Doug knew the expression “my life flashed before my eyes”, but he never expected to experience it. He had been at the game and then there was this hurricane of light and sound. Moment after moment washed over him, threatening to overwhelm who he was under a lifetime of experiences. Doug held on and eventually the storm subsided.
There were faces and places. Doug watched them rush past. He realized he wasn’t seeing his own life, but lives of people he knew. There didn’t seem to be any pattern. He felt like he was inside a television as someone changed the channel.
He was building a model car with his grandson.
Now he was at a cemetery. Doug managed a glimpse of the name on the stone before the next wave of perception whisked him away.
DOUGLAS R. MILLS
His grave was replaced by another day, then another night. He was with his youngest granddaughter Jane as she knelt next to her bed and prayed. No, he wasn’t with her, he was her. She was sad. Doug tried to tell her he was there, but he didn’t have a voice.
Doug walked the halls of his former home behind the eyes of his wife Marion. She made herself a cup of tea and tried to sleep. Doug tried to hold her hand, but he had no body.
He concentrated on the homework his grandson brought home: pre-algebra. Doug was good at math. He had sat with Sam at this same table, quizzing him on his times tables. Doug tried to say something. He was in the head of his grandson; Doug tried thinking the answer as hard as he could. Nothing. He could only watch as Sam slowly worked it out himself.
Doug was only a memory.
He didn’t notice at first, but Doug found himself returning to his stadium seat now and then. There was music playing on the PA and the happy vibe of a championship in the air. He looked down and was surprised to see his own arms and legs.
And then it was Thanksgiving.
And then it was Easter.
And then it was Christmas.
Doug was passed from person to person like a hot potato. He got used to it; he liked being part of the family again when they were happy and laughing and reminiscing as they grew older. Sam stretched into a teenager. Jane blossomed into a woman in a handful of instants. His son – Doug Jr. – had gray in his hair.
Doug walked with his wife down the empty hallways of their home, over and over.
When Jane married, he was there as she gazed across the room at the ones she loved. Marion was there too, distracted by the past that took precedence over the here and now. Doug enjoyed the times they lived and relived together. The colors faded then grew dark. The details eroded from the earth and sky until it was like living in a sketchbook world.
And then she was there beside him.
“Hello,” she said. “I missed you.”
They flickered through the lives of their kids and grandkids and spent the time in-between in the stadium seats. They held hands, leaning in close to whisper the news.
“Sam bought the house.”
“Jane has a little boy. She named him Doug.”
“Junior had a cancer scare, but they gave him some kind of wonder pill.”
Eventually their son joined them. Later, their grandchildren arrived. Doug hardly ever left now. Once, he saw himself in an old picture held by his great-great-grandson. Several times across the generations Doug heard the story how he met the first man on the moon. That old chestnut puffed up and out until it finally deviated so far from the truth, it didn’t involve him anymore.
Doug looked around the stadium, filled with chatting and laughing, but never saw his own parents or grandparents. He had been the youngest in his family, the last alive to remember them. Where else could they have gone?
There was a cheer from the crowd and the smell of baking bread. Doug looked around.
“Where’s Sam?” he asked.
Marion shrugged. “I think he’s done here.”
Doug sniffed the air; the bread smell was mixed with a hint of fresh cut flowers.
“You’re right,” he said. “It feels different.” There was no answer. Marion was gone.
Doug sat alone in the crowd. The people were tall; taller than he was, uniform in their flawless beauty. He could no longer understand the languages they spoke. There seemed to be aspects of their speech outside of his comprehension. It made the inside of his ears itch. He watched and learned. The strangers surrounding him flickered like headlights in a fog then gathered in groups of two, then three and more. Then a cheer and the smell – more like cocoa now instead of bread – would return.
The thousands melted into flocks of hundreds then handfuls of ten and twenty clumped around the aisles. Isolated individuals met his gaze every so often, but – finally – Doug was alone.
The seats were folded. The lights were dim. Doug listened to the music as it echoed around him in a vast emptiness. He didn’t understand. He felt forsaken; forgotten. He had no true sense of earthly time, but eons must have passed. Who would remember him now?
There was a flash like lightning and a tremendous sound. Doug didn’t understand at first; it was so different than before. The colors were off, but he made out glimpses of a field, a hole, a room stretched out in odd proportions. Doug looked down at a puddle of water and saw the compound yellow eyes of his host reflected back.
And then he was in an immense room like a cathedral. Doug was passed from mind to alien mind. He couldn’t understand their language, but their thoughts were focused on one thing. Ahead, on a raised dais and bathed in a soft light from above were bits of bone reconstructed into the shape of his skull.