John Peterson died with little fanfare. His lone surviving son and four grandchildren were in the hospice room when he slipped quietly away. Their muffled sobs and whispered words faded as he drifted toward the light of his statistics board.
The stat board extended to a vanishing point to both his left and right, but rose to just above his former height. The stats it displayed made him smile.
I love you: Spoken 12,427 times.
I love you: Heard 14,990 times.
The writing was in green lettering and the words were resplendent. Tendrils extended from the tips of the letters, wrapping around the words like ivy.
Near these boxes in the huge grid were other attributes. Kisses Given. Kisses Received. Hugs. Encouraging words. Donations — which then broke down into groups such as Food, Clothing, Shelter, and so on.
“This must be heaven.” John’s voice sounded ethereal, like an angel’s whisper.
“No, this is judgment.”
John turned his presence and saw a man in a gray robe. He sported a long, pointy white beard and if he was wearing a hat with stars on it John would have called him Merlin.
“Judgment?” John asked.
“Oh yes.” The man reached into the board and shoved it to the right. It slid, eventually stopping on a new set of stats. The displayed words and numbers were yellow, orange, and red, and the letters weren’t nearly as elaborately drawn.
The man read, “Words spoken with malicious intent: 12,345.”
“Many of them to your wife.”
“We fought sometimes. That’s normal. All couples fight.”
“Malicious intent, sir. Fights can be about the topic without becoming personal.”
John hung his non-existent head in shame. “I had no idea.”
The man slid the board again. Now the letters were black like cinders with wisps of gray smoke emanating from them.
“These are your thoughts.”
“You can’t judge my thoughts. They mean nothing.”
“You’re right. They don’t count on the final tally, but they influence your behavior, they bleed into your life.”
John risked a glance at the board. Thoughts of Suicide: 42. He turned, facing the man, ignoring his past. He found solace in the other’s presence, despite the man’s intention of showing him only the negative aspects of his previous existence.
The man slid the wall the other direction.
John turned back and found a mix of green and yellow writing.
Seeds Planted. Plants Nurtured. Meals Provided. Which then broke down into Family, which broke down further naming each member of his family, then strangers, and the strangers names. Each stat was in vivid green.
“Whenever someone is on the border, a Gray Review is called for.”
John gulped as if he had the muscles to do so. “Review?”
“Indeed. No individual stat is gray, but together they create a murky picture of a life lived. Your picture, as are many, is quite up for interpretation.”
John felt uncomfortable. He understood judgment, and mostly anticipated it, but believed it would have been done prior to his arrival, not after.
The man slid the wall again, stopping it at a section with only two boxes. One red, one green.
Positive contributions and derivations thereof: 2,356,455.
Negative contributions and derivations thereof: 2,401,073.
“The negative outnumbers the positive.” John stared, disbelieving that his whole life could be summed up so easily. Shakespeare was right, he thought, life was full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
“Oh, I disagree.”
“Have you not seen all that life signifies?” The man slid the wall back to what might have been the middle. Encouraged Others: 65,220. “Do you see that number, John?”
“You lived twenty-eight thousand four hundred twelve days. That’s over two a day, which isn’t bad considering there’s very little encouraging going on for the first dozen years or so.”
“Does that tip the scales somehow?”
The man touched the board with a bony finger. Ripples like water in a pond extended from the Encouraged Others square. The grids became scenes from John’s past. One showed him patting a young boy on the back. In another, he sat in a circle of men on wooden chairs in a meeting.
John tried to take all the scenes in at once, enjoying watching pieces of his life play out before him.
The man waited patiently for an irrelevant and immeasurable amount of time. Eventually, John said, “Thank you.”
The man slid the board back to the one green and one red square. Both numbers had grown but the green now outnumbered the red by many thousands.
“I’ve recalculated all the negative and positive ripples, accounting for the bad and good done by others after interacting with you.”
“Full of sound and fury, signifying something.”
“Well said.” The man began walking away.
“What now?” John asked.
“Stay as long as you’d like. You may watch any attribute, any color, simply by touching the board. Many people like to view their weddings. The whole event is there, not just the specific stats.” The man winked.
John would have blushed, if he could have. “Then what?”
“When you’re satisfied, come and find me.”
“What then? What happens?”
The man continued walking.
John reached out, finding the board both solid and supple. He slid the board to a predominately green-colored area. He tapped the words: Feelings of Pure Joy, and revisited the birth of each of his sons.
Dustin Adams is a U.S. Customs broker and currently owns his own brokerage business. He writes in the wee hours of the morning, in the dark, when no one but he can see.