The absence of sound encapsulated the entire land. Silence governed all, besides the occasional wind howling cold and fierce. The sand dunes were dyed a deep grey, the sky was always black with no star in sight. In layman’s terms, it was a place stuck in an infinite loop of boring. That is of course, until the new law was imposed. You see, there’s a system in place, the big man upstairs had it all figured out. This new law only applied to those who scored a 4.44 Goodness Rating or higher. A scoreboard that literally judges the good from the bad. This story is for the 4.44’s and higher. Shall we begin?
Hi, I’m Brook. Once upon a time, I was a starving creative, a struggling artist. A husband to a ridiculously beautiful woman named Sarah. I got my big break at the age of twenty-nine, my work was exhibited at some fancy venue. I made quite a lot of dough in my time. There was one day however, where my life came crashing down. You guessed it. I died. Twenty-nine years, twenty-nine good years of working hard to make ends meet, striving to be a good person, a kind and compassionate person just as I was taught. And for what? Only to end up here? A broken shell of a man, but an entirely eligible 4.44.
Across the nearby grey sand dune formation, a couple of companions who ranged from 2.2 to 3.3 were killing time the only way they knew how. I sat in with my pals at our thousandth time playing dice. Yes, this place has dice. I don’t know how, don’t ask me, just go with it. I had my signature sunglasses on even though the sun never visited here.
“Aha! Snake eyes. I win again fellas.” I announced happily.
“Fuck all to hell. You win again Bee.” 2.26 groaned.
“Must be my lucky day aye.”
“If you were lucky, you wouldn’t be dead you dipshit. Wait. Isn’t today your evaluation? The date’s coming up as well, fast.” 3.48 said.
“Man, fuck you. Oh wait, shit you’re right. I’m gonna be late! Well, I’m off to see the big man!”
Today’s a big day for me. It’s the day I find out if I’m eligible for visitation.
No matter how many times I step in here, the big man’s office still subjects me to a feeling of complete awe, followed with utter fear. Everything was big. The big man’s desk towered over making me feel minuscule, like a shitty, shitty ant.
“Have a seat, Brook”. The big man directed at the giant chair.
“My pleasure, sir.”
“I’ve been looking at your papers, and it states here that you just make the cut. You’re a 4.44. Is that correct?”
“… And your request is for the 26th October 2023? This coming Thursday?”
“As you know Brook, we have a new policy on visitation. That is, if you score a 4.44 or higher, you are in fact, eligible to return for a fixed time of 24 hours.
“I’m happy to announce that your application has been approved. Please only pack necessities, and be ready for the commute at 8AM sharp. Let me warn you now, that the Guide will not tolerate tardiness. Is that clear?”
“Yes sir. And thank you so much for this opportunity.”
The following four and a half days were the slowest passing days in history for me. But finally, after hours and hours of agonising in this dark desolate, the day had come. It was Thursday approaching 8AM. The guide had arrived.
“Don’t be so stiff mate. Name’s Nate. Get on.”
“Good to meet you, Nate.”
“Forgot to mention, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride but rest assured, you won’t feel a thing. On account of you being knocked the fuck out for the whole trip. It’s a privacy thing y’know. Anyway, have fun out there! I’ll pick you up at 8AM tomorrow. Don’t be late! Seriously, don’t be fucking late.”
“Wait, what, what does that mean-” Suddenly the entire space was painted a pitch black nothing, as if a light switch was suddenly turned off.
“Happy anniversary baby.”
“It’s… it’s really you.” I said in disbelief.
The walls had stopped trembling and went back into place. The mattress cradled me in a soft embrace. The big man really did bring me back. Back to those times. She was beside me again, on the window side of course. Like nothing had ever changed. It’s been so long, I’d forgotten how soft and beautiful she was. How her eyes, nose, lips looked up close. How I admired how adorable her cheeks were and always made fun of her for. I was back. We had a movie playing that we weren’t paying attention to. Knowing I was here again with such limited time, I made the most of it. My second chance. I hugged her more tightly than I had the last time. I kissed her more passionately than the last time. The feeling I had in my chest was back, something I had lost for a long long time. I was back. She’s here with me now, trying to figure out how we’ll celebrate our anniversary. I didn’t care, as long as it was with her. Eighteen hours left.
“I have a surprise for you.”
“What is it? Can we lie here a little while longer?” I yawned.
“Trust me, this will be worth it.” She said, excited as she grabbed my hand and guided me through our home.
We entered a room that I hadn’t been in before. The walls were a milky warm blue, and in it, a room filled with… oh I know where this is going. Wait, holy shit. No way.
“Are you coming in?” Sarah giggled.
Like a complete idiot, I stood by the door frozen. I didn’t know how to approach this, was I ready? Sarah took me by the hand and guided me closer and closer to the white oak cradle. I peered in and suddenly, my vision became blurred with tears running down my face.
“Her name’s Ariel.”
“Ariel… that’s a beautiful name.”
“Remember when we were little and you told me your favourite Disney movie was The Little Mermaid? All the other kids made fun of you, and laughed at you. But me? I saw you in a completely new light. You announced it so confidently, and didn’t care what the other kids had to say. I think it’s your courage and confidence in yourself that made me fall in love with you in the first place.”
“Thank you babe, you really are the best person I know.”
“Wanna hold her?” Sarah smiled.
This time yesterday, I was throwing dice at sand. Today, I’m meeting my daughter for the first time. I cradled her in my arms. She was so tiny, so beautiful. It was the greatest anniversary gift ever. We spent the day at the park, our first family barbecue.
“Babe, why’re you crying?” I asked.
“This… this is everything I’ve wanted for the past year. What I’ve imagined it’d be, and so… so much more.” Sarah smiled as I wiped away the tears off her face.
The sky, now painted in the orange tinge of dusk approaching. It was time to head home. From there, we enjoyed a delicious home-cooked meal and put our baby girl to bed. 7 more hours.
“The day isn’t over just yet honey. I still have another surprise.”
“Sarah… you’ve done more than enough. What else do you have under your sleeve?”
“Just trust me. Get your coat.” Sarah laughed.
We drove down the road a little while, lamp posts illuminating the night.
“Babe, where are we going? We’ve been driving for some time now.” I asked suspiciously.
“We’re here!” Sarah screamed in excitement.
I looked up at the majestic building, large marble pillars stood strong. The garden surrounding had shrubs of flowers, specific flowers that Sarah had grown from time to time in our own backyard. Everything about this building was beautiful, and it was at that moment, that I saw the writing engraved on a plaque attached to the building wall.
“In memoriam of our town’s most esteemed artist that ever lived, Brook Lawson. May this be a reminder of what we all can achieve.”
“Sarah… babe… I, I, I don’t know what to say.” I cried.
“You don’t have to say anything. This is how I… no, your whole town honours you. We miss you every day. Every single day.”
“I love you babe. More than you know.”
Inside the building, I felt like I could walk through these halls endlessly. My artwork for the whole world to see, showcased all over the place. 5 hours left.
Returning home, Sarah took a huge sigh of relief.
“What a day!” She sighed, exhausted.
“It was unforgettable. You’ve honoured me in a way that nobody has ever done for anyone.”
“Yeah well… if people were more like us, less fights and less breakups right?” She laughed.
“Let’s go to bed.” I said.
“You’re tired too?”
“Not at all.”
Our bedroom floor was riddled with clothes and mess, yet we didn’t care. Sarah had gone to sleep, she deserved it. A full day dedicated to me is already huge, but she had to endure and stay strong for our baby daughter for a full sixteen months without me. And who knows how long I’ll be gone again this time. Everyone’s got their responsibilities and their urgencies. Mine? Mine’s maintaining that 4.44 rating. 2 hours to go.
I peered into my daughter’s room, took her out of her crib and held her. Held her tight and sat down by the crib. I could do this for all eternity and never get bored. My baby daughter, Ariel. So beautiful. So pure. So thankful she got her mother’s looks. Suddenly, I noticed a faint murmur of muffled sounds coming from a distance. 1 hour to go.
“Hehmetofahmgo. Hehmetofahmgo. Hehmetofahmgo.”
As the sun began to wake up from its slumber, so did Ariel. She began to cry and cry, but I was there to make her feel better. That sound, there it was again. 5 minutes to go.
“Timetofuckinggo. Timetofuckinggo. Timetofuckinggo.”
I returned Ariel to her crib, and from there, she stared at me with her big blue eyes.
“Ariel. Daddy has to go now. I’ll try my best to come back and visit. No, I’ll make sure of it. I want to see you grow up. But daddy won’t be here for all of it and I’m so… so sorry. I’m so sorry baby. Even though I won’t be around, know that I will always love you. Know that your mummy is always here for you. I need you to always listen to her, mummy knows best. Ah… what else, what else, what else!”
The sound was back, and this time even clearer. 2 minutes to go.
“Time to go! It’s your Guide you stupid piece of shit. Time to fucking go!”
“Ariel! You will definitely face a lot of hardship in life, that’s just how things are. But know that the good things outweighs all the bad. Don’t drink until you’re at least 18. Never smoke, this is coming from your daddy. Be stronger than me. Be better than me. Naturally, you’ll grow up to become a beautiful girl, and you will be smart. Be careful with boys. There’s alot of sleezy ones, and not many good ones. Find yourself that good one. But not until you’re at least 20. And there will be no talk on losing your virginity until you’re at least 30.”
“Tick tock motherfucker. It’s time. Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go, let’s goooo!”
“Ariel I love you with all my heart. There’s so much more I want to say to you… much, much more. But I’ve ran out of time. Daddy’s gotta go. Always remember, that you will always be daddy’s finest work of art. Goodbye.”
Just like that, I was back in the dark grey desert that stretched for miles and miles, the infinite loop of boring, throwing dice at a pile of dust. Til next time.