David woke up with a start, as if someone had splashed him in the face with a bucket of ice water. A long, thin, thread of drool was hanging from his lower lip, pooling on his pant leg. David absent-mindedly wiped his lips and glanced around the room, bringing it into focus. The room was painted a stark white that reflected the recessed banks of fluorescent lights and filled the space with an otherworldly glow.
He was doubled over in an uncomfortable, bright orange, plastic chair. David leaned back and saw that the chairs lined both walls, popping out in vivid contrast to the colorless room. His eyes followed the chairs until they stopped at a massive wooden desk with a deep brown varnish. The desktop was clean except for an all-in-one computer, a rolodex that was stuffed to the gills with cards, and a green phone with the light for its single line steadily blinking.
Behind the desk sat a diminutive woman that looked to David like she had to be in her 80s. She was dressed smartly in a black pantsuit over an blue ruffled blouse. Bifocals hung from the tip of her nose that had thin gold chains dangling from the arms. The chains shook violently as she typed on her keyboard, her eyes rapidly scanning the computer monitor.
David tried to speak, but his throat was so dry that he only made a croaking sound. The woman behind the desk stopped, glanced toward David, and then pointed to the back of the room where a water cooler stood. On cue, a single bubble rose to the top of the half filled tank and burst with a loud, dull, thud. David stood up and walked over to the water cooler, filling several of the small conical paper cups and draining them without taking a breath. After he drank his fill, he crushed the paper cup in his hand, looked down the room toward the woman behind the desk, and asked a simple question.
“Where am I?”
“You’re in the waiting room,” she replied.
“What am I waiting for?”
“For your appointment,” the woman said dismissively.
“With the counselor,” she said as she gestured for David to take his seat.
The woman behind the desk went back to typing on the computer as David shuffled back to his chair. He made himself as comfortable as he could and took in his sparse surroundings as he played with the crumbled paper cup. Beneath the amplified crunching noises he was making, he thought he faintly heard music playing. He stopped fiddling with the cup and listened, but he couldn’t make out the sound anymore. David started nervously folding the paper cup over and over and over. Each time he started, he heard the music start again, and each time he stopped the music stopped. He swore it sounded like the opening notes to “Rebel Rouser” by Duane Eddy, a song that was recorded and disappeared from the annals of pop culture decades before he was born. David glanced back down at the woman behind the desk who was still engrossed in whatever she was working on, the dull glow of the monitor reflecting in her glasses, the click, click, click of the keys filling that end of the room.
David asked, “Is that Duane Eddy?”
“I don’t know Duane Eddy. He hasn’t been here to see the counselor. You are the first to make an appointment today.”
David tried to clarify his question, “No, I mean, are you listening to Duane Eddy?”
“I’m not playing any music, but you might be hearing it.”
David asked, “What does that mean?”
“The counselor will answer your questions. I will let you in to see her as soon as she is available.”
David slumped back in his chair and closed his eyes. He had a ruthless headache that only kept pounding harder and faster, shooting flashes of light behind his translucent eyelids. He heard the phone on the desk start ringing and glanced up to see the single line lit up solidly. It was a traditional sounding telephone ring that would sound three times, and it was followed by a maniacal, childlike, laughter that you might hear on a cheap carnival ride. This ring continued in a cyclical pattern that the woman behind the desk ignored until it stopped cold. David swore he heard a cartoonish boing sound, like a spring releasing its tension, when the phone stopped ringing and the light for the single line went back to steadily blinking. The woman behind the desk stood up and broke the silence.
“The counselor is ready to see you now,” she said, “Come up to the desk and sign in please.”
David stood up and started walking toward the desk. His head hurt so much, and it felt like every bone in his body was aching. He watched as the woman pulled a clipboard from a drawer and set it on the edge of the desk, balancing an immaculately sharpened #2 pencil on top. David reached the desk, picked up the pencil, and looked down at the clipboard. He could feel the woman staring at him the entire time. She was so quiet when she wasn’t moving that David couldn’t even hear her breathe. The paper attached to the clipboard was blank, except for a single straight line drawn horizontally near the top of the page.
“Write your name on the line and enter the office through the door behind me. Leave both the pencil and the clipboard.”
“I can’t remember my name,” David replied.
“Your name is David.”
David asked the woman, “I know that, but what is my last name?”
“The counselor will answer your questions. Write David on the line and then proceed through the door behind me.”
David scrawled his name across the line in big, block letters and started to walk behind the desk toward the counselor’s office. He absentmindedly clutched the pencil in his hand.
“I said leave the clipboard, AND the pencil.”
David flipped the pencil toward the woman behind the desk. She made no attempt to catch it as it bounced off her shoulder and rolled toward the floor. The woman never even slightly tensed. She continued to stare at David with her vacant eyes peeking out over her bifocals as he opened the door and stepped into the office.
As David stepped into the office, he immediately saw that it was much differently appointed than the waiting room. Vibrant house plants were growing in pots on every available surface and colorful baskets of flowers were hanging from the ceiling. The windows in the back of the office were the type found in a grade school, and the window panes were slightly open. Brilliant rays of sunshine leaked into the room, illuminating the floating dust mites circulating on the draft created by the open windows. The desk in the office was cluttered with stacks of creased papers, binders bursting at the seams, and well worn file folders.
A young woman who looked to David to be in her late 20s was reclining in an office chair with her feet up on the desktop. She was wearing a faded and torn tee shirt that read in bold capital letters, “IF THINGS GET ANY WORSE, I WILL HAVE TO ASK YOU TO STOP HELPING,” and a filthy pair of blue jeans covered in potting soil and other unidentifiable stains. She was wearing black flats and one was kicked off haphazardly on the desk, while the other dangled from her toes. David thought she might have been trying to spin it around her big toe like a hula hoop. She lazily looked David up and down before speaking.
“Have a seat David. I’m the counselor. I imagine you have a lot of questions for me.”
“I do,” David replied hoarsely.
“I have a question for you first.”
“Shoot,” David said.
The woman made a gun with her index finger and thumb, pointed it at David and shouted, “BANG!”
“Take a seat David.”
David sat down. There were two faux brown leather easy chairs in front of her desk that were much more comfortable than the orange plastic ones in the waiting room. The fabric was torn, and where it hadn’t been duct taped over, yellow stuffing was pouring out of the holes.
“Why did you do it, David?”
David was choking and silently mouthed, “Why did I do what?”
“Why did you kill yourself?”
To be continued in Serial Story #1 Part Two which will be published around the same time as “The Winds of Winter” by George R.R. Martin.