“You’re not dead. I can tell you that much,” Joe told Tony.
“Then what am I?”
“You’ve been collected.”
“Let me finish. You’ve been collected. Jimmy. He collects souls. He literally takes the life out of people, but he doesn’t kill them. Those with sorrow in their lives get it worse. It’s easier for him to get them. He needs people so he can survive. Some call him the reaper. Most think he is a mythical being. The truth is much worse. He looks like us, acts like us, eats like us, smells like us. In every way he is exactly like us, but he has the power to take our souls. Sometimes he takes them on the brink of death, like those from last week, sometimes he takes them when they are nearing death, sometimes he just takes them. Normally people don’t remember being taken straight away. It takes a while. That’s what this place is for. A kind of halfway house for the souls. When you accept what’s happened you can enter the city.”
“Yeah it’s just down the road a bit. A beautiful place. Much better than anything in the actual afterlife, trust me on that. Once you’ve accepted that he’s got you then you can be happy. I think you are ready to leave now.”
“I don’t believe it. It can’t be. How can something like this actually happen. This isn’t a game. I have a wife. I have kids. I have a job. I have a life. How can you expect me to be happy with that.”
Tony stood up and knocked the chair over. Everything had fitted into place so perfectly. He couldn’t believe it.
“There has to be a way to get out,” he shouted.
“Look,” Joe said, standing and approaching Tony. “There isn’t a way. Just be happy you’re here. It isn’t the worse thing that can happen. Trust me. The only reason you’re here is because things were far away from perfection. Why else wouldn’t you notice that someone has near enough killed you.”
“Things were perfect.”
Tony looked down at his broken watch and that hurt his head.
“At least I think they were. It feels like a dream but I remember my wife leaving me,” Tony said and then walked out to the front of the pub.
It was the first time that he had been outside since he had gotten there. The moon was looking down on him and yet nothing seemed dark. It was almost as bright as it would have been if it was day time. He turned to see if Joe was following him. He wasn’t. Slowly, Tony outstretched his arms and waited for something. A breeze to hit him. The sound of a bird singing to hit his ears. Nothing. He walked back onto the road and looked down it. Back towards London. A little part of him told him it was a stupid idea, the rest of him told him to do it. It would only take a couple of days and it’s not like he needed food or sleep. Tony broke into a full sprint and ran down the road. The scenery never changed. Just a barren wasteland in every direction. At some points he thought he saw something in the distance, just out of the corner of his eye. But he didn’t. There was nothing there. Not that it stopped him from stopping and looking. At one point he thought he saw a bird. In fact he was sure he had seen a bird. Not one part of him thought that maybe it was just his imagination. To him it was true. There was a bird flying above him.
It took him two days but he made it. The end of the road. Or the start of the road. Except it wasn’t what he expected. He just looped round and found the pub again, he just approached it from a different angle. He walked towards it. He wanted to make sure it was the same place. Then he saw that sign. That warn and scratched sign. Summed the place up. He kicked at the dirt underneath him. A small cloud of dust rose in the air, but with no wind to carry it, it fell.
Tony set off again a moment later. That time he fled across the wasteland. The pub was behind him. It was exactly like a desert. He got to a point that if he turned around he couldn’t see the pub, but a couple more steps forward and he could see it in the distance. He was looping again. There was no stopping it. He fell to the floor and tried to cry. Nothing happened.
Tony wasn’t sure how long he stayed there. Without the cooing it could have been an hour, two hours, a day, a week, a year, a decade, a century, a millennium. Slowly he stood up and walked back to the pub. For some reason he walked back on himself rather than just carry on with the path he was walking. Something inside made that make sense to him.
He walked back into the pub, past Angela, who didn’t bat an eyelid, through the back room and downstairs. His room was neat again. The bed had been replaced, the hair removed. The dents in the wood fixed. The only evidence of his stay was the scratchings and that made sense to Tony. That’s all it took. He understood everything because of the scratchings. The barrels, the customers, Angela. It all helped but the scratchings was the last piece. The main piece. In some way it made Tony happy to think that maybe he was going to help someone. That someone would come in here and see the markings. That they would figure it out like him. He just hoped that whoever was next didn’t have to live in hope for something for so long before figuring it out.
He left the room and walked back upstairs. There was nothing left for him at the pub. He went into the front, looking for Joe. Instead he found someone else. He was standing in the doorway. Wearing boots and a stained trench coat, the newcomer looked like a cowboy. That isn’t what would have made Tony’s heart skipped a beat. It was the long greasy blonde hair that hung in clumps from his smiling head.
To Be Continued…