Alone with nothing but paperwork, Blythe Redding sat in the waiting room. It was exactly typical of what a waiting room should be. Worn furniture, nondescript magazines, a subtle smell of lilac-scented air freshener, and a respectful silence added only more to the monotonous dullness. The atmosphere was cliché enough to be noticed, which was something nearly respectable, but mediocrity stands only as mediocrity, no matter how extraordinarily mediocre.
That was his cue to proceed. Blythe stood to his feet and carried himself into the office. The floor creaked in a subtle way, but only enough to be noticeable in near-absolute silence. The interior of the office was just as bromidic as the waiting room. He could recount the details. There was a tired desk, rusted filing cabinets, a musty smell of old papers, a slowly spinning ceiling fan, and an overbearing sense of bureaucracy. The most remarkable feature, however, was the only one living. The man sitting behind the desk wore a slick haircut that perfectly matched his suave black suit. There was a fancy delicacy to him that completely mismatched his nominal surroundings, yet he was exactly what Blythe would expect.
“Take a seat,” the bureaucrat told Blythe as he looked over a file. “I'll take your LV form.”
Blythe suddenly noticed the worn-out chair in front of the desk. He hadn't seen it before, but his observational skills weren't always up to par. As he handed the paperwork to the man, Blythe sat down. The chair could never be noted for its comfort, but it wasn't uncomfortable either.
The man read as he took notes, “Redding, Blythe. Born in Jackson?”
The man then looked up, “I am going to skip the small talk and pleasantries in favor of moving this right along, do you object?”
“Uh, no, go right ahead; let's just get this done.”
“Very well,” the man picked up his pen again and resumed note-taking. “Let us see here, ah, you married. Bethany Hill Redding, is that correct?”
Memories filled his mind. He could see her maple hair swaying in the breeze, contrasting her chestnut eyes. She held a white rose and inhaled the sweet fragrance. The scent filled Blythe's nose despite the flower being away from him. There was a sultry smile on her face as she looked at him. She was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen and it filled his heart with joy just to think of her. They were together atop a lonely hill marked by a single oak tree. Then he remembered. This was where he had proposed to her. Memory then flashed forward to their wedding day. That first sight of his bride in her stunning white dress was absolutely unforgettable. And then there was that first kiss as a wed couple. How could he forget?
“Yes, it is,” Blythe answered, barely concealing a smile.
“And you honeymooned in the the Smoky Mountains?”
There was a single picture that had managed to capture those two weeks perfectly. To the outside observer, it might not have been anything special, but to Blythe it was spectacular. The picture was the two of them standing before a beautiful mountain vista, both of them smiling and projecting a duet of true love and happiness. It was curious to note that his fondest memories weren't of the consummation of the marriage, but of the time spent together. Again, details filled his mind. There was the crisp mountain air, the subtle commotion of the people around them, and the solemnly absolute focus on his bride. It was about them and no one else.
“We did,” Blythe could no longer hide the smile. But it turned into a look of dazed curiosity as he realized that there was a certain unfamiliarity to the memories. They were undeniably his but there was something disjointed about them. Words would not come to him to describe it, so he set the feelings aside.
“And you never had any children?”
“None,” Blythe quietly answered as his facial expression became one of remorse. His mind went to the doctor's office. He remembered the balding doctor explaining to Blythe and his dear Bethany that they could never have children because she was barren. Details again surfaced: there was the sterile smell, the mix of white and ocean green tiles, the various medical instruments lying around, and finally the droning hum of the air conditioner. He could recall standing next to his wife as she sobbed. His own feelings were of sorrow, disappointment, and even a hint of anger. Blythe had always wanted children and a part of him regretted marrying a woman who could never conceive. Still, he loved her.
“Perhaps you should have adopted.”
“Perhaps,” Blythe answered. It was then that he remembered that she didn't want to adopt because it would only be a reminder of how she could not conceive them herself. It was a selfish decision, but she felt confidently that she could not fully love children that were not her own. Blythe wanted to adopt. Part of the reason was that he wanted a legacy; he wanted to leave some mark on the world. Children were the best way to guarantee such a legacy, especially if they were well-raised.
“It says here that you were an accountant, correct?”
“Yeah, I like to work with numbers, especially practical numbers like money,” Blythe told the bureaucrat as he recalled his job. His desk was in a cubicle and he was surrounded by other accountants. Blythe would sit there for hours crunching numbers. The clack of the keyboard, the soft ticking on the calculator, the snapping of the receipt machine, and the humming of the printer. To many, it was a dull job but to Blythe it was exactly what he wanted: stability. His job looked like it was going nowhere but up. His coworkers liked him and he was consistent at his job.
“But then you were caught up when your company downsized, or more simply, you were fired.”
Blythe only answered with a nod as that meeting with his boss came into his head. It was such a cold day, both figuratively and literally. His boss was an uncaring man who Blythe swore fired the required number based on his personal taste in personality. Blythe remembered nothing of that day except for how rejected and disappointed he felt as he his dreams went down the toilet. He had just started a separate bank account with which he was saving for retirement. The plan was to buy a nice house close to the Smoky Mountains. But there was no longer any income and no longer any purpose to it all.
“That was when your relationship with your wife started to deteriorate.”
It was true. She tried to hide her disappointment in him, but Blythe knew that she resented him for being fired. Suspicion never left them and they would fight. He still loved her, very much, and part of him still knew she loved him. But the constant questioning and the change in status quo shifted their relationship. Words were tossed between them that should never be said to any human being. Love may have been felt, but it wasn't expressed. Soon, even the feeling was gone and all that was left was disdain.
“And then there was-”
“The affair,” Blythe knew what was coming. The memories of figuring it out and finally catching her came to mind. Anger swelled through his body, and this even overshadowed his sorrow. In his mind he wondered how it had come to this . Where had the love gone? What did this man have that he did not? He remembered the beautiful woman from before and only saw regret and anger. The love of his life was now the great betrayal. She no longer loved him, that was obvious. So, why should he love her?
“So that was when you killed her.”
Those words sank in deep and after tears swelled up in his eyes, he remembered the cold steel of the gun pressing on his hand. Her face was remorseful as she looked up at him. There she was: naked and in bed with the other man. Blythe could care less who he was. With only a second's hesitation he pulled the trigger: twice for each of the adulterers.
Blythe replied to the bureaucrat with tears running down his cheeks, “Yes, but- No. That can't be right.” That feeling of unfamiliarity arose again and this time it was stronger than ever. He felt the memories and they seemed real, but something was screaming that something was wrong. “No, that never happened!”
“I'm afraid these documents are infallible, now, let's continue, shall we?”
“No! I didn't kill my wife!”
“We can discuss afterward, let us finish,” the man went back to the folder as Blythe resigned sobbing. “Ah, here we were. You then took the gun and pulled it on yourself. You took the coward's way out.”
Blythe remembered looking down the barrel before putting the gun to his head and taking his own life. But it wasn't real. It couldn't be!“Wait, if I'm dead, then how am I here?”
The man leaned back in his chair and chuckled, “You mean you don't know why you're here?”
“No, and I demand an explanation!”
“Mister Redding,” the man stood and went to the window behind him. “You're dead. Dead as dead can be.”
“That can't be true,” Blythe rose to his feet with his fists clenched.
“It is my job to evaluate your life and determine where you go from here. Your record shows you have a double homicide, one of those being the one you vowed to love, and a suicide. I'm afraid the only path I can give you is damnation.”
The words didn't quite register, he didn't understand what had just been said. So he asked, “But this office? Why an office?”
“This is how your imagination, your mind, chose to make his place look. It's different for everyone. People see different details and people go different places. No one is the same.”
Blythe sat back down, “But those memories... they seemed so unreal!”
“Because those are not truly your memories.”
“Mister Redding, you were killed by a drunk driver at the age of seven. Do you remember?”
He remembered being on the road at night, which was blatantly disobeying his parents. It was cold out, but the street! He could at last know what it as like to walk upon true rebellion. His parents had told him never to walk on the street. And he would find out exactly why. Dead center in the road he stood when he saw the headlights rushing towards him. He screamed just before it all went away. Tears rolled down Blythe's face again, “Yes, I remember.”
“It is unfortunate you had to die so young.”
Blythe wiped the tears away and then it hit him, “But if I died so young, then what was all that with the wife and the murders? And how can I remember it?”
The man sighed, “Because those would be your memories. Those would be your memories had you not died on the road.”
Blythe stood back up and anger flared, “You're judging me based on things that never even happened?!”
“Blythe, you died as a child. You died before there was anything with which to judge. So, we were forced to assume that you hadn't been killed and then see what would happen. What happened was that you killed your own wife, her affair, and yourself.”
“But that didn't happen! Couldn't my life have gone a different way?!”
“No,” the man answered. “I could never explain it to you and make it satisfactory. This is how events would have played out and there is no questioning it. You were killed young and you were given the chance, like everyone else, to live a full life. You have the memory of a full life, but based on the person that you are, you made the wrong choices. We care less about what actually happened and more about the quality of the person before us. Unfortunately, you do not meet our standards.”
“Standards for- for what?”
“Mister Redding, perhaps you missed it before. Your punishment is eternal damnation.”
“I'm- I'm- No! No!”
The man sighed, “I can't do anything about it. I'm sorry.”
Blythe fell to the ground, barely catching himself before his face hit the creaky floor. After propping himself up, he then realized he had only one real question. The one thing he found he cared about through all of this, “But what about Bethany? What will happen to her?”
The man answered, “She hasn't died yet, Blythe. She never met you. I honestly don't know, but if she was an adulteress in your life, she will be in her own. It is unfortunate, but you will get to meet her in hell. The saddest part about that though is that you won't care.”
“I won't care?”
“No, such is hell, I'm afraid,” the man came over to Blythe and took a knee. He looked down at the damned man and then put his hand on his shoulder. “I'm sorry, but it's time for you to go.”
“No! No! NO!” Blythe screamed as he vanished into abyss.
The man stood back up, straightened out his suit and returned to his desk. He took another look at Blythe's file before he put it back in the filing cabinet. The room then shifted into the imaginings of another person. It was time to get back to work.