Aphelion Issue 279, Volume 26
December 2022/January 2023
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Immortality Bites

by Ray Prew

Tim Adler stood at the graveside holding his umbrella against the rain. He was barely aware of the preacher's words as he gazed into his wife's grave. How many did this one make, he wondered. Five hundred, six hundred maybe? He had lost count of how many wives he had had in the last 2,000 years.

The centuries had been kind to him, once he had given up his petty dreams of conquest and power. 'With age comes wisdom and maturity,' he had once read, and -- with age -- he had come to agree.

Once he had discovered his true nature, he had learned to hide his immortality. The process had worked out well for the last seven or eight hundred years. Every thirty years or so, he would marry. Whether he and his wife had children or not, he would "adopt" one more, a boy, who would shortly be sent away to boarding school and rarely heard from for many years. Of course, that adopted son would actually be borrowed -- or rather rented, at very generous rates -- from another family. The boy would be provided for from a trust fund so long as his family kept the secret of his brief career as an ersatz heir. After a few decades had passed, Adler would pretend to age and die. He would return in the guise of the adopted son, claim a share of the estate, and begin a new life.

Of all the realities of immortality, this was the one he hated the most, saying good-bye to the women he loved. Some he told his secret to, others lived with him for years and never knew he was immortal. Tim had fathered many children over the centuries, none of whom had lived any longer than an ordinary person. None of his original family had survived longer than an ordinary mortal. So why was he different, why was he immortal?

Immortality had been both a curse and an advantage. The years of his very long life had allowed him to garner incredible wealth and an education beyond any in history. His eternal youth and wealth allowed him to earn over the years, a medical degree, an engineering degree, as well as doctorates in several other sciences. He had met and lived with some of the most famous figures in history. He had been a personal witness to most of its horrors, and some of its glories. He had been there at the crucifixion. He had studied sorcery under Merlin himself. He had even made history a few times under some of his various former names. He had been a conqueror of historic legends. He had been a scientist on the team that discovered penicillin. He was there when they signed the Declaration of Independence, and he was there that awful day in Dallas.

On the down side, he eventually lost every single person he dared to allow himself to care about. Tim saw wives die of diseases, and children die of old age. A few centuries ago he had made a promise to himself: he would neither father any more children of his own, nor adopt (except for the false adoptions needed to provide his next identity). It hurt too much to watch them die. He seldom allowed himself the luxury of true friendship or to truly love a woman. He would eventually outlive them and the loss always hurt.

As he walked back to his limousine, he started to consider his options. He had been using this current identity for almost 30 years, so it was getting near time for a change. His original name he had long ago forgotten. Due to his last wife's situation, he had not been able to establish a "son" to begin the process of changing his name and identity. In fact, he had been in this town for far too long, almost 90 years. Too many townsfolk were discussing the strong family resemblance all the men in his family had.

The chauffeur closed his door and started to drive out of the cemetery.

He needed to disappear this time, up and relocate, claiming too much grief. Then he would start up in a different part of the country under a different name altogether. One of the necessary life skills of being an immortal is to be able to create brand new identities quickly -- a complicated matter in the age of interconnected government databases, but still manageable if you had enough money and the right connections. He owned several companies under assumed names. The staff at each company had never met him, just representatives of the fictional names, so he had several to choose from. Then spend decades using that identity.

As Tim watched the news on the small plasma TV in the back of his limo, he reflected on the sorry state the world was in. He wondered if it was time for him to get into politics again. He hadn't held office since the eighteen hundreds, but clearly, the world needed guidance. It would be great to help, but building and eventually discarding a politician's identity these days was too damn hard. Besides, he had tried to be a conqueror before and it had always ended badly.

From his laptop computer he selected a name and company over two thousand miles to the west. He dispatched the necessary memos that this person would soon arrive to personally take charge of the day-to-day operations. He then arranged a huge good-bye party for all his friends and wife's family. He would claim the grief of her passing was too much to deal with, so he was leaving to go backpacking across Europe to find himself. Of course, he would mysteriously disappear, never to return or be heard from again.

This time he would be the C.E.O. of a genetics research company. He hadn't lived in this part of the country in at least 90 years so no one would recognize him.

One month later

The genetics company turned out to be a model of efficiency, so there was little for him to do in the way of executive decisions. This freed him to devote his time to research in the lab. With his own training in the different sciences, plus the limited research he had done on himself, he might be able to determine why he was immortal. Why any wound he ever had, quickly healed, even severe ones. Why had he lived through some of history's worst plagues and never got the sniffles.

The staff was young and friendly so starting a small social life would be easy. He just needed to adapt his life style a bit. Where the last identity hated sports, this one would be a sports nut. The last one had a slight stutter, this one would have a southern drawl. He had learned that when you change identities you must change completely. As the weeks wore on he developed a fondness for a young lab assistant. He was struck by her long blonde hair and over sized glasses. He took her on several dates. He went drinking and golfing with the people of the lab, everything the last identity would not do.

After a few months of this new life, Tim determined his new girlfriend might make a suitable wife, so he asked her to marry him. They decided that the best time to tell her family was at thanksgiving dinner, when all her family would be there. For most, it was the first time meeting her new husband to be. He hugged her mom and shook hands with her dad whom he had already met. He met her three aunts and four uncles. Then it happened.

He met her great-grandmother. Something about her seemed oddly familiar, when she saw him her eyes widened. She addressed him by a name he had not used in one hundred years. He stammered a bit and gently told her she was mistaken and told her his current name.

The old woman would have none of it. She might be 115 years old but her mind still worked, and she remembered him. She reasoned she should remember him; she had been married to him once 90 years ago. It had lasted for five or six years, until he just up and vanished. However, she couldn't understand why he looked exactly like he did 90 years ago.

Then it dawned on him. She was right! He had been married to her years ago, but certain people of the time had begun to suspect his secret, so he needed to vanish. He left his bride well provided for, but yes, he was married to her, and yes, he did vanish on her. He had hated doing it that way, but his secret was truly endangered, and by association, she was endangered. So he had vanished to protect himself and her. His heart was overjoyed to see her again, at the same time he felt a hard sadness to see her so old and frail. He felt like a heel lying to this woman he once loved, but he couldn't tell all these people the truth.

Throughout the meal as he tried to make small talk with the other family members, he noticed the old woman continually staring at him and muttering to herself. Later after the thanksgiving meal, as they all sat around drinking coffee and conversing, the old woman went to her room and retrieved an old photo album. She laid out her old wedding pictures. The pictures of her in her beautiful wedding gown, to her left her mother and father now long deceased, to her right her handsome young husband. Him.

This was a new lesson he needed to remember, no more pictures, this time it came back to hurt him. He tried to gently point out to the old woman, he couldn't possibly be the man in the picture, it was so old, and he was young. The other members of his girlfriends' family were struck by the similarity between he and the man in the picture, but they agreed with him, he couldn't possibly be the man in the picture.

Later in the evening, Tim excused himself to go outside for a smoke. As he stood on the porch drawing on a cigar, trying to decide if he should simply disappear again and start up under a completely different identity, or keep this one and watch as his former love died of old age, the old woman approached him alone. It pained him to see her move with a walker. A once strong and confident woman, with intelligence and drive that feared nothing, now reduced to this thin and frail elder.

She looked directly into his eyes. She searched his face for a moment, then nodded, turned and walked away. After a few steps she turned, and told him that his new girlfriend was his great-granddaughter. She knew! They had been so close all those years ago, she knew it was he! His great-granddaughter was his new girlfriend. He hadn't fathered a child in over a century and a half. This was a mess.

If he simply left the party and disappeared, it would be suspicious. If he simply broke up with his girlfriend, it would hurt her. He would have to fake his own death. This would hurt her but end any unfortunate entanglements. If he stayed with her, his former love would eventually discover the truth, and it would mean being intimate with his great-granddaughter which wouldn't happen.

One month later

Tim sat there at the graveside ceremony, listening to the preacher. Except this time, it was his funeral. He was heavily disguised, as an overweight black man in a wheel chair. Being good at disguises is another life skill for an immortal. He watched through dark sunglasses, as his great-granddaughter cried, as she threw some earth into his grave. He watched as his former love threw some earth into the grave. This was the second time he had to leave her like this, he hated the feeling.

As the chauffer pushed his wheelchair to the limousine, he contemplated starting up in another country this time. It had been two centuries since he was in Europe, so the last problem was unlikely to happen. The chauffeur shut the door to the limousine and Tim let himself sink into the leather-covered memory foam seat. How'd that song go in that movie, the one with the swords? he mused. 'Who wants to live forever?' That's it. Well, I'm not ready to die. But damn it, immortality bites.


© 2010 Ray Prew

Bio: Ray Prew's stories have appeared in AlienSkin, S.N.M., and most recently, in Horror Bound magazine. Born and raised in Rhode Island, he has lived in Florida for the past ten years.

E-mail: Ray Prew

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