Thorsten Nesch

- Storyteller -

13. “If a society doesn’t do everything in their power to make people feel better, then they don’t want to.”

Chi and Mia were gone. I had heard about children becoming heroes, but I thought there would be more of a reason, like health problems, a serious sickness. Mia was not an unhappy child, her mom was a desperate mother, caught in a drab everyday life like anybody else. Their journey wasn't necessary, there could have been a way out for them.

And Rico didn't deserve that, on his first day. He worked for a respectful farewell on his own time, not the first day! They should have let him have some fun. He was into it, he looked forward to the days to come. That wasn't fair. Even with the Wildcard model, they should have shown him respect. Day four or five would have been fine.

Nobody down in Lethbridge knew about this, the narrative about the hotel and everything seemed carefully scripted—not a lie, but a truth bent enough to be questioned. Who could I talk to now? This discussion should happen before people arrive here, a public discussion, it is about people's lives. Lives that might have been worth living. Mia's for sure.

Minna's face appeared in the middle of the room, transparent, beautiful. I wish I could have another coffee with her, anything, as a matter of fact, a glass of water, just talking and sitting next to her would do it, would make me feel... what? Happy? Seeing her again, one more time, being with her would be the first thing in my life in a long time I would look really forward to.

Was there more possible between us? She seemed to have a different set of values, rebellious in the extreme. I should have asked about her stands on anarchy. I never met anybody like her before. I wish I would have known her sooner. We should have met more often, talked more, maybe laughed together.

And if they twist the truth, if Afterlife isn't fully open about everything, then: Is my brother still alive? What was the guarantee there? Or were they white-lying there too? My other organs sure would be appreciated by many. By him?

I would be dead for sure.

What would his life quality be? How long would he live?

A day?

Like Rico?

I heard the words of the guy who shot him, «He signed the contract.»

Who reads the entire contract?

I certainly didn't.

Anything can be in there.

Anything can be bent.

Even if I had wanted to, I didn't have enough time to read or speed-listen over my device to the entire contract I signed.

What was I thinking? Signing a legal contract without reading it thoroughly, a document about my death.

I wasn't even sure anymore if I want to die this way.

Berat. I wish we could talk. I wish I had some proof.

I do not want to die, not now.

Not today.

KRRR, the sound of an incoming in-house message.

I grabbed my 55 and woke it up. The message came from the hotel management, my prep meeting for my farewell would be in Epona's office half an hour from now.

: : :

When Epona buzzed her door open for me, my face was still glowing after washing it with cold water to get rid of the traces of my emotional outburst.

She was sitting at a desk the size of a billiard table, gesturing I should come over and take a seat.

The chair snarled over the floor as I took my place.

«Your big day, Arthur, congratulations», she pushed her device aside and sorted through papers.

«Thank you. But...»

«Are you okay?»

«Yeah, yeah, I...»

She shoved the documents over to me, «Just formalities, please sign where indicated», then she slid over a ball pen.

«What formalities?»

«Why the what?»

«Yeah, what formalities?»

«Really? Now? The one last signature, for insurance purposes. Wasn't that explained to you at the agency?»


«This last meeting.»

«Yes, but nothing I was supposed to sign. Again. Anyway, I wondered...»

«Who was your agent?»

«Jaqueline LaFeut.»

«Pfh, of course», she reached for her 56 and swiped a few times over it as if it was dirty.

I waited until she was done, my hands flat on the documents in front of me. The loose tissue sticking out of its box to the left fluttered ever so lightly in the draft flowing down from the air conditioner.

She looked up, «Did you sign them?»

«No. I have a question.»

Epona took a deep breath and checked the time on her device, «O-kay?»

«What if I decided against it?»

«Against what?»

«Against my journey.»

«We all have to go on that journey.»

«I'd rather do it later.»

She smiled softly, «Doubts are normal on your last day, everything gets real, overwhelming...»

«I'm not overwhelmed.»

«No, of course, you're not. All I want to say is, this is a difficult time for you, and for me, I totally understand.»

«You don't! Not for you! You're not supposed to go on your journey today.»

«Just because you feel... good... doesn't mean your life got somehow better, or would be better. Remember your miserable existence down there, that's how everything would be. You feel this way because of us, the hotel, the colours, the excitement, the fun, but this is not the real world, the real world is grey and bleak, with a chance of sadness.»

«I don't know anymore.»

«I hate to bring him up, but you seem to be in distress: what about your brother», she glanced at her 56, «Berat?»

«I thought about him.»

«His brighter future, too?»

«But that's not guaranteed.»

«Only everyone's journey is guaranteed. Wait a second», she swiped and typed on her device, «Ah, yes, that's what I thought. Here», she propped it up, so I could see the screen.

My brother was lying in his bed with his eyes closed, tubes coming out of his nose and mouth, sensors on his forehead, and his head shaved with surgical drawings on the side.

Epona lowered her voice, «They induced already the artificial coma to get his body ready for the surgery. Everybody is just waiting for you», she looked me in the eyes, «He is waiting for you.»

She sat the device aside and slid over the pack of tissue. I picked one, rubbed my eyes and blew my nose.

«Now ready?», she asked.

I opened the first page, where a neon pink post-it note showed the line I had to sign.

The pen trembled in my hand, in slow-motion I moved the tip behind the word Signature. Instead of signing, the pen slipped out of my fingers.

«Arthur! Get a grip of yourself!»

«I can't. I don't want to.»

«You already made that decision!»

«I want to live.»

«No. You don't. Deep down you don't, and you know it.»

«All I know is, I don't want to die now. It is all too confusing.»

She folded her hand in front of herself as if she wanted to break out in prayer, «Arthur. Listen to me. The life you had was as good as it gets for you. Topping it with your experience here at the hotel! Lucky you. Your brother, not so lucky, huh!? But you don't seem to really care about him...»

«I do!»

«Sure. Let's forget the human side and the right thing to do, think of it practical: if you pull out of your absolutely admirable commitment, how do you want to pay back our investment in you? How? Ridiculous, right? There is no way you could come up with that many volts, you'd be bankrupt, instantly, broke, poor, homeless, sleeping with the rats and the Coastals under one of the coulee bridges. And that only if you escape the authorities, which you won't, and they'd sentence you for first-degree fraud to life, biking in the Goo», she moved like a monkey on a bicycle, cross-eyed, «Does that sound fun? You want that? Does that sound like a great life to you? You had a great life, considering all and everything you came from, the rest would be torture.»

My head felt like a laundry machine for thoughts in a spin cycle. I couldn't find a concrete idea, hold on to a single feeling, everything became blurry, the only thing I could say was, «I want to go back», and I shoved the documents over to her.

She stared at me silently.

Her stare morphed into despiteful disappointment and disgust, «Arthur, Arthur, Arthur. Did anything happen here at the hotel?»

I shook my head.

«Did we not do our best?»

«You did. It's me», bringing up Rico now could work further against me.

«This has never happened to me», she said, «You would be the first.»

«I am, I guess, sorry.»

«No, you don't want to be that guy.»

I asked, «When is the next shuttle going back down?»

She worked her 56, «In thirty-five minutes, you want a long drink on the way?»

«Can I?»


«What kind?»

«Tequila Sunrise, please?!»

«A Tequila Sunrise it is. You want a foot massage with it, too?»

Was she playing with me?

«Do you prefer a Thai foot massage or a Swedish foot massage, or are you more into Reflexology...?»

«Epona, are you making fun of me?»

«Fun? Of you? Why would I?», she was laughing artificially. Loud, too long, and on the verge of craziness.

She stopped when the door behind me flew open, and two security officers came in; I recognized them from the star plank.

I jumped up from my chair, «What is it now?»

Without a word each guard grabbed one of my arms, and they led me out of the office, away from Epona, my documents, and since I was sure they wouldn't escort me to the shuttle back to Lethbridge, I yelped for, «Help! H...»

One of them throat-punched me with his fingers.

: : :

The two carried me more than I walked, my feet only tiptoeing over the hallway. I coughed and it hurt to swallow, at first it felt like I would die. They pushed me into a room and locked the door between us. It clicked quietly, with a short hissing sound afterwards.

I tried the doorknob, it didn't move; I knocked on the door, hammered against it. No response. And my voice, even my noise sounded odd.

This was a soundproof door, I called for, «Help!»

A soundproof room.

My hand went for my device. Gone. They had taken my 55. «Hey! I want my device back!», I waited, «Hey!»


In the middle stood a tiny round table with two stools and next to a wall a long bench, that would work as a bed, too, if need be. Those were the only furniture pieces, neither one movable, they looked like somebody had poured cement over them, let it dry and painted everything eggshell white, no colours, no corners, all round. The only light source was integrated into the ceiling.

Green tears appeared before my eyes, like a holographic projection, rooted in my fantasy, running down the white walls wherever I turned my head.

«A loonie bin?», speaking to myself, I rubbed my neck, where his fingers had hit me.

«No, Arthur, a quarantine room», Epona's voice came from the ceiling.

I saw three little dots, one being the microphone, the other the loudspeaker and the third a camera.

«What am I quarantined for?», my arms flapped against the sides of my legs.

«For your own good.»

«I'd say I am taking hostage, I am confined, I was hurt, and I can't go anywhere», I felt my knees and sat down at the table.

«Where do you want to go?»

«I told you, home.»

«There is no home. The end of your journey is your home.»

«No, I don't want anymore, I want to live!»

«Oh, please. For what?»

«I don't know, things change.»

«Nothing changes.»


«You are very selfish, Arthur. What would your parents say, your grandfather, leaving your poor young brother to die?»

«I know why you say that, emotions only count for you when used for your good, against others.»

«It's for your good.»

«I can decide better what's good for me.»

«No, you are subjective.»

«But... it is me, I am supposed to die!»

«That worked in your life», she over-emphasized the irony in every word, «That's why you visited the agency, signed up for your journey, made the right decision.»

«The wrong decision.»

«Your brother needs you.»

«I don't know if he survives the surgery, and I saw what happened to Rico, and now what happened to me, getting punched in the throat by some goons, getting jailed here, I don't trust the agency, you, nobody and nothing anymore.»

«Rico, huh!?»

«Yes», instantly regretting mentioning the incident.

«Then you wait there until we get you and help you on your journey.»

«No, you can't do that, I am not your prisoner. I want to talk to... a lawyer.»

She laughed, the loudspeaker crackled, «You are broke, you are irrational, a lawyer, see, this is not a last century show, you are not yourself, calm down.»

«What? I can't calm down! I want to go back, back to Lethbridge.»

«Arthur, you and the agency signed a contract. And we are fulfilling our contracts.»

«No. And don't you need another signature for me?»

«We got that.»


«E-signature, copy-paste.»

«That is forgery!»

«You're funny.»

«I don't want anymore.»

«See you in... not too long.»

«No, let me out of here!»


A tiny static hiss from the loudspeaker faded away.



«Epona. Can I at least get my device back? Epona!», I yelled her name repeatedly.
Three dead dots on an egg-white ceiling.

: : :

Was I supposed to wait for my... execution? That would be the better word now. This is not my freedom of choice. I changed my choice, they didn't let me. If this is not one hundred percent my decision, to take my life or let my life be taken, it's not assisted suicide anymore, then it is murder. There is no in between, no grey zone. It is, or it is not. And this is not right.

Either the agency or the society is doing everything for you to make your life as well as possible, or they don't. And if they don't, don't they become accomplices to your decision to let your life being taken, doesn't that make them silent suicide supporters at that point?

«Pffffh», I made while cradling my head between my hands, rubbing my temples.

Why did I never think this way before? What was the society actually actively doing to make everybody's life as livable as possible, that it is worth living, that everybody has a dream, a tiny goal worth striving for, some ray of light in the darkness spending time and energy fighting for, so that thoughts of suicide, a quick one or on the timeline of drugs, won't ever occur, and help the mentally challenged and sick of course.

If a society doesn't do everything in their power to make people feel better, then they want them vulnerable and depressed. What if the goal of the society was to make the lives of as many as possible as miserable as possible to advocate suicide as a proper option—not openly of course, that would be wrong and too obvious; and what if their service to help along the way, the journey, would be just a way to mask their intention? Another incentive to influence one's decision.

It was.

Wasn't it?

I felt like stripping a facade off, layer by layer, seeing the truth clearer and more defined than ever before.

A shudder went down my back.

Why did I not see that? Not even imagining it? Nobody else?

«No», my teeth ground as I clenched my jaws.

I had to get out.

I had to get out of here.

How much longer did I have? There was no clock in my cell. How long would they let me sit here? An hour, half an hour? Minutes? The room was soundproof. Was it air tight, too? Could they simply gas me, model Chicken Farm? I couldn't find an opening or a hose. A ceiling tile could open though. I had no time. I stood up as if I had a plan. I needed a plan.

I walked along the walls, hammered against them, not a sound, most likely cement. Definitely not drywall. I casually leaned against the table, it didn't even jitter, rock solid.

What if the two guards are killers? They would show up prepared. I had to face them here on my terms, only then I would stand a chance to take them on, the element of surprise could work in my favour. Maybe.

My hand ran along the round table. Everything was round. I shouldn't kill myself here—a burst of laughter left my lips. How absurd. I wasn't supposed to hurt myself. What if I'd hurt myself? They see me, somebody's watching me. Would they let me rot here? I don't think so, somebody would come. Through that door there. The only door.

How could I hurt myself to get their attention? Hammering my head against the wall? Running into a wall! Maybe I'd pretend to be unconscious. Somewhere close to the door. I had to avoid a real concussion though.

I marched backwards against a wall.

Then I ran into the wall across the room, head first, but I let my shoulder take the blow and dropped to the ground, my head turned away from the camera, towards the door, so I could have at least one eye open.

I waited.

Crackling from the loudspeaker, followed by, «Arthur! Arthur. Get up! Nice try.»

I didn't flinch.

«Come on, Arthur. A few more minutes. You can do this. Arthur!», Epona's tone grew angrier, « Arthur!!! If you... orrr!»

Her losing her cool was music to my ears.

: : :

The buzz from the door sent a shot of adrenaline through my body.

A pair of boots came in first, another pair waited at the door. The security guards.

The two boots came closer until they were a foot away from my head. Nobody said anything. Instead, one boot disappeared and then I felt the hard sole in my flank, trying to shake me awake.

With his foot! Am I a dog?

I played dead.

He knelt down and grabbed me by the shoulders trying to lift me up, the other guard came in, too, the door slowly closing behind him. With one guard behind me, not suspecting my move, I had only one guard in front of me. It was now or never. As soon as they would have me in their tight grip, it would be too late.

From my half upright position I propelled myself into the start of a hundred-metre dash. The hands of the guard behind me lost their grip. The guy in front of me I faked trying to pass him on the left. Just as he shifted his substantial weight, I changed direction. His hand touched me, but I slipped through, snatched the door before it closed on me, and I made it out of my jail.

I ran down the hallway to the stairs and the elevators, away from the dead end of the floor. This was as far as my plan went, beyond this point I did not know what to do next. The boots stomped their drum beat behind me.

A few people looked at me bewildered as I ran past them, and when I saw the closing doors of an empty elevator, I jetted into it. In order not to interrupt the doors' closing process, I leaped over the knee-high motion detectors while ducking at the same time. Hard I landed against the back wall of the elevator, lost footing, slid down and ended up pressing the highest level button still being on my knees. As the doors closed, I heard a bang, probably the fist of a guard. The elevator started moving.

They would send out an alarm to their colleagues if they hadn't already. If I'd be them, I'd wait on each level for the elevator.

Between level three and four, I pressed the emergency button, and the elevator stopped. I jumped up and checked for the loose ceiling plate, the emergency exit, or maintenance door. With my next attempt I pushed it aside, so my fingers could hold on to the roof, and I pulled myself up. Using my head, I moved the plate out of my way and climbed out of the elevator into the shaft. Then I put the plate back in its place.

The smell of oil and hydraulic air wafted into my face. Steel pillars and a bunch of cables in the middle sectioned off eight elevator shafts. Slivers of lights from the doors lit up the shaft on every level. Panic surged. I wouldn't be able to climb all the way up.

Two shafts to my right, an elevator descended from above and bumbled by. Not at breakneck speed, I thought.

At that moment, my elevator moved up. Half a level, to the doors where it was supposed to stop. Instantly I heard the muffled voices of the guards underneath my feet. My heart wanted to break through my chest. I didn't move, I even held my breath, not to make any noise.

If they would look up here, they’d find me trapped, and they would get me, or I'd hurl myself down the next shaft into the dark abyss and my sure death. Thinking about that, I saw a cable moving belonging to the elevator next to the one I was standing on. It came up.

Under my feet, somebody banged on the ceiling.

I would have to jump.

Carefully I leaned forward to see when the upcoming elevator was close enough, I only had one chance, I didn't want to miss it, I'd rather set off too early than too late.

First, I felt the air pushed up by the elevator, then I leaped forward, and out of the corner of my eyes I saw a shadow approaching fast from atop of me. Just as I landed hard on the upcoming car, the counterweight zipped by behind me. A second earlier, and I would have been smashed to pulp by it.

I didn't consider the counterweight of the elevator, and I saw it way too late. I blamed my adrenaline-induced tunnel vision for that.

Eventually, my elevator stopped. Still, I had nowhere to go. Next to me the counterweight of the neighbouring elevator rushed down, which meant the car would go up. Just when my car went down again—my not desired direction—the other elevator came into sight, and I jumped again. In doing so, I must have pushed myself too much, because I skidded almost off the roof.

I struggled to find a grip without getting too close to the pillars. It seemed to take forever before I was lying relatively safe on the moving elevator.

Crouching on my knees, I felt my legs and elbows aching, but nothing serious. Like this, suddenly it got dark around me, and the other elevator shafts disappeared, instead slick walls ran by me on all sides. My elevator had passed the ceiling of the other elevators, and it was still going. I turned around and looked up and saw the dim red light of the ceiling rushing towards me.

I opened my mouth to scream and felt the sudden break, my elevator stopped, one level before the last one before I would get squashed to mush. A wimpy sound left my lips, a sound that brought me back to life, brought back the energy I needed, to decide my next move.

My eyes adjusted to the red-lit darkness, and I made out a round hole in the wall just underneath the last level above me. To climb up, I chose the thick wound wire that gave my hands and my feet more to hold on to.

Cold air streamed out of the hole, a damp breath from the inner of the hotel. Was it part of the air conditioner? Oxygen? For the elevator?

Again, I heard banging against the doors. Without hesitation, I went for the hole. Getting my upper body in there was one thing, pulling my legs in, a different story, since I wasn't able to hold on to anything inside the chute. In order to fit, I had to stretch both arms out in front of me, and with my feet having nothing to push against, I wiggled inch by inch forward.

Behind me the electricity started working, the hum of the elevator got louder, and gladly I was all the way inside the chute, when the elevator went by without chopping my legs off. It pressed air into the chute, my ears clogged up and popped the next moment.

I felt safe, stuck in a dark and tight chute, inside the Cloud Hotel, the Suicide Hotel.

Clueless about what to do next, I embraced the lack of choice and crawled forward, curious where ever the darkness would take me.

: : :

As I inched forward, I tried to come up with a plan. Was it possible to sneak into a shuttle back down? I couldn't imagine how, with all the security, but eventually I had to try it. I, Arthur, was on the run. Although right now I did the total opposite of running, I crawled at proverbial glacial speed through this chute, not knowing where it would lead me.

Here and there, light shone through the cracks between the chute-parts, when they deformed under my weight. At least I knew I was inside the hotel, not some outside chute that could break and I would fall 5,000 metres back to earth.

Yesterday I was keen on giving my life, today the idea repulsed me. Despite Berat, my trust in the agency had evaporated with Epona's conversation, the arrest and Mia and Chi, and when they disrespected Rico by a premeditated and abrupt journey. A journey. He didn't have a journey. They got him like a hitman his target in one of those old black and white movies where people used so-called smartphones. No sign of dignity and respect. Why would they respect my deal, the surgery to save my brother? Why would they respect anybody else's contract? And they took Mia on a journey. A kid? Calling it a journey, that's not the right word.

Dust tickled in my nose, and I suppressed a sneeze, since I didn't know, if people could hear me.

Almost like a mirage in a desert, a diffuse light appeared a few metres in front of me. It was a grid on the right side of the chute, the size I could squeeze through. Carefully, I pushed my way forward, closer to it, in case somebody would see me.

My worry was unfounded. When I took a peek through the grid, it turned out I had landed somewhere inside the hotel, away from hallways and entertainment strips. However, I waited a while to make sure no hotel employee would come by, then I moved and rattled on the metal to loosen the tiny screws that poked through the metal into the chute.

Once unstuck, I bent them and secured the grid from falling to the ground outside. But as it turned out, not even three of these tiny screws could hold the grid, and without me being able to do anything, I had to watch how it suddenly fell out of my view.

I heard it hit the ground. My organs contracted in fear. I crawled backwards and hung tight listening for any footsteps, imagining somebody would poke his head in here and discovering me.

Luckily, neither happened, and again I inched towards the window and checked if anybody was approaching. It was quiet, no footsteps, no shouting, no orders. Just me, and the grid lying on the floor, which itself was a narrow steel frame to walk on, surrounded by more of those paths, trestles, pillars, pipes and chutes winding their way around countless giant white storage units, maybe for air or liquids.

With one arm I pushed my upper body out of the chute, then I turned upside down, grabbed a steel pipe above me, pulled, freed my other arm, scratched my pants at the hip before I entirely emerged from the chute without falling down.

Standing next to my exit, I held onto the rail and closed my eyes for a second.

: : :

Looking down, the hotel didn't seem to have a ground floor; steel and an armada of these giant white plastic bubbles, the size of a small studio room, obstructed my view. Above me, mere meters away, seemed to be the ceiling of the hotel.

My goal became to get up on the roof of the hotel. I didn't expect much of a possible way to escape there, but if the sun plank was spectacular, how must the roof be? Let alone experiencing the night sky! I would have the full 360-degree experience, not the hotel itself blocking most of the surroundings, and I would lay down on my back as long as I wanted to! How would the field of solar panels covering the roof of the hotel glisten in the sun, harvesting its energy and send it down to Lethbridge.

Why did they not build the plank on the roof in the first place? Maybe saving as much space as possible for the solar panels, the traditionally altruistic approach of the society.

I held my breath and listened to the constant hum mixed with faint mechanical sounds exuding irregularly from where I had crawled out, maybe originating from the elevator shaft. My pursuers I had shaken off. For now at least.

The last elevator clearly was for maintenance purposes, for the technical crew to access this vast building and the white storage units above the hotel.

The chute was part of a massive bundle of other chutes and pipes and cables. Unfortunately, I couldn't simply walk around it to check if there was a ladder on the other side. From what I saw, this block was the single thing connected to the ceiling. Those amorphic containers with their slick shell and rounded corners I could not climb up. I gave the block a shot. It seemed sturdy, and the chute had already held me.

I stepped on the rail and held onto a wrist-sized pipe while my feet stepped on a bundle of cables. Since both wrapped around the corner of the block, I could do the turn easily. There I climbed up until my head touched the ceiling, constantly looking for a way to get to the top.

After I made it around the next corner, I was disappointed to find out that this side just looked like the other two sides. My fingers got tired from holding, and I had banged my knees repeatedly against protruding pipes, screws, clamps and metal boxes.

A possible trapdoor in the ceiling attracted my attention, I stretched my hand out to test if it was one. After me pushing it, it flew open, and my forehead stopped the door with a dull thud, followed by my, «Ouch».

I pulled my head back, and it swung fully open, and a ladder unfolded, sliding down until it reached the closest rail underneath me. A cloud of dust from above slowly dissipated.

«No way», I whispered.

The technicians probably carried a bar and only had to tap on it, so it opened and they were able to use the ladder.

I rubbed my throbbing forehead. Most importantly, I wasn't injured, and I was glad it didn't knock me off my metal podium. After climbing down the block halfway, I could swing my leg and an arm around the ladder, pull myself on it and climb up properly. The hinges were squeaking with every step, no matter how careful I moved. After each step I listened for people coming.

I popped my head through the opening into the darkness, an empty room, I swung myself inside and pulled up the ladder. The trapdoor closed automatically behind it. Good. Nobody would suspect me here, should there be any patrols.

I knelt in a storage room, a forgotten storage room, since everything was covered under a thick layer of dust: the floor, the shelves, the boxes and buckets in them, the dust dimmed even the light coming through the crack of the door to my right. A constant hiss from the outside.

One thing was sure, nobody had been in here in ages. The perfect hiding spot. Before trying to open that next door I sat down and gathered myself.

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