I awoke face down in a grassy field, my arms limply at my side. It was cold, but there was no dew on the grass. The cold I felt was not the chill of the morning. It was the uneasy chill of a fever, of the ominous moments that separate a hot summer evening and a cool summer night’s downpour. It was complete and unsettling.
I rolled over and sat up to survey my surroundings. I was in a meadow, surrounded by grass as far as I could see on all sides. There were no trees, no bushes, nothing. The meadow was entirely flat: the only curve visible was the curve of the horizon stretching around me. It was light, but I could not see the sun. There were no clouds in the sky. This was not where I’d fallen asleep. This was not anywhere I’d ever been before.
I turned again and there was something behind me. It was not quite a man, but it wasn’t anything else, either. He was taller than I was, of a medium build with long, scraggly hair. He wore a flannel shirt, jeans, and flip flops. He wore large, round glasses and he scrunched his face up to return the glasses to the bridge of his nose. And still, he was not quite there. He had facial features, but no matter how long I looked at him, I couldn’t make them register. I could see the horizon through him, if only barely.
Where am I? I thought to myself.
“You are where you were before and where you will always be.” His voice was deep, but strangely soothing. I felt as if it passed directly through me, though perhaps that was a product of the empty surroundings.
“You can hear me?”
“There are no secrets here.”
“Am I … dead?”
“In an infinite universe, life and death are not nearly as different as many think.”
“You are what you were before and what you always will be.”
“You said that once already. Well, kind of.”
“We are not meant to tarry here long. I am here only to take you to the next waypoint of your journey.”
“You said that I would always be here.”
The phantom didn’t respond. Instead, it began moving through the field. Though it appeared to be walking, it didn’t seem to be moving at the proper pace. The ground was passing too quickly under its feet for the size of the steps it was taking. I had trouble keeping up and was forced to begin jogging.
As I jogged, I began wondering what it was that I was following. A ghost? A wraith, a specter, a phantom?
“A ghost is a fleeting impression of something that once was and no longer is. I am not a ghost.”
“What are you?” the thing’s ability to read my mind unnerved me and so I spoke though I knew I didn’t have to.
“I am your guide. I am here only for you, to make you aware of your surroundings and bring you to where you are meant to be.”
“I’m not sure you’ve made me aware of anything.”
Again, there was no answer.
I jogged and my guide walked for a long time, though I never tired. How long we went on for, I had no way of knowing. It could have been hours, days, months, or years. I had no watch and the light of the meadow never varied. My mind raced with questions, but my guide no longer answered. Was I dreaming, dead, or dying? What would happen to the people I’d loved? Would I see them again? Would I ever have a chance to do the things I’d left undone?
I asked many questions and thought many thoughts over the eternity that we’d run, but eventually I’d exhausted myself. The exact moment that I could think no more and that my mind emptied, we arrived at a small cabin. I hadn’t realized that we were approaching anything at all; it was as if the small house had simply appeared in front of me.
“This is where I leave you.”
“Each moment is its own eternity. Everything is infinite until it ends. And once something ends, who’s to say it ever was?”
I frowned, looked at the cabin, then back at my guide. He was gone, and so I had no choice but to enter. The cabin only had one room, and the room was empty except for a small wooden chest at one end. I opened the chest. It was full of DVDs. Each was carefully labled. The first read, “MIL 7 PIT 2, 20 MAY 2008.” The second read, “MIL 4 PIT 1, 21 MAY 2008.” I began rifiling through, “MIL 8 PIT 6, 28 AUGUST 2009.” “MIL 20 PIT 0, 22 APRIL 2010.” The chest was not big, but I couldn’t count the number of discs inside of it. They seemed to go on forever. There were dates and games I remembered, dates and games I’d forgotten, dates and games I wasn’t sure had even happened.
A feeling of hopelessness swept over me, but then I remembered my guide’s final words. I thought I understood. I turned to the other end of the room and saw a TV with a DVD player and one chair. I expected them to be there, even though they hadn’t been there when I entered. I took the first disc out of its box and moved towards the television. The door to the cabin was gone, but its absence didn’t surprise or bother me.
I put the first disc in the player.
I pressed play.