On Monday mornings, I send out a story via email: ultra-brief tales of 1,000 words or more, usually in genres including horror, science fiction, and the supernatural. Those stories collectively are called Once Upon A Time. I’ve also published several ebooks and compendium volumes of those stories so far.
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When I was a young man, I knew that my whole life was ahead of me. My parents spoke of the boundless possibilities, and I didn’t notice at all that their own faces and lives hardly seemed to reflect such a world. I was certain — and I was assured — that I would do wonderful things, and find much happiness.
When I went to school, I began to see that my parents were right; there were so many things out there, and so much to learn, and so much that a person could do and could be. The choice was mine, and every option was valid and at hand. My future, though hypothetical and shrouded in mystery, also seemed inevitable.
School became high school, and then there was a girl, of course; the first truly noticeable girl. I saw her, and she fascinated me, and I was entirely too young to know that I was seeing not just this one girl, but all of the possibilities and promise of all women, encapsulated within her. I thought that she was the most vivid and interesting and fully there person I had ever met, and I loved her without even the slightest suspicion that love, too, is unique to each individual.
I knew that she would fall in love with me just as I was in love with her, and that we would marry, and that we would live a lifetime of joy together. When her family moved away the following year, I had never spoken to her of my feelings, but I knew that I certainly could have — and then it would all have unfolded as I’d imagined. I did speak to her again, electronically and decades later, and we exchanged pleasantries and she told me of her daughter and her husband. I was glad for her, and I felt generous in it, because she had been allowed this life by my inaction.
I knew that I would never have a child, as she had, because it would be far too much of an intrusion into my own life, and all the things I had ahead of me. I wanted no part of anything that limited or closed down any of the possibilities that remained open. It was best to remain childless, and to pursue one’s own dreams, so that you might have everything that the world can bring to you. It’s a lesson I planned to teach my son when he was a little older.
When I went to university, as was always my destiny, I saw all around me the enticing fruits of adulthood, and the opportunities to sample a kind of freedom I’d never had before, but still with some familiar degree of safety against disaster. There were so many things open to me now: living on my own, going on an adventure overseas, having dozens of relationships every year, excelling in every aspect of my studies. All within my reach and my grasp, and how clearly I could see how well-suited I was to each and every one of them. I could certainly have done all of them, and those resulting experiences would have been formative. I remain convinced even today that, had I chosen to ever step outside my comfort zone, I would have in fact found that it was much wider than I’d been aware of.
University became life, and there had been another girl, and she had fallen in love with me just as I was in love with her — and this time, curiously, events had transpired largely as I’d imagined. I knew it must have been something I’d chosen or done, but the specifics remained elusive even as I stopped searching for them.
We were married, and we had jobs, and a home, and other jobs and other homes, and life continued. I knew that I could have picked any number of professions, and that I would have excelled in each of them, and I also had my interests and my hobbies. Often I would become fascinated with a new one, and learn everything that I could, until I reached the inevitable point of certainty that I would do exceptionally well at it. I saw it so vividly in my mind, and I would imagine the enjoyment I was sure to get, and I would think through the details of how I would behave and what I would say, when each of these many triumphs were made. At that point, the interest itself was no longer even necessary, because I had seen its whole arc, and the fullest flower of its attainment, all in my mind; I had practised the happiness I might have, and I had felt its satisfaction.
The rehearsal continued. I imagined how my son would grow, and how he too would excel in all things — making the choice to actually see them though, instead of just within the certainty of his mind — and how proud I would be. I saw and practiced how I would tearfully experience his graduation, and his wedding, and his own transition into fatherhood. Sometimes I imagined how he would win a Nobel prize, or write a bestselling book, or save the entire world — just as his father had imagined for himself in turn. I imagined how proud he might also be of me, if I had done any of those things, and I felt certain he would decide that I certainly could have.
I became ill, and it wasn’t too long ago, but I knew that I would make a remarkable recovery and be well again, and the doctors would write papers about the miracle of it.
The illness became worse, and treatments failed, and I was told that time was growing short, and I thought that I could perhaps write something poignant and enduring, for my son and my wife to have, but which they would also release publicly as inspiration for others. How well it would be received, especially if I were somehow to die, and how proud it would make them feel. Though I can no longer write, I feel that such remarkable missives were entirely within my capability, and I could certainly have written them.
As I lie here now with my family around me, having considered the matter in great depth, I find myself content. I have lived a thousand glorious years in my mind, and as I look back at the few ordinary decades I did actually have, I’m even more certain.
If I had ever truly chosen to live, I would have been ready for anything that life could have thrown at me.
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