Fanatic – aka fan: A person filled with excessive and single minded zeal. A person who is extremely interested in something, to a degree that some people find unreasonable.
I’ve been a sports junkie all my life. Football, basketball, hockey, golf (sometimes), NASCAR (even less than golf), it doesn’t matter. I enjoy the real life drama, the underdog stories, and the unpredictability of the each game and how a season unfolds.
Baseball has always been the center of my sports universe, and is my king of sports. I played the sport from little league through (Division 3) college, and loved the competition, comradery and esprit de corps involved in performing as part of a collective group striving to win a game and attain a seasonal goal. With the other sports, my interest will wane if my team is in the midst of a down year, but not with baseball. I follow and watch my team through thick and thin, regardless of whether they are exceeding expectations, meeting expectations, or falling below expectations.
The Red Sox sit atop that kingly throne, and have since the Impossible Dream year of 1967, when I was eight years old.
Fandom is a double edged sword, however. When your team wins the ultimate prize, you experience a joy that is pure. The problem is that teams flame out or outright suck a lot more than they win, and my journey with the Sox over these fifty two years has been the ultimate test of loyalty, sadomasochism, and orgasmic bliss.
Any long-term Sox fan will cringe at and mourn the memories of 1967, 1972, 1975, 1978, 1986 and 2003. Eighty six years of cruelty, where every time they were on the precipice of ultimate triumph, they found a way to lose in the most unbelievable and macabre manner, with each new defeat surpassing the cruelty of the previous episode. It was torture, so much so that I not so kiddingly told a friend who was taking his young children to Fenway Park for the first time that he could be charged with child abuse if he raised his kids to be Red Sox fans.
Then came 2004, where all the ghosts were exorcised in the most deliciously unexpected way against our historical nemesis, the Yankees. I remember wanting to put my foot through the television after the 19-8 drubbing that put the Sox in a three games to none hole. This was supposed to be the year, and the Sox were a powerhouse team. But they shit the bed badly in the championship series, which culminated with that drubbing on their home field.
I was angry, embarrassed, ashamed, humiliated, and absolutely dreaded the prospect of being force-fed a truckload of shit from my Yankee friends, who took perverse joy in ripping open the old wounds and pouring a ton of salt into them when the Yanks finished us off. Then the miracle happened. The self-proclaimed idiots won the next four games, the only team in baseball history to accomplish that feat, to win the pennant, and then polished off the Cardinals in four straight to win the World Series for the first time in a lot of people’s lifetimes.
Not only was the curse suddenly lifted, but my beloved Sox won the World Series three more times since then. I would have been happy with that one in 2004, but this generation of Red Sox fans have known nothing but success. The little the bastards don’t know how good they have it.
So why aren’t I happy?
Ah, that’s the thing about being a fan. Our memories are short, and for Sox fans of my generation, the scars from those years preceding 2003 never go away. That’s irrational, I know, but there is nothing rational about being a fan.
This year is a perfect case in point. Last year was historical for the Boston nine. They won more games than any Red Sox team in history, had an angst free season, which is almost impossible for the die-hard Sox fan, and rolled through the playoffs, which culminated in their fourth title in the last fourteen years.
I had been looking forward to this year more than any year I can remember. I wasn’t expecting another title because that is extremely hard to accomplish, and hasn’t occurred since 2000. But I truly believed that if any team could do it, this was the one because virtually everyone on from last year’s team was returning. The team is young, hungry and humble, and I fantasized about a more difficult year, but one where they ultimately prevailed and made history. I even went so far as purchasing a partial season ticket plan so I could see my dreams unfold into reality. Then the season started.
My Red Sox lost eight of their first ten games, and looked like complete horseshit in the process. It hasn’t gone much better since then. Their record currently stands at 10-15 as I write this, and it could easily be much worse. I’ve been muttering the same thing over and over to myself for the last two weeks: how can a team that was simply awesome last year and finished with a record of 119-57, including the playoffs, look like complete doggy-doo? I still don’t have an answer, other than it is the nature of the sport.
You can’t always tell how bad a team is playing on television, but you sure as hell can in person. I’ve been to two games so far this year where they played teams they wiped the floor with last year, and they have lost both of them. They weren’t even competitive in the first game I saw against an Oriole team that lost 115 games last year, then graduated to mediocre in the second against the Tigers, who had the worst offense in the league going into the series.
This is where the insanity of fandom comes in because everything about the Red Sox is personal to me. I’m soooooooo pissed right now I can’t see straight. I’ve vowed not to watch them on television until they get their act together, which will never happen. I’ve written the season off on at least three occasions already, which is nuts given they play for six months. I see the them falling father and farther behind the other teams in their division and openly wonder if they will even make the playoffs this year.
It’s at times like these that I ask myself, why? Why do I get so invested in a game where, as K is fond of saying, all the players do is spit and touch themselves while making insane amounts of money? Why is my mood so influenced by the team’s performance? I mean, if they were expected to suck it wouldn’t matter, but these guys are really good, so it does. But why? It’s just a fucking game, after all. Nobody is dying, so what’s the big deal?
Ahhhh, but to the true fan, the fan who fits the definition that started this piece, it is life and death. Otherwise, how can a normally calm, level-headed, rational and intelligent guy like myself be reduced to a sulking five year old when the season isn’t even a month old? The answer is simple. Once it is in your blood, all rational thought goes out the window, and one is led by their emotions. My emotions are that of a kid and young adult that had his heart continuously stepped on until 2004, so when things don’t go my way with the team, I go back until that sad, hopeless place. Every….single….time!
So while the pleasure and euphoria of winning a championship is exquisite, the flip side to that coin is times like these, which, if the truth be told, happens nine times out of ten.
I must be nuts putting myself through this, but I have no choice. I am as hooked on the Red Sox as an addict is to their favorite drug. So in many respects, being a hard-core fan of any team is a sort of mental illness.
Maybe I should get a copy of the DSM-5 and see if it’s listed among the other abnormal psychology diagnoses.
I have been tagged by Billy Mac, who was supposedly charged to finish this story, but decided not to and passed the baton to me instread. Please check out his blog as well as all of the other bloggers who collaborated on this project.
Here are the rules–
1. Copy the story as you receive it.
2. Add to the story in some fashion.
3. Tag another person to contribute to or finish the story.
4. Please use FTS as a tag so I can find it or link back to part 1.
Alexander and Alistair waited in line to check on their flight. It didn’t matter how long the line was, or how tired they were of waiting in it, they were happy to be getting away for a week. Life had not been difficult, but it was still nice to finally get away–alone.
Alexander couldn’t wait to show Alistair around Pompeii and Alistair couldn’t wait to show Alexander around his old home. They enjoyed people watching in the airport and passed time telling stories of the old days.
Finally, it was their turn to check in. Alexander sat his luggage in the bin and watched as a scrawny kid retrieved it and threw it on a conveyor belt. He cringed and crossed his fingers that his cologne didn’t break.
It wasn’t until they were standing by the large window at their gate watching their luggage be thrown around like last week’s trash that they noticed it. Something was not right.
“Hey, Alistair,” Alexander said, pointing out to the luggage cart. “Do you see that?”
Alistair followed Alexander’s finger and squinted. “Yeah. What is that?”
The luggage on one of the other carts was all black with a lightning bolt logo. And sure enough, a black stretch limo with the same logo pulled up directly to the plane and out tumbled the crazy rockers the Zappers and their entourage.
“Oh no,” Alistair moaned. “Those lunatics will be on our flight!”
Alexander sighed. “Horrible. They always get up to some ridiculous shenanigans, but surely they’ll behave themselves in the air?”
“It’s too late to change our tickets?”
“Well, yes. Our luggage is being flung into the bowels of this tin can as we speak.”
The men stared glumly out the window, their previous good mood soured. When they were called to board, they stood in line without speaking, having mutually decided to stoically bear the flight and have fun after landing, when the nutty rockers had gone.
Women chatted behind them in line. “Oh my God! Did you hear that the Zappers are on our flight? I’m totally gonna sneak into first class to see them!”
“I have such a crush on Nikki Zapper! I bet he does something wild and we have to make an emergency landing!”
Alistair and Alexander looked at each other and rolled their eyes.
But all went smoothly during takeoff, and then as one of the flight attendants was giving the safety presentation, a blond man dressed in black leather popped out of the first class section, grabbed her, and kissed her.
Several people in coach lifted up their cell phones to record Nikki as he laid one on Myra, the flight attendant, ooh-ing and aah-ing as they did. Myra was torn, as she was supposed to rebuff any advances by the passengers, no matter how famous; but on the other hand, she had been a global fan of Nikki and the Zappers for years, using her bene of free flights to see them dozens of times. She even had a likeness of Nikki tattooed in her cleavage. Throwing caution to the wind, she kissed Nikki back and soon they, locked in an embrace, were stumbling towards the bathroom – where they would be the newest members of the Mile High Club.
As they often synched with each other over the years, Alistair and Alexander looked at each other and rolled their eyes.
“Well, I never!” huffed Alistair.
“Indeed!,” puffed Alexander.
“Let the shenanigans begin. Where are those sleepers you packed? Time to take a snooze until the show is over,” said Alistair.
Alexander reached for his carry-on, which was stuffed under his seat, and retrieved enough for both of them. They asked another attendant for a handful of the little booze bottles to wash them down with. Soon they were fast asleep, snoring to beat kingdom come.
Neither one knew how long they had slept, but both were awakened by the throbbing bassline of the latest Nikki and the Zappers tune, “Don’t Harsh My Buzz.” They were shocked to see….
…that the lights in the plane’s cabin had been turned off. Being that it was night time, they couldn’t see a thing in the dark. The bass guitar was still pounding out the beat so loud it shook their insides.
Suddenly an explosion of neon-like lights began flickering all around the plane’s interior, as the Zappers launched into their current number one song. Passengers were crowding into the narrow aisle, and even just standing at their seats, dancing and singing along to the music.
The captain came on the loudspeakers: “Welcome to the party of the year…we present the Zappers for your inflight entertainment. Free drinks for everyone!
A big cheer rocked this unusual concert venue.
“Can you believe this?” Alistair asked as he busted a move right there in his seat.
Alexander looked at Alistair. They were grinning from ear to ear but didn’t roll their eyes at this exciting turn of events.
Cocktails and cups of beer were passed around, as the party continued through the night, 32,000 feet above the ground, but a sudden lurch of the plane made everyone gasp. The plane yawed to the left, then to the right. People screamed and tumbled into each other.
This is your captain…please everyone…sit down and fasten your seat belts…
……..we have a pick of air turbulence. It took repeated announcements from the caption to quieten down the passengers who were still hyped up from all the drinking and dancing. Eventually, everyone was seated, the belts fastened and a hush descended on the plane. Suddenly there was a jerk as the plane lost a lot of height very quickly. It was an air pocket that caused the loss in the plane altitude. There were quite a few screams and shrieks from many people.
The pilot came on air again.
I am sorry ladies and gentlemen we are in the middle of a storm right now. Please keep the seat belts on. I am afraid that we have lost power in one of our engines. I am trying to make an emergency landing………..
…the oxygen masks dropped from their concealed compartments above the passengers.
Alistair and Alexander helped each other putting them on and then they squeezed hands.
The atmosphere had gone from one of enjoymentto panic. A few people had begun to get hysterical. Myra the Stewardess was trying to comfort one particularly distressed woman who couldn’t stop crying.
Then there was a loud bang and a hiss as the cabin filled with smoke. Alistair could just see Alexanders face through the haze. His eyes were scrunched tightly together and his grip on his hand was threatening to cut the blood supply from his fingers, but they were together and that was some comfort.
It was the impact of the plane hitting the water that sent luggage pouring out of overhead compartments and a few chairs broke loose, tumbling bodies around like they were dummies.
Myra lay at an impossible angle. Her legs bent backwards and her head twisted.
A figure lay face down in a black leather jacket and the strings of a broken guitar wrapped around his neck.
After the terrific noise of the impact, everything seemed deathly quiet. Alexander’s eyes opened, tears streaming down his face but he fixed Alistair with a desperate blue stare.
They had survived the crash but so many hadn’t.
A panicked voice suddenly came from over the tannoy system.
“This is the Navigator speaking. If there are any other survivors, please come to the front of the plane and make yourselves known.”
Together Alistair and Alexander got up from their chair and slowly made their way down the plane.
The navigator stood there, in a right mess, another steward was desperately trying to stem the blood flow from his left arm, well what was left of his left arm anyway! They could see by looking into the cockpit was not a good move – the Captain and the Co-pilot were missing. The navigator was mumbling about the fact that the two pilots had suddenly just disappeared into thin air and then all hell broke loose! That the aircraft lurched and then plummetted to the earth.
Alastair and Alex looked at each other in complete disbelief and utter astonishment. Behind them the screams of agony and anguish were filling the small space of the aisle .. and yet when they looked behind them, something was amiss, not quite right, it took them a few moments to comprehend that the loss was actually people. Before the crash, all the seats had been filled with passengers and yet now, if you included the dead, the dying, the subdued expressions of those in shock and the few others still, looking bewildered at them, they came to realise that, a good 50% of their part of the cabin was emptier than it had been?
“Well where, did they go?” Alex said to himself almost as much to the others?
“Which is what l have been trying to say!” mumbled the Navigator, “poof gone! Where who knows, Frank and Thomas were laughing and joking one minute and then l was disentangling myself from metal! Which is why my arm is not right. We didn’t hit the sea, we are not sinking which is good news. From what l could gather as l looked out of the windows as we were skewing across the surface, if anything we were skimming across a swamp!”
“Right!” Al said, “I think we should start to disembark, does this plane have one of those things that are like a Bouncy castle slide?”
“Yes of course.” Answered the Navigator, and with a small cursory move to the steward, he motioned towards the door. The steward after a bit of rough manoeuvring, managed to cast the door open and then aside and for the first time the four of them looked out into the world before them.
An overgrown jungled swampland greeted them, very mangrove looking Alex thought and said as much “Charming, just what we need a bloody jungle!”
“Right, well you must have a passenger list. I suggest we get everyone off the plane as best as we can, there must be other stewards throughout the aircraft? There must be first aid and medical equipment. We need to check the state of the craft itself to see if we are in any immediate danger of blowing up, and then , well then we will have to figure out where the bloody hell we are and what we do?” Alastair said officially.
Alex looked at his friend in confusion, “How do you know all of this?”
“Well l was huge fan of the disaster movies from the 70’s, l am just repeating what they said and it’s common sense surely?”
“Right, well l am very impressed Al, must be said”
“Thanks Alex, however now is not the time for praise, now is the time for action.”
At that moment in time, as the four looked out into the darkness of the surroundings they were now in, they heard something very heavy crashing through the undergrowth! If that wasn’t disturbing enough, the screech was!
“Oh my lord, what the hell is that?” The Navigator moaned.
Before any of them could answer, the undergrowth parted and crashing out towards them was ……..
And here’s my contribution:
an enormous metal beast; it had wheels at the rear but at the front were giant clawed arms which served to change the direction of the machine but also to clear the dense forestation. It halted before the terrified survivors, the massive throbbing engines creating an illusion of life; a black heart of block and pistons beating. In their bewildered state the passengers didn’t see an internal hatch opening, they saw a giant gaping maw that they were certain was going to swallow them whole.
The screaming began and quickly turned to mass hysteria as people fought each other in an effort to put as much distance as possible between themselves and the machine that had so terrified them. Alistair and Alex clung to each other; they too were afraid but their desire not to be separated in this awful moment overrode their natural flight response. Their breath came in short, sharp gasps and Alex could feel Alistair’s knees start to give way.
“Alistair!” he hissed “Come on, you can’t collapse on me now”
Alistair shook his head and tried to lock his knees, he couldn’t let Alex down, but he could still feel the violent trembling that coursed through his body; he clung tighter still and hid his face in Alex’s jacket. Alex’s eyes, meanwhile, were fixed on the hatch in the machine, it was now fully open and someone, or something, was emerging from it. The hairs on the back of his neck rose up and he was aware of being exposed; a quick glance around him confirmed that all the other passengers had fled into the forest. He and Alistair would, it seemed, face this thing alone.
“What do you want?” Even to his own ears, his voice was unsteady. At the sound of his voice, Alistair turned his face away from Alex’s shoulder and looked at the emerging figure. He fought to maintain control of his bowels as it climbed down from the machine and slowly walked towards them; the last thing he heard before his terror overwhelmed him was the voice of the creature saying……………………………………
A blinding spotlight was suddenly trained on them. Unable to see and afraid to move, Alex and Alistair stood frozen, as if chained to the damp forest floor. The two men exchanged furtive glances and Alex nodded slightly to Alistair that he would answer. He put on a brave face, took a deep breath and said, “I am Alex. And this…”he motioned to his right, “is Alistair.”
“I am not interested in what you are called!” The voice was louder. Closer. “I am asking you what is your species!”
“What?” Alistair stammered. “What the hell is this?”
“Shut up, Alistair,”Alex said. “Let me answer.”
“We are…”, he paused as if he was unsure of his answer, “Human beings”.
Suddenly, the blinding light vanished. They struggled to focus as their eyes began to recover.
The figure was standing before them, a mere 5 feet away. The approach seemed implausible because they had heard no footsteps or any sounds that would betray movement of such a large body. It towered over them at a height of at least 8 feet. Glowing, reptilian eyes pierced the darkness, revealing a enormous, bulbous head perched upon a thin but sturdy frame, supported by strong haunches not unlike a T-Rex. Short but strong arms extended towards them as if to strike anytime. It appeared to be hovering an inch above the damp, mossy floor of the forest.
The two men were paralyzed with fear.
“Human beings”, the figure replied, the voice calm, even, but not at all reassuring to the terrified men. “What makes you think you are welcome here?”
Alex and Alistair turned to stare at each other, certain that their answer had better be a good one. Alex again took the reins.
“We didn’t have a choice. We landed here by accident.”
“Yes. We see that example of primitive technology lying in ruins.”
“Primitive technology?” Alistair blurted out. “That’s a state of the art airplane.”
Alex gave him a shot to the ribs as a reprimand and gave him a look that clearly said shut up.
“Human, to you it may be, as you say ‘state of the art’, but it is most primitive in comparison to our advanced technology.”
Alex, garnering courage asked, “You say ‘ours’. Who, if I may ask are you?”
“We are the rightful owners of this planet. We have been away.”
“How long ?”, asked Alex
“That is not important. What is important is why we are here. We are at the beginning of a rejuvenation process, one that wouldn’t be necessary without you ‘humans’. This was once a fertile, bright planet. Then, you ‘humans’ destroyed it. Over population, pollutants and the weapons used to fight useless wars, all because you can’t get along, have nearly destroyed it.”
The figure moved closer, the glow of its eyes intensified.
“You can’t be trusted to be on this land. It is the last refuge from your infestation.”
The two men backed away a few steps, cowering from the intimidating figure.
“Again”, Alex stammered, “It’s not like we had a choice. We crashed here by accident!”
Alistair, feeling brave, chimed in. “If you tell us where we are, we can try to use the radio on the plane. You know, to call for help. We’ll be out of here and you won’t see us again.”
The figure silently advanced towards them and stopped mere inches from the men, towering over them and said in a flat, mocking tone.
“It’s not a matter of where you are human, it is a matter of when you are…”
My turn – Part 9
Alex’s survivial instinct kicked in as the alien continued to pontificate. Grabbing Alistair’s hand, he lept from plane into the swamp, pulling his friend with him. Their feet sank into the soft, murky bottom as they found themselves in shoulder deep water.
“Hold your breath,” he whispered to Alistair, as he dove below the surface and tried to drag his friend with him. Momentarily opening his eyes, he searched for an escape path , but the twilight and muddy water made it impossible to see more than several inches in front him. Alex kicked his legs and tried to swim forward but couldn’t budge because Alistair remained frozen in place. Desperately tugging Alistair’s arm, hoping by sheer force to pull him into the safety of the opaque water, Alex remained anchored in place.
Turning his face upward, Alex saw the sky above the water illuminate, then felt Alistair slowly elevate from the water, threatening to take Alex with him. Alex dug his heels as deep as he could into the swamp’s soft bottom until he found a tangle of roots. Bracing himself against the roots for leverage, Alex grabbed Alistair’s ankle with both hands, and held on as tight as he could. Struggling to remain in the safety of the water, Alex managed to keep Alistair in place, but his lungs started to burn and soon felt like they would explode. Instinct took over as he let go, thrust himself out of the water, and gulped deep breaths of air before hunkering back down to where the water met his neck.
Surveying the scene, he saw Alistair floating several feet above the water’s surface, consumed in a beam of light that emanated from the alien’s vehicle. In fact, there were dozens of beams projecting from what looked like a rotating turret at the top of the strange craft. Each one possessed a body, and slowly pulled them forward. Alex mouth was agape as he saw several bodies gently disappear into the hatch before noticing that that Alistair was beginning to slowly drift away to join them.
“No!” he screamed, and grabbed onto one of Alistair’s ankles and tied to pull him back the water, but his feet could not could rediscover the cluster of roots, and he therefore had nothing solid to brace himself against. Alistair’s leg popped from his grasp like a greased pig, and Alex helplessly watched his friend float away.
Mesmerized by the sight before him for several seconds, Alex suddenly realized he was a sitting duck, and would be next if he didn’t do something. With a sudden turn, he tried to knife back into the safety of the water, but was bathed in light before his head broke the water’s surface. Enveloped in a white cocoon, he felt as if he were floating in zero gravity, unable to control his movements or direction as he felt himself leave the water, float into the air, and slowly drift towards his friend. Watching Alistair disappear into the hatch, Alex understood he would soon joining him to an unknown fate, and that the scene before him might be the last thing he ever saw.
Two weeks ago I had an itch to write some fiction, and an idea that developed into this story popped into my head. After last week’s post, one of my good friends enthusiastically asked if this was part of the “new book.” That was never a consideration, but this has been an easy and enjoyable piece to write. I am definitely feeling it as my fingers fly across the keyboard, which I can’t say for the story I started over a year ago that has sat dormant for a very long time. Thanks for the suggestion Sharon.
This will be the last episode of Kyle’s experience, but be warned, it won’t provide closure, and you will have to draw your own conclusions. After all, if this is going to be the premise of my second novel , which I guess I am committing myself to, why not give you something to look forward to? Of course, there is that minor detail about getting published, but that is a different story for another day.
“Can we go over this one more time please?”
“Sure Kyle, but do me a favor and please try to relax. I know this is a lot to absorb, and it’s important that you are at peace with whatever you decide. So take a deep breath, and fire away with whatever questions you have.”
“Thank you,” Kyle said. Taking Sarah’s advice, he closed his eyes, took a deep breath, slowly exhaled, and cleared his head of the incoherent jumble of thoughts that were swimming in different directions. Reopening his eyes, he continued.
“To start, how can I possibly return back to that?” he asked, pointing at the tablet that lay face down on the table. “I thought you said I was already gone.”
“Time is different here, remember? They just started working on bringing you back and haven’t declared a time of death. If you walk through that door, you’ll survive to live another day.”
“But didn’t you also say I have a terminal malignancy? Why would I want to suffer through that if I don’t have to?
“It isn’t terminal, yet. Not even close. It will be however if you don’t listen to your body and your wife for a change. But you also need to remember that if you do go back, you won’t remember any of this. You aren’t going to wake up, have a Mr. Rogers moment and change your ways.”
“So why offer that as a choice?”
“Because you’ve earned enough points to have that option.”
“And the other option is to be reborn into a different life and start from scratch? What kind of life would that be?”
“I have no idea, but based on the points you’ve accumulated so far, I’m pretty sure you wont have to deal with the kind or hell you dealt with as a child and adolescent in this life. You’ll have different challenges, of course, and they could be very painful in different ways. Life is always full of challenges, but I suspect you won’t have to deal with anything like that again.”
“There’s three doors, so why don’t I have three options? I saw you escort the last guy that was here through that door, ” Kyle said, pointing to the one on the right.
“That door is the end of the line, and it isn’t an option for you right now. Anyone who enters that door has either failed miserably and has not met the minimum point threshold, or has earned enough points to relax and enjoy eternity.”
“That’s the door to Heaven or Hell?”
“I thought you weren’t religious?”
“I’m not. But I also never thought I’d experience anything like this.”
“Let’s put it this way,” Sarah said after a thoughtful pause. “If you’re wondering if that door will either lead you to a place with pearly gates, angels and harps, or a hot, flaming abyss with demons and pitchforks, think again. Everyone has their own idea of what Heaven and Hell might be, and that door will take you to whatever your version of those are.”
“I take it the last guy didn’t like where he was going.”
“I’m sorry, but that’s really none of your business.”
“Fair enough. So can you give me a good reason why I should consider going through the door that will take me back to the emergency room?”
“You mean besides your wife and kids?” Sarah asked.
“C’mon Sarah, I’m not that big of an asshole! But you did say I don’t have the points necessary to reach whatever the end of the road is, and that if I do go back I will have to deal with cancer. That prospect has always scared me to death, no pun intended. You also made it sound like if I start over and eventually do what what’s necessary to earn the points, I’ll see them again. So why put myself through all that pain and suffering?”
“Because,” Sarah answered, “there are no guarantees what kind of life you will have, what you will be confronted with, or how you will do if you start over. The first part of the life you just left was horrible, but you admirably made it through that gauntlet and did something positive with your life when it could have easily gone the other way. That by itself put you over the top to go through that third door.”
“But you said that wasn’t an option. What happened?”
“Well, you weren’t the most faithful husband or devoted father, were you?”
“Oh,” Kyle said, feeling the embarrassment warm his cheeks. “You know about my, um….my indiscretions?”
“We know everything about anyone who comes here.”
“So why are you here then. Didn’t you have the same choices?”
“No,” Sarah answered with more than a tinge of regret. “If you don’t earn the option to go through that last door one way or another after ten lives, you’re required to serve here indefinitely.”
“That sucks. Then what?”
“It’s like any job, except you are always on probation. I’m not going to bore you with the details, but at some point, the second or third door becomes available. It’s all predicated on how I perform here.”
Kyle sat back for a minute to ponder everything Sarah had patiently explained, and contemplated the most important decision he remembered ever having to make. It appeared he was close to what he thought of as winning the race, but going back would force him to confront a fate that had always terrified him. Yet, he did love and miss Mary and the kids. Why did it take something like this to make him realize that?
“I can’t emphasize this enough” Sarah volunteered. “Regardless of what you do, keep in mind you will not remember any of this experience or our discussion. So don’t plan on having this in your back pocket as motivation as you move forward.”
“Just like in my previous lives?”
“Exactly. Sometimes however, things temporarily sneak through and percolate to the service, but they are like smoke. You recognize something and try to grasp onto them, but they dissipate quickly. You’re familiar with the concept of deja vu?”
Kyle nodded. “Can you at least tell me how many lives I have lived so far? It would really be helpful to know how many more chances I have to get this right.”
“Of course it would,” Sarah said with a knowing smile,” but unfortunately that can’t factor into your thinking.”
“So you can tell me.”
“I’m sorry,” Sarah said, sounding like she meant it, “but no.”
Kyle looked past Sarah to the three doors and pondered his fate. Did he really want to go back and possibly suffer a fate he feared above all others? Since he wasn’t going to remember anything about this experience, there were no guarantees he would become a better husband, father or man, which meant he would be back in this room, having the same discussion, confronted with the same decisions when it ended.
He also couldn’t escape the feeling that if he did return, Mary would learn about his infidelities. How he handled that lovely situation would provide another test upon which he would be judged. Why put himself through all that?
Then again, Sarah did imply door number three, the one that lead to his version of Nirvana, would have been an option if he hadn’t ventured down that path. Plus there were no guarantees he wouldn’t fuck up a new life if he chose that option, and he had no idea how many more chances he had before he got stuck here. That prospect didn’t thrill him either. Kyle kept mulling his options over and over, a seemingly endless loop of internal debate, when Sarah’s muffled voice brought him back to the present.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I wasn’t paying attention.”
“I said our time is up, Kyle. I’ve answered all your questions and provided all the information I can. I understand this is a terribly difficult decision, but, as you know, others are waiting, so we both need to move on. You need to make a decision, so what’s it going to be?”
“This isn’t a dream?” Kyle thought to himself. “If I’m not dreaming, then what the hell is this?”
Kyle was a man who gave orders, not one who demurely received and followed them. His supreme self-confidence often teetered into arrogance, but these traits served him well as he escaped from a dysfunctional childhood, earned Valedictorian status in high school, sailed though college, and eventually started his own business, achieving success he only dreamed about when he hid in the closet from his father’s drunken violent rages.
He prided himself as a person who never let obstacles prevent him from reaching his goals, yet here he was, taking orders from a complete stranger. For the first time in a very long time, he not only felt subservient and impotent, but also felt the stirrings of something he hadn’t felt since he was the target of his father’s wrath: fear.
He shuffled across the black and white checkered corridor, pulled the high-backed chair away from the table and quietly sat down.
“If this isn’t a dream, than what is this place and what am I doing here?”
The young woman who sat across the desk (he could have sworn a middle-aged man was seated there for the previous occupant of this chair) smiled kindly and said “In due time, Mr. Callahan.”
“Please call me Kyle,” he responded, transitioning into schmooze mode.
“Alright Kyle, thank you. My name is Sarah, and don’t take this the wrong way, but you can turn the charm button back into the off position. It isn’t necessary.”
“What makes you think I’m being anything but genuine?”
“Please,” Sarah said. “I know you aren’t a bad guy, but I also know you know how to work a room. You wouldn’t have achieved your success without that skill, but it won’t do you any good here.”
Kyle wondered how in the world Sarah knew so much about him, but tried to not let that throw him off his game.
“Fair enough. Am I going to find out what here is any time soon?”
“Soon enough,” Sarah said. “Just give me a minute or two please.”
Kyle sat back without comment as Sarah scrolled through a number of pages on her tablet. Turning around to observe his surroundings more closely, he was shocked to find to find no chairs or people on the other side of the corridor he just crossed.
“Excuse me,” he interrupted, “but what happened to everyone?”
“They’re still there,” Sarah said, not looking up as she continued to scroll through the pages. “You probably saw the last person who was here, but if you remember correctly, you couldn’t hear any of the discussion.” Kyle thought about that for a moment and realized she was correct. “They can see us but can’t hear us,” Sarah continued, “and are invisible to us. There are less distractions that way, and you can speak freely without the worry of being embarrassed or overheard. Plus it shields them from what awaits.”
Kyle turned to face forward again, and gazed at the outline of the doors behind the tables for a while before returning to look at Sarah, who continued to study the screen of her tablet and scroll through each page.
“What are you looking at?” he asked.
“A balance sheet.”
“A balance sheet?”
“You aren’t familiar with the term?”
“Of course I’m familiar with the term,” Kyle spat impatiently. “It’s my business to know what they are.”
“And that is why I used it. But, it isn’t a balance sheet in the true sense of the word, in terms of dollars and cents. But conceptually, it’s an inventory of assets and liabilities.”
Sarah didn’t answer for a few seconds as she scrolled through the last two pages. She then placed the tablet on the table, and clasped her hands together on the table’s surface, as she looked directly into Kyle’s eyes.
“My life? What are you talking about? That doesn’t make any sense at all.”
“Yet it’s the truth.”
Kyle sighed, returned Sarah’s gaze for a full minute, then took a deep breath and slowly exhaled.
“Listen, Sarah. Even though I think this whole thing,” he said, turning and waving his arm in a sweeping gesture to the empty space behind them, trying to keep his emotions in check, “is a charade and complete crock of shit, I’ve been polite and respectful. You tell me I’m not dreaming, but every fiber in my body screams that this can’t be real. Be that as it may, I’ve played along, but I’m not going to say another word or answer another question until I start getting some answers. What is this place? Why am I here?”
“You’re hear because you’re dead.”
Kyle thrust back into his chair as if someone jacked him up against an invisible wall. “Dead?” he finally said. “Is this some kind of fucking joke?”
“No. I’m sorry,” Sarah said calmly, letting Kyle absorb her words.
“Dead?” he said again, more quietly this time, as if he was speaking to himself. “How? When? Why?”
“You had a heart attack at your morning staff meeting. You were rushed to the Parkland emergency room, and they are in the process of trying to revive you, but it isn’t looking good.”
“What do you mean they are trying to revive me?”
Sarah picked up her tablet, tapped the screen several times, then handed it to Kyle, who saw his naked torso on an emergency room bed with and IV needle sticking in the crook of his elbow. Numerous machines were arrayed around him in a semi-circle. One in particular had a flat green line etched across its screen while a droning sound blared instead of the beep, beep, beep of a normal heartbeat and rhythm. An army of hospital personnel surrounded him. Someone was feverishly performing CPR, and stepped aside when another person said “Clear” and applied the defibrillator. Kyle’s body jerked upward, then flopped back onto the bed, like a fish out of water. This scene repeated itself before Sarah gently removed the tablet from Kyle’s trembling hands.
“This is still happening?” he asked, and Sarah nodded her head. “But I woke up only several hours ago. It feels like I’ve been here for a lot longer than that.”
“Time here is different. You can’t think of it the same way as you did in the mortal world.”
“A heart attack,” he softly mumbled. “I thought it would have been whatever is going on in my gut.”
“Well, that would have eventually gotten you if this didn’t come along. There is a nasty malignancy brewing in your intestines. You’ve neglected the symptoms for a while, and it would have eventually killed you if didn’t get it looked at soon. It wouldn’t have been pretty, either.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“Because you asked.”
“Okay then,” Kyle said, regaining his composure as the shock settled in. “You still haven’t told me what this place is.”
“It’s a processing center.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Well,” Sarah said. “You are technically dead, but as you can see, they are still trying to revive you. They haven’t made the call yet.”
“So, you have some decisions to make.”
“Yes, Kyle. Everyone has choices in the end, but those are as different as the individual, and are predicated on how they have lived their lives.”
“So this is some kind of…..interview?”
“Well, I’ve never thought of it like that, but it’s as good a way as any to describe it. Yeah, you can consider this an interview, but make sure you don’t mistake interview with negotiation. Our rules are fixed and non-negotiable.”
“Did that last guy find that out the hard way?”
“So, you were paying attention. That’s good, although I wouldn’t have expected any less from you. I’m not at liberty to share anyone else’s case, but I think it is safe to say he would have preferred more choices.”
Kyle was about to respond but thought the better of it, and just raised his eyebrows in an oh-well type of gesture. Sensing his reticence, Sarah leaned forward.
“Now that we understand one another, shall we proceed?”
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