Back in the Game – a short story

Posted on 2011 October 3


He was standing in a line. The line curved off into the distance. He couldn’t see the other end of it. But there were a lot of people in line.

They faced away from him. He turned around. Nobody. He must be at the end of the line. It was vaguely dark here. Was it nighttime?

He spoke to the young man in front of him. “Where are we?”

The young man turned to look at him. “We’re in line.”

“What’s it for?”

“It’s for…” The young man thought a moment. “It’s for, you know, to get back in the Game.”

“What game?”

The young man shrugged. “You know, the Game.”

The Game. The Game. What game? He tried to remember what he’d been doing before standing in line; maybe that would help. But all that came to him were blurry images of sports: making a slam-dunk, tackling a flanker, studying charts, cajoling young men to victory. Was he an athlete? A coach?

He looked behind him again: a number of people now stood in line there. He turned back: the rest of the line had moved forward. He took a few steps to catch up.

He asked the young man, “What were you doing before now?”

The young man thought a moment. “I was… I was in the army. We were fighting from trenches. Last thing I remember was artillery fire exploding on either side of me. I ducked down and–” The young man looked up, surprised. “And here I am.”

Was this some sort of dream? He glanced around. It was hard to make things out in the darkness. He tried gazing at the people in line, but he couldn’t resolve many details. No matter what he did, they stayed out of focus.

Hours went by. Or was it days? Slowly the line moved forward. By now he couldn’t see either end of it. He was in the middle, somewhere.

He thought he should be bored by now, but he wasn’t. He was sort of neutral. Still, to pass the time, he tried more talk with the young man in front of him, but they didn’t have much in common. He mentioned sports and the young man got enthusiastic, but somehow they didn’t know the same field games. The conversation died off.

It seemed like an eternity. Then he noticed, further down the line, a vague gleam in the distance. Slowly it got brighter as they shuffled forward, like some sort of dawn, except it took hours — or was it days? — for each little increase.

It felt like weeks had gone by. By now the light was distinctly bright up ahead. He realized it was coming from some sort of opening, like a cave entrance. Now he could see that the people at the head of the line would walk through the entrance, one at a time, and disappear. He was consumed by curiosity: what was inside the cave? He craned to see, but the angle was wrong, just a bright entrance and people stepping into it and disappearing. One at a time.

Finally the young man in front of him stood at the head of the line. The young man was trying to peer into the entrance, squinting at the brightness.

“Hey, good luck.”

The young man turned and answered, “Yeah, thanks. You, too.” Then the young man stepped through and was gone.

Now it was his turn. The light coming from the entrance was very bright, almost too intense to look at. He waited. Something urged him to walk forward. He felt a grip of fear. But he was curious. So he stepped through the blazing light of the entrance.

At once he was falling. It was like sliding down one of those long tubes he remembered from his youth. More like a water slide, because it felt warmly wet. But the sides of the tube were getting narrow. The sides were doing something to his mind, stripping his memories from him. He tried to recall things, but they were dragged away on the walls. His thoughts jumbled, then evaporated. He was just sliding. Down, down.

Now the walls closed in and pressed against him. He tried to scream, but he was breathing liquid. The walls surged and pushed. It hurt in the warm darkness. Then the water was gone and there was a sudden chill. Brightness poured from all around.

“…It’s a girl!” The doctor snipped the umbilical. Coach beamed down at his wife. The nurse cleaned the baby.

His wife, still breathing hard, looked up at him. “Will that be okay? You … you wanted a boy.”

Coach took her hand. “Oh, we’ll get one next time. Besides, girls are into sports these days, too, aren’t they?” He winked at her.

Coach’s wife nodded, smiling with relief. Gently the nurse handed her the tiny newborn. She held this wondrous miracle in her arms and cried tears of exhaustion and happiness. The baby gurgled.

Coach bent down to his new child. “Welcome to the world, kid,” he whispered. “Now you’re in the game!”