William pressed his wife’s hand tightly.
“How’d I do?” he asked her as earnestly as he’d ever said anything in his entire life.
Audrey bowed her head to push back the tears, gathering herself to interact with her husband one last time. She looked up at him and smiled sweetly. “You did good, honey. You did real good.”
A stuffy hospital room wasn’t exactly what William would have wished for, he realized, if he could have chosen a place to breath his last. He would have preferred to go in one of his favorite places, like the couch in his sunroom, or maybe even a Five Guys, or Dumbledore’s study at Harry Potter World.
The children were too young to be with him in his last moments, he and his wife had determined. He thought of all three of them: Jessy, Tommy, and Ruth, and attempted to fathom that he had just said goodbye to them for the last time.
“Dammit,” William said feebly, a single tear struggling down his cheek.
He was going to miss Five Guys.
“Dammit!” he said even louder, angry at himself for always thinking about the wrong things in big moments. He had always hated that about himself.
Think about your three children, he reprimanded his mind. Heck, your wife is standing right in front of you. Tell her how much you love her. Choose your words carefully, now. This is it… don’t get scared now.
William had finished the quote from Home Alone uncontrollably in his mind, when the camera closed in on Macauley Culkin saying, “This is it; don’t get scared now,” when the “sticky bandits” were about to show up at the house.
No, wait, he corrected himself, they weren’t called the “sticky bandits” until Home Alone 2. They were the… something… bandits, though, weren’t they?
Focus, William! You’re dying, you faggot!
“Uh!” William belted unintentionally loudly in an attempt to be present in his last moments.
Why the hell did he just call himself a “faggot”? That was a word he hadn’t used since 5th grade, and he had taught his kids vehemently how wrong the word was. He remembered looking it up in in the dictionary in 5th grade and how funny it was to call people a—
“Bundle of sticks,” he said out loud, chuckling weakly.
“What’s that, Will?” responded Audrey sweetly. “Do you need us to get or… gather… something for you?”
A viking funeral would have been money.
William imagined his three children gathering the kindling for his sea-worthy funeral pyre. Little Ruth, bless her heart, struggled to place a few tiny twigs on the pyre in his vision. Everyone was there, heaving and sobbing. Of course they were. He didn’t blame them; this is William, we’re talking about. He imagined his best friend of 20 years pulling back the bow string, shaking his head, which would obviously be hooded, tragically, bottom lip trembling as he debated releasing the flaming arrow that would mean the end of his buddy.
What if he missed, though?
“Ah!” he started. His upper body jolted up from from the bed several inches at the thought. His body seized as he startled himself, realizing that people just weren’t very good at the bow and arrow anymore. Kids these days really didn’t spend enough time honing the craft. What if they missed? Dying afloat in the middle of the ocean would have been God-awful. Not to mention, William had grown absolutely terrified of sharks over the years.
“Willy, stay with me!” Audrey shouted in a cacophony of authentic tears and forced strength.
William looked at his gorgeous wife through his half-open eyes. He thought of their love, and the first time they consummated… He still couldn’t believe he had gotten someone so absurdly hot.
She ain’t going to last on the market, dude, a cocky voice said in his mind.
He tried to stop thinking about her making love to another man that she would probably, despite her best intentions to mourn her dead husband for a long time, fall in love with in a few years. She was just too attractive. The guy was probably going to be hot, too, and William hated the thought of Audrey realizing one day that this new asshole was a better lover than William ever was.
“Don’t!” William hazarded aloud in the hospital room.
Machines whirred louder and faster, a crescendo of technology.
Audrey drew in close to him. “Don’t… don’t what, honey?”
It’s her choice, he told himself, and the kids deserve a father… and she deserves someone to… Just please, let it be a good man. Let him not be an asshole!
“Don’t… remarry…” he began, in a grand finale of selflessness.
Alas, William’s eyes closed with finality as the sustained note of his hospital vitals hummed into the distance.
Reality was sucked into a darkness, like when an old tube television would zap off, closing the book of what had been on screen.
he shouted into darkness. “Don’t remarry an asshole!”
He whipped his arms haphazardly in a tantrum motion.
“Don’t remarry?! Don’t remarry?! Now her lasting memory of me is that I’m selfish and territorial! She was probably going to even chuckle! Look at William, being his wry self up to the final moment! Oh, hell!”
This was the first domino in what turned into a personal smear campaign of everything William had ever done and said. He regretted his life.
I mean, he bemoaned, I didn’t even get to tell my kids the birds and the bees.
He had already bought the bird and bee stuffed animals so he could depict the bee giving it to the bird, but could never work up the courage to actually call the family meeting.
After god-knows-how-long, William realized he’d been pacing back and forth.
He felt a control of his entire body he hadn’t felt in years. The cancer had taken it from him, but now he could move everything; he felt… in shape.
But why so dark? He literally couldn’t see his own hand. He smacked himself with it to see if any of this was real. It didn’t hurt. He smacked himself in the face again, even harder, and again: no pain at all. He tried stomping onto his big left toe with his right foot as hard as he could.
William backed up a few steps out of habit, and a feeling nostalgic fun overwhelmed him as he sprinted forward. After a few seconds of racing through the blackness, he jumped as high as he could in the dark. He let his body go parallel to the ground in the air and he spread his arms wide. Thud!
A perfect belly flop, he complimented himself. Except no wind had gotten knocked out of him and he had felt none in his hair as he ran.
William dedicated all of his faculties to hurting himself. He really got into it, too: backflipping squarely onto his head, putting himself in a headlock and repeatedly punching himself in the face, etc.
But to no avail.
Then, for the first time in this dark existence, something other than William happened. Just as William was dabbing his lip to see if he could feel blood, he was startled by what felt like an epic, booming THX tease in a movie theater.
“GAME… OVER!” boomed a deep voice that sounded, William realized, eerily similar to the voice-over from umpteen first-person shooter video games, back in the day.
William turned around, and he actually saw the words: GAME OVER. Massive red letters just hanging there in the dark, the only visible thing in this place. The letters bled away, like literally bled. They turned to blood and dripped, and then they were gone.
“Huh?” William wondered aloud.
More words appeared, and this time numbers, too. The numbers changed at an illegible pace.
“OVERALL GRADE” were the new words, also in massive lettering. The two digits of numbers slowed down and began to increase and decrease in order.
“58, 59, 60, 61, 62… 74, 75… 75, 74, 73…”
The numbers stopped at 71.
“A 71?!” William was angry, even though he wasn’t exactly sure what the grade was for.
Bang! Something else popped up below it all, thundering like how a typewriter might sound to a flea.
The deep voice echoed the new words: “C… MINUS!”
“What is this for!” William shouted.
Then he remembered he was, in fact, dead: “My life? I got a C-minus on… life?!”
There was no response to William’s appeal and the words continued to hang there. William turned around and around incessantly, looking for an answer. He slapped himself in the face again. Finally, to the bottom right of his overall grade, there appeared new words that glowed in a slow blink.
William instinctively reached out to the words, farther and farther, until he could have sworn he was touching them. Everything disappeared.
Then William saw everything.
New grades appeared that were broken down into family roles: Father, Husband, Son, Daughter, etc.
“Oh, really! Just a flat B for being a dad, huh?” William said angrily, though he was secretly relieved. He allowed the “C +” for “Husband” to go by without a response, a solemn agreement by omission.
“Haaaa, whoever you are!” he gloated. “Wow, I’m really torn up about getting an F for being a daughter… seeing as I’m a guy, you dolt. Even God has glitches!”
The grades blinked off abruptly, lacking the sleek production value of the rest of the presentation.
“AVERAGE COITAL TIME,” blinked into view.
“No no NO!” William shouted, using his arms to alternate between covering his eyes and ears. “Lalalalala!”
He turned around, but couldn’t help but peek. “You’re exaggerating! There were plenty of times it was over a minute; it had to even out.” William became fixated on this, continuing to mutter to himself for some time, like a homeless man in a corner store, something about “vacation in Mexico…” finally facing the grade and blurting, “ten minutes!”
The stats and grades continued with grace from there, and William eventually sat down on the nothingness. Every once in a while, William reacted, but it wasn’t typically more than a grunt. He mostly watched with his mouth agape.
William wasn’t surprised he had spent years of his life on his smartphone, but he did raise his eyebrows slightly when he saw how many months of his life he had spent thinking about other things while his wife was recounting her day to him after work.
Could have been more interested, he thought. She deserved… deserves that. That hot-bodied asshole better be good to her or else I’ll haunt the shit out of him!
He had apparently spent months of his life commiserating with fellow Richmond, Virginia friends about how awful Washington, D.C. was. Traffic, assholes in suits, networking, he thought with a shiver.
He chuckled when it showed he had a “0.0 KILL / DEATH RATIO.”
“Because I didn’t kill anyone, but I died once!” William slapped his leg. “I get it!”
He shuddered when he thought of Hitler celebrating his K/D ratio. Really puts video game violence into perspective, he nodded to himself. “Nah!” he blurted with a guffaw.
He froze when he saw that he had one “ASSIST.”
“Huh? Who could I possibly have helped die…”
Just then, Adolf Hitler’s K/D ratio appeared next to his as comparison, which was surprisingly low. Hitler’s assists, however, were astronomical. William realized he hadn’t actually said anything about Hitler out loud. Was someone actually listening… or reading his mind?
William had an idea and stood up. “Hey, I have an idea! God… or whoever you are!” He began to jog around, looking to see if there were signs of anything else. William would have been ashamed if anyone knew he was looking for someone’s face lit by the light of a laptop, as if God looked like an embarrassed, hoodie-wearing Mark Zuckerberg huddled in a dark Harvard dorm room, but he kind of was.
The statistics moved on, now showing how many times William had almost died, which did cause him to stop in his tracks for a second when he saw that the number was in the double digits, but William wouldn’t be derailed.
“Hey, God, do the classic hypothetical!” he jumped and shouted. “Let me kill Hitler. Everyone talks about it, but I bet you can make it happen. Come on, give me one bullet in a gun, or even a pillow while he’s sleeping. I’ll overpower his Aryan ass!”
The words on the screen changed again.
NUMBER OF TIMES WILLIAM DIDN’T TREAT GOD LIKE A GENIE.
“Okay, okay,” William laughed with respect. “Good one. I guess that’s true, but you’re responding to me now. I believe you’re real now! God… uh, ‘Lord on High?’ Come on, your honor, let’s have some fun.”
William appealed one final time. “Let’s get my Kill/Death Ratio up to 1.”
The previously unwavering darkness began to brighten, and it seemed to be coming from a light source behind William that was gaining in brilliance.
He turned around to find a small, wooden chest surrounded by beams of light. William approached apprehensively, his heart pounding. As with most things in William’s life, he had been sort of kidding.
The latch’s hole on the front of the chest was empty, the lock missing. William lifted the latch, and then the lid. The light almost blinded him at first, but when it subsided, he looked down to find an ordinary household butter knife. William picked it up and chuckled.
“Oh, good one, G—“
Before William could finish, he felt his stomach leap out of his body like the first drop on a roller coaster. Reality, or whatever the darkness was, changed and something else came into focus.
William found himself in an elegant bathroom. Everything was either made of ivory or of gold, but was barely visible through clouds of hot steam. The shower was running loudly and a man was singing in it.
William gulped and dropped everything he was holding, which was one butter knife.
He scrambled down to the ground to pick up his butter knife. It had bounced in front of him and landed under a piece of furniture. Next to the glass shower, which was covered in steam, there was a chair with an intricately detailed, golden trim, and red velvet cushions. William stooped under the chair and snatched the butter knife, his now beloved source of protection. As he raised his head from under the chair, he noticed that there was, draped on top of the chair, a deep beige outfit.
He noticed the swastika at the same time the shower cut off.
Several squeaking noises startled him and he looked up to see a portion of the well-steamed shower glass being wiped clear, in widening concentric circles. In the newly made window, he could make out a wet face.
And a square mustache.
I’m supposed to fight Hitler to the death with a butter knife, William wondered, while he’s wet and naked?
William sprinted away from naked Hitler.
He heard a sing-song voice echo behind him. “Goebbels, is that you? Vye don’t you join me!”
William slammed into the bathroom door, finding it locked. He turned his back to it, and slid down it until he was sitting on the bathroom floor, his breath now gaining heft.
He thought of Macauley Culkin, of how much braver he was than William.
The butter knife of justice lay in William’s hands, accusing him, and everything began to go black. He closed his eyes passively, assuming he was passing out. After a moment, however, he realized there was no longer any sound around him and that he was awake. He peeked out of one eye to find the all-encompassing darkness had returned.
“Thank God!” he sighed.
Words appeared in front of him, letter by letter.
KILLED HITLER / RAN AWAY LIKE A BABY RATIO:
“Alright…” William said, feeling the butter knife’s blunt edge with his thumb in the blanketing darkness.
“C-minus is fair.”