Serena thought death would smell, but it hadn’t – at least, not at first. She’d woken up in a room not too dissimilar to the one she’d last fallen asleep in. When she opened her eyes she was standing, actually standing, for the first time in weeks. She blinked a few times, reached up her hands, just to make sure she wasn’t still where she’d been before. Back there. In the other place. She was naked, her body was whole, absolutely no part of her hurt or felt anything at all. This was real.
“Hamilton,” she said. She had to find him.
In the weeks before, as fear gave way to resignation, Serena had held on to the advice of Carl Sagan. The universe existed before me and it will continue on without me. She repeated this again as she walked out of her room and into a much, much larger one. Doors ran along its curved periphery leading into a multitude of rooms like the one in which she had arrived. Hundreds of doors, like a great white beehive.
He was here, she knew. He had left not long before her. He must be here somewhere. She looked in the room next door to her own – empty. The next one was empty except for a brown slime by the far corner, which stood out starkly on the white walls and floor. The next few rooms were also empty, but she had no fear and no urgency. He was here, and she was here, and she would find him.
She carried on checking each room. Some were empty and some had piles of slime and once, an empty room very suddenly contained a tiny old woman, her eyes screwed shut, and where she’d come from was impossible to say. The room had been empty, and then it was no longer empty. Serena watched the woman for a few seconds, saw her slowly open her eyes and turn around in the centre of the room. Quickly, Serena shrank back from the doorway so that the woman couldn’t see that she’d been watching her. She wondered if she herself had been observed as she first popped into her own room.
With a thundering clarity that quite blew Carl Sagan out of her mind, she knew exactly where Hamilton was. She went back the way she’d come, to her room, knowing which one it was without hesitation. And there, in the corner of her room, was Hamilton.
“I knew you’d come, Serena,” said Hamilton. “But always late, too late.” Hamilton’s voice was young again, although his face and shoulders were old. Only his chest was still visible on top of the spreading pile of goo that his body had become. His upper torso sat in the midst of his slime, squelching as he slipped further and further into it.
“Why here?” Serena said.
“I saw you arrive. I knew you’d look for me, and so you did. I didn’t want you to see me like this. I thought this would be the last place you would look.”
“But I came,” she said. “Like you knew I would.”
She reached out a hand to touch his head and brushed her fingers against the few lonely strands of hair. As she touched him, he sank a little further into his decomposing body and then she could smell it. The overwhelming liquid smell of decay.
“Don’t leave me,” he said, echoing her own words from just a few days ago. From back there, in the other place.
“I won’t,” she said. And she pushed down on his head with some pressure, pushing him further and further into the decay, the smell of it pushing upwards, until all that remained were those few hairs resting on a mound of sludge.