Tony didn’t want to doubt himself. As soon as he could leave the room he did. He went back down to his newly cleaned room and sat there. At one point he heard someone in the corridor outside. He checked and saw Joe walking back towards the stairs. He watched him until he was out of sight and then retreated back into the room. Tony used the bed as a barricade to the door. He locked himself away thinking that, soon, it would all be over. That he would blink and be in a hospital. Jennie, Chrissie and Johnny. They would all be there. Waiting. All of them would have a smile on their faces when he awoke. That single imagined image kept him going for a week and then things got desperate. It got boring quickly when there was nothing to do but wait. It wasn’t like he could actually tell how accurate he was at guessing the time either.
Soon enough time got to him. He began to believe that maybe he was never going to wake up. Then other ideas crossed his mind. Maybe he needed to do something. He was active when he made progress before. Maybe he needed to do something. He pulled the bed away from the door and walked out of his room. He walked back up to the bar. Angela was standing behind it, washing cups. Joe was wiping down tables. Nate was sitting at the bar. He was the only one not doing anything. Joe saw Tony first.
“You all right now?”
“Good. The others wanted to go and fetch you a couple of weeks ago, but I told them not too. You needed to get through it by yourself.”
“Thanks,” Tony said, feebly. “Weeks? How long was I down there.”
“Time’s a funny thing round here. Going by my reckoning at least a year, probably a lot more.”
“And you just waited?” Tony asked Nate.
“What else was I supposed to do. After you spend a few years in this place time moves so fast you don’t notice it.”
“I’m not going to wake up, am I?”
“No one has yet mate. But you can still see your family,” Joe said.
“How?” Tony shouted.
Nate stood up, laughed and walked over to Joe. He put a hand on his shoulder.
“Easy, bud. We’ll get you there.”
They left for the city an hour later. There was nothing to clean up. Joe said his goodbyes and wished them luck. He told Tony that if the city ever got to much for him that there would always be a place for him back at the pub. Tony appreciated the thought but imagined that he told that to everyone who passed through there. That was if other people came through there. He was unsure on how big his imagination was. There was no proof that there was anyone out of his sights.
They walked for a day and the road didn’t loop. It first appeared as a small black bump, far on the horizon. And then it grew. The bump became more detailed. Black towers spurted upwards, out of the centre of the bump. Most of the towers were just like the sky scrappers which Tony would see on the DLR line on his way to work. Others looked different. They jutted off in different directions. Had appendages which made the building look like a staircase. Tony noted at least three buildings like that and they each had at least four towers connected to one another, slightly getting higher each time. A couple of the towers were spirals pointing upwards. Even when the pair got closer everything looked black.
“Is everything black in the city?” Tony asked his brother.
“Yes. It’s all connected with Jimmy. The reaper. He likes black.”
“Did he create the city?” It was something that had been bothering Tony for a while.
“In a way I suppose. Really he is this place. He walks around like any other human in the other world. But he carries a little pouch. It’s tied to his belt. Anyone would think that it’s just a quirky coin purse. But that’s where he keeps us. He stores our souls in the pouch. Somehow that keeps him going. I don’t know how but it does. Some believe that we are in the bag, that this is the bottom. Others believe that we have imagined this place together. Others believe that we have accessed Jimmy’s mind by being put here. That this is the deepest part of him.”
“What do you believe?”
“I don’t know. I don’t really care. We’re here and that is all that matters to me.”
“I’ve got another question.”
“How do you know so much? If everyone is brought here like me then surely there is no way that anyone can actually know any of this stuff is real?”
Tony was quite proud of the question. He thought that there was no way that Nate could answer it. Without an answer to that question then it was near enough a fact that everything was inside Tony’s head. At least that’s what he told himself. Nate just laughed.
“Once you’ve been here as long as I have a question like that would come across as really stupid. There was a single person who came here first. One of the earliest humans. You see that tower. The tallest one right in the middle? When you get to go to the top of that then you’ll see him. He’s met the reaper. I mean we’ve all met the reaper, but he has met him more times than anyone else. He knows these things and he passes it on.”
“Have you ever met Jimmy since you’ve been here? Seen that any of this is true and not just one man’s delusion?”
“Sure. Anyway. We’re here now. Welcome to the city. You’re going to like it.”
To Be Continued…