Heaven is the Absence of Will

June 17, 2020

Will enters another crisp white room, the lights overhead are bright, yet diffuse. If they made sound they would be blaring but deep - no matter, so would he. It’s been nearly 10 hours since he entered the clinic for his operation - 3 hours in a waiting room, 4 in an operations queue, and 3 more in the operating room itself. They shaved his head, and left electrodes all over his scalp tying him to this loud, heavy machine he’s been carting around all day. Evidently he’s awaiting the surgeon, but he hasn’t seen a single one anywhere around this place, just nurses pacing all over with clipboards, smiling and avoiding his questions. He had this coming picking the cheapest option. He’d been in situations like this before of course - hospitals, restaurants, hotels - anywhere people are paid to serve, but not well, you really need to pine for their attention. He’s never been one to pine though, because he knows the 6 magical words to get their attention - “Let me speak to your manager”.

Still, he tries to keep his composure - his lips may be dry and cracked from idly whistling all day, his old back weak and bent, his hips tight like a spring that will never unwind - but today is the day that all ends, and the rest of his life he’s worked so hard for begins.

Finally a woman in a white smock walks in, another clipboard bearer. “Hello sir, thank you so much for your patience as we worked to develop the right experience for you. Unfortunately, personality compatibility is not yet an exact science, and we had to sort through a number of options before finding what we are more confident will give you the best possible experience.”

Will chewed on this for only a second - “Uh huh, so what is it you are trying to say exactly? How fucking dare you! Who is your..”, Will bit his tongue - surprising - how far was he willing to push this? What was he planning to get out of it? The thoughts roiled his mind, but before he could continue the nurse interrupted him: “Oh I mean nothing by it sir! But your case really did get some people at HQ going. One of our staff psychologists drove down here to meet you himself before you transition. He’s a wonderful man, and I’m sure he’ll treat you well for your last meal. He’s waiting for you in the other room.”

“Finally, someone with authority. He’s not going to hear the end of this..” Will grimaced, but underneath this shallow facade he grinned - he’d spent nearly his entire savings on this, and he wasn’t going to blow it on anything subpar. This was his chance to play one last game of negotiation. He knows as well as anyone, consumers - especially ones with an audience - have all the power. One bad review from him and this place was burnt toast. He checked his phone as they walked to the aforementioned room, texts from his ex-wife and daughter sat unread, while he live-tweeted the experience - he figured they could check there if they wanted to follow along like everyone else.

He’d been through several rooms at the clinic that day, but they might as well have all been the same. White tiles, bright fluorescent overhead lights, generic IKEA furniture, and the same tri-tone streak of acrylic on canvas sorry excuse for modern art hanging on every wall in every one. This room was different though, dark mahogany floors met 20 foot tall walls of matte black. There was no furniture to be seen. It gave the room a feeling of immense, inconceivable size. At the same time it could have induced a claustrophobic sort of darkness if it weren't for the fourth wall - a solid pane of glass, looking out on the canopy of a majestic rainforest. It was such a focal point in the room, there was simply nothing else to see.

“I’m glad you’re here, we’ve been waiting for you.” said the only man in the room. He sat with his legs crossed, on the floor, facing the view, though it's not like there was really any other sensible direction to face. Will started immediately - "Oh I'm sorry, how long is it you have been waiting? I'm sure as hell it's not as long as I have!"

Before Will could continue, the man quickly turned to face him and stood. He was tall, nearly twice Will's height. His face was dark, not without kindness, but very stern. He wore a steely grey suit with a distinctly purple tie, and a posture that made time seem to stand still. Will stammered for a second, then stepped back and averted his eyes directly towards his toes - anything to avoid the man's gaze.

The man laughed. A deep, bellowing laugh, then sat again to meet Will's eyes. "I'm sure you have been. And do you realize why exactly it is you've been waiting so very long? That personality of yours sure is fascinating. Why I've never seen anything like it. Here, hold this in your hand - I have some questions to ask you."

The man handed Will a small metal sphere - he expected it to be heavy, and cold, but instead it felt neutral and light, like he had nothing in his hand at all. Will started again, clutching the sphere tightly - "Oh you're not the only one who finds me fascinating. Hell, I'm probably the first guy who's ever stepped in this joint with an ounce of character. But I'm not here to be some sort of guinea pig, and I'm sure nobody has the guts to stand up to you, but guess what pal? You're messing with the wrong guy. I'm a human being, and I'm not going to be treated like some sort of lab rat. You can't just throw me in a room and expect me to do whatever you want me to. I'm the one paying you, bub. So I'm the one in charge around here, and you'd better start giving me some answers. I'll have you know I..." the man again interrupted Will, this time by snapping his fingers. The scenery behind the glass changed - in an instant what was once a lush rainforest had become a dark abyss, scattered with specks of light. The room felt immense, and suddenly Will felt overcome with space, and cold. Very cold.

The man started again: "I understand your impatience, but believe us, there isn't much we could do. Those who come to our service often haven't lived the very best of lives, that much is obvious. Be it heaven or hell, nirvana or endless reincarnation, paradise or purgatory, there are a number of options for where you may end up - but here, we offer a certain sort of guarantee. That guarantee is that to the best of our ability, we will take who you are and immerse it in a world of endless reward. And that doesn't just mean pumping your brain full of dopamine; we mean deep fulfillment. The kind you get in old age, realizing a life well lived, replete with romance, friendship, purpose, community, belonging, you know the deal. Now for most of our customers that's pretty elusive. They are fabulously wealthy, yes, but this is exactly the set of things wealth doesn't buy. Quite the contrary, they've often explicitly forgone anything of the sort in the pursuit of their wealth. A second chance is what we offer them. You on the other hand, you're here for a superficially similar reason, but you never explicitly compromised on any of those things. They simply eluded you. So it took a very very long time to find a set of parameters compatible with your, ahem, vibrant personality. And I just had to meet you in person to see for myself. You do not disappoint my dear Will. This is going to be very interesting."

When the man next stood up, he reached for the nearby wall and retrieved a book, seemingly out of nowhere. It was dark brown, and ancient looking, with gold leafed pages and a musty smell upon opening. Each page was littered with curves and dots, patterns Will had never seen before. The man looked up at Will for a second, studying his expression, then his eyes darted to his chest, where Will’s 10 hours old nametag stood the test of time, and finally he flipped to the end of the book, scanning the pages until he seemed to find what he was looking for.

"The city councilmen refused the demonstrators a permit because they feared violence. Who are they?"

Will stammered at first, about to answer the question, when he caught himself once more. He wasn't going to have this man bully him around like this. He knew the deal - everyone's always trying to get something out of you - and he didn't just spend his life savings to be pushed around. "My lawyers. Now I'm not giving you shit until you give me some answers. The world is going to hear about this shitty experience, and the way I see it you'll never have another customer as long as I live!"

The sphere he'd forgotten clutched deep in his hand grew warm, then cold, then scaldingly hot, then frigid. He gasped and let go, expecting a thud, but instead it slowly fell like a feather towards the floor, easy for the man to intercept between his finger and thumb, rub clean for good measure, and place back in his pants pocket. Will glanced at his hand to see if it was burnt.

Soon Will was back in the waiting room, except now the table was set with fine china, wine glasses, a large roast and a bottle of wine. The man smiled, motioned to a seat, and poured a glass of wine. "That's not what we had in mind Will. This is an extremely premium service. You're not going to get a bad deal. Now sit down and enjoy dinner. I have more questions."

Will did not enjoy dinner. The wine was sour and the meat undercooked, but he ate it all anyway, in silence. The man asked question after question, but Will sat resolute. The questions seemed like a farce of his own situation - all absurd stories about animals helpless in torment - turtles in the desert, etc. Satisfied with the free meal he'd won himself, and certain he was going to get one hell of a discount, Will considered his tone, decided to change his tactics a bit, and finally piped up:

“Okay, thank you for the dinner but I’ve had enough diversions - it’s time to get to business. You can think what you like about me, but I’m going to be honest that this has been the absolute worst experience of my life. I am a reasonable man - I lived an honest life, worked hard to get to where I am, and now I’m just looking to cash in. It feels like you’re getting in my way, and if you can give me an explanation of what is going on, and why you brought me here, and what I'm paying for - if you can give me all of those things then I may reconsider. But I'm not paying a single penny until I know what the hell is going on here."

The man pulled out another book from what seemed like nowhere, under his chair. He opened to a page somewhere halfway through, cleared his throat so loudly Will jumped in his seat a bit, and began reading:

“You have asked to know more, you have mentioned your experience so far is unsatisfactory. All I can tell you is that it can be much, much worse. There are a number of services we offer here, but one maxim stands behind it all - we prioritize customer satisfaction. I am afraid that for the first time ever, though not completely unexpectedly, that is not something we can guarantee. What I am offering you instead is a one-time only, non-refundable, non-reversible option. You can tell yourself that you are very angry with us, you can tell yourself that the service is shit, you can tell yourself that you've been exploited, but all that I can tell you is that there is a chance, however small, that for the rest of time you will regret doing what you presently will to do, Will.”

Will’s eyebrows bent inwards towards his nose, he stomped his foot on the hard floor and threw his wine glass across the table. The man was unfazed, he flipped to the next page and kept reading:

“We are offering you the option, no strings attached, to simply be dead. Now the people here - we're not evil. I'm not the scum of the earth, and I'm not about to see an opportunity like this one wasted. You get one chance, and one chance only. We'll collect your body, it'll be cremated, and it'll be returned to your family as soon as possible, or at least as per their wishes. We may face some awful repercussions, but we cannot proceed without knowing you at least had the option. Whatever that means.”

Will stood from his chair, face red and hot, blood boiling and pulled out his phone - “I have never, ever, been treated with such complete insolence. This is fucking highway robbery, you hear me? I can’t believe I worked so damn hard and spent my life savings on this. My ex-wife hates me, my daughter wants me dead, and you promise a second chance - but now I see it’s all a big fat sham. I demand to speak to your manager, and I will take nothing less than a massive discount for this sorry excuse of a shot at heaven. Hell, I don’t give a fuck what you think. You are exactly like everyone else on this lousy excuse for a planet - you think I owe you something, don’t you? Just because I’m lonely and old I deserve pity? Listen buddy, I want everything I paid for and more, or else this whole exchange is being broadcast to millions of my readers immediately.” Will pointed to his phone’s screen, where a red waveform and stop recording button was blatant even from across the room.

The man sighed, folded his napkin, and gathered his patience to reassure Will: “Of course. That won’t be necessary Will. It sounds like you’ve made up your mind. We’re happy to offer you the full luxury package, completely free of charge. We’ve been preparing it all day of course. Please come with me.”

The man motioned to a door on the opposite side of the room. Will was still fuming, but secretly smug. Behind the door lay an operating table with a long motorized seat, and a ring-like apparatus near the head with a long thick cord connected to a stack of black devices blinking tirelessly. Underneath it all lay a chamber full of liquid nitrogen. This was the beginning of the rest of his life. Finally.