Whether it was hell, heaven, both, neither, or just the final dream of a dying man, it was undeniably dismal. There was only one room, with beige wallpaper and no windows. There was a doorway leading into blackness. There was a large curtain over one wall. Chairs lined the others. The chairs were in various states of dilapidation, without one new one among the bunch, though they all matched in style. Soft, nearly inaudible music floated through the room, filling it in its emptiness. There was nothing to do, nothing to look at. Only the curtain and the doorway.
Olaf sat in one of the nicer chairs with his legs crossed at the ankle. Kit Snicket sat next to him, leaning into his spindly body, clinging to his arm.
“Where do you suppose we are?” she asked.
“I haven’t the faintest,” said Olaf. “I would imagine, as we came through the door, we’re meant to exit stage left.”
Kit smiled a bittersweet smile. “You’ll always love the stage, no matter what.”
“Among other things,” said Olaf, returning the smile with one of his own.
“You look so young when you smile,” said Kit.
“You’re looking younger by the minute, yourself,” said Olaf.
They sat in companionate silence for what might have been a minute or might have been a thousand years. Suddenly, Kit stood up, gave Olaf a small kiss on the mouth, and steadily backed through the curtain. She never took her eyes off Olaf until the curtain covered her face.
He wasn’t sure whether he had said that or just thought it.
* * *
When they first crossed through the door, they always appeared in the manner of their deaths. That was always particularly jarring, especially when they appeared to have burned to death. Olaf knew none of them and didn’t engage in any of their petty conversations. They all eventually went through the curtain, leaving Olaf sitting alone in the ugly chair. He didn’t know what was behind the curtain, and while he was afraid, he didn’t want to stay alone in the room.
He just couldn’t give up his cowardice long enough to leave.
The handyman from that vile village with all the blackbirds showed up one day, with his head tilted and his tongue poking out. It took some time for him to right himself and to...well, perhaps heal was not the right word, but it was all Olaf knew to apply.
“You terrible man,” said Hector, the moment he could speak. “You terrible, awful man.”
“Do you have anything to say to me, or are you only here to insult me?” asked Olaf.
“I’m here to go through that curtain and face the end, Count Olaf,” said Hector. “Just like you should.”
“I should? How do you know what I should do? How do you know I can even go through that curtain, you fool?” Olaf sneered. “For all you know, this is where I’m meant to stay.”
“Maybe so. Perhaps you deserve it,” said Hector. “If you see my children, leave them alone, or I swear I’ll find my way back to this dingy room--”
“And faint?” asked Olaf. “Don’t worry, old man. I can’t hurt them here, even if I wanted to.”
As Hector walked through the curtain, Olaf allowed himself a laugh.
* * *
For a while, Olaf tried to pretend that he was some kind of master of ceremonies. People came in to recover from their deaths, and Olaf gave them a show. Most people were polite enough to clap. The little children liked to laugh at his impressions. But eventually, they all went through the curtain.
One day, mid-show, three familiar blue faces with soaked hair came through and sat down close to one another. They locked eyes on Olaf and just stared. The triangle glasses, hooked hands, un-hesitant face. For the first time Olaf wondered if something could physically hurt him here, but the show must go on. He finished his routine, accepted the muted applause, and sat back in his usual chair. It was Fernald who stood and approached Olaf.
Fernald nodded and offered a hook to shake. Olaf took it, trying not to wince. They shook like gentlemen as Fiona trembled and Widdershins stared at the ground. The two stood to join Fernald, but didn’t say anything.
Olaf watched as their hair and clothes dried slowly, and as the color returned to their faces. Widdershins and Fernald both lost years in the span of moments, while Fiona stayed the same. A single tear rolled down Fiona’s cheek as the three of them silently went through the curtain.
* * *
Interestingly enough, there was someone who was glad to see Olaf when they came through the door. Three someones who were glad to see Olaf. Three someones who were emaciated but glad that Olaf was there. That meant Olaf was dead.
“You can’t hurt the Baudelaires anymore,” said Isadora Quagmire.
“You can’t hurt us anymore,” said Duncan Quagmire.
“You can’t hurt anyone anymore,” said Quigley Quagmire. His was the only face with a slightly compassionate eye, but it quickly disappeared.
“I don’t want to hurt anyone anymore,” said Olaf. “What could I possibly gain?”
“What could you have possibly gained back then?” asked Duncan. “Money? Look at us. Do you see any sapphires?”
“I knew I couldn’t take it with me,” said Olaf. “I just wanted...”
Isadora frowned. “Wanted what?”
“I don’t think you would understand,” said Olaf, “and I don’t think I want to tell you. Just rest and leave me alone.”
“Gladly,” said Quigley.
The silence was deafening but the Quagmires left sooner than even Hector had.
* * *
For some reason Carmelita never showed up. Perhaps she had gone to a nicer room.
* * *
Olaf had taken to trying to peek behind the curtain, but he could only ever find a solid wall. During one of his solitary explorations, two tiny figures walked up behind him.
“Olaf?” they asked in unison.
He turned to see the two white-faced women. One had a hole in her neck and the other had a hole through her heart, but their faces were still covered in white powder and their eyes were still angry at Olaf.
“Hello, ladies,” he said, habitually turning on the charm. “So you’ve come back to me at last.”
“We didn’t have much of a choice,” said the shorter one, clinging to the taller one’s hand. “We didn’t want to come.”
“Speak for yourself,” said the taller one, squeezing the shorter one to her side. “I wasn’t going to leave you.”
“Touching,” said Olaf. “Together to the very end.”
“And who did you ever have, Olaf, really?” asked the taller one. “Esme? I don’t know much, but I feel we’re the winners in this particular story, Boss.”
“Hey!” called a voice from the other side of the curtain. It sounded exactly like the two white-faced former hench people. “Hey, girls! What are you waiting for?”
They looked much paler as they turned away from Olaf and walked behind the curtain toward that voice. Olaf allowed a tear to stream down his cheek before angrily scrubbing it away.
* * *
He should have known he would have seen them sooner or later, but it surprised him no end when two of the Baudelaire orphans walked through the door. The inventor was more robust and ruddy than she had been on the island. The bookworm was as tall as Olaf and even skinnier. They were the only two in the room besides the unfortunate Count, and they all three stood stock still and just looked at one another.
“Your eyes are the same,” said Violet.
“As are yours,” said Olaf.
Klaus sat down in one of the filthy chairs. “How long are we going to be here?”
“Until you decide to go through the curtain, Baudelaires,” said Olaf. His eyes shone like he was about to tell a joke. “Until you decide it’s curtains.”
Klaus huffed a laugh. “That’s a change of pace for you, Olaf.”
“I have no need to hurt you,” said Olaf. “If I wanted to, your blood would spill out that door--”
“Like a waterfall,” said Violet. There was a sad smile on her lips that reminded Olaf of Bertrand.
“As I said. No need. No desire. Only the desire for a bit of quiet,” said Olaf.
Now Klaus had a sad smile. It was Beatrice’s.
They sat in silence, a recurring theme for Olaf. One moment they were all sitting and the next the siblings stood up. They crossed to Olaf, each taking a hand. They held his hands for a long while, until Olaf began to cry. They cried together, villainous person and noble people, for what might have been eternity. They cried for their friends, for their families, for those they’d left behind and those who they’d meet when they moved on. They cried and cried.
Then Olaf smiled. “Thank you, Violet. Thank you, Klaus.”
“Goodbye, Olaf,” said Violet. Klaus shook his hand again, reminding Olaf of Fernald—how long ago had that been, he wondered—and then took his sister’s arm. They backed out of the room through the curtain, like Kit, but the last thing they looked at before they crossed the threshold was each other.
Olaf cried some more.
* * *
Lemony Snicket’s bullet holes disappeared almost as soon as he walked into the room. He crossed straight from the door to the curtain and didn’t look at Olaf once. He did pause, and turn halfway around, and said, “There is only one absolute: everything burns.”
Olaf smiled and said, “The world is quiet here.”
* * *
The ones who took the longest to leave were the ones who had been old when they died. The years fell off them slowly, all the ravages of time slowly undone until they were young again. Or at least, younger.
Sunny Baudelaire, the youngest Baudelaire sibling, had become the oldest Baudelaire sibling. She was short and stooped, and walked slowly. Her four sharp teeth were dulled, and they were the only ones left. The lines around her eyes practically buried them.
She didn’t say a word to Olaf as her skin smoothed out. She said nothing as her fuzzy hair lengthened and grew darker. She said nothing as her teeth reappeared and sharpened once more. She said nothing as her posture straightened and as her body fattened up and as the scars of a lifetime of cooking faded away. When she looked like Violet had looked when she entered the room, she finally cocked her head and asked a question.
“Aren’t you Count Olaf?” she asked.
“I am, Sunny,” said Olaf. “Your siblings are waiting for you on the other side.”
“You kidnapped me,” said Sunny, blinking curiously. “But you were older.”
“And you were younger, my dear,” said Olaf. “Younger and far more irritating.”
“I remember biting you,” said Sunny.
“I remember that too.”
Sunny smiled, her teeth poking her lower lip. “I would hope so. The other side of that curtain, you say?”
She walked away, then returned to give Olaf a hug. “You shouldn’t be frightened. Everything goes to the Unknown eventually.”
“Goodbye, orphan,” said Olaf, a teasing lilt in his voice.
“Goodbye, orphan,” said Sunny, teasing in return.
* * *
The last to come was Beatrice’s namesake. She was at an even more advanced age than Sunny had been. Her transformation was a lot slower. Olaf cried many times before she was herself again. He would see bits of Kit in her, coming back to taunt him. Beatrice tried to calm him, to talk him through it, but the little bits of Denouement he saw just made him cry harder. He apologized, he wept, he begged for forgiveness he knew he didn’t deserve. He raved, he swore, he vowed painful but fruitless revenge. When finally he stilled, Beatrice offered him a hand, with Kit’s smile on her face.
He was still a coward. He was still afraid. But it seemed right to take the tiny hand Beatrice offered him and to walk with her through the curtain.