Doing something a bit different this week. I've been getting tagged in writing prompts on Reddit for a few weeks now, and finally decided to have a go at one of them. The prompt: "Hell is meeting a better version of yourself".
He wasn’t wearing a suit. There were no sunglasses lazily resting on his shirt collar. He didn’t have a neatly trimmed beard or a well kept haircut and his teeth were a bit yellow. He had a bit of a paunch, wore a polo shirt and cargo shorts. He wore sandals. SANDALS.
I barely suppressed a laugh.
This guy was a loser.
“Is this really it?”
He just gave a bit of a shrug.
“Are you sure this isn’t your hell? I’ve got a multi million movie deal, I wrote my first feature at 21 and I was Crowd’s Hottest Guy On Earth two years running. I make 6 figures on a slow year, I wear $10 000 suits and drive the fastest bikes I can get my hands on.”
My hand reached in my pocket. I forgot my phone wouldn’t be there.
“This is ridiculous."
He just stood there, absorbing it all quietly. Not even a twitch in his features. His hands sat comfortably in his pockets.
“Why am I even here?”
“Well you’re dead.”
“I know that.”
He pursed his lips thoughtfully.
“What I want to know is why I have to stand here and look at you?”
“Does the sight of me offend you?”
“You look like me, but worse. You’re like if I’d never picked up a barbell or gone to the barber. You look like me if I’d never had the drive or dedication to reach for my dreams and crush through the obstacles in my path.”
“No offense.” It was a reflex.
We stood quietly for a moment, me still looking him up and down, him just standing there, existing. Though he probably didn’t exist beyond this fabrication they put in front of me.
“You’re asking yourself how I’m so different.”
“Like I said, you’re me if I’d never reached for my dreams.”
“No, you want to know the exact moment that would have made you into me. You’re thinking in the vein of the multiverse theory right? How a single event creates an alternate universe where things can be slightly or radically different?”
I didn’t answer. Didn’t give him the satisfaction. He smiled sadly and gave a small sigh.
“I got her pregnant.”
I don’t know if something in my face twitched, but he looked to have picked up on it.
“You know exactly who I’m talking about.” He looked down and to the left, recollecting. “Where you were thrilled at getting a negative, I panicked at getting a positive. I got angry, at me, at her, the situation itself. It was when we’d started dreaming, when we shook loose from the office job and took that big leap, remember? I didn’t talk to her for a few days. I was coming to terms with the fact that I’d either have to run away or let my life be ruined. She talked to me first, said she wanted to meet. We did, had coffee, talked it over. She said there was no way she was going to do anything but keep it. I knew she was against abortion, and she said she wasn’t going to put another kid in the system, not when she saw what it could do.
“She had fire in her, that’s for sure. She had this attitude that my opinion didn’t matter, she would do what she thought was right and that was not up for a discussion. It’s what brought us to her in the first place, made you stay as long as you did. It triggered something in me. I told her I’d stay, that we’d work through this together and figure something out. She was a bit suspicious at first, thought it was just a nice sentiment and that I’d go running like everybody else. It would take a couple of months before she actually believed I’d be there to stay.
“We got married about halfway through her pregnancy. Not because we felt that we had to, but because we wanted to. We’d grown so much closer in those few months. We eloped. I blew the last bit of my savings to go to Bora Bora and we got married on the beach.”
“You got married?”
He holds up his left hand. A dull golden band adorns his ring finger.
“Yup. We had a proper reception for people after our first daughter was born, so they wouldn’t feel left out.”
“Wait. First daughter?”
“Yep. As much of a handful as she was, she got a sister only a couple years after she was born. They both got a brother too, and that’s when we decided I should get snipped. But I don’t think I have to describe that procedure to you eh? I’m surprised they even let you at 25.”
“Yeah well it’s not their place to judge my choices they -”
“Should just shut up and do it?”
I exhaled strongly, glaring at him.
“I didn’t want anybody to trap me.”
“You always did have a problem trusting people.”
“Yeah well if somebody decided to do it to me, there’s absolutely -"
“No legal recourse, I know. I actually said that to her at one point. She didn’t appreciate the joke.”
“Anyway I didn’t want kids, and I still don’t.”
“Are you still so sure?”
“If I’d wanted kids I could have just adopted. But I don’t. I made the right choice."
“So what have you left behind?”
“A legacy? I’ve got Oscar nominations, a Pulitzer and fans who are going to miss the shit out of me.”
“You mean the fans who’ll post memes about your death tomorrow morning, then move on with their lives?”
“My family’s going to miss me.”
“You alienated your siblings when you moved to LA. You missed the baptisms of your nieces and nephews, your mother’s birthday and your grandmother’s funeral. I think you were filming in Thailand for that last one?”
“At least I have my legacy!”
“An empty one at that."
I lunged at him, throwing a picture perfect cross. He slipped it. I hadn’t realized he probably had just as much boxing training as I did. I stumbled past him.
“The only people who are going to remember you will find the memory has soured."
I threw a kick this time, which he caught and turned into a takedown, restraining me. He was stronger than he looked.
“I know how you feel. I died today too. Car accident, not even my fault.”
“But I leave a family behind. Three kids and a wife that I would give anything to get back.”
He slipped an arm under my chin, putting me in a chokehold.
“I may not have millions in the bank, but I’m still a writer, I still lived my dream. I don’t have any bestsellers, and only a few thousand readers, but they love what I do. And that’s enough.”
Darkness started creeping at the edges of my vision.
“You don’t even have anything worth fighting for.”
I wake up later...I’m not sure how much later. There’s no sight of him.
I fumble for my pocket, only to remember my phone won’t be there.