The doors opened. Jon was slumped against the side wall.
“Geez, they should at least send them down here on a gurney.” Dr. Hauptman bent, put a hand under Jon’s chin and tilted the old man’s face upward.
“You again. I don’t think you’re quite ready yet.”
Dr. Hauptman’s gleaming white lab coat gave him the appearance of a short stubby snowman. He was not the Medical Examiner but made thrice weekly visits to The Lodge to check on folks that had passed, to determine if an autopsy was required or if they could be sent to their funeral home. Seldom was there a need for a deeper examination as all the deceased were elderly and passed by obvious natural means. The cause on the Death Certificate was always something like cancer or heart failure or most often pneumonia. Dr. Hauptman was often inclined to just write ‘death caused by too many years of life’ or ‘death by old age’. He always gave in to better judgement.
The Holding Room, the staff called it. The Cold Room many of the residents knew it by. Jon and a few others called it the Meat Locker. There were no windows and the temperature was always kept cool. When the lights were off the dark was so thick the room was like an empty universe. When the building mechanicals were silent as well the Holding Room was like a place before time began, no light or sound. When the lights were on they blazed so bright it was like being in the presence of a white dwarf star. So bright you could not see.
Jon was roused from his faint. He was disoriented and confused. Dr. Hauptman had him roll to his knees and together were able to get Jon standing. He wobbled and tilted and had to brace himself against the elevator wall until his vision was clear enough to make out the hallway and the open door at the end with a light so bright coming from it that it could have been the entrance to the afterlife, like the light one goes in to at the end of the tunnel at death. Jon did not remember that he had already visited this place.
“Probably a bit of low blood sugar,” Dr. Hauptman said. Jon leaned on the shorter man as if he were his crutch. “I’ve got some cookies in the room. I was saving them from my lunch so I could snack later. Chocolate chip. They’ll put a spring back in your step.”
“Who are you?” Jon asked. “Where is this place? Marta. Poor Marta, she’s having a miscarriage, we have to help her. Her blood is everywhere and she is so far away from home. I tried to help her but what do I know about this stuff, I’m just a teacher.”
“Marta? Someone you know? I’m sure she’ll be fine. Let’s get you into my Holding Room and get your wits back. You’re not allergic to chocolate are you? I could let you have the last of my cheese sandwich instead. Though it’s on white bread.”
It was not unusual for a Lodge resident to wander, though this was the first time Dr. Hauptman had found one collapsed in the service elevator.
“Just a bit lost?”
“I don’t get many visitors down here. Not live ones anyway. You must be drawn here like a homing pigeon.”
Jon shielded his eyes from the light as they entered the Holding Room. Cool air struck his face like a winter wind. He expected the smell of raw meat to fill his nostrils but there was no smell at all, not even the unpleasant odor of disinfectant.
“Am I dead?”
“I don’t think so. Not unless I’m dead too.”
“I was looking for Mrs. Chin.”
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