Two hundred years ago, I had my last dream.
I stood in front of my doppelganger, peering into his eyes. The face contorted, the left eyebrow melting over the eye and the nose conjoining with the upper lip. The epidermal layer disappeared within seconds, revealing bright red muscles that wound like rope around the head, stretching and pulling until strands snapped, strings of muscle fraying until only the skull remained. The eyes remained in the sockets, staring at me. Tears ran down my face yet I could not blink or look away.
The skull split in-two, bone fragments flying off and then slowing down to a crawl in their trajectory. The skull fell away to reveal a hideous creature—a necrosis-riddled wrinkle-faced bat who screamed. The scream kept getting higher and louder, my brain vibrating like glass from within my skull. Pain was the only thought I remembered in that ordeal.
When I woke up, I threw up on the floor. After cleaning up it up and drinking a cup of water, I laid back down on my bed. Staring at my ceiling, flash images hit me of what I experienced only minutes ago. I knew I had lost something, but did not know what for the longest time.
Eighty years after that night, I sat by my son's bedside as his wrinkled hands turned paler by the minute. His eyes rested on me. Through the scraggly white hair, his pale blue eyes flickered. "I had a dream last night."
"You did? What happened in it?"
"I was standing at the bottom of a deep ravine, staring up. The sky was a thin blue line above me—if it was not for the feeble light, I would have thought it was just a line drawn on a high ceiling. I tried climbing up both cliff faces, the rock breaking apart in my fingers. There were bones within the dirt of countless different animals, from cats to elephants. I sat at the bottom of that ravine for what felt like hours, waiting for something to happen." He glanced up at the ceiling. "I knew it was a dream but I could not go lucid to fly up out of the ravine—nothing I wished for came true.
"So then I thought maybe it was not a dream, maybe someone threw me into the ravine—a place for terminal patients to die bothering no one." My son smiled. "I know it sounds morbid, but I guess I was trying too hard to rationalize it. Anyway, an idea hit me after thinking for a while—a ladder."
"A ladder?" I asked.
"Yeah. Instead of imagining a ladder out of nothing, I would build one out of the bones of the animals. I pulled out a leg bone from the opposite wall and placed it near where I sat. I spent a while doing that, just taking out long bones and sticking them above each other to make the rungs. When I tested the rungs, they worked.
"So up and down I went, collecting bones and extending the ladder, all the way to the top. When I reached the top, the cool fresh air sent adrenaline through my body. I grabbed the top and sat my arms on it, pulling my body up. It was like my body had returned to its younger years. And then…" His face twitched. "I saw you standing above me, as you are now, young and healthy. My dream body cracked, the muscles straining and burning, my skin melting as it returned to how I am now. I fell from the top and woke up when I reached the bottom."
My son coughed up a mixture of phlegm and blood.
I felt tears drip from my eyes, so I turned my face away from him until the urge stopped. When I turned back around, he was gone.
I did lose something that night—my ability to dream and, by extension, my right to die of age.
About a week afterwards, I celebrated my one hundredth birthday alone. All of my friends and family were dead, and people avoided me because of my "condition." Within that two-bedroom apartment in central London, looking out of the window at the smog-ladened metropolitan purgatory, I decided to end my life.
After preparing the noose, I sat at my desk, fountain pen in hand, and pondered what I should write. There was a lot I wanted to say yet the ink pooled onto the desk, making its own lines within the cracks in the wood. Then I realized something: no one would even know for weeks, months, that I was dead. No one visits me so my body would just be hanging there, rotting like a pig corpse in a butcher's freezer. I threw the pen and paper away—not like anyone would read it.
The loop seemed like a portal to another world—if only I could reach it without sticking my neck into it. Standing on the stool and wrapping the noose around my neck, I now stared at the mirage as it grew: a sun-glazed pasture, pure azure skies, my friends and family smiling, picnics, trees upon trees, a windmill upon a distant hill, happiness, joy, freedom, love, grace, escape, escape, escape—
The stool beneath me cracked under my weight, the rope tight and hot on my jaw, biting into the neck until it turned purple. My arms and legs flapped about, smacking the nearby wall. The sound of blood rushing to my brain got louder and louder, people's voices now a muffled undertone. It was a crescendo of emotion, the final act of an orchestral piece as all of the instruments combined to create a symphonic screech until darkness.
Then, I saw my ceiling. Sitting up, pain shot through my neck muscles. Saliva covered my face, a small pool forming on the floorboards beside where I laid. The rope hung around my neck snapped.
I was still alive. I wanted to cry but no tears would come. The neighbors downstairs heard me fall but did not care enough to see if I was okay. It was like I could disappear and no one would raise an eyebrow. The landlord would be fuming but within a week he would have a new tenant to give no shit about. Life would re-balance itself, whether I was alive, missing or dead.
Then so be it, I thought, walking into the kitchen. I took the kitchen knife and cut the noose from my neck and flung it to the ground. I would stay alone for the rest of eternity, no longer needing to go the funerals of close friends and family members.
I took all of my essentials and crossed the Irish sea without saying even a word of goodbye to anyone. When I arrived in Dublin, I spent a night at a local hotel, a shabby place in the north half, studying a map of the Great Emerald Isle.
I spotted County Kerry: there was not even a city was in that county so I supposed that was the most isolation I could get without sending myself into the Atlantic. I took the train there and found myself in the quaint town of Tralee. From there, I traveled south until I reached the village of the Black Shop, nowadays known as Castlecove on the Iveragh peninsula.
I found a cottage near the ocean and spent hours watching the cold Atlantic water rush into the English channel. I worked part-time at a corner shop to keep the lights on so to speak. The manager spoke better English than the customers, so he kept me sane throughout those years.
The owner of the shop committed suicide a few years into my stay by throwing himself off the cliff. People were thinking he and I were spies sent by the Queen, strange considering he was a County Cork man. But I digress.
So I abandoned Castlecove and made my way up north, past Limerick and Galway until I reached Gligo, a small town with a far more accepting population. I got a job there as a hansom driver, taking people across the town and to the surrounding wilderness with the strength of my trusty horses. The pay was better and to be honest, I enjoyed the job.
They saw me as the handsome hansom driver who had great genes—no cry of witchcraft, even when I broke half a century. My horses grew old and died, my second pair being two white stallions that looked beautiful as we rode by the Atlantic ocean, the blue water smacking against the coast into a thick white foam that splattered onto the road. The passengers tended not to like that aspect of the ride, but I relished in the cold drench of the ocean.
By the time I left Sligo, I had gathered enough money to cross the ocean to America. It was 1956 when I boarded a Crusade liner across the Atlantic, meaning I was in Sligo for around sixty years. I was still using horses, but I knew when I reached America, I would have to purchase a car if I wanted to continue taxiing people about.
When I reached New York, I knew I had found my home.
Compared to the rural Irish, the Americans were a lot more vocal in their approach. While back in Sligo I could work days where the passengers never spoke a word, in America people chatted all the time. I had gained an Irish accent during my time in the Emerald Isle so when Americans asked me where I came from, I said Sligo. They ask me where that was and I tell them it's in Ireland. "Ah, I guessed as much," they'd say, and then talked about the weather or the traffic or the growing tensions with the Soviet Union.
I listened, resting my hands on the steering wheel and on the occasion interjecting with sounds. During the autumn and winter months, it either rained, snow or the buildings would disappear above me in fog. Spring and summer had their fair share of rainy and foggy days, but when the sun came out, I spent time in Central Park sitting and smelling the nature-rich grasslands of the concrete jungle. Within the center of the park, it felt like I was back in Ireland's. It was around the time of hippie culture so it was not rare to find young adults meditating, playing guitar and impersonating John Lennon.
Time passed in the city far faster than in Ireland. I found myself on the dawn of the new millennium before I knew it, with the traditional yellow cab and a decent amount of savings. I thought of moving to a more remote part of America so I returned my cab to the depot and bought a plane ticket. I arrived at JFK international airport, ticket in hand and two suitcases filled with my belongings when the 9/11 attacks stopped my plan dead.
On the television screen, I watched as the Twin Towers, these buildings I watched built from the ground up since the seventies fill with fire and smoke before collapsing one after another. I would go nowhere that day so I booked a room in a nearby motel and slept the night away with a couple bottles of gin. Just the day before, I had driven someone to those buildings, a nice young chap with a massive smile and balding black hair. I got along with him, talking about my plans to move out of the city. He talked about his adventures across America—he was from Cali and so, never got acclimatized to the dreary metropolitan atmosphere. A massive bookworm, he talked about a range of authors, from Murakami to Maugham. Before he got out, he gave me a tip and told me to have a nice day—a rarity from a New Yorker.
A few years after the attack, I forced myself to search through the deceased list to find his name.
It was there.
Instead of staying in America, I went to Nova Scotia. I thought I should flip between rural and urban every time I moved. My job was less busy than in New York and the people in Canada ranged a lot from extroverted to introvert so the job was quieter too.
A young woman called Carlie, in her early twenties, was the extreme former. A redhead, her parents had moved to Canada from Ireland so we connected over our love for the rolling hills. She had a job in Riverport as a private tutor so it was an hour journey there and back, but she called me every Monday, Thursday and Friday so we talked a lot. I liked Riverport as it reminded me of Sligo with the bridge separating the village in half. She had a deep interest in Victorian history, a subject I know an awful a lot of considering I spent one hundred years "studying" it.
"I wished they would bring back those hansom carts," she said once as we were driving down the highway, the Atlantic sea to our left glistening in the early morning sun.
"Huh, you like the smell of horseshit?" I said with a smile,
Carlie laughed. "No, no, I mean, back in those days, hansoms were so romantic, weren't they? Couples cuddling as the driver drove, trying to make the bleedin' horse move faster."
I remembered quite a few scenes like that. "Have you ever been in a hansom yourself?"
"Yes, I have," she said, rubbing away a little of the condensation. "Quite a few times."
"Eh, so there're hansoms in Nova Scotia?"
"…yeah, something like that."
Her response seemed almost uncertain of itself. I watched as she crawled into a ball in the backseat. I was not sure how to keep the conversation going so I did not bother to speak. After a while, she talked about something unrelated and the strange mood only became an odd memory that had no significance until later on.
It was a year into us knowing one another that Carlie told me the truth.
It was rainy that day, and the waves crashed into the coast beside us as we drove by. I remembered my two beautiful white stallions as we purged across the Irish coast, the water rising into the air and creating frothy stars as the sun hit the droplets. Carlie sat beside me, a seat I only reserve for frequent customers. Over the time I knew Carlie, I became infatuated with her though my better instinct told me not to.
As we drove down the highway, the cars on the other side passing by, leaving trails of red in their wake, Carlie spoke.
"It has been around a year since we first met, yeah?"
I scrunched my face up. "What month is it—oh yeah, I guess you're right."
"You know little about me yet I know a lot about you."
"Not true," I said. "I know that your parents are Irish, you were born here in Canada—"
"They were all lies," she interrupted.
I felt no anger or sadness as decades of life had worn away such flagrant emotions like the sea breaks apart the coast so only a dull thudding ache came from her confession.
I stayed silent, keeping my eyes on the road ahead. The rain was thick, reminding me of that metropolitan fog. A faint memory of me wandering through London after leaving the hospital where my son died, a city shrouded in darkness and mist entered my mind. The fog followed me everywhere I went, no matter how many years I lived or miles I have traveled.
"But now I can be honest because I know you haven't been either," Carlie said. From the corner of my vision I saw her looking at me, as if expecting me to make eye contact. I could not do that, I was in the middle of driving and doing anything above talking would make me lose my focus. "You're a lot older than you look, aren't you?"
"Yeah, sorry, I—"
I went on long tangents when anxious, a habit I had since my Victorian days, and you would find out after being in the same car with me any longer than ten minutes—Carlie had spent over a year with me, so she knew the signs.
I pulled the car onto the hard shoulder, slowing it to a stop where the brush cleared away to view the hazy turbulent ocean. I faced Carlie, our eyes not breaking off one another. They were beautiful dark swirls of sapphire. Another memory rose from the cemetery of my ancient mind.
In Sligo, I remembered taking a female teacher from her home to the school every so often. I had only seen flashes of her face and heard only smatterings of her voice so nothing stuck apart from her blue eyes—they illuminated from beneath the hood she wore to keep the drizzle from hitting her hair. Those were the same two eyes I saw before me.
Carlie smiled. "So you are the handsome young man who took me on those rides many years ago."
"It's strange seeing you look the same way after all these years, but I'm in the same boat anyway. Small world, heh?"
"Certainly, I mean, what?" My brain could not rationalize what was going on.
She giggled. "Don't worry about it, I'm the same way. I'm immortal too!"
"Okay? Is that all you can say?"
"Yes, because this is incredibly strange."
"How can I clear things up? Oh, how about I tell about what I've done for the last fifty years. Don't worry, I won't go on too long. Is that okay?"
I nodded and settled back in my chair. She never broke eye contact as she begun, but I knew she was seeing through me and into the veins of her memory.
Two years after I crossed the Atlantic, Carlie had her last dream.
Driving from work late one night, from the darkness her headlights illuminated the figure of a six-foot tall fish man. At first she thought it was a costume only for the gills to expand and retract as he breathed. He had arms and legs like a human, but at least seventy percent of his body was of a salmon. Carlie did not know whether to laugh or cry as he walked up to her window and tapped his knuckle on it. She lowered the window down, the night air filling her car like water. The air filled with the smell of sea salt without the expected putrid stink of fish.
"Hello young lady," he said, his accent hard to pin down. "Where am I right now?" He bent down to talk to her, his mouth poking over the rolled-down window.
"Sligo, County Sligo, Ireland." Carlie found it hard to speak full sentences when a massive fish face sat just inches from hers.
"Ah, my home country, yes, of course, how can I mistake it for anywhere else." A blubbering sound came from the fish's lips which Carlie took as laughter. "My name's Fintan, by the way. What's yours?"
"Well, Carlie, it was nice to see you. I'm off to see an old girlfriend. Good evening." And like that, the fish man stepped over the roadside bush and disappeared into the night. Carlie let go of her brake pedal and continued down the tight countryside road. When she arrived home and fell into bed, sleep met her within the minute.
It was a Saturday the next day, so she did not have to go to work, allowing her some time to think about the night's events. Maybe that whole thing was a dream and her brain treated it as a normal memory. Or maybe it did happen.
But for the next few years afterwards, Carlie's life was packed with such strange incidents that convinced her that everything was real.
Most of these events were an odd blend of Lovecraftian and Kafkaesque. It was like the dreams in Carlie's head had escaped into the mortal plain, free to roam the Irish coast side. Children with skin like water, cats with multiple heads, etc. The real kicker was that everyone else in Sligo regarded these creatures as normal, not blinking once as a twenty foot tall banana leaped from the ocean like a whale, splashing down and causing waves to sprinkle the town in water.
I will admit that while listening to this, I felt two things at once: that this was a lie and also how much I wished I saw all of this. Neither feeling won over the other, leaving me chasing invisible sheep.
It was like Carlie was the only sane person left in the whole county. Well, sane is a liberal word, considering she talked to a bipedal fish person. However, sanity seemed to have left what up to that point was a quaint town. She knew she would jinx it if she thought it could not get any worse, but she could not help wanting to see what monstrosity would emerge from the depths if she did.
A fortnight into the oddities' existence amongst the town, Fintan the Walking Salmon was sitting by her kitchen table when Carlie returned from work. He nodded his head as Carlie dropped her handbag on the ground. The yellow glow of the moldy light bulb made the fish's scales shimmer. Her hand moved toward the house phone that hung from the wall but the fish held up his open palm. "Don't, I am only here to talk." He seemed to smile though such emotions were hard to read with eyes that never closed and a mouth without any lips.
"What do you want? How did you get into my house?"
"I went through that open window there," he said, pointing to the kitchen window. Looking at it, Carlie knew the window was too small for such a large thing to fit through. She imagined this six-foot fish person flopping through the window, smacking its head against the window every time it missed. She would have laughed had it been that the son-of-a-bitch got in. "Come, sit and let's talk."
Carlie sat in the chair opposite him, trying her hardest not to stare into his dead eyes.
"Right, let me cut right into the chase: I can get rid of all of these oddities if you allow me to take your ability to dream."
"What?" Carlie had paid attention and heard every single word yet she could not pin it together.
Fintan leaned back in his chair. "I am a fish, as you may be aware of by now, and so I cannot dream. However, as you may also know, I am partially human. Fish can go throughout their short existence not worrying about dreaming as they are unaware of anything outside of their primal consciousness. They are born, swim upstream, stay a while, swim downstream, give birth and die—this to be expected.
"However, I am both fish and man, so I cannot dream but I still have sentience. So, I became immortal."
"Huh? How does being human and not dreaming make you immortal?"
"Truth is revealed through dreams and truth kills. It's like a neurotoxin. Liars and truthful people live long lives, but that is because the truthful ones believe fiction, such as science or religion, as real."
"Okay now you're sounding like a total nut."
"But it's true. Religion is fiction, many people believe that just as many people do not. However so is science as science is humanity's view on reality and not reality itself. Think of a cake and a picture of a cake: one may be the interpretation of the other but it does not make it a cake. The real meaning or make up of existence is determined through the infallible human brain. For something to be real, to be existence itself, it can only be, not interpolated or explained in a book. You catching what I'm saying?"
Carlie only nodded.
Again, the fish gained an air of a smile, though his face remained flat. "Ah, apologies, I went off topic. Anyway, dreams are truth because they are subconscious, the natural firing of neurons. Your thoughts are premeditated so to speak: you think of an apple and you see it in your mind's eye. But subconscious thought happens naturally and without interpretation, therefore making it truth." He raised his finger. "Natural dreams are truth but lucid dreams are not. Anyway, anyway, as I said, truth in any of its forms kills the individual. So, one who does not dream does not die."
"But fish, you said they cannot dream and yet they die all the time of old age?"
"Organisms don't die of old age, they die from organ failure caused by tissue degeneration. Dying by natural causes is a round about way of saying their liver failed and pumped toxic fluids around their bodies, causing other organs to shut down." Fintan scratched his chin. "Rarely do creatures die of truth-overdose, but when you are a creature such as myself, truth is the only way I can die."
"So if you take away my ability to dream, I'll still just die of old age, right?"
He shook his head. "Humans, due to their sentience, require truth as much as I do to die. If you give me your ability to dream, you will no longer have a steady stream of truth and therefore will live forever."
"So… I'll be immortal?"
He shrugged. "As immortal as one can be in a finite universe. If you are careful and don't stick around on Earth after a couple billion years, living on a self-sustaining spacecraft, you will witness the end of the universe."
"…will there be a fireworks show?"
He shook his head again. "No, it'll be far more boring. But before I delve into the future of the universe, I need an answer: will you accept this burden of mine, to free me of it?"
"And you said yes?" I asked.
"Yes." Carlie was leaning her elbow on the dashboard, staring out the front window.
"And how did you give him said ability? And… why?"
"It's quite embarrassing to talk about how I did it, but I can tell you why: because I want to spend the rest of time becoming the greatest human being to ever exist."
I stared hard at her though she did not meet my eye contact. I was trying to figure out how I would respond without sounding like a total dickhead. "And how do you plan about doing that?"
"Well I wanted to start with learning as many things as possible. So, I went to the library and read—a lot." She listed off a range of different topics, from novels to dense tomes of history. While she only absorbed about twenty percent of what she read, she had acquired enough knowledge that at least got her a decent foothold on the surrounding world. Thusly, she decided to move to Canada with the scraps of savings she had because of her growing disillusionment and boredom of her hometown—when one seems a glimpse of the world outside of the cardboard box they only knew, it is impossible to stay in said box forever.
When she arrived in Nova Scotia, she rented a simple apartment and looked for teaching jobs within Halifax. She could not find any positions there so she extended her scope, finding a family in the small quaint village of Riverport looking for a private tutor for their kids. The pay was decent, but it was far away from Halifax. She either had to get a license and buy a car, get someone to drive her to there cheap or look for another job offer. That was when she ran across my advertisement in the papers with my cheap rate and willingness to drive far. Carlie called the number. I picked up within the second ring.
"Hello? Is this the person offering with the advertisement in the paper?"
"Yes, that's me, hi. Are you interested in my service?"
"Yes, when are you available on Monday, Thursday and Friday?"
"Well I don't work on schedule but most of my customers are in the weekend so any time between seven am and eleven pm would be fine I guess."
And the rest was history as they say. As she wrapped her story outlining her hobbies, the skills she wanted to learn and the places she wanted to go in her eternity of existence, I felt the growing surge of worthlessness. Here I had four times the amount of time Carlie had and I achieved nothing in comparison. I was only a half-decent taxi driver with no particular interests in anything other than driving folk place to place.
I did not act on my love for her because I would only be setting up the future funeral I would have to attend when she died. However, knowing that she was like me, my confidence grew. I left Carlie at Riverport, telling her I would be back to pick her up later that day and drove to Bridgewater where I bought flowers at a florist. The idea was old fashioned, I knew, but my unimaginative brain could not conjure something else. I drove back to Riverport and parked my car where we met up after work. The rain disappeared, replaced by sunshine.
Instead of spending the hours sat in a car, I got out and walked to the river. While the village was far smaller than Sligo, my mind's eye still imprinted the similarities between them. Standing on the bridge and looking down into the rushing currents, it reminded me that the water here connected to the water that went through Sligo. A part of me felt that the doppelganger within the nightmare was the one staring up at me from the waters, his head stapled back together. Maybe that was what reflections were—a window into another realm. I remembered the words said by the walking fish, about how truth can only be and not interpreted. Where did that leave this theory?
When the sun set, I returned to my car to wait for Carlie. When she arrived, she sat into the front seat with a sigh. Before she said a word, I pulled the flowers from the backseat. When she saw them, the cogs spun in her head.
"Are those for me?"
"Aw, thank you." Carlie hugged me. When she pulled away, she took the flowers and sniffed the aroma that came from them. Even though I felt confident, the words I wanted to say did not leave the brain, bouncing about the skull without stopping. We drove out of Riverport and arrived in front of her house. Night had descended on the land. As she was leaving the cab, flowers in hand, I called out to her, "Hey, Carlie, do you want to go out on a date?"
"Sure," she said without hesitation. "Tomorrow's a Tuesday so I'm free."
"Right, see you out here at, say, five in the afternoon?"
"Okay, see you then." She waved as I drove off, her beautiful face beaming. When I fell into my bed, euphoria rushed through me—I somehow knew the date would go well, even when decades had eroded optimism. I would spend an eternity, or as long until the world ends with us hand-in-hand, with the girl I loved. My eyes closed. I saw the inky blackness of my eyelids lit up, a dim aurora borealis waving through the darkness.
That was when I had a dream.
When I found myself somewhere other than my bedroom, my first thought was that I was transported to some random place while I slept and I had just woke up. Though when I wiped the sleep from my eyes and looked around me, I recognized it in an instant.
I was at the bottom of a deep crevice, the sky only a thin line of blue above me, just like my son described it. The air was thick and filled with hanging dust, causing me to cough for a few seconds. Then I stood up and surveyed my surroundings. The crevice was only about ten feet wide, not tight enough to be claustrophobic but tight enough to give little space to wander. As my son said, he spent an hour doing nothing, trying to wake up, so I knew that the dream would not end until I reached the top.
I surveyed the walls of brittle sandstone in search of bones only to find my son's remains tucked underneath a large protruding rock, his skin brown and rotting. I backed away from this and almost vomited—the smell was horrendous, it was like being a butcher filled with spoiled meat. Then, I looked at the opposite wall to find another corpse: my wife, brown like my son only her corpse was flat like a fall's leaf, her spine split in two, the back of her skull caved in. There was not any blood yet the sight was sick enough to turn my stomach in. I kneeled to the ground and turned my direction away from the bodies to look off down the endless crevice. Then, after a few moments of settling myself, I sprinted down the crevice at full pace, leaving the bodies behind me. I felt no weariness come to me as I whipped past the two rocks, them disappearing into the dust behind me. Then I spotted something else in the rocks ahead of me so I slowed down to take a look.
It was my son's corpse again, his hand now hanging from the hole he was shoved in. I ran again away from the bodies only to keep finding them always in front of me. I ran back hoping that I was not closed in on this place, only to return to see my wife's hollow skull peering at me from the darkness. I sat away from them and felt like I was about to let out years of tears. I knew what I had to do but yet I did not want to do it. Even if it was a dream, I did not want to desecrate their bodies. I spent a few minutes sobbing, wishing I was back in that warm bed.
But I knew I would never return unless I climbed out of this crevice. I looked at my wife's rotting face and winced. Her empty socket's stare was about as soul burrowing as it gets. I pulled the corpses out of the sandstone and immediately, I knew the bones were not enough to create a ladder out of that damned ravine. Stumped, I rested my head against the wall, staring up at that distant blue—I would be trapped down there forever.
Then I remembered something. I walked down the ravine a bit, breaking into a jog, and came across the corpses again only these were still embedded in the rock. Though the prospect of getting out there became achievable, I did not break even a smirk as I tore the bodies from their holes again and dragged them to where the others were, creating a small pile. I took my son's rotting corpse and inspected the shoulder joint—grayish brown muscle was still attaching his torso to his arm. Standing back up, I placed my foot on the corpse and grabbed his arm. Closing my eyes to avoid the hollow gaze, I grabbed his arm and tugged it off, the muscle tearing loud enough to echo through the ravine. When my eyes opened again, I was holding the arm by the wrist, its hand stuck up like it was waving at me.
My son made building a ladder out of bones sound a lot easier than it was. Maybe I was a little too cautious, testing every single rung before I climbed up it. I had checked whether I felt pain—I did not, so even if I fell, it would just be a shock, not like my spine splitting in two. After a while, I knew carrying individual bones up the ladder would take a lot of time, so I instead tore the rags from the corpses and made an impromptu bag. After a while, I had stopped cringing at the sight of the corpses or the tearing of muscle, like how a hitman is used to the sound of a death rattle. It took me hours to reach the top. The blue sky was stunning, not a speck of cloud visible. When I beat the final rung into the wall, I climbed up to the top, exhausted.
Someone was waiting for me.
Carlie stood there with a sunflower in her hands, a smile on her face. "So you made it?"
"Yeah, thanks for helping by the way." I wiped the sweat from my brow.
"It was not like I could do much in the first place."
"Even just moral support would've been fine." I sighed. "So, where are we going?"
Carlie took my hand. "You'll see."
I had wondered where she got the sunflower from, considering the surface was nothing but a barren wasteland. We walked hand in hand, her hand softer than any pillow. I thought it was worth it, the whole climbing thing. Dreams warp the sense of time so the near half a day I spent in that crevice was only a mere few hours most likely.
"Why am I dreaming again?" I asked her.
Carlie looked over her shoulder at me, her smiling face revealing none of the answers I needed. "I don't know," she said.
Before long, we found an oasis and I drank from it like a vampire starved of blood. Carlie just stood beside my hunched body, staring at some blank spot before her. I thought of asking her if she wanted a drink but I figured it did not matter at the end—if she wanted a drink, she would have bent down with me.
The pool was aquamarine, a mixture of light blue and turquoise, glistening under the two suns that hung above. The moon sat on the horizon, about twelve times its normal size, its face despondent. After having my fill, I took her hand and she led us away from the oasis.
"You know I love you, right?" she asked.
"Do you love me?"
"No, I hate your guts."
Carlie giggled and wrapped herself around my arm. "I want to stay here forever with you, in a world where a year here can only be a millisecond on the other side."
"So you know of the other side?"
"And I guess the whole abstract desert aesthetic gave that away?"
"No, he told me."
In the distance, I saw someone standing there, their figure a dark shadow against the now lowering suns. The closer I got, I realized who it was.
It was me, an old man with a bent back and gray hair. I felt something ominous grow in my stomach and I turned to ask Carlie if we could turn back only to see her gone from my arm, a gust of wind kicking up the sand where only a moment ago she stood. When I faced the doppelganger again, he was before me, his eyes and teeth illuminated in the shadow.
"So this is it," he said, his voice resembling an old vinyl player. "This is what you've done with your two hundred years of existence."
"Was I meant to cure cancer or something?" I asked.
"No, we did not expect a lot from you yet you still did not meet our criteria."
"It does not matter now." He held his arm out.
I shrank from his hand. "At least tell me who you are."
His lips pursed. Then, his soft grin became neutral. "Who do you think I am?"
With that question, he grabbed my shoulder and I saw the flash images of my last two hundred years run like a malfunctioned screen projector over my vision. Through the thin membrane of the tape, I looked down to watch as my body rotted away, reminding me of the sick nightmare that forced me here, standing before this creature. The necrosis sent extreme pain through my body until it my synapses eroded, leaving me in the darkness.
Then I woke up.
Two hundred years after the curse had stolen my mortality, I woke up in my bed. The dream flashed through my mind and I knew that was no false memory—the truth had reentered my system. I rushed to my bathroom and checked to see if I looked any older—I did not. But I knew that lost feeling was gone.
I thought about Carlie and imagined her face when I told her the news—would she even care? I mean, she seemed happy to go on the date but maybe she saw nothing romantic about it. To her I was only a driver and she was only a passenger, yet my feelings were complex. Was hers the same? I checked the time and saw it was three pm, two hours before I had to be at her front door.
I laid back down on my bed and stared at the ceiling—I now wished I never went to sleep that night. I wished fate was not such a cruel bitch. I wished I knew how Carlie felt about me so I could prepare myself to tell her. I wish I knew anything.
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