One of the great mysteries of life, or rather death, is what happens after we die. It has proven a constant fodder for authors to explore in short stories and novels. Often this exploration takes the form of some aspect of mundane life in order to provide a relatable experience to something that is completely unknowable.
In Thomas Seay’s “Blink,” which appeared in the April 2003 issue of Realms of Fantasy, the afterlife is a trainride through a dreamlike nightmare populated by various aspects of a person’s younger life. In this case, Gary finds himself aboard the train, wanting only to be reunited with his wife and daughter. Instead, he finds the clique he belonged to in college, who clearly viewed him as more of a hanger-on than a member of their group.
Gary’s ride includes brief encounters with a shape changing being who may well be God, who provides cryptic answers to Gary’s questions, but at the same time appears to be helping him to acclimatize to his afterlife.
While there are some versions of the afterlife which are appealing and others which are not, Seay’s afterlife seems like an unpleasant purgatory: an interminable train ride in which the illusions Gary built up to help him cope with the reality of life are carefully stripped away. Even as the truth is revealed to him, Gary retreats into a different fantasy world, denying the occurrence of his death and focusing on seeing his wife and daughter again.
There is ambiguity in the ending of the story as to whether or not Gary has come to terms with his death. Is the entity he keeps talking to really God or merely a conductor whose task it is to make sure his train journey eventually gets him to the place where acceptance of his situation can occur.
Ultimately, “Blink” feels less like a story and more like a thought experiment and a character study. His hinders the piece in more ways than from just a plot point of view since Gary doesn’t come across as a very sympathetic character. His erstwhile friends make sure the reader knows about Gary by outlining his perceived faults and Gary remains oblivious to their attacks and is not in a position to reform and the train carries him to his eventual place in the afterlife.
“Blink” was apparently Seay’s penultimate story. He published three stories between 2001 and 2003 with a final story appearing in 2006. Although he only published a few stories before disappearing, he demonstrated a willingness to write stories that were atypical and forged their own path.
Steven H Silver is a nineteen-time Hugo Award nominee and was the publisher of the Hugo-nominated fanzine Argentus as well as the editor and publisher of ISFiC Press for 8 years. He has also edited books for DAW, NESFA Press, and ZNB. His most recent anthology is Alternate Peace and his novel After Hastings was published in 2020. Steven has chaired the first Midwest Construction, Windycon three times, and the SFWA Nebula Conference 6 times. He was programming chair for Chicon 2000 and Vice Chair of Chicon 7.