Finish The Story – The Travelers

Travlers

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.

5. Have Fun!

 

The Travelers – Teresa’s Introduction

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?”

“I can’t be sure, but it looks like …

Part two – Paula of Light Motifs II

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.

Part Three Li at Tao-Talk

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….

Part Four Teleporting Weena;

…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…

***

Part Five – Sadje of Keep it Alive

……..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………..

His announcement was cut abruptly and….

Part Six – Kristian’s Addition

…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 enjoyment to 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.

They were surprised to see…..

Part 7 – A Guy Called Bloke

cockpit-683529_960_720

………. that the cockpit was empty!

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……………………………………

Billy Mac

“Identify, immediately!” a voice boomed.

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.

“God help me,” he said

Okay Kim, the Tripped Over a Stone version, you’re on deck. You can thank me later.

 

The Waiting Room Finale

Waiting room finale

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?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Waiting Room – Part Two

Waiting Room 2

“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.”

“Of what?”

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.

“Your life.”

“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?”

“So, you have some decisions to make.”

“Decisions?”

“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?”

 

 

The Waiting Room – Part One

Waiting room 1

It was glare of the lights that stirred Kyle to consciousness. Emerging from the darkness, the back of his eyelids transformed from complete nothingness to a glowing florescence. The sound of disjointed voices, and shuffling chairs, emerged from utter silence.

“Where am I?”, he groggily thought.

His back and neck felt like an alligator was gnawing on them, and his butt cheeks were numb. A cold draft caressed exposed arms and legs that erupted into goosebumps, and he felt himself shiver. Stretching his body like a cat emerging from a long slumber, he discovered that, other than the back and neck, there was no other pain. The burning and often painful discomfort in his abdomen, which had become a constant companion and was a bone of contention between Kyle and his wife, was gone.

Mary was convinced something sinister was brewing inside his body, but Kyle, who worked marathon hours at the hedge fund company he established, had little time to spend on mundane things like his health. Or spending time with Mary and the kids.  The arguments increased as his weight decreased, and the sour stomach and occasional acid reflux turned into frequent cramping and occasional bloody stools.

“Odd,” Kyle thought, but not in a worrisome way. Maybe this proved that Mary’s concern was misplaced, and that he had been right all along. As his Dad was found of saying, he might not always be right, but he was never wrong.

Slowly opening his eyes, Kyle saw that he was sitting on folding white metal chair that had seen better days, and was clad in a white crew neck t-shirt, white boxers, and white crew socks, which would explain why he felt cold when he emerged from…..whatever it was. Looking at his hands, he noticed his wedding band, Oystersteel Rolex watch and the braided gold bracelet were missing. Feeling for his neck, the St. Christopher necklace he had worn ever since his Grandfather gave it to him as a confirmation gift, what also missing.

“What the hell!?”

Looking around, he saw that he was seated in the front row of a square of similar chairs that had to be fifty chairs long and one hundred rows wide, and was among a sea of squares that, like the ocean’s horizon, appeared endless.

The room was massive, bigger than any airport terminal he had seen, but there were no windows, and the predominant color was white. White walls, bare florescent lights, and white furniture. The only item that wasn’t completely white was the pattern of white and black linoleum tile squares that covered the floor, similar in pattern to a chessboard.

“Wait a minute, how did I get here?” Kyle mused. He thought long and hard, but all he could remember was storming out their twelve thousand square foot house after another pointless debate about how he could miss yet another of Amanda’s dance recitals, and speeding out of their gated compound in his Model 3 Tesla.

“This has to be a dream,” Kyle concluded, which put him at ease. This one was certainly more realistic than those he could remember, especially the nightmares, which always seemed to stand out but had a fantasy quality to them. This one seemed benign, and might turn out to be interesting, so he decided to play along rather than wake himself up, which he typically did when a dream became too terrifying.

Studying his surroundings more closely, Kyle saw similarly dressed men and woman sitting in the same seats as far as the eye could see, but nobody sat next to one another. One row of empty chairs served as a buffer between the people that were there, and three empty chairs separated each person in each row.

Seated in the front row of his particular square, he observed that a white table sat in front of each square, across from what appeared to be a long, wide hallway. Young men and women which Kyle presumed were staff, clad in white from head to toe, sat at each table, which was adorned with what looked like a large I-Pad, a pitcher of water and two tall crystal water glasses. Interestingly, the pitchers always appeared full, and the staff never seemed to run out of glasses, even though Kyle could see what had to be hundreds if not thousands of people in this room.

The staff member that sat at the table in front of Kyle’s square was currently engaged in conversation with……what should he call them? He pondered that for a moment and settled on the term inmate. “What the hell,” Kyle figured. “This is my dream so I can call them anything I want.”

Looking at the people in the room that were in his line of sight, Kyle saw men and women of every ethnicity whose ages appeared to range from teenagers to the elderly. The younger population looked unsure and scared, and the older folks looked bored. While he could not see any young children or infants, Kyle sensed they were around because he could hear their distant shouts and cries. Trying to make sense of what this place was, Kyle turned to face an older gentlemen seated two rows behind him.

“Excuse me,” he said, but before Kyle could utter another syllable, the man turned to face Kyle, placed an outstretched finger in front of his lips, shook his head from side to side, then turned to resume staring at nothing in particular. Kyle then turned to a young woman seated three seats to his left and attempted to ask the same question, but got the same result.

“This is too weird,” Kyle mumbled to no one in particular. He decided that he had enough of this foolishness, and that it was time to wake up.

Using the tricks he learned as a kid to escape the clutches of his frequent nightmares, Kyle stopped after finding himself in the same strange room with all these strange people after every attempt. His tried and true methods weren’t working.

“What the fuck,” he grumbled.

Seeing that he wasn’t going anywhere, Kyle decided to play along and followed everyone’s lead. Staring straight ahead, he noticed that three unmarked white doors dotted the walls behind each table before a burst of motion grabbed his attention. The inmate at the table directly in front of his square was suddenly having an animated conversation, waiving his arms frantically, with the staff member that was interviewing him. The staff person repeatedly pointed to doors behind them while the inmate repeatedly pointed to a stack of linens that lay underneath the table, only to result in the staff person sadly shaking his head from side to side. Kyle thought it odd that he could not hear a word of what they were saying.

After a minute or two this stalemate, the staff person reached under the table to press something. Shortly thereafter a large man, who was also dressed in white and reminded Kyle of a bouncer, arrived. Gently but firmly, he reached under the inmate’s armpits, effortlessly lifted him to his feet and half dragged him to the door on the right. Producing a white card key, he waved it in front of the door. A whoosh of air emerged, and the door slowly opened. The large man escorted the inmate, who was now crying and appeared to be pleading with him to stop, into the open door. Kyle strained to see what was behind that door. All he saw was an opaque blackness, but he felt a powerful surge of fear and despair, as if all hope had been sucked out of the room. The large man emerged alone before the door closed, nodded to the person seated at the table, and silently returned to wherever he came from.  The emotion Kyle felt vanished as soon as that door had closed.

This was getting too creepy for comfort,  so Kyle resorted to taking a small section of skin near his ribs, dug the fingernails into his flesh and pinched the flesh as hard as he could,  expecting to jerk awake in his bed. Fear began to emerge when that failed, so he desperately resorted to slapping his face. Hard. He heard the sound of the slaps echo in the vast room, but none of the other inmates seemed to notice. He gave up after a dozen or so slaps.

“What is this fucking place!?” Kyle thought, feeling  his  body shiver again, but not from the cold. “I’m so done with this shit! I’ve got to get out of here.”

He attempted to stand and start walking until he found a means of escape, only to discover he was stuck. Although he could move his arms, legs, and upper torso freely, Kyle’s ass was firmly glued onto the surface of that chair.

“Shit!”

He obviously wasn’t going anywhere, so Kyle stopped struggling and began to ponder his next move when he noticed the staff member at the table the other inmate previously sat at was staring at him. She smiled at Kyle once their eyes met, which settled Kyle’s runaway nerves.

“Please don’t be afraid Mr. Callahan,” she said soothingly. “Nobody is going to to hurt you. Can you please come forward and have a seat?”

“I don’t think I can.”

“Yes you can. Please step forward and have a seat..”

Kyle leaned forward and was amazed to discover he could easily stand. Taking a deep breath, he started to walk towards the table, but not before making one last desperate attempt to wake himself by sliding his right hand under his boxers, and gently cupping his balls, giving them a squeeze. Instead of being greeted by the kind of pain only a man understands and waking up in his bed, he felt felt nothing, and the view did not change.

“I’m sorry Mr. Callahan, but this is not a dream. Now will you please come forward and sit down? We need to have a chat.”

What is Normal?

Normal2

One of the benefits of following and reading other bloggers’ work is that you can sometimes steal an idea and run with it, which can be handy if you’re racking your brain trying to come up with a topic.

Such was the case for me this week, as it was one of those weeks where the time to sit and type was approaching, and I had bupkus for a subject. Then good ol’ Superman ended his Playing the Card piece with a question that is the title of this one. That question struck a nerve, and I instantly knew I had my topic. So thank you, Billy Mac.

“Normal” can be judged on so many levels: health, looks, intelligence (perceived or otherwise), attitude, what we do for a living, and personality, to name a few. I could throw politics into the mix, but I reserve the right to revisit that down the road because our current political climate is anything but normal. Today’s challenge is to be brief and concise, as I could rant and pontificate forever about this topic because it really annoys me.

I hate the word “normal” as it applies to people because implies that someone who isn’t has something fundamentally wrong with the them, and is less of a person.

I have Multiple Sclerosis, which obviously places me in a minority status, but I have hopes, dreams, desires and fears like everyone else. I don’t want to be treated differently, pitied, or viewed as something less of a person, and I certainly don’t want anyone to lower their opinion or expectations of me simply because I have a hitch in my giddy-up. I also don’t want people who see me for the first time to go out of their way to avoid me. Unfortunately, some of us who live with a disability help perpetuate this stereotype by playing the victim card, which I abhor, and give people a reason to avoid them because they are so annoying.

Nidan is pursuing a career in Human Services, so I have had the pleasure of learning about and meeting many people, mostly kids, who live with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Asperger’s Syndrome, Down’s Syndrome, ADHD and conditions of that nature. They are genuinely kind, unique, wonderfully quirky individuals who have an interestingly different point of view compared to us neuro-typical folks. Unfortunately, their black and white thinking often leaves them clueless when it comes to nuances and shades of grey. They are oblivious to social cues, and are often unfairly judged and shit upon by both peers and adults because they appear odd.

School districts aren’t kind to them either. Some don’t know how to teach the kids or how to assimilate them into the student body, and turn a blind eye to the constant and often vicious bullying they are subject to. And if you happen to be a kid who is clinically on the spectrum but is very high functioning and looks “normal?” Well, something must really be wrong with that kid, and they are treated accordingly.

While no school administrator would admit this, I suspect more than a few would like nothing better than for these kids disappear or be home-schooled. Either that or persuade their parents give them drugs to make them compliant zombies. It would certainly make their jobs easier.

People fear what they don’t understand, and often don’t take the time to learn about something unless it affects a loved one or family member. It is easier to remain ignorant and shun people we aren’t comfortable being around because they have problems, and could be a bad influence on our kids.

Our collective attitudes toward anyone or anything that does not fit our model of what should be has become progressively cruel, and it doesn’t help when our President sets the example by openly mocking and ridiculing someone with a disability. Perhaps this a symptom of an all-about-me society that is becoming increasingly narcissistic. Perhaps it a by-product of an evolving U-Tube culture that thrives on being sensationally controversial.

Does living with anxiety issues make you abnormal? Are you abnormal if your IQ is below average? Does being an atheist make you a warped, twisted individual? Does not being blessed with good looks, or having significant weight issues make you less of a person? I think not!

It feels like we have become increasingly intolerant and unkind towards anything different, and we gleefully put down anyone who is. It seems we have become so insecure that we have to tear others down to prop ourselves up. How sad is that?

It’s also misguided because nobody is perfect. Let’s be honest. We all have issues of some kind. Some are more visible than others, and some of us hide it better than others. But if we accept that premise, then what is normal?  Everything, or nothing?

The reality is we are all flawed to some degree, which makes us all the same. And in the final analysis, does it really matter?

 

 

 

 

Moving Daze

Daze

The temperatures are going to reach 60 today, so even though another week remains on the meteorological calendar, I am saying goodbye to winter.

It has been a relatively easy one, especially compared to last year. We’ve had only one storm where the snowfall measured a foot or more, and while there have been periods of bitterly cold weather, that was not the norm. Ice was more of a problem than snow this year, but the bottom line is we did not confront major periods where work on the new house was shut down for extended periods of time. We are in reasonably good shape on that front. The house is framed, the roof is shingled, and by month’s end the windows should be in, and the cellar floor poured.

With the days getting longer and the house completely enclosed, it is full steam ahead on getting the interior done because there shouldn’t be any weather-related delays.

For the past several months I’ve watched the house methodically rise from the ground, but I was in winter mode, where I can’t see beyond the snow and cold, and Spring feels light years away. Now that it is knocking on the door, however, the fact that this is actually happening feels more real than it ever has.

It is all very exciting, of course, now that the end is within sight. I mean, we hope to move by late spring/early summer, which is only three to four months from now. That may seem like a long time, but June/July will be here before I know it, which means I’m facing the reality of the one part of this adventure I absolutely dread: moving.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m really looking forward to the new place. I’m sure there will be some melancholy involved with leaving the home Nidan grew up in, but it will be short lived, at least for me. This is something we have wanted for a while, and have been planning in some capacity for almost a year. I’m looking forward to being settled in the home we have designed for our golden years.

But the physical act of moving?  This will be our fifth move, the last one having occurred in 2000. The first one, back in 1996, was a new adventure, but each subsequent one was greeted with less enthusiasm than the previous move because we were no longer naïve about the work this all entailed. Besides, I was a lot younger back then, and more able-bodied. This time? Well, we’re going to see how this will work with one good leg.

Unlike me, K has been thinking about the move since we broke ground, mentally planning, and stressing, over what needs to be done. She’s infinitely more aware of all the stuff we have accumulated over the years that has to be moved, thrown away or donated, and she’s a tad overwhelmed by it.

I’m not dreading the actual packing and moving part, although I reserve the right to change my mind when I’m actually doing it. But motivation is never lacking while getting prepared for, and moving, from point A to point B. Comparatively speaking, it is something you can enjoy, especially when movers are involved..

What sucks is the unpacking, and we not only have to move ourselves, but Nidan and K’s Mom, who has lived with us for almost fifteen years, and is in her eighties.

Unpacking and getting everything where you want takes a lot of trial and error, and we are moving our current household into two different living spaces. We’ll have to get her Mom and Nidan settled first, which means we will live among a multitude of boxes for a while. Our living space will be in disarray, and present a constant obstacle course for me. I  know from experience that once you are in a new place, you are worn out and want to unpack/get settled as soon as possible, but soon as possible rarely turns out to be what you hoped for going in. It is a mentally grueling ordeal, and the physical part will be harder compared to previous years. We may not feel it that much when we are doing the actual work. But when we wake up the following morning, our tight, aching muscles and sore backs will remind us that we aren’t in our forties anymore, and make us question our sanity.

I’m especially wary of the physical implications MS brings to the table. I’ve never been the kind of guy who can sit idly by while everyone else is doing the work, and this part of my DNA has become more pronounced since the MS came along. I have this need, you see, to not to give into my disability. I push myself simply to prove that I can, perhaps because it represents some half-assed rationalization that I am still in charge of my body. But I also know from experience that when I do, my leg becomes weak to the point of almost feeling dead, and all the other symptoms, particularly balance, become magnified. Quite a quandary, isn’t it?

Even after the move is completed, the ordeal won’t be over. Our current home needs to be spruced up a bit, and then we have the minor detail of selling it. Given the fact that money is going to be very tight by that time, in part because of a very nasty tax surprise we were not prepared for, we’re going to have to put more sweat equity into that endeavor than originally anticipated. Swell!

So yes, I am looking forward to seeing the house completed and living in the comfort of a new place built to accommodate my potential future needs. But the process is going to be a grind, and part of me would like nothing better than to sleep through it all, and have someone wake me up when it’s over.

I’ve already received a taste of how tedious this is going to be by helping K weed through what we have stored in the cellar. We still have to finish the cellar, comb through all the closets and contend with the garage. Ugh, the garage!  I just should just park a dumpster outside for a week and fill it to the brim when we formally tackle that stuff.

I am hoping for the best but expecting the worst. The one silver lining with this philosophy is that you’re never disappointed, and are often pleasantly surprised. Only time will tell if that is the case this time around. Rest assured you’ll hear all about how this unfolded once the deed is done.

Wish us luck.

 

 

60

60

Today is the day I start my seventh decade, but I’m not hung up on age, and don’t remember ever having been. Except of course back when I was in my teens and wanted to hit that magic age where it was officially legal to do just about anything. After all, age is nothing but a label that lets the world how long you’ve been breathing, and perhaps a measuring stick regarding how you should look or act.

Still,  it makes me think back to some of the other memorable milestones, and what I was doing or how I felt at the time.

I was a senior in college when I turned 21. My future was a vast, blank landscape, but I didn’t think any further ahead than graduation day because I was having too much fun. My priorities in life were getting good grades, getting laid, playing baseball, and finding the next party. And not necessarily in that order.

At 25, I was on my own, living in a different state, and embarking on a career.

At 30, I was married, and in the process of buying my first house, which turned out to be a colossal money pit, and a hard lesson learned.

Some milestones bother people, but I never gave them much thought, except for the day I turned 35. I don’t know what so was traumatic about that particular age. I was entrenched in what turned out to be a successful career, happily married and wasn’t financially stressed. The thing about 35 was that, for the first time, I saw myself as getting older, which was a foreign concept until then. I was nearing middle age, and that bothered me. A lot. But it was short lived.

I was living in Southern Indiana when 40 came knocking, having uprooted several years earlier from Connecticut because there weren’t any opportunities to reach the next level in my career. The fact that I was getting sick of the state for some reason I can’t remember also factored into it, and I would have bet everything I owned that I would never return.

At 40, I was a first time father of a one year old and completely smitten. Things were good, as I was happy in both my personal and professional lives. Then people started dying, most of them unexpectedly, and we moved back to Connecticut within a year.

50 was a big one, but I didn’t feel like I was a half-century old. I wasn’t upset about getting love letters from AARP, but I didn’t exactly embrace it either. Truthfully, I didn’t give it a lot of thought. I remember hearing someone say 50 is the new 30, and that felt right. I didn’t think of myself as old or being on the downhill side of life. K surprised me by having some dear friends fly in from out of state to celebrate the occasion. It was a wonderful surprise, and I had a great time. Too great, as it turned out, because I suffered acute stomach distress and upheaval due to alcohol consumption. That self-inflicted malady hasn’t occured since. Maybe wisdom does come with age.

In retrospect, the biggest development when the age of 50 came around was that MS entered my life the year before. I had a permanent limp that was just becoming noticeable. My foot was drooping, but I could still get around easily and do all the man things around the house. I didn’t need a cane yet, and I it would be another year before I experienced my first fall year. Still, the cracks in my armor were showing, and would soon become more pronounced.

I thought of 55 as the speed limit birthday, because that was the speed limit on most Connecticut highways for the longest time, but 55 meant nothing to me. It was just a number and another day, like all the others.

Now that I am 60, my thoughts are no different than in years past, other than the fact, well, I’m 60! Generously speaking, I am at the tail end of middle age, but realistically, I am well past the half-way point in life, and will soon be considered a senior citizen. How the hell did that happen so quickly?

Mentally, I don’t feel any different than when I was in my 20s and 30s, but I’m more in tune with the world around me. I’m better equipped to handle the curves life throws, and I’ve had my share of doozies. I enjoy the slower pace, and appreciate the little things. I’m content. I don’t get as hung up on the materialistic trappings of my youth, and stopped climbing the corporate ladder years ago. Of course, MS had a lot do with that.

I certainly enjoy winding down at night. I enjoy and appreciate sleep more, although K would tell you I don’t get nearly enough. She’s right about that, but when the clock hits 10, my head wants to hit the  pillow. Back in the day, the only thing I was interested in hitting when 10 rolled around was the road, because that is when the fun really started.

I find myself thinking about retirement, looking forward to an empty nest, and embracing this new stage in life. I’m looking forward to moving into the new house, where everything is on one floor, and being alone with my bride. I’m looking forward to greeting each day as a blank slate, where I’m free to do what I want. I’m looking forward to not having any time pressures or obligations. I’ve earned this, but it’s also a double-edge sword.

I understand this is going to be my last house, and that I am probably going to die there. I know that the sun is setting on the stretch of road I’m on, but hope this road is a long one, and that the view is beautiful when I reach its end. If I am fortunate to follow my parent’s path, I have another thirty plus years before I get there, which is half of the life I’ve already lived. I’m down for that.

60 is the on-ramp to this new road that I have just merged onto. It’s a scenic route with a slower speed limit, and I’m in no hurry to explore everything it has to offer. I plan on a leisurely journey, and to milk every pleasure I can. I am still middle aged, after all, but not for long.

My brother turns 70 in June, my next big milestone. When that occurs, I won’t be able to bullshit myself or anyone else. I will be old.

But it beats the alternative.