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What If?

What If?

A Story by OscarRat

On Christmas Eve, a homeless man is given an important choice.

It was Christmas Eve under the freeway. Harold sat alone, huddled behind a scrapwood and cardboard fire, his only companion being a large bottle of cheap Thunderdrop wine. 

Wind whistled through the meager shelter, one of three decorative “U”-shaped depressions sunk into a concrete piling for the roadways high overhead. Wire-struts above him played a weird orchestral tune. The music served to order Harold’s thoughts as he pondered mistakes and wrong paths he had taken during forty-six years of life. 

Lost in introspection, leaning against the relative warmth of a flattened cardboard box helping to keep the cold out, Harold didn't notice a snow-covered object making its way toward the light of the fire. Grunting a greeting, a man-shaped jumble of rags settled in beside him. Bundled in several castoff coats, the face was black. Strangely luminescent bloodshot eyes shone with a dim light. 

"If I were God I would...," Harold muttered to himself, interrupting drunken seasonal reflections to lift a bottle and take a long swig of wine. Taking time to pull a coat collar back up and duck down to avoid a particularly vicious gust of wind, he sat, pondering just what he would do in that event. Probably, he thought, choose to relive the same useless life. 

"Sorry," the stranger growled, reaching large black paws toward the warmth, "but I already hold that position." His eyes focused on the bottle sitting between Harold’s legs.

Harold looked over and told his companion, “I don’t have enough for two.”

He figured that the other bum would become discouraged after a while and leave. The man only sat and looked at Harold. 

What the hell. It is Christmas, Harold thought, silently handing the bottle over to his companion. The other took a long swig and gave it back. They sat for a while, each lost in his own thoughts.So you wonder the eternal question, do you, Harold?”How do you know my name? I’ve never met you before. Have I?”No. Not on this earth. But on others, you have.”

Another nut. His social strata had a good many. “What worlds would that be, friend?”The 'what if' worlds you're wondering about.”Like which ones? I do a lot of meditating while I’m drinking … alone?”Like the one where you married your childhood sweetheart, Amber James.”

Harold sat up quickly. “How the hell do you know about her? I never tell anybody about that.”You married her on another world, one of many as in what you'd call alternate universes. You fathered four kids before finally breaking up and divorcing. You also had a job you hated and two of your kids grew up to become murderers." 

The stranger reached for the bottle. Harold, still shocked, didn't stop him.

"Then," the stranger told him, taking another drink and shaking his head, snow falling between them, "you had to work at that dull job until you almost retired, getting fired for a simple mistake. Eventually, you were jobless, like now, but were also running from missed alimony and child-support payments.”I guess I am better off in this world." Harold sighed, taking another drink of wine. "Since you know so much about me, what others do you mean?” Harold was curious about this man who knew so much of his life. He passed the bottle for another round.

Wiping his mouth, the man answered. “The one where you went to college and earned a degree in veterinary medicine, your life dream.”And what happened there? I’ll bet I was a success. I had a lot of energy back then.”Yes, you got your license and set up practice. In time, you married a good-looking woman and were a success. That is, until the rabid skunk bit you. You were then only a dead vet.”I guess that was a flop, too. Probably all my lives were. Just my usual luck at work.”Well, not every one, Harold. In another life you were a success as a police officer. You made lieutenant before being shot and killed by a bum like you are now.”Strange? Maybe you have me mixed up with someone else. I don’t even like cops.”No, it was you. Another was where you moved to Hollywood to try the movies. You married a famous actress. She was murdered and you, although innocent, received life in prison.”What about the dream I had of being a general in the marines?” 

"You only made sergeant and were killed a little later.”I seem to get killed a lot,” Harold observed. Looking around, he had to smile at the prospect.You certainly did, Harold. Like the time you took a job as a laborer in a machine shop. You saved your money and lived a frugal life. Finally, you married a beautiful young girl about the time you were promoted to general manager. Then you stepped in front of a forklift. Finis.”Since you know so much, where did I live the longest life?”Why, this one, Harold. If you make the right decision, you will live to be almost one hundred and die in bed with a lovely wife.”What is the right decision? Just so I’ll know.”As to that question, I have here the winning lottery ticket for next week if you really want to cash it in? It's up to you what you do with it. Your decision.” He handed the ticket to Harold.

Harold studied the slip of cardboard under light reflected by speeding cars overhead. He looked up to see his companion fading away. The last to go, with a final blink, were those shining eyes.

What will Harold do? The ultimate question.

The End.
Oscar Rat

© 2019 OscarRat

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This isn't your most imaginative story. It's a well-told & interesting vignette, but nothing original about this tired old motif, could be God, could be magic genie, various lifetimes are described as being routine & predictable. I remember your writing being more vivid & snappy than this. By the time I got to the end of this, I honestly didn't care what Harold did. You need to make us care about a character before readers want to participate in your guessing game. Sorry for not getting into this much (((HUGS))) Fondly, Margie

Posted 3 Months Ago

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Added on November 23, 2019
Last Updated on November 23, 2019




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