by Fabio S. C. – firstname.lastname@example.org
for Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge > HERE.
At the age of 73, Gaston Guibel still had never died.
He tried drowning, but the water just would not fill his lungs. He tried Deathpits, as his body was nothing compared to the average fighters – he would stay in a pit of his own blood, gagging and coughing for breath, until the opponent would sigh and pull his body from the tar and dust. When the youngies cackled about their perfect tower jump fifteen years ago or the strange, funny taste of cyanide, he could just frown and look away. In the high circles they called him the Senecan’t – Manisha Augustess had said it was something from the age of soul dispersion – elsewhere he was just Gaston Immortal.
He just had this dream: sometimes, while rattling in his bed, he would gaze at a beach made of moonstone and ivory, of gray dust and paleness. Shallow hollows and canals in the sand drifting towards a sea made of milky pitch white, the stale colour and sickness that he, he alone, knew – the first, years and megayears since the souls could still dissolve. And staring at the sea and the sand was him – except it wasn’t him. The unperson would stay there gazing at the whiteness, not saying one thing. And he apparently could not.
Then he would wake up and – and well, the world was youth and fresh muscles, shiny ankles, fit skin. The world was pools with the blood of jumpers, sabres perfumed with fresh entrails and racers crashing into walls, people signing to get walled inside and be there, five years later, as small-bellied kids recounting how much time it took them to suffocate. The world was the perfect knowledge of the infinite ways to die.
And Gaston Immortal was left by death, but not always left alone.
Indeed it was pleasant at times to get their gazes, to get questions, to get that feeling that no one would dare to live up to that age. They said there was one who live up to 50, but they would be dead by boredom at the time. Then, it was not pleasant to feel weak.
At the age of 73, Gaston Guibel took and went to the Augustess to seek advice.
He took a trans-air, he flew over the Sempiternal Battleground, he saw white mountains polished as fangs. Not the white of the dream, rather something clean and shining. He took off alone and was waited for at the wooden arches before a planked bridge on the void.
He remembered not seeing her in ten years. Manisha now was a child with curls spindled like dark whirlpools and the eyes of the wisdom of many deaths. He counted the stories of her mauling by a bear, of her falling from a bridge who could have been that one. Then he remembered making love to her and something in his head felt dizzy again.
She smiled. “You seek something about your condition,” said she, and he could not but nod.
She played with her curls. “I can understand it, Gaston. You feel lonely amongst the masses of people, you haven’t got a reason and… are you seeking obliteration, by chance?”
“Hell no,” he frowned. “I just want an answer, a why.”
So Manisha said, “You have to talk to your death.”
* * *
There was a dinner, there was a dance and a gathering of antiques. There were the two of them in the palace nested in the mountains, as big as a city could be stored in, and there was a hall stuffed with dust and old trinkets. Bloodstains on the ground and a fur carpet upon which they drank sour tea.
“I chose not to polish nor to clean up this place,” Manisha said. “It occurred to me it seems unfair to have this mess on myself and clean it up. I think there was something in the lost ages, when the souls dissolved, that made everything more relevant. When you could not defy what obliterated you.” She was a child and Gaston counted thirty and six deaths she had told him, possibly not the whole count. “The truth is I started feeling tired of all this going and coming again, of being born and being clean, and this body having the urge to die before the first wrinkle grows. That I no longer feel the choice where to die or to live, it’s just a matter of when I’m enough bothered to get born again.“ She left her cup on the ground and faced him, and put her fingers on his cheek. Her fingertips, as soft as Hybrazil buns – his own skin was dry and lifeless and bound to be erased forever. She said, “The truth is I am tired of being young”, and he felt his eyes water and knew he was tired of not being young again. There was an embrace and a kiss on the forehead, and the beginning of one other kiss – but he gently drew away.
“But perhaps,” she said to Gaston “you will get again into the cycle, and I will get a why.” She tooks straps and ropes and locks, she bound him and curled up his body in a bag of juxtaposed bones, she made him a rattling mess with a face springing up in the sighs of incipient pain. “And if I possess a why, chance is I can strip myself of my death.” He struggled not, nor he wanted anaesthetics.
“I have thought up a parlour for you,” she said while dragging him along stone corridors, upon petrous stairs and cold narrow ways. “Of all the transitions I could think and conceive, at I last chose to offer you the most simple.” She put him on a grey stone ledge with a wind-eaten margin, the mountain margins white and bluish in their reflections, the semblance of a bottomless flight below.
“This will hurt the most, I fear” she said. He nodded. He tried to smile.
Then she pushed, and he fell into the void.
* * *
The minutes were probably weeks and the weeks were years. Uncountable: Gaston felt all the pangles of pain, all the sharp shackles and the bursts, and wished for death in a strength unattainable when he was punched by pitfighters or their like. Time passed and he could just see the ground and bloodstains and teary cataracts and smell his own piss.
Then the smell was gone, the limbs felt heavy and free, and the ground had turned white.
The dreamscape was the same: the man who looked like him, although, was staring at him. Feet touched by milky water, toes on the colourless sand. He looked – well, he kind of looked embarrassed.
“You are my death,” Gaston Guibel whispered to his portrait, his voice rising from trampled lungs.
“And you don’t wish to stay with me.”
The death shrugged. “I assume you wouldn’t like it much to be a toy in the hands of an everlasting kid. Though I would have wished for a nicer exile.” Pale shoulders twitched and there was a sigh. “I would like you not to seize me, actually.”
Gaston Guibel thought about how it would have been to go back with his hands empty and all unchanged. He thought about hordes of youngies and bloodsports and maybe going back to Manisha, the uncertainty of his response for her to listen, and getting old and watching her grow and be a woman, and turn bored to death again.
Then he said, “Actually I could stay here a little more. Two people could be nicer than alone.”
There was a faint smile on his lips.