The Onyx Halls
Martin Hooijmans | Lars de Ruyter
The slender Asian woman led Charley, for the occasion going by the name Charles, through the large black gates. He had no idea what he was walking into, but it was the most expensive thing money could buy in the city, and money was in plentiful supply. Charley had hit the big time in the casino, and such a thing had to be celebrated. He realized though, that as he was celebrating, he felt slightly intimidated by the grandeur of the place. Back home in the States he rented a little duplex apartment, which did not even measure up in volume to the door he had just walked through.
“Welcome to the Onyx Halls,” the guide said in her dreamy voice. Charley noted that she spoke with a perfect American accent, the first he’d heard since his arrival in the city.
“Thanks,” he replied. “So what is this place?”
The guide merely smiled. “Let’s not waste words on the visual, shall we?”
“I guess,” Charley shrugged.
The corridor they walked through was a deep, glittering black that resembled the gates. No lights were visible, yet the space seemed to bathe in a faint blue glow that completed the surreal feeling it imposed. Even the rhythmic click of the guide’s high heels felt as if it came from a different world. The silence when she stopped in front of the next gate sounded even stranger.
“We are about to step into the first chamber,” she said. “I must ask you to be silent as we pass through. It is currently occupied.”
Charley nodded, and followed the woman into a hexagonal chamber. A sweet-smelling, heavy fog hung in the air, swirling around paintings of countless beautiful women that covered every panel of the wall and ceiling. In the middle of the deep red velvet floor lay an onyx black cushion, in use by a very fat, bald businessman who did not seem to notice the visitors at all. His sweaty white shirt had been unbuttoned, and his hands were currently traveling towards the lower regions of his outfit. The thing that stood out the most to Charley was the man’s facial expression. His eyes were wide open, changing focus constantly, as if he could not decide on where his attention should go. His lips were curved in a dreamy smile. The man was in complete ecstasy.
Charley breathed in deeply, completely fascinated by what he was seeing, and as the fog entered deep into his lungs, the paintings began to move. Each one lovelier than the other, women started streaming out of the canvases, slowly making their way towards Charley, beckoning him to come. He was powerless to resist the illusion, and started forward when all of a sudden the very real and focused figure of his guide appeared in front of him.
“Please follow me,” she said as if nothing had happened and walked off, followed by a slightly dazed Charley.
They entered into the next chamber, identical in appearance except for the subjects of the paintings. This time they showed battlefields filled with fierce Asian warriors, swinging swords and spears, firing arrows from horseback and screaming war cries. If the concept was the same here as it was in the previous chamber, then the ride would be one filled with adrenaline, not ecstasy.
“Four chambers,” the guide began. “Four unique experiences.”
“Which other ones are there?” Charley asked, deeply intrigued.
“We were in Desire. Now we are in Anger,” she answered. “The other two are Love…and Grief.”
“Grief?” Charley wondered out loud. “Why would anyone want to experience grief?”
The guide smiled. “An obvious question, and one asked by most people who come here. You see, many of our guests gather here to experience emotions that seem out of reach to them. The methods we use unlock the bars your mind may have set on certain feelings. Letting them out can be a relief. Guests rage at their misfortunes, experience their lost sense of true love, feel wanted again or simply cope with their losses.”
Charley nodded. He suddenly felt a lot of sympathy for the man he saw in the previous chamber.
The guide spoke again. “My question to you now, Charles, is which experience, which emotion you will choose?”
It was an excellent question. Charley let his mind wander, scouting his memories for lost frustrations and desires. He thought so hard that it made his head hurt. But in the end, he made his decision.
However, whatever Charley chose is not important. The important question is the following.
Which chamber would you choose?