The Lake – (c) Sharon Nicks
The Fast Track
The day I died was just like any other. It was a Tuesday. The traffic was even worse than normal. Some idiot cut me off, delaying my commute by a matter of seconds. I blared my horn and screamed in frustration. It was the final straw for one tiny artery in my brain. Boom, brain aneurysm. I didn’t even feel it. One moment I was alive, the next I wasn’t.
The common belief is that your life flashes before your eyes. That’s true, but only half the story. In that moment you experience your whole life over. You remember every decision you ever made, from the big ones down to the inconsequential. You don’t realize how many decisions you made until you see them all. Millions of them, each one intertwined.
We all know what happens next. Will it be Heaven or Hell for me? Deep down I know the answer. As I await my fate I skip backwards through my life, like an old fashioned VCR being rewound. There’s still no flaming pit, no pitchforks. Just my life staring back at me.
I lived with the belief I was going somewhere. I was top of my class, captain of the sports team, the youngest VP in my companies history. I was on the fast-track. My house was a mansion, my car European. I spent everything I earned, and lots that I didn’t.
Sure I made a few bad decisions along the way, but they were confined to my personal life. I married the wrong woman. I couldn’t stand her and I did everything I could to remind her of that. I’m just glad we never had kids, the divorce would have been so much more expensive. Her leaving wasn’t all bad though, it gave me more time to dedicate to my true passion, making money.
Money seems a lot less important now that I’m dead. Confronted with this reality, I find myself longing to do things differently. I rewind back to the first time I skipped date night to work late. In that moment it had seemed so important to finish those slides, but now I know I’ll be dead soon. I wish I could just go home.
To my surprise, that’s what happens. I watch as I turn off my computer and race back to my wife. The joy in her face as I walk through the door is heartbreaking. I don’t remember ever seeing her smile like this. The meal she’s cooked is the best I’ve ever tasted. I won’t tell you what happened after dinner, but let’s just say it was also the best I’d ever had. How did I miss this amazing night? How many others did I miss? I need to find out.
It isn’t easy. I can’t just flip a switch and change all of my decisions at once. I have to revisit them one by one. Thankfully I can fast-forward the boring stuff in-between. All those times I drank too much? Not anymore. Every time I hit snooze instead of going for a jog? Guess again. Working late? Nope!
I watch in amazement as I slowly transform. No more love handles. No more bags under my eyes. No more pills for my blood pressure. I catch my wife staring at me in ways she never did before. We can barely keep our hands off each other. All that extra energy comes in handy, if you know what I mean.
I wait for the downside, for the backlash, but it never comes. That promotion I nearly killed myself for? I get it six months earlier. Who knew I could be just as successful by supporting my colleagues instead of climbing over them and stabbing them in the back? Now they actually like me. I remember their names, join them on double dates, meet their kids.
Kids. My wife looked me right in the eyes and told me. I wasn’t prepared. How could I be a Father? I didn’t skip a single minute from that moment onwards. I watch her balloon. We paint the nursery together. We pick out names. When my little girl is born I hold her in my arms and weep. She is my everything, my piece of the world, my nugget of happiness. This is the life I was meant to lead.
We can’t afford the mansion, we have another mouth to feed. I had no idea someone so tiny could eat so much! We settle for something smaller, older, more cosy. There’s no sports car either. We choose something so safe and boring it’s practically an airbag on wheels. I couldn’t care less.
I watch my little girl grow up. She takes her first steps, her first stumble. I pick her up and kiss her better. Her first word is Dadda. She looks just like her Mum, but with my laugh. I don’t remember ever laughing this much.
Time passes in a flash. For her seventh birthday we rent a cabin on the lake. I spend all day teaching her to fish. As the sun sets I take a moment to appreciate this newfound joy in my life. My Daughter stands at the waters edge, the sky a blazing orange behind her. It’s the perfect moment.
That’s when the brain aneurysm strikes. It’s not fair. I thought I’d changed my fate. It seems that no amount of workouts or protein shakes can fix that tiny time-bomb in my head.
I want to go back and start over, but I can’t. All that’s left is emptiness. I finally understand. There is no Heaven, no Hell. I had one chance at life. I made my choices. I thought I made the right ones. I was wrong. I got a glimpse of what could have been. Should have been. Now all I’m left with is the darkness and the memories of a life that never was. My Daughter will never exist.
I’d have preferred Hell.
This story originally appeared in the Flashdogs Solstice Light Anthology. Click here to find out more about this anthology and the talented list of writers that contributed.