still others were attempting to look at pictures while drinking the sleep draught I’d seen in previous rooms.
“Anything for the clientele!” he laughed. “They deserve the best!”
The last room was packed from wall to wall with hundreds of recliners. Half of them were filled, half were waiting for occupants. Each client had an extremely large picture book and a huge decanter of the elixir I’d seen everyone else imbibing. Workers were going around faithfully and attentively giving free refills to everyone.
I exited. The doctor had lingered to settle in a new patient. The hallway was dark. At the other end I saw a narrow door that looked very old. I touched the worn steel handle. A shock of icy cold shot up my good arm and seemed to tingle in the cords of my heart, slowing its pace ever so slightly.
“Don’t touch that!” the doctor called from behind me. That made up my mind. With a huge heave I wrangled it open. The hinges snarled screaming protests but gave way because I demanded it.
The room beyond was bigger than all the others combined. The beds were on the floor and had high sides and velvet linings. A door beyond it beckoned me. I ran down the aisle in the dead quiet and stared out the rectangular window to see the sky, the clouds, the grass, and acres upon acres of headstones and graves.
“You see,” began a startling voice behind me. I leapt backward to face the source of the sound. It was the receptionist, no longer in his black suit, but wearing a hooded cape that swept the ground as he walked in my direction.
“You see,” he repeated, “where this ends. Our clients rest so long and so well that they don’t realize their lives are passing them by,” and here he breathed out a deep, bone chilling whisper, “second--by--second.”
The doctor had now caught up with me, but his jovial expression was gone and his countenance had been gripped with an ashen pale shade.
“Doctor Quivious, you have failed to live up to my expectations. Again.”
“I-I-I-I….” began the helpless doctor. His knees began to quiver uncontrollably.
I tried to comprehend it. Death. Rest. Sleep. Recuperation? None of these people would ever return to work of their own accord, not when it was more pleasant to remain asleep. Had they no will, no self-discipline, no burning desire or purpose?
“And you,” said the receptionist, turning to me. “You have messed up my plans. You are supposed to be resting in a bed, not investigating my secrets. I’m going to have to destroy you.”
I tilted my head back and laughed at the sheer absurdity of his assertion. He took a step towards me, but I remained unmoved and unafraid. Suddenly his visage shifted, and he became even more disturbed than the trembling doctor. I raised my eyebrows and glanced at the door. He obediently opened it and let me out.
I could still hear their conversation from the other side of the closed door.
“Why did you let him escape?” said the doctor.
The black cloaked menace now threw his costume aside and resumed his pleasant demeanor and his handsome suit. He adjusted his tie and spoke slowly and distinctly, watching me carefully navigate the stone path that led to the street and freedom.
“I cannot hold one of those,” he said.
The doctor scratched his bald spot.
“One of what?”
“Go back to work!” snapped his boss.
I returned to my employer and reported that I neither wanted nor needed rest, but that I would rather take a desk job until my arm had healed. She offered the position of chief information assistant, which was a fancy way of saying I would shred all the unneeded documents and dispose of them appropriately. I accepted.
I tried to tell everyone I could about the dangers of the Resting Place. Out of 100 people, only 25 took me seriously. The rest said I had made it up, or that I was making more out of it than it really was, or that I must be crazy.
The real trouble started when my sister’s son fell and broke his hip. Somebody said he should go to the Resting Place, and I vehemently expressed my objection. But because she was his mother and had all the say in what he did, she succeeded in sending him there. Imagine, a fifteen year old kid, slumbering uselessly for the rest of his life!
I went to visit him. The receptionist, with his usual suave grin, allowed me to enter and see Tony. I found him in a beanbag, staring at new sort of picture book. You could push buttons and control the picture, even making it dance or jump or wage war. It was very amusing, or at least it appeared to be, because he refused to acknowledge my presence until I reached in and blocked it with my hand, at which time he very resentfully told me to leave him alone. I glanced over my shoulder and observed the smug satisfaction on the face of my nemesis.
“Let the kid go,” I said.
“Make me,” he said, leaning his hand against the doorway.
I thought of my options. Punch him out? He’d press charges for assault. Kidnap the boy? The boy didn’t want to leave, which would make his rescue very difficult.
“Ten thousand dollars,” I said. “I’ll pay you to let the kid go free.”
“Nope,” he said with a delighted grin.
I glanced up at the boy, who was now lifting a cup to his face and smiling at the sweet savor of sleep draught.
“Of course,” began the entity, sauntering around me in a circle, “we might be able to arrange a trade.”
My eyes snapped open wide. If there was one thing I didn’t like, it was idleness. I hated it. Couldn’t stand the thought of being benched and having no real purpose or genuine sense of accomplishment.
The owner now looked at me as though he were sizing me up for a coffin.
I couldn’t stand the thought of Tony throwing his life away. Nor could I stand the thought of throwing my own life away. For if I knew anything, I knew this: each person has his own choice, and evil entities are prone to lying. If I gave up on everything I’d lived to gain, striven to create, and essayed to accomplish, what good could result? For even if I set Tony free, he might end up here again of his own accord. He might throw away such an exorbitant gift. It would then be for naught.
A sudden burst of inspiration went from the top of my head to the tips of my toes.
“I’ll catch you later,” I said, and it was more than a figure of speech.
Shopping. I had to go shopping. I headed out the front door and withdrew fifteen hundred dollars from the bank.
Fifteen hundred dollars can almost empty the craft and hobby section. By the time I was done I was struggling to manage a cart heaped with sewing kits, yarn and knitting needles, latch hook rug kits, weaving looms, scrapbook supplies, colored drawing pencils, notepads, stampers, floral arrangement sets, modeling clay, beads, woodburning supplies, paints, hot glue, and rolls of ribbon.
I exited the craft section and proceeded to buy a well fitted black outfit and a ski mask.
The next night I crept through the graveyard with a large sack, looking much like a burglar and feeling much like Santa Claus. I didn’t expect to get in without resistance, but I had a plan.
The night watchman came to the door.
“I’ve got something for you,” I said. “Come out here and see.”
He lazily shook his head and returned to his post in the hallway, secure in the strength of the door locks and eager to look at more picture books.
“He underestimates you,” said a voice behind me. I knew that voice. My stomach tried to tie itself in knots, but I told it to behave and whisked about to face him. The nice suit was gone, as was the black hooded cape. The handsome gleaming eyes and winsome smile had also faded into the darkness. All that remained was a skeleton, with a dull red glare residing behind the eye sockets. Somehow it didn’t surprise me. Evil cannot sustain its own existence, and even preying on others is not sufficient subsistence. It is a rottenness that eats away, an unwholesomeness that picks itself to pieces given time. The night brought out the worst in his demeanor. He drummed his bony fingers on the door.
“Can’t get in?” it said with a permanent smile.
I leaned back beside him and acted in no particular hurry.
“Not particularly. I mean, it’s no use, right? You’re here to stop me.”
I slipped my hand in my pocket and out again.
“What’s that? A gun?” he said.
I held it up in front of the hideous face.
“No,” I said. “Just a glue gun. It won’t hurt you,” I smiled.
Ah, but what he doesn’t see, I thought.
I let my hand drop down beside me, still holding the glue gun.
“So why do you keep on dragging people down?” I said. “What’s in it for you?”
“I shall not discuss my business with the unimportant and the worthless,” it sneered.
“Okay, okay,” I condescended. “You don’t want to talk about it. Well tell me this: is there any cure for you? Any hope?”
“Cure?” it huffed. “You’ve got it all wrong. You’re the one that needs a cure. All this slavery to rules and doing all your goody goody deeds, refusal to rest and insistence on work. My victims are much happier in their slumber.”
“Are they happy when their lives are past and they find out what you’ve done?”
“I? I did this? You’re so mistaken! They did this to themselves. I simply made it easy for them.”
“Oh, yes, I see,” I said. “Now I have another question for you.”
“What?” he growled.
“How does a skeleton get itself unglued from the ground it stands on?”
He jerked his neck downward and stared at his foot, which was fairly surrounded with a puddle of cooling glue.
“My own mixture,” I smiled. “Extra strong.”
He pulled and rattled and leapt on one foot, trying with all his might to free himself. I immediately kicked the door with all my strength. It shook and started to give. I kicked it again. I kicked a third time. With a fourth mighty release of angry energy, the door popped open and pieces of splintered doorframe scattered into the nearby coffins. The watchman saw me and dropped his mouth open in incredible alarm, more so because his boss behind me was lividly animated with inexpressible rage.
“Get him!” it seethed between its teeth.
The sluggish watchman reached toward me, but I dumped a tangled mess of yarn on his fingers and slammed a knitting bag upside down over his head, then kicked him into the coffin room. I smeared a quick ribbon of glue to the doorframe and slammed it shut.
Gifts quickly landed in the bed of every resident.
“Mind stimulating usefulness! Wake up! Do something for a change! Quit staring at picture books and tap into your creativity! You were meant for so much more, people! Wake up!”
Some threw their gift on the floor and continue snoozing. Some looked them over sleepily, hugged them, and went back to sleep. But some, a bona fide few, got up, realized what they’d been doing (or not doing), and followed me to the front door. Thankfully, Tony woke up and joined us on crutches.
“Not so fast!” The doctor strode to the front of the group and stood between us and our intended exit.
“What are you doing? These people are sick. They need to rest. Now all of you, back to your beds. Doctor’s orders!”
“I think you need a taste of your own medicine, Doc,” I said. His eyes grew wider. I snatched up a flask of the stuff he’d been drugging the people with and grabbed his nose. Tony poured it in his mouth in small amounts till he had accumulatively swallowed a large dose. Then as one we all proceeded to the door, broke the glass, and dispersed into the city. Some were running for sheer joy. Some were staring at the stars. Some reached out and touched a leaf or a twig or a stone, wondering at the world they’d been so long ignoring.
I made sure Tony arrived home safely. I made sure he told his mom he did not want to go back again, and that she agreed he could rest at home.
I arrived home very tired from a long night’s work. It was good I had the day off tomorrow. I needed to rest up before I went back to the office. Rest was a good, good thing, I thought, as I drifted away into a dreamy silence and slumbered till the dawn. Till the dawn, and not beyond.