Twenty Years Ago
Twenty Years From Now
Eventually, the road leads you here.
Some get here before you, and some get here after you’ve been here awhile.
Some departed before you but will arrive after you.
Some departed after you but get here before you arrive.
Some come to this place right away. Others go elsewhere, having other things to do first. Some hang around this place. Others only pop in for a quick hello before moving on with others not connected to this group.
Regardless, everyone is here at the same time, because this place is outside the circle.
When you arrive, the first thing you notice are a series of circular patio tables arranged outside the door. Several people you know are seated there, puffing cigars, because even in this place, there is no smoking inside. Several other people you know are standing over them, laughing, drinks in hand.
You talk awhile. When it’s time to go inside, one of them stays seated, watching the road, waiting for someone. You offer to sit and wait with him, but he tells you that he’s okay, and reminds you there is no time here, and besides, there’s a table reserved inside for you, and others are there, waiting. She’s there waiting, too. You tell him that’s impossible, because you left long before she did. He chuckles, and explains once again how time works outside the circle. Smiling, you squeeze his shoulder and follow the others into the hotel.
Inside, someone shouts “Keene!” across the room the way he always does whenever your paths cross. You smile and wave, but before you can do anything else, someone else sweeps you off your feet in a great big bear hug. There is no time outside the circle, but there is also no pain, and it doesn’t hurt when he does this, nor does it hurt when someone else who used to be a kickboxer squeezes your hand or when the guy who invented his own martial art slaps you on the back.
You make your way through the crowd, and everyone is glad to see you. Everyone is in their own groups, seated at their own tables. Some gather in large, loud parties. Others huddle in small, quiet corners. A few prefer to sit alone. But everyone is together, regardless of their seating arrangements, and everyone is smiling.
Outside the circle, everything is smiles, and the only sound is laughter.
At the back of the room is your table, and she’s sitting there, along with your friends, who you’ve been waiting to see again. The smiles can power solar systems.
It is an excellent evening. Occasionally, you visit the other tables, or the folks from the other tables visit yours. A few people use their phones to check on those still in the other place. At one point, a friend best known for writing comedic horror and another friend who doesn’t like pickles harangue you about ripping off the afterlife from the season finale of Lost, and how this place is all your fault, but they say it with smiles and laughter and love.
Eventually, everyone has to leave. Maybe it’s last call or time for a panel or a signing, or maybe there is other business to take care of. But you cannot stay here. Some depart together. Others leave on their own. Regardless, you all leave together. You say goodbye to everyone as you all file out. One by one, folks step out onto the road. There’s a light shining on the horizon. They walk toward it.
You stand there with your friends, holding the hand of the woman you love. You stand there with your cabal. With your collective. And then, they too begin to walk down the road toward that light.
“Forest rangers this time?” one of them asks.
“Not me,” says another. “I want to be a kung fu master this time around.”
“What about you, Brian?” asks another.
You shrug, staring at that light. “I don’t care. We can be cows standing in a field. It doesn’t matter to me what we are, as long as we can all find each other again.”
And we will. And each time, when it’s over, we will always meet up in a place like this. Maybe it won’t be a convention bar and maybe we won’t be writers, but we will be composed of the same energy and the same atoms, and that attraction runs deep. The universe and all existence and energy have been recurring, and will continue to recur, in a self-similar form an infinite number of times across infinite time and space.
She and I are the last to go. I promise her I’ll find her again, and see her in a little while, and she tells me not to take so long this time.
The light gets closer. Soon, it surrounds us. Then we reach the end of one road and start down a new one.
Brian Keene writes novels, comic books, short fiction, and occasional journalism for money. He is the author of over forty books, including the recently released Pressure and The Complex. The father of two sons, Keene lives in rural Pennsylvania.