The room was blank and cold.
“What do you mean?” the man said.
“Choose. Add something.” The voice was impersonal, distracted. Neither male nor female, it sounded as if it had been doing this all its life.
“Warmth. Books. A chair.”
The room heated instantly – a comfortable temperature. A rack of shelves appeared on the wall, fading into existence as if they’d always been there. They were covered with brown, dog-eared titles; paperbacks and leather-bound hardbacks. They brought with them the smell of comfort. The man exhaled and fell into the armchair that had just appeared.
He realised then that he wasn’t actually hearing the voice. The words were simply appearing in his memory. “But – what do you want?”
“Me? This isn’t about me.” As if it had never considered the possibility. “Choose.”
The man looked around the chamber. “A window. A desk.”
They appeared as if straight from the subconscious; archetype objects. The man got up to tap at the surface of the desk, littered as it was with papers, pens, notes. Not just the object itself, but everything a desk was.
Through the window he saw landscape. It was nowhere and it was everywhere; frictionless, impossible. Even the colours had melted.
“What is this place?”
The voice hesitated. “Is there anything else?”
“I can’t think…”
“It is done, then.”
“Wait!” How he knew the voice was leaving he couldn’t say. Like it was turning away. “Wait – what is this place? What am I doing here?”
“Why, this is Hell, of course.”
“W-what do you mean?”
“This is your existence – I won’t say life, you’re done with that now – until the end of time.”
“But – but wait… Hell? This is –”
“Or Heaven. There’s really no difference.”
He had no words. His mouth flapped open, head shaking.
“It’s sad, really.” The voice – it was distant now, pausing by some invisible exit.
“W-what do you mean?”
“Eternity alone? What –”
“Company! Give me friends, give me my wife –”
“Too late now.”
“Who – who are you?”
“Just a soul who’s far more damned than you.”
The man felt a sigh like a whisper on the wind – except there was no breeze. Nothing moved. The window, he saw now, was closed. Sealed. He knew he’d never be able to get it open, never smash the glass.
He knew he’d still try, though.
He’d spend a long time trying.
* * *
The entity drifted silently through a million blank walls, waiting for its next assignment. It shook its incorporeal head.
“‘What do you want?’” the voice chuckled. “As if, as if…”
The man’s fate wasn’t so bad, not really. At least he had books and paper, could do something to pass the centuries. No, not nearly as bad as the things the entity had seen. But it had hoped… A clever man like that…
“One day,” it sighed. “One day one of them will ask for a door.”