I’m tied down to a slow moving conveyor belt. At the end of this belt is a sharp blade chopping down. There’s a brick of C4 explosives on my chest that is wired to twenty-seven sticks of dynamite. A ticking clock will set it off the moment the blade comes down on my neck.
Also, this warehouse is on fire. I feel the heat, see the smoke, and hear the crackling flames.
Also, I have cancer. Super cancer. But I’m not even sure what that means, or why my doctor called it that. Doesn’t seem like something a doctor would say. Perhaps he knew it didn’t matter. That nothing matters.
In case I somehow escape this mess, there’s a sniper in the next building over, targeting me. That’s what this red dot on my forehead is. He’ll probably shoot as soon as the blade drops. I’m slightly drunk at the moment, but that’s only noteworthy because I had been sober for seven years prior to today. I’ve also had to poop since last night.
My phone is buzzing in my pocket yet again. Urgent vibrations. Two short ones and one long one. That means it’s Jenna. She’s calling to tell me the results of her pregnancy test. What her choice will be depends on the results.
I had been reciting Ovid in Latin for the first few seconds I was on the belt, all that I knew. Now I’m singing theme songs to ‘80s and ’90s NBC TV shows. I’m on Family Ties now. I should be super dead by the time I get to Friends.
The sick bastard that put me in this situation has “Canon in D” playing at one end of the warehouse, and 2pac’s “Holla if You Hear Me” playing at the other end. He also has the Super Bowl projected on a screen directly above me. It’s tied in the fourth quarter. My team is driving down the field with about a minute to go. Through the smoke, I can see that they aren’t quite in field goal range. I had bet my house, my car, and my entire life savings on the game. Not that it matters.
There are some positives of the situation, however.
Due to the music, the flames, those pills I took, and the half-gallon of Red Bull and vodka I drank, I’m super amped up. And I keep getting more and more amped up with each tick of time. I’m already thinking at near the speed of light and I can feel my thoughts moving even faster. The half second before the blade drops, I’ll be able to think beyond the speed of light. So fast, I’ll be thinking back in time. So fast, I can even make different choices.
I might be able to think far enough back and undo this absurd mess. While I’m at it, maybe I could undo the divorce, undo the mistakes with the secretary, buy better termite insurance, decide not to rob that bank, or at least not use the money to finance those rebels. (Granted, Star Wars has distorted my idea of rebels.) I could think back far enough and choose a different career instead of the Agency, maybe a bartender, or a landscaper. I might even be able to stop smoking, walk the dog more, masturbate less, and certainly not eat that second bowl of Grape Nuts.
I might even be able to think so far back to a special scene from when I was a kid. Having been inspired by the Fraggle Rock Doozers, I had constructed a complicated city with Lego’s, Lincoln logs, shoeboxes, and toilet paper rolls. I’ll be able to re-imagine the rise and fall of this city, this civilization, before my asshole sister knocked it over and destroyed it, Godzilla style. I can choose not to tell her about my city, and prevent its destruction. I’ll be able to watch and imagine generations of this city, before my life is cut short (pun intended).
I’ll be able to imagine each and every citizen. I’ll be able to see Shelly from West Town apartments, 2B, and Martin from the downtown shoebox studio loft, as they sing ZZ Top karaoke together. Despite being strangers. Coincidently, according to fate, they had picked the same song to sing. Inspired by massive margaritas, they pretend they are long lost lovers singing their favorite, special song. They hold each other’s hands, look into each other’s eyes, and sing “Sharp Dressed Man” together.
Before the blade drops, before the last second field goal, the explosions, the sniper shot, the poop, etc., I’ll be able to see them go from pretending to be in love, to the first steps of actually falling in love. When she notices a charming slant to his grin, how his eyes smile with him, the shape of his ears, and he observes a certain fluidity to her motions, her slender hands, the soft curve of her neck. They notice this and more, as they sing, as if they had written the song together, as if it were the greatest love ballad ever, made to be sung by only the two of them, in that moment, in that bar.
And as the blade is micrometers from my neck, as the explosions begin to bloom, as the bullet is about to complete its journey, the smoke too much, the cancer victorious, I will be amped up enough to be caught in the event horizon, where observable time stops and I’m forever locked in thought. I will be able to imagine that I AM Martin from the downtown shoebox loft, and I will live out the rest of his life, continue to fall in love with Shelly, forge a whole new existence, something less absurd, but beautiful, in that complicated, yet colorful, blocky city. A place I will call home.
–originally appeared in McSweeney’s